Monday, 31 March 2008

Georges Schwizgebel "La Course à l’abîme"

I have set myself a difficult task today in describing an abstract work of art that communicates on various levels. Made in 1992, La Course à l’abîme (The Ride to the Abyss) by the Swiss artist and animator, Georges Schwizgebel, moves at an often frantic pace to the music of Hector Berloiz, La Damnation de Faust, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The music credits are vital because the action is synchronised to it. It features two galloping horse riders who travel the land, realised in sweeping vistas of mountains, roads and villages, or revealing snapshots: lovers in boat, woman combing hair, dogs fighting. Interwoven with these are trains, dancers, rather ominous crows in the sky, cherubs in the clouds; not to mention the orchestra and choir itself, and always the recurring horse riders who drive the action of the film. Faust sold his soul and this helps explain the morphing of the dancers into skeletons; presumably such vibrant life has a cost to it. There's more to the movie of course. The hand of the artist is to be seen daubing paint onto the already chunky images and blocks of colour in this very canvas-like stage. We are made very aware of the controlling vision of the artist or animator here - surely Georges is also saying something about the art of animation itself, playing god with movement may just have its price! The culmination of the movie is a theatrical and spectacular series of vignettes, reworked scenes from the movie, that spread to form a vast single canvas of action. A source for video rentals that has Georges’ works available here in the UK at least is Close-Up Videos. In the meantime, it's best to forget tiresome scrabbling for meaning and revel in glorious, stirring music and impressionistic artistry.

(Or read my review of A Journey Across Grandmother by Meghana Bisineer for the flourishing Short of the Week.)

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Marissa Delbressine "Beyond the Window"

I featured Marissa Delbressine's experimental movie last week and I'm a sucker for sentiment so here is her Beyond the Window, a more traditionally drawn short about a beam of moonlight that is sympathetic to the plight of a child stuck in a wheelchair, gazing out towards the moon and stars. So sympathetic is the brightly lit visitor that the boy is taken on a magical tour of the heavens. I have remarked before on Marissa's prowess using sand on glass; here her very apparent drawing skills are aligned with a technical ability as the fluorescent figures traverse the sky. I'm only a little baffled by the appearance of the moon-messenger (or whatever) as a jester. It works though; a spot of wish fulfillment is the task of animators the world over. The animator's newly launched website is an absolute joy. It is not fully functioning yet though what there is fascinates. Created in Flash it unfolds as a private exploration of a talented and committed artist's sketch book.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Marta Mackova “Café”

Café is a stylish short revealing the sexual chemistry in a bar where a lone girl sips her drink and eyes up the talent. She has her gaze set on the quiet guy diligently reading his book. Meanwhile the (buxom) bar girl tidies up the tables much to the delight of the (diminutive) customer who is unable to take his eyes from her chest and rear. 28 year old Marta Mackova is from the Czech Republic though she graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art in 2006. Café was her graduation movie. Marta has an eye for the etiquette that governs such manoeuvres and the skill to suggest a yearning with the merest shift in the shoulder line, though subtle is not a word to describe the reaction of little man to large woman. There is a finely tuned sense of timing in her work; the comedy of the situation unravelling at its own pace. She has worked with some skilled people in Prague, obviously learning her craft well prior to her arrival in the fine city of Edinburgh, my grandfather's birthplace. Which brings me to the rather splendid Scottish Animation Group that in addition to promoting the work of animation in Scotland, provides a network for meeting and sharing ideas. Lovely city, enviable social network: I'm envious. The link above to Marta's movie takes one to an on-line programme of other films, one of which I shall be featuring shortly.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Clyde Geronimi (Walt Disney) "The Story of Anyburg USA"

I read in my newspaper this week research revealing the role Walt Disney's movies have had educating society, particularly on the environment. Well the shorter movies have done likewise. The Story of Anyburg, U.S.A. is essentially a court case brought against the automobile by a city suffering from an overdose of congestion and carnage. The fuming beasts are placed on the stand, set against a very sharp lawyer who enjoys performing for the jury. He is set against a diminutive defence attorney. Trouble is brewing for the motor trade as, occupation by occupation, driver by driver, the whole set-up is interrogated. In verse and even song the eleven minutes pass easily for the modern viewer and one might marvel at the wit, artistry and sheer ingenuity of the makers of this 1957 film. Directed by Disney veteran, Clyde Geronimi, the movie is strong on collisions and non-existent on pollution, showing how much our world has changed, or not perhaps.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Thomas Leung "Sukki's Story"

The story of Thomas Leung's 2005 short Sukki's Story is one known to millions of young people who leave home and family to proceed with their education or work and feel guilt about that leave-taking. Thomas feels more guilty than most leaving his mother because Hong Kong is a long way from Australia and his mother has, essentially, only him. Thus he communicates via the telephone and the internet. When his mother is injured she spends her time compiling a digital record of his childhood and family memories, some of which are animated as part of the movie. When his grandmother dies his mother seems further away than ever. The narrator's voice and obvious sincerity communicate a very real story with conviction, though the bold, direct style of the drawing and the overall production values together make this a handsome package. It is a model for those wishing to tell a true story well. Not surprisingly the movie has won several awards. A former student at Swinburne, Melbourne, Thomas graduated as a Multimedia Design Honours student, returned for a while to Hong Kong, and then took up a post in the UK with the Early Learning Centre.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Lucy Lee "The Gates of Heaven"

If the stresses and strains of life are beginning to weigh you down enjoy The Gates of Heaven. Based on a traditional story by Nichiren Diashonin written in 1279 no less and Marianne Williamson's 1996 A Return To Love, Lucy Lee's short film explains how fish become dragons if they can leap up the 100 feet drop of a waterfall, the Dragon's Gate. Lucy's fish are wondrous beasts, majestic koi carp of orange and gold. Leaping over the falls is a metaphor for success I guess, though there is a nice line at the end of this well condensed script that suggests other difficulties in becoming a dragon. Beautifully narrated by Margaret Robertson in a kind of earnest whisper there is a mystical quality to the whole movie, aided and abetted by Sam Sutton's suitably atmospheric music. I have written before about Lucy's Bird Becomes Bird. She has a fine, assured touch in her artwork that underpins her essentially hand drawn frames, worked over in After Effects. It took six weeks' work and was made in 2004. Lucy has, I would imagine, little time left at the moment having just become a mum. When she did have the time Lucy contributed a very comprehensive "Discussion, comments & director's intentions" on her website. I was so impressed by her work that I purchased a DVD of her animations - now I can't afford to that for all my featured work.
Postscript: Lucy sent me the following extra information that I'll share. "The jumping fish story is an ancient Chinese proverb type story that is commonly used to describe the difficulty of trying to achieve your dreams (jumping fish motifs on china and so on), and an interesting contextual thing is that at the time Nicherin used the story to teach, Japan was at war with China so he was very ahead of his time to use a Chinese story (the Japanese authorities didn’t take too kindly to this at the time)." Thanks, Lucy.
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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Vancouver Film School - five animated movies

The Vancouver Film School provides an intensive year's training in a range of disciplines that they claim is equivalent to four years elsewhere. (Judging from my own higher education I can well believe it.) Whatever, the proof's in the pudding, or animations in this case. Today is the first of two posts looking at some of the students' work. I thought at first Alejandro Cordero's Down Here was going to be particularly good. It centres on a poor little match boy who is not treated as well as he might be by his customers whizzing past in their automobiles. Then he looks up to the heavens and the starry sky. The 3D animation has its moments, as shown in the screenshot, but the conclusion is not one of them. Sometimes it is better to resist the obvious.

No Quarter by Michael Trent is a slap-stick, knockabout routine outside the Stock Exchange, I guess, due to all the bags of money to be fought over. To a circus style soundtrack a pair of well orchestrated 3D figures perform their routine without the colour of the circus, or the big shoes, or the false noses. Almost 50,000 viewers have watched it on YouTube in a matter of weeks so Michael has a winning formula. I'd only criticise the spinning newspapers which I have seen before a time or two.

Vishal Parasher provides a more colourful clown in The Balloon. Well actually it is not a clown but a very traditional mime artist performing his series of classical mime routines with a balloon that, because it is an animation, can actually lift him off the ground. The balloon becoming heavy, the artist feeling for the invisible glass wall, etc, are the stock in trade of this form of entertainer. If he were a pavement artist he would get my coins. I liked this clever piece very much.

Talking about pavements brings me to Granny's Groove. Lloyd Colaco has a winning formula here I feel. Commencing with our dear old grannie feeling her years, she chances upon a pair of magic red slippers that will transport her to the ball, or at least a spot of street dancing. She sheds her years, struts her stuff, pouts at the "camera" and heaves her ample chest for all she's worth. A fun movie, extremely well executed.

I'm not necessarily saving the best till last though I am very, very impressed by Hold The Mustard a more traditionally drawn and animated 2D film about a white bear's attempt to retrieve a most tasty hot dog (without the mustard.) Tammy Dubinsky has the requisite drawing skills to front up a cartoon that would grace any studio. Tammy also has the wit to devise funny situations within a traditional chase sequence, and choose a great song in Hey Pachuko by Royal Crown Revue which I remember, I think, from the Jim Carrey film, The Mask.

The animations have been watched by a great many thousands in a short period of time. Five impressive movies from a great training establishment. And such talent.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Ivan Maximov "Wind Along The Coast "

Wind Along The Coast by Ivan Maximov is a worthy movie for a windy day here in the UK. Well might the girl in the screenshot stare for she is observing a fisherman milking a fish. He's had a hard enough time catching it due to the hard wind that drives along the beach community, disturbing the child making sandcastles or, to be more exact, speeding her up as she flies across the sand scooping up and dumping down castle after castle. I have reviewed the Russian animator's work before. Ivan has a distinctive style, with an eye for the almost incidental, quirky detail and an off-beat humour that is a delight, imbued as it is with a generosity of spirit and obvious good will. His six minute piece is peopled by distinctive characters whose odd behaviour simply fits into this alternative world. The fisherman takes the fish to the beach and is assisted by the fish walking; another, perhaps the same, fish seems to relish the line attached to its gullet, whilst the guy with his feet soaking in a bowl of water blows bubbles from the mix. The wind does provide problems though as the detritus of life is blown around. The girl has to brave bucket after bucket flying through her window before she is driven to close the darn thing only to be blown halfway out of another window. The potentially tricky situation is resolved by a convenient fly swat. Inhabiting this strange world appear to be flying fish or flying rabbits. They do have wings so I guess the wind is not entirely to blame. I've been to Cleethorpes on days like this! The music, not unnaturally, is Sea Journey by Chick Corea, performed here by Daniil Kramer and Alexei Kuznetsov.
Finally a piece of housekeeping - I've changed the domain to I commenced the blog as an adjunct to my school work though now it tends take a fairly independent stance. There may be a spot of redirecting until the new address is bedded in.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

"fin d'ete" ("End of Summer") Patrick Harboun, Ronan Le Fur and Joaquim Montserrat

Another Supinfocom film, another three extravagantly talented students particularly in their use of CG software, 3ds Max and After Effects, that makes some of the shots so realistic you'd swear they were, well, real. fin d'ete - the link is to the comprehensive website from where you can download a high resolution version of the movie - has no storyline other than the sorrow of a beautiful young mother on a tropical coastline just before a tropical storm. Sporting a deep red dress and parasol, she places a teddy bear on a grave and is overcome with emotion. The seemingly deserted hamlet offers no-one to console her whilst the towering waves suggest a solution to her grief. Patrick Harboun, Ronan Le Fur and Joaquim Montserrat are heavy on emotion, thin on storyline, though who could criticise such lavish beauty in the scenes of the sky, sea and storm. This is a genuinely beautiful movie full of visually stunning vistas. Indeed, throughout one is very much aware of the different colours, used spectacularly to distinguish the different scenes. The screenshots give a flavour I think. What they do not reveal is the atmosphere generated by the original music from Christophe Juliene. Made in 2005 in six months the movie has a resplendency about it that renders plot somewhat superfluous.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Meghana Bisineer "What's Fufu? " & "The Accident"

Two Channel 4 movies today, both narrated and both having in common the animator Meghana Bisineer, a genuine talent in UK animation, destined I am sure to make a big name for herself. Today's two movies are actually not directed by Meghana though she worked on the animation. What's Fufu?, written and narrated by sixteen year old Yemmi Akingbade, explores the problems experienced by a black girl brought up in a white family and her not unnatural desire to know about her African ancestry. The animation is professionally rendered and quite conventional in the depiction of the characters though I personally prefer the more figurative scenes - the hard hitting opening as the baby is born, her umbilical cord cut; the shadow of the girl's past glued to her feet like sticky chewing gum; peering from her high level apartment window and the room and world swirling around her; or most dramatically, the girl searching for a face and identity. What's Fufu? won a nationwide competition to allow talented youngsters to make a movie in the project, RAW CUTS, a joint initiative between Channel 4's 4Talent and the NSPCC. Meghana worked with fellow Royal College of Art graduates Christoph Steger and Ed Suckling. If I had a favourite of the two however it would be Sara Nesteruk's The Accident. It was animated by Meghana and Cath Elliot. Stephen spends his time at the house of Sara's grandma, writing letters for jobs he never obtains. Stephen had never been the same since his car accident. He writes letters with an old fashioned dip pen and is fondly, if not always strictly accurately, remembered by his niece. The animation style chosen is in the form of a scratchy fountain pen , a mirror of the letters laboured over in the family kitchen, complete with ink blotches. Scene transitions are easily dealt with - a scribble of the nib and the scene is erased. Memories of the man are not entirely fresh, certainly in relationship to the visual details. The result is a touching sense of reality rather than a carefully crafted movie - though of course it is. It was shown on Channel Four in the acclaimed and often innovative Mesh programme that sadly ends in this its seventh year. The narration by Sara Baxendale is so natural I felt sure she was the writer and person concerned. This sense of freshness and reality applied to the whole piece. In consequence the film moved me in a way What's Fufu failed to do, almost despite the subject, and the expert drawing and sometimes striking images.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Anthony Dusko "Notebook Babies"

Mr Dusko teaches fifth grade in Reading, Pennsylvania. To overcome student resistance and emphasise learning and character points Anthony has created a series of cartoons on his website, Notebook Babies. The Flash animation is comparatively simple, as is the drawing, though the carefully measured delivery, humour and targeted messages are mightily impressive. I particularly enjoyed his latest baby, Mr Dusko, a biographical account of Anthony's reasons for producing and continuing with the animations - the kids kept quiet! He has a particularly fine, clearly articulated voice in his narration. The availability of animation software allows teachers to do this sort of thing. (To an extent this is why I moved from teaching English to Animation.) The animations are placed on a backdrop of notepaper and the title for the series and site is well pitched. The babies are being bred rather prolifically with titles ranging from Messy Desk to What is a Friend? Don't miss out on the often very short Classroom Animations where I note Anthony is varying his style somewhat. Educational too. Where else can you learning an interesting fact about frogs? Bad Froggie . Well there are other places though perhaps not as much fun as here. A great idea, well executed; and I wish I'd thought of creating the series.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

David Montgomery "Pollenating" (Annecy Festival 2008)

In the third of my trawl through Aniboom's featured movies chosen for Annecy ‘08, David Montgomery's Pollenating makes an interesting contrast with yesterday's piece. Both animations deal with regeneration and fertility: Marissa Delbressine glories in the fecundity of Spring, personified as a young nymph simply bursting with life; David's film celebrates the pollination of plants. They are very different in form, yesterday's movie drawn in sand, today's stop-motion film crafted from close-up photographs revealing the delicate and decidely torrid, secret life of a plant. Luckily they are not in competition with each other as Pollenating is featured in Annecy's Short Films category. In his description of the movie the director describes it as a "less painterly ode to Georgia O'Keeffe" which accounts for my inclusion above of the lush and sensuous image, Black Iris, set alongside two screenshots from David's work. (O'Keeffe is a particular passion of mine given still life classes in my youth when I tried to emulate her with a conspicuous lack of success.) What David has done is to combine natural images from nature and produce a stunning visual feast. The colours change endlessly: pink, carnation, solferino, red - often set against the most delicate white or blue shades with just a suggestion of liquid, ice or crystal. The movie torments the senses. Hide your family aspidistra behind the blind whilst viewing. This is tropical greenhouse stuff, particularly given the frankly exciting Nelson Frederick original score that builds up the passion to a burst of intensity. The consummation is a blaze of pink. David has triumphed here I think. Breathtaking. Just for the symmetry and beauty of it all I'll end again with a snatch of Shakespeare and more O'Keeffe:
"When daises pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue,
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he."

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Marissa Delbressine "Seasons " (Annecy Festival 2008)

Using sand on illuminated glass is a technique I have commented on before in animation, usually in the hands of Russian or Canadian masters. It takes, I should imagine, a certain sang-froid as well as a quick confident hand to swish away the sort of stylish strokes evident in Seasons, the second of those Aniboom showcased animations chosen for Annecy ‘08, this time in the Graduation Films category. 25 year old Marissa Delbressine manages the technique with aplomb. Her movie commences with a seed that strikes out roots and stems to emerge in a flurry of growth as a long haired girl. Life bursts all around her. Then, her energy spent, the girl follows the cycle of the seasons and recedes to a seed in the earth. I am reminded of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the depiction of the fairy-like girl, symbolising nature, her face hinted at though never fully realised, her vitality transforming her world. It is hard to imagine a medium so well suited to the theme than the transitory arrangement of sand. Netherlands born Marissa is some talent. It almost goes without saying that she composed the music herself, that it was the first time she has worked with sand ("the nicest way to animate, ever"), that there are attendant dangers of sneezing during one's work, and that Marissa thanks her parents for making "a little space" in their home for her studio. You can gain far more insights in the erudite artist's tutorial posted on Aniboom. From another play:
"O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in't!"

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Itai Froumin "Illuminations" (Meorot) Annecy Festival 2008

Illuminations (Meorot) is a four minute movie of beauty and sumptuous sound. Created by Israeli student, Itai Froumin, the graduation movie last month received Aniboom's prestigious Global Booster Award in the Experimental Category. It is a work of art rather than a straight-forward animation. Itai fuses dance and movement with swirling light and colour, figurative with abstract. The result is not unlike the Erica Russell movie Triangle I waxed lyrical about a time back. Perhaps it does not have the thematic significance of Erica's Oscar nominated masterpiece but the balance of music and movement in the paint on glass movie is enchanting. Watch it as I did after a long day at work and it will unburden you. Meorot (its Israeli name) is chosen for the Graduation Film selection for Annecy ‘08. I have mentioned the music already. The original score by Itai and Jonathan Albalak is so sensitively executed with variations of melody and mood. Astonishingly accomplished all round. Itai graduated from the Animation Unit, Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in 2007. I guess he was the star student that year. Illuminations is his graduation film. The screenshots simply do not do the film justice - movement is all! Two more quality pieces from the animation network, Aniboom tomorrow.
Interestingly, and related to Triangle, my new friend and correspondent Marco Milone, who writes a similar blog to this with his own distinctive style and slant, has today published an article on Erica's movie - Mellart. Marco pointed me in the direction of a stunning piece for Prada, Trembling Blossom - the links are to his reviews. Thank you Marco.

Radiohead Animated Video Competition

Aniboom that terrific source, resource and community for animation around the world has a project that should interest animators. Together with TBD Records and Adult Swim the site is organising a competition to make an animated music video for Radiohead. The actual headline announcement is as follows:
Animators Invited to Create a Video from the Songs of IN RAINBOWS,
Band Will Select Winner to Receive $10,000 to Produce Final Video
Follow Aniboom's Radiohead post for precise details though essentially the competition is in four stages, the first of which is described in the press release:
  • "The first stage of the competition begins today and continues through April 27, inviting all artists, animators, writers, character designers and more, to submit storyboards that may range from basic sketches with words to more complex submissions in video formats, using the song of their choice from In Rainbows. Artists have the option to compete solo or to ask Aniboom to match them with other entrants whose talents complement their own."

Stage 4 involves the band members themselves selecting the winner and there are lesser prizes. Some of the most talented animators I know work on music promos. You may remember the band made news when their In Rainbows album was released via their website,, at a price fans chose to pay. They also happen to be near magic as artists in my eyes. To complement the post in the next day or so I shall be looking at three remarkable animations currently viewable on Aniboom and destined for Annecy 2008.