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Monday, 30 June 2008

James Ensor (1860–1949 )












With reference to my two posts about Nick Uff, I became curious about the work of James Ensor. I guess the painter saw different sides of man's character and, watching Nick's work again, it all becomes a little clearer. I'll say it with examples of his work. Click for a better view; the title and date are on the images.












Tony White "Fire Gods"







Fire Gods is not the movie I had intended to feature by Tony White but it will act as an introduction to one of the most creative animators in the commercial and educational world. Burnie and Ash are two Fire Gods who take the viewer through the history of glass making for the Tacoma Museum of Glass. The pair are traditional cartoon characters, one rather bored by the whole thing to be honest, though Burnie is knowledgeable and attempts to keep his partner interested. It is a collaborative piece made by the Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington where Tony is head of the Animation Department. The work is the fruits of an expert animator from a commercial background and some talented post graduate students. Made with a combination of hand drawn, computer, and Flash animation the eight minute piece is a mixed bag of styles including live action towards the end when Dale Chihuly appears although he is dressed in a fancy wig and tells us that glass mystifies him and is the most magical material you can work with. I showed it my students more, to be frank, as an exercise in coordinating different styles of animation than a history lesson in glass making. It fits the bill as an introduction for the museum in a lively and informative way. Tomorrow I will look at some of the finest television advertising of recent years as I explore Tony's earlier work.




Sunday, 29 June 2008

Nick Uff "Serenade In The Night" (James Ensor)







Serenade In The Night is one of those songs from a bygone era that has with it all the romance of a winter's Sunday afternoon black and white movie and beautiful actresses with rich lipstick. It is also incredibly romantic. If you ignore the fact that many of the characters are either skeletons or clowns you'll find Nick Uff's animation exactly the same. Yesterday's comments about Nick apply to this movie too. Commencing with a violinist serenading underneath a window the movie progresses in irrepressible fashion and it's absolutely wonderful how the whole things moves along, effortlessly with the sort of details you want to replay. Richer in colour than yesterday's music videos, the degree of detail is breath-taking. You'll love the romantic swirl of the dancers in a variety of exotic locations and if you understand the plot that's a bonus. However it is about the life of the Belgian artist, James Ensor, amongst whose subjects were carnivals, masks and puppets, often grotesque and having a theatrical flavour. Little extra to say on the painter though I can tell you that the music and lyrics are by Cesare Bixio, Bixio Cherubini and Jimmy Kennedy. I'm afraid don't know the singer. Great combination of music and animation. The lyrics are as follows: "Serenade in the night/ ‘Neath a fair lady’s window, /Just the same serenade/That I tenderly played/On a night long ago./There were stars in the sky/And I sang ‘neath the roses, /But she gave not a sigh /That she’d ever be mine/And my love story closes./Oh! why must the south wind be brining it?/Oh! why must my heart keep on singing it?/Serenade in the night/From the past comes to haunt me,/When I hear that refrain,/Oh! my heart aches again/For the lost love of mine."

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Nick Uff & Portishead 'The Rip' & "We Carry On"








Bristol based Portishead's appropriately named third album, Third, was released in April and they selected forty something Nick Uff to animate their two official videos. Beth Gibbons's voice and the rather sombre lyrics dictate something of the style, though such is the ambiguity of what is written that a host of different interpretations are capable of being attached. Nick's images seem to me to enhance understanding, though I doubt his imagery and take on things was in the lyricists' minds when the songs were composed. The Rip, my favourite of the two, commences with men labouring away until they saw down the trees leaving a denuded forest of stumps; from thence to a thronged city whose inhabitants leer, scowl or howl into the screen as we move in for close-ups of an infant's tonsils. Cue for sky divers hurtling through the air though one bunch are in a hot air balloon, gentile ladies smoking from cigarette holders and accompanied in their basket by clowns, one of whom possesses a painting of fish which leads us into the oceans. This is free-wheeling subject matter indeed. Nick has described to his local paper, the Bournemouth Echo, how he does do not story-board letting the thing grow in his consciousness, an extended doodle I suppose. This is exactly how the video progresses as the subject matter grows darker with figures falling towards the city where they will join the congested streets of skulls. His work is drawn by hand on 16mm film, frame by frame. He must work quickly indeed because nothing stays the same from one instant to the next and there is a lot of distinctive content in his work. The movement of images is hypnotic and blends with the equally distinctive music. We Carry On is drawn and animated in exactly the same fluid style, its subject matter perhaps darker in tone to suit the song. To a thunderous beat, a woman's theft and sneaky read of her sleeping partner's letter launches a warning of the dangers of depravity, featuring some dark creatures from a modern Hades and just enough licentiousness to keep things interesting. Nice to read that Nick is a professional gardener though I have a suspicion that after this work commissions will flood in and the plants may have to be watered from the heavens. Whatever, another of his movies tomorrow.

Friday, 27 June 2008

David Gilbert "Battery"










21 year old David Gilbert has just graduated in Graphic Design and Animation from Bristol's University of the West of England. His graduation film, Battery, is today’s post. It is a very strange movie and a macabre subject. A man watches in mounting horror as his two dinner guests gorge themselves to the point of death amidst decrepit surroundings and crawling visitors, what I take to be a horde of cockroaches or whatever the collective noun is for the beasties. In a sense it is an exercise in revulsion and David clearly eschews anything remotely pleasant, excepting, arguably, the incongruous party hats worn by the three. The man's guests are presented as greedy birds devouring everything they can peck at, including said insects. Eventually the whole thing degenerates into a nasty parable about the dangers of gluttony, as food is forced down gullets. Then one ponders the title and the whole sorry mess is rendered intelligible: “Battery”. At a time when shareholders in UK supermarket giant Tesco are being asked to vote on the rights and wrongs of eating cheaply reared, battery farmed chicken his placement of his graduation movie on YouTube is well timed indeed. The ticking clock signifies the incredibly short time the birds have to live before ending up on the table. Interesting and appropriate ending too. David's artistic ability and animation technique is exceptional. His pen never spares anything of the ugliness of the scene, events and distorted features of the creatures. We zoom in to get a closer look at things we would rather not see, and his unalloyed use of a cold blue and grey shade adds to the overall harrowing effect. Cheerful piece this. The movie will do well on the festival circuit though not to sell turkeys for Christmas. David's website is impressive though still in its infancy with some most interesting and accomplished work and, I guess, a desire to market his work as is shown in the image below for the DVD cover. I've added the label "Graduation Movie" as I have a few to post in the category in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Bruno Bozzetto "Looo"







"But listen to me, I want fluid and smooth movements, Pixar quality. Ya understand that, don't ya?" It's tough auditioning for a role in Italian animation to rival the great American studio. The director and producer watch in the dark amidst the scuttling rats in an empty theatre as a would-be 3D actor struts his stuff on the stage. He's got the muscles to match the Hollywood giants though his balletic qualities are not up to the best. Why are you wearing the superhero outfit, asks the director, calling him sweetheart as all theatrical types are prone to. Named after his mum's cat, Looo is not the brightest, fluffs his lines a bit and fails to make an impression in the action man sequences. Not Pixar quality at all. Exit producer stage right. This is not homage to Pixar at all just Bruno Bozzetto at his satiric best. Looo is a very funny movie with the great man producing the screenplay and direction whilst Alvise Avati contributed the original character and directed the animation. The animation looks, as a matter of fact, quite up to the Pixar marque, and one of the characters from the studio seems to have strayed onto the set. More of the finest Italian vintage from http://www.bozzetto.com/.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Creative Similarities Between Disney's 'The Lion King' and Tezuka's 'Jungle Taitei' (Kimba the White Lion)







I am particularly busy at the moment, paid work getting in the way of blogging it. Therefore this is what I was watching last night on YouTube. MissIchigo is attempting to demonstrate the debt Disney's Lion King owes to Osamu Tezuka's Kimba the White Lion (1966). By superimposing footage from both movies she makes her point well and it is intriguing - what YouTubers should be doing! Today's truncated post but really a debt, that I freely disclose, to an intelligent and perceptive YouTuber: Daft Lions then and yesterday's further clip developing one point in some detail, Kimba Hidden Within The Lion King.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Tobias Stretch "Transmutation" Radiohead/Aniboom





Unbeknown to me my new found friend, well by email, Tobias Stretch, has been launched into the semi-finals of the Aniboom Radiohead contest, just after I had bemoaned the fact that Transmutation had failed to make the top ten. Rethink by the site and three "golden tickets" were introduced. And lo and behold Tobias is there. In his own words: "I shot this film by myself from 5/25 to 6/2, after a month of puppet building and a month of storyboards. Animation into the transcendent beauty of nature, this film is about our complex relationship with nature and each other which I believe is consistent with Radiohead's vision." Tobias replied to a post I made at the time and to say he was gracious in defeat is the least of it. Thus I am doubly glad he's in. Now to the video. It's in a partial condition but just revel in the light, airy and eccentric beauty of it all and ask yourself if you want to see the complete thing. Because it is made with the track in mind, Radiohead's music and voice soars into the heavens and with it the distinctive world of Tobias Stretch. We have a hang glider piloted by Glider Man and a cast of glittering characters. I wondered as I wrote my first post on his work about the plausibility of transforming the beautifully sketched characters of his storyboard into working models. Needless fears. A golden faced woman in white holds aloft a bird, wings outstretched, and Glider Man swoops into the camera's lens. Magical. I have not seen work like this and I do so hope Radiohead want to see their music fly. Like I have just done, Vote Here.




Monday, 23 June 2008

Get with the Times!

An interesting competition has just come my way via Meredith Lupolt of Mytoons.com. Read his press release: http://www.mytoons.com/, the world’s first online animation community to provide HD animation, is now streaming your crisp, clear, and ground-breakingly beautiful HD animation throughout the world. We’ve teamed with Adobe to bring you Get with the Times! – our latest HD animation contest that takes your animation to the center of the Big Apple! The Grand Prize? Win an all expenses paid trip to New York City to see YOUR animation in Times Square! In addition to the fabulous trip to NYC, MyToons is sharing iPod Nanos and Adobe's CS3! Winners will be selected starting Friday, June 13, so be sure to check out MyToons.com/contests/TimesSquare to upload your work and cast your vote for your chance to win! The last weekly winner will be announced September 5th, 2008.
I've a quick look - busy doing paid work at the moment - and it looks exciting. I'll take a look at the entries later in the week including this week's winner, Cats on a Plane. Launched in spring of 2007, the site has a fairly terrific interface for the competition and amazing quality of animation. As Adobe has treated me to lunch on a number of occasions (great crowd) I'd also better push the "sponsor".

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Theodore Ushev "Ottawa"




Theodore Ushev is in the top rank of animators in the world. His commercial for Ottawa 2004 (Ottawa) has just been released on YouTube by his Canadian company, Duck Studios. In a 1950s style of brashly alliterative prose and a rosy cheeked Bisto family we are introduced to Ani, the housewife with a range of heart enhancing help for the habitual hanimators. Or something like that. In fact the ad breaks down into three products: Animators' Dinner to sustain animators, Hand-O-Matic fingers to do the work for you, and most dynamic of all of this gushing housewife's products, the Instant Animators in a pouch: "one drop of water and these freeze dry funstars fly into a frenzy of ..." - you get the idea. It's fast, frenetic fun for families, deliciously in the spirit and I want to buy their products; and their scriptwriter.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Joanna Quinn "Britannia"










We are used to the cartoonist savaging current politicians, celebrities and royals in the daily newspapers. In her 1993 short, Britannia, the incomparable Joanna Quinn uses all her skills and cartoonist's wit in a savage satire on British Imperialism. Many consider the five minute movie to be her masterpiece. Satires are not intended as celebratory and Joanna's view of my own nation's past shows how, in the pursuit of wealth and power, Britain trampled over other nation's hopes and plundered their wealth. Focusing on the rise and fall in the fortunes of the British bulldog, reigning happy and supreme on its little island kingdom, then progressing (not the right word at all) to its colonisation of the world, or most of it. The animation weaves in an irrepressible way through a range of perspectives that are variously funny, savage, scornful, contemptuous. It is an historical study in something of the great tradition of satirists, such as William Hogarth, as the British get well and truly skewered at the artist's hands. From playful puppy to tyrant, leaping islands to throttle the Irish, rising in ambition or perhaps opportunism to plunder the globe (and emerge with a tiny teapot) the change in the beast is marked. From tail-wagging to the more tyrannical acts of savaging pygmies, Joanna's dog runs a whole gamut of personalities - thief, belligerent bully and the emasculated wretch at the close. Satire is not intended to deal in shades of grey and I'm not totally sympathetic to the characterisation of my country's past though elements of truth sadly beam out. Joanna's skill as an artist permeates all elements of this black and white, hand drawn animation (save for the dog's red, white and blue vest at the start). The bulldog is a supreme creation, metamorphosing into caricatures including a vindictive one of Queen Victoria. Ben Heneghan & Ian Lawson amplify and counterpoise the vices with their montage of anthems and tunes. To complement the YouTube link above I have tried to discover a reasonably priced DVD though the solitary Amazon link I was able to find is a tad expensive. Two other links are pertinent. First is Joanna's employer, Acme Filmworks, who have a pool of talent that is just about incomparable; the second is an informative interview Joanna made in 2005 with Taylor Jessen for The Animation Show.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Joel Trussell "Gained the World" & "Enjoy the Ride" Morcheeba


























Given that in my pending file there are music videos for the Radiohead/ Aniboom competition and a Steve Smith piece that won at Annecy there’s a bit of a sound bonanza to come on the Animation Blog. Nothing better though than this first of two posts about Joel Trussell. I’m going to start with Joel’s latest complete animation for Morcheeba. I remember the first two vocalists, Skye Edwards and Daisy Martey, though I confess I lose track of the band’s membership apart from the brothers, Paul and Ross Godfrey. Two lovely voices though in French vocalist Manda and Judie Tzuke and, for continuity's sake, the same animator. The two story lines first. Gained the World is the latest video for the band. Bald guy wants hair to compete with the hulks he sees in the magazines, buys a wig from an odd shop that, like Pinocchio's nose, grows and grows attracting something of an entourage, including notably a boy with scissors. Enjoy the Ride has a group of rather sinister looking animals (or maybe cute, I can't make my mind up) breaking into a graveyard and summoning up through their incantations and spells rather more than they bargained for. The first is very funny (the guy reminds me of UK comedian Harry Hill), the second has a sense of wonder about it though there is an undeniable hard edge too. Joel employs the same Flash-based 2D technique in both animations which simply zip along, Joel's wit and inventiveness keeping this particular fan engaged. We are transported to a different world, surfing the gulf stream accompanied by ghouls or drowning in a sea of flowing red hair. His drawing style, effortlessly animated - though I'm sure it only seems effortless - are caricatured cartoons sometimes in close-up, maybe silhouetted for variety's sake; then there are the set pieces: the stream of hair trailing down the street from the guy on his bicycle, the animals whisked up in a spiral of air into the heavens, or we view a hilly cemetery and bonfire, viewed from afar as a diminutive Stonehenge. Despite the frenetic pace of the thing and our enjoyment of the journey on bike and suftboard, we want to find out what's going to happen at the destination. In fact the denouement in both cases is pretty cool. The links above to the movies are to high quality versions for download though you can view the pair on YouTube - Enjoy the Ride & Gained the World. I did try and claim Joel for the UK but in fact he is a resident of Knoxville, Tennessee and: "I've lived here and freelanced for nearly 6 years after starting my career off in Seattle as an animation director." More of Joel's exceptional work later early next week.




















Thursday, 19 June 2008

Tezuka Osamu "Shizuku" (Drop)







To be labelled as the inventor of manga is a suitable epitaph to lay at the feet of any animator. The late Tezuka Osamu (1928 -1989) has a work output that reads like an encyclopedia. Creator of the immortal Astroboy as well as the first X-rated animated film he was known in his native Japan as manganokamisama, literally God of Comics. Today's offering is a simply drawn piece from 1965 and made in one week. Shizuku (Drop) is a marvellous traditional cartoon in which the proverbial man adrift on a raft is tempted and thwarted by three drops of precious water suspended from the mast. It is not a major piece at all but the ingenious manner in which the best laid plans of man on raft go astray will make you laugh aloud. Reaching out to acquire drop number one with an oar, fighting a travelling and equally thirsty albatross to the death and being lost in a heat induced fever, the short is a minor classic of comic timing.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Annecy International Animated Film Festival: The Winners










The "Cannes of Animation", or more precisely the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, delivered its verdicts this week. From its 1882 entries the jury whittled them down to a list of winners below. To remind you, the competition is open to four film categories, each using different animation techniques: feature films, short films, commissioned and TV films and graduation films. Paid work prohibits me from attending though I stayed there two years ago - a lovely historic town and glorious countryside and lake.
Short films
La maison en petits cubes
The Annecy Cristal
Japan
Berni's Doll
Special distinction
France
Morana
Special distinction
Croatia
La maison en petits cubes
Junior Jury Award for a short film
Japan
Skhizein
Audience award
France
Ona koja mjeri
FIPRESCI award
Croatia
Portraits ratés à Sainte-Hélène
Jean-Luc Xiberras award for a first film
France
KJFG No 5
Sacem Award
Hungary
La dama en el umbral
Jury's special award
Spain
Feature films
Sita Sings the Blues
The Cristal for best feature
United States
Idiots & Angels
Special distinction
United States
Die Drei Räuber
Audience award
Germany
TV series
Moot Moot "L'enfer de la mode"
The Cristal for best TV production
France
Talented Mouse "Catnip", "Pest Controller", "Oasis"
Special award for a TV series
Great Britain
TV specials
Engel zu Fuss
TV special award
Germany
Advertising films
Bibigon "Factually Fun Idents X 9"
Educationnal, scientific or industrial film award
Great Britain
Sony Bravia "Play-Doh"
Advertising or promotional film award
Great Britain
Music video
Annuals "Dry Clothes"
Award for best music video
Great Britain
Graduation films
Le voyageur
Special distinction
Belgium
Oktapodi
CANAL+FAMILY Award for a graduation film
France
Margot
Junior Jury Award for a graduation film
Belgium
Camera obscura
Award for best graduation film
France
My Happy End
Jury's special award
Germany
Hugh
Unicef award
France
I will be featuring the movies as they come on-line. Nice to see good people like Darren Walsh and Steve Smith gaining well deserved recognition. The first of the reviews is below.

Cédric Villain "Portraits ratés à Sainte-Hélène" (Annecy 2008 Prize Winner)







Portraits ratés à Sainte-Hélène illustrates the dying days of Napoleon Bonaparte on the God forsaken hole that is (or, maybe, was) the remote Atlantic island of St. Helena where he was imprisoned by the British for five years until he died on 5 May 1821. Cédric Villain's idiosyncratic account picks through the little known facts about the island's geographical position and the ex-emperor's gradual decline in his defeat and exile, where there seems little to have interested him other than food. Certainly at his autopsy, covered with a scientific detachment here, he was noted for the large amount of fat tissue and tiny .. well, I'll not spoil the film. I never learnt about this when I studied him for A Level History all those years ago. Cédric employs a clinical technique in subject matter, his economic use of language, the narrator's dry delivery, and clear graphics. The deep blue of the backdrop against which are set maps, arrows, dates ..... is utterly absorbing in a way my History lessons never were. It is also very funny. The irony of the deadpan delivery of fact and the often incongruous images is delicious. Thus it was one of the prize winning short films in this year's Annecy, where he won the "Jean-Luc Xiberras" Award for a first film. To be clear, the movie is also an investigation into the authenticity of his death mask and portraits. History was one of my strongest subjects at school, comparatively speaking, and I never knew anything of this essential material. The music by Peter Orins is just right and complementary. The link is to the website where you can download the French version in high definition or view it in Flash with subtitles. Postcript: I apologised to Cédric on their behalf for my countrymen keeping Napolean a prisoner and got the reply: "And English should not apologise for making Napoleon a prisoner, because he deserved it as a bloody tyrant!" Lovely guy.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Tom Kyzivat "Helium"& "Prey"







Nothing particularly cerebral about the two shorts I've posted today but then it's been a hard day. Some light relief then. 28 year old Tom Kyzivat made both these simple hand drawn cartoons in 2005. They may well remind you of Don Hertzfeld without the cruelty, though there's just sufficient thuggery to keep the kettle boiling. The violent one first - Prey. Three monsters see a poor little child cowering well away from shelter. Tasty morsel. So they fight amongst themselves for the privilege of the kill. Winner takes all. Wolf in child's clothing. Helium has two little fellows squabbling over a balloon. There's the Hertzfeld connection again. Sharp pointed implement and balloons don't mix. A 2004 graduate of Northern Illinois University and resident of Dixon in the same state, Tom is a freelance artist and cinema projectionist so gets to see all those wonderful movies for free. A bit like visitors to this site. Not cerebral, by the way, does not signify lack of talent. The timing of the two films is exactly right, the sounds are spot on (f/x and musical soundtracks) and they made me smile throughout. Tom's website has links to his portfolio though no major recent movies I note. He's got talent as artist and animator aplenty and I've included one of his recent art creations because, well, I like it.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Steve Smith, Layla Atkinson and Siri Melchior "Maybe I'm a Winner" Grand Drive





















I missed this first time round in 2004. More fool me. "Maybe I'm a winner" is a perfect music video for Grand Drive. Steve Smith, Layla Atkinson and Siri Melchior, collectively Trunk, are stars and win the money. With greyhound tracks facing oblivion here in the UK this is a staged event to re-whet one's appetite. The animating team take the process of an evening's meet with the crowds gathering for the Grand Drive Cup, placing their bets, traps opening all over the place, the mechanical hare and dogs revved up and ready for the off. The set and prop design is extraordinary and the stop motion animation exhilarating. The figures look for all the world like little tin men. The novel concept of everything being mechanical works to perfection with the humans and dogs all on stands, all moving arms and legs in synchronised manner. I really had no idea they did Mexican waves at dog tracks! When the lights die down in the arena, the lone hare racing around an empty stadium creates a delightful spectacle. I've written recently on Trunk and Grand Drive. I think I prefer this one to Firefly. Well maybe. The singer's voice and the style of music remind me of Neil Young - no higher praise by the way. I get contacted more by music companies and fans than for any other form of animation I feature here. When I hear a band as good as this and an animation so fit for purpose I can see why. I've got another animator who works on music videos for later in the week and he's pretty damn good too.