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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Clovis Gay, Tanya Aydostian & Alexandre Hérault "L'autre" (2008)

L'autre (The Other) courtesy three students from EMCA, Clovis Gay, Tanya Aydostian and Alexandre Hérault, explores the dark and light side of a man’s character, certainly once he has slipped the glove puppet on. The dramatic shifts in mood commence from cuddly puppet, yellow butterflies and leafy tree on hill to stunted tree, dark cell and snarling monster. 3D Max is handled adroitly with the guys having watched Alien and maybe read a bit of Jean-Paul Sartre or Robert Louis Stevenson.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Chuck Jones "From A to ZZZ" & "Boyhood Daze" (1953 & 1957)

One of the great Looney Tunes characters, inveterate (Walter Mitty-like) daydreamer Ralph Phillips, appeared in two of Chuck Jones’ films, the Oscar nominated From A to ZZZ and four years later in 1957, Boyhood Daze. In the former Ralph daydreams in the classroom, whilst the later film has him banished to the bedroom for smashing a window. But you can’t keep a good imagination down. The animation itself as one might expect from Chuck is a visual treat (see below) with a complementary script that is particularly funny. But the character is the great creation, a shy little boy who discovers greatness in his imagination. Discovered daydreaming when he should have been doing his mathematics, Ralph is ordered to solve a blackboard crammed full of number problems. Cue a series of black and white battles in which he enlists the alphabet to decimate the numbers, a situation provoking laughter from classmates and a trip out into the fresh air to post a letter for sympathetic teacher. Cue cowboys and Indians, racing through the desert to the fort to post the letter to arrive back pin-cushioned by arrows, staggering into the classroom, sinking to the ground as he delivers the valedictory: "Don’t you worry none about your rent, Miss Wallace ma’am, the money for your mortgage has gone through." Or in Boyhood Daze as his parents are crammed into the cooking bowl by hungry cannibals in the jungle: "I warned you if I ever caught you boiling parents again I’d…"One of the joys is that the invented worlds are so much that of the child: flying his aircraft against Martians he develops a technical problem, the voice on the radio straining the child’s technical vocabulary with a distinctly tentative statement of the problems he faces "and besides too your … your supersonic filament is coming loose", or the submarine has sank so many "farthings" beneath the waves, infested by the "dreaded sabre toothed shark". All this and some poor grammar for the monarch make the films amongst my favourites. "I shall return" he proclaims as he strides out of the classroom in the guise of General Douglas MacArthur at the close of From A to ZZZ. He did even after 1957 albeit rather older, though that is for another day. Sorry but the linked films are decidedly not the best quality versions.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Derek Roczen "Bärenbraut" (2007)


For soccer related and entirely painful reasons I wish today to recommend a work that is German, demonstrating an amazing technical ability patently lacking in the dull collection of overpaid lumps representing my country. Made whilst at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, Derek Roczen’s Bärenbraut is even at this stage one of my films of the year. In a dense forest a young woman befriends a bear cub that, as the seasons advance, grows much bigger, developing an unnatural affection for her that is both suffocating and threatening. A third character is involved in the triangle, a woodcutter and hunter whose presence is both a threat to the animal and a romantic option for the girl. The 2D world Derek creates is drawn with an eye for design that is startling, a cross between wood printing and, given the obviously layered effect, a pop-up book with each and every cell carefully composed, characters and setting beautifully framed. The story and theme meanwhile has the quality of fable about it. There is a brooding intensity as seasons progress, from the lightness of summer to the dark winter where the bear overwhelms the tiny home of the girl. Meanwhile, the relationship of the girl with the hunter evolves, his developing timber home and the tree stumps signifying his intent, not to mention the hide stretched out in front of the home. Bärenbraut is not only a work of art, it is a powerful film with a dark and tragic complexity. I have uploaded a HQ version of the film to YouTube. A visit to Derek’s blog or website confirms my impression of a rich talent. The film is the second recommended to me by Ged Haney from his time as visiting lecturer at the university. A good man.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Malcolm Sutherland "La Fete" (2010)

The artist takes his sketch pad to Montreal’s "La Fete Nationale", or Bastille Day as I know it. It is truly a lovely day and the crowd is relaxed. Every character sketched on the pad tells a story: the guy squeezing ketchup onto his hot dog, lady in the wheelchair, boys eyeing girls, parents with children. The behaviour is nothing worthy of a soap opera, no dramas, just folk enjoying life, beautifully observed by someone who nails each and every person. Take the sketchpad home, feature the characters in focus against a backdrop of more embryonic sketches, introduce colour and movement to reveal the comings and goings, add a soundtrack of music (including some atmospheric accordion) courtesy Kevin Kardasz and the constant, somehow soothing background hum of happy voices. Take all these and one discovers the delightful La Fete from the very remarkable and talented Malcolm Sutherland who is one of the top artists in animation. One enjoys animated films for a compendium of reasons; Malcolm’s film gets beneath the skin, presenting life’s idiosyncrasies or sheer normality with a warmth to reflect a special day. That spirit is communicated in the movie making this reviewer feel good indeed on a hot day here in the UK. It is good too to see work of this quality being sponsored, in this case by the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. There’s a fitting conclusion as folk are moved to dance by the sheer loveliness of it all.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Linda Audyová "Last Minute" (2010)

Last Minute may be explained by the title in Linda Audyová’s graduation film from Tomas Bata University, in Zlinin, Czech Republic. It takes its cue from a farmer about to club to death a luckless rabbit, the animal’s last images or subconscious being explored in a largely abstract vision that stresses the interconnectivity of everything. Would that were consolation? There is a strange beauty in the computer designed 2D film, elevated by the suitably mysterious music by Marek Gabriel Hruška. From the dark silhouettes of the opening scenes Linda takes us on a colourful if enigmatic journey, a mix of the microscopic and cosmic, always confidently designed, from delicately coloured cells to a shadowy more evolved world where young people dance to a band in a grey universe to which they are attached by what, in a darker vision, I could take for nooses though I guess they are the strands that bind us. The credits both at the beginning and end are equally stylish as is the entire piece. Linda has made a music video, On the Knees for Robo Grigorov that has something of the same style.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Sarah Wickliffe "Art’s Desire" (2006)

Sarah Wickliffe’s award winning Art’s Desire (great title) has a cubist character from Picasso’s Guernica escape the inferno and investigate other paintings in the gallery in an attempt to discover a more peaceful world. Sarah takes some of the great works, gradually bringing them to animated life as our cubist friend fails to sunbathe with the Sunday revellers à la Georges Seurat, befriends one of Salvador Dali’s beauties (bearing a similarity to Sarah herself, dare I say) and in turn is offered a solution to her problem, sharing it with Edward Munch’s famous creation who is in need of respite care more than most. Well drawn, funny and endearing, the music by Kenny Werner adds just the right tone, with his light, melodic touch on the piano. It took a full year to complete. Sarah works freelance in New York having trained at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Adam Vian "Inspiration, Perspiration" (2010)

Inspiration, Perspiration takes a look at the work of that great inventor Thomas Edison, or at least at the man behind the man as its director, Kingston University student, Adam Vian explains it. In illuminating fashion he demonstrates how Edison gets his underling to all the work whilst he himself obtains the credit and rewards. The incandescent light bulb was his main invention in a jaw-dropping series of them and I have little knowledge of how much work the great man himself did, though he was singularly commercially minded and there was some dispute over patents. The animation has him dispensing ideas in a haughty manner though the actual bulb in question was straightforward theft. Evan Merz contributes a musical backdrop that underscores the light treatment of its subject. The clear drawing and smooth animation make for a delightful little piece, Adam’s graduation film. Interesting how often the light bulb sparking off has been used as visual shorthand for the great idea. Edison is credited with an explanation that embraces all excellence from science to sport: "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." Cue title of film in which the inventor certainly contributes his 1%.

Monday, 21 June 2010

"Dans la tête" Gregory Damour, Maxime Entringer, Anthony Gilles & Allan Sellier (2008 ESMA)

From Ecole supérieure des Métiers Artistiques, Montpellier (ESMA) comes a mix of the sad and the funny, Dans la tête (Snotr). Gregory Damour, Maxime Entringer, Anthony Gilles and Allan Sellier commence their 2008 film with Antoine Bertrand narrating as he presents illustrated images from his life, introducing his girlfriend, Anna, at the moment she lost her boyfriend to the army, standing in formation with his military comrades, "and here… well … It’s the day I die" complete with blood-splattered screen. A download is available from DeK’s indispensable No Fat Clips, a source of movies I have, for no reason that I can think of, not visited for some time. DeK provided the trigger although in fact I had seen the film over a year ago, meaning to write about it but being distracted as is my wont. Strange, as it is a marvellous film. Being told that a character is already dead has a curious effect, the survival of the character not being in doubt there is a danger the whole affair becomes too maudlin to bear. Not here. The team tread a careful line beyond the shocking moment when Antoine is shot in the head, an attempted entry through the pearly gates and the moment of sheer hilarity when the returning soldier’s deliberate attempt to court disaster goes wrong, an error that is repeated in slick and accumulated comic fashion. Good premise too: you have to have a camera in your head to record your moment of demise. Difficult when your head is blown off umpteen times. Smooth CG and a comedy with laugh aloud moments- after the first dramatic moments at least.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Nikolay Fedorov "Dragonfly and Ant" (1961)

Dragonfly and Ant parallels the lives of the two insects, both representing totally different approaches to life, one without a care in the world, the other industrious. Thus, whilst our pink, see-through, tutu clad flyer slumbers in bed or dances on flower heads, every need catered for by nature’s bounty, the busy ants toil away in construction, providing for the winter months. The film is just as well made as anything by Disney plus there is gentle subtly in the humour – the sleeping ant in the light bulb or distorted image in the raindrop mirror come to mind. There is also something of a moral tale, the piece being based on one of Aesop’s fables via the pen of the Russian writer and fabulist, Ivan Krylov. The depiction of the ants at work is wonderfully ingenious, something of a Flintstones world in miniature scale, snails and grasshoppers replacing brontosaurus and saber tooth. (The Flintstones series commenced in 1960, one year earlier than this.) The tone though is entirely different. Nikolay Fedorov’s entertaining classic is a charming world. The aesthete dragonfly of course gets her comeuppance, winter arrives and the workers are not so forthcoming in their hospitality, enjoying the festival merriment whilst our dancer finds a leaf small comfort in the snow. But the mood of the piece is such as to pave the way for an entirely apt conclusion.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Elle Farnham "The Grand Pier" (2008)

There is a scrapbook look to Elle Farnham’s The Grand Pier, with its mixed blend of pencil drawing, audio snapshots and picture postcards. This delightful film is a celebration of the Grand Pier at traditional British seaside resort, Weston Super Mare. Ironic then that the pier burnt down literally days after Elle completed the film so the two minute short is something of a time capsule. The sound is extra-ordinarily evocative with waves crashing, children screaming, families talking, organ playing, dogs barking, folk reminiscing. The constant movement is akin to focusing the giant coin-operated telescope to take in the panoramic sweep of the place, quickly sketched, an appropriately placed photographic image, a gentle line of colour – orange and blue for beach and sea. Quite, quite lovely and I hope not just for such as me who remember days like this, though not, as it happens, Weston Super Mare, a place I have never visited but will now. Sadly, as may be seen from the photograph, the pier will no longer be in its majestic state.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Aaron Kisner & Pistachios "Vital Voices - The Story of Kakenya" (2010)

Belgian fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg introduces Vital Voices - The Story of Kakenya an artfully made short telling the story of Kayenka Ntaiya, a young woman who was engaged to be married at five years old, her African parents following a tradition that ensures their financial security. However she has an ambition to become a teacher and pursues that dream becoming, with the support of the community elders, the only girl to attend college in the village’s history. The video, part film, part animation, narrated by Kayenka herself, was commissioned by Vital Voices Global Partnership, co-directed by Aaron Kisner and Blacklist Pistachios, and arranged via YouTube Video Volunteers. The style is best described by Pistachios: "I went for a really simple blocky style of animation. Even when you draw it simple, you can get a lot of expression across just by simple faces and postures. It's almost like the simpler it gets, the more effective the expression will be. I think it's because your brain does the filling-in and it automatically becomes more emotional. I also went for really soft textures and colours, to contrast the sharp shapes.” Dan Radlauer’s music gently complements a life affirming film that is faithful to the African tradition and landscape.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Michélé De Feudis & Joris Bergman "You Look Familiar" (Team William 2010)

Michélé De Feudis and Joris Bergman’s You Look Familiar for Team William certainly does with its use of Max Fleischer and the Super Mario Brothers. It is a superior piece of work, cheery not to say cheeky with a genuine sense of fun. A child is born and, walking away from his family, fairly bounces along through an irreverent world peopled by dominoes playing cards, whorish sister with factory conveyor belt, mother with bloody meat cleaver and father dallying with woodpecker. The lyrics suggest the irreverence but the drawings are lovely, a mix of seaside, saucy postcard and emblematic animation styles. It took one month to make and is full of humour that repays several viewings if one is to get all the visual gags. Joris and Michélé live in Ghent. The link is to Radar Music Video that might best be described as a social network site for those in the music, film or animation business, introducing directors to musicians and vice versa, commissioning, responding to, or promoting a video, or simply interacting with like-minded music or directorial folk. There is a monthly fee – not startling – for which film-makers may publicise their wares and clients select the most appropriate director for them. For such as me there’s an opportunity to view all the showcased talent though the energetic CEO, Caroline Bottomley, keeps me informed of the animated material. The testimonials read well with a list of directors whose work commands respect. It's a neat idea and I wish I'd thought of it.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Rémy M.Larochelle "A Good Day For Telling Lies" (Pets 2010)

After yesterday’s impressive if grim classic it’s a bounce back into summer and a consequential change of tone with Rémy M. Larochelle’s A Good Day For Telling Lies from Sweden’s Pets. Any band that models itself on The Kinks is fine by me, particularly with the treble turned up on the guitar. So Rémy has bugs, birds, pink robots and flowers join in the sing song against a psychedelic backdrop of multi-coloured vapour trails and piecing blue sky. Not an insectivorous plant in sight. Great lyrics: "Talk to your sister and tell her I do miss her." So robots line up in the chorus line, blue birds with pink hair kiss, even the square robots have rounded lines; and somewhere in the background the band plays looking cool in shades. Montreal based Rémy has had his The Flood and Extravaganza featured here recently. He also does television commercials including a delicious set, Les aventures de Leo et Choc, quirky adventures terminating with the chocolate characters melting in a splurge.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Josko Marusic "Fisheye" (Riblje oko 1980)

Evening. The fishermen prepare to go night fishing and their womenfolk wait at the shore. As they depart the fish watch, murder in their hearts for they are going peopling. Josko Marusic’s classic frightener Fisheye simply reverses the normal rules of hunting, that is, fish dine on humans. If one doubts that animation can horrify let me warn you that the whole experience is a chilling one. Josko’s whole design from sound by Tomica Simovic, colour scheme, images and violence is disquieting. Take the colour. Each variation on green or blue has a tinge that is unpleasant. No blue fish of this intimidating shade would be selected from the fishmonger’s slab. The beasts may waddle on land in ludicrous fashion but there is no laughter as they club old women to death or spear them with their forks. No mercy is shown by fish or fishermen; and note the absence of warmth amongst the humans, except perhaps for the small children who, let me emphasise, are not spared the net and thrown back for a later date. There are some remarkable scenes but perhaps nothing matches the net of humans being dragged to the sea by malevolent predators whose menace matches the nonchalance of the fishermen killing by torchlight unaware that their families are suffering a similar fate on land. Josco is one of the foremost of the Zagreb School animators about whom I have already written.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Pleix "Death Penalty" (Amnesty International 2010)


Today’s movie is both stunning, and shocking. It is also beautifully composed despite the subject matter. Death Penalty was made for TBWA Paris for Amnesty International directed by the French collective Pleix. Four executions from around the world are depicted in melting wax statues: firing squad, hanging, decapitation and electrocution. The purpose of the Animation Blog is to not to promulgate my views on matters other than animation but I confess the obscenity of such practices is made manifest in the stark, white beauty of tableaux exquisitely made, dismembered by the heat from Amnesty’s logo, a candle. I immediately assumed the piece was actual footage of molten candles. In fact although that was the original intention the effect was unsatisfactory when tested so apart from one or two live action sequences (crème fresh made quite a mess of the director’s kitchen) the sculptures are CG, a technique that involved many tricks to achieve the desired result. The music, Everyday, from Carly Comando completes a remarkable piece that will assuredly win awards. A note from Amnesty International on the death penalty: More than two-thirds of the countries of the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. While 58 countries retained the death penalty in 2009, most did not use it. 18 countries were known to have carried out executions, killing a total of 714 people in 2009. However, this figure does not include the thousands of executions that were likely to have taken place in China, which refused to divulge figures on its use of the death penalty.