Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Tom Senior "One Nice Family Photo"

I have been away for a few days. Just before I set off I contributed an article for Short of the Week. The guys there have a rather special site and I always think the articles I contribute look good there. Whatever the merits or otherwise of my hastily written piece the movie is very unusual and recommended.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Christopher Minos "Knight Fever" (2008)

In essence Knight Fever is very much the archetypal cartoon featuring a comic take on fire spouting dragon and rather dapper dragon slayer whose red nose seems more the result of the good life than his opponents' fiercest weapon. Director Christopher Minos' contemporary mix of 2D and 3D animation was completed last year and is due to be screened at the 2009 Los Angeles Short Film Festival that opened this past Thursday. The initial moments are fun as terrified peasants flee the burgeoning flames, screaming their anguish in the purest Scottish accent. They need their saviour who is enjoying a black and white version of witch tortures in his baronial home. The clamour outside spurs him to don his armoured kit and off he rides to do battle, leaving the televised witch burning to the cunning dragon who has sneaked in to watch. When lord and master returns battle threatens to ensue but the television is a real distraction for the traditional pursuits. It is a relief to get back to this style of animation narrative once in while where characters are larger than life, humour is sustained throughout and there's a warm conclusion. Disney as used to be and, in fact, where the director worked for a while. Oh, and it is classily made throughout as befits someone with 25 years in the business. Christopher took two of them, off and on, to complete the piece in between working as Animation Director at Toronto's Crush. Great cartoon music too from Scott Bucsis and the full credits are available via the alternative Vimeo link. Thanks to Shannon Stephaniuk for the nudge.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Illustrative Art Festival Berlin

An opportunity to move away from animation but for a very good cause: Illustrative is an international festival for contemporary illustration and graphic art, founded in Berlin 2006. After the previous festivals in Paris and Zurich were a great success, the Illustrative Art Festival Berlin will return to Berlin in 2009 for 17 days on October 15th. Please do have a look at their website. There you can see not only photos and press, but also the artists. The main exhibition is selected by the curator as well as an international Jury. Apart from that, everyone (artists, illustrators, graphic designers) who is interested in participating in the Festival will have the possibility to join the Call for 2009.

"Bill et Bob" Nicolas Fong (2008)

I've had a pig of a cold but not a swine. So to a funny use of Adobe Flash and After Effects in Bill et Bob directed by Nicolas Fong. Two red headed boys are born and separated, brought up in different worlds. Nature or nurture I think not but the boys take wildly different routes in their lives. Nicholas makes wild parallels, often using split screens as in the screenshots. Surgeon's scalpel or butcher's knife is one comparison or nice girl to take home versus nice boy. Hair colour remains the same though and, you will not be surprised, the two meet up.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Aaron Lampert "Dillon's Story" (2007)

I referred to Dillon's Story last week. Aaron Lampert features a young boy, Dillon, who provides his own account of a life starved of both love and food, who eventually finds a form of security though, as it is clear at the close, still has profound problems. The short was the first of five made as part of The Wrong Trainers, a CBBC Newsround Special. It gained, amongst other major awards, the Children's BAFTA Award 2007 (Factual category). The animation is nothing less than assured, the narration powerful. The boy's mother throws her kids periodic sweets instead of food and forces all three to sleep on a urine soaked bare mattress. Dillon steals, joins in anti-social antics of older children in order to survive, suffers the derision of other children because he smells, sits on top of a waste bin because, raised up, he feels safe, and loves sweets more than is good for him. Dillon's idea of a happy childhood is a mother who will give him a kiss before he goes to sleep. Aaran's animation is professional, broadly literal but imaginative with it: the boy is dwarfed by a huge box of chocolates, we see his hand dip into a purse from inside, his face is seen peering from the wrong side of the letter box, he sits alone by a cracked piggy bank as the young narrator informs us that he still steals. The move from animation to live footage at the close has the young boy crunching up sweet papers. A marvellous documentary really. Disturbing and uplifting both, because now there is hope for the young fellow. Aaron is another of the talented bunch over at Trunk Animation.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Takashi Murakami and Dominique Bloink "I Adore You" (Melpo Mene - 2008)

Two contrasting takes on the same song. I Adore You animated by Dominique Bloink from Blue-Chocolate Designs has a boy in search of a red haired girl, so he flies amongst clouds, sits by sharks and watches as flowers grow. In the stop motion piece Dominique used 2024 photos of his drawings at eight frames per second. A contrasting piece is by Japanese artist and animator Takashi Murakami whose I Adore You is very much computer animated anime as a little girl stands by a public entrance waiting for someone who does not turn up. So she texts the guilty person. When an inflated friend of much colour swallows the phone she leaps into an alternative world though, in a rather greyer world, the text does get through - to several different boys. You may recognise the music from the Volvo commercial.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Jonathan Harris "Hikikomori" (2008)

I do not subscribe to Twitter, Facebook, or indeed any of the social networking sites save for a token presence on YouTube to which I always intend to add movies but very rarely do. The Animation Blog takes up all my spare energies and when I seem to become preoccupied by it I have a family that tears me away from the computer. Hikikomori, to quote from the very talented Jonathan Harris, the director of the film of that name, "is a social condition prevalent in Japan, where young people, unable to cope with social and academic pressures, shut themselves in their rooms for months, even years on end." His movie concerns Yasuo Yamamoto's self imprisonment and the possibility that someone out there cares. Inhabiting a room at the top of an apartment block, Yasuo spends his time listlessly on a bed or at one of a number of computers spread around his room like a plague. He waits for the email that never comes. Jonathan reinforces this growing sense of isolation by tracing the gradual exclusion of natural light from the room by the simple expedient of sticky tape and black paper. When all light is banished Yasua receives something in his inbox and has to make a decision. Plaintive music by Jeon Migyun adds to a palpable sense of isolation. Jonathan obtained a first class degree from Kingston University and let me say his movie reveals not one jot of grade inflation - it has the highest production values and is a remarkably thoughtful piece of work, boldly drawn and smoothly animated throughout. It will make you think. As will Jonathan's blog or again here. Somewhere he describes himself as geek. He knows best. He does write extraordinarily well and has taken the time to visit the festivals and presents sometimes forceful but always astute and vividly written observations on other work or animators, including Richard Williams and Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure which I personally like but Jonathan found himself "unable to stomach more than 20 minutes." There's more .... steady............! I expect to hear and see much more of Jonathan's work.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Nicholas De Gorter "Piège en eau claire" (2009)

There is nothing whatsoever cute about these pink twins. Nicholas De Gorter graduated this year from Lyon's l'école Emile Cohl, Piège en eau claire being his distinctive final piece. Back to the twins. Well they want a nice shiny shark's tooth, brushed and polished in situ so to speak. Why they would want such an item heaven knows for they each sport a fine set of incisors. There's also the added complication of a huge brute of a doorman who thinks nothing of bashing an errant visitor to the aquarium. It's an unequal contest. Monstrous shark, monstrous bruiser versus two diminutive girls. For the twins have several weapons, most notably fiendish skills in electronics and I have never seen sweet wrappers used as weapons before. And wouldn't it be nice to see who could survive a scrap, brute or brute? I like the swagger in the use of colour, the flat figures, and the look of manic cruelty on the faces of two little girls. Where the idea came from is beyond me but it works.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Grigoris Leontiades "Dancing Jack" (2009)

Sometimes the screenshots say it all. I have written twice previously about Grigoris Leontiades of Trunk Animation, one of the UK’s brightest studios. Dancing Jack is a novel start to a proposed new series. Well, novel is not the best word. More a throwback to an earlier age of animation, a tribute to the Fleischer Brothers perhaps, complete with black and white, flickering images and a certain wackiness. Produced by Richard Barnett this is the start of a series. So why pay homage to an earlier age? I promise you that the short is not about some fake sense of history or nostalgia that just about everyone is too young to remember. It is intelligent and funny. Dancing Jack has fish on the mind and leaps into the sea wearing his hat on his diver's globe, which is just as well because the fish are wearing theirs. An octopus has a bright idea. Why not distract Jack by playing his piano. So he jumps off his stool and winds the mechanism for the music to commence, that dislodges the piano's covers to reveal a monkey jamming beneath, wearing a diver's helmet naturally. Fish, fish bone and Jack proceed to dance, Jack having a nice break dance routine. Grigoris has gone beyond pastiche to genuine innovation, all the charm of the original and a freshness of invention. Naturally enough, Grigoris is one of the most talented of guys and everything is crafted beautifully. Great sounds too by Aaron Lampert, a graduate of Kingston University and recipient of a Bafta for Dillon's Story in 2008. He makes the whole thing bounce along nicely. And the Fleischer Brothers? Try the rather rude In My Merry Oldsmobile (1932) - "You can go as far as you like with me in my merry oldsmobile." Great grandma was a great mover.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Sorrelle Dooley, Sean Downey & Chandra Farnsworth "Film School University" (2009)

I get emails and solicitations all the time. An invitation to write about material that is possibly too adult for the blog is a tender green shoot to a slug. So to Film School University, a cartoon (series) about the machinations of a group of young adults making their films. The adult bit is throughout though it commences with an 82 year old woman screening her movie about her cat, or pussy, triggering ribald comments from the assembled characters, one guy in particular and obnoxious with it. Truth to tell, if the movie were all like that I would not have viewed all fifteen minutes of sections one and two. It opens with a view of the busy college building and a statue erected showing the three creators, Sorrelle Dooley, Sean Downey & Chandra Farnsworth. Thereafter the adult references mostly reveal the characters' inadequacies, an empty headed girl claiming to be a classically trained lesbian (aka thespian, so there could be a difference) and other malapropisms: "Alas poor urine I knew him swell." or the obnoxious guy again choosing the subject of his sand animation as "sand and titties". In general adult references woven naturally into a narrative succeed, material that is rather self consciously added has its limitations. Film School University succeeds best when the dialogue reveals character types that we all know and love, or possibly not: naive, gross, nerd, shy, show-off, flirt, pretentious .... And this is why I thoroughly enjoyed the short - it's bursting with life. I'm sure there are students on the campus of The Evergreen State College not a million miles distant from the inhabitants of Film School University. The look of the movie is digital cutout, the faces relentlessly forward facing. This could become a touch tiring save for the excellent voices of the cast, a generally witty script, live action footage of the old lady's puss (Roosevelt), some curvy sand animation and even a movie within a movie. Reading the various blogs of those involved via the Slug on a Rug Production Blog, I was conscious of the tremendous camaraderie that exists in the production team. The sheer fun in film-making is what makes this such a fun movie. That and the teamwork in which the work seems to have been shared in a slick fashion.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Summer of Toons Competition

Fancy a copy of Toon Boom Studio? Or an opportunity to enter your animated movie for a competition? and Toon Boom have joined forces for a new summer competition running over 2 months:

"Animators can enter their film for review and receive a download copy of Toon Boom Studio. Each month will be judged by an expert panel - work will be seen by big wigs from top animation studios and a Channel 4 Commissioning Editor. This month our expert is Nigel Pay, Director of Academy Award winning Tandem Films. Films should have effective story-telling or a clear purpose combined with good quality animation - please get involved!"

Natalia Malgina "Zina's Walk" (2004)

Sometimes one is taken by surprise. YouTube is a vast resource and for those not blessed with Russian the bare details and title in a strange alphabet is off-putting. This is why I rely on a number of distinguished channels of which pavlovich74 is the most prolific and one of the very best (1721 subscribers and growing - though would that the videos were all translated!!!.) The surprise is just how good is Zina's Walk, a movie that does not require translation, an utterly beguiling tale of children; and adults too. A little boy and girl inhabit facing apartments, each seemingly supervised by grandparents, each having widely different attitudes to the winter play engaged in by a group of lovely kids who do their best to entice the pair down from their window perches. There's no holding back the girl who is desperate to join in the fun. Trouble is grandma has so much preparation to do. Grandpa is simply unable to entice the studious boy away from his book. The pair do get out eventually of course, the girl in a state of unconfined excitement that contrasts so markedly with grandma and boy. And naturally the pair are destined to travel together. Zina's Walk, a marvellous short, is based on the poetry of Zinaida Gippius of whom I know nothing but will endeavour to find something. The drawing and animation is of the finest quality, sentimental and child orientated one might suppose. Perhaps not. The subtleties of the action might just be lost on the young - the interminable time taken by the woman to apply her make-up, the rotating pursed lips in vivid crimson, the upwards hoist of her bra and contents prior to donning her coat, the return just before we close to an earlier little girl first encountered attempting to place a constantly falling carrot from the face of the snowman. Director Natalia Malgina is a director of Moscow's Argus Film Studios, a joint Russian/German company. First rate work, magic characterisation, great music and song, classy, funny, a treat.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Vancouver Film School "Growing Up" (2009)

I like being advised by children, even reciting words from Vincent Lui of Vancouver Film School's Writing for Film & Television program. Vincent leaves it to Jorge Estrada, Kasey Lum, Marisa Torres, and Alexander Badr from the school's VFS Digital Design program to animate Growing Up. "We all have these fears. Unfortunately they don't go away when they get older" and "The bigger you get the fewer places there are to hide." The script maybe sounds as if it were written for a child rather than being spontaneously spoken by one, but that's not a criticism. The movie succeeds due to the excellence of the script and a spectacularly natural voice of young Mikayla Faria who narrates the piece with confidence. It also works because the four animators give an overall cutout look for their world of childhood, a world in which the paraphernalia of adolescence piles in on the young person and a game machine of life spins round - maybe it's best to jump off into the clouds in search of the cookie jar. A charming piece all round, full of good advice. A must for the classroom.

Azam Kotadia "Rebirth" Vancouver Film School

A couple of films from the celebrated Vancouver Film School today. Azam Kotadia's Rebirth has a young farmer planting seeds inside huge raindrops, working his way through a list of creations. Tree and lion are take shape though the last item on the list occasions a few more problems for him, principally because he has run out of the seed. There are some sacrifices a man should not have to make. Azam used Toonboom Harmony, Adobe Photoshop and Premiere.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Adam Sacks & David Cowles "I Can Add" (2007)

A kid's birthday party today in one of London's splendid parks. (And Matilda only has to count to three.) So one for the kids. New York's Adam Sacks and David Cowles teach them to count and also speak Spanish in this jolly romp through the numerals: I Can Add. Music by They Might Be Giants, it is a music video for a TMBG children's CD/DVD called Here Come The 123s. A
HQ 21MB download is available from Adam's website.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Georges Schwizgebel "Les Jeune Fille Et Les Nuages" (2000)

Georges Schwizgebel is a particular delight. His work fuses music and art together quite wonderfully, surreal and witty, though most of all beautiful. Les Jeune Fille Et Les Nuages (The Young Girl and the Clouds) is a variation on the Cinderella story. The opening titles morph into thickly daubed, painted clouds and white birds created in the same style; from there to a beautiful young woman seated enigmatically in an pastoral landscape surrounded by the ever present white birds. We are transported into a different world, a spell cast upon us. The movie really is that bewitching. Two girls apply their makeup and one cleans the floor or sorts the lentils, aided by her feathered companions. Georges changes the speed of the movie. Doing her housework Cinderella moves at a rate of two frames per second, the film moving jerkily save for the white birds flocking in and out of the window. The orchestra plays and we gaze down at couples dancing beneath, the girls’ white dresses billowing out like the clouds, one of which forms itself into a garment discovered by the abandoned girl. As she dresses for the ball the frame rate picks up. There's a moment when Cinderella runs down the black and white steps of the ballroom in time to the music that is so well synchronised. Indeed, the music throughout is perfect -Fugue op35 no5 by Felix Mendelssohn performed on piano by Louis Schwizgebel. The acrylic and oil paint may be thickly applied onto cels but the texture in Georges' work and the economical manner in which the artist builds his scenes is masterful.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Jeff Scher "The Parade" (2009)

One of my regular pleasures is Jeff Scher's series, The Animated Life for The New York Times. It is largely predicable in form, the same technique, the same scintillating mix of a myriad flickering images, each frame subtly coloured, strange additions one hardly notices until the screen grab is made, life as we know it presented in a manner that perhaps we didn't. June 29th was The Parade, described by Jeff as, "A film celebrating the art of walking through crowded city streets, seemingly looking at nothing while seeing everything." He is a great writer too, his prose philosophical, wistful. The faces say it all. Captured in high speed rotoscope, saturated with colour that changes with the speed of thought, the people of New York go about their business immersed in worlds that are their own and yet ours. Shay Lynch, as always, contributes a great soundtrack.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Kara Nasdor-Jones "I Slept with Cookie Monster" (2008)

Today's animation was partly conceived as a therapeutic exercise for a young woman and mother involved in an abusive relationship and yet, as I Slept with Cookie Monster so well demonstrates, handles the subject with gritty realism tempered by some very funny moments. It commences in a florist's shop where Kara Nasdor-Jones meets her soon-to-be husband conveniently working next door, making cookies, hence the title. Using delicately hand drawn and coloured frames, Kara narrates the story herself, sparing little in her depiction of the violence and yet maintaining an almost jaunty sense of dark humour such as her explanation of how very soon into the relationship - and a baby - his physical and mental mistreatment of her led to the logical next step: marriage. The humour is best when dealing with her flights of fancy, his transformation by pregnancy or her wrestling with him in a ring. There is a very funny visual gag when she reveals how unscathed she is by the whole experience. In real life Kara found healing whilst at Boston's Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) and triumphed last year at the Ottawa International Animation Festival winning two awards for Best Undergraduate Animation and the Mytoons Grand Prize for Best Student Animation. A brave woman. Very talented too. Kara describes her method of working thus:
"The abuse sequences were animated in Flash [animation software] and then printed out. I painted over each of the prints with tissue paper and then painted each frame. Color was a lot of emotional significance to me as well. He had his own color scheme and so did I, but we both had touches of each other in the shaded areas of our bodies. Other parts were animated with pastel directly under the camera, which, for me, is a very involved process because I'll work for a five hour session and be completely caked in pastel."
The movie works in two ways. First, it has a positive social message. Second, it is well crafted and a damn fine movie.