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Friday, 30 April 2010

David Prosser "Clockwork" (2009)

To very nearly quote JB Priestley, The Inspectors Called, so I have been preoccupied with my work - and there was a great deal of it - too dog tired to think about anything else, like the father in Clockwork. From chalk face to coal face, here is a very accomplished work from second year RCA student, David Prosser. Set in a mining community, a young boy waits and waits for his dad to arrive from the pit. Amongst the dark terraced houses the miners return, the boy’s seemingly huge father amongst them. Tea is served, dad exhausted and silent at the table as son looks on. A mechanical rowing man is wound up and set on its journey past the adult whose eyes register nothing of toy or child. Life follows a dreary cycle, dad toiling away at the coal seam, taking a bath, body dwarfing the tub, toy chugging past, unnoticed, to join a collection of mechanical travellers making their way along the rows of identical houses. David made the film last year, a mix of hand drawn 2D and 3D scenes rendered in AfterEffects, all composed in monochrome, enlivened by imaginative compositions, the transition of scenes being particularly dextrous. The director is a genuine artist, the film soaked in period atmosphere, sense of place established with a quirky visual style, from round shouldered miner to rowing toy-man in boater, the use of incidental sound effects instead of musical soundtrack adding to it all. This is not a personal blog but I confess something of the relationship between father and son strikes a chord in my own childhood. I look forward to seeing David’s thesis film for his MA, presently being completed. Clockwork won the 2009 Adobe Design Achievement Awards in Beijing. David has an enviable talent.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Lesley Keen & Keith Hawley "Heart to Heart" (2010)

A most gifted and experienced animator and designer, Lesley Keen has twenty five years in the business. For years I have used her short, The Invitation, with my classes. It is a joyous, fresh piece of work, made in cooperation with musician Keith Hawley, music and animation in perfect harmony. The pair has cooperated once again with their just released Heart to Heart, the link being to Lesley’s new website Total Immersion. The three minute piece is an initially hand drawn love story, the spare quality of which might be judged by the image above. As sad boy and girl exchange hearts, suffering the angst attendant on such matters, love’s lows and highs, moving from dark clouds to rainbows and smiles, the bespoke music accentuates the changing moods. Keith’s composition is initially less melodious than in The Invitation, more obviously synthesized, heavy with the weight of all the gloom, but with a glimmer of optimism even here. Watch though as the tone lightens, the melody imposes itself to match the lyrical beauty of the figures dancing at times with the beauty of an Erica Russell choreography, and always with Lesley’s eye for colour and design. Those who value genuine drawing ability - and I get a few comments to that effect - will greatly enjoy the three minute or so film; those who appreciate a composer’s skill will also revel in the art behind the music. I should add that in order to fully appreciate the piece on a full screen I had to download the film using one of those nefarious bits of software I can scarcely do without. Keith’s soundcard blew up in production so the final film – this is a highly compressed form suitable for streaming - has a smoother, richer sound and, as for the visuals, as I say, judge the final quality by the illustration above. The images below show the process.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

"Mon(s)tre" Geoffroi Ridel, Daphné Parrot, Yann Poyac, Charles Schneck & Anthony Le Saoût (2009)

Mon(s)tre (Monster-Clock), an excellent film in its own right but it is another of those shorts where the music stands out. A young girl plays with a rather complex time piece that, once broken, transports her to an alternative world where she is chased by a 2D time monster. Science fiction writers the world over have featured the dangers of time travel. One of my favourite television programmes, still, is Doctor Who (and his Tardis.) The time machine in this instance is a finely made and complex timepiece with polished brass cogs, wheels and light emanating from it. (All the best transportation vehicles capable of sailing through the years have light in abundance.) The short was made in 2009 by Geoffroi Ridel, Daphné Parrot, Yann Poyac, Charles Schneck and Anthony Le Saoût, five students from the Lissa in Paris. There is a most interesting making of video available, taking one through the processes of 2 and 3D animation, from initial designs and graphics tablet to the music being played to the screen by pianist and composer, Joséphine Stephenson together with flautist, Liselotte Schrike. Outstanding musicians, together they create a dreamy soundtrack that perfectly complements the atmospheric world of the film. I have often commented on how lucky is the animator with talented musicians to support their work. I shall be featuring a new collaborative venture between composer and animator tomorrow.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Carlos Saldanha "Time For Love" (1993)

Hot volcanoes caused me some problems this week but deadlines that had to be met rather more. Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha is one of the biggest commercial directors around with films like the Ice Age trilogy, Robots and Gone Nutty, his latest, Rio, presently in production. However it is his second animated film, Time For Love, that concerns us today. The short is not what I expected. Locked in a prescribed journey, within a little hamlet of cuckoo clocks, boy and girl meet on the hour, not quite every hour, each emerging from their little door to greet each other with a chaste kiss. Watched over by bird, elderly neighbours and red headed temptress the pair discover the road to romance is a precarious one, with twists and turns despite the predetermined route. To rhythmic alpine music the film is a charmer all right. Carlos squeezes delicious humour from the situation. Watch as our jealous heroine fumes and spits her displeasure at her guy though the transformation is equally unsettling as she makes amends with a public display of hot passion. The feelings induced are infectious and elderly neighbour twitches his moustache. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Carlos moved to the School of Visual Arts in New York to emerge with his MA and a golden future: golden past too, innocence merged with something spicier.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Markus Wende “The Animator’s Way of Surviving the Crisis” (2009)

In these times of financial woes what is an animator to do? Work thin on the ground, digital skills rendered superfluous; it takes a real pencil to make ends meet. So to Markus Wende, whose amusing "The Animator’s Way of Surviving the Crisis" takes a wry look at how an animator could survive the harsh realities of the recession. Take a flip book and a crowd of hungry people and they will crave entertainment, particularly if a cooked chicken appears to be steaming on a rotisserie. Pencils are very sharp therefore make a fierce weapon that wild animals may possibly be skewered by. Or not. Rabbits jump out of traps and animator and partner are forced to stew snails on a campfire. But they survive, or at least the diners do. A crisp drawing style and fluid animation are key ingredients in Markus’ survival armoury with, as with yesterday, excellent translation from Jakob Schmidt, the odd expletive not being deleted. There is also accomplished voiced dialogue from Elli Fritze and Matthias Ransberger. Living now in Berlin, Markus graduated in 2000 from HFF "Konrad Wolf" in Potsdam, Babelsberg, This is his fifth film.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Vladimir Popov "Bobik visits Barbos" (1977)

The choice of animated films is large and time limited. At first glance Bobik visits Barbos appears simply a well made cartoon for children, the two dogs let loose in the home and wrecking the joint. Left in charge of the house, Barbos invites his friend Bobik for tea. And much else. Two cute dogs, emptying the fridge, knocking pots off tables, spilling a noxious red substance over the floors. Writers Nikolai Nosov and Mikhail Libin (screenplay), and director Vladimir Popov give the piece a charm that draws one in. Bobik lives in an outside kennel and is treated badly. He views the broom as something with which he is beaten. Barbos revels in the role of host. Talking himself up, he can imagine a revolution, with him as master. Of course, like Cinderella, the clock strikes ... six and the master returns to a horror show. What will he do? Someone’s been sleeping in his bed. Soyuzmultfilm vintage 1977, and a fine one it is, immaculately translated by Julia. A tale of dogs but also of very human fallibility. A particularly marvellous ending too.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Daniel Bigelow "Bring Yourself" (2010 - Oh My God)

A holiday refreshes the senses and a host of emails offers sensory delights indeed. Then I cleaned out the spam. Some legitimate material got through though. First up was a pointer (thanks Kevin) towards Bring Yourself, a music video for Chicago band, Oh My God, directed by Los Angeles’ Daniel Bigelow. The lyrics bemoan the adversities of life, "Nothing gets any easier", with our hero seeking thrills, escaping life’s tedium or woes to discover himself on the battlefield. I like the clean cut drawing, ink on paper, and as Dan explains, "refined in Photoshop, and then moved in AfterEffects." In a monochrome, cut-out style the mechanical movement succeeds due to the quality of illustration and choice of scenes, wheelchair bound man under a personal cloud, smoke filled poker room, orphans lost in a war zone. Blurred images lend perspective, catchy song and nice to see the band receiving a tip at the close. As ever, animation style suits music.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Tobias Stretch "Gig" (2010 Brian Goss)

Six weeks of puppet building, five of filming and the inimitable Tobias Stretch is back with his latest music video, Gig, for Brian Goss. Tobias once sent me photographs of him at work, in his workshop, lashing puppets and camera to his truck, filming high up on a crane. The result in this instance is a quite extraordinary film, Tobias’ hands almost freezing off in the clear light and Philadelphia snow. There is a narrative here, an old man’s memories of "Gig", holding her hand, drinking in the bar, talking of cars and pa. In the video, the old man is old indeed, age and smoke induced lines on his face and a walking frame for support, whilst the girl is perpetually young, a doll in cowgirl dress. As ever there is the usual gadgetry to catch the eye, in particular a vehicle both old and new, a kind of luna landing automobile with see-through bonnet and gleaming bodywork and wings. The "bungalow" of the song seems purpose built too, a wooden shack that, bearing in mind the size of the puppets themselves, must be some size. And then a moment of beauty to signify the warmth of memories, a fusion of flowers, sharp colours. Nor have I mentioned the touch of mystery in the green man, emerging from the snow, peeling off his mask to accompany the old man on his last journey. Vimeo is a good vehicle for Tobias’ film, the resolution doing justice to the sharp camerawork; and the music is exactly to my tastes, something about the rolling beat and the suggestion of a road song – though I’m no music critic. But I do appreciate work of this quality, song and animated film. Just maybe this is my favourite from Tobias.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Jonathan Hodgson & Susan Young "Doomsday Clock" (1987)


If Doomsday Clock were made today it would undoubtedly have images of belching power stations, cars, melting icebergs and arid deserts alongside the ticking clock signalling Armageddon. However the film was made in 1987 and the subject matter was what obsessed us all at that time, the arms race and threat of nuclear annihilation. It was made by Jonathan Hodgson and Susan Young, Jonathan’s first commission from the United Nations after leaving the Royal College of Art. The link is to a near five minute segment of 9 minute piece, though in truth it seems complete. At first one admires the labours of the workers, harvesting great fields, deep at the coal face. Follow the products of the production line and one discovers missiles emerging from the great melting pot. Politicians meet whilst children play and adults are oblivious of the dangers. By the side of each politician, growing more beastly by the minute, is a red button, to the side a ticking clock. Much of the film, say where the workers are pouring metal into a mould or scything the vast fields of wheat, has stylistic echoes of the great soviet animators, the men with huge bodies and tiny heads, the scenes of industry, the blue tint to the action. A belting percussion soundtrack and mounting tension in a film that is dated in content perhaps, but fresh in its depiction. (North Korea, Iran .... maybe not.) Jonathan is one of the best known animators in the UK, founder of Bermuda Shorts and Sherbet, lecturing at a host of UK universities; Susan still works for Sherbet and has a long line of films and commercials to her credit, at least one of which I intend to write about shortly. Interestingly I have recently featured three of the earliest graduates (MA) in animation from the RCA, Susan graduating in 1984, Jonathan a year later and Emma Calder a year after that in 1986. The college's alumni read like the UK’s Who’s Who of animation.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Hayley Morris "Undone" (2008)

Undone is a striking example of stop motion as well as poignant tribute to John Ronald O’Brien, the late grandfather of director Hayley Morris. John died of Alzheimer’s disease. The film commences with a ball of string that unfurls to reveal an old man adrift on the ocean fishing from a tiny boat, drawing in a series of objects that represents his memories. A trombone, family pictures embedded in a revolving figure on children’s building blocks, a blossom tree held lovingly until the flowers wither in his hands. Mementos are momentarily treasured then lost to the amorphous string that writhes up and stifles object and, ultimately, person. A soundtrack of whispered voices, half remembered, stifled, reverberating sounds submerge us in John’s world. Undone is vividly staged, with rippling material for sea and a tenderly sculptured puppet of the old man, all the more fine when the camera zooms in and a fragile face is revealed, the whole illuminated by subtle lighting. The string enveloping the man is a telling metaphor for the ravages of a horrible disease. A small thing perhaps but I did like the closing credits being so simply chalked on a board. The film was made in 2008 at Rhode Island School of Design. My grandfather was similarly afflicted and I wish I had had the talent and wit to commemorate him in this way.