Sunday, 31 August 2008

Tomek Bagiński "The Cathedral" (Katedra)

Sunday Classic Animation
Tomek Bagiński

For some reason Tomek Bagiński's 2002 Oscar nominated film, The Cathedral, has been one I've held back on reviewing despite its majestic qualities. Now with my series of Sunday Classics its wait is no more. The Metacafe video in the link allows a standard of resolution that is required by the CG generated and spectacular animation. The Cathedral is high on impact, less so on plot. Enigmatically posed against the backdrop of a planet in eclipse a hooded pilgrim approaches and enters a cathedral. It is a vast cave with a vaulted ceiling that might be formed from giant trees, the roots of which surge from the rock in an organic complex. Gargoyles, or rather petrified figures, look down on him and a tilt of the head or turn of the eyes signifies their sentience. Any progress of the pilgrim is blocked by an impenetrable abyss. The opening to the film features a planet surface comprising scarcely cooled lava and there is a significance as the eclipse ends and light enters the predominantly orange interior of the cave leading to a suitably dramatic conclusion as the pilgrim is reintegrated into his world. When I first viewed the movie I thought of Tolkien's Moria though this is less intimidating. It has that awe inspiring quality however. The music by Adam Rosiak and sound by Kuba Pietrzak evoke all the drama and tension, adding immeasurably to the spectacle of it all. Written by Tomek Baginski and Jacek Dukaj, from the latter's short story, this is CG technology (3ds Max) stretched to its maximum, certainly at the time it was made, technology having moved on even in these few years. Tomek based his 3D models for the work on the medieval cathedral of Notre Dame in Amiens. It won the Siggraph 2002 (Best Animated Short). Such a complex piece of work is hard to explain in terms of meaning. The solitary figure exploring the cave is a spell-bound as is the audience by the cathedral's complexity. Whether the eclipse allows him release, escape or, at its close, imprisonment is not immediately clear to me. The conclusion does however reveal something about the cathedral. And a classic? For seven or so minutes and we have been cast into another world. And the concluding scenes are absolutely stunning.
Biography: Born in 1976 2002, Tomek Bagiński studied Architecture at the Warsaw Institute of Technology. His studies were in architectiure and in fact his animation skills were largely self-taught. He used CG because it was the cheapest way he knew to make movies. His Fallen Art, reviewed here last year, has been critically acclaimed. Tomek made The Cathedral for Polish production company, Platige Image, founded in 1997, by Piotr Skiora and Jarek Sawko.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Hannah Suppiah "The Predatory Habits Of Yetis"

Not many know this but there are different types of Yeti. Watch The Predatory Habits Of Yetis (link to website) and all your queries will be answered. Naturally there's the common-o-garden white type. These of course are two a penny, particularly in the Himalayas though perhaps not so prevalent in suburban gardens. It takes someone of great dedication to classify the species into their distinctive groups and then proceed to explore the hitherto unknown subject of predation. The Loomavore or Glow Yeti eats floating glows and the progress of its lunch can be viewed all along the digestive tract. It does indeed glow all over which is very illuminating apart from in the dark when it comes face to jaws with the Carnivore Pilosus, Hairy Yeti, a situation that can get hairy indeed if it were not for the Great Rooted Altus. All this and more, including the origins of those floating glows, in an intriguing and unusual animation by Norwich School of Art and Design's Hannah Suppiah whose graduation piece this is. With a nice line in hushed sound effects - the Yeti hunts and is hunted almost silently - and some soft pastel and watercolour effects, a nice idea is developed well for its 3 minutes or so. Hannah's blog, YouTube Channel and indeed website are informative and slickly created. Her sketches and artwork reveal a most able artist willing to experiment and this talent permeates her animation. I am fortunate to have been sent a full DVD of the university's graduation movies and on the big screen one can revel in the deliciously muted colours of the work, as if fresh from the canvas, and a particularly fine Fog Yeti.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Jannes Hendrikz, Ree Treweek and Markus Smit "The Tale of How" & "Ringo" - Black Heart Gang

The Tale of How was signalled yesterday. Otto the Monster octopus terrorises all who chance his way in the depths of the Indian Ocean. He mainly lives on a reducing population of rather charming if not very bright Piranhas Birds (white Dodos): For Otto the monster,/ how hideous the slaughter,/ he picked them like fruit,/ from that inky black water. In desperation the poor mites send off bottles into the ocean seeking help. Only Eddy the Engineer, a mouse, answers their call. Markus Wormstorm's lyrics are in the Lewis Carroll mould and the trimmed down team (see below) of Capetown's Jannes Hendrikz, Ree Treweek and Markus Smit display the promise that was to lead two of them to form their own company - see yesterday's feature. In fact the world created is much like this later commercial covered though without the bloody rending of bodies by Otto's dark tentacles. There is a YouTube video depicting the making of Tale of How which, whilst possessing a deliberate whimsical incongruity - a feature that distinguishes both their work and website prose - nevertheless shows the processes that the movie went through, from original concept, sketches, 2D work and then the 3D elements "with help from their friends" Black Ginger. Light hearted the team may be, this belies a work ethic sufficient to create a world of fantasy that, as all the best novels manage to achieve, has an integrity to it. There's a high quality download courtesy Computer Arts and much of the detailed information is featured in a first rate sub page website for the Black Heart Gang. Also a proposal to produce a follow-up version, The Tale of Then using the talents of as yet ten unspecified animators. So should you be interested download the Proposal Form like ... instantly. Alternatively or as well, admire one of the prints that forms part of the movie package.
Ringo (2004) was the first project completed by the original five gang members with a look, as they freely admit created from designs by Ree with Jannes initially doing most of the technical detail until the arrival of Pieter Mentz who handled the 3D work. Miné Jonker's "gentle advice was the putty which held Ringo together" whilst Markus Wormstorm was the electronic composer and his percussive soundtrack accompanies the travels of the white robot through a fantasy world of fierce robot devouring crocodiles, jungle and flat clouds that serve as stepping stones. It has something of the feel of those infernally addictive games where one attempts to navigate your guy through the hazards and onwards to the next level.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

"Sea Orchestra": United Airlines (2)

"Crossing the ocean will never be the sames" intones the rich sound of Robert Redford in the voice-over for one of United Airlines' new ads, part of the "It's time to fly" campaign about which I waxed lyrical last year. Sea Orchestra is the first piece to be considered. The premise is easy enough, in a visual style reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch without the gore, a group of underwater creatures sing and play their way through the airline's themed music for the series, George Gershwin’s evocative Rhapsody in Blue. There's a fine opening as nesting seabird screeches with a ship's hooter sound before morphing into leaping fish, a feat that unleashes a host of fish buglers and cascading waterfalls. Now unless one is very unlucky flying over the oceans is unlikely to reveal the beauties of the deep, even in first class luxury, so the ad has little to say about the airline per se though it does raise awareness of the company and lighten up the evening's viewing as it was first screened I believe during the Olympic opening ceremony and that was digitally enhanced too - I guess the dazzling octopus is only miming and a gap toothed dogfish actually did the playing. This was the first major commission for the young South African company, Shy The Sun. Directors Jannes Hendrikz and Ree Treweek and producer Nina Pfeiffer have put together a stirring and visually ornate commercial. According to the airline's website the score was created using a range of instruments including tubas, violins, French horns and an Indonesian gamelan. The animation process was to commence with hand sketches, develop them via CGI and then to map textures onto the figures by hand again. The result is a vibrant sense of jewelled colour as befits coral reefs and the like. The 3D animation was created by Arri Reschke and Claudio Pavan for Lung Animation. As is usual the magic Italian IT student, Salvatore DeK, at No Fat Clips has a high resolution link. I often discover that researching animations is akin to peeling onions. Ree Treweek is some artist - click on this detail from her The Tale of How that I will be reviewing, belatedly, tomorrow alongside more of her output for the Black Heart Gang. I'll also return to more commercials in the United Airlines series. Finally, the reference to Salvatore is gleaned from a well written and informative site, The Inspiration Room, formerly Duncan's TV Ad Land (as in Duncan Macleod). I've placed it as a permanent link.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

I-Wei Huang (Crabfu)

I returned from my short trip to Spain today to receive the following in my mailbox. I normally don't post commercial stuff though this seems interesting from the YouTube clips anyway. (The images are from my trip to the Basque fiesta festival and Frank Gehry's building for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I was interested in the museum's retrospective of the Madrid sculptor, Juan Muñoz, but ended up more impressed by the exhibition of surrealist fashion and items for the home. Couldn't get a photo inside but the statues outside are laughing at it all. ) Back to the robotics:
Many have probably already heard of I-Wei Huang (aka Crabfu) the animation artist and steamworks expert. His work has been showcased on places such as WIRED, the NBC TechNow! Show, Make Magazine, Robot Magazine, and many others. Recently, Crabfu has found yet another way to express himself as an artist; Robotics. His Swashbots and other robotic creations have blanketed the Net over the past several months.
Robotics can be intimidating to many, but did you know that you do not have to be a guru in electronics and/or programming to get your feet wet? To demonstrate, Trossen Robotics sent a Bioloid Robot Kit out to Crabfu. Having no programming experience whatsoever, Crabfu explains just how easy it is to get involved in this exciting new hobby. Crabfu starts with an excellent video review of the Bioloid Robot Kit, and follows with an in-depth review of the Bioloid kit. We invite everyone to check out his thread in the TRC, which will show you, from an outside perspective, just how easy it is to get started in robotics!
Thank you
- The Trossen Robotics Team
Tomorrow I'm reviewing a series of commercials I've been told about by a proud American - they were never shown in the UK.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Chuck Jones "Lost and Foundling"

Lost and Foundling (1944) directed by the great Chuck Jones is a vintage comic cartoon. When an egg rolls from the tree and into the home of a kindly mouse the resulting hatchling is assured of a warm home - "the cutest baby chicken you ever saw". Well, maybe. The mouse gives him a great education, excursions on his back, books, more excursions as the little fellow grows, er, into a big fellow, and more books. Too many books: education is bad for this growing chick. When the tiny mouse's back can hardly stand the strain she turns to a book for information about the specific species of this now far from cute bird. Yes, the bird is in the book all right under the hawk category. And his favourite food? You guessed right. Worse, the inquisitive creature unfortunately was peering over the mouse's shoulder and has learnt to read. The pair enter the great nurture over nature debate prompting genuine laughter. Tex Avery and Chuck Jones are giants and their work wears the years well. I cover all sorts of animation in the Animation Blog and trust me, when the mouse tries to deflect the growing enthusiasm for the hawk's lunch, it's as inspired animating as any cartoon has any right to be.

Monday, 25 August 2008

"Akryls" Yann Couderc, Xavier Henry, and Bruno Hajnel

I have featured a few animations from Gobelins of late and I have several UK graduation pieces to show so I'd better make a nod towards that other great French finishing school for the industry, Supinfocom. Yann Couderc, Xavier Henry, and Bruno Hajnel made Akryls in 2002. Partly underwater, perhaps charging through the internal body organs, maybe viewed from microscope, sometimes huge futuristic city the animation is spectacular. Not everyone's cup of tea or glass of wine but I like it.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

"La Demoiselle et le violoncelliste" (The Maid and the Cellist) Jean-François Laguionie

Sunday Classic Animation
La Demoiselle et le violoncelliste
Jean-François Laguionie

La Demoiselle et le violoncelliste is my third Sunday Classic Animation and anyone reading the Animation Blog will recognise my love of French animation. Jean-François Laguionie was 26 when he made this, his first major animation. It is an unusually melancholic film in which a young woman fishes for shrimps with a hand net in the seas beneath gleaming white cliffs. From his vantage point on these same cliffs a young man watches her and plays his cello. His music perhaps has an unsettling effect on the waves and the woman is swept out to sea, causing the cellist to set out into the huge waves to rescue her. His attempts prove fruitless. Or do they? The pathetic fallacy of wave action being triggered by bow on strings is typical of the world Jean-François creates. The woman sits on a giant crab as the man plays beneath the sea, the man rescues his precious instrument from a brawl between the same crab and a giant fish, and in an enigmatic conclusion the pair emerge on a crowded beach in a bay a little removed from the crowd. The animation might be a trifle slow by modern day standards but the scenes have the vivid appeal of abstract or surreal paintings, never more so than when the cello is cast on the sand of an empty bay or the man plays his cello on the cliffs. However the opening scenes as the darkening waves overpower man and woman have a strength to them that is very powerful, as does the pair's re-emergence. Inevitably the music by Edouard Lalo does much to establish mood. Made primarily with paper cut-outs the movie is rightly a classic and won the Grand Prix at the Festival of Annecy.

Biography: Jean-François was born in Besançon in 1939. He was originally a graphic designer. La Traversée de l'Atlantique (Crossing the Atlantic) for which he was awarded the Palm d'Or at Cannes, is the most famous of his shorts though his place in French animation history is assured not only for his earlier, innovative work but also for the present. In 1984 he established what is today a very successful animation company in an old silk mill, Saint Laurent le Minier, in the Cevennes. La Fabrique has made over a hundred films, many for television, of which the most famous and successful of the major movies were A Monkey's Tale (1999) and Black Mor's Island (2004). He is much influenced in his work by the great cartoonist, Paul Grimault.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Chronos 1.0 &

I have already covered the Annecy trailers for 2008 but I did not want to leave unsaid how equally brilliant are the 2007 equivalents. The links below are to the selected movies and I might draw particular attention to Keep Walking and its links with a particularly famous short featured here a year or so. However it is the ingenious conclusion to Chronos 1.0 that I found most impressive. When the time machine malfunctions the animators found just the right location for the pilot's eventual home-coming - very appropriate for an animation festival. Wassim Boutales, Yann Boyer, Vincent Mahe and Bruno Mangyoku maintain the traditions of their fine school - Gobelins. The others then:
Keep Walking

Friday, 22 August 2008

"World War" Vincent Chai

Hold onto your seats. World War won the Grand Prix for the best animation from the 2008 Animation Expose event from University of Herfordshire. I can see why. It is terrific fun. In a race against time to avoid a new nuclear war a robot has to pit his skill against another even more terrifying if deviant robot. The plot of Vincent Chai's graduation animation movie is conventional enough and, in a sense so is the action, but it truly is breathtaking in its execution once we are introduced to the robots that form, like the car in the advert, from a vehicle, in this case an old WW2 warplane. I am quite amazed how one person, for such it is despite the credits for sound and music, can do all this animation. The sheer detail of 1045 Hiroshima, the setting for the duel and explosion that is to be staged there, is impressive enough though the transformation from plane to robot and the fight scene itself rivet one to the screen. It's not the most original piece I have ever seen but it is so technically accomplished and absorbing with Vincent imbuing the action with touches of humour to lighten proceedings. Savas Palechorus and Michael Eugene Yap provided the cleverly synchronised music and Haydn Payne did the same for the sound effects. The university clearly provides a sound grounding in a variety of software packages, Vincent principally using Autodesk Maya for the 3D, and Adobe After Effects and Photoshop for visual features and texture. Vincent's is a model website, with his professional details, design sketches and even a high definition version of the movie. I deem him to be very employable given this magnificent graduation movie and, remembering my role as teacher of younger students, the university might just pick up a batch of my youngsters on the back of this effort.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Chris Do "Black/White" Raveonettes (Sound of Color)

Handled properly, and Black/White is, black and white movies have a sophisticated feel to them. The four minute video was based on the track by Raveonettes and was conceived and made in only three weeks, mixing puppetry, cut outs and computerised animation technology. One feature I liked was the intervention of a hand or two to move scenery and rig around. The company's website explanation speaks of the contrasts in the narrative: love/hate, life/death, young/old, daydream/nightmare, and ugliness/beauty. I like the sound produced by this Danish duo Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo and the animation adds something of the dark quality of the lyrics without ever becoming too dark - rabbits, butterflies and children on a sea-saw are not exactly terrifying though the wolf has its moments I guess. The movement in the video is impressive and a dark, silhouetted lighthouse is always a good image. It was directed by Chris Do, founder of Bind Inc and his team (Paul Kim, Jason Kim, David Ando, Sakona Kong, Maithy Tran, Wakako Ichinose and Sakona Kong) in response to a campaign to launch their new ranges by Gap in which five directors had different colours to work with. I normally use screenshots whereas the images are taken from the company site where there's some informative comment and visuals to show the process.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

"Oktapodi" Julian Bocabeille, François-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier & Emud Mokhberi

In the past two days I have featured work by second year university students. Today it is time for their seniors. Produced in 2007 by Julian Bocabeille, François-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier and Emud Mokhberi, today's movie is quite something. It commences with an affectionate scene in which two octopuses embrace in the warmth, sunlight and the sea. They do taste nice though and with a swiftness that is almost unnaturally nasty one of the love duet is seized and prepared for lunch on the cooking block. The makers obviously learnt from such as Tex Avery that, no matter what occurs, cartoon creations are immortal. The pink octopus lives! Essentially a chase and rescue movie, Oktapodi is quite exhilarating in its twists and turns as orange octopus seeks to rescue his beloved pink octopus from the delivery truck driver who has just collected his cargo for some would-be gastronomists. Connoisseurs of good animations the world over have loved this very funny and skilled pice of work on the festival circuit since its appearance last year. And yes, it is another work of the astonishing Gobelins about which I've been harping on about for the past two days. It is more than harum-scarum antics though, the sheer quality of light that features in the movie makes such as I, stranded in a darker world, want to seek out the Mediterranean as, well, immediately. At the very least you can visit the team's website ( and marvel at their festival awards and see a clip showing the making of the film. I should mention the ending which is pretty special too.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Gobelins & Annecy Animation Festival 2008

Continuing yesterday's trawl through the Gobelins' team efforts towards the classy introductory animations for the Annecy Animation Festival I turn to the other four. Yesterday's movie was selected because of its excellent dedicated website and because, on a whim, I wanted to explore the individuals concerned via their blogs. There is no contest here and they're all my favourites. Hand drawn by an animation school that has design and artistry central to its cause, sitting alongside a technical slickness.

VIP: Kherveen Dabylall, Denis Do, Benoît Guillaumot, Françoise Losito, and Patrick Pujalte - young people groove on the beach whilst young if rotund guy just lets it all hang out, delivering his invitation to Annecy with scarcely a bead of sweat. Glorious, shimmering colours of summer and I guess it's Lake Annecy Tourist Board.

Wild Casting: Nicolas Caffarel, Thomas Charra, Floriane Marchix, Jérémie Moreau, Baptiste Rogron, and Melvina Wong - a roaring lion chases two men who leap over tall buildings in their efforts to escape. A nice touch at the end linking up with Annecy and a spectacular and frantic chase to savour.
Garuda: Nicolas Athane, Meryl Franck, Alexis Liddell, Andres Salaff and Maïlys Vallade - a young Indian boy looks out on a pool of fish and is disturbed by an illusive shadow which he follows ever upwards through an intricate city until he reaches a multicoloured canopy of leaves and he is able to take flight.
Supertromp: Par Brice Chevillard, Melody Cisinsky, David Francois and Jacques Jarczyk, Gaelle Thierry - young elephant boy wakes up belatedly and well before his recalcitrant beast who simply will not stir from his slumbers. No missing the deadline so up the elephant goes and onto the back of his master who arrives at his destination in time to take off. I have not quite completed my selection of Annecy/Gobelin shorts but that's for the next day or so. But what a training exercise for the second year students.
Finally, whilst tracing the links for the animations I came across this treasure trove of a website - Lines and Colours - written and assembled by Philadelphia's webcomics artist, cartoonist, illustrator, web site designer and Flash animator - Charley Parker - that is so visually attractive and eclectic in its coverage of anything that has lines or colour in it, as well as being literate and beguiling reading.

Monday, 18 August 2008

La ballade sauvage (The Wild Ride) Cyril Drouin, May Nguyen, Gabriel Jollymonge, Elen Le Tannou & Marion Stinghe

La ballade sauvage is a short piece in which a young couple quarrel, causing the girl to fall into the water. Several metamorphoses occur as they transform into fish and birds as their courtship, for such it is I guess, is continued in graceful chase or aerial display before they drift to the forest floor, bird and girl, white and black feather. The animation is one of five animations chosen for the introductions to the Annecy festival. Produced without language, and giving free rein to the second year students from the esteemed l'école de l'image, Gobelins, these animations are quite extraordinarily artistic. Tomorrow I shall take a look at the other four movies. For today I was interested to look at the website set up by the five students for their project and follow the links to their blogs. What I liked about La ballade sauvage was the fluidity of movement and the artistic quality underpinning it. The students' blogs all give ample evidence of their artistic ability and three have show reels. Remembering my second year as a student I certainly would not have had any sort of portfolio prepared only a stream of requests for overdue essays. However the five students are as follows and where a show reel exists I have indicated that. May Nguyen has a fabulous show reel with upbeat music and some fine still life and sketches in the portfolio. I liked the thick daubs of red and yellow paint of the portrait. Elen Le Tannou (look at speed painting below) and Gabriel Jollymonge (wind turbines) do not have show reels though each has ample indications of their talent for design. Cyril Drouin has an impressive international site in three languages and a jazzy show reel from which the image of the brightly coloured street is taken below. Marion Stinghe has a similarly full portfolio of work on show and the two giraffes are taken from her own show reel. Together they, of course, created a lovely piece of work - and only in their second year. I shall make a point of seeing how their work develops in their final year.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Wendy Tilby "Strings" (Cordes)

Sunday Classic Animation:
"Strings" (Cordes)
Wendy Tilby

Strings is the second in my Sunday Classic Animation series; it is also by a Canadian woman, Wendy Tilby. She made it in 1991, her first film for Canada's NFB. It is about strangers whose path crosses but never meaningfully communicate, despite in this scenario living directly above each other. The opening says everything. Together in the escalator they each press their allotted key, the elderly man to the second floor, the woman to the third. No words or glances are exchanged. Inside the woman's apartment is a large scale model of the Titanic and she has a neatly folded package which contains the fourth funnel. Whilst she glues the piece and sets up the new rigging she runs the bath. Downstairs the man's guests emerge from a cab. He is to host a get-together for his string quartet. He prepares a meal of five fish set out beside each other. Upstairs the lady has two goldfish. Downstairs the man's cat looks at the fish as its master lets in his guests. A drop of water, the first of quite a trickle, drops onto the fish. She luxuriates amongst the suds, he plays below until the water from above requires his attention. Together at last, still no words are spoken as he carries out repairs. It is a movie exploring separate lives that cross but remain separate, private. Apart from the sound of the musicians, there is no dialogue, only the sound effects of feet on stairs, the squirting of glue, dripping tap, taxi. Humour in its understated way abounds. A toe is dipped into the water, water is dripped down the lamp cord, the lady retains her modesty when interrupted from her bathtub. All the time the visual aspects appeal. One has close-ups of the faces, an almost imperceptible raise of the eyebrow, gentle disrobing, collapsing chandelier. Wendy's technique is to use watercolour mixed with gliscerine on glass, constantly reworking the material, advancing the animation in a fluid motion that, however time-consuming to produce, is sumptuous in its final effect. Add to this an astonishing eyes for detail, often bizarre. Take the fish on the plate. Part of the fun is seeing their fate. And will the cat get one? (It doesn't.) And the solitary cuff link left in the lady's room. What is to be its fate? And why the shoe? Such a clever title too: the parallel cables connecting the lift, the strings of the rigging, the cable of the chandelier, the strings that bind together the characters in this classy mix - bind together but remaining parallel.
Biography: Strings was nominated for an Academy Award. It was Wendy's second major film, her first Table of Contents has also been featured here and possesses a not dissimilar theme. Wendy graduated from the University of Victoria before attending the Emily Carr Institute of Art. She has taught at Concordia University in Montreal and more recently at Harvard University. Her When the Day Breaks (also featured here) with Amanda Forbis was also Oscar nominated in 1999. I should also point to her quite wonderful work for United Airlines that I covered in the Animation Blog last year.