Thursday, 30 October 2008

Tex Avery "The Flea Circus"

Whilst I journey back from my short vacation enjoy Tex Avery's 1954 movie, The Flea Circus. It tells the tale of how a flea romance saved the theatre and how dangerous dogs are to such a business model. You'll notice more gags for your money than any other animator and there's an attention to the logic of it all. Huge microphone, beaming spotlights, tiny performers - with a great heart. Watch the stage without the magnifying glass and it's all a collection of dots; afix the glass to your eyes and, ladies and gentlemen, all human life is here. And aren't they clever, 'specially Fifi. She's so gorgeous a man could forget to scratch.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Marie Paccou "Un Jour"

What do I know about animation? I was convinced that Un Jour , made in 1997 by Marie Paccou, was paint on glass. It's actually computer generated. Played out in the form of a fable it commences matter-of-factly with the news that, "One day, a man entered my belly." This is literally - for the man protrudes from her front and out of her back. When he leaves there is a hole. So bathtime becomes fun (how does he breathe?) and mealtime is on different levels. In dramatic fashion the situation of women the world over is graphically illustrated. The moody cello and the dark etched images add greatly to a film that is ultimately a sad one. The man in the woman's tummy was the first of many; he never caused her any trouble and was much better than the guy occupying the middle portion of the woman across the way. He drank.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Tex Avery "Magical Maestro"

I told my class: watch this and see the magic animation can do - Magical Maestro. Made in 1952 and fresh as the rabbits that the would-be magician Mysto conjures up from his hat with his genuinely magical wand. Not that the Great Poochini and his manager are interested, booting Mysto out of the stage door. He returns with a vengeance though and conducts the unfortunate pooch in his rendition of The Barber of Seville, by Gioacchino Rossini. With classic voices by Daws Butler and Carlos Ramírez, tricks and turns to make you laugh out aloud, this is a favourite Tex Avery of all time. Do look out for that dratted hair that messes up the film: you'd have thought the great man might have spotted it on the camera lens.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Michael Dudok de Wit: five commercials

Michael Dudok de Wit so impressed me that his Father and Daughter was selected as my favourite animation featured last year. His commercials for United Airlines were exemplary. The five commercials presented today were for Acme Filmworks and its AT&T Campaign (Young & Rubicam/NY). Shorter than the unusually long ones for UA they have that distinctive essence of Michael - heavy cartridge paper absorbing the brush, dipped liberally in water and an almost exclusively blue palette. He also has the surgeon's scalpel: neat, sharp cuts exposing the heart-strings. Although educated in his native Netherlands, Michael graduated from the West Surrey College of Art in 1978 and is now without doubt one of the great animators of our time. If only all ads were like this I'd miss the programmes. Founded in 1990 by Executive Producer Ron Diamond, Acme is outstanding for its quality of work. The films then, in no particular order: I'm Okay, Wheels, Catch, Crickets , and Campus Family.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Ruud Havenith "BeChairful"

With the entire staff of the Animation Blog going on boot camp in the English Lake District this week for a spot of team bonding, it's a truncated service, sadly without the research that has made the blog legendary in animation circles. So it's a little technical piece today from the Design Academy Eindhoven: BeChairful. Ruud Havenith has given his chair just a little more pizzazz than is normal in my household anyway. Things pick up even more when a stray chair ventures onto the scene - very nicely done, as is Ruud's Ballive. Reasons to be cheerful certainly.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Bruno Bozzetto "Baby Story"

For reasons that are obvious when admiring last weekend's Sunday Classic, I've got babies on my mind so relax and enjoy a classic animator at work. Bruno Bozzetto's Baby Story is in two parts on YouTube (Baby Story 1/2 and Baby Story 2/2) or in its entirety at Dailymotion. Providing you are not a gynaecologist taking a peep, sit back and enjoy this satire on childbirth from beginning to end, made in 1978 when the baby's mum was born (see last Sunday). Readers of the Animation Blog will know that, alongside Tex Avery, Bruno is most certainly the guy to make me smile and a master of his craft to boot.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Tom Brown & Daniel Gray "t.o.m."

Today's movie link for t.o.m. is taken from The Portable Film Festival featured earlier. Made by two students from the University of Wales, Newport, Daniel Gray and Tom Brown, the movie has won a host of awards since being released in 2006. Don’t get distracted by the seeming normality of Tom's world. He’s a strange child, his obvious intellect somehow deviated from the norm. Tom is very precise about his wardrobe and breakfast. One and half pieces of toast exactly, the extra discarded on the floor. We get our other first hints of his strangeness when he places the lumps of fruit from the jam on the table. Things get more and more unhinged though as items of clothing are secreted in special places until, divested of all his apparel, he goes to school. Colourfully drawn in an impressionistic blurring of detail, the suburban scenes lull one into a false sense of security. t.o.m. is a strange movie in terms of character and motivation. It is dealing with autism though how intentional this is I have no idea. Certainly the obsessive nature of some autistic children is shown- walking on the left hand side of the road, repetitious behaviour, careful folding of clothes, focus on exact timings, speaking in a monotone and ultra logical fashion. Indeed, the script is well written in a clip, economical style particularly as delivered by Kristy Cromwell.

The Portable Film Festival

Interesting letter in my Inbox - a great resource for animation lovers. I'll take a look at some of the latest featured work later:

Hi Ian,

Thought maybe you and readers would be interested in checking out our site. The Portable Film Festival is reaching out for viewers to indulge in our online visual feast of short film, music video, documentary and animation content. Everyday a new film is featured on the site for masses to view free of charge. These films can additionally be uploaded onto any digital device whether iPod, 3G phone or PSP for your portable viewing pleasure. Traffic jams, malfunctioning elevators and Trans Siberian railways never looked so good. Filmmakers are invited to submit films for daily programming in addition to the annual festival held every August that is judged by viewers along the categories of Short Film, First Hand Capture, Look at Me, Music Video and Animation. Past winners have gone on to receive Oscar nominations, feature film funding and high level exposure as the site achieves 300 000 visits annually from across the globe.The Portable Film Festival also curates content through online Showcases. Past Exhibitions have featured candid interviews with prominent film and music figures in Coffee and Cigarettes, stories off the old beaten track in Road Movie Showcase and the latest from Canadian cinema in Oh Canada. Screening from October 27 is the Woof Wan-Bau Showcase featuring five of this eccentric London based director's innovative music videos and short films. Each of these shorts are characterized by an otherworldliness, transporting audiences across the threshold into fantastic and virtual spaces, making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. The works featured are exemplary of Woof Wan-Bau's eclectic style; Everyday items take on an uncanny quality as in "Friend of the Night", streetlamps magically ascend into the starry sky as in "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth"; it's images such as these that impress the senses with the beauty and magic of the everyday. The Woof Wan Bau showcase is not to be missed!The Portable Film Festival works to democratize film for creators and viewers alike so come check out for your free daily dose in the latest from the moving image and celebrate being portable.


James Scullin
Showcase Programmer
Portable Film Festival

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Denise Hauser "6x7=" & "Les Cannibales"

Les Cannibales by Denise Hauser represents a shock to the system all right. Initially presenting itself as pop or promotional video things turn very nasty indeed. Waking up to reveal the faces in the screenshot bearing down on you is bad enough though things get decidedly worse in the nightmare that follows. There is a graphic Regan moment for those who know King Lear! Denise's 6x7= is marginally more relaxing though we have to work our way through various neuroses before we learn the mantra that sustains us in the face of adversity, from a childhood inability to calculate numbers to fear of flight. If nothing else Denise teaches the value of stoicism. Turn to Everything is alright for a corrective to all this, though if you do not like slippery fish sliding around a young woman's body don't look. After a year at the age of 16 at the School of Art and Design in her native Zurich and a brief career in design, Denise moved to the Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design to obtain her B.A before graduating to the Royal College of Art for her M.A. Her graduation movie Copy City is available in part on her excellent website. The featured movies cover both college courses and her portfolio is distinctive in being so mixed in terms of media used; a versatile and talented young woman, Denise seems equally adept with film as animation. She now works as a freelance animator and film-maker in Norway.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Maria Leite & Daniel Herthel "Casa De Máquinas" (Power House)

I have read reviews of Casa De Máquinas that I don't understand, other than it is to do with the interconnectivity of parts of a machine, generating movement that creates synchrony. That's cleared it up! Named Power House in English I rather prefer the term, House of Machines, that my translator offers. The five minute movie is a combination of the work of Maria Leite, a puppeteer with a degree in industrial design and Daniel Herthel, sculptor, designer and animator. Commencing with the turning of a key, one sees a brightly lit interior of a machine, to a persistent melodic and percussive soundtrack by Daniel Potter. Revealed are the mechanisms, cogs and wheels, made out of light wood, connected to pulleys and twine bobbins. The conclusion focuses on the shadowed movement of a jointed puppet. The movie has two attractions. First it is hypnotic and a visual experience all of its own; secondly it gets the brain going - how did they do that? Frankly I've had all on not to take out the glue, Stanley knife and balsa wood and rig up my camera. Balls of wood roll down and land onto flat surfaces before sinking into the surface effortlessly - a tribute to the skill of the constructors and animators . The movie should be viewed in conjunction with Making of Casa de Máquinas. This is not simply a how we did it piece. It is a movie in its own right, as the hours progress denoted in changes of dress or partly consumed meals. The construction of set and props seen through time sequenced camera work possesses, of course, an interest all of its own. One comprehends the scale of the enterprise. There are nice touches here: the animated sequences as pieces come alive, the puppet moving of its own accord in the hands of the constructors. Nice to read that the project was funded by the British Council and Arts Council of England.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Virginie Bourdin "La femme papillon"

I am featuring two puppet animations today and tomorrow, each going behind the scenes to reveal the strings, so to speak. Made in 2002, La femme papillon, from the Belgian director Virginie Bourdin, is an artfully crafted movie filmed in high resolution with various virtual 3D special effects added later. It tells the story of a marionette observing a beautiful female butterfly dancer perform on stage, releasing smaller moths and butterflies to the sound of warm applause from the puppet audience. The observer is so taken with the performance and her beauty that he frees himself from his controlling strings and follows the performer backstage where he attempts to free the woman butterfly. To the creaking sound of pulleys and strings and audience reaction the backstage paraphernalia has a menacing quality to it. From the auditorium the velvet and light give a brilliance not found backstage. In fact the entire rig, properties, flats and backdrops, trolleys and fly towers, have an air of menace about them, none more so than the still sentient collapsed puppets, many of them huge. One flies towards the intruder who is intent on reaching the wired scissors offering some hope of release. The role of the female is curiously ambivalent: is she retreating from or, through her release of more butterflies, assisting her rescuer? The conclusion gives pause for thought as strings are cut and a release of sorts attained but, as is the nature of illusion in the theatre, and life I guess, a prize is not always worth the winning. The lighting for an outstanding set is special, exuding depth and mystery. Venturing backstage is always exciting but a far cry from the dreams and illusions proffered to an audience. I am sure there is a deep significance in the movie, a fable of control and freedom, of reality and illusion. The stills are in high resolution and worth a click and the joint Belgian/French movie is featured on No Fat Clips where a downloadable version is available.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Cédric Louis & Claude Barras "Banquise" (Ice Floe)

Cédric Louis and Claude Barras' Banquise is an accomplished movie that has charmed the international festival circuit since its screening at Cannes in 2006. Young Marine looks at her holiday photographs and surveys her escalating weight on the scales. In a world of constrained waist sizes her own figure is deemed unacceptable not least by herself. So despite the soaring temperature she dons woolly coat and scarf and engulfs her body before launching herself into an escapist daydream of penguins and ice, precisely the sort of climate in which she might hide. The sequences on the ice with that most visual of creature the penguin, or the incongruity of girl in winter garb in a beach world is remarkably well made in a movie of a light touch, though there is undeniably a darker content that underscores the second half of the film. This more macabre side to the movie is despite the cuteness of many of the images. Typically comprising scenes of starfish, red lobster, sunshade and bikini clad sunbather, the animation has whimsy in abundance, with either a yellow hue to the beach or blue-grey for the wintry scenes and a variety of perspectives to always lend interest.The two animators are particularly good in their depiction of the characters: the thin, mini skirted mum, jeering beachball players/ posers/ weightlifters/ sunbathers. Charm in abundance then, usually accompanied by a tiny penguin. Yet the engaging film is ultimately a sad one as the obese girl hides herself away in fridge. Hélium Films, the company founded by the pair has another movie, Sainte Barbe that I shall be taking a look at shortly.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Max the Sunday Classic

The Sunday Classic
Max George
Born this morning

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Sarolta Szabo and Tibor Banoczki "Red Bull" + Thorsten Fleisch Red Bull short

London is a world city, the home now of my daughter and attracts the best of world talent. Two such are Hungarians, photographer Sarolta Szabo and animator Tibor Banoczki. Red Bull X13 is a combined live action and computer generated animation set in the inside of some giant mechanical factory, where recognisable human beings toil away robot-like. As the mechanisms turn in the innards of the machine we realise the fizz they generate is from the tin. Dramatically at least the pounding rhythm 0f 'Die Eier von Satan' from the band Tool could not be better chosen though whether or not the drink manufacturers would want to be linked to the eggs of Satan is a moot point. Nothing contentious about the animation on display here though. The filmed figures miming through their toils and interwoven into the intricately wrought clockwork apparatus of the animation is beautifully achieved. Domestic Infelicity is the blog given over to the combined talents of Sarolta and Tibor from where I lifted the stills - worth a click for the detail they reveal. Holtágban (Dead Water) reviewed earlier for the Animation Blog is one of my favourite films on the whole blog and how it missed my top ten selection for the year is entirely down to my ineptitude. Read my review via the link to Tibor's name above; and the YouTube reference is one of a number by a marvellous uploader of top movies - one of his on Monday. You may also be interested in this predominantly live action short commissioned by Red Bull for their X13 compilation from Germany's Thorsten Fleisch. It too is powerful though it commences easily enough and the mouse creeping out of the tin is a particularly cute fellow. For details of the competition that has occasioned this activity, go to Filmaka.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Caroline Attia "Gun"

Sarah and her faithful dog should be having the time of their lives. Gun is a powerful ad on behalf of the anti-gun lobby in the USA, specifically Citizens for a Safer Minnesota. It is interesting that in comments feedback for the recent Cartoon Brew review the subject matter should have come in for some criticism - beautiful waste of money is the sum of one. I'd intended to post on the short in September after initially browsing Caroline's website and would certainly have endorsed the message of the ad. In the UK it is self-evidently and blindingly obvious that the more guns around the more injuries will arise. In the States this is not so apparent and otherwise mild friends have expressed strong views. Produced using Photoshop and After Effects, founded on an admirably skilled drawing ability, Caroline's treatment of the paradoxes in timing from Sarah's birth as well as the everyday normality of growing up - loss of a tooth, spelling game, demise - is dramatically recounted. Her traditional 2D use of soft peach and light green-blues is utterly charming and therefore shocking when the worst occurs. No fence sitting here: guns should be controlled. Caroline lives in Boulogna and graduated from the ENSAD in Paris in 2004. I'd originally planned to link her work to Desperate For Love, covered a few days back - it was one of my favourite segments of that composite piece. She has oodles of talent and, for one so young, an extensive resume both as animator and illustrator.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Osbert Parker: television commercials

One of the most creative exponents of cut-out animation, Osbert Parker uses a blend of this and live action video in his films and, as in the four examples today, television commercials. A graduate of Middlesex Polytechnic Osbert is perhaps best known for his award winning shorts Film Noir (2005) and Yours Truly (2006), the latter being one I intend to feature shortly in the next few days. His commercial work shows all his often dazzling array of live action harnessed to different animation technologies. Physiology (for Kinkos) has an array of landscapes, notably the litter strewn skies above huge towering filing cabinets and a guy with a rubber neck, not to mention marching men with raincoats, hats and umbrellas striding out on a paper document; then we embark on a voyage into an eye and a desert before we hit paydirt and enter the office of Kinko's who solve all mankind's filing problems. It does what every commercial should do - grab attention and then the sales. Blackboard (MTV) has us being exhorted to change what we do and say, by two blackboards and a whiteboard in a mix of computerised and stop-motion work. Shoelace Soccer (NIKE) and School House (Coca Cola) similarly succeed in a crowded market place in securing attention for the product. Just for fun I've had my classes working out how many techniques Osbert has used. Goodness knows what they will make of his longer films. In a studio with a fine array of talent, his employer Curious Pictures has a director producing cutting edge, distinctive work.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Halloween Animation Contest: Creepy Cartoons - MyToons, the world's first and only online animation community to deliver HD animation, today announced the launch of its latest artwork and animation contest, Creepy Cartoons. Creepy Cartoons invites artists and animators worldwide to upload their Halloween-inspired creations in celebration of this ancient Druid holiday. Halloween, much like animation, has transitioned from a kid-centric phenomenon to one increasingly enjoyed by adults.

In the spirit of Halloween, MyToons will award winning animators with Disney & Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector's Edition DVD, along with the Nightmare Revisited soundtrack CD, as well as celebratory exposure on the highly-trafficked homepage. The 2-Disc collection has been digitally remastered and restored with state-of-the-art technology, and is the first Disney DVD to include a downloadable Disney file. The Nightmare Revisited soundtrack is a frightfully fun collection of cover songs from the cult-classic movie, and features covers from artists such as Danny Elman, Polyphonic Spree, All American Rejects, and Marilyn Manson.

"Halloween is a fun holiday that brings out the kid in all of us. Who can resist the opportunity to play a little dress-up or, in this case, toss some gore into our toons?" asks Stacey Ford, CCO and co-founder of "We are definitely fans of All Hallow's Eve here at MyToons, and we invite all artists and animators to celebrate the season and share in our enthusiasm. So, dig your animated skeletons out of the closet and send shadowy shivers up the spines of all your fans by uploading your creepiest animations to!" is accepting submissions throughout the month of October. Members are invited to enter by uploading their artwork or animation and tagging them as "Creepy Cartoons – Halloween." Selected artwork and animations will be featured daily on the MyToons blog, The Animation Snack, as well as the Creepy Cartoons Channel on the homepage, where it will be available through November 2nd.

The Creepy Cartoons artwork and animation contest begins today and continues through November 2nd. For more information please visit The Animation Snack.

Raoul Olou & Sigmund Payne "Hell Kitchen"

Time was when students did the minimum and drank a lot. Times change. Maybe I should have studied animation instead of writing about it. 10 months of hard work at Ecole George Melies from Raoul Olou and Sigmund Payne is rewarded by a lively and well designed piece, Hell Kitchen. Sputnick and his two owners seem oddly out of sorts in their designer kitchen. The girl seems preoccupied and the boy is at pains to hide himself away. Enter Sputnick. He needs feeding though the noxious mush he is served is in need of heating up in a cooker that overheats. That toxic mush fights back. Here the movie gets funky as its previous light jazz percussion changes gear entirely as boy and girl do battle in a kind of other world (with flames) to a soundtrack of up-tempo microwave. It brings the pair together - for a short time. Using a combination of software, notably Flash and After Effects and a smidgen of Maya, the pair have also prepared a chic website to present their work to best advantage. The animation is rather sassy too. Apart from the middle section when we depart this earth, the "set" is very much laid out as a design sketch for the perfect kitchen, and I admire the directors' restraint in eschewing any fleshing out of the scenery. I rather like the white nothingness where the design just stops. Raoul and Sigmund have informative blogs and there is an on-line interview they conducted with that is excellent - for convenience the link is to Babel Fish translator - where would we be without them. I've retained the images sent to me as the galley setting is typical of the stylish feel to the movie. Ah, everything about Paris is stylish. I can feel another trip coming on.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Ryan Dunn (Desperate for Love) & Daniel Garcia & Mixtape Club (Nothing Like This)

It's some time since I wrote up a genuine contemporary music video so, like when you're waiting for buses, here's two all at once. First Desperate for Love from the band Over the Rhine from their 2007 album, The Trumpet Child. (I don't know the band at all - thought it was a WW1 movie but the song is great as it happens.) The animation was created by a host of directors, each taking three weeks to complete their section: Ryan Dunn + Elliot Lim + Alex Foucre Stimes, Paul Cayrol, Masayoshi Nakamura + Magico Nakamura + Erik Montovano, Ryan Rothermel & Thai Tran + Jon Saunders + Cary Janks and Caroline Attia. Ryan Dunn was curator and producer for the project. I got a bit confused when I watched it first time round for it is a mixture of different styles and for the life of me I couldn't see why computer animation, live action and stop motion belonged in the same video. Now I understand, it's all clear, the music binds the piece together though I have my favourites. Ryan is one of the founders of Vitamin the Chicago-based animation and effects studio. The video is fun in that one may dip in and spot the joins, whilst being regally entertained by the band. Daniel Garcia also works for Vitamin and his Nothing Like This is a great piece for J Dilla, the hip-hop and soul music artist who died in 2006 at the unnaturally early age of 32. I loved the song that seemed to lodge in my head. Mixtape Club and Ganiel have created an excellent video with a character who is unfortunate in his choice of soul-mates - never thought I'd be sorry for a shark. It has a spectacular underwater sequence and, as it happens, a little variety in its style also. For extended credits and a high definition download head over here.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Gaëlle Denis "Fish Never Sleep"

In Fish Never Sleep, Gaëlle Denis tells the story of Naoko, a young sushi chef, living near the Tokyo fish markets. She works chopping fish all day and keeps a goldfish in a bowl. The only thing she finds it hard to do is to sleep. After several insomniac scenes, and many fish heads being chopped off, the girl is led to the question, do fish ever sleep? A mixture of computer generated images and scanned hand drawn images, the movie has a variety of styles. I noted the use of red and white, and its links to the Japanese flag and there was a haiku flavour to the narration that again emphasised the Japanese links. Sometimes quickly sketched, at other moments more design led, the film induces a dream-like quality. Gaëlle attended Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, though the movie was made in 2002 when a postgraduate of London’s Royal College of Art, where she also went on a four months exchange visit to Kyoto University of Arts, which accounts for the Japanese flavour. The movie won the 2003 BAFTA Award for Short Animation, amongst other awards. Her 2004 City Paradise, for Passion Pictures has also been much applauded. She is presently working in New York on a commercial for Dupont. An earlier commercial for United Airlines was featured here a few weeks back.