Saturday, 31 January 2009

Chuck Jones “So Much For So Little"

I have to steel myself to watch the daily news, so dire is the economic state. Therefore the following is offered as a timely antidote to today’s pervasive pessimism. Now sixty years old, Chuck Jones’ So Much For So Little was made at a time when America faced, in child mortality, a different but nevertheless very real problem. It suffers no diminution due to the passing of years and is so positive in its outlook that it screams out for us to loosen up. In a year when the USA can rightly claim there are no barriers to becoming president other than ability it features young John E Jones who could so easily have been one of the 118,481 babies who did not survive their childhood in the America of that period. Alternatively he could have been president. Inoculated against the childhood diseases, regularly tested for eyesight at his Health Center, John grows to be a fine man and meets up with fellow High School pupil, Mary, with whom he has a child, allowing us to explore the routines of pre-natal care and the like. John has his problems when a father and tax-payer. His local Health Centre costs him all of 3 cents a week! The movie progresses through John’s life, playing ball with the kid, paunch, the diseases of middle age and old age. A rosy, prosperous, healthy life provided John takes heed of the advice his health official offers him. A swift rewind and we are back in the nursery. Baby John may still die young but, and here is the very optimistic note: “well staffed Health Departments throughout this great country of ours” can transform our world - it is, after all, a documentary, but 60 years old and wearing its years well despite changes in tastes and style in a more cynical age. The great director's skill lies in adding sufficient humour and visual variety, to complement a very worthy propaganda short for public health. Chuck was awarded an Oscar for Documentary Short Subject in 1950. I find his movie worthy as opposed to inspirational, humorous naturally, gently persuasive in its polemics though ultimately powerful in its message: but most of all it is a positive spin, looking towards a brighter future for little Johnny, a better world. And such a change from the numbers of jobs lost in steel, motor, retail, banking……… talking ourselves down down down. Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, they would talk us up. Instead of spending billions on bankers, get our new generation of animators on the move.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Sergey Aniskov "Upgrade OS 8½"

The scenario is very simple really. There is a new upgrade available for System OS 8½ to OS 9. A system error results in total failure and the Controller admonishes his “useless pieces of software …. pirate trash” for not helping. With email down, expired or invalid software in ruins, a trouble shooter is sent into the mailbox to rectify the situation. Enter Anti Virus, our hero. Upgrade OS 8½ by Russian director Sergey Aniskov is an imaginative Flash animation that totally belies its somewhat prosaic title. Our hero befriends the intruder virus he is programed to destroy and we are in an impending melt-down situation in the innards of computer world. Witty throughout with non-stop action and a marvellously realised digital world, the piece never palls for any of its nine minutes or so. Sergey has made some distinctive Flash animations that I have written about before, notably Panic Attack. He studied initially at Moscow's Institute of Industrial Art, where his subject was Industrial Design, before moving to the USA to continue his education in Kansas and New York. Sergey has earlier work posted on his website. He is presently a director for New York's Animation Collective responsible amongst others for the series Kappa Mikey.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Rebecca Manley & Luca Paulli "Breaking the Mould", coffee and chocolate

As an adjunct to yesterday’s post on Rebecca Manley here are two ads, the first of which she directed for Starbucks chocolate and screened in the States. Café chocolate - very enticing, rich cafe colours, blackboard with stylish chalk lettering and, best of all, chocolate in the round and the square. Hard to resist the blandishments of advertisers selling chocolate. Rebecca explains her technique in her blog: "We created a rich and textural feel to the commercial by shooting the animation under camera using chalk on blackboard, and then compositing this together with stop motion animation (of chocolate models)." Again working for Slinky Pictures, the ad for Carte Noire: Steam uses sand on glass to create the form's characteristic fluidity of motion as a young couple travel to Paris to enjoy, amongst other things, a cup of coffee. Chocolate, coffee and Paris: the lady gets licence to roam! Which brings me in a contrived fashion to Breaking the Mould, a more conventionally animated short made in partnership with Italy’s Luca Paulli (graduate of the London School of Animation at Central Saint Martins). It is the cheerful story of an apple escaping the confines of his branch, who drops off on a convenient truck, has his green shoots trimmed professionally and then commences a journey around the world before settling down, white whiskered, to retirement in the earth and sprouting green shoots. Such is life. The pair made the piece as joint Animators in Residence at the University of Wale’s Newport campus. It did well in competition too, winning the Audience Award from a mass of entries to Shooting People DepicT! the only animated film to succeed -
DepicT! '08 Shortlist, Encounters Short Film Festival.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Rebecca Manley "The Girl and The Horse"

Channel 4 did commission some lovely animated movies here in the UK. Rebecca Manley’s The Girl and The Horse (alternate:Veoh) is one such. In effect it is an affecting homily on the loss of innocence and childhood. A young girl has a gap in her tummy. Such a void can only be filled by companionship and here the child is fortunate for she is befriended by a horse. Together the two somewhat idyllically entertain themselves in a state of bliss. Miraculously, the emptiness in her body disappears. The child grows older, money rains down from above, birthdays, extravagant dresses. The girl turns her back on her erstwhile friend. And the hole reappears. The style of artwork is deceptively simple but rather as with that perfect dress, sometimes simplicity achieves elegance and this is exactly what one discovers here. There is a sinuous beauty about the work that I have attempted to illustrate in the screengrabs. A variety of techniques are employed, including sand on glass, set against a tan textured background. with occasional use of photographic overlays. Rebecca is one of a number of very strong women from the UK at the moment whose work is invigorating. A graduate (yes, another) from the Surrey institute of Art and Design, she is represented at present by Slinky Pictures where I discover she is responsible for some of the charming intros to my local Yorkshire weather reports - if I can obtain a link I'll post it. Check out her blog and latest showreel, visit her website where one may enjoy her illustrations, one charmer being below.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Joanna Quinn "Dreams and Desires: Family Ties"

Our heroine Beryl has a new video-cam, is obsessed with it and can't say no: "I've got lumbered with videoing Mandy's bloody wedding now tomorrow." Film-making transports Beryl to dreamland, festooned in naked men, climbing from them and Rubens or Botticelli-like, chasing cherubs in the heavens. Until that is she is rudely awakened by preparations for the big day. Joanna Quinn's simply fabulous Dreams and Desires: Family Ties (2006) is a joy from start to finish and breaks my hiatus occasioned by a virus. Through the rewind facility we and she see the noisy chaos in the household: tight red body hugging dress that won't fit despite the tugging, incontinent dog, dog invited to wedding by bride, view of bride's rear and realisation that tugging the dress to the front causes repercussions at the back. Still, the petite underwear is clean I guess. Leaving the camera in the hands of Owen in the wheelchair was a miscalculation though. Beryl is banished to the rafters for an aeriel view. Religious vision, beating the dog ...I've got to stop. There are enough seriously hilarious antics to make this a serious contender for film of the year, despite being in January. Every error made by the overly ambitious amateur film-maker is here with close-ups, unintended shots, fuzziness. The lot. And Joanna is a genius - I have never used the word before in the blog - with her comic eye and ear for the absurd. Sitting on the loo, red wine in tipping glass, spotted knickers by her ankles, reflecting on the day so far, at least Beryl is at that stage sober. Well, she was. So it's left to the dog to give us a dog's eye view of proceedings. How many are in that bed? Chaos. But at least the cake is a work of art. Wrong tense. "I was too ambitious" laments Beryl. Les Mills wrote and produced the film, but it is indisputably Joanna's world of wonderfully Welsh caricatures, affectionately drawn, and with relish, by a master animator and artist of a style you can only say is a one-off. The cast of Menna Trussler, Rachel Atkins and Brendan Charleson revel in their roles. Visit Beryl Productions or, as I did on its release last summer, purchase the compilation The Animation Show: Volume 3 with the also inimitable Don Hertzfeldt, Mike Judge and Bill Plympton - this is a crazy collection. The link is to YouTube and will not be there for long!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Katy Milner "Piggy in the Middle"

The fruits of my research, this time on the use of cutouts in animation, allow me to introduce a highly original and talented British director. The screengrabs indicate a most unusual, colourful technique counterbalancing a darkly ironic piece. Made in 1996 at London's Royal College of Art, Katy Milner's comedy Piggy In The Middle concerns a husband so besotted with his pet pig that he neglects his wife. Risky business. The short has a crushing finale as the wife plots her revenge and feeds chocolate to her rival. Katy uses cutouts made of backlit coloured tissue paper on a multiplane. The technique involves placing the components on several layers giving an illusion of depth as the layers move at different rates. The great Yuri Norstein still uses the method today. The almost transparent paper allows the bright reds, blues and the pink of the pig to glow in a domestic setting that belies the grotesque events about to unfold. A paltry number of viewers has viewed the piece so feel honoured to be amongst the few. A graduate of Nottingham Trent University, Katy has worked for Acme Filmworks, always a badge of honour in my book. In the next day or so I shall have a look at her Mervyn, produced for Channel 4 in 2002.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Dominic Bisignano "From Burger it Came"

My talented friends at Short of the Week have been doing a daily review of the winners at The Sundance Festival. I was given a very remarkable movie though was somewhat late with my copy. So with apologies for that and a spot of advice to visit their site here's my effort dashed off prior to going dancing!
Dominic Bisignano made his movie, From Burger it Came, about a young boy contracting the Aids virus whilst at CalArts, er making the movie, not contracting Aids! The six minute movie is an amalgam of different styles of animation narrated by the boy himself and his mom in what Dominic describes as a "round the camp-fire" style though I'd add the word "confessional". She's naturally enough concerned for her son in all respects, even including the possibility of his eloping with the Moonies. Moms worry themselves with things like that. Or Flying Saucers. She (and he) put down his problems to transferring from Catholic School to Public School. Traumas like that have a debilitating effect on one's adolescence. Back to the disease. How exactly he acquired Aids is not exactly clear though it appears to be largely the responsibility of a contaminated hamburger consumed in the classroom. Hamburgers are the root of all evil and guilt, for a good Catholic boy in a non-Catholic school. Some homespun advice from Mom and semi-official advice later, leads to a period of her changing her job, abstaining from the cup in communion and instructing her boy to stay clear of sharp toys. All goes well until he has cereals at his friend Ryan's house,who inadvertently loses his trousers and throws a puppet at the boy's face. It's Aids time again and this time almost too much for mom and son to bear. Made with Mirage, now TVPaint, the hilarious mix of styles, from real images of hamburgers, black and white movie and gaudy colour conspire to share one modern nuclear family's guilt. You'll love it. Suburban angst. The link is to the festival though you'd better get there quick as iTunes is offering it as a free download for only a few more days. And visit the guys at Short of the Week.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Anton Octavian "The Fog"

The Fog is an engaging music video for The Mantra ATSMM in which ants toil to construct a large tower using an assortment of equipment, from pick axe to mechanised transport. Man, naturally enough, puts his foot on it. It also happens to be the first Romanian animation I have featured here on the Animation Blog. As yesterday the work is in grey scale and at over five and half minutes is longer than the usual music video. This requires some reuse of material, the ant being replicated many times (no problem as I’ve never yet identified an individual ant!) with the layering coarsely, if deliberately, achieved. The Fog is not some slickly rendered piece though that is not the intention. As the whirlwind construction gathers ever more pace, blocks moving from ant hand to ant hand, the intricacy of the tower is revealed as a complex, lattice like framework. The movie has a definite charm in line with the music. I was left to puzzle out what was computer animated, how much digital or actual cutout, what was the significance of the fog. Anton Octavian has a variety of work available on his website and blog ranging from live action to stop motion, all rather innovative and including sculptures. I also liked Falling Down, so to speak.

“It All Started Here” New York Animation Celebration

It always pays to check the spam filter. Andy Nichols, the Theater Manager at New York's The Picture House contacted me about a very interesting event he's hosting on January 25th for those who can make the venue. It is a part of It All Started Here, the city's festival of Celebrating Animation - the link is to an article publicising the events written by Susan Hodara for the Westchester section of The New York Times.

Andy's email then:
"On Sunday January 25, our theater is having two programs:
12-2pmanimated commercials with guests Howard Beckerman, J.J. Sedelmeier, and Tim Speidel of Arnold NY.
4-6pmanimated short films with guests R.O. Blechman, Emily Hubley, George Griffin, Jeff Scher and Michael Sporn.
I stumbled across your blog because we are screening a 35mm print of Eggs by John and Faith Hubley and I thought that your readers might be interested in coming to our event. Tickets are free to people in the animation industry. All details are available on our website"
Eggs, largely animated by the remarkable Tissa David, is a must see for any student of animation. Sadly there's an ocean between us, Andy, but I'd love to meet with Michael, Jeff, Emily and others. I'm a great fan.
And an extract from Susan's article:
"BETTY BOOP, Spider-Man and a number of other cartoon characters are making appearances across Westchester as part of “It All Started Here,” a combination of screenings, lectures, workshops and an exhibition at the Arts Exchange in White Plains, opening on Saturday evening. Presented by the Westchester Arts Council, “It All Started Here” focuses on animated cartoons, features and television commercials produced in New York City and, perhaps surprisingly, Westchester over the past 103 years."

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Pedro Serrazina "Tale About the Cat and the Moon"

I have been researching animation in black and white. It's not an original observation but it can be a classy combination. Pedro Serrazina's Tale About the Cat and the Moon (1995) plays with a series of striking juxtapositions of light and shadow, black cat, white moon or, such is the intricacy of the patterns, is it a white cat? The narration speaks of an obsession that is more passionate than my Anglo Saxon tastes should allow, a cat endlessly yearning for the shining spectre of the moon. Sailing around the globe in a tiny boat, leaping from rooftops, gazing upwards, the pursuit goes on far into the blackness of night. I have had dogs I understand, but I've never fathomed the inscrutable depths of my feline companions, certainly never when darkness arrives. At the close, after some delicious and clever interweaving of black and white, the white cat gets to snuggle up to its curvy mate. Highly charged music by Tentúgal adds to the sexual voltage of the piece. Fourteen years on and black and white certainly has not gone out of fashion: class tells. Pedro is currently Course Leader, BA Animation at Maidstone College, part of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA).

Monday, 19 January 2009

100 Best Blogs for Film and Theater Students got in touch we me at the weekend to draw attention to their list of helpful sites for those in search of the best college courses. Laura Milligan's blog for the site spells out the best blogs for animation and I'm delighted to see the Animation Blog has been included:
100 Best Blogs for Film and Theater Students
Laura writes, "This blog judges animations, from very basic designs to more cutting edge projects." I guess I do judge but I also enthuse. Undoubtedly some of the work featured here is more sophisticated than other pieces though I only ever write about work I enjoy - there is such a wealth of talent around. Good to be recognised though and the list is a great resource.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Ishu Patel "The Bead Game"

The Sunday Classic
The Bead Game
Ishu Patel
Mankind for all its strengths and talents is a source of wonder and bafflement. Ishu Patel’s exquisitely made The Bead Game (1977) commences with a variety of coloured beads, forming into an assortment of shifting creatures that each devours the succeeding and equally magnificent creature. From the first single cell that divides itself, the view of nature is remorsely destructive. By the end of the first minute these simple organisms have formed more sophisticated beings though the tenor of the piece remains the same. Crustacean devour jelly fish and are in turn are digested by a fish, to be preyed upon by a crocodile until one progresses through the evolutionary scale to encompass birds with gorgeous plumage but an equally voracious appetite. Inexorably the creatures become ever more intelligent with no diminution in their destructive tendencies. Ape evolves to man, and Ishu launches himself into a history from Greek warriors to the atomic bomb, all doomed to destroy the other. It would be an exercise in slapping oneself in the face were it not for the beauty of the movie. Imagine watching a glorious fireworks display of an intelligence of theme and form impossible for any professional pyrotechnician, all accompanied by an intricate percussive soundtrack that reinforces the visual display. Plumage, scales, swords, holocaust, the atom. Mankind the builder of magnificent buildings creates his own supernova and our universe explodes in a gloriously beautiful spectacle. All achieved by Ishu’s ability to shape red, yellow and white beads. Mankind, suggests Ishu, is a more sophisticated organism than the single cell but has learnt nothing. A classic and must-see part of one's animation library. Biography: "Born in Gujarat, India, Ishu Patel graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda and completed his graduate studies in Visual Communicationat the National Institute of Design, India, and advanced Graphic Design at Allegemeine Gewerbschule in Switzerland. A Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship brought him to the National Film Board of Canada." (Ishu's website) He taught Experimental Animation and Production at the University of Southern California leaving in 2001 to run his own company. He has an extensive catalogue of work for such as Channel 4 here in the UK, NHK in Japan and even the French language segments for Sesame Street, the subject of yesterday's post. His contemporary work for television commercials is eye-catching, judged for instance by last September's post on Moondust, for United Airlines. Ishu's acclaimed work includes Afterlife (1978), Paradise (1984) and Divine Fate (1993).

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Paul Fierlinger "The Alphabet Song" (Sesame Street)

I featured a classic piece by Paul Fierlinger a week back. Mention Paul’s name to those who know their animation and they will reference his work for Sesame Street. He made thirteen episodes of the celebrated Teeny Little Superguy and, in his own words, also “several dozen films teaching every letter of the alphabet, all numbers from One through Ten”. Today's movie is The Alphabet Song. Sing along yourself as Paul has his higher case letters towering above tiny people dwarfed by Stonehenge-type monuments, or beaming from a flashing lighthouse, or illuminating an urban skyscape. He features the singer bashing out her country and western lyrics, or the more hip musicians hammering tambourine and microphone. His locations excite the imagination and, I swear, after playing the short to my class they were humming the song for the duration. (Now, get them to using the alphabet properly .....) Typically Paul uses cel animation with watercolour backgrounds and jucose sketches in pencil. However I did read of his means of speeding up the process of animating an all-devouring television series by "wrapping cels around transparent plastic cups, so that a movement cycle could be achieved by simply rotating the cups. This also allowed Fierlinger to use a kitchen counter and assorted dishes and kitchenware as props." (Muppet Wiki)

Friday, 16 January 2009

Grant Orchard "Playing For The Planet"

I note from checking out my blog’s search facility that I have covered three of Grant Orchard's animations made during his time with London’s STUDIO AKA. Playing For The Planet changes style yet again with an environmental short made for Disney's Playhouse. Its theme is recyling with a message aimed directly at the under fives - so I'm on their wavelength. Grant uses a combination of cut-outs, puppets, stop motion and some computer animated sequences as the two explorers discover what happens to all the junk packaging and suchlike if they pop it into the box and send it off for recyling. Using recycled material itself, as well as a rich adult voice voice-over plus excited children, the joy of the thing is to see that "R" for recycling constructed from cardboard and surely the grumpy jack-in-the box is made from card. Bottles as rockets, a snake made from a hand in a sock and a nice touch at the end as a young boy is seen manipulating the puppet. Creative folk at Aka. And the message in a nutshell?- "That's good. The world will be pleased." Grant, by the way, is another product of animation hothouse, the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. On a personal note may I thank all at Adobe for a fascinating and pleasurable time with them in London. Great people. Wednesday evening saw me scaling the heights of Millbank's 29th floor with the Thames and the Houses of Parliament way beneath me. And if you were one of those who saw me presenting at their BETT stand, I look better in print.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Yoann Lemoine "Tiji: Le Ballon" (The Balloon)

Dipping into Dek's No Fat Clips is always a treasure hunt and sometimes one finds the nuggets of gold. Such is Tiji: Le Ballon produced for French children's television by young French director Yoann Lemoine. It is one of those movies that hits the spot, so obvious an idea that one kicks oneself for not thinking of it in the first place. Yoann's premise is simple enough: what happens to that accidentally discarded balloon that floats upwards and out of reach. In a steadily escalating level of heights the balloon with the cute, cat-like face makes fleeting acquaintances until it reaches its final destination in the heavens. An animation can take the viewer to strange and unexpected worlds. Unexpected, touching, comic and exciting, the twists and turns in this upwards journey are lovingly conveyed in a perfect piece for children and adults alike. Certainly it held my class captivated yesterday. Yoann attended the Emile Cohl School, Lyon, and studied screen-printing techniques at Swindon College, London. An artist with a very versatile background and range of techniques he left college in 2004 and is much in demand with an international range of clients. Produced by Jerome Denis at Wanda Productions I have searched in vain for the composer for the music adds so much to this enchanting mix. It is posted on the French Children’s Channel of YouTube though Dek, as usual, has a high resolution download. In the next few days, after I have returned from my travels to work for Adobe at BETT, Olympia, I shall post on another of Yoann's movies.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Max Hattler "Drift"

Occasionally I like to write about animation that is as much art as anything else. Max Hattler describes his work Drift (2007) as experimental in its close-up view of model Cindy Tippett’s skin. I frankly don’t understand some of the explanations of the work in artistic terms though that is my failing not those of the explainers. I tried to decide what was photography, time lapse or otherwise and what animation. Such is the success of the piece that the line between them is blurred. Not so the scrutiny of the subject as skin in all its frank detail is revealed under a sharp lens. The camera drifts across the skin, arrayed as a planet viewed from space, the line of a single hair stark against the skin’s backdrop forming a gripping opening to the film. The skin is seen in different blue hues of startling beauty, a landscape with the sheen of dawn, a dulling towards dusk, an ocean. One notes the hair follicles that at once seem real and evidently animated. The subject is most times beautiful, particularly the patchwork of lines that criss-cross the surface like cerulean mudflats, baked and cracked under a hot sun; occasionally rather unpleasant, to my squeamish eyes at least, particularly the wrinkled hair that is definitely hair, not the artfully animated lines that sprout up from the surface. The success of the piece lies as much in its integration of the talents, with Maja Flink’s exquisite photography together with the music of Mark Bowden that is suitably light and ethereal. It makes for an engrossing three minutes or so. The link is to Max's site from where a high resolution download (20mb) repays the threat to bandwidth as it looks startlingly good in full screen mode. Max is definitely one of the most original, startling animators around with range of projects, commercial and high art.