Thursday, 29 November 2007

Emily Mantell "Gifted"

Gifted was Emily Mantell's Royal College of Art graduation film in 2002. She has described it as an attempt to understand and interpret her difficulties at school. In a simply designed piece she vividly contrasts those children who find reading easy with those who struggle. One child will be juggling letters with ease, the other strugging to grasp those very same but now elusive symbols that float above her; a child plucks volume after volume from the library shelf, another has them affixed to her feet like boots of lead. The chasm that divides children in their literacy is tellingly brought to life. I describe it as being simply designed which it is, but Emily is clever. To my mind the flickering line drawings are chalk on the classroom blackboard, representing school and the attendant difficulties some kids experience. You can purchase the DVD and much besides by the following link: British Animation Awards 5.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Andrew Keeble "A Curious Incident"

This is the first of two animations about young people who do not slot easily into mainstream life, yet who are treated with wonderful sensitivity and understanding by different animators. The first is a 2007 movie though I know little about A Curious Incident or its creator Andrew Keeble, save that it was produced for Mark's degree and that it is based on the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, This was about 15 year old Christopher Boone, an autistic boy who sets out to track down the killer of his neighbour's dog. It won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book. I have read the book and recommend it wholeheartedly. Andrew's beautifully illustrated animation does not cover the same incident, nor does it have the humour of the novel, but it does grasp the distinctive character of the boy told by his father his mother has died, and his subsequent search for the truth. It is narrated by the boy himself and, though we understand more than him, he too achieves understanding if not a reconciliation. This is a moving portrait of a family enduring the strains imposed at least partly by bringing up an autistic son. The pastel, hand-drawn frames suit the story to perfection. I am surprised this lovely animation has not garnered some awards.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Aleksandr Petrov "Rose" & "The Night" ("It's time To Fly" United Airlines)

Aleksandr Petrov’s two romantic commercials for United Airlines are perfect examples of the animator’s art. Rose has a travelling businessman snipping a rose from his garden and guarding it attentively accompanied by knowing glances from all he meets on his journey. Who is the lucky woman? He makes his business presentation and falls asleep on the flight home with the rose by his side. Again we wonder who is to be the lucky recipient? Rose was first broadcast on Mother’s Day 2004. The animation is painted on glass, Aleksandr applying transparent oils with his bare hands and brushes. He then takes multiple backlit photographs of the image using a camera mounted over his workspace before progressing to the next scene, painting directly over the old image before it has dried. The result is sumptuous colour in a free-flowing, liquid style. This is seen to equally beautiful effect in The Night. It’s early afternoon subjective time for the businessman stuck in his hotel room. Outside in the Chinese city there’s all the hustle and bustle of a vibrant nightlife in the early hours. It’s on with the jacket and out of the door to be whisked away by taxi to experience all the joys of carnival dragons, exotic food and wonderfully lit bridges and pagodas. Of course, an attentive stewardess tucks him up smugly for the flight home. The perfect ad for an international traveller! Aleksandr Petrov won an Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 1999 for his The Old Man and the Sea. I will be writing about that movie in the next week. From a long line of Russian masters, Aleksandr lives in Yaroslavl though he is one of the the classy directors for the Canadian Pascal Blais Studio. His is the fourth post in this five part series about a campaign using the best animators in the world and giving them the freedom to display their talent.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Jeremy Clapin "Une Histoire Vertebrale" (Backbone Tale)

In classic comic tradition, Une Histoire Vertebrale manages to be touching, romantic and funny. Jeremy Clapin's movie has won awards all over the world and no wonder. His hero has a most pronounced stoop and apart from a yapping dog, he is a lonely figure with only the ground for company. Inspired by a cinema poster he proceeds on a voyage in search of true love. It is a journey full of blind alleys and wrong turns. Will he prove the maxim that there is the perfect someone out there if you only look hard enough? Well, it's hard in his case. Jeremy's website showcases his work as an illustrator. This is the key to one of the strengths of the animation - Jeremy's skill as an artist. The animation is quite expertly drawn. Another skill is his mastery of humour. Some of the jokes are signalled well in advance and yet they are still funny, some are unexpected. Take the opening. Couples sit in the outdoor café conversing. Together. They glide in front of us, couple after couple, cleverly drawn (I guess Jeremy uses animated cut-outs here.) Our view alights on one particular pair. They kiss. Very romantic. They part and our hero is revealed. Alone. By the way, the YouTube version does not do the movie justice and a copy of the DVD, including some 3D features, may be purchased via the website.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Liam Brazier & Amplifico "Yeah, you can be my Muse"

Amplifico is a fine Scottish band with a most commercial sound and I'm glad I have been introduced to them. Even better to be introduced via a superb animation from the Littlenobody studio featured a day or two back. Liam Brazier is the half of the team who specialises in illustration. Yeah, You can be my Muse features the distinctive voice of Donna Maciocia recounting the tale of her muse. The original idea came from writer, promoter and poet Jo Overfield who had worked for the band, knew of Liam’s work and produced first and second draft storyboards. In consequence, Liam has the guy trailing his beloved girl across the city, up elevators, on the bus, down elevators. If he didn't possess a bunch of flowers he could get arrested for stalking. The two colours on display are blue and peachy pink. Surprise surprise, the blue is for the guy. Despite this the girl seems totally oblivious of his attentions though you can't keep a good guy down. The 2D artwork here is cutely drawn and the two colours work; and I do love the switches of colour. For instance, in his blue world he sees her pink bus disappearing along the road at the end of a narrow lane - we know she's in there because it's pink! The humour is pervasive: she's on the tube, he's sprinting frantically alongside, peering into her carriage until he runs out of platform. Karen Penman, the studio's founder radiates optimism and I'm sure Littlenobody will build on its success. Given the contrast with their Thou Shalt Always Kill they can clearly handle a range of commissions.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Florence Miailhe "Les Oiseaux Blancs Les Oiseaux Noirs"

Florence Miailhe is one of France's most innovative and skilled animators. Her 2002 parable of good and evil, Les Oiseaux Blancs Les Oiseaux Noirs, is a beautiful example of her work. Translated as The White Birds, Black Birds it is narrated without subtitles. We are introduced to the two birds almost effortlessly as images merge together, break apart and metamorphose into different shapes or people. We are always conscious of the contrasting colours, as well as the over-riding talent of the artist and designer. At one point as birds break away into a flock it is a genuine moment of sheer beauty. The movie is a visual treat that transcends problems with language; in any case, my schoolboy French could more or less follow the commentary. The story is based on a book by Amadou Hampaté Bâ about the work of Tierno Bokar and his African fable of good and evil. The black birds represent bad thoughts and words, white birds the opposite. It explores how people live with good or bad feelings and how it is better to have good feelings towards others. Florence uses a mixture of paint and sand on glass, illuminated from above and below. This accounts for the fluid movement of frames. The opening credits are clearly drawn in sand, something I understand Tierno Bokar would do to illustrate his teaching. Florence was born in Paris in 1956. A graduate of the Ensad in 1980 with a degree in engraving, she has taught animation there and at the world renowned Gobelins. In addition to her work as a painter, she is employed as an illustrator and designer for the press. I have been unable to discover a UK company for the DVD though you could try the producers, Les Films du Village.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Wendy Tilby, Amanda Forbis, Claire Armstrong Parod & Sarah Roper "It's Time To Fly" United Airlines Commercials

Fallon Worldwide conceived a marvellous campaign for United Airlines. As we seem to have missed out in the UK, this is the third of my posts on their It’s Time To Fly campaign. Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis produced a second animation, The Interview. This is in exactly the same style as The Meeting covered in an earlier post. I may just prefer it. Here the guy spruces himself up for his big interview, takes great care over his choice of tie and then discovers he is wearing ill-matched shoes. He is able to relax on his flight home however. Wendy and Amanda were awarded with an Oscar for their 60 second piece. The link is to the site of Joel Parod and Claire Armstrong Parod, Paodjects. It was Claire who did the animation for both commercials. And in case you recognise the voice at the end of all these ads but can't quite put a name to it - Robert Redford. A further commercial in the campaign though this time with a UK connection is Legs, by Sarah Roper for London agency Sherbet. (Her similarly styled The Apartment Cat is superb.) In the ad the issue of selecting an airline on the basis of extra legroom is handled in a stylish, sophisticated manner, with a pair of long legs making their way towards the airport and plane. Like all the ads handled by Fallon in the campaign there is humour here, Sarah's comedy having a light, subtle touch. I read that Fallon were unable to retain the airline contract, it going instead to former Fallon employees Bob Barrie and Stuart D'Rozario and their newly started company, Barrie D’Rozario Murphy. The pair were associated with the Fallon campaign. Luckily there are still ads to cover in the campaign, again by some of the best animators around.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Karen Penman & Liam Brazier "What Cassandra Saw"

Karen Penman and Liam Brazier are the creators of Littlenobody which officially became a collective in March of this year. I first noticed their music video Thou Shalt Always Kill when I previewed the weekend's BAF07. It was most professionally done. I was therefore impressed to discover it was produced by a fledgling studio. Also surprising is the diversity of work produced in a short period of time. What Cassandra Saw is their first animated short intended as a showcase - they work in animation, visuals, graphic and web design. In fact the link is to the first episode of three and most fascinating it is too. Look at the screenshot above and note the odd shadow: surely that's a cat! Karen plays the lead character in a "lullaby" about shadow. We are given dictionary definitions and the narrator explains the organisation that governs shadows, in particular the Triplets running the Departments of Making, Mending and Resizing. Lately, we are told, mishaps have been happening. All this takes place in the dark hours when the young woman climbs into bed and has a strangely fragmented night's sleep. It's not surprising. Strange occurrences unbeknown to we humans occur. This is largely animated. The screenshot shows one such event as shadows are carried along a conveyor belt, labelled, shaken, I don't know what. It's all very mysterious. Sometimes the combination of live action and animation jars. This is decidedly not the case here. Filters, excellent lighting, interesting camera angles and stop motion techniques, together with animated twinkling effects lead naturally into the interspersed animated sections. Their website is developing apace and belies its short life. Cassandra is to be screened at The Northern Lights Film Festival on Friday 7 December and Saturday 8 December. I'm intending to review another of their animations at the weekend, this time entirely animated. It certainly drew an enthusiastic response from my class this morning.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Joanna Quinn "Lightbulb" "Dreams and Resolutions: Family Ties"

Joanna Quinn is another of the star names United Airlines brought in for their series of one minute animated commercials. Lightbulb takes an idea, in the form of a lightbulb, and sees its development from personal dream, shared idea, production line, billboards and final acceptance by the public. In her free flowing style Joanna captures the excitement of the innovator. The way in which the colour is introduced, quality of the drawing and the sheer exuberance of it all is infectious. Joanna has been twice nominated for an Academy Award. Her style is her own - pretty obvious statement but there's no-one like her. I've never heard of, let alone eaten the things, but Nips seem more tasty after seeing the commercial. Joanna is best known for her tough Cardiff women, as demonstrated to magical effect in this excerpt from the remarkable 2006 Dreams and Desires – FamilyTies. Her wonderful creation, Beryl, is the star of two other films in a glorious mini series. When Beryl offers to film the wedding of her friend Mandy with a new camcorder the resulting video diary is awesome. The pre-watershed language means it is not necessarily the video to show in class though the commercials provide a way in to one of the greats in British and indeed world animation. Visit Beryl Productions.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Bruno Bozzetto "Baeus"

What happens when a beetle falls in love with a housewife suffering a calamitous breakdown in her marriage? This is a tricky situation with so many differences to be overcome in the intended relationship - he blows her kisses, she tries to swat him to death. There's an awful lot of scuttling around in the seemingly doomed romance until our amorous insect discovers a textbook on magic and attempts to cast a spell. However, the course of true love and sorcery rarely run smoothly. Bruno Bozzetto is an absolute favourite of mine. His humour is so inventive that there is never a dull moment. I had intended to feature some shorts about pollution and the like, but given the foul weather as we enter winter I needed brightening up. So here is Bruno's 1987 Baeus to lift the spirits. Not that the tale is actually set outside in the Italian sunshine but the light, summery colours of the artwork and the sparkling wit on display lighten one's mood. Bruno provides the production, direction and script credits, whilst Oliviero Ruberti was responsible for the animation and Roberto Frattini for the music. Released three years ago his compilation Allegro Non Troppo DVD would be a sure fire winner for a Christmas present to alleviate the winter blues. I have featured Bruno's work previously for his Grasshoppers and flash animations.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Jamie Caliri "Dragon" and "Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events"

If you are a company the size of United Airlines you can afford the best and Jamie Caliri must be in that bracket. In this the second post about their It's Time to Fly campaign I feature their award winning Dragon. It won an Annie in 2006 for Best Animated Television Commercial. The ad is almost a movie in its own right. Father tucks up child in bed and then takes a passing white swan (maybe albatross, white eagle) and flies towards a confrontation with a dragon having first sat round a table with his knights. It's heroic stuff, quite wonderfully animated with a swagger and style that carries it straight away into the classic mould. This is one that hits the spot, forces itself on you. Normally I venture a few words about how the animation was made; in this instance you may watch The Making of Dragon. From the United Airlines site you can also download a high resolution copy of the movie. It really is stunning. Born in 1970 in Buffalo, New York, Jamie Caliri is a equally famous for the fabulous credit sequence for the James Carey movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events. The link, by the way, is to the credits. These fit the movie like a glove, with a dark but whimsical quality. Again, we seem to be watching a full movie, so rich is it in its own right. Jamie's technique in both cases is stop motion photography with finely drawn cut-outs. He is one of the directors for the splendid Duck Studios. There one can enjoy Jamie's other work, including Morphine. Jamie is the brother of Mario, from The Wallflowers.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Gaku Kinoshita "For Your Blossom"

For Your Blossom by Gaku Kinoshita has been around the festival circuit for nearly three years. Narrated by a child, the story is almost entirely in metaphor although the plot itself is not without interest. A young boy discovers a solitary flower, still to fully bloom. He embarks on a journey that takes him along the highway as snow falls. He is oblivious to anything else life has to offer, save for his journey and his precious flower. What occurs when the boy is called upon to break away from his mission due to an emergency and the resulting changes in his attitude to life are the themes of this 2004 movie. Gaku was born in Tokyo though he came to the UK in 1999 to complete his higher education culminating in an MA at the Royal College of Art. I have read one review of For Your Blossom in which the five minute film is described as “clumsily allegorical” which is to deny its charm. More properly, it is obviously allegorical. Some of the visual images of the traffic accident are excellent: a boy with flower in hand marching along the side of the highway, the occupants of the stricken bus clambering out, the build up of tension as the whole scene seems in danger of igniting, even the petals of the flower joining the snowflakes. For Your Blossom is viewable from the BBC's excellent Film Network site although it has been posted on YouTube.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Siri Melchior "The Dog Who Was A Cat Inside"

The Dog Who Was A Cat Inside directed by Siri Melchior was made in 2002. It is one of those movies that is distinctive for reasons of style as much as content. A dog has a cat inside. It's not that he/she was born into the wrong gender or anything, it's just that the two quite different characters exist in the same body and fight it out. The hand drawn and painted artwork is drop dead beautiful with dramatically 2D sets and some city shots, either from ground level or looking down, all with vibrant use of colour and a Cubist influence in style. When it is night there is a softness and romance, when it's day the bright blues are uplifting. There is a beauty here that refreshes, as well as making a statement about reconciling the inner conflicts that plague us. The rhythms of Julian McDonald at Sanctuary Townhouse Studios, together with the perfectly matched music of Tanera Dawkins, add a great deal to the atmosphere. It was commissioned by Channel 4 Television. Siri was born in 1971 and initially obtained her diploma and degree at the Danish Design School and University of Copenhagen. She is another of the celebrated post graduate students at the Royal College of Art. Siri works in London at Passion Pictures and taught animation for a short time at the London College of Printing.The movie may be viewed at Imagine Ourselves though I downloaded a high resolution version from the most excellent No Fat Clips.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbis "The Meeting"

The Meeting is one of a number of television commercials produced for United Airlines that I intend to feature in the next few days. To the best of my knowledge none have featured in the UK. A young business executive is working through the company's figures prior to making an important presentation to the board. An internal flight later, and after reporting to company headquarters, she is a little taken aback when the executives are fearsome wild animals. Can she win them over? The two directors, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, have already featured here for their When the Day Breaks. The ad was the sole winner of the Advertising Film award at Annecy 2007. Despite featuring animals in human roles, The Meeting is quite different to When Day Breaks in having a more precise drawing style than the pastel shades of the earlier work. The "It's time to fly" campaign is a joy and has had great success, given its emphasise on customer relations, in restoring public confidence in the airline since they filed for bankruptcy in 2002. All the ads have in common their use of Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. The music is some eighty years old, the company having purchased the commercial rights to the music several years ago. The link is to a Quicktime, high resolution file downloadable from the United Airlines website. As I am producing a unit of work for my students on the advertising campaign there will be more related posts to come. It's a remarkably varied series and as an added bonus enjoy two flash banners. The first features butterflies, the second five birds on a finger.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Koji Yamamura "Mt.Head"

Mt. Head is a comic tale of a man so mean that when he eats some freshly picked cherries he is unable to resist devouring the stones. He promptly begins to grow a cherry tree on the top of his head. No matter the number of times he clips them off they continue to grow. So he lets one do just that. To his consternation this attracts a host of people to picnic and generally loiter under the shade of the tree, the Mt.Head of the title. He resorts to desperate tactics, with equally disheartening results. It is a retelling of the Japanese Rakugo story "Atama-yama", a comic monologue, traditionally delivered by a single speaker recounting a comic tale for the amusement of his attentive audience. In the hands of Koji Yamamura the form has humour, wonder and a quite marvellous technique. I understood not one word of Takeharu Kunimoto’s narration but was untroubled by the lack of subtitles and I guess I understood what was happening better than many English language movies I deign to write about. Koji imbues the movie with depth and subtlety. Clearly he is making a point about human nature - that people are quite willing to despoil the potential oasis on his head, to jump around and give him a headache, to dive into the waterhole he creates in the second half of the movie. It is also a salutory lesson on greed. Visually the movie is a treat with the huge almost gargoyle-like face that fills the screen, the red cherries themselves, the disappearing cherries from the plate and our dawning realisation that the stones have gone too, the crowd of people holidaying at the man's expense, the anguish on the owner's face as his head is mistreated. You may buy the DVD here, though the link at the beginning of the post is to the Japanese Media Arts Festival of 2002. Koji Yamamura is assuredly one of the world's foremost animation talents.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

BAF07: Official Selection Music Videos/Independent Films

Today's 14th Bradford Animation Festival has five music videos in contention for the Official Selection Music Videos/Independent Films. For what it's worth, here is my assessment of the five:
Something of Marc Craste appears in 32 year old Parisien Stephane Berla's tribute to Dionysos, certainly in the animated section. It features the spectacular escape of a puppet from a rather unusual prison inside a snow globe, and also a cemetary. This is interspersed with a lonely pop star dreaming of returning home to his family. I thought the music a delight and I want to know more about the singer. Job done, I think, for Stephane.

Karen Penman & Liam Brazier's animation for Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip is described in the festival programme as controversial and I suppose the lyrics rather than the visuals are. Personally I liked the music very much with its diatribe (or maybe manifesto) for contemporary commandments. There are far more than a mere 10 commandments delivered in very much tongue in cheek fashion, a mixture of genuinely relevant imperatives and the extravagant. Karen and Liam create a graffitti wall full of the detritus of today's society. It's very urban.
Australian Brendan Cook directed this jaunty romp across a planet with a rather long-legged assembly of beings following the singer, equally etiolated but with a human face, across, down and round the planet. The music is never less than pleasant and the video professionally put together. It's all very cheerful and uplifting.
Assaf Benharroch and Idan Vardi's beautiful animation of Efrat Ben Zur's ballad Every Day is full of enigmatic shots of a young girl fleeing from a broken heart. I do not know the singer but I love the song. This is a dreamy, haunting piece of work made up of soft pastel shades.

Jonas Odell is a very successful commercial animator of music videos and his promotional movie for The Hours" is typically exuberant and highly skilled. Set on a stage, Jonas has all sorts of swish movements of scenery and props, alongside skulls, skeletons and boxing gloves and other eccentricities. Use of theatrical black, white and grey cut-outs and stage devices add to a clever and exciting piece of work. I'm reminded of the Sergeant Pepper animations.

And my winner? I shouldn't ask myself this. James Odell will probably win for sheer fizzing technical skill but I have a secret fancy for the one from Israel.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Benjamin Sanders "Our Footsteps In The Leaves"

Hot off the press is the news that a Lincolnshire student has claimed first prize in the students film section of Aurora 2007. Here is a pleasing synopsis of Our Footsteps In The Leaves by the National Film and Television School's Benjamin Sanders :
We struck out on that slow silent walk
And the wind carried with us
A few leaves from the bed
The link is to the website of sound designer Ayush Ahuja. An alternative minute's viewing may be obtained here. Benjamin initially studied graphic design at Norwich School of Art and Design, specialising after one year in animation. Footsteps is clearly hand drawn with some ravishing touches of brown, pink and subtle olive tones. I can envisage a career in commercials for someone of his exquisite touch. I have not seen the full movie only clips so am unable to explain the plot; it appears pretty much a mood piece however.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Arthur de Pins "Geraldine"

"Un jour, Gérald se réveilla métamorphosé en femme ..." Arthur de Pins is in wildly funny mood in Geraldine, his 2000 movie concerning the repercussions of some monstrous act of gender reorientation when Gerard most unwillingly becomes Geraldine, a woman to turn the heads of every man, much to the consternation of the head turner-him/herself and hilarity of his/her girlfriend. Arthur is one of the most inventive and humorous animators around. His website has some outstanding work and this is the second of three movies I am highlighting within a few days of each other. There are more laughs per square inch (or centimetre) in Geraldine than almost any other animation, and all cemented by Arthur's acutely perceptive eye, intelligence and artistic ability. Three examples that made me laugh aloud: when he realises he is the object of attention on the tube as (s)he experiments with his/her changed anatomy, her/his attempts to walk in high heels, the giant, red headed, backdrop poster of Geraldine as he/she addresses a political rally with echoes of Che Guevara.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

"458nm" Jan Bitzer Ilija Brunck Tom Weber

Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck and Tom Weber are students at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. 458nm was their 2006 piece. It progresses rather slowly as befits the meeting and union of two mechanical snails under the moonlight. I read the words "romantic meeting" in the Britfilm description. A sense of humour is important in reviewers. The six minute animation is relentlessly high tech as the students construct an atmospheric world in which moonlight is more xenon arc lamp than glistening orb, and blue-grey steel contraptions dominate the screen. Despite the absence of mucus and the snails' transformation at the point of union to glistening jewels, don't get too romantically attached to gastropods; theirs is a decidedly unromantic life. For those who delight in such technically adept animation this will be glorious. I watched it in wonder and admiration. It is a very professional package and you can buy the DVD to revel in the high resolution version, far removed from the initial link to YouTube.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Idan Vardi "Woods"

Woods directed by Idan Vardi must be one of the most peaceful animations ever featured on the blog. It is a tale of an elderly man who enjoys his birthday alone in the woods. Commencing with a night-time scene in which the man chops wood, we are taken through the build-up to the birthday evening festivities with such loving care that I swear my heart rate lowered, blood cleared of cholesterol and spine relaxed. The movie should be on prescription. I’m not giving anything away to claim there are no shocks to the system, the movie concluding with a satisfied sigh. The animation is immaculately rendered, the colours a watercolour wash of greens and browns. Don't proceed, by the way, with any concept that the man is lonely; he seems as contented an individual as one could hope to meet, at one with his environment. Idan is from the Camera Obscura School - Tel Aviv and Minshar School of Visual Arts. Indeed the 8 minute piece is so maturely considered and constructed that I was a little taken aback that Idan is still a student. Well, he is assured of a professional future because this is lovely. In the meantime he is in receipt of a one year scholarship from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. I intend to feature one further animation by Idan next week when I focus on the forthcoming Bradford Animation Festival.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Trevor Hardy "Pushkin"

Trevor Hardy is one of those one-man operations who gives animation a good name. His stop motion piece Pushkin is a total delight. Operating from his garden shed studio in Lancing, West Sussex, Trevor claims to produce a high standard of work and he indisputably does. Mrs Dombilard has lost her cat in some vaguely East European town. (She speaks in some vaguely East European language.) Rather plaintively she grills the inhabitants on the whereabouts of her beloved feline companion. She has a dogged determination in her pursuit of Pushkin. It turns out to be a hazardous occupation searching for a missing cat. Working with beautifully constructed sets and models, as well as rich characters, Trevor constructs an original world of warmth and humour, a world enhanced by the fitting music of Jon Russell. The facial expression of the characters alone is a treat. Christmas is the time for this animation and I guess I'll wish I had retained this treat come late December. A sacked tyre fitter, family man and, from what I can discern, an altogether interesting guy, Trevor has worked for the Bristol studio Aardman, in their production of a Wallace and Gromit commercial for Japanese television. The influence shows. That said Trevor is a distinctive talent whose animation is featuring at Bradford next week. His website has some great work posted: Fool Hardy Films.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Todd Rosenberg (Odd Todd) "Laid Off: Help Wanted"

Laid Off: Help Wanted was the first animation I saw way back at the start of Todd Rosenberg's pretty unique series about an unemployed, one might say "unemployable", idler. I guess it must have been in 2002 when I was beginning to expand Animation as a subject in school. Whatever, it has been a huge hit with the students though I do not use all of the material as it is aimed at an adult audience. Laid Off: Help Wanted is the episode early in the series when the enormity of his mounting debt problems are beginning to dawn on Odd Todd and he has to wake up mid-morning before an early lunch in order to address them. Todd introduces gag after gag and the entire paraphernalia of the cartoonist and flash animator is brought into play. The laughs come thick and first: he modifies his CV to accommodate an ever expanding number of fictitious underlings, he presents his comfort food recipe, he becomes distracted by his television viewing, he discovers his college education is somewhat deficient. For those rare beings who do not know the Odd Todd series they can be promised a treat. As the phenomenon has developed the site has become commercial whilst still possessing a somewhat unique quality. For instance, Todd’s website,, has a few interesting traditions, not the least at this time of year being his regular Halloween cartoon, and yes there is one for 2007, his sixth. Todd Rosenberg was laid off from the animation industry and this is his riposte. He certainly taught some of my students how to do interactive animations. Visit him and see.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Arthur de Pins "La revolution des crabes" (The Crab Revolution)

La revolution des crabes by French director Arthur de Pins is an epic tale of a downtrodden race whose only crime is an inability to move forwards. Thus the director acts as political platform for Pachygrapsus Mormatus, translated as the “depressed crabs”. This is not a new problem; in fact it has existed for 120 million years and it has taken someone of Arthur's calibre to enlighten us. The movie covers a dramatic moment in Crab history when the tide turned, when human activity precipitated a dramatic change of direction from one particular crab (the narrator), a small step admittedly but a giant leap for crabkind. This delightful quirky film is in French and the initial link is to Arthur's website. However you may enjoy the wit of the script given the sub-titles in the YouTube version. You will be rewarded by an intelligent script to complement the easy drawing style of this very talented animator.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Tomek Baginski ‘Fallen Art'

Fallen Art is a movie that is very much anti-war, perhaps even anti-army - certainly the type of army that sends the poor soldier to certain death without sentiment. Sergeant Al calls for a "volunteer", awards him a sparkling medal, then despatches him on his mission. How the company doctor Johann Friedrich and General A, himself an animator, are involved is the subject of the movie. Fallen Art is a movie of grim humour. Set in a surreal landscape, with surreal action and darkly surreal characters there is one conspicuously magnificent scene in the General’s viewing studio when the anonymous soldier dances to the wild Asfalt Tango by folk band Fanfare Ciocarlia. Tomek has created a classic of the genre to match his creation of one of the great modern animations The Cathedral. Tomek is part of the Warsaw company Platige Image. A very thorough interview with Tomek in CGSociety gives copious detail of the technology used in the creation of what is a visually stunning movie. The DVD may be ordered directly from the company’s website. In a movie this good the version available on YouTube is not a viable alternative, though free of course. A suggestion of the overall quality of the high resolution version is given in a free download trailer.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Tibor Banoczki "Holtágban" (Dead Water)

Tibor Banoczki left the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts in 2001. Holtágban was his graduation movie . I'm surprised it is not better known because it is marvellous. In the movie an ex-train driver reflects on his career and how he seems to have been derailed to some grim backwater where he works the signals for two trains only each day. He is both angry at his situation and nostalgic for the great days on the railway. In fact the great days may not have been so very good after all as there do seem to have been a lot of suicides. The narrator suffered thirteen of them. The subtitles enable you to keep up with the story though the voice of Gyorgy Cserhalmi is most expressive, demonstrating the whole gamut of emotions from a wistful nostalgia to burning anger at his situation. The drawings of countryside, home and railway are rendered with the brush of a master. The impressionistic, watercolour paintings that form the animation are simply sumptuous. In another director's hands this might have been lush and romantic; in Tibor's movie often there is a brutal realism. There is a mystery here: why was the narrator's carriage the only one to survive a major crash and what is his appalling secret? Tibor's latest 2007 movie has a trailer available - Milk Teeth. It won the the Jury's Special Award at the Annecy International Animation Festival for 2007. Tibor has graduated from the UK's National Film and Television School.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Ian Mackinnon "Adjustment" & "Un Amour Mobile"

Ian Mackinnon's DVD compilation under the title Adjustment and other flickering delights is a must have for any aspiring animation student. The title movie is the major work though there is one other piece that is exceptional. Adjustment traces the break-up of a relationship precipitated by and relived through an obsessive requirement by the film's narrator to record events the two have shared. The part animation, part filmed drama is extraordinary in that it becomes something of a manifesto for flip books. I can scarcely conceive of a form of flip book ignored in Ian's work: conventional, hand machine operated, toilet tissue unravelled, images scattered on the floor, scattered in the air and even, at one stage, pasted to the tube station wall so we see through the flickering views the girl's image revealed as the train comes to a halt. If the use of animation is extraordinary, the filming is subtle with a curiously detached quality about it. Many of the shots of Alice are full on portraits, reflecting her partner’s obsessive need to record their relationship. The walls of the apartment itself are white and at times it is as if the director has drained much of the colour from the action so that it echoes the flickering white paper of the flip books. Technically and artistically accomplished, Adjustment is beautifully edited, cutting from past to present almost as if the photographs and drawn images are shuffled into a different order, as indeed they are in the film. The leading actors do not speak, the narration being voiced by Simon Perry. The movie formed part of Ian's graduation from the Royal College of Art in 2006. He also studied and taught Computer Animation at Bournemouth University. I want to put a word in for his 2002 wholly animated short, Un Amour Mobile, however. This is a gorgeous piece of work tracing the comings and goings of a couple in a complex series of rooms, at once architect's model, or arrangement of stage sets. The perspectives change, the rooms tilt, the drawing is sharp and the animation first rate. There are a lot of talented animators out there at the moment, seeking work. One line of work evidently explored by Ian is the promotional music video and his animation for US3, Say You Belong, is most successful. Even here the flip books are rolled out though on a larger scale as the singer performs to an ever changing backdrop. Ian's website is excellent and the films are available in a streamed format though, as always, support independent animators by purchasing the DVD compilation of all Ian's 13 films for the grand total of £5 available from his website.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Nick Wade "The Ill-Fated Romance of the Giraffe and the Ballerina"

This is the second of three young British animators this weekend. I first saw Nick Wade's The Ill Fated Romance of the Giraffe and the Ballerina at Bradford last year. Their romance lasts four minutes in animated form at least though the seemingly ill-matched pair have a surprising amount in common. For starters, she has long legs and he has a long neck. Sadly, legs and necks are not quite sufficient to sustain a romance. The giraffe has a strange appetite that their relationship is unable to tolerate and, anyway, the two simply do not see eye to eye. Three specific mentions. First to Gordan Haykivic for the great music, second to Eloise Smith for the witty story and finally to Denica Fairman for her narration - Denica sounds like a genuine prima donna all right. This is a funny movie, visually a treat with vibrant reds and oranges of a surreal dance studio and African veldt combined, and a standard of artwork and design that is of rare quality. Born in the Netherlands and educated in Switzerland and the UK , Nick's higher education was at Chelsea CAD as well as in Cheltenham and Yorkshire. He has quite a body of work behind him including for the BBC, Channel 4 and The Cartoon Network. He worked on this project during his time as animation director for Boldstudio in March - June 2005. His website is innovative and there is a burning giraffe on a very impressive comic showreel.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Selina Cobley "Crow Moon"

Crow Moon was directed in 2006 by Selina Cobley, a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art. It is based on a North American myth in which a flock of crows are so terrified by the onset of dusk and its predators that they call on the services of Raven Chief to conjure up a moon to save them. (I believe the fable is a native American one about the time when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter.) Crow Moon really is a remarkable film; I would call it beautiful, with silky whites and shadowy blacks - the black ravens with highlights tinged in white. When the moon appears it is a bowl of light, at once a refuge and aesthetically perfect. Selina has orchestrated the inhabitants of her world into patterns, with the threats abstract and the birds themselves beautiful in flight and yet possessing of a curiously endearing quality particularly when perched or moving on the ground. The original music by Leila Dunn is generally percussive, at once both ethnic and modern; and synchronised to the music exactly. Selina has her own website, whilst her movie can be viewed in full here. She provides detail of the techniques she used to create the unusual shimmering quality of light in the movie, including using oil and paint and some "scrunched up bits of tin foil" as well as studio lighting. Sponsorship for the film was obtained via the UK Film Council, BBC Scotland and The Arts Trust of Scotland. Should you have enjoyed Selina's movie you can treat yourself to a further nicely animated tale, the 60 second Beachcomber, alongside her longer work that she herself has placed on YouTube. I have seen Beachcomer before though I am unable to recall in what context. Her work is an absolute delight and after surveying some Czech wonders over the past few days it is pleasing to see new talent emerge nearer home - which, by the way, leads me to some of Ian Mackinnon’s work I have just been viewing, kindly sent to me on DVD. More about that at the weekend. There’s some talent about in the UK at the moment.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Jiří Barta "The Golem", "Krysař", Domečku, vař!

The Golem is an unfinished work by one of the Czech Republic's greatest film-makers, Jiří Barta. It is based on Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel of a Frankenstein type creature, created by Rabbi Loew, prowling the dark streets of Prague. The movie trailer (Jiří was unable to obtain sufficient finances to make the movie) is a mixture of live action and distinctive animation as the buildings and characters of Prague morph into crumbling edifices or petrified figures, nightmarishly sculptured to walls. The effect is of thick daubs of oil paint scraped onto a canvas with a palette knife. Personally I found the animated scenes much more convincing than the film of the old Rabbi touring the back streets of modern day Prague. However, Jiří also produced one of the most stunning animations ever with his 55 minute take on the Pied Piper story, Krysar - the link is a short clip revealing how the citizens of the town are transformed to beasts by their greed as the rats move in to steal the grain. With the effect of a medieval oil painting and wooden engravings added to wooden puppets as well as real footage of rats, Jiří has created a grotesque, Gothic Hamelin. There is an analogy between the greedy population and the rats. It is one of the masterpieces of world cinema. I have treated myself to a DVD of the movie on a compilation Jiri Barta: Labyrinth of Darkness. Finally, YouTube has Domečku, vař!, Jiří's 10 minute revolving solar system of life in which the mundane details of existence and relationships circle each other in riveting, spectacular motion. Produced this year I rather doubt Jiří intended it to become freely available so soon so the link is to the AniFest May 2008 festival in Trebon, Czech Republic. Translated as "Sweet Porridge" the movie has a collection of metal figures and domestic objects that are mesmerising to watch. Once again there is an element of real film footage as the mechanical house is wound up by hand at the beginning. As I draw my short collection of Czech reports to a close it is good to report that there are many Czech animators I have still to cover (Jiří Trnka, Karel Zeman, Hermína Tyrlová, Pavel Koutský, Jan Pinkava) and that Jiří Barta, one of the masters of world animation, is as full of ideas and energy as ever. Finally, as the ads for the Czech Republic accumulate on the blog I must point out that I added advertising purely for charity so every click on my sponsors' link - and all earnings from those clicks - will result in their donation to NFCR (National Foundation for Cancer Research).