Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Arnaud Mathieu & Laurent Riboulet "Il descend de la montagne ... "

Il descend de la montagne ... (2003) by French pair Arnaud Mathieu & Laurent Riboulet (CNBDI) is in a tradition of chase cartoons as a guy races full throttle down a precarious road before attempting to meet the call of nature. When a passing UFO and little green beastie disturb the required toilet roll, the chase occurs as our man attempts to retrieve the necessary hardware for the operation. The roll of pink paper acquires a life of its own, the chase involving leaping over impossible chasms. As one has grown to expect, the CGI is expertly handled though the directors’ links with UFOs, despite references to ET and 2001 Space Odyssey, are not so successful. The chase, one is relieved to know, is.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Animator of the Year competition: Animate the World

Held at London's Barbican Centre, Animate the World 2009 is a date for your diaries, particularly as it extends for two weekends, Saturday 4th April to Sunday 12th April. There is just time to submit an entry for the competition - must be suitable for all ages and submitted by Wednesday 1st April 2009. I've been remiss in posting on this, missing my original email. Not quite too late and there may be a chance to meet up there for I'm taking the family.
Animation Studio: Create your very own animations and share them with your friends at our new Barbican Animation Studio. Submit your animation to the site by Wed 1 Apr and you will be automatically entered into a competition to become Barbican Animator of the Year or Young Animator of the Year (for under 12s) and could also pick up some fantastic prizes along the way!
There are animated movies from all over the world, workshops for children on claymation, special effects animation and character creation, and even a singalong session on Disney's Aladdin. Although primarily for children and families, adults may wish to see Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir.

East End Film Festival 09

Lucy Izzard (Slinky Pictures) sends me news and an amusing trailer for the East End Film Festival 09. The festival starts 23rd of April, a showcase for independent films of all descriptions. I should be able to attend this year. - online animation competition has commenced its online '09 festival with a call for entries and the '08 winners. I'll take a closer look soon.

Ian Wharton & Edward Shires "Solar" & "Solar - Making Of"

There is something very Heath Robinson or, for a younger generation, Wallace and Gromit, about Solar, the film made by Edward Shires and Ian Wharton, two students who attended the University of Cumbria, the animation course based in Carlisle, cathedral city of my childhood and still home of my family. Inhabiting a wooden shack that might have graced the prairie, a giant of a guy loads boulders (or moons) into a contraption that hurls them into space. Surrounding the shack is a narrow gauge railway and various winding mechanisms and wind turbines. When the red light indicates a loss of power a little fat robot fellow is launched into space to perform a quick repair job and retrieve the orbiting moon. Idiosyncratic in concept but possessing the pared down scenery of a stage production, I like seeing moons powered by bicycle or a sun, an orbiting orange, moving courtesy of a propeller. There's something rather satisfying too about the props or characters in Solar, the giant all rounded muscle, bestriding the stage, utterly convincing as a hurler of moons into space. The building fits into a frontier world, the rail track goes nowhere and the theory underpinning the rotation of day and night is suitably Copernican. Underpinning this is great technical and artistic talent. The informative Solar - Making Of explains how the short was made. I recommend it for any student of animation as it reveals the stages of production from initial sketches through modelling, rigging and dynamics, right through to a shot or two of the final exhibition, even the college campus and, ah, doesn't the Eden valley look green even in college grounds mode. (I shall be back there in a week or so to doubtless sample the rain that makes the grass green.) Ian and Edward, looking impossibly young in the footage, graduated in 2007. A visit to the guys' website will allow a choice of download possibilities. And readers, how do you land a plum job in the animation industry? (Ian has just moved to top London studio, The Mill.) Answer of course is to produce work like this. It occurs to me that some may not know of Heath Robinson. Therefore as the proud possessor of some of his work, an absolute fan and, in attempt to stoke up the prices for his material, here's one from my collection.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Don Hertzfeldt "Genre"

I read that Don Hertzfeldt’s student film of 1996, Genre, is one of his least favourites. I love it. It opens with stop motion footage of Don drawing the little bunny rabbit that is prodded and poked into life before the title credit appears and our animator toys with the genres of the film world, from children’s movies to porn to science fiction. Not all the jokes work but those that do are genuinely funny. My particular favourite is the moment when the long eared one is forced to boogie for the kids at the children's party - I've been there. I received three DVDs for my birthday: Don's 1995-2005 collection was one and much better quality than YouTube for a little matter of $24.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Shane Acker "9"

9 Shane Acker's Oscar nominated short is a genuinely exciting movie, so much so that I will not reveal the ending - promise. You will hear more of the director for he has teamed with up with Tim Burton and a clutch of stars voicing the characters (Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer and Crispin Glover), directing a feature length film projected for release in September this year - see high definition trailer. The rag doll 9 and his companion scuttle amidst the discarded remnants of a humananity without the humans, the planet seemingly having undergone apocalypse. 9 (to be voiced in the feature by former hobbit Elijah Wood) sees one of his friends slain by a mechanical praying mantis, the beast seemingly devouring the life force of its prey. In a series of flashback sequences, the significance of the construction and activity at the start of the movie becomes clear. 9 is a terrific movie and one can readily see why Burton took such a shine to it. The rag dolls are affecting creatures, goggles for eyes, generating a sound like a zoom lens, a bounding run and sharp movements, eyes always on the look-out for danger, and bodies made from sacking with either zips or buttons into which they delve to extract tools or a curious metal box that beams light at times of danger, rather as did Frodo's sword Sting in the presence of Orcs. The director conveys movingly the relationship between two of the dolls, 5 and 9, as the latter learns the secret of light from his partner. When the monster tears down on the dolls there is more than a fizz of danger and the final confrontation between 9 and his demon is one to savour. Made with Maya and the Adobe toolset, the backdrop is impressive with the ruins full of rusting material the rag doll scavengers utilise with ingenuity. A student of University of California, Los Angeles where he obtained his degree in Computer Science and Engineering, Shane made the movie in 2004. He also worked on the CGI for Lord of the Rings.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Jerry van de Beek & Betsy de Fries "Out of this World" (Mercedes McLaren SLR 300) & Børge Ring

I had two emails on Wednesday that I combine for the purposes of the post. The first was from Betsy de Fries from the estimable Little Fluffy Clouds providing me with today’s subject, Out of this World, a commercial for a Mercedes-Benz I can only dream of owning. The second is from one of the legends of the animation world, Børge Ring. He is a great raconteur but it is his postscript that is pertinent: “Animating commercials I find excellent schooling. You learn about immediate succinct statements plus how to make a scene look slower than it actually is - something that Walt Disney taught HIS people.” There's not a lot slow in the ad though with the dream machine whipping up flames on its journey to another planet and back, the movement tracked by whispers of flames. Classy automobile, classy ad. Jerry van de Beek and Betsy are a class act, much in demand and deliver on time (eight weeks). Jerry masters a range of software packages as required by the brief. Here he uses "Maya, composited using After Effects and rendered in Mental Ray. VFX extras were created using Real Viz, Trap Code and Sapphire plug-ins." Betsy is a talented wordsmith so her forthcoming blog will surely provide ample detail of the process other than the section I have lifted on the software. So then, no concrete technical information whatsoever about the car, no price, colour options, nothing. Save that, and here is the clinching point: I want one. An immediate succinct statement. Børge was right.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Pierre Bourrigault "Aubade"

In strictly visual terms Aubade (2007) is a dark movie. Thematically however it is optimistic in a whimsical kind of way. Man finds bird dying, deceased, dead. Definitely dead. In my experience, limited admittedly, birds lying on their backs with claws in the air, tweeting weakly, die. Not in the hands of Pierre Bourrigault. Man takes bird to light bulb on stem and together they visit the desk of the woman with wings at the Animal Repair Works. Much whirring, flashing and a Heath Robinson rustic conveyor system that eventually leads to a branch of a tree that sprouts leaves as the creature passes by, to miraculously recover and soar like a ...... bird. Made in 2D and stop motion, it is entirely shot in silhouette against a backdrop of perpetual dusk, has a set lit by low voltage lighting and characters that maybe are humanoid but I'm betting no money on it. The movie sort of unfolds before our eyes. I use a word like whimsical; in fact the short is played straight, dead straight and I enjoyed it, particularly given a pleasant soundtrack by the young Italian classical guitarist and composer, Lorenzo Tomio. After being educated in fashion and design in La Rochelle, Paris, Pierre worked for over twenty years in the fashion and advertising industry, with major clients such as Benetton and Diesel. His website is ultra cool - scroll sideways and click on the various illustrations and fashion items that, were it not for the free fall of the British pound, I would want more of. I know of no other animation from the director.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Mixtape Club "Wait For The Summer" (Yeasayer)

The remarkable Leerone wondered whether I was able to go to Austin, Texas, last week for their festival SXSW ‘09. (Leerone's blog is always worth the visit.) Sadly my day job got in the way. One of the featured films was last year's Wait For The Summer, an animated video for Yeasayer. A mix of CGI and stop motion, the short does about as much for an apple as Eve. Planets swirl, green beetles crawl around a winter landscape and then of course there are the apples, suspended from the branch or decomposing to mush, even proving to be a remarkably good planet or asteroid. With occasional silhouettes or shadows of the band, it makes for a pleasing 3 minutes or so with some frames that look good as stills. It was produced and directed by New York's Mixtape Club (Chris Smith, Jesse Casey, and Michelle Higa) whilst the animation was handled by Arthur Hur, Joe Posner and Andre Salyer. The movie link gives a choice of download qualities. I waited for summer but it never arrived: could have been England.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Veljko Popovic "She Who Measures"

She Who Measures (2008) by Croatian Veljko Popovic will make you think. On a surreal landscape, akin to a grey Sahara moonscape, a line of identical men and identical women march in procession pushing their shopping trolleys. Occasionally the detritus of the shopping expeditions slips between the grids of the carts littering the terrain with coloured bits and pieces that are sometimes retrieved by their owners, sometimes discarded. One man seems free of the confines, free of the mask each wears. His attempt to dissuade his fellows from follow my leader is rebuffed however. Their master is a giant, rotund clown who replaces a temporarily loosened perpetual smile mask from one of the women allowing unfettered access to the non-stop feed of trivia being broadcast to the slaves of the trolley: “More pounds for your buck.” Back at base in a vast cavern our man surveys the line of shoppers before plunging down down down, ironically to swim upwards towards a small tear in the fabric of the roof from which light intrudes. The inhabitants are seen as heads in a series of containers, filled with liquids and pumped full of life. It is a bleak commentary on life, the more so in that it is accurate in some respects with mankind in limbo, slaves to a diet of trivia. The short is visually striking for its zombie figures and unworldly landscape, all the more so given a soundtrack that is like every junk radio show or junk ad looped to obscure thought. A graduate in 2003 from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb and presently Assistant Professor at the Arts Academy in Split, Croatia, Veljko is a co-founder of Lemonade3d, a studio with some impressive 3D work on view.

Monday, 23 March 2009

What are you doing on April 11th? Shake the World

What will you be doing on Saturday April 11th at 4PM Pacific Time, 12PM Greenwich Mean Time? I will be dancing the night away in some sleezy nightclub, lager bottle in hand, video camera in the other, cartwheeling for the sheer joy of it all. Simply record 60 seconds of video and the team at independent film production company, Shake The World, will piece everything (well not everything) together to form a unique film recording a minute in the life of humankind. It is a world event, the organisers of which are impressively enthusiastic. Click on the Vimeo link and see the promotional videos, three of which are animated and psych yourself up for the big event. Hopefully I shall post some of the submissions here on the blog. Images from Jodi Lee Sandler, Kyoko Fukuma and John-Paul Cannucciari, and Spaghetti Media. Meanwhile if you are unable to wait until April 11th, send the team a picture, any picture, with one of the two logos (red or blue) attached and, who knows, you may see yourself or whatever on their website.

Erik Rosenlund "Spegelbarn" (Looking Glass)

Today’s animation is a scary one all right. Made throughout in white on very black, the 2007 movie Spegelbarn (Looking Glass) by Swedish director Erik Rosenlund preys on one’s most basic childhood fears of dark, being alone, footsteps, noises off, faces at the window (or in the mirror.) A young girl watches a cartoon on television when the bunnies appear to be taking rather greater notice of their viewer than is normal. A storm rattles the windows in the dark house - thunder and lightning is another basic fear! A tour takes her to the wardrobe mirror where the reflection gazes back at her. Rather like the mirror game I have used in Drama lessons, the reflection does not quite follow the pattern set by its owner. Soon the reflection in the window and drinking glass is following the increasingly terrified girl around the home. But is it trying to tell her something? Greyscale suits the horror genre. Looking for all the world like some dark etched print, with a stylised 3D look to the girl's head, the use of shadow here is impressive. In the animator's hands the fan, window or interior possess a threat that Erik and fellow animator Susanne Sturesson use to great effect. Erik completed the sound himself, an impressive backdrop that raises the hairs on the back of the neck in conjunction with the action on screen. Erik attended Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Eksjö, Sweden. Spegelbarn is his fourth film, co-produced by Swedish television SVT and Finnish television YLE.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

"Animation Unleashed" by Ellen Besen, illustrated by Bryce Hallett

The Sunday Book Review
By Ellen Besen, illustrated by Bryce Hallett
Published by Michael Wiese Productions
ISBN-10: 1932907491 / ISBN-13: 978-1932907490
I commence an occasional series of book reviews with Ellen Besen’s 280 page paperback, illustrated by Bryce Hallett in which the reader is guided though the principles and practice of animation. Unleashed, I guess, refers to the oomph the reader will possess after having studied the text.
The layout is straight-forward enough. On one side is the text, with the illustrations broadly speaking on the right hand side of the page. Ellen divides her observations into Basic and Advanced, with frequent Example, Rule Beaker or Value Added Point. Such logical delineation generally works well enough though occasionally I found the divisions artificial in that I was as stimulated by the Basic as the Advanced. What Ellen has to say brooks no complaint however. To take one of her 100 principles: in Human Characters she uses all her knowledge borne of many years in the industry. She suggests realistic characters are the hardest to create whilst attracting the most acute scrutiny from an audience moved to compare live action footage with animated make believe. Solution? Stay away from realism, go stylised or at least introduce some form of caricature. Movie references are made to various Disney productions and Ryan for exemplification. Bryce’s accompanying sketches emphasise this with a sequence of realistic poses in which the character, albeit well drawn, appears wooden, certainly compared with the same guy presented by way of comparison in exaggerated, caricatured form. One sequence attracts, the other leaves one cold, a point well made by writer and illustrator, as they always are in a fairly comprehensive series of short chapters.
Sometimes Ellen draws attention to production points that are intuitive to many, but still illuminate with her rigorous analysis. I like her style of writing. Her voice is direct without being academically cold. Bryce’s black and white illustrations, whilst not the rich colour of the cover, are usually humorous in tone, always beautifully drawn, always apposite, with an accompanying note from Ellen that neatly encapsulates the issue.
Obviously, with an eye to sales, the publishers target beginners as well as the more experienced animator. Fair enough though it is the latter who will most benefit. I have read the book in short bursts rather than cover to cover in one go. I found that I needed to digest the points and my poor brain is only capable of bite-size nuggets these days. Animation Unleashed is well suited for this. Value for money/ worth buying? Indisputably, and worth its place on every animator’s bookshelf.

Finally, should you desire to hear Ellen’s eight minute presentation on Placement as well as enjoy Bryce’s drawing in motion, download their podcast released on YouTube yesterday and the first, I believe, of what promises to be an excellent series, The two images below are taken from this.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Johnny Kelly "The Seed"

I occasionally work for Adobe as one of their so called Education Leaders. Consequently I have been given their Master Collection, Adobe Creative Suite 4. In my spare moments I attempt to get my head round the software that can deliver so much in the right hands. How much easier and enjoyable to sit back and watch a master at work. The Seed is directed by a favourite animator, Johnny Kelly, using the the CS4 range of programs. The movie follows a seed through its travels, a complicated journey of mazes, beaks, sun and sea, before it comes to rest in the dark earth. I have no idea who or what Jape is or are but the electronic music fits the piece perfectly. So then, fresh colour, pattern, texture and the like. It's good to guess where scissors and card come in, rostrum camera and stop motion take over, or computer animation develops. There is still a little guesswork but Johnny deals in solutions as his Making of 'The Seed unravels the mysteries in a how to movie that is as artful as the work it is focusing on. Produced by Nexus, one may enjoy The Seed for its abstract beauty and interpretation, then like the master magician revealing all, see how the illusion is spun, only somehow dazzling the more in that disclosure.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Christopher Hinton "Black Fly"

I have often remarked on the durability of good quality animation. Take away the date from Christopher Hinton’s Oscar nominated Black Fly (1991, as it happens) and it is as fresh as the day it was made. I have never been fortunate enough to visit North Ontario or experience the dreaded black fly, though I have been nibbled by their cousins in the Scottish Highlands. Hinton's portrayal of the struggle to build a dam in the province will do little to boost the tourism potential of the area though it enhances the reputation of Canadian animation. The action illustrates a 1949 ballad by Wade Hemswatch, sung by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, the chorus of which goes: "And the black flies, the little black flies/ Always the black fly no matter where you go/ I'll die with the black fly a-pickin' my bones/ In North Ontar-i-o-i-o, In North Ontar-i-o." Wherever the surveyer goes the little blighters track him down. The animation depicts the rigours of it all with flies signalling his arrival by telegraph, swarming out of his boiled egg, donning diving gear to get at him underwater and, in microscopic close-up, throwing a party for their fellows on the unfortunate guy's head. Produced by that sponsor of magnificent animation, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Hinton's natural, flowing style suits the song and is inventive in the visual humour. It is entirely legitimate to laugh at someone else being bitten to near madness, something else entirely to be lunch.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Louis Clichy "A quoi ça sert l'amour?"

A quoi ça sert l'amour? is a sweet digest of true love that never runneth smooth. Former student of the French school of excellence, Gobelins, Louis Clichy made the movie for Cube in 2006. Loosely drawn with the added ingredient of Edith Piaf's classic song, the three minute movie plots the key frames in the courtship ritual, from throwing of plates to the dissemination of bouquets. Less equals more in a delicious movie that dispenses with colour, some elaboration of illustrations and yet cuts to the heart of the matter to discover love, though it is a cobbled street trampled by bare feet, really is soft and mushy. To repeat myself, there is always a little matter of the song. Spring is most certainly in the air; and should one need a spot of colour, have a look at this .

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Clyde Geronomi, Bill Peet, Sterling Holloway "Susie and the Little Blue Coupe"

Viewing the classic Disney, Clyde Geronomi directed movie Susie and the Little Blue Coupe I am struck by its similarity to The Little House, and it is not just down to the inimitable voice of Sterling Holloway or that it was made the previous year in 1951. Anthropomorphism is used in both instances: for cute family house in the country, substitute cute feminine coupe in the showroom window, both having caring owners graduating to uncaring, shine to dereliction. Susie was based on a story by renowned illustrator and writer Bill Peet (Goliath II for instance). Michael Sporn with his seemingly inexhaustible bank of original materials (thanks in this case to another great director and source of informed comment, John Canemaker) has posted the original storyboards and drawings for the movie and an intended book - the storyboard is a work of art in itself. Maybe it is not so obviously a trail through the twentieth century as was the later movie, though it has an absorbing narrative grip and endearing heroine. Seeing Susie flash her eyelashes from the showroom or take her place on the parking lot amongst the toffs is always enjoyable. Times get hard of course, otherwise Sterling's vocal talents would be sorely underused. (I swear, his voice would make Shylock forgo half a pound of flesh.) Susie is soon abandoned to the back streets and dark alleys: "Susie was on Skid Row!" She is left out in the cold, abused, neglected, losing all her self respect. There's more humour than the house tale: driven by a lush she careers from side to side of the road: "and it was plain to see she was getting out of line." Worse was to come as Susie becomes a stolen car! I challenge anyone not to smile when, at the end, having been souped up by a youth, Susie tears out of the garage, all wheels and soupedupedness. A stray comment by Michael comes to mind, about the Disney of today in connection admittedly with a different movie; he is a little scornful of the studio making movies like this any more. I concur. Disney would have flashier car chases, maybe attach wings, guns, the pace of the thing would speed up. But think of the market opportunities for coupes of red, blue, green, turquoise, silver, puce ...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Sébastien Rossignol "Le Prince Bleu"

Here is an atmospheric film by French director Sébastien Rossignol. A glowing blue jewel makes it way towards a haunted castle in which two elegant female spirits await. Vampires they may be but when the gem metamorphosizes into the handsome prince their embrace seems as much seduction as assault. Le Prince Bleu is a vehicle for a duet by RoBert and Majandra Delfino, the lyrics of which I find it as hard to decipher as the film. Made in 2004, primarily in 3ds MAX, there's a nice opening as prey becomes predator, the women are composed of smoke and light, and the darkness of the castle obscures much. Moody, vaguely threatening, the song is enjoyable and very French despite the odd line in English.