Monday, 30 April 2012

Ania Hazel Leszczynska "An Interrupted Story" (2011)

Here's a second film by Ania Leszczynska, An Interrupted Story, promised but not delivered some weeks back (see here). An interminable evening train journey through the darkening Scottish countryside gets considerably chillier when the train draws to a halt, a robbery occurs in the ensuing commotion and a mysterious stranger worries about finance and the problems of the world. The chance collection of strangers are drawn in coloured silhouettes in a dark background, their faces white, features stylised. A nice touch is to have the Grannie listening to her granddaughter read the story of the big bad wolf in the woods. It casts a light on their passengers that is difficult to dispel particularly given the stark soundtrack from Gareth Griffiths. Creating a little drama like this is a highly ambitious affair. The whole sound package is put together by Pete Smith. I know from experience how difficult a task it is when recording amateurs, no matter how natural. I surmise Ania enlisted her friends to provide the dialogue which is contemporary and quite successful. There's a revealing thanks to one Annalise Wimmer at the close  because "without her I'd have scared myself to death during those long nights animating in empty Edinburgh College of Art." It says so much about Ania's dedication for this is some solo project - albeit friends assisted in the animating. The production process is always interesting. Here is Ania's in progress report demonstrating how pencil on paper sketches are coloured and composited digitally. Today's blog is an interrupted story for there's a third film to come (and Ania's second film made in her third year) alongside the work of one her fellow contributors.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Great Schools of Animation: Gobelins L'Ecole de L'Image (France)

“the toughest entrance exam of any animation school in the world” 
Eric Riewer 
Director of International Relations, Gobelins

Gobelins L'Ecole de L'Image is located in the Latin quarter of Paris. Each year the animation faculty accepts 25 (out of an initial 850) applicants for the three year Animated film creator and director course. The larger school (applied arts, print and digital media) has some 700 students in total, affiliated to the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Gobelins has an unsurpassed reputation internationally, most prominently when its work acts as curtain raisers for the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Applications for their three year diploma course (equivalent to an MA) involve submitting a portfolio of art, a proficiency in the French language, together with oral and written examinations including a drawing study and a storyboard exercise. Students should be between 18 - 25. The 2012 procedures are here. A very high standard of drawing ability is required. Internships in the industry, national and international, are features of the vacations. The third year is given over to 3D character animation skills for the autumn with a group project for the remainder of the year in whatever technique is deemed suitable. Fees for the current academic year commenced at 6 350 € for year 1. There are very limited opportunities for individuals to join for the final year course, plus summer schools. Most of the biggest animation studios have Gobelins graduates. Alumini include Eric Bergeron, Alexis Wanneroy, Pierre Coffin. Some of the world's leading animators act as tutors. Detailed information is obtained from

It is a seasonal feature of animation blogs the world over to wait for the release of the Gobelins teasers for Annecy. Jazzin, in my view, is the best in the last two years.  Not only has it got vitality in abundance, but the five guys who did it even got the dance steps correct. Joël Corcia, Wandrille Maunoury, Bong Nguyen, Thomas Reteuna and Bernard Som set their 60 second piece in 1930s America and had the sense to use good music. There is a similarity in style in all these second year pieces, inevitable given their common training and the group approach, not to mention the demands of the festival brief. (In September 2009 I wrote concerning the house style of the school) What they all share is a phenomenal artistic ability and a driving energy.

Whilst the Annecy work is 2D the students follow a dedicated 3D unit during their final year. A random example is this compilation piece by current student Mathéo Mercier. Again, by way of example, the blogs of students demonstrate their artistic talent, such as this from Julien Bocabeille, director of Oktapodi, one of the best films to emerge from the school. Julien works at Dreamworks. He is not alone!

In 2009 I featured a film by Rémy Schaepman, A Sheep on the Roof, prior to his arrival at GobelinsTrois petits points, his 2010 film made with Lucrèce Andreae, Alice Dieudonne, Tracy Nowocien, Florian Parrot and Ornélie Prioul is an imaginative affair that deserves a feature of its own. The storyline is of a seamstress whose power with her needles seems to offer a cure for the ills of war. Its technical and artistic adroitness typifies this top rank school of animation.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Rafael Velásquez Stanbury "D" (2011)

Rafael Velásquez Stanbury is a Venezuelan national with a background in film, who has just completed an MA at university in Barcelona. His movie, D, has quite a distinctive look as you will discover. In essence it is just one more of those chase movies one sees a lot of - for very good reason in this case as a homicidal fountain pen attempts to blot out the life of a diminutive figure, "d". There are some ingenious escapades set in a manuscript before the "d" grows up to "D". And fights back. The short is produced by Chiguire Animation Studios, with René Alex leading the animation and Eduardo Stanbury providing a properly melodramatic score. It's a clever, unusual film and, unlike one contributor to Vimeo, I liked the sound, courtesy Iván Urbina. Rafael has his own blog which is so dynamic it makes mine look positively antediluvian. Tomorrow I continue with my series of articles, Great Schools of Animation.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Graham Carter "Me, Marionette" Ink_d Gallery, Brighton (4th May - 3rd June) 2012

Doing my (unpaid) bit for UK art, 
Me, Marionette is an exhibition of new work by the Brighton-based artist Graham Carter that will be opening at the Ink_d Gallery on Friday 4th May as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe. He is working in conjunction with Brighton-based animation studio Ticktockrobot. The artist is assuming the role of Geppetto, the creator of Pinocchio and creating a magical world of characters, from warriors to explorers, and astronauts to yetis. Ticktockrobot's brief: "To promote Graham's solo show using a viral campaign of animations and a simple quirly website with which to hold them. The concept was that of 3 Marionettes from distant lands all journeying to a secret location. We wanted to create a stagered launch of three animations leading up to the show, with the three being 'woven' together as a feature length reveal at the show." There's more here. It runs until 3rd June so I might just get there with the family. Brighton's a lovely place in the sun and now there is something to do in the rain.

Sean Soong "SubWars"

A newly released short from China, SubWars,  has received a lot of notice on the blogs though I know little of the director, Sean Soong, other than he is studying at the Animation School at the Communication University of China. In a very slick action movie, a solemn old guy, sporting a communist badge on his headgear, is ignored by fellow passengers on the subway who refuse to give up their seats in a rather ostentatious manner despite posted notices requiring them to do so. Only one child offers his place, an act of generosity not shared by his elders, that is perhaps too late to stop carnage with a capital C. In shades of sepia and stark red, the action is martial arts and glorious retribution. Our guy becomes the people's vigilante, lightsaber and the force very much with him. And surely people who don't give up their seats deserve all they get, and they get a lot in this conflagration. There is particularly good use of sound effects and a refreshingly different style about the piece in the characterisation. It is about time that we saw more quality work from China given their prominence everywhere else. It may well be Star Wars influenced but it has the smack of the orient about it. More than a smack actually. The casualty count is high.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Planktoon "Réflexion" (2012)

I used to play the mirror game at Drama school: exact mimicry of a partner then the image takes over and the fun proceeds. This same principle is adopted by the directors of Réflexion from the Paris studio Planktoon. The story may not be original but the glossy sheen most definitely is. The CG piece is as stylish as one can get. From fabulous opening credits as a glamorous redhead pirouettes in a high street store's quartet of mirrors, to cat fight between the girl and reflection, the piece fairly zings along. Quite brilliantly lit, there are spectacular, imaginative sequences galore, interspersed with gentle humour of the slapstick kind. When the mirror breaks into shards the whole screen is ablaze with light and redheads. Alban Lelievre, Sebastien Pribile, Fabrice Senia, Alexandre Henri and Sun Limet, who together form the five person studio, met whilst students at L'école Georges Méliès. (For a fuller profile read the always informative CGSociety feature from January.) I know Paris is supposed to be chic, fashionable, stylish .... but on a rain sodden day here in the North of England I'm a bit overawed by all this vivacity to tell you the truth.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Stelios Polychronakis "The Village" (2010)

Greek director Stelios Polychronakis's puppet film, The Village, needs to be viewed in two instalments, the film itself, then the making of video. First the film. A doctor is mysteriously called from his home with the enigmatic, "Doctor, come quickly. The village needs you." A laborious journey on foot through the snow leads him to a village devoid of human life. Thus begins a patient attempt at rebuilding of the village. Stop motion puppets move differently to, say, CG animation, and one has to be drawn into their world. Once won over, and this film kept my attention for all its fourteen minutes in length, there is a sheer joy in the different sets, quite exquisitely made by Stelios together with the puppet itself (there's only one!) from the UK's Mackinnon & Saunders. As for the mystery, all will be revealed at the end. Now to the production, already touched upon. Storyboarding, research, drawing the sets out on flat card and manufacturing it into scale models, human actor for modelling and guidance and camera. For those of us who have never attempted anything as grand as a stop motion piece with real, if cardboard, sets that one has to paint, the whole process comes alive. It does enhance the film. As does the music of Giannis Psaroudakis, the sound of Stelios Koupetoris and the cinematography of Dimitris Horianopoulos. There's something about seeing a giant human hand manipulating a tiny puppet.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Todd Hemker "Seven Corners" (2001)

There is something very satisfying about an unabashed hand drawn animation where artifice is a touch of shading here or a change of perspective there. Todd Hemker has an enviable skill with his pencil together with an eye for those little foibles of personality or shape that make his sketched characters breathe. Seven Corners is an off-beat observation on Southport Railway station, its environs and transient inhabitants. There's a desultory charm about the piece, together with a heart that beats beneath the urban fatigue as commuters await the train. There's the chain smoking double bass player, slumped over his instrument at the close as the birds scour the sidewalk, or the elderly couple, intimidated by the busy cafe and road traffic, comforting each other. Of course one might view the seven minute film as a masterclass in animation, judging what to move, what to leave as a still image, when to flesh out a figure, when to indicate by strategic lines. Watch how Todd darkens the shading as the train enters the tunnel. And all at its own pace, never hurried, like public transport everywhere. Three acknowledgements: electric cello Lowell Pickett, saxophone Lenny Pickett and sound design from Jonathan Miller. Originally from Wisconsin, Todd studied Architecture at the University of Minnesota and, after a spell working on furniture and cabinet-making, moved on to drawing and animation at California Institute of the Arts, graduating in 2001. He now lives near Los Angeles with partner Soyeon Kim, an illustrator and  designer. They form the design and animation company Yellowshed. (Read Michelle Krasniak's thorough article in tsd tuts+ for rather more than I have time for.) A lovely mature film this, crafted beautifully, uplifting, downbeat. Stylish.

Monday, 23 April 2012

W. Scott Forbes "A Good Wife" (2011)

It is refreshing when students choose something emotionally challenging for their final graduation film. W. Scott Forbes from Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, has made a moody piece, A Good Wife, full of stilled moments for reflection, in which a young mother has time to consider her tryst in motel Room 208. Set in the 1960s, with music from The Shirelles and the apposite Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow piercing the airways, one is left to ponder the ambiguity of whether our girl reflects on the constancy of husband or lover. (By the way, any undergraduate with the wit to incorporate The Shirelles deserves to be awarded a first in my book!) She returns eventually to a home redolent of the post war decades where everything is glass, for us to see through and out of, in the transparent 20th century. Now the great thing about a film that features lots of still images is that the process of animating is reduced, a policy having a certain appeal in a single-handed work like this. Scott succeeds because his artwork has a style about it, with a subject lending itself to a slow moving treatment. Of course there is also the considerable bonus of languid, tuneful music by Cyrille Marchesseau and the expert sound effects of Julien Begault, both of whom provide something special for a graduation piece. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Great Schools of Animation: National Film and Television School (UK)

National Film and Television School: Beaconsfield

"The NFTS is right at the heart of training for the Industry"  (David Yates)

The National Film and Television School is situated some 25 miles from London in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. It is considered to be one of the foremost international centres of excellence for television and film. As well as short courses, NFTS offers the two year post graduate MA in a variety of technical areas, the Animation Department being one of many. It has only eight students in any one year. They arrive from all over the world joining a mix of approximately 160 full-time students in varied industry related fields. Students in their first year experience the full diversity of animation techniques, specialising in their second year when they work as part of a project team. As a directing course, entry requirements are for students able to lead and collaborate. For Fees click on the link. Nick Park and Mark Baker are two alumni.  Entry requirements are tough. Course tutors are industry professionals and include the illustrious Caroline Leaf, Barry Purves, Ossie Parker and Marjut Rimminen. Facilities are now excellent given the new building, above, housing state of the art facilities. Discounted rates are given for transport to London Marylebone.

So to some actual work, in trailer form, sadly, as the pieces are brand spanking new and just about to go on the festival circuit, chosen to illustrate both the quality and variety of animation forms pursued at the school, as well as the collaborative nature of the project films:

Given Nick Park's appearance above, it is no wonder stop motion is so strong. Arizona born, Harvard educated, Timothy Reckart's film Head Over Heels is as exciting a prospect as I've seen in this field with simply stunning sets and models, professionally animated. Walter and Madge live in an upside down marriage. Er, literally!  An engaging idea. The film has been selected for the Cinefondation category of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, one of only fifteen films selected from 320 film schools. I am truly looking forward to seeing this in the flesh.

Traditional in technique and artfully executed Gervais Merryweather's 
Buy Buy Baby is another upside down movie, in a sense, as
Fred Finklesworth has to look after his baby daughter in New York, in the roaring twenties as the stock exchange goes belly up. Those lovers of 2D work will revel in the display of the old arts. It is due to be screened at Annecy.

Jack Tilley also works in 2D in the evocative Rail. His subject has a similarity too although it is entirely different in tone. A train driver looks after his adopted granddaughter when their railway world is threatened by the encroachment of the city. Immaculate drawing and great music from Jered Sorkin illuminate this enticing offering. The script was written by Rachel Yelding, and just one of the production team, talented individuals working together, an approach typifying all four films featured here.

Tom Jobbins works in a totally different way in his My Face is in Space. Paper cut out, stop-motion, live action and archive footage are intermingled in the tangled story of a young man who wants his face propelled into space in that golden period of exploration in the 1970s. A glance at the school's synopsis and credits page will emphasise the group approach of the NFTS as actors and technical staff combine their talents in as near a professional environment as a school of animation can offer.

and a personal note - the Animation Blog (me) does not take advertising revenue, the articles are not commissioned, and my coverage of the great schools of animation is a piece of personal research, necessarily squeezed into a truncated postcard form, shared with readers. I ask myself in each case, what would I want to know if seeking to enrol in one of the institutions, what are the films like? I'll release a series of these short articles in no particular order.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

"Les chiens isolés" (Gobelins 2011)

By its very nature, animation allows all sorts of locations. Today's movie, Les chiens isolés, is unusual in being set on an off-shore oil rig, one supposes in the North Sea. Unusual too to discover such a prosaic setting for that most vivacious animation school, Gobelins, whose work is often exuberant, frenetic even, but always oozing class given only the finest artists are accepted on the course. The story is an off-beat one too, the descent into a paranoiac madness by one of the crew, triggered by an almost casual remark from a younger work mate that he was intending to enjoy all the nefarious pleasures of shore leave in London. A rather menacing wolf or dog appears to lure Andre from his senses, at the same time conceding there does seem to be a conspicuous consumption of alcohol. (Though watching a television soccer game of Barnsley versus Scunthorpe either drives one to drink or madness.) As a contrast with much that Gobelins has created before, I found it most interesting; as one might imagine, the quality of the 2D artwork is superb. The crew (De Rémi Bastie, Nicolas Deghani, Jonathan Djob-Nkondo, Paul LaColley, Nicolas Pegon, Jérémy Pires and Kevin Manachins) create all the potential drama and industry of the rig, eschewing any colour in the palette deemed to be cheerful. There seems to be restraint too in the script. I entertained notions of an explosion and mad Andre saving his colleagues. No.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Raoul Olou "Moment" (2012)

I return from an evening out to a message and link from Raoul Olou whose student work I featured in 2008. Moment is a short piece, simply composed and exquisite together with the piano from fellow Canadian Lucinda Tang. As classy pieces always do the animation seems so easy as a tumbler of water sparks life anew in a world of wonder. Raoul sets us up for a new day. He is presently studying some more at Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal. An absolute delight from beginning to delicious end.

Tyler Carter "DreamGiver" (2011)

DreamGiver is the first short featured on the Animation Blog from Utah's Brigham Young University, a decidedly strange omission given the all round quality of director Tyler Carter's film. With a benign nod to Paul Berry's The Sandman, a strange winged figure appears in the bedroom of a young boy, laden with glowing eggs, each of which releases a dream triggered by the boy's obvious regard for sport, music and reading about ancient Aztec mythology. The fellow miscalculates however when a mishap occurs with one of the eggs. The piece features both 3D (reality) and 2D (dreams) and a sumptuous, cinematic score by Lance Montgomery, played superbly by the university's orchestra. Tyler acknowledges the work of his team of fellow animators in what is an ambitious undertaking. The smooth animation, overall quality of artwork and production values make for professional quality. BYU is conspicuously well resourced, courtesy of patrons The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In an accomplished behind the scenes video, directed by Wyatt Strain, the secrets of animation are delineated, from storyboard, modelling, rigging ... We meet the team, including staff from the Center For Animation Faculty. We get to see and hear a very youthful orchestra perform. As a shop window for BYU I can conceive of no better exposure. I understand it is now very much a multi-national university, presumably attracting members of LDS from across the globe. The video reveals the quality of Tyler's input, his artistic talent and drive, together with the support he received.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Rok Predin "Inside" (2012)

The fine arts background of Rok Predin is manifest in the short, mesmerising piece, Inside. The Slovenian director adds a series of disparate objects peeling away the layers in each to reveal an inner core of the unexpected. As well as an undoubted visual appeal Rok shares the billing with Croatian composer and musician, Ivan Arnold, whose portentous soundtrack adds a definite gravity to proceedings. I have had a press release from the superb London studio Trunk Animation, of which I'll provide just a snippet on the process itself: "Inside was created using Cinema 4D and composited using After Effects" and add the fact that I wrote about it before reading the crib to discover we both, studio copywriter and my good self, used the word mesmerising. Nice to know we are on the right wavelength. In fact there is something of the design exhibit about the short, set against a blank canvas, we study the object awhile marvelling at the leg in the crocodile, curious about the innermost contents of the great whale: a fully rigged sailing boat yes, white seagulls in flight no. As we agreed, mesmerising. There is a profile of Rok from a March edition of Design Week. The two, animator and musician, collaborated on the longer, superb Winter Poem. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Geoffrey Godet "Papaye" (Supinfocom 2012)

Papaye is another slick, action packed movie from Supinfocom this time by a single student, Geoffrey Godet, in his fourth year. Set in a chef's kitchen with the intended lunch being a turtle with a hard shell. Sound effects, music and action dovetail perfectly and there is a spectacular sequence as demonic chef turns to his arsenal of weapons. Geoffrey has been well taught, with skill and talent in abundance. His movie is a sure fire success already, a popular frenetic short, picked up by blogs the world over. Not to be churlish, I have seen work like this before, albeit the conclusion is somewhat better than most.

Noriko Okaku 'Electropia' (Joyz 2011)

I am preparing a series of articles on the great animation schools.The Royal College of Art in London can be relied on to produce more than its fair share of talented individuals and I challenge you to spot any house style or family resemblance. Individuals all. Noriko Okaku studied there from 2003-2005, having previously been at two other London colleges since arriving in the English capital in 1999 from Japan. She was awarded the  2011 Best Music Video last September at Ottawa for her pulsating Electropia, an exploding sequence of colour and illustrations for Joyz. No-one thanks me for indicating influences but I see Terry Gilliam mixed with an awful lot of Okaku - I did say they were all individuals. Everything fairly bounces along in the mix, kaleidoscopic explosions of colour interposed with a monochrome collage. The judges said of her work: “The most successful musical visualisation in the competition.” I've been posting, and will continue to do so, a series of blogs on material with an astounding number of hits. Noriko has had only two comments on her work (the indefatigable Max Hattler - RSA himself - is one). Well a mention here surely balances up the equation.

Ülo Pikkov "Dialogos" (2008)

I should be most surprised if today's Dialogos fails to elicit some laughter for I found the experimental piece to be very funny indeed. Ülo Pikkov wittily casts an anarchic eye on otherwise everyday occurrences in a quick-fire series of visual gags. The Associate Professor in the Animation Department at the Estonian Academy of the Arts must be a gas in the lecture room. The figures are drawn directly on to print film, resulting in a roughly hewn style that is entirely appropriate for a film that lambasts modern life.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Alexander Gellner "One Minute Puberty" (2011)

The second of two shorts that have been hugely popular since they went live. I have some issues with the title. One Minute Puberty is in fact 1.40 seconds. Other than that I heartily approve of Berlin based Alexander Gellner with his pepped up, high octane young boy's guide to puberty. He makes it seem fun, not moody, miserable. (Adolescence, the world at your feet and such long long faces... but boy was I moody!) Browse Alexander's site and one may admire his comic books, providing a guide to his talent and style. So our young chap experiences the acne, growth spurts, accidents, discovers music, and then comes the really interesting stuff. Alcohol.  Drugs. Girls. Oh my. Our boy becomes a caveman. Niklas Kröger's music sets a lively pace that the animator is well capable of maintaining with a fizzing, dexterous series of monochrome drawings and lithe animation. There's humour throughout, with the transitions from stage to stage handled with ingenuity. He made the piece for Bitteschö and since its release it has had simply oodles of viewings.

PIXELS by Patrick Jean

Some time shortly after I have published this article Pixels will have received one million hits since its debut on YouTube almost two years ago to the day. It has also been featured by Vimeo and Dailymotion. (I like to get the scoops in way before the more pedestrian blogs.) Patrick Jean's mix of live action and lego like 8 bit pixels warring over New York has had global success.  Like all the best video games you get points for every reference to the games industry you can pick up. Made by One More Production. For those of you out there who missed it first time round, you're in good company.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Peter Budinský "Twins" (2011)

There is no denying that Twins, from Slovakian director Peter Budinský, is a very humorous work but it has a dark side to it, quite apart from the physical monochrome look of the five minute film. Peter's characters are conjoined twins, one much bigger than the other. They earn their living in the boxing ring. The two share everything, including a woman, in a scene more graphically explicit than most. The pair are not only different in physique, they are unlike each other in temperament. The walrus moustached one is something of a bully, inside the boxing ring and out, his victim inevitably being his twin. So there is much ribald humour as big guy beats little guy to the huge merriment of the crowd which in turn induces an even more frenzied assault. Of course, there is only so much a worm can take before turning. Twins, however, is an uncomfortable film in some ways with a very striking conclusion. And no turning. Indeed the film is full of startling images all represented in the director's idiosyncratic style. In its scrutiny of man's alter ego,  Patrik Pass's screenplay also explores the extremes of brotherly love. This excellent film certainly grows on you as it progresses, the subtlety of the action transcending the brusk appearance. Born in 1983, Peter trained in Bratislava and Brussels. He organises the splendid FestAnča.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Mark Baker "The Village" (1993)

My very early blog on Peppa Pig, that adorable morning programme for families, still gets hits after five years. Adults get the humour, children love the characters and stories. Mark Baker is co-director of the series with Astley Baker. Today's Oscar nominated movie from Baker is a beauty, The Village, was made for the UK's Channel 4 when they produced something other than egos or reality tat. So if you have not seen the fifteen minute film prepare for a treat. This is genuinely one of my favourite animated shorts. Set in a walled village of busy bodies, thieves, drunkards and narrow minds, it tells the story of the one decent man whose very decency means that he is ostracised by his fellow villagers. Drawn in an elegant, deceptively simple, almost naive style, it is surprising how quickly one becomes absorbed in the narrative, particularly the fortunes of the two would be lovers. But it is the sheer hypocrisy of the inhabitants that is most palpable. The seemingly pious priest who spits on the prison cell's inmate or the snoop whose neck seems in imminent danger of twisting off, so intent is she on tracking her neighbours' activities. The use of the ants is quite marvellous, at once a Greek chorus to counterpoint the action and theme, as well as a novel means of tying plot together, tidying up the evidence. I've stuck the label classic on this one, for it is. In my book, Baker joins Nick Park as a national institution. And not just for his pink pigs either!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Xin Li "Warm Winter" (2009)

I still remember saying goodbye to my parents when I set off for college all those years ago. That was only to Liverpool and I left them on the platform of Carlisle's Railway Station. Imagine how more traumatic it is when one crosses oceans. My parents and I separated in tears, Xin Li leaves his mother with harsh words but mothers are not so easily shaken off. Warm Winter has a tenderness about it that is most endearing, the sepia images drawn in smudgy lines developed in Photoshop; only the scarlet scarf cuts through the winter and airport gloom. Notice where the scarf ends up - a nice touch. Xin is a student at Queensland College of Art, part of Griffith University. The choice of narrator or music is a key feature in any film. No narration here but lovely piano from Tim Bond and sound design courtesy Paul Lalo. Xin comes from Harbin in China, moving to Australia as a student in 2007. Warm Winter was made in his second year and has only just become available on the web. He is a fine artist in every sense of the word as a click on his link will clarify.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Ania Hazel Leszczynska "Monster in the Toilet" & "but it makes me happy" (2009)

Monster in the Toilet was a second year film for Ania Hazel Leszczynska at Edinburgh College of Art, part of the city's university. A young girl takes refuge in the school loos, escaping from her own shyness and the scorn of older, more worldly girls.  She could have made friends with a fellow inmate of the toilet who is not as frightening as might be supposed. The washed out colour and stylish economy of the artwork is a delight, as is the sympathetic narration of Cat Bruce, fellow animation student on the course whose work is scheduled to appear here shortly. I have just viewed an otherwise excellent piece by a group who spoiled their work by using voices for the dialogue that did not convince. No such problem here. The monster noises too must have cost a fortune to have been made so professionally.

but it makes me happy made me rather sad at the close as the wisdom of older brother flies in the face of his younger sister who has to face some withering criticism. Blossom trees are fleeting and one particularly gorgeous one has left its white petals on my lawn as I type, having just endured a hailstorm. But they are not, as elder brother claims, transitory. They linger. As does the vivid splash of colour, so different from monsters in toilets. The short film is such a mature piece for a young student to make. Again Ania makes the right choice for narrator with Nurio G Blanco voicing both siblings and adds the delicate, melodic piano of Neil MacDougall. Still living in Edinburgh, Ania works as a junior model maker and animator at the city's Kolic Films. After her secondary education in Poland, she first studied at Manchester Metropolitan University.

I shall leave Ania's final graduation piece, created in a totally different style, for later in the week.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Natural Selection Animation Competition: Deadline 24th April

To mark the opening of artist Dave White's forthcoming Natural Selection exhibition at The Hospital Club Gallery, TalentHouse ( has teamed up with artrepublic ( to launch the Natural Selection Animation Competition.

You can find out more information at:

Essentially, we are looking for talented animators to work with one of the UK's foremost painters on an animation project that will be showcased at the Private View of Natural Selection exhibition on Thursday 21st June.

The submission deadline is pretty tight, with all submissions needing to be in by the 24th April.

 Press Release

TalentHouse - Animate for Dave White's Natural Selection Exhibition

British contemporary artist Dave White is inviting animators to collaborate with him on a brand new piece of art to be displayed at his forthcoming exhibition at The Hospital Club in London. The exhibition, entitled 'Natural Selection' explores threatened animal species presented via large scale oil paintings and works on paper. This is an opportunity for animators to collaborate with Dave White on his biggest exhibition to date.

Animators of all techniques including 3D, 2D, hand-drawn and stop-motion are invited to submit their existing animation showreel and a written summary of how they would animate Dave White's 'Amazonian Parrot' artwork. Alternatively artists may submit an animation of the Amazonian Parrot and may use the provided downloadable image as a feature in their animation. The object of the brief is to capture the movement, energy, dynamism and suspense of the subject matter and should demonstrate your creativity and animating skills.

This opportunity is open globally. Dave White will work remotely with the winning animator should they be from outside of the UK. The winning artist to be given full credits at the exhibition.

The winning animator will collaborate with Dave White on a new piece of work for the Natural Selection' exhibition which will be installed at The Hospital Club gallery in London from June 20, 2012 - July 8, 2012.

In addition, the winner will receive:
• A feature at the press and preview launches where they will have their animated screened
• An invitation to attend the exclusive press and preview launches at The Hospital Club gallery in London with full access to The Hospital Club facilities for the duration of the exhibition (travel and accommodation not provided)
• A feature on, and on their social media channels
• An original work on paper based on the animated subject matter, signed and dated by Dave White
• Credited as a collaborator for their animation
• A one year membership to The Hospital Club in London OR a one year membership to Norwood Club in New York

GIRAF Animation Festival : Call for Submissions

GIRAF Animation Festival


Deadline: August 1, 2012

The 8th annual GIRAF (or the Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival) is looking for Animation submissions, in all styles, genres, lengths, and mediums. Our programs are a strong eclectic mix of animation, representing the best of the medium from Claymation to CG. We focus on presenting indie, experimental, and underground animations that push boundaries through new techniques, unique visions, and stimulating subject matter.  Our 2011 program featured visiting artist David O’Reilly, and 3 of the 5 Academy Award nominees for Best Short Animation!

We DO NOT CHARGE A SUBMISSION FEE, and encourage short and feature length local, national, international, and student submissions.

Animators can submit online at:

Geoffroy Moneyron "Frangin" (2011)

You get all sorts of advice when you post a movie on Vimeo or YouTube. Usually it's complimentary, occasionally not so. One respondent to today's movie called it "touching and beautiful" but felt the sound was unsynchronized, and that emotional impact could have been heightened by cutting up to 30% of the piece. Every opinion is valued and my own are featured here every day. So I'm allowed to disagree. Very strongly in the case of the latter point! Frangin (or Brother) is the graduation film of 23 year old Geoffroy Moneyron from one of France's premier institutions, Ecole des Métiers du Cinéma d'Animation (EMCA). Story first. A young boy sees his brother leave for a war. Missing his elder sibling terribly he attempts to gain contact by sending off a succession of the family racing pigeons. That's it really. The boy waits around, launches his birds, and recalls the times when the two of them were together, revealed in warm, bright colours. In his response to the criticism Geoffroy agrees about the sound, pointing out however that he refrained from making too many cuts because he wanted to sustain a peaceful atmosphere. Maybe our world is so frenzied in pace that some of us are unable to maintain concentration in a slow moving work for the five and a half minutes of the film. Well phooey to them. The film was after all about waiting. And what a wait. The composition, colouring and sheer beautiful restraint of the artist, for such he is, is impressive. The huge, rounded and nostalgic figure of the older man towering over his brother. The convoy of vehicles fleeing the fighting. The magical forest with its colour and light; and the disappearing pigeons. As for the blemishes in synchronising the sound. Well I only noticed the delicate guitar riffs.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Rafael Sommerhalder "Wolves" (2009)

I have featured London's Royal College of Art's Rafael Sommerhalder here before. From Flowerpots to today's Wolves. Set in that urban wilderness, the English capital's underground network, there are howls galore, albeit quite different to those I emit when squashed into that fiendish commuter hellhole if one attempts to travel in the rush hour, more packed than pack. But typically I digress. In its way, Wolves is a love story, a sort of casual encounter where inextricably two strangers are drawn to each other. Sound effects and minimalist monochrome artwork comprise this piece. Wolves are in fashion as any bookshop browsing will testify. No vampires or werewolves here however, well ... not obviously. Instead there's a most enigmatic movie in which Rafael lets the tempo simmer at stalking pace rather than dash full tilt for the kill. Oh, I'm misleading you. The howl of a wolf is a piecing noise all right. I have met some odd folk on the Tube. Seen some odd things. Not like this though. And our man, by way of continuity, holds a flowerpot for most of the time.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Natalia Mirzoyan "My Childhood Mystery Tree" (2009)

My Childhood Mystery Tree is not only rather beautifully done, it is an intriguing film made by a debut director, Natalia Mirzoyan, who also provides the script, art and animation. The screenshot reveals the quality of the art and it is heart warming that the skills displayed by those soviet animators of old are present in 29 year old Natalia's work. Initially there is much of a Louis Carroll or CS Lewis in the opening scenes of the 10 minute short. A young boy loses his teddy bear discovering him at various locations in a series of alternative realities that seem to exist in the hollows and branches of a huge tree, to which the boy returns after each adventure. But there is a darker side in the seizure of children's toys by flying eagles in a world overseen by an omnipotent Bird. Like scenes in a nightmare, reality is a pliable substance. My favourite world is that of a seemingly happy childhood scene where the children are at play suddenly to be frozen, revealed as one dimensional figures, toppled over by a storm. Unwisely attempting an explanation .... if one takes the great tree as a symbol of childhood, woven together from all the stolen toys, and the Bird as motherhood, then the loss of the teddy bear is that of innocence with the onset of the adult world. Interestingly, the boy is no mere passive creature, having a hand in the destruction of his own childhood. Excellent music from Marina Landa and Sergey Vasilyev greatly add to the mystery of it all. That and some sumptuous use of paintbrush in the 2D piece. It was produced by Studio of Computer Graphics and Animation in St Petersburg. Natalie is a graduate of both Yerevan State University and Saint Petersburg Institute of Decorative-Applied Arts. She has a new film, Chinti, out in time for Annecy. Natalia elbowed out the promised love story that is tomorrow's fare. I can already hear the howls of protest....but we'll leave them for tomorrow.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Joanna Lurie "The silence beneath the bark" ("le silence sous l'écorce" 2010)

Give yourself time to savour Joanna Lurie's tender romance, The Silence Beneath the Bark, for it builds up slowly. In a sense it is a conventional love story though set in a forest amidst a snow storm. The lovers discover the joy of sharing until their innocent lives are transformed by snow, that most wondrous substance. Of course, the narrative is secondary to the look of the film, the abstract trees, set against a delicious nocturnal blue and white, with snowflakes in perpetual fall. Then there are the finger-like figures themselves, little variations in face shape and colour delineating male from female. Joanna achieved the overall effect through modifying and filtering photographs in Photoshop, for a background against which she animates her two 3D characters. The distinguishing voices of the pair seem something of a cat's purr. Whatever, they have considerable charm and there is an aesthetically satisfying quality to the whole piece. The short was one of the last ten narrowed down for Best Animated Short Film Academy Award for 2010. Adam Wolny created the sound. Another love story, of sorts, tomorrow.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Bruno Bozzetto "La Piscina" (1976)

What are the consequences of an elephant drinking from a swimming pool? I'll let you discover for yourself when watching the utterly inimitable Bruno Bozzetto's 1976 short, La Piscina. The six minute piece has all the hallmarks of the great man with its unembellished artwork, zany humour and wry commentary on human nature. So our guy buys a plot in woodland, most of which has to be levelled to accommodate a prefabricated house, leaving one house, one tree and one guy without a swimming pool. The tree has to go. But will he be able to enjoy a swim in his own pool? A series of entirely predictable unpredictable events deter our guy from his morning dip. Which is where the elephant comes in. The great beasts have a huge thirst. A family of ducks, yes. The Apollo spacecraft? Surely not. A homily for our times. Bruno is a delightful man and very helpful to me in the past. A happy Easter to him and yourselves.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Tobias Knipf & Andreas Kronbeck "Glückskette: Chaîne du bonheur " (2011)

Whenever I write about films for charity a glut of page views are predictable.(Though the most popular article was actually about Peppa Pig!!)  But entirely for reasons of quality over popularity here is a well crafted short in support of Swiss charity, Glückskette. Chaîne du bonheur / Swiss Solidarity takes as its starting point a huge storm that devastates an island community. Broadcast television footage into a representative western family triggers a positive humanitarian reaction showing the range of possible responses from the charity. Tobias Knipf and Andreas Kronbeck's work eschews any of the realism of the genuine disaster but the illustrative clarity of the piece (and its simple humour) is admirable, not so much in eliciting specific donations, as with most work of this kind, but in awakening the international viewer to Glückskette itself. The German and Swiss directors together form Musclebeaver


"Bose: The Power of Sound" Jerry van de Beek and Betsy de Fries (2011)

It is a pleasure to see the work of skilled professionals and Jerry van de Beek and Betsy de Fries (littlefluffyclouds) are consummate professionals. Bose: The Power of Sound embraces a host of animation techniques, from 2D to 3D to origami. Jerry is a master, artist and technician both, employing whatever software, or scissors, it takes to convey the message. Given a high end product like Bose, it figures the one minute piece requires something extra special. Technologically advanced article waveforms emanate from the music itself, scissored horses and cranes soar through the skies and scarlet sampans traverse the ocean; there is even a mathematical Fibonacci sequence of numbers in free flight. This orchestral and visual feast is a masterclass. I've not asked but I guess the ad is linked to the tsunami that hit Japan. The giant wave crashes down and soaring out of the explosion red flowers climb towards the moon. It seems like a rebirth to me, a proud nation responding to devastating adversity. I need to add that I had intended, and still do, to write about two other ads in the small (in size not stature) California studio's impressive library of work, one a very traditional cartoon (like they used to do it) and, secondly, a follow-up to an earlier piece I had written about on the blog. But I got waylaid. Jerry, by the way, hails from the Netherlands and producer Betsy from the UK. It's warmer in California.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Hannah Letaïf "Cases ou je ne suis pas un monstre" (2011)

Plant an amaryllis bulb in a pot and one can be fairly sure what will occur given optimum conditions. Locate adults within a confined space and the results are not quite so predictable. Annie is a shapely 24 year old. Her demon is food. Computer nerd, squash player and young lovers feature in a screen often divided into quarters as the experiment proceeds. Excess fat, muscles, children and distortion arise in no particular order, Annie and her bulimia providing one of the visual excesses on view. Scientific experiments are not intended to be a bundle of  laughs. Hannah Letaïf's Cases ou je ne suis pas un monstre is an interesting exercise in animation: 2D, cold, analytic, well executed. Unusual. Hanna is a student at Brussels's L'école de la Cambre, the architectural and visual arts school. As an exercise in drawing I used to take my pen on a walk, seeing how things might develop, or degenerate as in this exercise. 

Yves Geleyn "Snow Angels" (2010)

Snow Angels provides the kind of video I like to show the kids. Rose takes it seriously for the purposes of discussion. Matilda believes. How do angels come to earth? Obviously, it's on a snowflake. Yves Geleyn was employed by a Greek yoghurt company to make this seasonal tale for children of all ages. The moral is that one needs to give at Christmas, or whenever your faith allows. Reading from Yves' blog, I gather it was inspired by Hamdi Ulukaya, the CEO of Chobani yogurt, who recalls a tale his own father told him. The Turkish born entrepreneur has seen his company boom as demand for his particular yoghurt style has surged. Indeed I have some samples of Greek Yoghurt in my refrigerator at this very moment. It doesn't say Chobani it says Tesco. But I've been distracted. The film is simply drawn and animated but there's no harm in that. A sweet film, expertly made, and had I been functional at Christmas it would have appeared in that build-up. It's better to give than receive.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

"Hezarfen" Tolga Ari, Romain Blanchet, Chung-Yu Huang & Rémy Hurlin (2010)

Here's a film I missed out on when hors de combat for much of last year. Hezarfen is the graduation movie of four guys from Supinfocom Arles. It was inspired by a real life flight in Istanbul in 1632, way before the Wright Brothers made theirs. That's about it for historical accuracy for what occurs is a chain reaction in which everything flies including a chicken that by my estimation surpassed a cat's nine lives. Timing and the unexpected are the essence of comedy and for three minutes or so the guys throw the kitchen sink and a flock of sheep at the piece before the initially reluctant flier flies. The four guys (Tolga Ari, Romain Blanchet, Chung-Yu Huang and Rémy Hurlin) had some help for two months when fellow student Ma Chao helped out to ensure deadlines were met. (Check out his link and also the movie's dedicated website.)  I am shortly to commence a series of articles on all the great animation schools. Suffice it to say, Supinfocom is fast becoming, if it isn't already, the great CG school. Typically, the programs used by the students included Adobe Photoshop, 3ds Max, Fusion, After Effects and Premiere.  Now I have read, in January last year, a discussion on Cartoon Brew to the effect that this is just another chase movie, one of many from the school. I found it exhilarating, carried along with the sheer energy of music, sound effects and expert animation.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Animation Master Class - Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD)

Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) and The Creative Talent Network (CTN) have partnered to offer one complimentary registration in the Animation Master Class taught by one of the world's most talented and revered legendary animators, Eric Goldberg.
The artist who is selected by portfolio review will have the opportunity of a life time to work in all phases of production, as a team to produce a collaborative, traditionally-animated short film all being mentored by Eric Goldberg.

This workshop intensive is valued at $2500 and meets for six hours every Saturday for twelve weeks from June 9 to August 25 at LCAD in Laguna Beach, California. 

To Enter: Please send your portfolio on CD that includes a letter expressing why you want to be in this class, your full contact information including Name, Email Address and Phone Number, 3 pages of storyboard samples, 3-pages of character designs, 3-pages of background layouts and a 1 minute Quicktime traditional animation demo reel.

Mail your CD to the below address. All submissions must be postmarked by May 1st.
Laguna College of Art and Design
Animation Department
2222 Laguna Canyon Rd.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
ATTN: CTN + LCAD Contest

The winner will be notified by a representative from LCAD on or before May 31st.

If you're gonna go for it, fill out this form and let us know so we can keep an eye out for your entry:LET US KNOW IF YOU'RE GOIN' FOR IT   

For more information about this Animation Master Class: CLICK HERE 

For questions or concerns:

Mario Addis "Casse Rurali Trentine" (2011)

Advertising has always pointed the way to the good life. As does this spot for Italian bank, Casse Rurali Trentine. Pointing is rather appropriate for there is much of that with goddesses and eagle soaring over the Italian landscape to the delight of the populace. Dionysian it isn't but the picnic seems fun and such a lovely waitress. Mario Addis and art director, Luca Franceschin choose a free-wheeling, sketch book style with vim. Italian banks need vim. As do Greek, Spanish, Irish, British ... We all need vim.

Cameron Gough "Best Over Ice" (2012) & "Alcohol and the Brain" (2011)

Best Over Ice and Alcohol and the Brain: a double header today, demonstrating how a busy director turns his hand to two different briefs. First is the heady little brew for cider maker, Bulmers, from Australian director, Cameron Gough. The classic 30 seconds in length, light on information, high on slick visual simplicity. Cider, a drink for the 21st century. It was made exclusively for the Rooftop Cinema and the rich sound quality is important, I think. As the ice is added the drink explodes. The second ad is of much more serious intent, about the development of the brain and the effects of alcohol on the brain in adolescence. It is full of facts albeit broken down into digestible chunks through the force of the visuals, the brain being viewed as a factory, little workers beavering away in their various departments, except when under the influence of alcohol when they seem to float about. The whole thing is nicely done too, touches of humour throughout. Thus we see the effects of alcohol. In my days as a teacher I could happily have devoted several lessons to this one animation. The pair offer different persectives: heart or brain? Which one works best, class? The cider one, sir. Every time, I guess, in an unequal contest.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Claudius Gentinetta "The Cable Car" (2008 "Die Seilbahn")

It is a dangerous business sniffing snuff on a Swiss cable car. Claudius Gentinetta directs a very funny 2D short, The Cable Car, the central premise being that every sneeze has a detrimental effect on the tradionally robust vehicle. It starts slowly, (as do all cable rides) as the man with the big nose loads his immaculately drawn and animated suitcase onto the car, before launching himself into the heady mountain air. Breaking through the greenery he is relaxed enough to open up his snuff box. Big mistake. The disintegration of the car and the uses he makes of his trusty sticky tape are a source of great entertainment. I note that 43 year old Claudius presently lives in Zurich, having attended art schools in Switzerland, Germany and England, and also worked for one year in Poland. He is a very gifted artist and animator with a sense of humour and a mixed repertoire of drawing, shown in the intricately drawn cable car (beautifully animated), broad caricature and the alpine scenery. Claudius has a very comprehensive website where a copy of the film can be downloaded.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Paul Driessen "The Water People" (1992)

The little Dutch boy sticks his finger into the dyke to let the water in. The Water People will not be to all tastes. For starters they may not understand it and, in truth, it's not meant to add up, except in the idiosyncratic world that Dutch animator, Paul Driessen, conjures up, with its very own normality. Thus the family sit down to lunch, only their upper torsos visible out of the water. When the toast pops up we venture beneath the surface and there is the child, submerged, enjoying breakfast, stealing the jam. It's a half water world, for it reaches only five feet in height and after the washing is hung out to dry, it is placed on a bed under the water. Umbrellas for rain, wiping away the perspiration, and watering the plants: there's an absurd logic in the world of the water people. The citizens enjoy their world, apart from the lone shark that occasionally pops up for lunch and even this occasions no sense of panic, just a fin and sudden disappearance. There's elements of two traditional children's stories. We've had one. There's a king who hates water and has all the girls lined up to kiss the frog in the belief that it will be a prince. And the two huge holiday makers whose existence threatens this sweet, alternative universe, particularly given the connivance of the monarch who enlists them to his cause. I last wrote about Paul's work in September 2008. For some semblance of biography go there. And note that the YouTube film has no comments - like my blog. And like my blog, it's lovely. Ha.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

John Hubley "Rooty Toot Toot" (1952)

Some films never age and the great John Hubley's 1952 Rooty Toot Toot perhaps is one, though I'll get to that. The ballad of Frankie and Johnny provides the plot for the seven minute short, all of it sung by Annette Warren (who provided the singing voice for Ava Gardner in the 1951 Show Boat) and Thurl Ravenscroft from a script by Hubley and Bill Scott. It's a tale of infidelity drawn out before twelve persons on the jury. As we hear, Johnny is spooked by the imminent arrival of his lover, Frankie, whilst dallying a while with the sultry Nelly Bly. Frankie wastes no time in delivering her verdict on the nature of the relationship even before he has greeted her, as three bullet holes through the hard wood door testify. In consequence, Johnny sadly was unable to appear for the prosecution in his murder case. Nellie is awfully plausible in her evidence however, her voice almost grinding to a halt mid syllable, arms fully twisted together. Frankie's alibi as relayed by her lawyer, Honest John the Crook, is a convincing rebuttal, explaining how pure and demure Frankie did not do the deed and how bullets can change trajectory several times, plus defeat the laws of time itself. Never underestimate the skills of a good lawyer. We have a few here in the UK and I guess there are similar in your own countries. In summation Honest John the Crook addresses the jury: "You have asked for the truth without compunction. I have performed the fiction ah .. that function." I am treading a well trodden route with this animation. Amid Amidi's always informative blog, Cartoon Modern has a thread on Hubley, that itself draws on the peerless Michael Sporn. Hubley certainly has his admirers. Admire for yourself the style of the piece, the lissome movement of the characters, the elegant drawn lines of the artwork, economical if bold smidgens of colour, plus the interplay between the music and movement. Not to mention a truly modern, truly amoral lead character. Of course, Johnny did her wrong.... So that's all right then. He deserved it. As I said, a truly modern film.