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Monday, 31 May 2010

Robin Davey "The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe" (2010)

Bristol based animator Robin Davey was given an interesting commission from publishers Faber and Faber for The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe a novel by Andrew O'Hagan released this month. The animated trailer shows scenes from an autobiography of a Maltese dog given to Marilyn by Frank Sinatra two years before her death. In a 1950s/60s style, Maf jets all over the world, experiencing the glitz and flashlights of the stars. Robin explains in his blog how the different colours reinforce the sense of movement. The style of the book is demonstrated by liberal quotations from the book. I definitely see the attraction of Marilyn Monroe, can just about accept that jet travel was once glamorous but would have been rendered speechless as a youth if I had admitted to Sinatra being cool. The little guy was a charmer though and my mum’s favourite. The trailer works for me with its jazzy soundtrack and I’ve just checked out the book on Amazon so point made I suppose. Can dogs write autobiographies? A job well done by Robin.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Sarah Cox "Don’t Let It All Unravel" (2010)


Don’t Let It All Unravel is a distinctive short in which director Sarah Cox unties a familiar theme of the earth’s dwindling resources, global warming and the like. The earth is viewed as a ball tightly bound with wool. Around the globe flies a plane attached to the wool which proceeds to unravel. More planes fly and the greater the unravelling. A polar bear walks on white wool that disappears fast as, inexorably, does the bear itself. This is not the first time I have observed the knitted technique applied to an environmental video; I remember one made for Greenpeace by Marek Skrobec and Adam Wyrwas. Sarah’s film has a homespun charm about it and the message is carried effectively as the seas and trees are unpicked. Sadly the seas might carry a BP icon were it to be made at this present moment. Interestingly, Sarah got family and friends to knit for her before destroying their lovely creations. The sacrifices made in the name of animation! Sarah is one of the founders of Arthur Cox. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1992.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Pam Lazenby "Mother of Many" (2009)

Pam Lazenby was a midwife from 1980 to 2008. Her daughter Emma Lazenby won the the Short Animation prize at this year’s BAFTA here in the UK for Mother of Many, a film that chronicles a midwife’s day in a fashion that is remarkable for its lack of hyperbole even though the deeds depicted are heroic for most of us. The young woman goes about her business with a saintly dedication, carrying out routine procedures, monitoring heartbeat, calming mother and father, dealing with the actual birth. Emma’s style is one of simplified illustrations illuminated in a clean bright light as befits a hospital location. She also uses textures in her work, notably the midwife’s blue gown, festooned in medical terms. The film is mostly literal though, almost as a medical textbook, we see the rapidly developing baby inside the womb. The birth itself has a documentary quality to it that would both educate and entice much needed recruits into the profession. It also has a straight-forward freshness and honesty. Mother of Many was also shortlisted for the 6th NFB Online Short Film Contest the winner of which was announced in Cannes last week – a film I shall review shortly. Sadly, since I wrote the review the film has been taken down and the link is to a 40 second YouTube clip.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Lindsay Woods "Phosphoro" (2009)

After yesterday’s allegorical tale about winter, Phosphoro is also a film with a clear message beyond the plot. SVA student Lindsay Woods creates a land in which a shining blue crystal dominates all life, from engagement ring to beaming streetlight. Her city is a glorious sight with towers and domes, its people exclusively young, with that look of Japanese anime or adolescent magazine. Deep down in the caverns beneath the city, miners toil away in search of the blue treasure. When one young man discovers a vast, glistening palace-like structure of the material he breaks a segment off, an act of desecration that wreaks an ancient vengeance on the city and inhabitants who have plundered the earth’s riches. Lindsay was rewarded with the Outstanding Achievement in Traditional Production Design at the University’s annual Dusty Awards earlier this month. Her film is in truth beautifully drawn throughout, in a heavily stylised fashion from the opening frames with city and people frozen in a tableau that is animated incrementally as the power of the crystal takes hold, to the toy soldier boys who fire the cannons. The music is The Westward of Time from Japan’s Susumu Hirasawa. It adds both an anime appeal and a gravitas to this familiar tale of man over-reaching himself through greed.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Christoph Horch "Der Zimmermann und der Winter" (The Carpenter and the Winter) (2004)

Der Zimmermann und der Winter (The Carpenter and the Winter) directed by Christoph Horch is the second chiller in 24 hours. The cut-out animation has a lonely carpenter whittling away in a Spartan home, an unexplained empty and very small child’s bed beside his own. Through the fields treks a solitary boy towards a hamlet whose inhabitants are busily collecting wood for the winter. The boy’s arrival abruptly heralds the cold season. I am reminded of The Little Match Girl as his cold face presses up against the glass of houses. Only one house has no light and strangely enough the boy is attracted to that, where he is allowed into the carpenter’s home and offered a warm drink, the adult receiving in return cold comfort. In an age of pace, often frenzied, there is something most satisfying about being allowed to soak up the atmosphere in a film such as this, the mechanical movement of the cut-out limbs, the extended scrutiny of faces, one rather whiter than the other. A melancholic score from Cornelius Renz for strings and oboe adds to the spreading cold in what is a seasonal treat rather more suited to the depths of December than May. Or maybe it's an appropriate iced treat. Christoph kindly uploaded the film for me after I had contacted him on the recommendation of his former teacher, Ged Haney, 'animator in residence' at Filmakademie Baden-Wurtemmburg for a couple of years. Ged recommended several other films of which more shortly. For now, enjoy an unusual ghost story.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Xun Zeng, Shengyang Zhang and Huelin Huang "Oddly" (2009)

Oddly is a macabre tale from China where they do the supernatural rather well. The film opens with a traditionally depicted storm as a small boat is thrown about by mighty waves. Strangely enough the occupier of the boat does not seem unduly perturbed. Cut to a child stirring a paper boat in a basin of water. Mother and then ice cold father chastise her, the impact of the father the more intimidating as he warns that disturbing the boat sank his ship. The basin and boat disappear with a sorcerer’s swish of the fingers. His wife is submissive though cheers up and spruces up in time to entertain her husband’s apprentice. The child is given a tasty if gaudy confectionery (parents normally warn children about eating bright red berries) on a stick whilst mother continues her play behind closed doors. The master’s return transforms mother to tears, apprentice to pig, whilst the child is given an extra ball shaped confection for her stick. The four minute short ends where the master of the house eats heartily, spouse is inconsolable and the remains of dinner floats to the floor. We are accustomed to stylish Chinese films where violence, for instance, is elevated to an art form. Here the grotesque elements are elegantly camouflaged – the bead or sweet that just as easily could be an eyeball, the partially carved carcass of the pig that could be the apprentice. There is lush, even lurid, colour as we follow the child, peeping through doors at an often distorted world that has a dark, sinister presence, all the more so as it is China at its most richly traditional. Three students of China’s Southern College of Design, Xun Zeng, Shengyang Zhang and Huelin Huang, created the ultra stylish 2D and 3D piece over four months. They graduated in 2009.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Waldemar Booth " FSV Mainz 05 COFACE ARENA" (2010)

Waldemar Booth saw my post a day or so ago about Georges Schwizgebel’s Hors-jeu and got in touch. He was "amazed" at the similarity between his test commercial, FSV Mainz 05 Coface Arena , and the 33 year old film. No Super-8 camera for him, I think, the 3D stadium and scribbling being in Adobe After Effects. As it happens, I had just been experimenting myself with the scribble effect in AE. (Refer to an excellent video tutorial from Creative Cow by Aharon Rabinowitz for one approach.) Waldemar actually did 99% of the scribbling by hand, creating the short in two months in his own time, unaware of his illustrious predecessor. I flatter myself that the Animation Blog shares a role in revealing the animation heritage for an obvious soccer fan. Waldemar’s commercial makes for a contrast with that of Georges being, as one might expect, more contemporary in tone with an upbeat soundtrack. There are plenty of goals and a stadium given a misty glamour, plus plenty for the fans to get excited about with the scarves and banners in flamboyant red and white. The flickering, scribbled effect makes for a stylish endorsement for a club going up in the world with its brand new Coface Arena due to be opened for the new season.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Reno Bo "There’s a Light" (2010)


At the weekend I featured a music video made for a pittance by a talented guy who wants to break into the business. Then I featured a movie made by a fan who happens to be a professional. Now it is There’s a Light drawn, directed and animated entirely by the artist himself, Reno Bo, using iMovie, the video editing software. Reno is ex-Mooney Suzuki & ex-Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes. In the publicist’s blurb "the video combines elements of modern psychedelia with child-like imagery reminiscent of classic 60's and 70's animation such as Schoolhouse Rock, Monty Python, Yellow Submarine and the drawings of Shel Silverstein." I had a healthy scepticism about such claims but in fact the film is an accomplished piece and should singer stop singing there is an alternative if less lucrative career awaiting. Little boy follows butterfly, seizes balloon and is carried high above a series of montage images that certainly have leanings towards the illustrious antecedents mentioned above. Reno has had fun using text as the lyrics are presented imaginatively. As for the music, there’s something of the embryonic rock anthem about it and no bad thing to attach one’s song to the greats.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Nina Bisyarina "A Trip to the Seaside" (Поездка к морю 2008)

I used to set "My Holidays" as an English composition. The students would lose the will to live (or was it me?) just as they arrived at their destination, five or twenty pages later. Not a mention of the holiday. Russian animator Nina Bisyarina takes the same route in the marvellous A Trip to the Seaside with one difference – the pair actually do arrive at their destination – but don’t raise your hopes. No, I have it very wrong, two differences: the journey is utterly enthralling. I have featured Nina’s work previously but this gem is the best yet. A young girl and her mother are taking an interminable journey to the seaside involving sleeping overnight. The child clutches a postcard with two tropical parrots, a palm tree, the sea and an ocean going vessel. During the journey the image sustains her vivid imagination. An adult holds a glass drinks container the contents of which flop about to inspire a vision of the sea in the postcard, billowing curtains on the train provoke postcard palm trees to flap about, parrots fly from the card. Always we are inside the world of the child with a tincture of the mundane, adult world that would intrude were it not for the girl’s determination to treasure image and dreams. The hand drawn style of Nina’s work is captivating as is the accomplished animation, the colouring in all its delicacy, as well as the recreation of a listless rail journey spiced with an innocent child’s imagination. Quite, quite wonderful. So many high points: the train stops at a station and bunny rabbits and teddy bears leap outside the carriage window, a vast cruise ship passes by in the night, the fresh light of morning streaming into the train, and mother and child at their destination. Do read niffiwan’s journal (http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/31333.html) recounting his highlights of the 15th Open Russian Festival of Animated Film. Nina shared the Best Direction award with Valentin Olshvang's Rain in the Evening, And thank you, pavlovich74, for your welcome recommendation of one of the best films on the blog this year. If there is a better young Russian director out there at the moment I have yet to see them.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Georges Schwizgebel "Hors-jeu" (1977)

It is nearing the date for that great worldwide festival of soccer. Time enough for another perspective on the great game, through Georges Schwizgebel, one of the great artists of the animation world. Hors-jeu (Off-Side) is a variation on his technique for here he uses rotoscope from live footage shot on Super-8, before applying acrylic paint on cellulose, dabs of colour with a hard brush. (Perspectives, made two years earlier, was his other film using this technique.) The film covers in fascinating detail the to and fros of the match with occasionally a smooth metamorphosis to encompass other sports of basketball and ice hockey. Long, dark shadows trail each player as if the scene were shot from a most oblique angle. The action ebbs and flows, strangely without goals, the ball passed mesmerically from player to player and thence to the opposition to move forward the action not one jot in a game for its own sake. A darker tone is set in the closing frames as other players appear in the game. I find the director compelling in his use of colour and paint. All his movies are treats on the eye, and ear usually, the music here offered in rather dramatic fashion by Guy Boulanger.

Harrie Geelen "Safe Haven" (2009 - Cloudmachine)

A rather beautiful piece of work today made for Dutch band Cloudmachine whose dreamy track Safe Haven was animated for free by the noted animator/ director/ illustrator Harrie Geelen. Have you ever noticed the similarity of a wrapped sweet to a coloured fish? Neither have I but Harrie opens our eyes to the possibilities as shoals of sweets journey towards their safe haven accompanied by clockwork mechanisms or cutlery sets making plausible imitations of sea creatures. Mythological figures sit astride giant fish, sailors from a bygone age bob in 3D waves as paper boat makes it way past beaming lighthouse to enter a harbour of sorts and the final curtain. Sweet and evocative imagery, the HQ images from the video are worth a click. The video was added to the collection of the Film Museum in Amsterdam. It was selected for the Animation Film Festival 2009 in Utrecht and will be shown in Paris at the Le Meilleur Du Court Métrage festival on June 15th, 2010. Band member Ruud Houweling explains: "It was made with no budget, single handedly by Harrie, just because he wanted to help us out. Labours of love are always good." They are indeed but not usually this good. The music was recorded in CA by sound engineer Oz Fritz who has worked for Tom Waits. I like it very much! Harrie meanwhile is nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Award 2010 and Hans Christian Anderson Award 2010 (a.k.a. Little Nobel Prize).

Monday, 17 May 2010

Catherine Hicks "Wild Dogs" (2010)

From Ringling College of Art and Design’s Department of Computer Animation comes Wild Dogs – the 2009 thesis film of Catherine Hicks. Set in a desert, two wild dogs squabble over a bone, a tussle rendered seemingly superfluous by the discovery of the massive bleached carcass of some long dead dinosaur. Bones a-plenty indeed though I've seen and owned wilder dogs. A desert is a boon for animators whose allocation of time for the backgrounds benefits from a blue sky and the odd sparse plant. But Catherine’s characters are engagingly animated in 3D with the great benefit of excellent music from Chris Haigh and sound design by Charles Vallely. Comic timing and characterisation in an appealing piece from, as is obvious from Catherine's website, a talented young woman.

Luke Whittaker & Katherine Bidwell (State of Play) "Moustique" (2010)

Moustique from Luke Whittaker and Katherine Bidwell’s company State of Play is a simple but very effective campaign film informing the inhabitants of the Democratic Republic of Congo about malaria prevention. Using a voice-over, the husband of a young woman who died of malaria explains what he can do to prevent the same tragedy happening again to his new young family. Clear graphics, a catchy song and even a smidgeon of humour communicate a basic message: remove stagnant water, wear suitable clothes in the evenings, cover beds with mosquito nets and seek help immediately from a doctor – should the people be lucky enough to live near one. Over a million deaths a year occur from malaria which is particularly prevalent in Africa where a child dies from the disease every 30 seconds. As for the Democratic Republic of Congo, in less than five years, more than 3 million people have died from preventable and treatable diseases. Luke and Katherine are graduates of the animation department at University of Bournemouth. Their beautifully composed film may be viewed in in French here.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Simon Kennedy "Operator" (Akamai Drone 2010)

It could be argued that working on music videos is one of the most demanding of occupations given short deadlines and limited budgets. As is evident from the Animation Blog, many directors rise majestically to the challenge, with a diversity of animated films that both showcase the artist and their talent. Such a director is Simon Kennedy whose Operator for American singer, Akamai Drone (Christian Imes), was shot on a shoestring - £3000 to be exact. You would hardly know it from the dynamic film in which performer is strapped to a scaffold in a setting that belies its humble North London origins. Syringes pump out white noxious substances to the discomfiture of the singer who nevertheless belts out his song with alacrity. So much for the live action (costume George Thomson/ make-up Irene Ferraro), shot using a Sony EX3 and a large greenscreen. The rest is all CGI, a battery of percussion instruments formed as Star Wars metropolis whilst snakes writhe in a swamp. I realise there are many readers who are interested in the technical side. For the record then: "The software for the 3d was mostly 3d Studio MAX, for modelling and animating the mech and animating the snakes. The composite was often done in the 3d software to make the grading of the colours and contrast easier. George Thomson helped out with some of the 3d backgrounds, modelled and animated in Cinema 4d. All final composites were carried out in Adobe After Effects, along with some of the particle effects, others were done in 3d Studio. The sky and other 2d elements were put together in Photoshop, the overall look and feel was developed in 2d in Photoshop first." That’s Simon explaining how you get such an exciting video with the software. You also need talent of which he has oodles.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Aardman (Wallace and Gromit) "Back the Bid 2018" (npower 2010)

Big soccer game. Packed house. Gromit is selling pies behind the counter in a "Pies Winning Small Business". His partner, involved in a higher tech form of distribution, asks, "Need a hand, Gromit? These pies are going to fly off the shelves, lad." We’re back in the inimitable hands of Wallace whose decidedly military looking contraption fires pies across the npower soccer stadium. It is all part of the power company’s" Back the Bid 2018’ campaign for England to host the FIFA World Cup™. Whereas last night a 30 second ad went out in the UK (available here on YouTube) the initial link is to a 40 second version of the commercial. Seconds are money. Keep clicking on this first link and there’s a background video with explanations of campaign and production material. The use of the Aardman characters for commercial purposes works well, enhancing product and characters. Touches of humour abound, though perhaps a bit parochial to the UK. I particularly liked the name of the pie stall: "WA™G’S PIES" (acronym for wives and girlfriends of star soccer players) and the football commentator in his sheepskin coat who reminded me of someone known to BBC sports viewers the world over. I’m a cynical beast having endured a recent interminable election campaign but, by crikey, I trust W&A – I’ll vote for them. And the only opportunity I will have to attend one of the World Cup matches (or, to be truthful, be allowed to attend) is if England are hosts. So the multi-national Animation Blog is backing the national campaign. And in case I forget, there’s a competition to win free home energy until 2018.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Hernán Cieza & Adriana Delfino (Mona and Peca ) "La Competitiva " (2009)

La Competitiva (The Competitive One) is one of those fascinating stop motion movies where the sheer ingenuity and flair is striking. Spanish artists Mona and Peca (Hernán Cieza, Adriana Delfino) locate their film in a ramshackle factory where male figurines are manufactured and packaged. Locked in their mindless and repetitive job two workers on the assembly line fantasize about the girl who serves the coffee in a well-merited break from the drudgery. The term surreal is over-used in commentaries, but here the term is appropriate indeed as the directors take us on an increasingly bizarre journey as each competitor vies for the girl’s attention. In fact the link is to about half the twenty minute film that becomes increasingly dark in tone as the rivalry continues. The complex film comprises stop motion footage of intricate models manufactured from scrap and discarded rubbish, latex and papier-mâché puppets, plus drawn, cut-out and computer work, the varied techniques including a flick book in the horse’s courtship of the girl, though his rival deploys a full on one man band in his reposte. La Competitiva has already won awards including Best Film at Festival Latinoamericano de Animación Amateur and The Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival where it was chosen as Best of the Bunch. It is due for screening at Annecy this year. The link is to Telegraph21, one of a number of excellent sources of films and information about artistic ventures.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Annecy 2010 Trailers and Teasers

One of the pleasures of reviewing animated shorts is the annual release of the films from second year students at GOBELINS, l'école de l'image intended for the Annecy’s International Film Festival. In one minute the different films build up the excitement and sense of anticipation. They are accomplished films in every way, a showcase for festival and university. All offer an entry to the festival in one form or other. In the order they were sent to me, we have VIP, an antidote to the frenetic maelstrom of life as man (it could be me!) snoozes in the lake in glorious iridescent sunshine. Wild Casting is all frenzy as men jump over tall buildings to escape the big cat - a nice entry into the theatre in a fashion you might recognise. Supertromp is an Arabian Nights meets Dumbo extravaganza with a touch of humour to match the colour. In addition there is the Teaser for Annecy 2010 made by Oliver Jean-Marie and Xilam Animation. In the slickly made piece we have a cinema entrance into live action that is all giggles and action in a style you may again find familiar.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Jeff Scher "The Shadow's Dream" (2009)

The Shadow’s Dream is not an animation and has no right in the Animation Blog. But as the director is the esteemed animator, Jeff Scher, I asked management’s permission and was granted my wish. Strolling the streets of New York Jeff holds his camera upside down catching the shadows of passers-by caught for a fleeting moment in silhouette, going about their business in particularly bright sunlight. Thus a shadow distributes advertising cards, a wheelchair wheels by, a pigeon pecks, stilettos, trainers, mother and child, briefcase bearer. As usual the original music of Shay Lynch lends an urgency to proceedings already apparent in the brightness and dark, the vibrancy of city life. And as usual Jeff poetically conveys intentions and depth in his own description. The title echoes Pindar, a parallel world, a fleeting moment, a metaphor for life. The latter link is to The New York Times, for whom Jeff works, but it might be noted the initial reference is to a special compilation, Best of Times, 14 of the director’s films available on the iPhone App Store for, as I am informed, less than a pack of New York cigarettes, or £6.99 here in the UK where the pound continues its inexorable descent against the mighty dollar as we seek financial and political accommodation. The blurb always speaks of Jeff being an experimental filmmaker. Well he is I suppose although I’ve watched some desperately dull experimental films in my time and Jeff’s films never fall into that category.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Tomasz Bagiński "Animated History of Poland" (2010)

Animated History of Poland is the latest work from the great Polish director, Tomasz Bagiński. It is only a trailer sadly and by definition almost such shorts deal in hype but there’s got to be something there to work on. The action here in fact is big production stuff with state of the art 3D and a gripping theme - a country steeped in history laid bare, from medieval fire eaters to charging knights on horseback to all horrors of the twentieth century. Nazi banners unfurl over Warsaw whilst tanks and warplanes are locked in combat; all the drama of a great country that has known more than its fair share of troubles is translated into spectacular animated action. As if that is not enough, an absolutely stirring soundtrack from Adam Skorupa generates extra drama. I am unable to offer the full movie as yet but there is the added bonus of a selection of high quality images from the production. The eight minute film has been made for the Polish Pavilion at Shanghai's 2010 EXPO by Tomasz' production company, Platige Image. We are promised the entire film in the fullness of time.