Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Top Ten Animated Shorts of My Year: 2008

A great second year of animation blogging has culminated in the final two selection in my self-generated movies of the year.
Runner-up position is The Old Crocodile, a movie whose wisdom I gradually came to appreciate alongside its delicious black humour. A crocodile has lived for so long he has become the umpteenth greatgreatgreat grandfather of a whole river of Nile crocodiles. Lazy now he is unable to resist the delicate taste of younger relatives. (Leopards are unable to change spots and a crocodile has got to eat.) Ousted from his extended family he meets a soul-mate, only to discover his insatiable appetite lets him down again. He has a future of tummy filled worship, though he is still lonely and a little baffled by life's twists and turns. Somehow, in the expert hands of Koji Yamamura, the gradual loneliness of the crocodile imbues a comic movie with tragedy.

Wind Along The Coast by Ivan Maximov pressed all the right buttons for me and receives my Movie of the Year tag. Given the HQ link (Wind Along The Coast) you also may luxuriate in the innocent world about which I have waxed lyrical for some time. Perhaps we all need to be more like Ivan.

So I shall not overstay my welcome:

Happy New Year from the Animation Blog

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Top Ten Animated Shorts of My Year: 2008

With a New Year's Resolution forming in my head as I type - get the flu jab next year - it is time to move on in my presentation of the top movies of my blog featured here in 2008.

Michael Sporn is one of the most intelligent and informed observers of animation in the world. I have lauded his splog before but now it is time for his work as a director in the 2005 The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. With a man whose antennae for all things animated is so sensitive it was not, as I guessed at the time, available online for long. I did provide a link for the DVD. Worth buying for this is a beautifully narrated and dramatic piece about a famous feat of tight-rope walking. The artwork, animation and all round production values here are remarkable. I am amazed it did not figure in the Oscar nominations. Resisting all puns to do with heights, Michael and his team deliver a spectacular experience.

Sarah Van den Boom is not such a great name - yet - though Acme now has her as one of its animators and they are no mean judge of talent by any means. Sarah's Novecento Pianiste is a fabulous piece of artistry however. Produced for all its seventeen minutes by her dextrous touch of the pencil (though she did have support from her husband and recruited five students to help her complete.) In largely black and white, save for one exuberant burst of colour, she tells the tale of a baby born on an early twentieth century ocean liner, a boat that would be the eventual pianist's home for all his life. A class act. Evocative.

Weird Fishes will be unlike any other animated film you will see in this year, or any other year. Produced by the ever resourceful Tobias Stretch it features creatures of a deep imagination soaring over lovely landscapes to the music of Radiohead. I loved it in storyboard form, half finished and in its glorious rapturous ... yes, I liked it all right.
Favelados directed by Laurent Rossi and Victoria Davies (Tori) grows with each viewing. I am left staggered by the technical excellence of the two students from Bournemouth whose graduation movie this was. Its sad tale of a girl dying in Rio's slums despite the best attentions of her brother is sensitively handled and if you want to see the traditional skills of art and animation applied using modern software by young people destined to make a huge impact in the industry, this is the movie for you. I use the accompanying background as a screensaver on my computer.

And from newcomers to another of the greats. Anna and Bella won an Oscar for Borge Ring in 1985. Gosh does it wears its years well, as all the best animations do. With humour to grace Tex Avery, sadness too, and one of the most tense scenes one is likely to enjoy in any sort of movie ever. The warmth of this great man whose emails to me should will be cherished in electronic gold casing. The story of the two sisters who love each other, fall in love with the same man, and live on, is one of the all time classic animated shorts.

All five just (in the last case by a sliver of a whisker: I have to leave space for youth somewhere) missed out on my top two spots to be announced tomorrow.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Top Animated Shorts of My Year: 2008

Influenza playing havoc with a one man band together with a timely glitch in the computerised voting system allows me to place the first thirteen contenders in my top ten together (as there were four movies at 10= ! ) The remainder will be posted in the next three days if my head clears. That's all I'm in a fit state for. And the movies are not in any order, but simply unmissable.

"The Car and The Road: A Romance in Automation"
Jerry van de Beek & Betsy de Fris must be two of the nicest folk working in animation. Taking the classic Chuck Jones Oscar winner as their model they created a work of art that in an aesthetic sense at least is certainly not disgraced in the comparison, in fact I prefer it. Lexus (for it is an extended ad) have a beautiful movie to match the automobile they are sure to present me with when I recover from this pestilence.

"Sebastian's Voodoo"
Joaquin Baldwin has won awards of late for his tale of self-sacrifice, a feature I mentioned but which I should have stressed. From the moment the stitched dolls are endangered one's attention is gripped. CGI can be great, and in Joaquin's movie it is. He can animate using different techniques too. A man to watch.

"Enjoy the Ride"
Joel Trussell has an easy manner about his music videos that makes each a treat and complement to the music, in this case Morcheeba. There is a darker side to the piece, tantalisingly presented though it is, though it ends in the group of animals surfing the clouds, with their attendant spirits more co-riders than frightening. I can honestly say that I would look for the animator before seeking the band, not necessarily what Joel's clients might like to hear although, and here is the clincher, I purchased the entire album range by a very varied band.

"Tower Bawher"
Theodore Ushev is simply the most magnificent artist. He can draw and add texture to animations in a manner unmatched. His intellectual grasp of his subject is awesome. If I had to point to a future Academy winner of any in my list this year, Theodore would be very high on my list. I selected Tower Bawher though any movie by him is magnificent.

"Madame Tutli-Putli"
Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski were Oscar nominated for this ultra-sophisticated puppet and CGI movie that is as enigmatic as as it is sumptuous to view. Whys and wherefores Madame is on the train in the first place is not answered nor necessary; her whole being hints at a past. And her eyes!

"No Time"
Billy Collins' poem subtly animated by Jeff Scher is my next selection. The short film used a collection of images in shimmering and brisk fashion to capture the moment when a man passes the graves of his parents and relives those moments of censure that still have the power to chasten. The animated poem is beautiful and moving.

"Sea Orchestra"
The awesome commercial from South African pair Jannes Hendrikz and Ree Treweek was deemed good enough to launch the new United Airlines ads during the opening spectaculars for the Beijing Olympics. The blend of music and spectacle more than held its own with the pyrotechnics and launched to international prominence two of the finest animators around.

Another batch of top thirteeners before I do reveal my top movie and runner-up. I can manage that.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Top Ten Animated Shorts of My Year: 2008

Boxing Day here in the UK was as bright as any I can remember, a time for throwing leaves into the air and rolling around on them as if in a sunny autumn. Back to work. Choosing the top ten films covered in the Animation Blog for 2008 has been a thankless task, no less so seeing as it is self-induced. The result has surprised me. The chosen films are all ones I have revisited, all ones I wish I had written about in a different manner. To reduce some 360+ movies to 20 or so took me a whole evening. Cutting down to 10 has been tougher. Ranking those 10 tougher still. Yesterday's The Snowman is not in the running because I did not review it. Lucky for everyone else.

Sand Animation by César Diaz Melendez was a great endorsement for method and artist, Lisa Paclet's Shoe Army demonstated how, with a keen eye, everyday objects might become animations of beauty; I revisited Ian MacKinnon's Adjustment and emerged even more impressed than my first viewing, Dave Jones' Sleep Elusive is a clever, surprising piece of Flash animation, Casa De Máquinas by Maria Leite and Daniel Herthel an object lesson in set design and puppetry, Katarina Paulsson's Fish Band a sparkling jewel, Favelados an accomplished affair with a heart from Laurent Rossi and Victoria Davies, Procrastination by Johnny Kelly just so much me, Marta Mackova's Café was ultra stylish, David Montgomery's Pollenating rich and fascinating, For Sock's Sake by Carlo Vogele made me laugh, whilst Dik Jarman's Dad's Clock (via Short of the Week) made me sad, Le Chapeau from Michèle Cournoyer was extra-ordinarily hard-hitting, Sparrows are Children of Pigeons lived up to its name as an utterly charming piece by Nina Bisjiarina whilst, on the same subject, Bird Becomes Bird was an artistic beauty by Lucy Lee; equally artistic though no beauty, The Pearce Sisters was impressively drawn and animated under the direction of Luis Cook if a trifle repulsive at the end and The Man Who Planted Trees by Frédéric Back is so good it puts almost everything else in the shade and it's not fair on lesser mortals; leading to anything at all by the greats Aleksandr Petrov, Alison de Vere, Bruno Bozzetto, Yuri Norstein, Tim Burton, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Paul Dreissen, Tomek Bagiński, Wendy Tilby, Alison Snowden, Suzie Templeton, John and Faith Hubley .......... but then in a blog of classics and newcomers there would be no space to mention the spectacular and successful (note the number of hits on YouTube) A Tale of Rock by University of Hertfordshire pair John Goodwin and Steve Payne, or two up and getting UK studios Slurpy and Little Nobody . Some that were in my top ten until a few minutes ago included Nick Uff's "Ok Toots" - I love Nick's free-rolling style, as figures blend into each other. The music too drove me to purchase the album and then become disappointed because it did not feature all those tracks I recalled from the Dennis Potter series. Nick is such a fresh talent, startlingly so. Typically he is so unassuming his movie does not have opening or closing credits! Andrew Gibbs "Florian" ... a South African living in London, laden with talent and such an obliging man. I turned to him for my forthcoming book because he has mastered the technique of cutouts. If you are a studio manager, and I know you occasionally pop in, commission him forthwith. Erica Russell's "Triangle" gave pause for thought, Erica has a grasp of shape, colour and shape and (and this is important) movement that is unsurpassed. Her work is like a balletic experience. Simply exquisite. Matt Latchford and Lucy Sullivan's very successful One eskimO/Hometime was in the list until a moment ago - Matt is a great man to communicate with and this such a good pop video, one I misinterpreted on first viewing - light on the eye, there is nevertheless a dark undercurrent that is maybe intentional, maybe me being miserable. The great Caroline Leaf and her "Two Sisters" (Entre deux soeurs) I considered so good that I wrote about it again for Short of the Week. Having revisited it for that purpose I was a little loathe to watch it again for this. That is the only reason such a moving and mature piece of work is not in my top ten. Totally irrational but a genuine reason for a gross omission. Or Selina Wagner and her "Takuskanskan" of the most striking animators working in the UK. Her reworking of the native American story is beautiful to behold. Though created in a different manner it reminds me of Pota Tseng's "Musk" - Pota is a talent and a half. There are moments in his video of real beauty, breath-taking really. His use of 3D is an artform of its own. I place a wager now that he will win awards or be very rich, probably both. Unless, Selina beats him to it. And at the death I demoted Simone Massi's "I know who I am", a movie I found moving in a way I find difficult to articulate. I'm sure I failed to do it justice in my review.

Tomorrow we move on to numbers 9 and 10 in my movies of the year.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Dianne Jackson/ Raymond Briggs "The Snowman"

The Snowman (1982)

Director: Dianne Jackson
Writer: Raymond Briggs
Producer: John Coates
Music: Howard Blake
'Walking In The Air' sung by Peter Auty
Voice-over: David Bowie
Setting: South Downs, Brighton's Royal Pavilion, Brighton Pier, North Pole
Result: Perfection
Buy it on DVD at Amazon
Happy Christmas from the Animation Blog

Betsy de Fries & Jerry van de Beek "Hallmark Channel 'Twas the night for Walgreens"

What's this, the Animation Blog being sponsored by Hallmark? I should be so fortunate. Just a sequence of three ads stitched together from two of the best in the business, Betsy de Fries and Jerry van de Beek from Little Fluffy Clouds. Not aired on the UK television, 'Twas the night for Walgreens was made in 2006 for the Hallmark Channel. As with yesterday's movie it was based on, as one might conceivably guess, Twas The Night Before Christmas. I'll let Betsy continue the tale: "SNEEZE, sees Santa almost caught in the act of delivering the gifts and making use of the one-hour pharmacy, while, TREE, has Santa running to the store to replace broken lights, and finally in, PHOTO, Santa is snapped in the act by a little girl in PJ’s and learns to use Walgreens online digital photo service." The studio uses a mix of software to match the task. Here the 2D and 3D work was achieved using Illustrator, After Effects, Flash and Maya together with hand drawn material. The effect: classy little ads with lovely rounded characters like those wooden figures one sees in the classy shops at Christmas.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Tim Burton "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (Christopher Lee)

The Nightmare Before Christmas is an animated version of the original poem by Tim Burton, that triggered the hugely popular, Henry Selick directed Disney feature film. Fetchingly animated using Tim's drawings, and narrated by that veteran of the horror movie, Christopher Lee, this is a delight for all of its 11 minutes. Halloweentown resident Jack Skellington decides to abduct Santa and deliver his own selection of presents to the town's children: "Jack happily issued each present and toy/ From rooftop to rooftop he jumped and he skipped/ leaving presents that seem to be straight from a crypt." And despite a spot of anti-sleigh barrage and missiles don't fear for the children; Santa delivers all right. On the YouTube link provided seemingly only me and my dog have viewed the piece whilst over a million have clicked for the song and opening credits for the movie itself, The Nightmare Before Christmas Intro whereas the overlaid Marilyn Manson track to the movie has had over 9 million views. Stick with Christopher Lee.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Boymongoose "12 Days of Christmas"

Nothing wrong with a totally unashamed bash at populism for Christmas with three and a half million views for 12 Days of Christmas, an Indian romp through the traditional song with witty replacement lyrics .......... "3 buttered chickens, 2 nosy in-laws and a totally insufficient dowry...... " Reputedly the track from Boymongoose can be downloaded from their website ( though the connection failed when I attempted it - saturation point. And the ingredients of the run-up to the Christmas? IT graduates, cricket ball tamperers and in the screengrabs, 4 Hare Krishnas and 8 Bollywood Films. Bona fide sub continent dwellers? I doubt it but great fun. Thank you, Emelye, for the link to Try it, Elf-yourself - just have a photo of yourself handy.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Wallace & Gromit's Runaway Sled and Snow Angels (BBC)

I rarely have time for television these days though have been quite taken by the BBC's use of Wallace & Gromit's Runaway Sled to identify their programmes through the festive season. Aardman's Wallace & Gromit Snow Angels is rather good too though shorter. Wikipedia has an interesting (funded, I guess, by the British taxpayer - just a guess!) article on the BBC's idents, on-screen channel identities, that have kept some animators in work to my certain knowledge so I'm not knocking them. Usually I kind of know when I'm tuning into the BBC due to the lack of adverts and the fact that I press 1 on my handset.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Bind Spot (Gobelins) Johanna Bessiere, Nicolas Chauvelot, Olivier Clert, Cecile Dubois Herry, Yvon Jardel, Simon Rouby

Blind Spot is another of those infernally clever movies from
Gobelins, that finishing school for French animation. I meant to post this earlier in the year, discovering it in draft form, never posted. Events occurring in a quiet supermarket get out of hand when a gun-toting chicken robber lets loose with the hardware. Innocent people get killed though the police have the benefit of a tight surveillance system to identify the culprit. And surely that little old lady cannot be implicated? In any self-respecting, humane society she would be given a bus-pass. One takes the technical and excellence of the students for granted, so uniform is the standard. It is then dependent on the quality of the story which here has a nice twist and blood on the supermarket floor for those who like that sort of thing. I'm personally not too concerned provided the spillage is cleaned up immediately. Johanna Bessiere, Nicolas Chauvelot, Olivier Clert, Cecile Dubois Herry, Yvon Jardel and Simon Rouby are responsible for the carnage and this 2007 short, nominated for the best student work in the SIGGRAPH 2008 Computer Animation Festival - won in the event by Oktapodi, featured elsewhere on the blog.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Jeremy Mansford & Kora *Skankenstein" + Upbeats

For lovers of a form I don't post enough of on the blog, here is a manga music video for Kora. Directed by Jeremy Mansford, Skankenstein has some classic super hero scenes with suitable grimaces, exaggerated eye movements and sorcery. I am hardly won over with the fantasy genre in the sense of conventional story-telling, though the dramatic and expert comic book artwork of Damon and Kieran Oats impresses, together of course with traditional cel animation by Rodney Selby and Eion McNaught, plus 3D work from Preston McNeil. A joint project between New Zealand's Kraft:haus Films and Mofresh, the latter company has a London base, there is a very strong drawing style, a particularly impressive conclusion and some spectacular special effects. Manga. I shall have to feature more of the genre. Paul Gravett's on-line article An Introduction to....Manga is a good starter for those, like me, who need to learn more about the art form on the printed page. Meantime, Mofresh has its share of innovative music videos available, I particularly enjoyed their production for Upbeats - Thinking Cap. Again it is a fantasy landscape with youth, lantern and black bird attempting to elude some nasties. The studio is an accomplished one.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Borge Ring "Anna and Bella"

I try to put a bit of everything into the blog. Today's movie is Borge Ring's classic, the winner of the Academy Award in 1985 - Anna and Bella. If you have missed it you are in for a rare treat. In a funny opening sequence one sees, in full colour, the beast devouring the beauty, only to track upwards to the girl reading her comic and picking her nose. The sisters of the title are seen through their photo albums, their life revealed in an initially warm and joyous series of escapades as Bella steals the toilet tissue, their parents greet them at the peel of the school bell and the pair grow to womanhood amidst flowers. The mature women laugh riotously over the snapshots of their younger selves, red wine served in copious amounts. The mood changes abruptly with the arrival of the long haired young man whose attention is diverted from one to the other, one sister in raptures, the other seething on the drive home. The mood changes are reflected in a variety of styles incorporated into one movie, the different forms somehow harmoniously, and always ingeniously, grouped in a movie of rare depth. Borge moves through shades of grey for the past, judicious use of colour elsewhere, whilst metaphor is used for the men as bees flying from their hives to the pubescent girls, very shapely now in mini skirts; or circling the moon when the bee has landed! The animation is effortlessly rendered, never more so than in the two old ladies rolling around in glee, or clutching a sister's arm as memories cause pain. There is also a dramatic scene towards the end that is rivetting though the conclusion is not to be spoiled here. In under 8 minutes Borge moves from laughter to tears to.. well, watch this stunning movie yourself. The YouTube link was posted by Anne-Mieke, Borge's daughter.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Theodore Ushev "Sou"

Yesterday I featured an Italian movie made with an Eastern influence; today is it a Bulgarian, living in Canada, and his animation is pure Japanese. Made in 2006 for the National Film Board of Canada in a series, Shorts in Motion: The Art of Seduction Sou was released for mobile ‘phones and iPods. In a most informative article, Three Ways of Avoiding Animation, Richard O'Connor from Asterisk Animation wrote: "Many artists get paralyzed by technique. They master a particular style and approach every problem from that perspective." Theodore Ushev is a very fine artist indeed, his work having a purity of line and shade that stands out. Yet he is never afraid to experiment, to vary the mix. An animation comprising a range of different techniques and components, Sou enters the helter skelter world of Japanese society where traditions and modernism are strangely confused, certainly to Western eyes. From a young couple eating noodles, the movie launches itself into a frenetic dash for all of its nearly three minutes in which the beautiful is intermingled in a plethora of the vulgarly modern. Classically drawn birds clash with cash registers, hordes of bicycles, city lights. Through it all the couple's face is stamped, almost despite the turmoil of life surrounding them. The thumping soundtrack, the combination of live action, still photographs, traditionally painted frames and abstract art is compelling.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Michele D'Auria "Honda: The Power of Dreams"

The Power of Dreams is an extended promotional ad for Honda (Italia), though the company has got a glossy video for themselves from 28 year old Michele D’Auria's romantic vision as he traces the first steps for the founder of the international giant. Soichiro Honda is shown in his early days, cycling with his friend, then working towards his dream in workshop and at the drawing board. The night scenes, the moon much in evidence, give the young man something to dream about other than the developing bike, which with motor attached culminated in the founding in 1949 of Honda as we know it. The ten minute video is very much in homage to the great man - no harm in that as I drive one of his dream machines myself. The screenshots say it all though they cannot reveal the lush soundtrack music of Lino Cannavacciuolo that elevates the whole piece quite wonderfully. Michele has selected another excellent colleague in Simone Prisco whose backgrounds are delectable. (I am researching backgrounds at the moment for a forthcoming post.) The voice in the English version is Ken Belton, suitably resonant and perhaps just hinting at one of those automated, persuasive guides selling the virtues of historic houses. I must mention the mix of styles as the drawings, diagrams and pencils come alive to illustrate the developments though being a softie I guess I prefer the idyllic Japanese landscapes. A great commission for Michel and he more than justifies Honda's trust in him.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Joaquin Baldwin "Voodoo"

Dear Ian,
…and the Grand Winner of the aniBoom Awards 2008 is, drum roll please… Joaquin Baldwin’s 3d animation, AniBoomSebastian’s Voodoo”, the touching story of a voodoo doll that sacrifices himself for his friends.
This year the Grand Winner was chosen by the combined ranking of both the Community and Jury, meaning “Sebastian’s Voodoo” was loved by all.
With $50,000 worth of cash and prizes going to the top 50 places there is a lot to celebrate at
Come see who the other 3 Community Choices were. They were determined based on how you and other aniboom members viewed, voted and promoted your favorites movies, contributing to their virality.
Find out which three movies were selected by our impressive judges panel which included the founder of Sony Pictures Animations, Yair Landau.
Watch all the winning animations and read all the details at
See you next year,
The aniBoom team

I'm delighted for Joaquin. I wrote a review of his work in September. He has also very courteously offered to assist with my book on animation. Glad I met him before he became a star! As I said in September, "He is an animator of substance and promise."

Monday, 15 December 2008

Ivan Maximov "Wing Along The Coast"

I promised some high definition downloads of Ian Maximov's work. A tiny technical glitch at the moment but here is a 104mb copy of Wind Along The Coast, a quite magnificent movie. Ivan combines visual gags by the pixel, beautiful drawing skills and an extraordinary world. The gorgeous movie was reviewed earlier this year, is possibly my Maximov favourite; and there are more HQ downloads to follow.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Faith & John Hubley & Tissa David "Eggs"

In researching the work of animator Tissa David I came across the following article in Michael Sporn's Splog, a source of insight and wisdom about all things animated and indeed a future blog (on Splog) item next week. He praises the animating skills of Tissa with good reason in the John and Faith Hubley directed Eggs made in 1970. It is a quirky movie, of its time, very experimental, though with touches of brilliance, not just in a jazzy soundtrack by Quincy Jones. The premise is that two characters, Death, with the gravelly voice of David Burns (ironically only two years before his own death) and Mother Nature (or fertility) played by Anita Ellis, are in conflict over mankind's "burgeoning population problem" as Hubley put it in a Screening Room interview in 1973. Awaking from her slumber in the clouds, the nymph sprinkles dust on the earth from which sprouts new birth. Her partner Death does his best to counter the good work. Lounging in the hammock over the Brooklyn Bridge he lights his cigar on two colliding aircraft, misdirects a vehicle into another. Beneath the pair, driving in their open top motor, is the teeming population of the earth. We are treated to two vignettes, one being in the distant future as a middle class couple choose to commence a family, bypassing the normal methods and having it done by machine; the other a man centuries old who reminicises about his youthful self as a sapling of 100. Both are satires that are very funny individually though straddle the movie in a manner I was not so sure about at first though I am, I think, persuaded. No time required to savour the lovely freedom of movement of the nymph, love at first sight; her body exudes sensuality and the animator's art - the splog provides Tissa's sequences of drawings -whilst the directors allow one to view the movements of the figures in a bravely unadorned manner. Death is similarly marvellously crafted by Tissa, a bit of a lad really. God is ..well...odd. The pair are banished to another planet to restart.