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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

David Gilbert & Maxim Lucas 'Three Times' (Giacomo Trivelli 2009)






Pressure of the day job and a very hot spell of weather mean that I have a backlog of material I want to write about and a shortage of time in which to do it. Such is life. First off is Three Times from David Gilbert and Maxim Lucas, the first commission for Plastic Horse. A mole clambering up the drainpipe to launch a vicious assault on your face suggests all is not right with the world. In the video a music producer is digitally mixing his music only to be somewhat rudely disturbed by a veritable army of creatures great and small. The excavating mole is joined by birds, dinosaur and even flying saucer in a deadly assault culminating in the beasts using ladders and massing outside the upstairs window. Hard to see why as the soundtrack is not half bad. The piece for emerging Canterbury producer Giacomo uses cardboard cut-outs and scenery, put together in After Effects, Flash and Final Cut. The end result is completely unlike Dave's Battery, such is the diversity allowed in animation. An enjoyable piece. It's not surprising that David has got his scissors out as tells me he is now working for director Andrew Gibbs whose work Florian I found to be almost perfect in its use of cut outs. David and Andrew (et al) are working on Butter Mouth, about which more as it progresses.

Monday, 29 June 2009

1st International Thermaikos Youth 2min Film Festival 2009








2nd INTERNATIONAL THERMAIKOS ≤2min FILM FESTIVAL 2009
“Ηigh Tension…”

Call for entries: Registration has started! Deadline: 25 September 2009. We challenge you to confront the challenge of 2 minutes…
We invite you to take part in the ‘High Tension’ 2nd edition of the International Thermaikos 2min Film Festival, organized by Thermaikos Municipality Cultural Centre in Thessaloniki, Greece. The Festival will take place in November 2009.

The first successful edition of the Festival in 2008, with more than 50 entries from 20 countries has inspired us with the will and motivation to further pursue this cultural project and work towards the promotion of novelty, creativity and modern approaches in the cinema field as well as the reinforcement of the local cultural capital.
Thermaikos Film Festival addresses professionals, as well as amateurs of film-making. Quintessence of the Festival is the duration limitation of 2 minutes. There is no restriction in the genre or technique of the films.

For further information, please check the Festival webpage:
www.thermaikosfilmfestival.gr

Thermaikos Municipality Cultural Centre,
Kountourioti 51, Neoi Epivates, 57019, Thessaloniki
Tel.& Fax: 23920-28.803
E-Mail: info@thermaikosfilmfestival.gr

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Fred Wolf "The Box" (1968)



Fred Wolf's animated short, The Box was awarded the Academy Award for best-animated short in 1968. With its percussion soundtrack by Shelly Manne, it is an altogether clever piece of work, the director confidently sketching out his diminutive bearded character in a minimalist setting then having the wit to engage one’s curiosity and delight throughout. What is in the box guarded so assiduously by its owner as he sits in a bar and deflects the attentions of fellow patrons of the establishment intent on gaining access? A traditionally drawn and humorous cartoon, of a type rarely seen today, starring a little guy, more beard than anything and yet still able to relinquish his raincoat and meet a like minded soul similarly clad. Watch the first girl flounce and pout - and still remember her glass. As I say, a delight and one of the few Oscar winners I have not seen.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Ma Kuang Pei "The Soliloquist" (2008)









The Soliloquist touchingly illustrates what I have been neglecting in China and, indeed, Taiwan. The movie dwells on the desperate emptiness of a young man following the break-up of a relationship. With all the delicacy of a Chinese watercolour the director, Ma Kuang Pei, traces the stages in the process as the protagonist moves home, but discovers the room to be wet and musty, the furniture old and heavy, memories too hard to bear. He receives a letter addressed to Michael, followed by further packages and letters for the same person. Reading them forces him into an assessment of who exactly this person is and in so doing, he rediscovers (or maybe reassigns) himself. Viewing the short with my class and one other member of staff I was in a minority of one in deciphering the ending, the final words and visual clues seeming to jar. The choice of images together with the sheer listlessness of their drifting in and out of shot is genuinely innovative and in keeping with the subject matter. There are so many imaginatively composed scenes, continuity being especially effective: the man saws a heart in two, pink blood trickles down to a book on which is drawn a set of keys onto which he leaps, extending a cartoon arm to open a door to trigger a draft on the next page and a black cloud of depression. The Soliloquist is an artistic, mature movie about self-deception and coping with loneliness. Born in 1981, Ma Kuang Pei graduated from Tainan National University of the Arts.

Caitlin Smith "The Best Places to Showcase Your Animations Online"

The Best Places to Showcase Your Animations Online
by Caitlin Smith, Guest Reviewer
Whether you’re a student wanting to show off a new skill or a experienced professional hoping to gain recognition and exposure for a particularly successful project, the web can be a great place to get your animations seen. If you aren’t sure where to upload your videos, you may want to try one of these sites to help get you on the way to more people seeing just what you can do.

Your own website: These days it’s hard to work in a creative field without having your own website to act as an online business card and portfolio. If you don’t already have your own site, perhaps now is the time to create one. Domains are relatively inexpensive and many tools and tutorials are available to those unfamiliar with web design. With your own site, you’ll not only be showcasing your work, but yourself as an animator as well.
YouTube: As one of the most widely used video storing and sharing sites, YouTube is the obvious choice. One of the best things about it is that it allows videos to be embedded in other sites like blogs, messageboards and more so that users can more easily share your work and spread your name.
Archive.org: The Internet Archive may seem like an unlikely place to house your videos but it actually offers reasonable storage plans. Even better, you’ll be putting your video in with great examples of animation, filmography and new media from around the world.
Graphic Tube: While the name of this site may give you pause, there’s nothing to worry about as content is based around the other kind of graphic. Here, users can share their experimentations with 3D modeling, video FX, animation and more, with a community of like-minded individuals.
DailyMotion: Another big online video site, DailyMotion has a whole channel just dedicated to more artistically inclined videos and animations. You’ll not only be able to post your own videos but watch those from others as well.
KartoonTv: Depending on the type of animations you make, this site may or may not be suited to your personal needs. It offers not only the ability to post short animations but also an online social networking tool for animators of all kinds.

With the web constantly growing and changing, there are new opportunities every day to get your animations out there and featured prominently on a site. After all, there’s no body better qualified to build your reputation than you.

This post was contributed by Caitlin Smith, who writes about the online university programs. She welcomes your feedback at caitlin.smith1117@gmail.com.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Julia Vickerman "Dealing With Women" (2006)












I write about a lot of schools of animation and have neglected the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Their Animation Gallery is an impressive site. Julia Vickerman graduated from there in 2006, Dealing With Women being her graduation piece (alternatively found at Atom Films.) Reminding me in many ways of Alex Salsberg's very funny A Men's Room Monologue, her film deals with one young boy's introduction to the feminine world, a jungle of misunderstandings and let-downs. Julia opens the sealed doors on what makes a woman tick, from girls who wear cut-off shorts and lip gloss, hanker after hair extensions, boob jobs, or boys who are better skaters than our boy and therefore a better catch. Based around a Halloween tour of the neighbourhood with attendant vocal, manipulative little sister and silent brother in tow, our bespectacled young man reminisces on his encounters and how they went indisputably wrong, none more spectacularly than when he proved to be more Clark Kent than Superman. Voices and dialogue are splendid, with Jordan Crompton as the boy, Kimmy Huemoeller the sister of one's nightmares, Victor Courtright the irritating girlfriend and a breathless Julia saving the best role for herself - the girl in search of her cloaked superman. The short made me laugh and reinforced my opinions of the opposite sex. I should have taken skating lessons. Julia has a natural cartoonists or comic talent as This Spine O’Mine will testify. She is presently employed as a Flash animator for interactive games and shorts at Big Time Attic in Minneapolis. She also worked on The Mexican Cloud-Swing Disaster, for Tom Schroeder, the subject of yesterday's post and also a professor at her university.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Tom Schroeder "The Yellow Bird" (2008)





The Yellow Bird was one of those movies screened at Sundance this year. It is set in eastern Montana at the time of World War 1 and based on Jay Orff's short story "Bear Paw", the writer being screenwriter here. The twelve minute movie commences with a young rancher accidentally shooting himself whilst his fellow workers attend to the fences. There follows a very long journey by horse drawn cart to Havre where he would receive medical attention. Leaking blood and moving between memory and fantasy, key moments of the protagonist's life are brought vividly to life: childhood accidents, boyhood sport, hunting for bounties, young love, elopement and intending fatherhood. Connections to the war in mainland Europe and the significance of the yellow bird, the title of the film and symbol unravel, the colour being of importance. The link is to mnartists.org a website supporting Minnesota artists and organisations though there is an alternative screening on YouTube. I wrote about Tom Schroeder's earlier work Bike Ride in 2007. The Yellow Bird is a more serious, substantial work, well drawn throughout, Tom enlisting the talents of animators Victor Courtright, Paul Danhauser and Lindsey Testolin. I like the pace of the movie, the movement of the cart rolling out slowly over a flat Montana landscape, the director lingering over such details as bumble bees on flowers with a constant fluctuation of focus, either heat haze or fever. Add to that a developing picture of the boy/man and a tension as life hangs by a thread, a tension sustained to the end in an ambiguous conclusion as salvation and past failings meet.



Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Alok Gandhi "Fiko's Coffee" (2008)






The Vancouver Film School provides a sound base for its animation students. 35 year old Alok Gandhi is one of their recent intake having had the benefit of two previous degrees in Mathematics and Engineering plus setting up his own restaurant and being the father to two boys. Alok arrived in Canada in 2007 and his college piece, Fiko's Coffee, reveals a talent with CGI and a sense of humour. A cheerful digital character is motivated to move from the screen into the real world by the temptation of a cup of coffee from a dispensing machine. Conventional enough storyline but well produced within a clear framework, from opening titles and a broad grin, right to the closing credits, all snappily presented with an upbeat, feel good factor.

Lucinda Clutterbuck "Tiga" (1989)












Researching a movie for the Animation Blog often throws into focus the paucity of original comment. For example the phrase “a stunning animation about the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger” is frequently used to introduce today’s movie Tiga. Tiger it was not, rather a dog that managed to survive on the island of Tasmania until the 1930s where its reported appetite for sheep and competition with other dogs led to untimely extinction. Just long enough within the 20th Century for some footage of the last recorded zoo specimen walking in that sadly repetitive manner of caged animals. Director Lucinda Clutterbuck includes rotoscoping in her evocation of the animal, from within its cage to a more romantic presence amidst the beautiful natural surroundings. Lucinda presents the animal in an ever changing array of colours, the tiger revelling in its natural element but seeming illusive and transitory even there. Voices of those who knew the animal in their youth or believe it still exists provide a wistful commentary over an uplifting soundtrack of exotic music. Lucinda's use of colour, light and shade is that of the true artist, whilst the movement of the animals and our travels through the landscape are stunning - there, I've used the word. Lucinda trained as an artist at Les Beaux Arts de Paris before subsequently taking up animation. She has made some twenty films. I recommend a visit to the website she shares with Ray Argall for their company Piccolo Films. She has latterly concentrated on her artwork with the examples being rather beautiful and certainly reminiscent of Tiga, her most recognised work. The following illustration however is by Rod Scott.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Che Hargreaves "El Ucayali" (2005)

I spent the weekend in Harringay, North London, a cosmopolitan area of a thousand nationalities and cultures. The house my daughter is hoping to buy had until last week been squatted by a group of South American students. On the walls were photographs and mementos of their homeland. El Ucayali reminds me of that though without the attendant mess and damage. A boy is awoken by his mother's song of the Ucayali river from her native Peru. The haunting song is from Marlene Flores-Echevarria, Jorge Alonso Bravo provides the narration and Che Hargreaves makes the animation in the manner of Caroline Leaf, drawing in sand over a light box.

Christopher Louie and Bill Barminski (Walter Robot) "Grapevine Fires" (Death Cab for Cutie 2009)









One of the few areas of employment for animators in a worldwide recession is the music video business. However, just about always time and budgets are constrained so quality can suffer. Today's animation is unusual in that it tells a story chronologically. Ben Gibbard, guitarist and vocalist for Death Cab for Cutie, wrote about his experiences of the 2007 Californian fire storms when lives were lost and property destroyed. Grapevine Fires is hand drawn, flat 2D and I guess reactions to the simplified style of it all may alienate some readers of the Animation Blog. Personally I like it, finding it highly suited to narrative mode as the fires develop and a young boy on his bike is directed by the family to discover the whereabouts of the young lovers, one of whom is lost to the inferno. The pace is compelling, an awakening sense of panic and helplessness, a storyline developed by the written snatches of dialogue and reference to wall mounted family photographs in a home threatened by the flames. I like the first hand perspective of it all, seen at ground level, often through the eyes of the young boy on his bike or seated in the family car or speeding towards the burning family home to retrieve a treasured possession. The piece was made by Christopher Louie and Bill Barminski, collectively Walter Robot. Their response to a first rate song is highly impressive.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Lucie Stamfestova "Titanic" (2006) & "The Fridge" (2007)












Czech animator Lucie Stamfestova was the subject of an earlier post I wrote on her 2004 short, Automat. That was largely stop motion. Titanic is entirely computer animated, bearing only token resemblance to the actual story of the doomed liner though one does witness the embarkation, ship's band, iceberg and bodies in the sea. Lucie's disaster is an optimistic recreation with a rescue. Noteworthy is that the Kate Winslet (silhouette) is joined by Leonardo DiCaprio Junior and Senior (silhouettes) on the bridge, thus reversing a blemish noted by many in the 1997 movie, or at the least my family at the time. Hurrah for that. The movie was funded by the European Social Fund and the Czech government, part of a project for Civic Inspiration, accounting for the inspirational manner of rescue in which a concerned citizen on dry land knits her way towards salvation. Stylised, off-beat humour. Such a good use of my taxes. A much more pessimistic ending is in store for those who are able to view the whole of her 2007 The Fridge - the link is sadly only to a short segment. Lucie is back to stop motion as a fridge door is left open with consequent global warming within the confines of the box. A metaphor! Cans, cakes and chickens sprout under the warmth of the light bulb. The end of the clip has the chickens enjoying the sun. Don't, as I have often warned, get too attached. ( I have seen the full movie at the time but the links no longer work!)






Friday, 19 June 2009

Gitanjali Rao "Blue"



There is little I can write on Blue save to link to director Gitanjali Rao and promise a short, charming piece in which a girl enjoys the cosmos with her cat. Once again, as in her Orange, Gitanjali's use of colour is ravishing and in a busy world it's nice to have a time-out slot.

"Le Building" Gobelins 2005










“I know an old lady who swallowed a fly” goes the song until she dies in the last verse. Le Building is in the same vein. The images tell it all. Monsieur is enjoying himself in the shower, singing at the top of his voice, Madame is hammering on the wall at the inconvenience. She need not have bothered as another problem is about to descend on her. The movie commences with a perfectly innocuous white cat that gets catapulted into a motorcyclist who disturbs a bus that attracts a crane … Not to mention naked girl in the shower and her radio. Conventional cartoon, exaggerated to great comic effect, exquisitely drawn, wonderfully animated: it could only be the Gobelins, this time from 2005: Marco Nguyen, Pierre Perifel, Xavier Ramoneda, Staphylea Olivier and Rémi Zaarour. Gosh they are good.





Thursday, 18 June 2009

Barry Purves

Reading reviews of books, as for hotels, is fun but not always to be taken overly seriously. Barry Purves is one of the UK's foremost exponents of stop motion animation, a man I greatly admire so much so that I have just ordered his book for my vacation reading: Stop Motion: Passion, Process and Performance. There are wildly diverging views in the Amazon Customer Reviews: "It reads like an unterrupted (sic) stream of consciousness from a washed-up old luvvie, who occasionally drags in friends and acquaintences (sic) to add a bit of interest and give the impression of a more rounded piece of work." (J. Burns) versus "Purves' writing is refreshingly personal and honest. He talks us through his colourful career in animation, giving an insightful insider's perspective. The book is unashamedly celebratory of the medium and features contributions from relevant names in the business adding further perspectives." I am still purchasing the book. Barry's marriage of theatre and animation, notably with Cosgrove Hall, is unusual. Which reminds me that one of my reviews still to be written is of Barry's 1989 Next concerning an audition for the bard in front of one of the UK's top directors. That's for next week. Do check out Barry's excellent website and thanks to Aaron Wood and Katie Steeds (Slurpy Studios) for the inspiration and reference. Their blog is occasional but always lively.

Bruno Bozzetto "Bolero" ("Allegro Non Troppo" 1976)


















Checking out Amazon today for a DVD of Bruno Bozzetto's 1976 Allegro Non Troppo I was delighted to find plenty in stock and at a good price. Years slip by so quickly it occurs that some readers of the blog may not know of the work. Bruno's six part classic is a parody of Disney’s Fantasia though as is often remarked, in many ways it beats the original. Parody also suggests imitation and this work is unique. I featured Bruno’s A Life in a Tin earlier in the week in which a man's life is mapped out humorously though with intent. In today’s sixteen minute section Bolero part 1 (Part 2) of the larger movie Bruno covers all of history, evolution itself, from first origins of life as goo oozing out of a Coca Cola bottle, to beings spawned in the ocean, dinosaurs, the ice age, the pyramids, Christianity, skyscrapers. All life as we know it on a remorseless trek forwards, save for the ape who cheats and murders on his journey, in strict time to the beat of Maurice Ravel's music. The use of colour is sumptuous throughout and, despite the satirical edge, there is undoubted beauty in the beasts of old progressing through storms, smoothly animated, drawn with zest and style, surmounting whatever obstacles nature can throw at them or pausing to marvel at the motorways of our modern civilisation; humour too as the animals bump into each other, urinate over the pyramids or run in terror from the sprouting skyscrapers. It is in the inexorable acquisition of less desirable skills by the ape that lies the hard edge. Unpleasant traits of character have the animal bashing heads of fellow animals for hides and shell, or revelling in the murderous havoc of fire. More than a glorious send-up, Fantasia has beauty and teeth, one of the all-time classic pieces of animation. Bruno tells me he is in Sardinia at the present. I'm as envious as it is possible to be but what a promotional shot and the original poster for the movie.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Karni and Saul "Float" (2009 Flogging Molly)









Annecy 09's award for best music video went to the Irish American band Flogging Molly's Float, made by Karni + Saul. (Alternatively via Motionographer - 96mb.) It is a balanced mix of CG, live action and stop frame in which a stick man, produced interestingly enough in Maya, makes a laborious journey from urban, industrial jungle where he was created through increasingly scenic surroundings towards the sea. The photography is artfully done whether it be of rain puddles, cracked pavements, discarded bottle tops or Exmoor ponies and coastal scenery. Against this gradually improving landscape is set the wire man, gradually accumulating accoutrements, both clothing and an assemblage of bric-a-brac, that is painstakingly hauled towards the ocean. The distinctive band with their Celtic mix of accordion, fiddle, tin pipes and the like romp along, their infectious optimism entirely suiting the positive direction of the animation and the components of the piece. A deserved winner in my opinion, something distinctive, uplifting and rather beautiful. Bristol based Karni + Saul have recently moved from Flynn, for whom Float was made, to Rokkit. More of their work and that of their new company shortly.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Fire-Eaters and Super











I get lots of mail and sadly am unable to accommodate all demands, from what was that film? to detailed professional advice - though I attempt to be polite and helpful. Two recent contacts have much to commend them though. First take a look at Fire-Eaters (my description), a short promotional piece for the amazing Cirque Berzerk. It concerns a tragic accident whilst in rehearsal. This sort of thing does not belong on an animation blog - but I'd like to thank Kathy anyway. Meanwhile Christophe Blanc (script and artwork) and Jean François Oliver (sound) have an unusual comic interface for their series of movies concerning the heroic adventures of clumsy Super who deals in justice (Super: je fais la justice). Enjoy exploring the site though my favourite is Le héros des héros in which Super (dressed in red to better disguise the blood) tangles with a drunken Batman and collapsed Spiderman.

Cordell Barker: Runaway Success at 2009 Annecy International Animated Film Festival (NFB)

NFB’s "RUNAWAY" AWARDED THE SPECIAL JURY’S PRIZE AT ANNECY INTERNATIONL ANIMATION FILM FESTIVAL

It is interesting that I have been dwelling on the work of Canada's NFB of late. The following is a modified press release and the link is to a trailer. I have previously featured two of Cordell Barker's movies here and in each case below the link is to my blog entry:



The National Film Board of Canada’s animated short, Runaway (trailer) by Oscar-nominated director, Cordell Barker, was honoured with the Jury's Special Award at the 2009 Annecy International Animated Film Festival on Saturday, June 13. Barker received this same honour in 2001 for his Oscar nominated animated short, Strange Invaders. Annecy International Animated Film Festival is wholly dedicated to animation and is the biggest and most recognized event of its kind in the world, often being referred to as the Cannes of animation.
What would happen if the world were a driverless train thundering recklessly over bumpy tracks? Cordell Barker's new short animation, the colourful Runaway, provides a caustic answer. Set to music by Benoît Charest (composer of the Triplets of Belleville) Runaway is Cordell's third animation film with the NFB. Born in Winnipeg, Cordell made his first film, the much-loved musical animation The Cat Came Back (1988), at the NFB. Voted one of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time, the film went on to win over 15 awards and honours, including an Academy Award nomination. His second film with the NFB, Strange Invaders (2002), garnered him a further 15 awards, including a second Oscar nomination. Runaway is produced by Derek Mazur for the NFB. In May, it was awarded the Petit Rail d'Or for Best Short Film in Cannes. Information and a special Making Of film are available via the links.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Bruno Bozzetto "A Life in a Tin" (1967)















It has been far too long since I featured a Bruno Bozzetto movie. He is after all one of the greatest of directors ( Mister Rossi + Allegro non troppo). One of his earliest works, A Life in a Tin is no mean achievement for in six minutes or so all of life is condensed into a tin. Bruno's point is that one is trapped in boxes from which there is no escape. There may be dreams, signified here by typically lush music from Franco Godi and colour, but monochrome life gets you in the end. And what are these boxes? Variously, school, home, factory, university, church and, finally that little plot of earth we call heaven where glorious colour reigns. With Guido Manuli as animator, the genius, and it is that, of Bruno is an ability to encapsulate big ideas in a humorous and deftly economical style, without at any stage becoming too pompous. A little guy pops his head out of a tin can promptly squashed flat by a big boot. After the credits watch the sun come up, a switch of perspective and it is the heavily laden stomach of our soon to be hero's mum, dad being a little guy who staggers under the weight of his much larger wife. After the birth of baby son, mother and child are whisked about like hot air balloons. Fatherhood is magic, at least in those first few rapturous moments. A few years down the track and our boy is laden down with the weight of school books, a pause to appreciate the wonders of life and mum is screaming at him and pointing at her watch. Black, white and lots of grey replace the colour. For all the humour one appreciates the point of the cartoon. Bruno's work always makes me feel good and makes me think. But mainly laugh. A genius.