Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Géza M. Tóth "Ikarosz" (1996)

Icarus is a sand animation telling the story of the man who dared to do what only the Gods and birds can. Set appropriately enough on a beach where the shells and fossils of the sea are wafted over by the sea, a figure is gradually revealed, intricately made up of a mosaic-like construction of cones, spirals, flotsam and jetson from the ocean. His attempt at flight is unsuccessful and Icarus falls down to the sea only for the remains to be washed clean by the waves, the hand a stark contour on the beach. The figure reforms and attempts to fly, to plummet to the rocks, to lie stricken, tragic and hauntingly beautiful on the shoreline. The photography from George Varda and exceptional music from Aurel Hollo make this a memorable graduation movie. The movement of the waves, footprints in the sand and bleached driftwood are evocative. Here Géza M. Tóth harnesses that eternal beauty, and immortalises man's struggle in his retelling of the ancient myth. The much travelled Géza has worked in a number of university departments in Europe and Asia. He came to prominence with his excellent Oscar nominated short, Maestro and is the founder of Hungary’s KEDD Animation Studio, whose website pays testimony to the talented collection of directors in the stable as well as a variety of work.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Selina Wagner "Bonnie’s Tale"

Bonnie’s Tale is a short campaigning animation made for Advocates for Animals. It highlights in a sentimental yet hard-hitting fashion the situation off the Scottish coast in which seals are slaughtered by the fishing industry for the damage they are perceived to do to fish stocks. Selina Wagner has a hand painted look to her work that captures the appeal of the animal well. The voice of Fiver himself, Watership Down's, Richard Briers narrates the sad tale. Visitors to the website (via the link) are asked to sign a petition, the arguments presented succinctly in The Scotsman. Selina has been highly praised by me before, her talents as an artist are formidable. Her website has her work available with a wide range, from promotional video for SMG Business Solutions to some technically correct, as in anatomical, work for Breast Cancer Care. There is also a chance to see some of her full movies if you have missed my whole-hearted recommendations over the years. Whatever, sign the petition.

Dan Grover and Matthew Beech "Static" (2009)

Static is another 3D piece from two students from the University of Hertfordshire, Dan Grover and Matthew Beech, with a rather suitably tense soundtrack from Jack Coventry who himself obtained his degree (Music Technology) from the same university. Dan and Matthew obtained 2nd place in the final year 3D category at the university's Animation Exposé. The plot is difficult to explain, owing as much to atmosphere generated as logical storyline. Essentially a guy returns to a rather decrepit apartment to discover all manner of weird things are occurring. Treading on a rubber squirrel has its repercussions as does the mousetrap that threatens to bite back. Not exactly a frightener, more unsettling as he tours the house in pursuit of I'm not sure what. The escape from it all photograph gives a clue and we do break away from the dingy confines of the real world for a spot of luxury. The settings are so real one can almost reach out and touch them, as a click on any of the HQ images here will testify. There is a texture to the floorboards, for example, that is tangible, though this clashes a tad with the guy himself who I would have liked to see rendered in line with the quite remarkable work elsewhere. Students at Herfordshire do obtain a thorough grounding though.

Monday, 28 September 2009

"The Princess and the Frog" - Disney promotion (2009)

Disney is releasing The Princess and the Frog on December 11th. If you are in the vicinity they currently have a special offer for discounted tickets to the exclusive screenings in Los Angeles and New York starting November 25th to December 13th. Each ticket gets one person into the screening, as well as access to The Ultimate Disney Experience, featuring all nine of the Disney princesses, fun games for the whole family, and much more! The Walt Disney Studios will also be hosting studio tours for Los Angeles ticket holders. For more information and to purchase tickets click here. You can either click on the "Exclusives" tab or go directly to this link. There are two videos for this promotion, New York version and Los Angeles version. (If Disney was the corporation I feel they should be they would fly my whole family out for the event!)

"Storm" Psyops (UPS Store 2009)

The brief from UPS Store for Psyops wasn't so difficult really. Four different worlds were to be created, epic in plot and visual grandeur, oh, and they had to have a hand made look, and oh they had to be made out of cardboard. Simple really. So here's the scenario for Storm, an ad that is sadly not aired here in the UK. A guy's at his desk when a tsunami approaches, smashing up building and city. Lucky for him, sturdy desk acts in lieu of raft so, swept into a towering ocean, he can use his laptop to summon up help from UPS helicopter. Rescuers dive into ocean. Hand guy book. Book used as propeller. Desk and man ride out giant wave. Skyscraper city in background, possibly submerged. Whale and dolphins. Delivery of parcel. There are three earlier movies from the series, West, Circus and Gladiator, the titles giving the various epic settings away. I wondered at first how the corrugation effect, such a part of the world, was achieved - it might conceivably have been stop motion and actual cardboard models. In fact the series is entirely CG using Maya. There are too many credits to give here but Eben Mears was Creative Director for Psyops, Jimmy Kollin performing a similar function for ad agency Doner. It leads me to consider the role of animation in advertising. Two leading animators, one from the States, one Europe, told me last week of the paucity of animation work in the industry at the moment. UPS have a mini movie series on their hands, entertaining, state of the art, something viewers will want to see again, memorable and getting the product message across in spades. Would a celebrity walk through have achieved the same effect?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Nicole Mitchell "Zoologic" (2007)

Sometimes a movie just hits the spot. To judge by the number of YouTube hits, Zoologic is one such. Hand drawn with an easy style and restrained colouring, the five minute piece is the work of California Institute of the Arts student, Nicole Mitchell. It concerns an overly fussy zookeeper who attempts to impose a conformity on the asymmetrical world of animals: creatures that are upside down are righted, birds on two legs wrestled onto one and the cutest of cute red babies, the apple of its gorilla mummy's eye, is unceremoniously dumped in the bin. With a clump. When the keeper picks on a diminutive penguin who dreams of Hawaii, the worms turn. The keeper has his own diminutive secrets revealed much to his embarrassment. In short, a very funny cartoon, Nicole having a cartoonist's eye for humour, sustaining the pace and timing of the cartoon throughout, exploiting the situation for all it is worth. So gratifying to see a bully exposed, his face the colour of a flamingo's plumage.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Zoya Kireeva "Foolish Girl" (2006)

The plot for an animation need not be of ground breaking significance to make an impact. Zoya Kireeva's delicately drawn piece Foolish Girl has the young heroine of the tale disrupting proceedings with a series of anti-social activities designed to mask her loneliness and attract a young fellow she has her eyes on. Her wooing of him commences with the playground swing where she launches into a series of bewildering and gravity defying gyrations. The need to draw attention to herself gets her into more trouble at lunch. Then there's the trick with the mouse. If the little lad had only reciprocated some love! The colours are as delicate as raindrops and the animation expertly achieved as Zova captures the very essence of childhood, not only in the movement but also the astutely observed behaviour and a gently understated humour. In a world where we do not actually see the adults' faces, children behave like real children, in their own world, watching as the girl is chastised, hoisting up their dresses, bouncing on the potty. There is one delightful scene as the girls are preening themselves and each other, when a girl enters, struggling to get arms and head into the correct holes in her dress. The moment it pops into place we cut to the solitary girl looking downcast, only for a globule of saliva to plop from her mouth into the palette of paint she has ready for her next trick. Foolish Girl possesses an elegance of technique and natural story-telling that I find most appealing. And haven't we all attempted some lousy courtship?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Frédéric Back "Tout-Rien" (All Nothing 1980)

Frédéric Back is one of the greats of the animation world. Two Academy Awards for Crac (1981) and L'Homme qui plantait des arbres (1987) together with nominations for Le fleuve aux grandes eaux (1994) and today's feature, the earlier Tout-Rien, testify to his talent. Tout-Rien (All Nothing) has been overshadowed by the later successful movies. Today's review is an attempt to redress the balance. A kindly deity creates the world, populating a paradise with creatures, introducing man and woman who are at first perfectly blended into that world before perfection is bespoiled by man's greed and anger as they turn against their Creator. There is a redemption at the close as Back envisages a more benevolent society. The creation and prelapsarian period is covered with sumptuous ease, the creatures exquisitely drawn and designed, like some priceless hand-painted wallpaper of old. The animation glides along with sinuous ease even as playfulness and humour is replaced by a savagery after the Fall. An escalating series of vignettes confirms man's destructive nature, whether it be in clubbing newborn seal cubs to death or leveling the forests to produce a torrent of consumer goods. The film masterfully presents Back's qualities, from the love of nature that permeates all his work, delicate coloured pencil on frosted cels and seamless animation. It is about that time of the year when I drop hints to the family about Christmas presents so if they loved me they would buy Les classiques de Frédéric Back - 4 DVD.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Izabela Plucinska "Jam Session" (2005)

In an apartment above a jazz club an aging couple, Theresa and Viktor, lie awake in bed listening to the noise below. He smokes, she counts, sleep eludes them. In the club, couples romance. A jazz band arrives, momentarily halting proceedings as they stand like some Mafia gang. Their music is sunny however. Above all this is a different, darker universe. The man reads his newspaper. She examines a cheery dress in the wardrobe, strips her nightclothes off. She remarks, almost to herself, that she is too fat. Her husband ignores her nakedness requesting a cup of tea. As the carnival continues, the couple are moved to attempt one last tango. I do enthuse about the animations I feature here but Jam Session is genuinely moving. Polish director Izabela Plucinska cleverly juxtaposes the mundanity of the couple's life with the far more joyous events occurring beneath their apartment in the jazz club. I say moving but this does not take into consideration the humour of the piece. If the screenshots have not informed you, the movie is claymation, the figures and set manufactured in an eerily expressive fashion. In Izabela's hands they come alive beautifully. One of the best gags I have seen in animation is here. The pair squeeze past each other attempting to enter/leave the bathroom. Each is blemished by the other's coloured placticine. Elsewhere the use of the material is exploited to the full. Newspapers, car headlights and, rather wonderfully, the snapshots of the couple in younger days are formed from clay, whilst the atmosphere Izabela generates by her sculpture and lighting, be it the gloom of the bedroom or gaiety of the club, is quite remarkable. The music, by the way, is by RAZ DWA TRZY, their placticine replicas gigging to perfection. Meanwhile, Izabela has just released her latest film, Esterhazy. It looks stunning in trailer. A graduate of the Academy of Arts in Lodz (Graphics and Design) and the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Izabela is another of those treasured folk from Slinky Pictures. The Jam Session DVD may be purchased in an attractive compilation: Best of Animation 1.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

David Mahler "All The Jokes Are On Me" (Firefly Effect 2009)

I'm overdue on the music video front so here's a new band, Firefly Effect from Norway, and an animator new to me, David Mahler. All The Jokes Are On Me represents four months of hard work, and some 1,640 hand drawn and water coloured frames. It follows the lyrics in that a rather pensive individual is brought out of his shell by the smiles and antics of his girl who dons false nose, generally exuding an air of cheeriness. There is one muscle in the human face for every week in the year and at times David captures the movements wonderfully well. I guess the drawings were based on snapshots strung together but whatever the technique the effect is quite different to rotoscoping, particularly given the refreshing use of colour as the video progresses. I found myself cheered by it all. Must be good because I'm a grumpy individual.

"Circus Zoetrope" (Temperley) Greg Brunkalla, Georgie Greville & Geremy Jasper (2009)

Circus Zoetrope is unusual and exceedingly stylish. We are in a projection room and focus on the partly illuminated, cylindrical surface of a zoetrope. The camera glides over the painted projector in loving manner. It is like some ancient fairground carousel, varnished and treasured as a family heirloom. Cogs whir, wheels turn and the showgirls parade for our delight and edification on the screen, their images also on the machine itself. A zoetrope is a rotating device designed to allow still images the illusion of movement. It may look like an antique but the zoetrope was specially made for a fashion house/ website not to mention the stop motion/ live action film itself. The video was directed by Greg Brunkalla, Georgie Greville and Geremy Jasper for Legs and their parent, Milk Studios whilst the machine was unveiled last week at New York's Fashion Week. The zoetrope is now in London in readiness for the city's Fashion Week. How it was created and the myriad credits - the ten tiered construction being a major engineering project in itself - is available here with an interactive web page set up for the clients Temperley where the girls bang their drums, crack their whips and other nice things. The guys who actually made the beast need a mention - Jeff Everett and Irfan Akdag. A truly classy piece then as befits a fashion house. I have included some stills from the set including Greg's original watercolour of the beast below. As ever, the limitations of Blogger's images are such that a click is needed to fully experience the delights. There is also a high quality download (42mb) available. All this and no mention of the music. The credits mention Pavov Stelar though it seems authentically vintage to me. It sort of keeps humming in my head.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sarah Van Den Boom "The Skeleton Woman" (La Femme-Squelette 2009)

I am often asked about my favourite animator. Impossible to answer to be honest but Sarah Van Den Boom is very much on the shortlist. Sarah is a natural artist and I am slightly in awe of her talent. I thought I should give a heads up for her new website and the trailer for her new film, The Skeleton Woman, due to be launched at the 23rd Leeds International Film Festival on 4th – 22nd November 2009. (Two heads up then.) Sarah's provides her own synopsis: "Tired and bored by her graceless daily life, a young housewife mourns her lost American lover and dreams of a better life, elsewhere. Inside her, the skeleton woman, hidden into the dark, is waiting to be saved." Intriguingly for me, Sarah's idea came from the Inuit tale of the same name, and featured in another memorable film, Norah Twomey's moving (and terrifying) From Darkness (viewed here). Back to Sarah. I am promised a copy of the film and will give my considered verdict at the time of the festival. In the meantime explore her site. Sarah's portraiture, for example, is as good as it gets.

Michael Stevenson "Pigeon Pilfer" (2008)

I’m a mug for the accordion and plasticine. Maybe not pigeons, though Michael Stevenson’s are cute if persistent. The problem is, like seagulls, if you feed one you feed them all. The stop motion Pigeon Pilfer is about one man's torment whilst eating lunch on what looks an idyllic seaside pier. Quintessential British seaside until I discover it was triggered by a real event in San Francisco. The film works because it is so well packaged. Cue accordion music, sky blue backdrop, a simple title font that works, curvy green bench, and our man eating what I understand to be a corn dog. He gently masticates with a rubbery jaw as in a sense it is. The slabs of brown clay etched out to resemble seasoned wood for the pier's flooring have a texture that is tangible, as are the pigeons, lining up to sample the culinary delights on offer: one can just imagine rolling them up in the hand, cutting the yellow pointed beaks, tiny feet. It's all very tactile and lovely. A student of San Francisco State University, Michael has photographed stages in the four month production process on his website. The movie has that persistent, warm humour that is such a pick-me-up. And I thought only Aardman could do this sort of thing.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Henry Selick "Moongirl" (2005)

Leon is night fishing on the bayou, catching fireflies in a jar under a big round orange moon - it's that kind of a film - when the light dims and he tells his pet chipmunk, "Somethin's up, Earl." Sure is - a massive catfish made out of the stars transports him, pet and inflatable, on a theme park ride to the moon where he teams up with a genuine Moongirl and giant protective cat. Mission? To reignite the moon (his jar of delights is important here) and help defend her from a pair of rascally Gargaloons. Children's fantasy then but I enjoyed it. I have read some criticisms of the movie along the lines of, it's ok for kids.... Well, so is Santa but it doesn't make him a bad person. Moongirl is a big studio production based on the Michael Berger book with a long credits list though I should mention Dan Casey who is responsible for the CG wizardry, Peter Chan the design and Courtney Booker the glistening colour that is such a feature of the movie. Oh, and director and writer Henry Selick who you might remember is known for his stop motion work on The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone. Not to mention the huge box CG office hit of the year, Coraline. So naturally enough in this commercial world, Moongirl features as a book and film DVD gift set. Back to the film. Carousels on the moon, a Heath Robinson contraption to control moonlight, pots of glue, varmints and a love story. The ending is good too. I'm one of nature's romantics and as girl and cat bound away over the stars at the close I have to confess to a lump in my throat. I'll have to get softer biscuits.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Laura Neuvonen "The Last Knit" (2005)

The Last Knit (Kutoja) is a movie I intended to feature well over a year ago but it somehow got lost in the ether. Laura Neuvonen' s tale of an obsessive knitter is compulsive viewing, edge of your seat job, or rather cliff. It is barely dawn and a lone knitter sets down her chair high on top of a cliff face. Her fingers get busy and ripples of coloured wool are set against the bare terrain looking for all the world like a mountain range. The lady is unable to stop knitting, even when the weight of her output pulls her ever nearer to the cliff edge. And when she needs it most she runs out of wool. A funny tale of compulsive disorder. Some folk eat, some diet, some write blogs. Just like that rooftop I was writing about the other day, the location is terrific with the director teasing out each nail clicking moment for all it is worth. Laura's character is a superb creation, her facial expression determined in her madness, clawing her way back from the brink, knitting needles utilised as fiercely as a pick axe on the Eiger. Laura works for Helsinki's Anima Vitae, who claim there have been over a million internet downloads of the movie. The link above is actually to a higher quality version.