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Thursday, 30 April 2009

Impactist (Kelly Meador & Daniel Elwing) "Parallelostory" (2009)













Impactist comprises husband and wife team Kelly Meador and Daniel Elwing from Portland, Oregon. They are both musicians and, as with today's short, Parallelostory, animators of some style. The video is for the track Cup of Water Crying (mp3 download) from their new EP Color Fields & Wagon Wheels. Indeed their music is available for free download though they do ask for a PayPal donation. So much for the necessaries. The theme of the animation is a multi-universe in which worlds and people orbits run parallel to each other and do not necessarily collide. The imagery is of planets, asteroids, observatories and highways in which the pink and blue cars go their separate ways, the man and woman destined never to converge. But never forget, somewhere out there is a perfect match. Will cruel fate determine the two should never meet? The design is tasteful indeed, delicate colours and symmetrical arrangements of minimalist settings, the poll booth and two vehicles located in a grey nothingness, the zigzag road that creeps up an impossibly pointed hill to the coloured observatory homes at the top, the streaking meteors in space. Delicacy is what comes to mind in music and visuals. Delicacy too in the credits so thanks to Motionographer who were in turn indebted to a blogger I have not read before, Kristy from two if by see. Such is the manner of the internet. Kristy's blog is excellent by the way. Another husband and wife team tomorrow though very different in style .

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Animator 2009: last chance for entries



Another festival but emergency action called for if the deadline is to be met. It is your last chance to enter your work for Animator 2009, the biggest animated film festival in Poland featured here a few weeks back. Emily Hubley is just one of the artists whose work is on show. You have until tomorrow to hit the mail. I received this from Estrada Poznanska, on behalf of the organisers:



Due to a great interest of filmmakers in the 2nd edition of the International Animated Film Competition at ANIMATOR \ 2009, the festival organizers decided to introduce the second selection for competition. New, the final entry deadline is : April 30, 2009 /the date on the postmark is what counts/. The International Competition of Animated Films is open to artistic animated films of all techniques up to 30 min. Grand Prix of 60 000 PLN /ca. 12.000 Euros/ will be awarded by an international jury including Yoram Gross, Hieronim Neumann, Michael O’Pray and Michèle Bokanowski. The entry form and regulations can be downloaded from http://www.animator-festival.com/.

Kinofest 2009: International Digital Festival


I just received the following from Valentin Partenie, Festival Director for Kinofest, the international digital festival.
We're back! And we want you for Kinofest 2009, the third edition of the international digital film festival of Romania. We've just started the official Call for Entries of Kinofest. This year, Kinofest will take place on 23, 24 and 25 October in Bucharest, Romania. And we would be honoured to see your work in the Festival.
The three sections of Kinofest are: Animation, Micromovie, Fiction. There is no submission fee for your entries. You can send an unlimited number of works. The deadline for your submissions is September 30, 2009. Read more details and download the Entry Form in the Submissions page, on our site – www.kinofest.com.
Check out also the Kinofest 2008 story. 18 hours of Festival and 160 films from 21 countries, concerts and 1000 people to enjoy everything. But we want more this year! We want to make Kinofest a phenomena in Romania, to gather all digital trends and new techniques, to have films and music, graphic design and video art. I hope you'll join us!

Jeff Scher "Welcome Back" (2009)




When they are not panicking at ill-considered or, more accurately, criminally stupid fly pasts, New Yorkers might well look for a more palatable uplift in the April 13th electronic edition of The New York Times where Jeff Scher, their resident animator -well, not exactly that though he does a regular series for the newspaper - posted his latest short, Welcome Back. Made in the manner that makes the artist such a favourite of mine, Jeff works in pastel and watercolour, providing machine gun-like changing images of Spring, from the cold of winter, through the first green shoots beloved of our politicians to the bursting out of flowers, return of wildlife and even a tiny bird hatching. The problem of writing about Jeff's work is that he's so damn eloquent. His own commentary about the pastel residue ruining his studio and suchlike also uses the phrase "sense of wonder", exactly what I was going to write. He uses it in reference to his composer Shay Lynch. If ever animator and musician worked in harmony it is here, the music and images carrying one through the heaviness of Winter to the excitement of Spring, from snow laden tree to blossom laden tree. There's a particularly elegant passage when the icicles drip water in time to the music which then picks up pace with the arrival of migrant birds to be followed by bursting buds. Jeff has provided two stills, only a click away to reveal the richness of the drawings. I should have asked him how many sketches there were in total but got sort of side-tracked in a New York travelogue. Brief though it was it has determined me on a visit to the great metropolis, there being people I wish to meet as well as much to see.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Yanni Kronenberg & Lucinda Schreiber 'Autumn Story' (Firekites - 2009)







Before I became high tech I used to chalk on a blackboard. Imagine it. All that dust. Yanni Kronenberg and Lucinda Schreiber have gone back to basics in their music video for Australian compatriots, Firekites. Autumn Story from the band's debut album, The Bowery, uses a series of blackboards and approaching 2000 individual drawings to illustrate the gently melodic track. I often write that a style of animation suits the music. Well it is true here with a gently acoustic track mirrored by birds flying or cat jumping from one to another of a succession of blackboards, the chalk marks from previous frames creating an echo of images that tracks the flight or movement beautifully. When the creature reaches the end of the board it transfers to another in a simple but clever effect shown in the screenshot. I like the variety of the boards and the clean aesthetic room in which the piece is filmed, the white walls and beige floor a foil for chalky images. Then a revelation as the camera pans out and we see the set in its entirety. Six months' effort for the animators but mission well and truly accomplished: very nice work and a good sound to boot.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Philip Hunt "Lost and Found" (2008)







In 1982 the new British television Channel 4 released an animated version of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, featured on the blog over Christmas. The same channel broadcast another sure fire classic this year on Christmas Eve. Directed by Philip Hunt and the team at Studio Aka, Lost and Found is in the finest tradition of children’s animation, that is, it is not just for children. The story is not entirely remote from that of Briggs, as a boy discovers a penguin on his doorstep and resolves to row him back to Antarctica, surviving a giant squid and a vividly depicted storm but meeting some of the most wonderful penguins one can imagine. And, as with its predecessor, the relationship fostered between child and penguin will bring a lump to the throat just as the melted snowman did all those years ago - and every Christmas since! The look is pure, soft watercolour, though the 3D work is of course CGI. Such is the cross-over now between methods of animating, that Philip's movie has that stop motion appeal. I like always to post on work that is freely available on the web. Sadly this is not the case here but one twenty-fifth is available via the studio’s trailer. The support for the movie is magnificent, the studio enlisting top people including memorably expressive music by Max Richter and a beautifully delivered narration from Jim Broadbent, one of the very best actors from these shores with a quite marvellous voice. Based on the book by Oliver Jeffers, a family favourite in my household, like a fool I failed to record it at the time but have just redressed the situation by purchasing the newly released DVD from Amazon for £6. It is available worldwide. Philip is creative director at Studio Aka and, coincidentally, my friends at Short of the Week reviewed Jo Jo in the Stars last week. I was moved to comment on the work of its director, Marc Craste, another of the studio's stars and ventured the opinion that I wish he would create a feature film, quite forgetting his Bafta nominated Varmints to be featured here in trailer form shortly. I have affixed the tag "Classic" to the movie because I am being prophetic. Philip is a graduate of London's outstanding Royal College of Art.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Ivan Rusev "Yellow" (2008)








Strange where research for the blog takes me. Ivan Rusev's cut-out graduation work, Yellow, is based on the works of the Russian avant-garde and absurdist writer Daniil Kharms. So much for the explanation on YouTube. Daniil was one of those persecuted artists in the grim period of Stalin's USSR who was imprisoned for essentially daring to produce art in a manner deemed not conducive to the state. He died in detention in 1942. During his career he was driven to write for children, a refuge of necessity for many writers and artists of the Soviet era. The animation was made at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria. Given the inspiration one might expect an off-centre piece and that is correct. It concerns an apartment block full of inhabitants going about their daily concerns, from ensuring the continuation of the species, holding a gun to the head and, in the case of a little old lady, drilling. When a workman falls from a tower the call to the police goes unanswered save for the immediate dispatch of a cameraman in helicopter to interview the falling guy. Such a society can only have one end, though the rat deserts the sinking building just in time. Witty and distinctive, the three minute piece is a commentary on life as we live it. Sadly.



Saturday, 25 April 2009

Thomas Giusiano & Mathieu Rey "Edna" (2005)







See how many references to different Steven Spielberg movies you can spot in Edna by students Thomas Giusiano and Mathieu Rey from France's superlative Superinfocom. Essentially in black and white, except where the genre dictates otherwise, Charlie Chaplin is hot on the trail of his beloved who was inadvertently sent down into the innards of a factory production line by our clumsy maestro. The hero may be awkward but everything else is accomplished with a certain aplomb using as ever a range of software, notably 3DSmax and Photoshop. A traditional soundtrack of slightly off-key piano, silent movie music unless the source demands a change, as with the use of colour. We get good sound effects such as the rumbling in the caverns and, given a change of hat and personality, as Charlie/Harrison Ford outpaces a chasing fireball in rollicking blockbuster fashion. And yes, the crudely animated, wooden dinosaur is deliberate! A surprising movie altogether in what I at first thought was silent movie pastiche and it turns out to be Spielberg pastiche. And very well done. A couple more of the French school's movies to come in the next week.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Sally Cruikshank "Face Like a Frog" (1987)








Viewing Sally Cruikshank's short Face Like a Frog is to be reminded of the sheer exuberance and delight in animating, that feeling of the god-like power to enable anything to happen. Sally lets it all happen all right. It is impossible to describe the plot, so ............ a frog enters a mighty strange house and encounters mighty strange creatures. It develops towards the middle with a great little song, Don’t Go In The Basement from Mystic Knights (aka Danny Elfman). I love the ink and pen colouring that fits the era in which it was made, maybe an earlier, even more psychedelic one. The one liners, often non sequiturs, are performed with relish in a variety of accents. and the dialogue is heavenly: Man (urgently) "What's wrong?" Woman (mystically) "There's a Hex on the house." Man (blasé) "Everyone has problems." Or, woman in sexy voice: "I have to change." Man (urgently) "Don't change!" The whole thing is breathless: man walks up stairs, that changes to the sea, he shakes himself dry, peers into keyhole, hand reaches out from it and pulls him through, to ..... Simply relentless, with characters galore. Judging by the many comments on YouTube people have favourites. Mine is the nut on legs that stands on a balcony under the moon bemoaning his fate until he has reason to. Favourite voice: (thick East European accent) "And I'm not wearing underwear." It's almost as much fun reading the YouTube comments. Sample, and I'll quote it verbatim: "Sal, is the song "Don't Go in the Basement" a satire on the anti-psychedelic culture of the 80's since this was created during the Reagan presidency and the "just say no" campaign? "The basement" is easily interpreted as a metaphor for the subconscious, and the decriers of drugs, particularly hallucinogenics; is that they are desperately afraid that those who take them will learn truths they would do anything to suppress because it would shatter their carefully constructed perceptions of reality." Sally's reply: "Wonderful interpretations of lyrics which may have their underbelly in all that, but came out of some other id place. In Chatham, we had a strange basement, and so did many of my friends." I guess the question was as tongue in cheek as the movie, or I earnestly hope so. The basement in the movie is quite a place, by the way. As for meaning, I reckon young Willie Shakespeare would explain away most of the metaphorical subtext by references to Stratford ale. Sally's blog is lively and informed, she sells artwork from the movie on the site (wish I could afford it but with the declining pound ...) is a native of New Jersey and, it will surprise no-one, worked on episodes of Sesame Street. She informs us that her work looks much better on DVD. I will take a look at other work by her shortly.






Thursday, 23 April 2009

Tex Avery "One Cab's Family" (1952)





Readers of the Animation Blog will know of my love for the old Warner Brothers and MGM classics directed by Tex Avery. He gathered a team of outstanding talents around him mining for gags like they were seams of gold, each movie consequently full of nuggets. One Cab's Family was made in 1952, two years before MGM disbanded its animation department of which Tex was the leader. The cartoon is not quite so ostentatious in its exaggeration as most of Tex's material, developing a touching story of father and son alongside the inevitable stream of gags, visual and verbal. The cartoon commences in breathless fashion as yellow cab dad drives frantically into the Automobile Hospital in expectation of the imminent arrival of his young son, a chip off the old engine block. We follow the cab's development from infant slurping oil from a teat, to tearaway hot rod. Drama and tragedy ensues with tension aplenty as the team of mechanics perform an emergency service. Lots of gags as I say, the scriptwriters Rich Hogan and Roy Williams exhausting every conceivable play on words in which automobiles are portrayed as people. "Now, Junior, when you grow up and get all your cylinders are you going to be a nice taxi cab like your daddy?" Of course he isn't. And in typical fashion the team manage to get the girlie legs revealed as the boy racer's slipstream has an uplifting effect. Nor should I ignore the genuine drama of the train crash that, for a moment, breaks through the humour. 1952 was a good year for Tex, with Magical Maestro and Rock-A-Bye-Bear. He had as ever a great team of animators, Grant Simmons, Michael Lah and Walter Clinton who were responsible amongst many classics for Ventriloquist's Cat or The House of Tomorrow. A most readable and informative blog on material from the era is that of Kevin Langley, Cartoons, Model Sheets & Stuff.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Vanessa Soberanis "Siberian Farmland" (Minster Hill - 2009)










Los Angeles animator Vanessa Soberanis is a most talented artist as a visit to her blog will testify. Her music video, Siberian Farmland, for Minster Hill, has her working with stop motion and puppets. I normally give a run down of the storyline and I'm relishing the opportunity here. Girl with black hair eats at table with two others. Naturally they say Grace. Maybe her prayers are answered though the girl becomes concerned by the sudden stillness of her dinner companions. Stillness? A mere touch and one of the heads falls off. Shock horror, she also spills the milk. It's out of the house and into the darkness to confront a reclining pig who seems to speak only to release an octopus whose deadly embrace pulls her into the pig's mouth and, who knows, hell. Will the girl escape? Will she discover the correct eyeball? A strange music video that seems to suit the song and the race against time. I've never seen the tentacles of an octopus beat out time before. Such gore and abandon needs a structured approach to create however and Vanessa's second dedicated blog has more background detail than any self-respecting critic could reasonably ask for. Practicalities in a moment but first the surreal detail as described by Vanessa - sample: "so after the girl gets pulled into the carcass of a dead pig by the arms of an octopus". You couldn't make it up. Practical details too of how to make the puppets: to discover that the pig for instance is made of "clay, with a mix of acrylic paint and beige spray paint". Description alongside photographs of production make this a joy. The whole animation is tongue in cheek, not nearly so gory as words alone might make out and great fun.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Grigoris Leontiades "Grrrr" (2007)







Grrrr is a movie I referred to when introducing the work of Trunk Animation's Grigoris Leontiades during my spring vacation. In an essentially monochromatic and hand drawn style, Grigoris shows a young boy idolising his father and mimicking his actions. Not such a bad thing one might suggest save that this dad is totally unaware of his son, tired after work and turning to the ever-present television set for diversion. The soccer dominates the parent's attention, the glares and histrionics mirroring the aggressive action on the field and partisan antics of the supporters into whose midst the boy is propelled. Wearing his father's jacket, stepping into his shoes, walking in the same manner, the boy is at once a miniature version of dad and a bewildered child looking for guidance that is simply not there. The world of the adult is not a pretty place. Those in search of happy endings, of whom I am one, might discern a note of optimism at the close though the director is subtle in his obfuscation. Entirely free of words save for the grrrr of the title, signifying the boy's adoption of the role of puppy, scurrying after his master, retrieving the slippers. What I particularly admire are the design elements here, from the moment the boy homes alone with his television set to the clicking of the remotes as the football spectators transform to mirror images of the father. A stylish piece altogether and one can see why Trunk welcomed this fourth and latest director to their collective bosom shortly after the movie was released. No personal résumé has quite the impact in recruitment terms as an actual movie, particularly one of this quality.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Stephen and Timothy Quay - AIDS Commercial (1996)










In preparation for a longer and more definitive study of the work of Stephen and Timothy Quay, over several posts, here is an Aids Commercial they made in 1996 warning of the dangers of infection. The piece has many of the features that make their work so distinctive. Their use of well used dolls for instance. The stills reveal the menace the figures possess given the use of lighting, loss of focus or oblique camera angles. (I find clowns also have that effect on me.) In its thirty seconds, the air of oppression is tangible: an opening close-up of the face, fingers desultorily playing with tablets, burning ash, a view under the bed, the culminating shot as the reclining doll looks towards the viewer beside his sleeping partner. Is the look one of guilt, fear, terror, paranoia? The soundtrack of Polish composer, Leszek Jankowski, much used by the brothers, is like scratching metal. If the urge was to frighten, as it clearly was, the commercial works powerfully on mind and imagination. Rarely have animators been so influential.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Luis Nieto "Down, Down, Down"





Down, Down, Down has rather a nice line in inflatables albeit, given the title of this Hush Puppies track, there are just as many deflatables. Luis Nieto directs the final music video in my selection of those short listed for this year's Annecy festival. A mix of live action and 2d/3D animation, it commences with a vertically challenged guy performing his party piece, a spot of virtuoso balloon blowing, culminating in some ostentatious inflation using his ear and nose. Back in the living room the band play their music accompanied by some swift ducking and weaving accelerated by CGI trickery and an assortment of blow-up furniture and props, including an imploding cow. Great fun and the little guy gets to reappear amidst yet more inflables though upside down. He gets quite carried away. The Annecy description is "Hell seen from heaven...", a trifle inflated I feel but an impressive video nonetheless for a more interesting example of quantitative easing than that performed by the British chancellor. That concludes the Annecy official selection of eight music videos. A trawl through the blog's search function will reveal any you have missed.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Nobody Does Disney like Disney






Disney is one heck of a green corporation. And they are not just wagon jumpers either. They have been doing it for years. Thanks Carrie (from Chunnel.tv) for the illuminating clip that says more than words can manage - Disney's recycled material.

Easter Vacation



I've been away for the past week in the English Lake District. The posts for the week were made in advance. No computer access by order. But thanks for the messages. I will reply tomorrow. My days were spent high in the mountains and my evenings in convivial company and surroundings. Didn't Ullswater look lovely this very morning!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Christoph Keller & Tobias Keip "Eden"














Bringing to mind something of James Blish's epic Cities In Flight series, Eden is a movie I stumbled upon whilst searching Vimeo. By a pair I do not know, Christoph Keller and Tobias Keip, it is a vision of a city in the future, or is it from someone's imagination? Commencing with a young man sketching out his futuristic city be prepared for a change in music, and a pulsating one at that, as one obtains a far off view of a city in space. We tear into the place at a terrific lick, whisked along the tunnels and assorted routes as if on some theme park ride. Only thing missing is the inhabitants. Sorted. On top of one of the many skyscrapers we meet the young man reaching for a butterfly. Always symbolic, butterflies! And does it rain in space? Christoph also has posted a stereoscopic version intended for 3D cinemas - maybe it was intended for a theme park afterall. Whatever the derivation this is an exciting journey, fabulous music and I guess, given the daft spectacles, it would look even greater in the right cinema. I seem to remember the book ended with a bang too.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Mikhail Maximov "Chevengur"






The first of two visions of the future. Today's is from one of the newer Russian animators, a burgeoning community, although the animation is based on the work of Andrey Platonov in the first half of the twentieth century. Mikhail Maximov's Chevengur is a dark vision indeed. I am not familiar with its source though the grim ploughmen of skulls, with coffins in their wake, not to mention the fruits of their labours and fate awaiting the scattered seed, is as intimidating as it is impressive in concept, with its bleak fields and subterranean hell. Awesome in its imaginative scope, the character grinding his way over the human remains is as striking an image as one is likely to see this side of the grim reaper's tap on the shoulder. Thankfully all the director's work is not this harsh as a visit to Mikhail's website will quickly reveal. He has a comprehensive selection of work and his blog shows the range of his interests. A gallery of screenshots from Chevengur is just one of the delights to salivate over.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Grigoris Leontiades "Scratch"



Scratch is an example of Trunk Animation's latest recruit to their ranks of directors. Grigoris Leontiades continues the sadistic exploitation of animals explored by his colleague in yesterday's short. Given this is a web commercial for a pet carrier, and therefore a little longer than might otherwise have been the case, I guess there had to be some bright light though not after much slashing and scatching and blood. Cats are lovely creatures but handle them with thick gloves. Or, remembering yesterday, call in a colourful bird. A 2003 graduate of London's National Film and Television School, he previously studied Art & Design at Leeds Metropolitan University. He joined Trunk in 2007. I will feature another longer and darker movie from Grigoris shortly.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Layla Atkinson "The Whistler"



I have previously featured individual work by two of the three founders of London's Trunk Animation. Today it is the turn of Layla Atkinson. When viewing the seemingly beguiling characters in The Whistler bear in mind what cats would like to do to caged birds and then turn everything on its head. Friendly pussy cat likes listening to the song of the red bird in the cage. Through its whistling the bird communicates and the attentive cat collects the little trinkets that make life in a cage worth living. But what are the ulterior motives? A nice piece of 2D computer animation to while away the time whilst I am on vacation. Steve Smith, Siri Melchior and Layla met whilst at the Royal College of Art and formed one of the capital's most successful studios. They were joined by producer Richard Barnett plus a fourth director. Tomorrow I shall have a look at one of his commercials.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Alex Courtney "Drongo Plays the Drums" Electric Eel Fish Films








Drongo Plays the Drums is the first film made by Alex Courtney, aka Electric Eel Fish Films, to the music of Albert Hammond Jr - GfC. I know less than nothing about the creator save that I received the link via my increasingly active email. I normally like to relate something of the plot but there isn't one, other than a deceptively vacant fellow who bashes the living daylights out of his drum kit, though in perfect synchronisation with the music. A clever piece of work, good characterisation and a pleasantly raucous track. When Drongo thumps his foot down on the pedal drum you feel it.