Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Jaromír Plachý Hrouda/The Clod

Hrouda (The Clod) that did so well at the recent AniFest 2008 is indisputably in the great Czech comic tradition. 22 year 0ld Jaromír Plachý has produced a punchy piece that explores the position of the underdog in life, the little man, pushed and pulled as the world sees fit, a victim to big business, political manoeuvring, fashion, housing policies. The little man, examined, picked up, chewed a bit, passed through the digestive tract of life, jettisoned. Well, I think it's that. Ignore all the comments I normally make about artistic ability and the like. Třeboň's jury of Phillip Bergson, Moon-Saeng Kim and Gabriele Zucchelli awarded Jaromír's work the prize for Best Internet Animation and he also won the Audience Award. Now in the UK we have an artist, Damien Hirst, whose talent is conspicuously absent in my eyes and still makes his millions. When I showed my classes Hrouda they suggested they could do better. I should be so lucky a teacher. It's not a case of the innocent seeing through the emperor's non-existent clothes. Hrouda is funny and wise, the ending beautifully summarising the situation. It has my vote.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Nick Uff "Ok Toots" & Dennis Potter "Pennies From Heaven"

Harry Roy and his Orchestra and Band performed the ragtime number Okay Toots in the 1930s and it was featured in one of my favourite ever television series, Dennis Potter's absolutely fabulous Pennies From Heaven, first broadcast in the UK in 1978 and starring Bob Hoskins and the very lovely Cheryl Campbell. In the drama the use of naive, optimistic songs were juxtaposed with the declining fortunes of salesman Arthur Parker during the Great Depression (the rise of Nazism, build-up to World War). Okay Toots was one of the standout numbers. Which brings me, not before time, to OK Toots the animation. One of the finest and unsung animators in the country with a free-wheeling style that is entirely his own is Nick Uff whose work for Portishead is remarkable and covered elsewhere in the blog. Follow the link where I attempt to describe his technique and the influence of James Ensor. In his virtuoso OK Toots something of the flavour of excess and exploitation of the 1930s is revealed as, in a nightclub setting, hideous Mickey-Mouse lookalikes ogle dancing girls and money is exchanged, whilst guys are on the make and the band do their melodic best to mask proceedings, including a trumpet player-man who seems in one way or another to be at the centre of things. Decadence and gaiety both. There are no opening or closing credits, nothing to say it is Nick's work save a unique treatment of his subject - the galloping imagery, grotesque close-up and a priceless ability to animate one of the classic songs. And just to demonstrate the forgotten art of the master lyricist, here are the words to sing along to:
Ok my little toots, if you like me, I like you,/ We know nobody new will do, it's ok toots./ OK toots, if you say yes, then I say yes, if you say no, then it don't go, it's ok toots./ You know I'm in favour of whatever you do, I know I'm in favour of all the hugs and kisses, ok toots./ If you want dishes, I'll dry dishes, I'm ambitious, ok toots./

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Paul Driessen "3 Misses"

Sunday Classic
Paul Driessen

3 Misses directed by Paul Driessen was nominated for an Academy Award in 2000. Three interlocking narratives feature three damsels in distress and nine hapless would-be heroes attempting to save them. First off is the girl falling from the skyscraper, hollering loud enough to give the cavalry time to charge down from the horizon on rescue mission. For cavalry read guy locked inside his own apartment and unable at first to exit. Meanwhile down at the railway track another hollering gal is a hollering for her man as the train bears down on her little body lashed to the line. And then there's the other seven height challenged rescuers of their mistress Snow White - though one quickly falls by the wayside, splattered by the first of many figures from myth or fairy tale who stumble into the movie; another meets a sad end at the hands of Red Riding Hood. The cartoon is funny in a manner Tex Avery or Chuck Jones would have related to. It has wit in abundance. I won't spoil the fun but the use of the sunglasses is a recurrent gag and cleverly tied in as the second of the near rescues reaches its end. Do watch the credits at the close because a solution sweet is revealed. Like Tex and Chuck's output, 3 Misses is adult orientated in the sense that adults know the references underpinning the non-stop action. He replicates the pair in the gag count too, though Paul's drawing style is decidedly not that of his American predecessors being altogether looser. This is in keeping with the stream of consciousness that drives the narrative as pen and wit flow naturally often or, more accurately, always going into unexpected areas. In this film, for example, the characters appear at times in a central isolated frame for reasons I do not know but which works. Paul explained his manner of working and the sheer unpredictability of his approach: “It’s easy to go for a cliché. I use a lot of fairy tales, legends and Biblical stories because people know them. You don’t have to explain them, they’re archetypes, and you can give them a little twist. You think you know where I’m going because you know the story, but then I show you another side to it.” The link to the movie is courtesy of YouTube though may I recommend treating yourself, as I have just done, to the fourteen film DVD, Paul Driessen - The Animated World .

Biography: Paul was born in Nijmegen, Netherlands in 1940. His father was the Dutch ambassador to Russia. After graduating in the early 1960s from the Academy of Arts, Utrecht, he made his first animated film in 1968, The Story of Little John Bailey and has worked periodically in his own studio in the Netherlands, as well as extensively for the acclaimed the National Film Board of Canada and the United Kingdom. He was effectively the first animator to emerge, internationally at least, from the Netherlands. He first struck it big when animating for George Dunning's Yellow Submarine (the link is to When I'm 64 where Ringo and Paul's hair grows in a manner that is very much Paul's animating style.) His influence has been considerable not only in his many films and commercial work for television and commercials. but also in his role as professor at University of Kassel in Germany. Two of his students's films won Academy Awards ("Balance" by Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein, and "Quest" by Tyron Montgomery and Thomas Stellmach.) Give the image below a click for the sheer hell of it all.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Maxime Vannienschoot and Thomas Delache "Hold Duck"

Hold Duck (2007) is not a movie that takes itself too seriously, only the style in which it is told. Man and woman criminal team masquerade as butler and maid for a perfectly hideous employer who has a valuable jewel hidden away. The action is conventional enough with the pair accepting the frightful bullying without demur, slipping a powerful drug into the bedtime drink and attempting to steal the key to the safe where untold riches lie. Of special note are the classy opening credits as the pair arrive in arty silhouette before the monochrome piece unfolds in tongue-in-cheek parody, aided in no small part by the specially composed music of Stéphane Orlando that fills in the gaps and adds to the charm considerably. The lady of the house is a fine creation looking as if she could never be seen in sunlight (so would have to steal dalmatians in the day.) There's a rare sense of delicacy about this Supinfocom Valenciennes animation. Maxime Vannienschoot and Thomas Delache score on the technical and artistic side with an accomplished, distinctive movie.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Stephen Irwin "The Black Dog's Progress"

The Black Dog’s Progress by Stephen Irwin may still be for all I know a work in progress, but it is interesting, indeed absorbing, nevertheless. The concept is novel. Stephen tells the tale of a dog in a troubled world, beaten, mistreated but determined to survive. In truth the story is irrelevant to a point as it is the manner of telling that draws one's attention. The film uses around 50 flipbooks assembled in After Effects and played as loops in an ever deepening and more complex whole. From the single book to the montage it is impossible to take one's eyes from the scene. The link is the higher resolution version though in truth I would have needed a larger screen that I presently have to take in the multi-windowed experience. Sometimes one is helped on the journey by a spotlight that fastens on a relevant flip book, though it repays several viewings, and it keeps the brain agile following the development. I am unable to claim that I engaged with the character but I have followed the action three times, three times more than some animation work! The occasionally cacophonous music of Danish multi-instrumentalist Sorenious Bonk is a help though with a name like that maybe a leg or two leg is being pulled, as well as strings of an instrument. Stephen is a graduate of Central St. Martins College of Art & Design. The Channel 4 Animate TV screening commenced September 21st, with this being one of the films. The image below is one of the director's working drawings.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Matthew Walker "John and Karen"

"What do you want?"
"I .. I came to apologise."
"Huh. Come in. Wipe your feet."
Matthew Walker's John and Karen is a joy. John is distressed because inadvertently he has been loose with his tongue causing pain and anguish to Karen, the person he so obviously loves. He arrives at her door to humbly beg her pardon. Karen lets him into the lounge and, over rather delicious biscuits and tea, John mumbles his apologies. The pair do not at first sight seem well matched: John is a polar bear and huge whilst Karen is a penguin and not huge. John has insulted her swimming and that is no good thing to say to one's intended life partner. Matthew's animation is one of those where the quality of the script is what triumphs. The flat English accents and deadpan humour work well here. No stirring musical score, just the sound of crunching ginger biscuits and tinkling teacup on saucer. The visual humour works well too - when Karen ferries the plate of biscuits to her guest and there is, to put it mildly, a size differential. But it's the dialogue that does it. Karen all pounting, pent-up hurt and John oh so abject, apologetic and distracted by the biscuits:
"You're a floundering mess!"
"Yeah, I am, yeah."
I've had conversations like this. James Bachman and Emma Cunniffe are alert to the nuances of the wonderful screenplay. Matthew completed a foundation course at Falmouth College of Art and Design progressing to study Animation at the University of Wales in Newport. His graduation film is one I intend to feature when I have a moment ‘Astronauts’. It won Best Student Film at the British Animation Awards and Best Graduation Film at Annecy International Animation Festival. He lives in Bristol and works on occasion for Arthur Cox and Aardman - he's got the subtle humour of the latter. John and Karen is one of the funniest movies I've featured.: "What I said was insensitive and .. I know that and .. I had no right to say it."

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Joaquin Baldwin "Sebastian's Voodoo"

Sebastian's Voodoo (2008) directed by Joaquin Baldwin is not at all in the same style as Papiroflexia featured here a week or so ago. Today's offering is a much darker piece in which a doll made out of jute awakes to discover he is on a hook above an ominous workbench. Turning to look around the doll finds a line of similarly afflicted dolls one of whom is about to be skewered by a pin. On the bench are discarded corpses. Escaping from his captor, the doll is forced to watch as another doll is to be killed. He discovers that the pin, applied to himself, has a debilitating effect on the torturer. However in order to finally rid his kin of this killer the doll must make the ultimate sacrifice. If you are squeamish about needles look away (and miss the entire film) for this absorbing drama is all about the suspense of the pin about to be plunged into helpless victims. Created with Maya and After Effects the high definition version downloaded via the link reveals extraordinary detail in the material and stitches of the dolls. Joaquin imbues a life to the coarsely stitched dolls that is remarkable given the comparative absence of facial features: an intake of breath, beating heart or sudden turn conveys such a lot of tension in this classy four minute piece. The set is a candle lit hell, with a voodoo Hannibal Hector and there is a musical score by Nick Fevola that is as professional as a big screen blockbuster, oozing menace and the percussions of the black arts. Despite my attention to the gore, the movie is actually rather moving in its depiction of heroic self-sacrifice. Follow the link to Joaquin's name and discover his extremely well written biography but, for the record, he moved from his native Paraguay to Ohio's Columbus College of Art & Design in 2002, before gravitating to obtain his masters at UCLA Animation Workshop where he remains. He is an animator of substance and promise. I am unable to resist posting one of his illustrations. Give it a click.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Hyekung Jung "Sofa"

I have read at least one festival programme preview for Hyekung Jung's movie Sofa (2001) describing the two characters in the comedy as living in two adjacent apartments. It may be true though the two could easily inhabit the same room but live separate lives. Such a scenario would make greater sense. The movie comprises a fixed view of a sofa within a split screen: in one section is the female stroking her cat in a manner that has more to with her own boredom and repression than it does the welfare of the animal; in the other the male is bored witless, scratching, yawning, doing handstands, banging his head against the wall, attempting copulation with and eating the sofa. The female slams the cat against the sofa, drags the cat, holds it by its tail, falls asleep and the cat escapes. Are the man and woman to be united? They certainly appear to be preparing to end their frustration. There's one moment when she raises her dress to reveal rather bold red dotted underwear. Is the real woman to be released and is that a wolfish grin directed from him to her as the sofa is rearranged? The absurdist piece is immaculately designed and animated throughout, whilst the range of activities given such a restricted set is ingenious and subtly observed. As a study in repressed desire the three minute short is a classic. A split screen is hardly a new idea but is here most intelligently and expertly utilised. Born in Seoul in 1970, Hyekung studied Art at the Seoul National University of Technology, moving to her animation course at the Academy of Art in Kassel from 1996 to 2004, obtaining her masters in 2004. Her professor was the magnificent Paul Driessen (look out for the forthcoming Sunday Classic). Since 2005 Hyekung has been a lecturer in animation at the following universities: Hongik, Sangmyung, Chunggang and Nazarene.

Monday, 22 September 2008

4Talent Awards shortlist

4Talent magazine is Channel 4’s bi-annual creative arts title and they have just announced the 2008 shortlists for the 4Talent Awards. It embraces 20 categories and the one that concerns us is Animation with five candidates for the winning position, due to be notified by 31 October. I have trumpeted the work of Karen Penman and Liam Brazier often enough and I acted as referee for their entry so, naturally, wish them well. The full list is:
Ian Wharton, 23 & Edward Shires, Preston
Mark Nute, 29, Gateshead
Jessica Cope, 24, North Yorkshire
Karen Penman, 28 & Liam Brazier, Essex
Cassiano Prado, 30, London
For further details go here. (4Talent )

Raphael Frydman & Cyndi Lauper "True Colours" (Masif)

France’s leading car insurer commissioned 29 year old Raphael Frydman to make Macif - Epargne/Auto. I know it is an animation blog and this is live action but the clip does animate into a smile so technically complies. Anyhow the ad is such a sunny commercial for the company at a time of financial clouds that it deserves exposure outside France. The link in fact is to two ads but I prefer the first. We look down from above and see little dots moving on the shoreline. Raphael has captured the scene with just the right degree of silvery sunlight and the shadows lengthening. The guy runs from the water with his surfboard and joins the smiling face. I've seen the idea worked on several times but this is a little more stylish than most and I like the song. See more of Raphael's work at his MySpace. Cyndi Lauper's lyrics are tailor made for advertising something, it may as well be motor insurance:
"In a world full of people/ You can lose sight of it all/ And the darkness inside you/ Can make you feel so small/ But I see your true colours/ Shining through/ I see your true colours/ And that's why I love you/ So don't be afraid to let them show/ Your true colours/ True colours are beautiful,/ Like a rainbow." Like the song? Love the original video.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Steffen Schäffler "The Periwig-Maker"

Sunday Classic
Steffen Schäffler

"London, 5th September, 1665. I can hear the the death bells tolling night and day. The plague rages dreadfully and the weekly bill of mortality must be higher than ever.” The Animation Blog feature animations I enjoy, it’s my prerogative. Therefore I have resisted reviewing The Periwig-Maker, directed by Steffen Schäffler sombrely narrated by Kenneth Branagh. The movie is undoubtedly a triumph of puppet-based animation though I found the film distressing on first viewing; there's always been something else to write on. The Periwig-Maker has received a host of accolades, notably being nominated for an Academy Award, Best Short Film, in 2000. Together with co-writer, sister and producer Annette Schäffler, Steffan took six years to make the movie at his Berlin studio. Based on The Plague Years by Daniel Defoe, a work I studied long ago for my degree, Steffen has made a remarkable film. It is a grim saga however. The wig maker is in a stage of siege in his home as all around the plague rampages through the city of London. As he muses on the latest solution for freshening up the air in his room he sees a body being lowered from the upstairs window opposite. A red headed girl stands watching as her mother’s corpse is summarily dropped into a cart. As an afterthought the men grab her and board her inside the now empty house. The girl manages to escape her prison, elude her guard and plays with a rag doll in front of the wig maker’s window. He notices her just as she is grabbed and imprisoned her again. From being a chronicler and remote observer, the wig maker becomes involved. The melancholic nature of the film is made the more grotesque given the historical context. In 1665 a law decreed that entire households containing an infection would be locked and sealed. From the opening, haunting images of the Thames and gravediggers at work, the brooding darkness of the set, lit only by candlelight and lantern, is something of rare quality in any film. Phil Dale who, as well as doing the animating here also worked on one of my favourite longer movies, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, gave a terrific interview for the forum at in which he revealed that the "puppets were very simple. They had ball and socket armatures and hollowed fibreglass heads". Only the 12 inches tall wig maker was given extra detail with "a tiny amount of eyebrow movement and that was it, yet, people say he is so expressive". The set that took the Schäffler family an age to construct "was about to 8 meters long by about 2 to 3 meters wide". The interview with Phil was also revealing in its interpretation of the central character. At first I viewed him as a somewhat repellent figure, fiddling whilst Rome burns so to speak. Of course, as he becomes caught up in the tragedy of the girl left to die he undergoes a transformation. The emotional force of his dilemma is not achieved by facial movement; he is actually very still as events unfold, though the camera centres on his face. Phil's view is the intensity of emotion is due to "the narration feeding and informing the visuals, telling you what is going on inside his head". (Another link with Corpse Bride was that fellow Cheshire based Mackinnon and Saunders employee Carlos Grangel designed the characters in both films.) Despite my initial reluctance to review the movie I stand corrected. This is a deeply moving film. As the wig maker lies in his bed having contracted the plague he wrote about with such dispassionate objectivity he utters the final words of the film. They are worth noting for they act as summary: "Remove the animosities among us and bring us to see with different eyes than those with which we looked on things before."

Biography: Annette and Steffen Schäffler commenced their film-making in 1993. They have produced six live-action shorts, one animated short and one 60 minute documentary. Usually Annette acts as producer, Steffen director, but both of them are author and editor. In 1994 they founded their own production company Ideal Standard Film in Berlin.They are pretty low profile for I am unable to discover an adult photograph of the pair, their website confining the visuals to minuscule images of them as children.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Rich Scurry - RBC’s Blue Water Project - This Much

 Funny how some commercials hit the spot. I caught RBC’s Blue Water Project at No Fat Clips (via Motionographer) on September 8th and showed it to my classes in an attempt to get the boys to do beautiful. It has been much praised on the blogs. Directed by Rich Scurry the forty second ad campaigns on an ecological front to conserve fresh water. A rolling blue sea with dolphins and ocean liner is revealed as the planet Earth and we are informed that only 2.5% of the available water on the planet is fresh - "the world's most precious natural resource." Fish beneath water, deer, rabbit and trees beside water, water lilies and ripples on water - with the most delicate turquoise and brown, sunlight and shade, reflections and perspectives from below and above, this is a pleasant experience and powerful argument on behalf of its sponsors, the Royal Bank of Canada. Design by Jon Klassen and Rich Scurry, animation by Karolina Sobeski, Rich Scurry and Joshua Harvey. Jon Klassen has a distinctive technique, very flat and stylised, sumptuous use of light. The two illustrations are his rather than my normal screen-grabs - a click will reveal their detail. Jon has a graduation piece on YouTube made with Dan Rodrigues in their third year at Sheridan College, An Eye For Annai, which I'll take a look at soon. Add to that Rich's own work and I've got a programme. Tomorrow's work also commences with water but is an altogether darker piece.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Andrée-Ann Brassard "Colis Express"

23 year old Montreal based Andrée-Ann Brassard is the latest recruit to the celebrated Pascal Blais Studio. Her work is, by way of variety, totally different to that featured yesterday. She works in the mode of Pixar, that is, finely detailed 3D and decidedly computer-animated. Andrée-Ann is no mean artist with pencil and paper as a visit to her Blog will verify. Indeed she labels one sketch as "a rare specimen, a drawing on paper" and a comparison with the coloured drawing is revealing of her style. Produced whilst at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal in 2007, Colis Express obviously wowed the studio. It is a simple enough cowboy (or rather cowduck) and horse tale in which the horse bucks its rider. There's a lot of character in the animations. I've heard it said that the Pixar style is the ability to create a performance in the characters. Horse and rider in this piece do just that. The horse has got an attitude. Alongside this of course is the crisp, stylised figures, smooth motion and vibrant colour that beams out from the screen. The Pixar style is not for all animators but Pascal has added a talented exponent of the art if this example is anything to go by. I guess Maya is used here. Pixar have their own highly rated programs Marionette (modeling, animating and lighting) and RenderMan (rendering). For an interesting comparison in terms of style and development see Andrée-Ann's 2D Les Maraudeurs made in 2005.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Tissa David "Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers"

And don't forget ...Today's post assuages a guilt I often feel when reviewing movies in which a team of animators work together. For ease or through idleness I often simply record the director. An occasional series then in support of those who support and are indeed invaluable to their directors. Today's focus is Tissa David. For simplicity's sake her work will be summarised in one five minute animated song, Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers, from the 1977 film Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure, directed by Richard Williams. (The second link is to a full, 85 minute Google Video version of iffy quality - below is a more preferable link to Amazon though the film can be only be purchased there for a reasonable fee in tape form - see below.) Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for the film does not mention Tissa. So I'll redress the situation. The featured segment was animated using pen and pencil sketches by Tissa. If you want an exemplar of character animation as Ann and Andy sing to each other, bolstering their confidence in their first ever night out in the dark woods, this is it. There is great fluidity of movement, Andy leading the way with his distinctive gait, the pair clambering up and down the tree trunks, rolling their eyes, Ann hitching up skirt and petticoat as she makes her way through the undergrowth. Dancing, embracing, exploring, somersaulting - the five minute section is an object lesson for animators. Add to this a strangely infectious song sung by Mark Baker that lingers in the memory. I came across Tissa’s work when researching articles on-line about the walk cycle. As so often when researching animation I turned to that erudite chronicler of matters animation, Michael Sporn, whose article Upkeep Cycles is a memoir and insight into the creation of John and Faith Hubley's 1973 Upkeep. Michael’s praise for his colleague is fulsome and he included in his blog her 18 walk cycle sketches for the serviceman, the subject of the film. In these roughs Tissa demonstrates the animator’s art. One may view the actual Walk Cycle, courtesy of another informative writer, David T. Nethery. Doesn't the lilt in the guy's stride give the clue to his personality? David's article Tissa David : an appreciation, by the way, is excellent. And digressing again, check out Michael's Popeye to see the eater of spinach walk in a circle. Tricky to animate that. Another related source of insight is John Canemaker's book "The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy: An Intimate Look at the Art of Animation; its History, Techniques, and Artists" . The relevant chapter is: "Tissa David -- The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Animator". Biography: Michael’s notes form a most concise source and, as animator for his The Marzipan Pig and The Man Who Walked Between The Towers - covered elsewhere on the blog - he knows her well. Tissa was born in Hungary in 1921, moving via Paris in 1955 to New York where amongst others she teamed up with the Hubleys. As a teacher of English Literature I have used her 1983 The Midsummer’s Night Dream which she animated and directed for the BBC's animated Shakespeare series. Michael’s post on the production has some quality images. Tissa's latest completed movie was as an animator on Chicago 10 released last year. Another source of information about her is Don Brockway, again a most readable blogger, who references Canemaker's book, relaying some tales of Tissa's wartime experiences and quite rightly laments the lack of a DVD version of the movie. Reading Michael's blog in particular is to be aware of his fondness and deep respect for her. Should you wish to discover more about an animator of rare talent his archived blogs on Tissa are a treat and include her storyboards, drawings and several walk cycles and things.