Thursday, 31 January 2008

Mari Inukai "Piece of Hope"

Piece of Hope is the second animation I have featured by Japanese born though, since 1995, California based artist and animator, Mari Inukai. Her graduation work, Piece of Hope was produced in 2004 for the singer Noñameko. A rather mournful track is given focus by the cascade of drawings and illustrations all tastefully drawn. Given my English reserve, I'm not normally one for this heart-felt sentiment to be truthful ("I hear the scream from deep inside my heart...") and the music is not necessarily to my taste (a failing, I accept) though the images of characters being wafted into the air on an umbrella, flowers sprouting up all over, happy families, mother and daughter (à la Blue and Orange) and the like are very much appreciated. Indeed the charm of the animation is as much about being allowed access to a very talented painter's sketchbook as anything. The movie was featured in the CalArts showcase of 2004. Mari is a truly superb artist. In December she had a Solo Exhibition of her work of which the illustration below is merely one feature. Before you leave Mari's site do take a little look at what she terms "Channel Bumpers" for Nickelodeon; I'd describe them as short Flash animations between programmes to promote the channel in an entertaining way. They are very good - birds dropping yesterday's bugs or berries on heads and plants turning into triffids. It's a variation on her more serious animation and shows versatility. Mari is so good I'm seriously considering purchasing one of her paintings available via her blog. I showed her work to my class today and they appreciated both styles of animation, thought "Blue and Orange" brilliant and lapped up the shorter animations. No English reserve at all!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Emiel Penders "Angst"

Walking my own hound once led to a broken wrist so I can appreciate Emiel Penders' account of the trials and tribulations of dog ownership. Finely drawn in 2D black and white, his 2005 movie, Angst, is the tale of André whose relationship with his dog causes him some distress and much joy, in a landscape dominated by a wind that scares the boy until his dog is in danger. Emiel's comic timing is a delight as the wind sweeps the characters up to the sky in a series of impossible situations. In Angst all those repressed fears that plague us are confronted and there is always a wet and smelly canine tongue to re-establish normality. The original movie was transformed into a sweet sounding music video by production company Caviar for Bunny. Emiel's website, where the movie may be viewed in full, offers the two alternatives. Personally, although I liked the music, I felt the sound of the original wind and barking necessary to fully appreciate the story. Other movies on his site include at least one other canine treat.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Jean-Charles Mbotti-Malolo "Le Coeur Est Un Métronome" (The heart is a metronome)

A father is proud of his new baby son, takes photographs, throws the child into the air in sheer joy. However babies grow up and a father's patience can become strained. When they really grow up and tower over the parent, the son will not necessarily accept admonishment for misdeeds. What happens when both adults throw a tantrum and storm out of the house? Do they fall out of love with each other? One of four students selected from the very talented pool of talent enrolled at L'École Émile Cohl for the "compil des profs" and awarded the "Recommendation Prize" is Jean-Charles Mbotti-Malolo's graduation movie, Le Coeur Est Un Métronome. It is an assured piece, quite moving in its own way, particularly the conclusion. Jean-Charles has genuine artistic talent and the four minute animation is professional and possessing of an effervescent quality and spark. The zip in the young man's stride as he jumps over cars, slides down bannisters and kisses a stranger's cheek is infectious. But it is the street dance routines that entertain and mark the movie out as special - slick, rhythmic movements, quite perfectly animated and indeed choreographed, as father and son perform together almost despite themselves. I hazard a guess that we will see much more of Jean-Charles' work in the not too distant future. Watch the movie to the end and spot the photograph of what I take to be Jean-Charles' parents. A son to be proud of and a movie to put a spring in your step.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Tanya Lyon "Nowel" & "Best Friends" - with Cordell Barker

Animations are for now, not just Christmas! Thus it's certainly time for Canadian animator Tanya Lyon's short, Nowel. At only 23 she is one of Pascal Blais' highly rated directors attracted to the Montreal based Pascal Blair Studio. Nowel is a cute little piece featuring a scheming boy determined to capture Santa Claus on camera. Using a lure of milk and cookies he sets up his camera and determines to sit up all night to catch the seasonal visitor. Tricky so and so. Santa's been round the block a time or two or three and is up to the ruse however. A natural artist, Tanya has already had several commercials aired on television. One, a joint project with the acclaimed Cordell Barker, is Best Friends, a pleasing tale showing the benefits of feeding Teddy a class of milk rather than knocking bits out of toys like the rest of the heathens at the 6th birthday party. And, who knows, just maybe you attract a better class of friend that way, one to last a lifetime. It's a clever ad for the milk production industry in Quebec. Follow the link on Tanya's page for this second film or or enjoy it on YouTube. In fact the ad is Tanya's last post on her blog. Cordell produced one of the most brilliant Oscar nominated movies for some years with his "The Periwig Maker" a chilling stop-motion saga of the Black Death. I'll be reviewing it soon. Oh, and just in case you consider Tanya some kind of softie with this feeding milk to Teddy thing, you'd better check this one out - Opération Nounours. Here the poor furry thing gets tortured.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Gianluigi Toccafondo "La Piccola Russia"

La Piccola Russia is not easy to describe though it is fascinating to watch. Gianluigi Toccafondo's 2003 movie is more narrative based than those of his films covered elsewhere in the Animation Blog. His story telling is fragmented and elliptical. Essentially it seems to chronicle the story of a family, growing up, taking holidays, meeting with the opposite sex, marrying. From narrated cooking recipes to innocent images of children playing with a boat at the seaside, the story unfolds in a shimmering, constantly changing, montage of grey and cream drawings. There are clues that all will not end well however - the dissonance in the music, muffled, pressurised sounds. There is a tension in the accelerating succession of images of family life, as boy grows to man, girl to woman. At one point the son spies on the girl, who is perhaps his sister. He eats his food watching his father play with his money. When he slaughters his family, using the money he steals to pay for a Russian prostitute, there is little surprise. Indeed something of a dream quality hangs over the action. It all seems curiously detached and unreal. At 16 minutes in length our attention never wavers for one moment. As the killer is led off at the end Gianluigi's triumph is in making us confront what we have actually seen. How much of the action is in the man's imagination, how much is in the past? Why did he kill his family? Like many gruesome murders of this kind, of course, one never knows why. Sane people do not do this. The movie was named as the best narrative short film at the Ottawa Festival in 2004. I'm left in admiration at the boundaries for animation being so extended. Some movie.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Lucy Lee "Bird Becomes Bird"

Sometimes a movie, like any work of art, stands apart for its beauty and integrity. Such a film is today's featured movie by Lucy Lee. A graduate of the National Film School, Lucy had what can only be described as a glorious work placement: "I went to Yekaterinburg, Russia to make my graduation film, in the studios where Alexanda Petrov worked. I learned a huge amount from the people there particularly my Art Director Andrey Zolotuchin." Any animator associated for any time with the great Petrov would benefit from the experience. The result was Lucy's 1997 Bird Becomes Bird a most maturely conceived piece about a young girl's absorption with the behaviour of a bird and the influence this has on her. It commences with the comical behaviour of a heron-like bird on the ice. There is however a metamorphosis in behaviour as the bird turns from clumsy ice scrambler to acrobatic swimmer and graceful flyer. So immersed is the child in the bird's behaviour that she is oblivious of her own safety. I actually alighted on Lucy's work after viewing another film of hers and will post the results of those considerations at a later date. Her website is more attractive and comprehensive than almost any other of the myriad of film-makers' sites I have visited when compiling the Animation Blog. It contains detailed analysis of her work, both her own perspectives and those of various critics, gorgeous screenshots, full cast and technique details, sales and biography. It is an object lesson in site design. And, in case I forget, full films and segments for the on-line viewer. For approximately £8 including postage one can buy a DVD of her work. But back to the film in hand. The painting by Lucy and Andrey is subtle and delicate, the music/voices/sound very professional. The ensuing description of the techniques used are not in my words but from the excellent website detail: "Hand painted under a rostrum camera, using ‘straight ahead’ technique of animating. Images are made on a multiplane bed with translucent oil paints, mirrors, gels, paper, vaseline and various others bits and pieces. The human characters were videoed and the animation was sketched onto animation cell, then used as the base image to paint from. It took 2 people about 3 months to paint." This is lazy blogging on my part but very helpful to would-be animators. Of course would-be animators might not be able to emulate the sumptuous light and colour in the sunsets, water, fish - as well as the effortless movement of the animated figures. I am presently writing an extended study of Petrov's movies. Lucy has obviously been influenced by his manner of working whilst possessing the talent to progress in her own distinctive style. I shall have to purchase the DVD!

Friday, 25 January 2008

Andrew S. Allen "Flight"

Flight directed by Andrew S. Allen is a story of flight, from the basic flying machine to the world's most technically advanced aircraft. The challenge of flight of course is to emulate the soaring bird, shown here in the white gull that epitomises everything that is pure and aspirational. The trouble is man has tarnished this ideal. Airplanes become warplanes disgorging bombs or, as in the 9.11 horror, themselves become the bomb. This essentially is Andrew's theme - an ideal being tainted: if Icarus was a tragic accident, Andrew's vision looks more like evolution thrown into reverse. In a Directors Notes podcast Andrew confesses his lack of prowess using pencil and paper to draw, though his use of Adobe After Effects in Flight is effective, the deliberately spare detail nicely designed. Andrew received assistance from three friends, all designers: Josh Froscheiser, Danny Huang and Aaron Woo. I viewed it with a class of students today, sparking discussion about the techniques used (boys like animating planes), the significance of the change from blue to red sky, and the cinematic opening to the movie that was much appreciated. Andrew is a talented man with several innovative projects in operation. A graduate of the University of Washington, he presently works as an interaction designer for Ziba Design in Portland, Oregon. His personal website is expertly designed and thorough, and he finds time to run Polymix, a platform for a group of North-West film-makers and enthusiasts, as well as edit Short of the Week, a weekly guide to on-line films. Add his involvement in film festivals and his own film-making and one finds a busy man. Do take in the live action movie Push for Signal about the dangers of crossing a busy road - the link is to Atom Films. The movie link for Flight is a direct one via Directors Notes, a UK organisation I inadvertently have helped fund through my lottery donations! I often wonder where the money goes.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Tomek Ducki "Winter’s First Day" & "Life Line"

Tomek Ducki's Winter’s First Day is chosen as representative of his work albeit it was his 2006 movie Life Line that has gained the plaudits in various festivals and competitions. The link is to Tomek's website from where one has to negotiate to the animation section and recognise the screenshot. At less than two minutes in length this is not a major movie though it is testament to the Hungarian animator's talent. A dog is let out of its home to exercise and eat a bone. An abortive attempt to meet up with a bird that at first sight looks suspiciously like a dog ends when it flies off into a sky full of congregating rooks. All is not lost though as another rather chunky dog arrives for companionship and, who knows, a relationship free of the lead. Signs of winter are changing cloud patterns and a wind that begins to make itself heard. It is the style though that engages one's attention: variation of light, smudges of textured colour like a smeared windscreen, everyday sounds, a suggestion of city tower blocks, confidence and skill in the animation of the two dogs. A one minute fragment of Life Line is included to reveal Tomek's figures of cogs and wheels racing smoothly on undulating lines in a vaguely urban, wholly digital world of grey and blue. Other animations show his range of techniques and interests, including some eye-catching posters. Until recently he was a student at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, though now I see from his biography that he has enrolled at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield. It will be interesting to see how this extremely talented artist progresses.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Pinnocchio & Bruno Berrebi "T'es pas cap Pinocchio"

Mention of Pinocchio yesterday leads me to the quite addictive T'es pas cap Pinocchio, an upbeat version of the theme music for the 1972 film - originally a five part mini-series Le Avventure di Pinocchio, directed by Luigi Comencini who died last year at the age of 90. The music video was made in 2005 by singer-songwriter, Bruno Berrebi. I'm not claiming anything special for the animation though a huge number of folk have viewed it on YouTube. Rather fewer have enjoyed Pinocchio in the Snow, though to my mind it is at least the equal in terms of quality, well described by the YouTuber in the link. Set in Moscow in the snow, a feature is a promenade of Russian dolls - and the same addictive tune! As I'm not stressing too much on the animation qualities today, a triumph of research, the original closing music from the 1972 movie, is available here. Which version do you like? If you are still searching for that touch of class in relation to Pinocchio, Give A Little Whistle.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Gianluigi Toccafondo "La Pista" & "La Coda"

Gianluigi Toccafondo is an animator with a very distinctive and personal style - an artist who thankfully has chosen animation as his medium, at least in the following two cases. I am focusing on two similar works. La Pista (1991) is a two minute swirl of images and movement based on the dance routines of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Gianluigi worked alongside fellow artist, Simona Mulazzani. In addition to his brushwork, Gianluigi uses actual footage of the dancers though such is the fluidity of movement and colour that the integration is seamless. The music has a Latin flavour and in combination with the animation is all exhuberance. Humorous touches abound. The man's arm stretches to guide the woman, and stretches and stretches; she becomes a kite-like banner floating above his head, he transforms to a lion hunting its mate, the woman an ostrich leading her man. Gianluigi has spoken of his technique: “Cinema is my starting point. I make photos from film-clips; I xerox them on paper and then paint on them, transforming the original subject. Finally I make the shots with the 35mm film and they become cinema again.” For his earlier movie, the 1989 La Coda (The Tail), Gianluigi made some 1200 drawings of the silent movie star, Buster Keaton, and subjected them to his process of transformation. His hero collapses, climbs and parades on an ever changing canvas that, again, is set to exhilarating violin music. Born in 1965 and graduating in 1985 from Istituto Statale d'Arte di Urbino, Gianluigi now works in Milan and Bologna where he is very much in demand as a designer of books. The Ottawa International Animation Festival did a retrospective of his work in 2005. I know of him for his 1999 Pinocchio, available on DVD from Amazon. I wish I could point to an easily available DVD of the two movies featured here. I plan to feature another of his later works at the weekend.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Clyde Geronimi & Walt Disney "Peter and the Wolf "

Sterling Holloway's perfect voice narrates Peter and the Wolf, the Walt Disney cartoon directed in 1946 by Clyde Geronimi. I did Disney a disservice yesterday when writing about Suzie Templeton's version. Disney is Disney and having now viewed this funny and beautifully crafted early movie, I have nothing but praise for the work. Commencing with a rather artistic guide to Serge Prokofieff's musical piece, with the signatures for the various characters introduced, the story of Peter going out to hunt the wolf with his toy gun commences. The screenshot is slightly misleading. Would Disney kill off the duck? Italian-American Clyde Geronimi was a stalwart of the Disney studio until leaving in 1959. In 1942 he won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short with his Lend a Paw. He was the director of the television Spiderman series produced in 1967 which I will look at soon, along with his award winning Pluto cartoon. You can obtain the rare DVD version of Peter and the Wolf from Amazon or, inevitably, it is posted on YouTube in two halves: Peter and the Wolf 1 & Peter and the Wolf 2. Meanwhile, Suzie Templeton's version, featured yesterday, is available on a DVD specially made to be screened theatrically in concert halls accompanied by live orchestras from MovieMail.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Suzie Templeton "Peter and the Wolf" (Sergei Prokofiev's Peter & the Wolf)

Peter and the Wolf was one of the highlights of Channel 4's Christmas entertainment here in the UK in 2006. It is a magnificent movie and achievement. Suzie Templeton is one of our premier animators and her Stanley and Dog, both reviewed here, were exceptional in their use of stop-frame animation to create serious movies with impact. Her adaptation, alongside co-writer Marianela Maldonado, of Sergei Prokofiev's classic work is in a different league however, certainly in terms of production resources. Peter lives in a barricaded wreck of a farm in the frozen depths of winter. His grandfather assiduously attends to a ramshackle but nevertheless daunting defence against the wolf who prowls the perimeter. When Peter negotiates the padlocked gate and enters into the exposed icy waste the wolf comes a calling. The movie is not Disneyland. The grandfather is not a kindly old man, the house is a mess and Peter is bullied unmercifully by the neighbourhood thugs. His companions are a bloated, ugly cat, a magpie and a comical goose. The latter provides both the humour in an otherwise dark movie and also lunch for a lean and very mean wolf. The film has the range of emotions reflecting Prokofiev's work, rousingly played here by the The Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Mark Stephenson. It eschews a narrator as in the original, allowing the music and animation their own voice, though sadly the sound of the goose in the wolf's belly is missing. For those used to blockbuster cartoons on DVD or cinema, and their smooth-flowing movements, the comparatively jerky quality of Templeton's stop-motion technique might well be considered a trifle gauche though for me it is perfect for the Russian winter and events of a classic movie. The quality of the set and of the models is quite exceptional. The wolf is all menace. All this and no mention of the conclusion and theme. Templeton's adaptation is very modern, providing a psychological depth. When Peter spares the wolf it is not out of naive sentimentality, more a statement against the brutality of our world - though the goose would have disagreed with the philosophy! Buy the DVD here or visit the comprehensive website for the movie. Alternatively the movie has been featured on YouTube for some months: Peter and the Wolf 1, Peter and the Wolf 2, Peter and the Wolf 3.
Postcript (added 27th February 2008) Do read the comment for 25th February from Anna regarding the contribution of Poland and Norway.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Nina Bisjiarina "Sparrows Are Children of Pigeons"

Russian animator Nina Bisjiarina has recreated a child's imaginary world in her bewitching five minute short made in 2005, Sparrows Are Children of Pigeons. A young boy is led through a busy, adult world of street and bus. Everyday objects or animals are transformed in his imagination into wondrous creatures. The dog being dragged away from him by its owner is a reindeer with twinkling antlers, a sparrow, suddenly bestowed with colour, joins in children's games and, perhaps most magically of all, the moon and stars in the nightime sky become penguins rolling huge glowing snowballs in the heavens. As the child drifts to sleep courtesy of the luminous pillow provided by the attentive penguin, he is united in love with his mother. In this 2D film Nina's imaginative feat is equalled by her artistic talent, surely the essence of the best animation. It is not every day one is allowed entrance to a child's world.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Frederik Ring "Dachau near Munich"

Type into Google the word "Dachau" and every reference on the first page at least is to the concentration camp. Dachau is a city of 40400 in the state of Bayern, Germany. Munich is 13 miles away. Dachau near Munich (9 minutes) is a 2006 movie by yesterday's featured animator, Frederik Ring, albeit very different, in choice of media, style and tone. This is a story, told in the first person, of a thirteen year old schoolboy living in Dachau, a place forever associated in the eyes of the world with Nazi atrocities. Yet from the boy's perspective Dachau is a home for normal, everyday life and his concerns range from the inclusion of his drawings in the school magazine to a display by monster trucks. Oh and, I nearly forgot, girls. Frederick's movie presents an oblique view of the Holocaust. "The memorial site " is mentioned several times, the former death camp being visible as the boy and his friends cycle past, it features at the end of the movie though with an unexpected, apt ending. Thus Frederik's theme is of life proceeding and the horrors of the past being just that: the past. One moment encapsulates the theme. The boy is searching for a postcard to send to his exchange partner and scans the stand. Despite there being plenty of cards to choose from the boy elects to draw his own. Frederik's 2D drawing is very stylised and I feel it suits the manner of narration and subject. And don't consider for one moment this to be, even potentially, a harrowing film. Frederik incorporates moments of real humour. I liked the moment when he takes his girl on the funicular and becomes aware he may have a rival for her affections. The link is to the English version of the movie. I struggled with the German edition and missed a lot of the subtlety.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Frederik Ring "Bad Hair Day"

What do sheep dream of at night? The answer probably is shepherds jumping over gates but the hero of Frederik Ring's Bad Hair Day yearns to make himself attractive to the ewe of his dreams. It keeps him up all night. The trouble is the hairstyles of other breeds seem so much more attractive in the agricultural magazines. His solution requires recourse to clippers and hair gel, though where or when to stop is the question. And he looks positively dreadful after a night deprived of sleep! The four minute stop motion movie was produced in 2002. It has an unassuming humour to it and I liked the conclusion. Born in 1979 in Dachau, Germany, Frederik studied animation at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg , graduating in 2006. He presently works in advertising and film work. Tomorrow I shall feature his excellent graduation movie. In the meantime his website has high quality streamed movies.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Sharon Colman "Badgered" & BAFTA Nominations 2008

Badgered directed by Sharon Colman is a treat of a movie and rightly was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006. Awakened by the sound of two raucous crows, a grumpy badger who just wants to sleep is roused from his slumbers. He does his best to ignore the din but is forced out of his sett to deal with the noisy neighbours. The appearance of the Ministry of Defence intruders who slice the top off the little hill and install a nuclear missile silo just below his den is outside the badger's control however and his intervention proves less than helpful. Sharon's concern at the nuclear bunkers nestled in her Scottish countryside triggered the movie though this is more comedy than environmental or political campaign, her poor badger being "badgered" indeed. He certainly has an endearing quality. Badgers are attractive beasts, their black and white coat bestowing on them the same appeal as the panda or zebra; Sharon's creation is indeed charming, sliding his contours into the curve of the den to achieve the optimum sleep position, lumbering out to deal with the noisy neighbours, groaning and moaning at the disturbance. The crows are inspired, both in the sound they produce and in the manner in which they have been drawn and animated. Peter Gosling's music establishes a suitably warm atmosphere and Sharon's gentle, pastel animations are hand drawn with style. Sharon worked alongside fellow animators, Ant Blade and Richard Jones. As with the art, an understated humour permeates the movie. The "voice talent" of Rupert Degas reproduces the irritating caw of the rooks, gently underscored by the deeper, irate growl of the badger. Sharon graduated from Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Illustration in 2000 and, after a period of time freelancing and working in the industry, attended the National Film and Television School, leaving in 2005. Badgered was her graduation movie. It was made for £1000 and took a year to make. Peter Gosling, himself a former member of the NFTS, is very active in the film world. One of his most recent projects is the Ben Lock animated 2006 short, Elroy The Third - Potato Head Boy. You can download some of Peter's music in mp3 format from the Elroy website and check out his other work here.
Finally, the nominations for BAFTA 2008, Short Animation, have just been announced. They are:
HEAD OVER HEELS – Osbert Parker/Fiona Pitkin/Ian Gouldstone
THE CRUMBLEGIANT – Pearse Moore/John McCloskey

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Fabien Dumas, Benoît Guillou, Cécile Jestin, Jérôme Houlier, Baptiste Lemonnier "Twit-Twit

A robot controls a toll booth or level crossing for a narrow gauge railway through the desert. Along comes Charly, a young, banjo playing upstart robot who questions the need to pay the fee, barges his way in and finds himself paying the penalty. Fabien Dumas, Benoît Guillou, Cécile Jestin, Jérôme Houlier and Baptiste Lemonnier are all students from ESRA Bretagne and Twit-Twit was their 2007 piece. The students were only in their second year. Now a desert is a good place to be for a robot provided there is a good supply of oil to lubricate the joints. The old timer knows this and keeps his gun handy. Of course, even deserts have rain. The students use of the 3D software is remarkable. The robots are beautifully engineered pieces to see, expertly animated. The desert is well lit with the railway vehicles and the toll booth itself gracefully entwined together in the 3d world. Furthemore, the four minute movie is also imbued with a light touch of humour one sometimes does not find in such high tech animations. One example that amused me was the robot rolling up his joints prior to a fight. The original music by Guillaume Bertrand and Florian Monchatre adds to the wild west atmosphere. ESRA Bretagne specializes in training in 3D animation and, in its own words, is "dedicated to jobs in the Film, Television and Audiovisual Communication". These students are eminently employable, their examination piece funny and impressive both. Visit their website for further information including high quality stills and a superb storyboard.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Múm - four animated music videos

Icelandic band Múm have a quite fantastic series of animated videos produced by different directors. Marc Craste is a particular favourite of mine, noted for his series for Lloyds Bank featured here and (everywhere, actually.) Will the summer make good for all our sins is a dark movie, more in his usual style, the sweet voices and music of the band contrasting with the dark, eerie imagery of the animation. By way of contrast again is the more recent Rhubarbidoo by two young directors, Jason Malcolm Brown and Aya Yamasaki Brown, collectively known as Overture. Cute pink figures strut their stuff on a green stage somewhere in the countryside. These tree folk are most Entish. Next the interestingly titled They Made Frogs Smoke Til They Exploded by Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir. It is simply brilliant, being a collection of drawings often (though not in the screenshot) of children and butterflies and people dancing and waving at us. All to an insistent beat and very uplifting and not at all like the title would have one believe. The various cut-outs and foolscap drawings of the collage give a distinctive air to the piece. One video by this director and I'm a big fan. (Though there is a neat video he made in combination with Sindri Már Sigfússon for Seabear .) Green Grass Of Tunnel is a delightfully atmospheric accumulation of images commencing with an iceberg. In fact it is an animated 1950's travel book, the gorgeous work of Semiconductor, again a name for two animators, in this case from Brighton, Joe Gerhardt and Ruth Jarman. A visit to their website pays dividends with links to several of their films and an opportunity to purchase their DVD. They are very much of the moment to judge from the site. Also their video for Múm makes me want to travel to Iceland. Four contrasting videos, an excellent band and if this were a competition I'm not sure which film would win. But don't they make great screenshots?

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Phil Mulloy "The Chain"

I first saw Phil Mulloy's 1997 The Chain on the UK's Channel 4. I was reminded of it on the recommendation of a friend. The Chain is a satire, depicting a chain of events triggered by the brutal treatment of a child whose artwork is trashed. This acts as a catalyst for murder and mayhem, crusades, colonisation, drunkenness, deception, theft ..whatever...all in a search of an unobtainable, an illusion, a deception. Its ten minutes are not easy to describe in strictly logical terms though there is a strange logic and reality about Phil's sequence of events. How, otherwise, can one describe, say, Iraq? His vision may be anarchic, cynical, but I can't argue with it. The style of the movie is deceptive too. At once simply drawn, the scale of the work only becomes obvious as the movie progresses. Most of his work in my experience is rendered in black and white. Here the red figures and often vibrant colour create depth and dynamism. The movie utterly absorbed my attention. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Phil was born in what I used to consider the posh part of Liverpool - Wallasey, Cheshire. Visit his website for more information, films and sales. In the meantime the the film may be viewed in two parts: The Chain and The Chain 2. Belatedly I have been made aware of his other work and will feature it shortly. His is an important voice in animation.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Chris Hinton "Nibbles"

I've often set out on an excursion only to be distracted by the need to eat. Usually this occurs in winter when inclement weather sets in, the cafe beams like a lighthouse in a storm, and all we have to remember of our day out is an eating place, usually pretty unappetising in all respects. Nibbles, made by Chris Hinton in 2003, takes this experience many stages further. Three men go on a fishing trip in 2001 from Montreal to Lake Kippawa but are distracted by every eating joint on the way. Pizzas, french fries, donuts, gum, burgers and I don't know what slide down their gullets in a seemingly frantic attempt to build themselves up for the trials ahead. The car guzzles fuel, the mosquitoes guzzle the fishermen, the fish guzzle the bait. It's one huge orgy of eating and drinking, accompanied by various sound effects and some banjo picking. Sketched in a free and easy manner that suits the subject, the screenshot reveals the style pretty accurately. Chris has taught animation at Concordia University in Montreal for over 18 years and his 3.5 minute movie was nominated for an Academy Award. I also like his second Oscar nominated movie, Blackfly, produced in 2001 which has the same sense of humour and a related subject though an entirely different style. I'll write about it later in the week.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Pete Burness & Stephen Bosustow "When Magoo Flew"

The wondrous creation, Mr Magoo, was reportedly based on a combination of creator John Hubley's uncle and the immortal WC Fields. When Magoo Flew is one of two of the series that was awarded an Academy Award for Animated Short Film, in this case in 1954. It features the voice of Jim Backus that is so distinctive a feature of the character. Under the direction of Pete Burness and producer, Stephen Bosustow, the two writers Barbara Hammer and Ted Pierce offer a great script that has the short-sighted, hapless (though amazingly resilient) old man boarding a plane in the belief that he is attending a 3D movie. Part of the fun is how he misinterprets everything translating features of the flight in his own terms. Thus he pays for the flight at a weighing machine, finds "Fasten Seat Belts" an "interesting title" and, most humorous of all, takes a precarious walk around the plane, frightening the pilot and complaining about the air conditioning. He also manages, quite unknowingly, to thwart a criminal. This United Productions of America six minute movie is huge fun and, especially when it comes to the tour of the plane, a breath of fresh air. I must not omit the animators: Rudy Larriva, Tom McDonald and Cecil Surry.
BETT was superb, though the Adobe dinner at Brunello better. I met some nice people and thanks for the cocktails.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Theodore Ushev "Tower Bawher"

As part of World Animation Day on October 28th, the National Film Board of Canada screened different movies in their entirety for their Get Animated online festival. Thus we have the chance to enjoy Theodore Ushev's stirring Tower Bawher which at the time of writing is still available. It's a towering achievement (silly pun intended) moving at frenetic speed to the music of Georgy Sviridov. Theodore self-consciously draws it in the style of the early Soviet Constructivist art and architecture movement proclaiming the achievements of the communist era. Here the marching people, newsprint, vehicles hurtling along and, most obviously, the buildings that lurch into the heavens, scream out the supposed success of that ideology. As each burst of music surges so does the pace of the imagery, geometric shapes, abstract, then a little more realistic. It is absolutely no surprise when the whole edifice implodes given the pace, weight and expectation of an empire. Note this image of the Model for the 3rd International Tower, 1919-1920 by the Russian architect, Vladimir Tatlin, who was honoured in 1931 as Honored Art Worker of the Soviet Unions because he was deemed an 'artist of great culture, a true master, who is a devoted worker for the proletarian revolution'. (Source: In an excellent discussion on Cartoon Brew about the merits of what I deem to be a world leading organisation (NFBC) and the cost to the Canadian taxpayer, Theodore explained that the movie was created in his own time: "I did it in my freetime and nights, as I was working on another NFB project + designing several web sites there. Didn’t get paid for it, I gave it to NFB for free, and they did the postproduction+distribution." Apart from the blindlingly obvious quality of his work with Flash and design - the patterns and movement in his movie are astounding in their quality - Theodore is a marvellous illustrator. Judge, for example, his illustration for an article last April, again from Cartoon Brew, about the late Ryan Larkin on whom I have written on the Animation Blog. Theodore has also been in the past charm itself in replying to my schoolteacher's email and I featured two of his movies on the blog in September. For now though, back to Tower Bawher that has a lesson perhaps for us now as, to judge by the changing skylines in the British cities at least, upwards seems to be onwards.

I shall be in London on the Adobe Stand K40 at the BETT 2008 exhibition at Olympia on Thursday afer attending their dinner the evening before. My presentation is "Raising Achievement for Boys Using Flash Animation". So Friday will be my next post. I always enjoy BETT, Adobe are good hosts and I share one thing with Theodore, I work for free.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

"Lionel" Gabriel Gelade, Mehdi Leffad, Anthony Menard and, Matthieu Poirey

A second French 3D animation for you and totally different in tone and equally impressive. Lionel is produced by Gabriel Gelade, Mehdi Leffad, Anthony Menard and, Matthieu Poirey, another group from that seemingly endless stream of talent studying at the French Gobelins school in Paris. The premise is quite simple: a film crew interviews a young boy about his school life. I've had conversations with students like this before. The trouble is the interests, one might even call them obsessions, of young boys are not necessarily the interests of a crew making an educational documentary. As I've said, I have taught boys (and girls) very similar to this and they talk as if they are the adult and you are a simpleton, and a pretty contemptible one at that. So why shouldn't a child be more interested in school meals than pen and paper? And he does reveal great knowledge of the most dangerous fish in the sea, far more dangerous than the Great White, particularly to cows. What does it matter if he barks at you and you have to make numerous takes before giving up the shoot entirely. Lucky the animation crew was on hand really. The short two minute movie is very funny and produced using Maya, Photoshop, After Effects and Painter. I saw the movie first in French though the YouTube version in the link is subtitled.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Charles De Meyer, Olivier ColchenThomas and Van Maele "En Garde"

I seem to have been reviewing animations created with pen and paper lately and considering I teach computer aided animation it's back to basics, well, not really because this is cutting edge stuff. It's another gem from the French Supinfocom School. En Garde is an extended duel between two fencers. Commencing in razor sharp black and white 2D the fighters quickly proceed to full 3D. Then things really start to happen. Balancing precariously on a skyscraper window ledge the two scramble, fighting all the while, in a 2D urban landscape, with a precarious near collision with a 2D train which naturally enough opens up to allow them to continue their engagement. All this doesn't really do justice to the gyrations of perspective, dimension and space these intrepid duelists have to overcome. En Garde, completed in November 2005 was the graduation film of Charles De Meyer, Olivier ColchenThomas and Van Maele. They used Maya as their primary software tool although Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects and Combustion were all used. Charles provided the suitably futuristic music. Over half a year's work and doubtless a good degree and employment for the three. What I like more than anything is the handshake at the end despite the awful mess they have managed to create all around them. That and the fact that the blood is a neat red rectangle worn with pride.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Frédéric Back "The Man Who Planted Trees"

Even apart from the similarity in title, The Man Who Planted Trees makes an interesting comparison with yesterday's animation. Frédéric Back also bases his movie on a novel, in this case Jean Giono's 1953 book of the same name. Frédéric also has an outstanding actor narrating the text in Christopher Plummer, whose soft, lyrical voice is well suited to the fable-like, allegory of the shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who plants acorns in a barren land. The use of the narrator is a key here for he is the window through which we meet the shepherd and, even as they both grow older, we share with him his profound feelings of admiration for the simple peasant who transformed his world. The Man Who Planted Trees was the Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Short Film 1988. It is plain to see why. Drawn in sumptuous, pastel shades, the fluidity of the animation is quite awesome. Sheep clamber from their folds, soldiers fight in the trenches of the Great War. The artwork is in the impressionistic style; at first the colours are faint, and blurred, the landscape lacking any fertility. However as the film develops the images flesh out, the landscape become greener, water flows, the colours are warm, rich even, they glow. All this reflects the success Elzéard had planting trees in his 35 years of effort. The film is a remarkable ecological tour de force. A triumph. In real life the French citizens of Provence have a forest to be proud of though, perhaps sadly, Elzéard is a fictional character. I can't think of a director quite like this unless it is Yuri Norstein and I read that Frédéric studied with the great man, learning how to use colour, glass and acetate in his animation studio. A DVD Compilation is available with nine of Frédéric's movies included.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Michael Sporn "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers"

Michael Sporn's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is based on the original book by Mordicai Gerstein telling the story of Frenchman Philippe Petit walking a tightrope between the still unfinished New York’s Twin Towers in 1974. Self-evidently given the tragedy that befell the World Trade Center in 2001 the story has an added poignancy now. Michael was himself born in New York City in 1946. Quite wonderfully read by Jake Gyllenhall, who manages to convey both the drama and emotion of the feat, the quality of the illustrations (and perhaps the height) are what takes the breath away. The artwork is that good - which is apt because Micheal's animation is often a case of zooming or panning into or away from the illustrations. However the experience and skills of Michael, Matthew Clinton and Tissa David add the detailed, moving images that do make a difference (seagulls, tiny figures moving against the skyline, a rope being hauled in by hand.) Gerstein's text has all the rhythm and conviction of powerful anecdote and, together with Gyllenhall's voice, we certainly listen: "A quarter of a mile up in the sky someone was dancing" or, as the police await and Philippe takes a rest on his cable: "... as long as he stayed on the wire he was free." Add stirring music by Michael Bacon and you have a terrific production. I will be posting again on the subject of Michael's work and perhaps mentioning Sesame Street. Hear and see the original book by Gerstein here or visit the director's website. The DVD is available at a remarkably low price through Amazon. The link above is to Google Video whose versions are taken down quickly, often of dubious quality (or legality I guess). So the DVD's a good bet. And I do apologise for yesterday's comment about this being an Oscar winner; as befits one who worked for several years under the great John Hubley, Michael has been twice nominated for an Academy Award and certainly deserves the ultimate accolade!

Friday, 4 January 2008

Peter Lawson "Penguin Attack"

Sandwiched between two Oscar winners is fourteen year old Peter Lawson's seasonal piece, Penguin Attack. Peter has been studying animation with me since September and I think you'll enjoy a very accomplished Flash animation. It comes to something when even one's innocent pleasures, in this case building a snowman, are disrupted by a gang of delinquent penguins. Peter is a very talented artist, uses a graphics tablet and scans his own drawings. He also understands the technology and software - not a bad combination for an animator. He won our annual Christmas animation competition. I must add that Peter is also an absolutely outstanding musician. He simply ran out of the time needed to create his own soundtrack. It will come. As you will see, he leaves himself the opportunity of developing the story further in the Spring Term. For now enjoy a maturely executed animation, particularly the grasp of cinematography that Peter has in his perspectives and "camera" angles. Turn your volume up for this one.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Torill Kove "The Danish Poet"

Torill Kove won an Oscar for Best Short Animation with her 2006 movie, The Danish Poet. The screenshot gives a clear indication of artistic style but this is, first and foremost, a movie to be enjoyed for its delicious humour. I think it fair to point out that it took me a minute or two to get into the story of life's little coincidences that lead to the meeting of two young people who fall in love and the subsequent birth of a baby. The movie is deceptive in its humour and takes time to develop. The first thirty seconds seem almost poetic as the obviously Scandinavian voice of Liv Ullmann (she does both this and the Norwegian version) introduces in diagrammatic terms the random selection of how, "without rhyme or reason", parents are chosen. We are introduced to the Danish poet, Kasper Urgenson, working in his apartment in Copenhagen and devoid of ideas. Only after 75 seconds or so does it dawn on us that this is a comedy as Doctor Mork dispenses advice and cigar smoke. Kasper is advised to take a holiday. Norway is "cheap and they're practically Danish." We're into comic territory now and when Kasper goes to visit Sigrid Undset for inspiration the movie has us gripped in its gentle, droll humour. For example the ferry is populated by drunken passengers. Now I've never travelled on a Scandinavian ferry though if it bears any relation to the North Sea ferry between Hull and Rotterdam the description is apt. On his travels Kasper meets and falls in love with the farmer's daughter, Ingeborg, who sadly is promised to a nearby farmer who seems to have had rough time in his past with in-breeding and poor dental treatment. There are some moments in the film that made me laugh aloud during its 15 minutes. Sipping coffee at the computer I managed to splutter all over the keyboard as Ingeborg, sitting up in bed, reveals the problems in her marriage. The animation by Torill, Astrid Aakra and Bjarte Agdestein is sharp and bright, even when depicting the rain that, amongst all sorts of Scandinavian stereotypes and in-jokes, is evidently very prevalent in Norway. Hand drawn, scanned and coloured, with the skies painted in oil by Anne Ashton, the artwork is distinctive. (The factual detail comes almost verbatim from the website from where you can download various scenes and purchase the DVD.) Alternatively I note the movie has appeared on YouTube (The Danish Poet 1/ The Danish Poet 2) and on Daily Motion (The Danish Poet). I'm sure there are all sorts of insights about the little accidents and coincidences that make us what we are but in her tale of Kasper the poet who finds inspiration, love, fame and fortune, Torill has created something decidedly special. And very funny.