Monday, 31 December 2007

Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2007

Number 2
Hedgehog In The Fog is a movie I read about before actually viewing. It was described as being in many people's estimation the finest animation ever. This is a heck of an accolade to live up to. The only way is down from such heights. In the review (See Blog) I spoke of the technique used to make the 1975 movie, of the warm voice of the narrator, the sheer beauty of the animation. All true. But this is a movie that reminds us of the goodness in life. When the hedgehog is being swept away to her death by the river, it's altogether in keeping with the movie that she is rescued by some unseen being and helped on her way to deliver her parcel of raspberry jam. Yuriy Norshteyn's film is a worthy second place and although the link is to YouTube, the compilation recommended by me in October takes (almost) pride of place on my rapidly expanding shelf of DVDs. And so to ....

Number 1
Father and Daughter directed by Michael Dudok de Wit was always going to be my number 1. (See Blog) I find it hard not to watch without a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. It is a tale of loss and a longing for something or someone that never fades, throughout the passage of time. It takes a young girl from the shore where she watched her father row out to sea, through all the stages of her life, teenager, lover, mother, old woman. And still she returns to search for the father who left her. Of course it is not literal, of course her father will never/ can never return. But she still hopes. This astonishingly accomplished movie fulfils in every sense. The music is perfect, the images of bicycle, trees, seasons, sea are rendered with exquisite care. The link is by necessity to YouTube but my Christmas present from my family was Best of British Animation Awards Vol.4 which includes Michael's work. I also received volumes 1, 2, 3 & 5 for the princely sum (as I discover now) of £80. Happy New Year and if you have not seen either of the two selected movies, set aside some of your time to see just how good animation can be.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2007

Number 4
The Dog Who Was A Cat Inside by Siri Melchior achieves fourth spot courtesy of such a distinctive and fresh style that I immediately experimented myself to see how it was achieved. There's a social statement too about harbouring (or repressing) different characters in the tale of a dog who is a cat inside, but it's the style that gets the vote: stylish artwork, vivid colours and square, flat characters - not usually a compliment but here it most certainly is. (See Blog)

Number 3
Birthday Boy by Korean director Sejong Park is simply wonderful. It might easily have gained second spot. It tells the story of a young boy during the Korean War who is playing war games, oblivious of the real war around him, and of the involvement of his father. The ending is so crushing as our perception of events is at odds with that of the innocent boy. There's also such tension as the boy plays on the dangerous railway line, and humour as he attacks the postman, an incident in itself that ties in with the news from the battlefront. The link to YouTube I originally used is now dead and I revert to the impressive No Fat Clips site from where you can still download a copy, and at high resolution. Hurry, it won't be there too long. Honestly, animation doesn't get better than this.(See Blog) Tomorrow is 1 & 2!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2007

Two black and white animations achieve 5th and 6th spots in our 2007 roll of honour today. Although totally different in tone, both deal with individuals overcoming adversity.
Number 6
Two comedians were joking last week on TV about patting a hunchback for luck. I suppose it could have been construed as humour by those who were straight backed, knew no-one with the affliction or simply insensitive. Jeremy Clapin achieves both humour and sensitivity in his Une Histoire Vertebrale. Here the travails of a man so stooped he can only see the ground are explored in a very funny tale as he attempts to woo a woman with a related if contrasting condition. She can only see the sky. Their relationship flourishes when they inhabit apartments on different floors and he can look down on her. But negotiating a relationship on the same level is more problematic. Genuine humour need not be crass. (See Blog)
Number 5
Tragic Story with Happy Ending by Regina Pessoa poses a perennial problem for me. Not all the offerings on YouTube are offered freely by the films' creators. In my blog at the time I pointed attention to the website and a short extract from the movie. Now there are at least four versions of the movie available on YouTube and the link is to one of them. A posted movie on YouTube tends to flatten things, losing background colour and detail, therefore for this reason, as well as ownership, wherever possible I draw attention to the DVD version. Follow the link in the blog and purchase, as I did, the DVD to see Regina's magnificent piece of work in all its fine detail. The artwork is simply stupendous, textured, expertly drawn, classy. It is a tale of a young girl ostracised by her community because, born with a heart too small, its frantic beating disrupts the lives of unsympathetic neighbours. The girl's transformation from timid recluse and subsequent flight from home is the subject of an unusual and special movie. Watch it yourself and see why Regina scales the heights of the top ten movies in a blog that has covered so many of the classic works. (See Blog) Numbers 3 & 4 tomorrow.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2007

I'm not saying the decision on the Top Ten Animated Shorts posted on the blog this year has been easy. I was quite convinced Dik Jarman's "Dad's Clock", Aidan Gibbons' "The Piano" and Till Nowak's "Delivery" were featured on the blog. In fact I had written about them briefly on my school site and featured lengthy interviews with the three directors here. All three would certainly have been in my top ten! Back to the present - it's a nautical theme today for 7th and 8th places.
Number 8
I don't often get annoyed by bad news because I'd be permanently depressed but when Japan almost sent its whaling fleet up against the Humpback Whale I was rendered almost apoplectic with rage. So into the top ten goes Man and Whale by Koji Yamamura. He simply had to get in with either this or his Mt Head, also featured on the blog. This is a campaigning animation without peer, all the more pungent in that it is a Japanese director arguing so persuasively against his own nation's whaling fleet. It's not all sloganising however. Koji is one of the world's premier directors and this is perfectly composed with some powerful moments such as the first appearance of a whale looming at the young boy; the excitement the old man feels when he sees the endangered animal is infectious. (See Blog)
Number 7
From Darkness is one of those films that sends a shiver up and down the spine. It is, I suppose, a ghost story and love story combined. Nora Twomey's supernatural tale of an Inuit fisherman meeting with a long dead maiden in icy waters is one movie you won't read about much on the net and CBC Television's Zed is the only outlet I have found. Nora directed the movie in 2003 and, honestly, I've seen far less worthy winners of festivals greeted with far greater fanfares. Too many F's but a worthy entry into the top ten. Be prepared for a range of emotions from the ghostly first appearance of the body, the shock as the fisherman can't seem to escape the girl, and the touching relationship that develops as the movie draws to a conclusion. (See Blog) Numbers 5 & 6 tomorrow!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2007

It's a difficult job but someone has to do it. Choosing the Top Ten Animated Shorts on my blog since I commenced in February has been fun. They are not, let me add, all produced in 2007. They appeared here in 2007, not quite the same thing:
Number 10
So I commence with an immediate compromise. By placing two music videos at joint Number 10 I get 11, for the price of 10!
Ce que je suis animated by Joris Clerté for the French band Holden is so typically French and feminine with the cloud following the girl. There's nothing wrong with a bit of self-pity and it helps I like the music. Joris is a well known figure and much in demand (See Blog) It is quite different for the joint tenth place, animator and newcomer Liam Brazier and his video for the Scottish band, Amplifico. Yeah, You can be my Muse is a two colour treat as this time, again with a female vocalist, the guy chases the girl. Touches of humour here and such a neat design. It's great that a fledgling company like Little Nobody can do so well and compete with the big boys. Two delightful music videos are therefore worthy winners of Number 10 spot and Liam is destined to be very much in demand. (See Blog)
Number 9
The simply constructed but wonderfully conceived and very moving A Journey Across Grandmother by Meghana Bisineer is a joy. In fact the original link was not quite Meghana's original, being a modified copy with a different soundtrack. I received a DVD of the proper version though, loved it and am delighted to say it has now been posted in all its majesty on-line. The image of the tiny grandchild on the bed as her grandmother gradually passes away is a moving one and gets this talented woman into my top 10. Meghana's website is new and her work unmissable. Tomorrow - 7 & 8.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Burny Mattinson "Mickey's Christmas Carol"

For some reason Alan Young chose to use a Scottish voice for his 1983 portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Mickey's Christmas Carol. I can't think why.
Ebenezer Scrooge/ Scrooge McDuck (about his now dead partner, Jacob Marley): In his will he left me enough money to pay for his tombstone .... and I had him buried at sea.
Or again:
Jacob Marley/Goofy: Remember when I was alive I robbed the widows and swindled the poor?
Ebenezer Scrooge/Scrooge McDuck: Yes and all in the same day. Oh you had class, Jacob.
With a script like that do you need any other reason to watch a Disney classic? It was written by the great Burny Mattinson with surprisingly little assistance from Charles Dickens. As ever with Disney it is superbly animated, with the best artists around and some effective and even spectacular backgrounds to act as a foil for all those well known and loved cartoon characters. I once claimed I would not feature Disney on the blog, I was going to operate in a higher sphere. I'm less snooty now. And it's Christmas.
Mickey's Christmas Carol 1
Mickey's Christmas Carol 2
Mickey's Christmas Carol 3

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Dr. Seuss, Chuck Jones & Boris Karloff, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"

You either love Dr. Seuss or you hate him and the style and movie have been much parodied. Sometimes the relentless rhymed verse jars. But definitely not in this classic. This is the 1966 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
The Gridge hated Christmas
The whole Christmas Season
And the reason? (His heart was two sizes too small.) The story of how the Grinch attempted to steal Christmas from the Whos of Whoville is the subject of this Christmas treat. How the cave dweller sets about disrupting the good citizens by purloining their presents, stuffing them and even the Christmas tree up the chimney is great fun. Delicious moments abound: the poor dog Max dressed up, against his will, as the reindeer complete with branches for antlers, the Grinch creeping up on the good children in their beds and stealing their candy bars, and then gradually, like some fiendish anti-Santa Claus, he commences unpicking every single facet of Christmas from around the home: These stockings, he grinched, are the first things to go! Of course, like Scrooge, things turn out well in the end: The Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day. All this, boys and girls everywhere, and not one mention of the voice of Boris Karloff that would alone makes all Seuss and Grinch haters eat their hats. Merry Christmas:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!(1)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!(2)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!(3)

Monday, 24 December 2007

David Unwin & Raymond Briggs "Father Christmas"

Featuring the voice of Mel Smith, the 1991 Father Christmas is an animated version of Raymond Briggs' picture book. In fact I have all Briggs' books on my study shelves from a one time passion for picture books. This is a Father Christmas as you have never seen him before, in the raw, literally when it comes to towel drying after a shower. Want to know what he does 364 days a year? Well he takes a well deserved holiday: first in France - the food is too good and he is back and forward to the loo; second in Scotland - the whiskey is good but he is soaked by the rain and the loch is too cold; finally to Las Vegas where he is waited on hand and feet but fleeced of all his money. So it's back to England - he's so English, he bloomin' is - and the wagon loads of mail each item of which has to be sorted and sourced. David Unwin has directed the sort of movie that appeals to all the family. Today I viewed it with a three year old who marvelled at the way her hero squeezed through the chimney, I marvelled at the fact that he emerged from an Aga cooker. I could go on about the soft and well crafted drawings, the meeting with the snowmen at the North Pole, or our reacquaintance with the boy and the snowman from Briggs' most famous book, or the jokes. But I won't. The film is a combination of Father Christmas, published in 1973 and Father Christmas Goes on Holiday from 1975 with a little of his earlier animation tagged on towards the end. The YouTube link is a pale imitation of the DVD I have in my cabinet. For less than £6 you can buy this and The Snowman here. I did.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Richard Williams "A Christmas Carol"

“The place: London. The time: 1843. The season: that of jollity, of festivity, and charity, of holly and berries and goodwill to all men. With perhaps one exception.”
Thus begins Richard Williams’ 1971
A Christmas Carol, an animated version of Dickens’ popular classic that has acquired a glowing reputation. The cast alone guaranteed its place in animation history for it represents some of the finest talent in British film and theatre of the day. Produced by the renowned Chuck Jones, Michael Redgrave narrated the story, and the remarkable Alastair Sim provided the voice of Scrooge, along with Diana Quick, Michael Hordern, Melvyn Hayes and Joan Sims. The principal artist was Abe Levitow with Ken Harris as the master animator. From the opening scenes of London, through the spectacular appearances of the ghosts, including glorious scenes in which the Ghost Of Christmas Present, for all the world like some green attired Gandalf, takes Scrooge on a flight over an atmospheric and effectively Victorian London, past a lighthouse sending its beams of light over a stormy ocean, and over a carol singing seaman at the helm of his ship. Or the shadowy Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come visiting Ebenezer’s own grave. Or the miner singing a carol by the flickering light of the fire. There are several film versions of the novel but this is a definitive version with the horrors of 1843 Victorian England exposed (Ignorance and Want) as well as the honeyed Christmas spirit of the Cratchits and the holly and berries. A word too about the animation. Modern technology can often produce a glossy effect that is not appropriate in all cases. In Williams' animation the sketches, often in the style of the original engravings, are perfectly rendered and the angles and perspectives quite breathtaking. Should you wish to download the movie in full an alternate version is at Google Video.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Bill Melendez & Charles M. Schulz "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

Released in December 1965, directed by Bill Melendez and wonderfully written by one of the all time greats, Charles M. Schulz, A Charlie Brown Christmas has some of the best lines ever, usually delivered by Lucy Van Pelt: (When licked on the face by Snoopy: "I've been kissed by a dog, I've got dog germs, get hot water, get some disinfectant, get some iodine!" Or, on listening to Charlie play Beethoven on piano: "Everyone talks about how great Beethoven was. Beethoven wasn't so great. He never got his picture on bubble gum cards did he. Have you ever seen his picture on bubble gum cards, mm? How can you say someone is great if they never go their picture on bubble gum cards." Some girl Lucy. You have Snoopy being directed by Lucy to play every animal in her play, Charlie worrying because no-one has given him a card, a traditional story of the nativity, Christmas carols, and a happy ending. Also one of the most intelligent cartoon series written with telling comments here about the commercialism of Christmas, beautiful illustrations, great music, children's natural voices for the cast. If you've never seen it before, follow the link above. You are in for thirteen glorious minutes of quintessential Christmas family viewing.

Friday, 21 December 2007

John Halas & Joy Batchelor "The Christmas Visitor"

Based on a poem by Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit from St Nicholas, the 1958 short, The Christmas Visitor, commences the seasonal offerings. Animated by Harold Whitaker and Tony Guy it is a has an amiable Santa Claus pausing in his labours on his busiest night whilst his toys come to magical life and entertain us with a little melodrama. There are some magical moments such as Santa's descent down the chimney, the unwrapping of the toys that lay scattered in the hallway as Santa tucks into his supper, and their subsequent transformation into living beings, or the smoke rings Santa blows over the tree before recommencing his journey. And it is a plot straight out of the silent movies featuring the dastardly deeds of Jack-in-the-Box.Will the sailor save his girl strapped as she is to the railway line as the locomotive bears down on her? Halas and Batchelor in classic fashion and a treat for the festive season. The extract from the the original poem is as good a description of Santa as you are likely to find:
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Alison De Vere "Mr. Pascal"

Mr. Pascal directed and drawn by Alison De Vere concerns an elderly shoe-maker, living alone now and dreaming of his youth and better times. The film commences in sketched black and white as we see Mr Pascal on a bench outside a church, watching passers by but isolated from them. Colour is introduced to the movie as he remembers his work as a cobbler, his wife and child watching on. Affixed to the church wall is a life-size figure of Christ on the crucifix. In a sudden fit of compassion for the tortured figure, the old man collects his tools from the shop returning to free Christ from the nails attaching him to the cross. He attends to the stigmata, wraps the figure in a blanket and lights a bonfire, created from the cross itself and the crown of thorns. He is joined by other companions of the night, a very mixed gathering that is rewarded by a night of miracles. Thus Mr Pascal frees himself from his woes and releases light and colour into the world, both symbolically and literally. This is an utter delight, and although it sits more in an Easter screening than the run up to Christmas, it is such an optimistic and invigorating movie, one I remember well from festivals in the 1990s when I first saw it. Technically and artistically Alison was adept. For example it is the tapping of the nails into the shoes of Mr Pascal's dreams that links with the wounds of Christ. All this is beautifully drawn. When the festivities begin the music of John Smith on guitar and Derek Hodson on flute, together with the now vibrant colour, create something very special. Similarly, the bursting into bloom of a blossom tree beside the church as Mr Pascal awakes from his slumbers is a most touching conclusion. She was nominated for a Best Short Film BAFTA for the 1974 film and won the Gran Prix at the Annecy Festival. Alison worked as design director on the The Beatle’s Yellow Submarine animation and contributed the Eleanor Rigby image used in the sequence for the song. She had a fitting training regime, working for Halas and Batchelor for five years during the early '50s. No training can have been better. Alison died in 2001 at the age of 73. I post about lots of movies, old and new, and thanks to those terrific collectors, in this case on YouTube, it is an absolute honour to be allowed an appreciation of such enchanting works and their creators. The seven minute movie begins my wind down to Christmas. Shorter posts to come on movies of a seasonal nature. Then a few selections of my movies of the year. Alison's may just be there!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

"Magic Highway USA" Ward Kimball - Disneyland TV (Visions of Future Past 4)

What future did Disney envisage for us fifty years ago? Magic Highway USA written and produced by Ward Kimball is a straight-faced examination of the crystal ball. It's fascinating. Tubes in the sky, moving elevators to render window shopping that much easier, personal parking zones in the sky, undersea highways, huge screens posted along magnificent motorways directing traffic and providing traffic information, and even, thanks be to heaven, similar screens on the dashboard. It's a golden Disney age. Look at the screenshot and dream; though Disney did not get everything correct. Father, mother and child travel together though only father works, high in the sky, mother and child having the ordeal of shopping together. Modern families! And no congestion. Huge machines will lay roadway like toothpaste from the tube whilst vast, readily assembled and self-propelled bridges will manoeuvre into position. Halcyon Disney days and, putting to one side any cynicism about what has in fact transpired, it's wonderfully optimistic, a different age certainly. And fifty years ago Disney was producing animation of this quality! A most informative article with still images is included on the 2719 Hyperion blog. It provides so much detail about Disney. Another excellent article, this time about Ward Kimball, is included in the very readable Animation Blast. Ward is described as "the quintessential animator" by the writer Amid Amidi who knew him well. Ward died in 2002. The link is to a eight minute section of a longer episode.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Bruce Simpson "Hell Job" & "Body Piercing 1"

Bruce Simpson has a heck of a lot of credits to his name and a host of talents other than animation. However it is for his Flash animation series Stick Girl that he has gained a mention on the blog. The series of short cartoons give a satirical look at the problems and strains of adolescence in today’s Canada .. or the USA, UK …. The episodes are boldly if simply drawn, distinguished by intelligent commentary, wit, and often the forthright voice of the narrator (Bruce is an actor). Take Hell Job for example. Here Stick Girl gets rewarded by low pay and abysmal working conditions in one of the myriad fast food outlets related to chicken or beef or something. Or Body Piercing 1 where the joys of attracting magnets are amply demonstrated in a series of short episodes. In fact it’s difficult to think of a difficult teenage issue Bruce has shirked in the series. As short starters for discussion lessons for the high school student I can hardly think of better material.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Tex Avery "The House of Tomorrow" (Visions of Future Past 3)

Texd Avery was one of America’s finest and most popular animation directors of the last century. His output reads like a pantheon of cartoons. On his arrival in 1935 at Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies Cartoon Studio he was told by the studio director to be as much like Walt Disney as possible. It is his 1949 The House of Tomorrow that is today’s featured movie in my compilation Visions of Future Past. Now when a class of 15 and 16 year olds laugh aloud at something produced nearly 60 years ago you know it must be good. Though mild by today's tastes the movie was clearly produced for an adult audience, apparently men with mother-in-laws. It commences with a house mushrooming to all its splendour from a matchbox sized cube. All members of the household have their own entrance of various sizes though the mother-in-law's appears to be padlocked and bolted. Ignoring the in-law jokes, and disregarding the references to the wife as belonging to a different era, the movie is genuinely funny. It's a house bursting with mod cons: the air conditioning and humidifier is a cloud that releases rain, the sunbed flips the user over like egg in a pan, and there's a chair that adjusts itself for each individual user - the mother-in-law gets an electric chair! And so on. My favourite gag concerns the glass door in the refrigerator to enable the owner to discover what happens to the light when you open and close the door. What is so surprising is the modern nature of the house that underpins so much of the movie. Yes, the jokes concern the absurdities and extremes of the inventions but there is an awareness of modern living that is revealing particularly given the state of post war Britain in the 1940s. Thanks to those enthusiasts who post on YouTube you can enjoy one of the classic cartoons. This includes two more in the "Tomorrow" series from Avery.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Run Wake "Rabbit"

Rabbit directed by Run Wake is a strange movie, its bizarre qualities distinquishing it from the crowd. An award winning movie, it is a moral tale of what transpires when greed takes over and corrupts two children. Using the stylistic device of old fashioned children's books designed to teach reading the eight minute film is beautifully illustrated by Geoffrey Higham in the style of, variously, Lucie Attwell, Janet and John or a 1930s Reading Primer . Labels are attached to all the nouns in the film. There are certainly spellings to be learnt (tulip, bee, rabbit) but the action becomes increasingly fantastic and the movie is definitely not recommended as a teaching aid for young children! The boy kills a rabbit. When it is hacked in two with a knife ("knife") an idol ("idol") is released who, in exchange for jam, gives the now murderous pair jewels ("jewels" - well, you've got the idea.) I am often rendered dumb by the wit and originality of the animators featured in my blog. Run is inspired here. Halving the rabbit is bad enough but the wholesale carnage inflicted by rosy cheeked children is overwhelming. I noted too the gradual change in their faces from innocence to the demonic. The red bus and the red van took me straight to the early days teaching my own children to read and I still can't believe the boy clobbered the horse ("horse") with a cricket bat. As a salutory homily on the subject of greed this movie has few peers. You can tell one is in the presence of a distinctive individual when alighting on Run's Biography. It is set out as a road map from the Chelsea School of Art where a click takes you to his earliest 1987 animation (see image) through The Royal College of Art where a 1990 Spinner Loop is chosen to represent his work there. Rabbit occurs towards the end of his travels in 2005. (The above is the second of two links to the movie, I hope both legitimate.) Run's website is unusually literate, very thorough with links to his superb commercials and other recent work, has one of the best shops around - buy your Christmas Cards there - and there's a link to a European Movies DVD which includes Rabbit. Oh, and the website reveals that Run married this year and moved from London to Kent.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Alison Snowden "Second Class Mail"

To lead into the Christmas period you're being treated to one of my favourite movies seen, and remembered fondly, when it first came out. Sometimes a movie just hits the spot, withstanding the test of time much better than other works of the period. Such is the case with the absolutely fabulous Second Class Mail directed in 1984 by Alison Snowden, and co-animated and scripted by David Fine. It was Alison’s graduation piece during her time at The National Film School. The movie is an exquisite blend of humour tinged with sadness and, despite the script outline, is in the best possible taste. A lady of a certain age posts off a second class envelope to acquire an inflatable companion for her latter days. The mail arrives and she leaves her cup of tea and canary (don’t get too attached) to collect the parcel and inflate her would-be soul mate. It was an impressive outing for a student for Alison's movie obtained top prize at the Annecy Film Festival as well as an Oscar nomination. The screenshot reveals the style, rounded drawings, with warm blushes of colour. There's also a priceless element of timing in the animation that distinguishes the class act: the old lady swooping on her man, the reaction of the canary to the full circle turn it manages on its perch and the unceremonious conclusion of the movie. Alison was in good company at the time and collaborations from no less an assemblage than Nick Park, Mark Baker and Barry Baker signalled a bright future for British animation. The movie is as fresh as the day it was animated, signalling the birth of a partnership (domestic and professional) with Canadian David Fine that has given us several animated classics including collaborations with Nick Park, splendid commercials for the Inland Revenue featuring the voice of Sir Alec Guinness (a future post as it happens), the adult series Bob and Margaret and even, I discover, scripts for Peppa Pig, the Asley, Baker and Davies children's series about which I have written here before and for which no praise in my household is too strong. The couple have alternated their work between the UK and Canada.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Max Hattler "Collision", "Everything Turns" & "Ikea"

Max Hattler's 2005 graduation movie from the Royal College of Art is an abstract work of evolving patterns and depth. Collision is described on his website as "Islamic patterns and American quilts and the colours and geometry of flags as an abstract field of reflection". It has won many awards and obtained impressive testimonials in the national and specialist press of which the BBC's tag "an original depiction of aesthetics into politics" is probably most apt. It seems to have been screened all over the world to judge by the website. Max obtained the considerable support of additional animation from Ian Mackinnon, whose work I greatly admire and featured here. Max's produced his own sound design which was mixed by Christopher Wilson. The combination of art and music is quite beautiful. I know one testimonial refers to its being "disturbing" but I found it fascinating, the various intricate patterns building up to the collision of the title, whilst at the same time providing an intelligent appreciation of world political issues as West clashes with East. This abstract stuff though..... can the lad draw? Yes he can actually - and well. An alternative link for Collision is to the Bermada Shorts Gates competition. Elsewhere on the site you can view his recent, classy commercial for Ikea. It extols the virtues of loving your home and ends with a big kiss which is always nice. Alternatively look at his 2004 piece Everything Turns which in 71 seconds takes a journey through life from conception to death in a rather stylish manner. His website ( has a lot of material on it including downloadable movies I have yet to view though there will be other opportunities to do that. And mention of the excellent Bermuda Shorts website reminds me of a draft post I have on another of a clutch of London based animators from the Royal College of Art, Run Wake and his multi award winning short, Rabbit. I thought I'd posted it. Run, Ian and Max are startlingly talented.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Nazim Tulyakhodzayev "There Will Come Soft Rains" - Ray Bradbury - (Visions of Future Past 2)

There Will Come Soft Rains directed in the Soviet era by Uzbekistan's Nazim Tulyakhodzayev in 1984, is set in Allendale, California between the 31st December 2026 and New Year's Day. It is based on the Ray Bradbury story which in turn was inspired by the 1920 poem by Sara Teasdale. 1984 was a good year to make the movie for it foretells an age when mankind has been taken over by robots. Indeed the only humans we see are dust. Thus the image I choose to illustrate the movie is perhaps a trifle misleading though I consider it irony. It commences with an egg being fried for breakfast. An all powerful robot does the chores, directs the humans, repels invaders. Trouble is the inhabitants of this world are long since expired. When a white pigeon ventures into the establishment Armageddon is the merest lurch of a robot away. The thunderous tones of the narrator, the dark imagery and bleak conclusion suggest a grim experience. You'd be right. Tulyakhodzayev is an outstanding director however and conscious of the need for light in the darkness. Bing Crosby's "The Moon Was Yellow" is played on the gramophone and imbues the scene with a quintessentially American feel good atmosphere against an open window and warm light. This does not overcome the dramatic mistreatment of the statue of Christ on the cross at the end as prayer comes to no avail. A very comprehensive and well written review of the 10 minute movie is provided by Phil Nichols. The eloquent final words of Sara Teasdale's poem sum up the theme of this remarkable Soviet animation:
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Faith Hubley "Who Am I?"

Together with her husband, John Hubley, Faith Hubley completed 21 films until his death in 1977 and from that time until her own death in 2001 she completed 25 other solo movies. Who am I? (1988) is one I have chosen to represent her work. It is a light-hearted exploration of the simple joy a child has at discovering the wonders of the senses. Each in turn is covered, images evoking the magic of this special time. In truth the screenshot is atypical of the film animated by Faith's daughter, Emily Hubley. Most images are simple, child-like and innocent, such as this cute dog. The best movies, as I have remarked often in the blog, have a freshness about them that, unlike traditional films, are time proof. Who am I? is fresh. It's very much a family affair for Faith's grandson, Sam Hubley, provides the voice of the child. This involvement is typical of a remarkable family whose roots in animation go back to 1935 when John was employed by Walt Disney Studios painting backgrounds and layouts for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The work of the The Hubley Studio continues to the present day and, Emily in particular, although having her own style (posts to come) still bases her work on hand-drawn as opposed to computer animated films. A further feature on the Oscar nominated Moonbird will appear in a later post and this too features the Hubley family. In the meantime, the best price I can discover for the two DVD editions of the American imported The Hubley Collection here in the UK at least is at CD Quest. I'm running out of Christmas requests and hope someone in my family listens (or reads!)

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

John Halas & Joy Batchelor "Automania 2000" (Visions of Future Past 1)

My compilation, Visions of Future Past, kicks off with this classic Halas and Batchelor movie. Produced in 1963 as a joint Anglo-American production the John Halas directed Automania 2000 was the first British animation to be nominated for an Oscar and a British Academy Award. In fact it is a documentary satirising the development of the automobile from the days when it was a pleasure to drive on empty roads to a nightmarish vision of cities choked to bursting point by ever bigger and more plentiful cars. Harold Whittaker did the animation and he is best known in my household for his animations of Jan Pieńkowski and Helen Nicoll's Meg and Mog and by me for his Autobahn. There are different styles of animation here, from the relatively simple to the arty and symbolic; some great lines too from Joy Batchelor's script: "With universal immobility war is unthinkable, peaceful co-existence exists." We see the image of Big Ben above mirrored by that of the Kremlin. This compilation DVD would make a nice Christmas present!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Josh Raskin "I Met the Walrus" - John Lennon

Josh Raskin's 2007 I Met the Walrus is an animated account of an interview 14 year old Jerry Levitan obtained after sneaking into John Lennon's Toronto hotel room 38 years ago. Circa 1970 reel to reel tapes are not the best bet for recording sounds but Jerry's scoop has been put to good use by director Josh Raskin. The link is to the opening section of the 6 minute film. In the words of the website, "Raskin marries traditional pen sketches by James Braithwaite with digital illustration by Alex Kurina". Now judgement of the movie is tempered by a view of Lennon as the most brilliant of The Beatles and the soundtrack, however raw, is the best thing about this short film. Speaking as someone who was a student in Liverpool in that era, eventually starting my teaching career in the city, there's a warmth and nostalgia that strikes a chord. Lennon, principled and outspoken, provided the fledgling reporter with good copy: "They like war because it keeps them fat and happy and I'm anti-war so they're trying to keep me out. But I'll get in." The animation is slickly done with a certain echo of the times and sufficient wit in its treatment to do Lennon justice. But it hinges on that fortuitous interview with a great man. I remember sitting in a Yorkshire staffroom on the day we heard of his murder and listening to some senior colleagues rubbish what he was and what he stood for. I declared my interest and went off to teach. Lennon was ever the enemy of the establishment. Thanks to the very lively Jo Overfield who told me about the movie - "'s fantastic." I enjoyed it too.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

John Halas "The History of the Cinema"

The History of the Cinema is an undeniable classic of animation, very British in its humour and very tied in with its period. With an irrepressibly optimistic narrator and great wit it takes us from the cavemen daubing on the rock, the pinhole camera, through the early silent movie era, and eventually to the rise of television. John Halas' 1957 movie also manages to convey facts in an amusing way. Thus we learn why Hollywood was so good for film-making (sun, dependable sun) and the vital role the censor paid in movie history - essentially he snipped away all the good bits of film and left the audience with the rest - and even the fads designed to withstand the impact of the little box in the home:"The producer is ever striving for perfection!" A visit to one of the treasure homes of British animation, Halas & Batchelor Collection, is an enjoyable experience. You can read a previous post about John Halas here.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Christopher Walsh "The Magic Projector"

The Magic Projector directed by Christopher Walsh is a most unusual film. Set in 1935 in a remote Canadian village it tells a rather eerie tale of young Quinn who is attracted to a fairground style big top to see a travelling movie. Sadly, despite the best offices of the man in charge only the boy and his sister arrive to see the movie. The tent is empty and the experience marred. However the fascination of the film is great and the boy returns alone to investigate this miraculous projector and the world it can create. The puppet based animation is in black and white and there are subtle differences between the projections, drawn in cartoon style, and the puppets themselves. It is expertly made. In the days before wall-to-wall coverage the appearance of a movie booth in a small town must have been a great spectacle and the projections something of magic. The 14 minute animation captures that magic in more ways than one. By the movie's end the projection booth is packed out. The movie was originally Christopher's thesis from York University's Graduate Film Program. He is currently the new Professor in the Bachelor of Applied Arts (Animation) Program at Sheridan College. A DVD copy of the 2006 animation may be obtained from the director's website. Tomorrow I shall be posting another movie about the early days of cinema though somewhat lighter in tone. And nice to see Google AdSense pick up the references to hand puppets by one of the advertisers - all proceeds to a cancer charity so do click away.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Patrick Smith "Puppet"

Puppet, an animated short by Patrick Smith, concerns a teenage boy who constructs a hand puppet only to have it come alive and take control in a rather brutal way. The movie is expertly animated, certainly as good as anything in mainstream animation on the giant screen. When I think about it there's something cinematic about the construction of the movie, notably in the Hollywood twist at the end. This is a very commercial movie. It's quite tough viewing in its content, certainly not played for laughs: when the puppet comes alive there is a demonic quality about it that stifles any laughter. Patrick has a fairly awesome biography including television series, MTV videos and major commercials. He also has various roles in academia in New York, the location of his studio. His very professional website and independent company Blend Films Inc. has clips from several of his award winning movies, some of which can be downloaded free, as well as other movies on DVD for sale, including Puppet. I would be remiss if I did not point to his commercials. Two in particular appeal, Swallowface and Donorschoose. The first is short but an amazing morph, the second is just so well done. Patrick is an impressive individual.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Craig Frasier "Swisscheese" & "Stanley Goes For A Drive"

Craig Frasier has remarkable talent and flair. His designs are eye-catching, stylish, intriguing, peaceful. He produces work like no other animator I know. The accompanying illustration is not from an animation but it’s so appealing and I could not resist: the surreal impossibility of it all, the bright blue shades, yellow sand, the composition itself. I have used his work with my students for years. Swisscheese was my first introduction to his movies. A man strolls by a giant aerated cheese, takes one of the holes and places it in his bucket, bounces one of the holes like a ball and climbs up the stepping stones of the holes. In Stanley Goes For A Drive the countryside is irresistibly beautiful with cows and horses black silhouettes apart from the one with white cloud-like patches which disappear as Stanley hand milks her, the white turning to clouds in a perfect sky. Almost any one of the frames could be printed to grace a home, they are that good. The accompanying music soothes a weary ear, the visual qualities grace the screen, the surrealism pleases the intellect. A class act. Should you enjoy these and other animations on the site, consider purchasing his elegant The Illustrated Voice. It looks magical on the site. Christmas present! (And a means of repaying Craig for some great pleasures.)

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Michael Dudok De Wit "A Life" ("It's Time To Fly" United Airlines)

Michael Dudok de Wit is the sixth and final director in my series of posts about a wonderfully talented group of directors involved in an advertising campaign reaching the heights. A Life is as good an animated commercial as it is possible to see. United Airlines, the world's second largest airline, and Fallon, their advertising agency, struck gold. The ad was so good it was declared a work of art in 2005 and placed is the USA's Museum of Modern Art. In 60 seconds Michael takes us through precious moments in a man's life, from his boy's sense of wonder when peering into the skies at an airliner, and how in later life the lure of airflight is still there to inspire and delight. I have said as much in praise of Michael's Father and Daughter as it is possible to say and in many ways A Life has similarities with his Oscar winning longer film. The blended and textured colours are there, the masterful ability to capture emotions, the fabulous technique and even the bike ride that commences the commercial. Somehow or other it seems far longer than 60 seconds, the Gershwin music just that more intensive, the experience the richer. And just a mention of the Soho based studio King Camera who handled the production - they deserve that! For the purposes of research, the following animators associated with United Airlines in addition to Michael are the following: Bill Plympton, Aleksandr Petrov, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, Joanna Quinn, Jamie Caliri and Sarah Roper.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

3 Bears (Bryony, Caddi and Linnhe Catlow) "The Godson"

The Godson is a claymation spoof on Mario Puzio’s The Godfather. It has all the violent mayhem of the gangster movie including a decapitated horse though somehow retaining an innocence and warmth absent in the gore of the original. Perhaps the numerous references to pasta in all its forms have something to do with it. The story concerns the revenge taken by Don Cannelloni’s rivals, a consequence of the unfortunate demise of their racehorse. The honour and security of the family rests in the flour stained hands of the youngest Cannelloni, Doodi. There are some great lines: “You’re gonna kill me ‘cos of a horse – that’s insane, but understandable.” Finished in 2003 and sandwiched between paying work the movie took four years to complete. It is however a wonderful parody with oodles of ketchup and wheat derivatives. It also has Red Dwarf’s Robert Llewellyn as the voice for Don Ravioli. Three Catlow sisters, Bryony, Caddi and Linnhe, founded the 3 Bears Studio in 1996. Their studio is in Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria - the county of my birth. No connection at all but I met Linnhe (now Linnhe Harisson) a few years ago at the Co-op Young Film-Makers’ Festival. If I remember correctly the three girls were stalwarts of the festival as youngsters. They are now creators of some most creative animated commercials, notably for Dulux as well as the celebrated claymation short, Tongue Tied, for the BBC’s spoof SF series Red Dwarf. Their work is not restricted to clay however and includes Flash and Maya 3D animation, each of the three women seemingly having branched out to broaden their range and appeal. Judge their success with this peach of an ad for Dreft.