Saturday, 31 October 2009

Hank Friedmann "Empty Houses" (Leerone 2009)

A welcome break in the Cumbrian mountains, where I grew up, and back for Halloween. Leerone is too attractive to don witch's gear and green teeth, certainly in public, but in her newly released video, Empty Houses, she wanders through a haunted house without once raising a scream. She returns to her Los Angeles director Hank Friedmann whose treatment of her Care For Some Whiskey I featured almost a year ago. Hank eschews the childhood figures of that video in favour of a more delicate transformation of house into haunted house. The mix of live action and subtle animation works well, Leerone appears as, I first thought, a young widow throwing flowers on the grave in a suitably remote graveside, overlooked by the house on the hill, grave stones askew, galaxies whirling overhead. Inside doors open by magic, portraits come alive and the moth leads us to the well where a marriage of the house's previous inhabitants is re-enacted. What I most like about the piece, other than a genuinely classy song, is the director and singer's restraint. I'm no great lover of Halloween having met youngsters whose concept of trick is more acute than treat (I was that boy) and I know that the track is no Halloween night only wonder, despite it being signalled to me (in my inbox) by Leerone as, "Very appropriate for Halloween as it takes place in a spirit-haunted mansion". There are no garish touches at all, whilst the haunted house cues are gestures in the direction of the genre rather than clichés. I'd not be frightened of a night in that house. Happy Halloween.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Alina Constantin "Shrug" (2009)

Shrug by Alina Constantin is an unusually gentle film in which a race of shore/cave dwellers go about their business even as the oceans rise steadily upwards and they are forced to climb ever higher to survive. When the pressures become too great for the featured family they adapt in a manner that is a breeze in a world of animation. If the subject matter is allowed to develop at an easy pace - no raging storms here - the water colour, washed out look (After Effects) of the coastland and the people themselves is equally gentle on the eye, allied to a soundtrack from Birgit Berg that I might just use, alongside the sound of the sea, to lull myself into a happy state on a bad day. Alina has an international background having originally attended school in the USA and Paris, taken a Diploma in Animation at ESAAT Robaix, then from there to Norway's Høgskulen i Volda for a Bachelor in Animation, for which Shrug was her graduation film. She is also a Belgian national and resides in France. I always add a label for the post stating the nationality of the animator. Difficult here.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Michael Sormann "Bunny Situation" (2007)

I need to feature more 3D and today's short is a cracker from Austrian animator Michael Sormann whose movie in his Theme Planet series Bunny Situation (85mb) has the big movie feel but was essentially created by Michael himself using Autodesk Maya. There is more than a modicum of support from composer and fellow countryman, David Brandstätter, whose soundtrack is in keeping with that big movie feel. Two workmen toil with broomsticks on an otherwise high tech, dedicated theme planet. Meanwhile in the top secret laboratory a mad scientist stamps out zombie type workers on his Smart-o-Matic assembly line. A little bunny might well have been squashed but for a malfunction. Cue a swift escape and a madcap chase by scientist and some smart interventions by our two workers, a pig and an elephant. It's all an excuse for harum scarum antics on the vast network of roller coasters and their like in an impressively realised fairground world before the scientist gets to sample his own wares. Michael's vision of a world of attractions is a novel one though I do seem to remember the inhabitants of Star Trek in the early television days visiting such a place albeit as much a product of second rate set and coloured lighting as anything. Theme Planet is a substantial piece with all the charm of Transformers, a genuine humorous streak and a hint of steampunk. One man creates his own world of wonder. Very impressive. The link, by the way, is to a weighty download. The director's website has other viewing possibilities.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Rebecca Sugar "Singles" (2009)

Given the popularity of comics in the printed media it is still not as common as one might imagine to view animations displaying the form’s traditional virtues. Rebecca Sugar is one animator who works in this manner, as evidenced in her thesis film Singles (Cartoon Brew) from New York’s School of Visual Arts . She is a rare individual possessing a sublime drawing talent. Singles has a central character with similarities to Homer Simpson save that he has a miniature version of himself embedded inside his chest within a room that mirrors his own room. When he sets about assembling lunch, two slices of bread liberally squirted with the processed cheese "Singles", the room begins to play tricks as does the hand that appears moving him around like some player in his own show. Seeing actions magnified on a giant screen that revolves to match the movements of the guy is disconcerting and it is this play with reality that is the feature of the piece. The animation forms part of a trilogy (Metamorphosis from Mikhail Shraga and Peyton Skyler's Cat). Just one quotation from Rebecca that I liked concerning her film: "I asked my advisor Don Poynter about it, and he said, “But you have only one character, and ‘Singles’ is plural.” I said, “Oh, but he IS plural!” Last Spring Rebecca invited friends to sleep in her bed so she could paint a portrait of them with quick drying acrylic. Her Sleep series is some project.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

George Ungar "The Wanderer L'Étranger" (1988)

Scratching out black paint directly under the camera to obtain movement would not succeed in every instance of animation but in George Ungar’s lithograph-like The Wanderer L'Étranger the medium is exactly right for this tale of devilish intervention in the affairs of man. The director quickly establishes a harmonious community in which children play, stallholders trade and the fields are ploughed by moonlight. Into the village arrives a mysterious stranger whose largesse and magic offer riches undreamt of by the inhabitants. A table is transformed into a lavish banquet, a simple village girl becomes an exotic beauty, and a young boy has his broom turned into a musket. The shadow of the stranger falls heavily on the people. When he leaves the apple is well and truly rotten, paradise is no more. The movie is heavy on symbolism. The arrival of the stranger into the bar, a discarded scythe, damaged church roof, dead bodies, close-ups of faces transformed. Using as a device the raven wheeling over the fields we see the devastation wrought by the devil though all the damage is self-inflicted. The serpent did not bite the apple. In the hands of such a skilled artist the movement is sinuous a times. One is manipulated around and through characters with a remarkable dexterity. At other moments action is frozen into vignettes of significance. There is nothing whatsoever new in this oldest of stories but one gasps in admiration at a bravura performance from the director and artist.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Ondrej Svadlena "Sanitkasan" (2007)

I’m a bit wary of presenting explanations of films I don’t understand. "Sanitkasan is a stridently contemporary story about the self-destroying mechanical character and pathological voraciousness not only of cyber civilisation but of our society in general. It transgresses extensively the established forms and is an entrance to the true world of animation (Petr Zvonicek) As is the way with the internet, the same words are available on a host of sites masking, rather than clarifying the film. However my own explanation will not be any clearer. Sanitkasan by Czech film-maker Ondrej Svadlena is a 3D romp through the inner universe of what might be blood vessels in which beings are created, fed and exist in obese form watching television and eating pink blancmange stuffed through an orifice unless on a video screen they can discern a rather more tasty lunch, necessitating clambering along intestinal tubes before leaping from tall buildings, through membrane walls and levitating towards the arterial walls that sustains life. Much clearer then. Personally I immersed myself in the sheer weirdness of the world of transparent emergency vehicles on a terrain that could as well be magnified skin as the moon and marvelled at a credit to Michal Barta for Fluids and Jelly. Ondrej has enjoyed a much travelled life in Austria, Canada, Germany and the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Belgium. He then studied for his masters at the Academy of Art, Design and Architecture in Prague where the great Jiri Barta was his tutor. He now works for the city's Avion Film. A digestive treat though I'm choosing an easier film tomorrow.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Shynola "Strawberry Swing" (Coldplay 2009)

I sent off what has turned out to be today's review to Andrew Allen at Short of the Week. He'd already posted a review from Jason Sondhi here when I was on my hols.

Last week at the UK Music Video Awards Strawberry Swing gained an impressive three category wins, including the coveted Video of the Year. Downloaded already by nearly one million YouTube browsers, the fact that it is the latest official video for Coldplay helps of course. But we focus on the movies here. A mix of stop motion and live action, the video features the lead singer cast in the role as super hero intent on saving a drowning lady. Off he leaps into the air in a desperate attempt to save the day, beating biplane, hitch-hiking clouds, using his umbrella both to fend off missiles from a dastardly giant squirrel as well as elude the attentions of an equally massive catfish. Add a spot of leaping off high buildings as any self-respecting superhero should and you have the idea. Strawberry Swing was produced by Shynola a London based studio formed by four graduates from The Kent Institute of Art and Design. Chris Harding, Richard Kenworthy and Jason Groves spent three months making the piece, a long time for a music video when time is of the essence. Chris Martin in the role of caped rescuer enters into the spirit of the piece, twisting like an acrobat. The star however is the technique, chalk drawings painstakingly animated as backdrop or accompanying character, like squirrel or distressed damsel. The directors inventively fill the four minutes or so with wit and incident. The chalk girl and superstar singer make a fine pair as they fly, James Bond style, from the bushy tailed rodent having given him an explosive present. A final sad note. The directors made this only months after the sudden death almost exactly a year ago of their co-director, Gideon Baws, the fourth founding member of the team. He was only 33 and loved by those who worked with him.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Anthony F. Schepperd "Wail To God" (Ape School 2009)

Philadelphia based Anthony F. Schepperd has created a Flash animation to savour in Wail To God a music video for Ape School. To say it is unrestrained is an understatement as ape boy lusts after the ladies with a fervour that eats him up. A gentle cuffing from the cops is no deterrent. As has been noted in various reviews already, Anthony is decidedly in the Bill Plympton school of elasticity as faces are stretched to toffee though I doubt if Bill used the palette quite so explosively or liberally as here. The comic book, psychedelic trip is fabulous from the moment our commuter lurches to a halt and lets his demons out in spectacular fashion; logging on to Vimeo and their HD Channel it was as if the piece were a personal ad for the channel, let alone the band. How lucky they were to have such an extravagant promotion for an undoubtedly fine song that will find its way to my iPod along with yesterday's offering. And for those boob lovers out there, prepare to be submerged in a mountain of the things. Or rather, mountains.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Alasdair Brotherston & Jock Mooney "Bottom of the River" (Tom Fun Orchestra 2009)

Bottom of the River: it is an evening to savour, dusk by the river, owl overhead, birds still feeding over the water. Into this idyll arrives a dumper truck, warning siren blasting out, reversing along a jetty and disgorging its cargo of effluence into the river. Whilst the junk sinks to the bottom, the driver has a smoke and attention is focused on the waste bags that sprout mouths and sing. I like the music of Canada’s Tom Fun Orchestra: “We are all at the bottom of the river/We stare up/ at the leaves floating by.” The lyrics do not in themselves speak of environmental vandalism, it being the directors' innovation that elevates both video and song. The track is an insistent chorus, an urgent chant, and as the bags mournfully mouth the words somehow they speak of all nature suffering man's destructiveness, at the mercy of the tide to wash them to that larger ocean sump. All this and no mention of the outstanding stylistic feature of the piece, the fact that it is entirely rendered in silhouette echoing the style of Lotte Reiniger's 1926 movie, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, an image from which is below. The backgrounds to the 2D/3D mix were hand painted on acetate to lend a degree of murk. Indeed there is no light in the movie, the truck pulling away from the river, empty now of its rusting scissors, dead cats and shoes sufficient to grace a few more wardrobes of Imelda Marcos. Two graduates of Edinburgh College of Art, Alasdair Brotherston and Jock Mooney are the latest recruits to one of the most imaginative of the UK studios, Trunk Animation, where they join colleagues of the calibre of Siri Melchior, Steve Smith, Layla Atkinson and Grigoris Leontiades – all of whom have been featured here with an article on Layla to follow! The pair's very moving work was in the running for best animation in a video at Tuesday's UK Music Video Award though in the event that accolade was achieved by Shynola for Coldplay's Strawberry Spring, the video gaining the Video Of The Year award. Almost a million hits on YouTube, so I'd better take a look at the weekend. Before that you might like to try Throw Me To The Rats an earlier video Alasdair and Jock made for Tom Fun Orchestra in an entirely different style.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Valentin Karavayev "Mumu" (1987)

Lovers of a good story will surely fall for Mumu (and Part 2). Gerasim is a giant, mute porter whose passion is for the faded beauty, Tatiana. Unfortunately the tyrannical widow for whom he works forces the woman to marry the drunkard Kapiton Klimov in the mistaken belief that she would achieve his redemption. No such transformation occurs and she is sent off to distant lands, leaving Gerasim broken hearted. He finds consolation when he saves the puppy Mumu from drowning and forges a relationship to fill the void left by Tatiana. When the widow takes an initial shine to the puppy, the brute promptly bites her and Gerasim suffers another loss. Based on Ivan Turgenev's story, this is masterly stuff from director Valentin Karavayev. He uses cut-outs and all the considerable resources of the Soyuzmultfilm studio whose work fascinates me. The studio connection guarantees exquisitely drawn images from a veritable army of artists and animators, plus blissful music from Alexander Mikhailovich Raskatov. For the Soviets, a tale of a domestic dictator who shows no redeeming features is as much manna as Mumu; for the rest of us it shows a studio at the height of its powers, a golden age of animation the like of which we shall see no more. There are so many scenes to relish - where the whole house is agitated because the mistress has had a sleepless night, or Gerasim floating off into the gloom. I could equally enthuse about the atmospheric backgrounds. Maybe I'll just revel in the consummate use of cut-outs.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Ben Harper & Sean Mullen "Blip" (2008)

The Irish School of Animation at Ballyfermot College of Further Education has so far not featured on the Animation Blog. So here is Blip, a struggle between the reds and the blues. Red has most everything to himself on his colourful planet. A beamed down Alien, he proceeds to zap everything to his colour, only pausing for thought when objects appear that are blue - some interloper is undoing his good work (or her good work, the animation not exploring that particular territory). A bit of zapping and counter zapping occurs before a compromise is found that I should have seen coming and didn’t. Ben Harper and Sean Mullen present a world of rounded or angular colour, their 3D creations more blob than chiselled out characters and yet, in their hands, the personality shines through, the look of consternation on red blob’s face as he realises he has competition, the panic of blue blob as he frantically charges round zapping everything in sight chased by his correcting foe, the grand shoot-out. I like the digital landscape in which everything is set and, a vital feature in film-making, the pace and timing. Good to see that so many viewers of Vimeo have enjoyed it all. I understand that the pair are hoping to develop the characters in a series for children.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

"Manicure" (2005), "Such Great Heights" (2009) & "Second Wind (2008) CalArts

Three enjoyable films today from the California Institute of the Arts, one being particularly praiseworthy. Manicure was made in 2005 by Young-Sun Kim. When a little girl’s teddy bear is injured her mummy rectifies the situation with needle and thread. The incident impresses the girl and, in an attempt to emulate mum, she applies red nail varnish to be transported to a fantasy world where she gets to dress as a grown up and meet her toys on equal terms. Pleasing hand drawing with delicate colouring are the features here, though more could have been made of a child's journey into adulthood. A fantasy world also awaits Camilla in Such Great Heights as she braves the play area's climbing frame that towers above her like something sprouted from a magic bean, except this time vertigo is more of an issue than descending giant. The promising Ryan Shaw thus provides more bite in his movie, using the music of Jerry Goldsmith and mix by Brad Craig to generate tension and explore his character's fears. Different director, different style, both pieces reveal just how central is character drawing in CalArts animation.
But for a film to truly extend the fantasy experience the pick of this arbitrary crop is undoubtedly Second Wind directed by Ian Worrel with an evocative, Celtic soundtrack from James Mark that cements this alternative world. A buddy movie to an extent, a giant cat watches over a bearded little man with much affection and a touch of jealousy as a football-playing firefly/ flying figure appears to be stealing his attention. Whereas I felt the two previous directors could have taken their creations further, Ian's imaginatively located piece, in which the guy sprouts wings that from some angles look remarkably Crucifix-like, possesses satisfying depth and structure, the wooden wings appearing to offer something eternal. The characters too are well realised. I wish to know more about the windmill, giant cat and miniscule man, whilst the creation of a milieu where life might be extended by wooden wings is a novel concept.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Galina Shakitskaya "Night on Bald Mountain" (1998)

The nearest comparison I might make to today's movie, Night on Bald Mountain, is the Disney classic, Fantasia. Director Galina Shakitskaya uses the music of Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky to support a fantasy in which a girl and lamb are transported into the heavens (the mountain) to cavort with the black horses, assorted nymphs and devils all assembled for a spot of mischief. Not that anything dreadful happens, the ghouls providing an opportunity for spectacular parades across the skies. Whereas the devil does appear the overall lightness of touch as the child weaves in and out of parading citizens of Mordor or cavorts with the spirits overrides any dark undertones. The movie has received little exposure other than via YouTuber and Canadian blogger niffiwan. Even judged by its contemporaries it failed to obtain reward - 4th Open Russian Festival of Animated Film. I viewed it primarily out of curiosity, the YouTube link suggesting it was one of a dying breed from the once great Soyuzmultfilm studio. What I discover is a stirring film, with the music I find so recognisable envigorating the dazzling skyscapes as clouds morph into wondrous beings, dark horses, manes flailing, trek through the heavens, white fluffy characters gleeful in their flight ride atop a collection of birds and beasts, or a huge benign woman wraps up her charge on a floating cloud for a bed. I just wonder how this might have been judged if it had emerged from one of the western studios. I also lament the demise of the great Soviet studio that gave us so much.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Virgilio Villoresi "Una Giornata Perfetta" (Vinicio Capossela 2009)

Una Giornata Perfetta (A Perfect Day) is a stop motion/ rotoscope music video for singer Vinicio Capossela. It will appeal to lovers of a good old sing-a-long delivered in relaxed fashion by the bearded singer, who performs his gentle shuffles on a sheet of white paper within a set comprising the bric-à-brac of a life forty years or so ago. The following list gives a taste of the era being evoked: a “Music for Pleasure” 78 playing on the Zaffiro record player, the Alpha typewriter in similar colours of toned down lime green and cream, gingham patterned tablecloth, leather bound photograph album, polished shoes one might almost smell, hand spray for eau de cologne, lipstick-red hat box, record collections, coffee cups with smiles stuck on, formica coffee tables … and some Russian Doll type men in bowler hats and cocktail stick umbrellas. Not to mention flick books and 3D folding pop-up books. It is a short to bring a gentle smile to your face. All adroitly animated with wit and an absolute grasp of state of the art techniques to make the old time pieces swing. It is all the work of Virgilio Villoresi who seems to have had a lot of influences from experimental cinema to Jan Lenica. And the meaning of the song? "It's a perfect day to walk the streets without haste/ Listening to Vic Damone on the radio..." And Vic Damone? Not certain, but the first of the record covers might just feature him. All cast with the brown hue of tobacco or coffee. Thank you Livia for the recommendation.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Reza Dolatabadi "Khoda" (2008)

Khoda was directed by Reza Dolatabadi for his graduation film as a student at the University of Dundee. He enlisted the help of Adam Thomson for the 3D work and Hamed Mafakheri's electronic soundtrack. Commencing with a flight across country the film settles on a young man looking skywards. Into the head via the eyeball one is in the realms of nightmare as our man prowls around his prison cell, gazing in despair at the measly light from the barred window, scrabbling around in the murk before a flight of fancy takes him back as an older, haunted adult to the countryside of his youth. There follow memories of torture, flight and a sad existence in some anonymous high rise apartment and a reflection that seems lost. As to the significance, I'm lost. I read Reza's explanation: "What if you watch a film and whenever you pause it, you see a painting?" Nope. Still none the wiser. Alienation, aging or incarceration itself I can understand. However what I miss in terms of overall meaning is more than compensated for by the compelling pace of it all and some exceptional figure drawings (6000 over two years) brought into further prominence by software filters that lend a classical look. Reza was born in Tehran in 1985, studied at Soureh School of Art in the same city, gravitating to Edinburgh College of Art to get a BA in Illustration. He moved thereafter into animation at the University of Dundee, Khoda being his graduation piece in 2008. Mark Szalos Farkas was co-writer. Adam, whose website the link is to, graduated from Dundee (the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design to be precise) in 2006 with a degree in Animation and Electronic Media. It's interesting reading reviews. If something can't be explained it is called surreal. I've used the ruse myself and here, I think, the term is justified.