Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Cédric Villain "Mon Chinois" ("My Chinese") (2009)

Writing the Animation Blog for three years now means that I can often name the animator for a piece of work before reading the credits. Not difficult this time! My Chinese is from the utterly distinctive Cédric Villain who brought us the devastating history of Napoleon (Portraits ratés à Sainte-Hélène ) a while back. This time he does the business on the Chinese by introducing us to Mon Chinois. It won the Best Short Animation award in in Brazil's Anima Mundi 2009 festival and was brought to my attention by Rodrigo Molinsky, whose YouTube channel provides the link above. Cédric adopts a similar approach to his earler work by creating a slide show presentation of simply animated illustrations, counterpoised by voice-overs in an understated, deadpan style that engages the audience with its wit and insight. He deals in stereotypes such as dominant facial features, their lack of height. His humour may be edgy but most of all it is thoroughly entertaining. My Chinese, he tells us, has a wife with tiny feet - wife falls over: My Chinese is a good mason - image of the great wall. The piece exudes charm, praising the nation for its discoveries, inventions, martial arts but does not shirk censure, albeit in a gentle manner, in the coverage of the Chinese diet (they eat dogs), the invasion of Tibet or the use of child labour. Pretty fabulous satire all round with an end result that is an impressive and impressed presentation of the Chinese people. Rodrigo kindly supplied me with a translation of the director's note of intent:
"I like Chinese. I like their tiny little trees, their zen, their ping-pong, their yin, and yang-ese..." (Eric Idle, 1970). The satire of the "Monty Python" is still valid as it seems to deny any subtlety and variety or simply look at a civilization so rich and extensive. During the Olympic Games in Beijing in August 2008, the media still were stuck on stereotypes China and the Chinese. This short film seeks to identify in a humorous way general stereotypes and archetypes associated with Chinese or Asian.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Malcolm Sutherland "The Astronomer's Dream" (2009)

Montreal's Malcolm Sutherland is one of the most innovative and talented of animators. His latest film, the whimsical The Astronomer's Dream, envelops the viewer in a space fantasy for all of its 11 minutes or so. The link is to Vimeo, with comments high on praise, entirely absent in explanation. So here goes. The astronomer falls asleep and obtains a solution to his problem. (Well the problems of astronomers are way beyond me let alone solutions.) An intricately drawn robot discovers an orbiting robot in its telescope. Excited he tears around his observatory, set in an odd little world, until he can capture the thing (her?). As so often happens with dreams the reality does not quite match the expectation and, following a swift transformation, the robot, much changed, is swallowed whole, a bitter pill causing exhilaration or consternation, it being hard to read robots. Like we humans he does not learn from his experience and the whole episode is much repeated. Symbiosis, symbolism or failed robot love story I'm not sure, but there is a cute conclusion that ties everything up rather philosophically. Leon Lo creates the music with some help from Louise Campbell's clarinet whilst Lucas Fehr produces the robot's voice. It all adds up to a surreal piece beautifully drawn with subdued greens and blues. As a boy I used to draw detailed robots and space craft entirely without the delicious comedy of the The Astronomer's Dream that is decidely unastronomer-like. Do robots fall in love, do astronomers dream equations? Malcolm's output is similarly amazing. And his films are very mixed in style. Visit his website, buy the DVD, or perhaps read my previous reviews of Malcolm's work using the blog' search function.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Osamu Tezuka "Push" (1987)

Driving through rough terrain in his armed jeep, the hero of Osamu Tezuka's classic Push feels in need of a cooling drink. No problem. A short halt at the appropriate giant automated dispensing machine, seemingly marooned in a desert but nevertheless capable of delivering the the goods. Thirst quenched for the moment at the press of a button, the driver moves on to ever bigger demands of the dispensing machines that themselves appear ever more grandiose. Clothes, car and pets are delivered with a buzz of the motors and out of the hatch. It is the machine that says, "Thank you very much." Never the man. He only has to hand over his old items in this ultimate disposable society in which nothing whatsoever is asked of mankind. Of course, thirsts are never truly quenched and eventually, striding through the pearly gates, our guy requests the ultimate of God, more an order really. Is God going to oblige? Made only two years before his death from stomach cancer, Osamu's vision of our world is not a happy one though it may be a true reflection. Indisputably one of the great animators. Required viewing. Next time a whole item is scrapped due to the failure of a minor component, think of this cartoon.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Kenny Frankland "Lion's Den" (The Nextmen, Ms Dynamite & Andy Cato)

It pays to fail to pay attention to essentials of a commission. I've messed up big time in exams that way, Kenny Frankland finds inspiration. Misreading the track he was to animate for The Nextmen, featuring the considerable vocal talents of Ms Dynamite, Kenny misread Lion’s Den as Lionel’s Den. This led to the idea behind Lion’s Den an anime inspired action movie in which animated versions of the duo, Dominic Betmead and Brad Ellis, Ms Dynamite and Andy Cato (Groove Armada) take on a suitably motley crew - though not as motley as those the animator created for All Hell Is Breaking Loose featured here a year or so ago. "I watched lots of Anime for inspiration and then came up with the story of them storming the wrong building." What one discovers in the music video is I suppose the usual mix of aerial kung fu, manipulation of swords and flashing lights, expertly done and interspersed with the band doing their thing whilst their alter egos destroy their opponents with some ease. I have to confess to a certain need for light relief in such warrior movies and Kenny provides it with the temptations of the take-away, problems with traffic wardens, his double yellow lines and the fact that the uniformed one turns green - I've suspected this of the breed for years. And, of course, there's the realisation that our heroes have beaten up the wrong guys and wrecked the joint. Kenny is a master of his art. Whilst the brash boasting of the lyrics dictates the general theme and style, the animator delivers a crisply drawn piece made in only five weeks with some help from Pat Davies, a friend of Kenny, who helped with the street and buildings. I'm always interested in the software and techniques so asked the question: "I produced the animation using 3DS MAX for modelling, animation and rendering, Photoshop for textures and then composited shots using After Effects. The final video was edited using Premiere Pro." I have remarked before about the work the music industry creates for animators. Five weeks is no time at all for an energetic piece of this quality. Give the stills a click and see what I mean. I guess the band were impressed with their computerised selves.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Return from the Italian Lakes

Italy's Lake Maggiore is lovely. Despite appearances this is not me and my wife disclaims ownership of the hand. Nor was it a visit of high culture at all unless meeting some of the most courteous, gracious people in the world counts. The villa may be mine or Richard Branson's, I can't quite remember other than it is on Lake Como. Animations tomorrow.

Friday, 7 August 2009

On Vacation

A rather surprising and extended vacation. Thanks for the emails. I will be back, tanned and enthusiastic as ever.