Thursday, 31 May 2012

Erick Oh "The Bag" (2005)

If you enjoy the simple pleasures of frames merging into each other in a free and easy fashion, characters morphing into different ones, easing in and out of situations, you will enjoy The Bag, the very first animation made by Erick Oh, a very talented Korean animator working presently in California. If this was the first, rest assured it was not the last from the prolific director. Back to the Bag. It is transported from pillar to post; I swear Toad from Toad Hall takes a stint, but then, wasn't that Adolph Hitler, most certainly a whale. It's a virtuoso piece, demonstrating mastery over pencil and medium. Erick obtained his Fine Art degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2010. Back to the bag. The item may be much sought after but in this humorous work, it's all sh.. to some folk. The sublime piano, masterfully synchronised with the animation was by eun soo Im. Erick is showing How to Eat Your Apple at Annecy this month. He's also showing his exhibition of watercolor paintings, sculptures and films at Los Angeles' Lois Lambert Galler

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Matthias Hoegg "Thursday" (2010)

We see the square, abstract mouths of three chicks as their mother blackbird searches for food in a digital city. If it is more or less worm shaped and more or less worm coloured it is food so the blackbird pecks at it. The digital city stops and our android-like humans have a moment of pause to remember they are humans. Time to take a trip to the top and see the real world. Meanwhile our blackbirds also enjoy the view.  Matthias Hoegg is undoubtedly one of the finest young animators in the UK. Thursday is a graduation piece from the Royal College of Art. He doesn't so much draw as design, his work having crispness and precision. Even in this cold world there is humanity and wonder. Amongst all the electronic beeps there is bird song. The geometric patterns of the city, Marian Mentrup's magnificent sound design, and the simple truths of our modern society make this a memorable film.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Guido Manuli "Incubus" (1985)

Born in 1939, originally based in Milan, Guido Manuli is inevitably linked to his partner Bruno Bozzetto with whom he collaborated in two of his masterpieces, Mr Rossi and Allegro Non Troppo. Michael Sporn has written about how Guido milks every situation for its gags. Incubus
is a case in point. Here a man living in a high rise block engages in various dark visions which are not real until, inevitably, he wakes up to discover his dreams are reality. I found the looped screaming a little tiresome to be frank but Manuli's wit and ingenuity are fresh and funny a quarter of a century since the short was made. Guido is thankfully still working, his series Acqua in Bocca being current and popular.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Bo Mathorne "The Backwater Gospel" (2011)

The Backwater Gospel is one heck of a movie. It is startlingly original and quite quite brilliant. I wrote yesterday about Denmark's The Animation Workshop as part of my series on animation schools. Consider this to be a second instalment. For now, see why the school is rightly up there with the greats. The film is set in one of those Spaghetti Western, dust bowl sets, where the undertaker rules supreme, except maybe for the local preacher whose zombie-like congregation are driven to violence against the town balladeer whose song is not that bad in truth. His actual crime is that he will not come to church. But the undertaker shows every sign of turning up and that certainly scares the folk in shanty town, scares them all more than half to death, double that to be literal. Director Bo Mathorne scores highly in the brutality stakes albeit there's tongue in cheek relish of all that gore. Visually the film is a treat, the stylised characters possessing angular, skull-like faces, mouths full of deformed teeth and venom, whilst the choice of shots provides ample opportunity to zoom in on the faces. In 3D the film is astonishing with special effects and a soundtrack to match. For an engrossing and informative insight, watch the two making ofs from Bo Mathorne and Arthur Gil Larsen the Animation Lead.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Great Schools of Animation: The Animation Workshop (Denmark)

The Animation Workshop is based in former army barracks in Viborg, Denmark. It is a genuinely cosmopolitan environment, with 85% of staff, 15% of students and 30% of the community being international; all lessons are in English. Students for the Bachelor degree choose the Character Animation course. The 3½ year course initially concentrates on drawing and design together with developing an aesthetic sensibility. There follows a thorough grounding in all forms of animation culminating in the final graduation film in year 3. Internships are arranged for the last semester term. The course develops personal confidence and the ability to work within a team. Details are here. Admission requirements include advanced levels of examination success, ability to converse in English and a portfolio. Very detailed requirements are made for the latter. International students should check here. Those from within the EU/EEA pay no tuition fees, those outside €12.903 a year. All students pay a materials fee of approximately €10,640 over the entire time in the school.  Guaranteed accommodation is up to a high of €404 per month. Most animation students live in dormitory Camp Logos. Scholarships are available. Teaching is considered to be outstanding, the school attracting staff from all over the world. There's a definite sense of fun about the place. Increasingly the school is winning awards at international animation festivals.

I intend to feature quite a few films from Viborg in the next few weeks. For now I thought it interesting to show work that is very much workshop. The videos provide testimony to the process of taking already talented artists and adding animation skills that are enviable. I don't say this lightly, but were I embarking on a career in animation, I'd be dusting off my passport and purchasing Frommer's Denmark.
Marion Strunck's show reel from her first year character animation classes provides an excellent introduction to an animation course,  the very basics, the walk cycle, inbetweening, storyboarding. It's all here and therefore is a valuable resource. I'll take an interest in Marion's work as she progresses.

For Marion read Rasmus Brinck for his mid year one show reel covers the same ground. His work displays a growing confidence naturally enough as the year progresses. Clearly the course is rooted in drawing. The chosen music shows good taste (I Turn My Camera On - Spoon)
A sequence from a Maya class from 2008 by Louise Muchardt. She's a good animator (see her gorgeous dance) and a great judge of comedy for her routine is a very funny one from Monty Python where Eric Idle and John Cleese discuss how to market short lengths of string.

From the second semester here's a showreel of Camilla Gunborg Pedersen that includes colour, Flash and her little film, Soup in My Hair, plus a nice tribute to Roland Seer, musician and composer (it has some audio footage of Camilla herself talking to the guy.)

John Kenn Mortensen made his very funny Fishing with Spinoza in 2007. It was one of the first films I had seen from the school and I was pleased to find it on-line. Jude and Ruby are fishing in an open boat, engaging in philosophical chat whilst waiting for the legendary fish, Moby. Losing themselves in debate about Spinoza they forget that tangling toes provide bait. They do find their uncle's toe. It is interesting that the style of TAW film has changed in the last few years.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Christopher Alender "Eye of the Storm" (Ben Lovett 2011)

Steampunk Saturday. Ben Lovett's Eye of the Storm, directed by Christopher Alender has amassed nearly half a million hits on YouTube alone so it's likely you will have seen it but fewer of you will have viewed the behind the scenes video. The lyrics suggests heading into the eye of a storm and this is what occurs. The captain steers his flying machine by wires slap bang into the winds though the storm is not actually as ferocious as might be envisaged. It is however visually appealing and suitably enigmatic. And of course the music is great. View the production video and learn all about red tape, black light and blue screens. Learn that Lovett himself is behind the goggles. See where the lighting, the animation and the electronic wizardry coalesce.  To take one example, the flying scarf is puppeteered and then jazzed up by visual effects guru Wes Ball.  The company responsible, Soapbox Films, is based in Burbank, California.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Alexandra Hetmerova "Swimming Pool" (2010)

There's a great joke in today's animation. The guy with the apartment overlooking the swimming pool is sneaking through the gardens for a secret, nocturnal splash when a screeching bird betrays his presence. Only a bribe of banknotes silences the bird which promptly uses them as bedding. Alexandra Hetmerova's utterly charming piece, Swimming Pool, has the swimmer meet up with a female and together indulge in an impromptu bit of synchronised swimming to Strauss. There's a surprise ending that I never guessed at but nothing in this warm romance is unseemly. Except the director's understandable reluctance to animate legs: they are a pain. Alexandra has real talent. Her drawing is at once simple and sophisticated, and the animation has a fizz about it, full of incident and wit. She made the film whilst working towards her MA at FAMU, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. She is currently working on her second film. I notice also that she had an internship in 2009 at the Estonian Academy Of Art in Tallinn  working with Priit Pärn and Ülo Pikkov. She must have learnt a lot. I may too. I'm going there in July but not to study, sadly.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Christobal De Oliveira "Aalterate" (Float 2011)

Do give time for this artful nine minute film, Aalterate, to develop for it is very powerful with astonishing imagery. A young woman is in a coma, her body clinging on to life, yet her spirit ready to leave. From her body expanding fibres of matter stretch out, as a vine might, growing increasingly dominant, complex, compelling.  We begin to understand that a car accident caused her injuries. The various imagery has resonance: pulses of light from the sun, eclipses, and the automobile plunged into water, destroyed by fire. Most of all, the labyrinthine circuits of the brain.  Christobal De Oliveira's first film is due to be aired at Annecy next month. Maxime Drouillard has created a soundtrack that underscores the visual intensity to perfection. Nicolas Schmerkin produced the Dutch/ French piece. His Paris based company Autour de Minuit was responsible for Logorama the deserved Oscar winner in 2010.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Sink, Egg and Hallway (Blacklist & Dvein 2012)

You want monsters? Real monsters that climb out of the bathroom sink, wrench apart your floorboards and walls, monsters that are so excruciatingly obnoxious they make Alien seem half decent. We've got them folks. Cockroaches and termites (1 in 30 American homes). I feel an exclamation mark or three coming on. Sink, Egg and Hallway are the three new Terminix ads building on last year's batch, each giving a super monster alter ego to insects. Talk about scare tactics to drum up custom. I've got ants that are determined on gaining admission to the kitchen. The trouble is I quite admire ants and there's not that many. The 51% equity holder in my household has determined they have to go. If she saw this ad she's be after ferreting out the toxins in our garden shed. Last summer our neighbours gassed a busy nest of bumblebees that had gained access to an airbrick in their wall. They'd been all over our garden and never stung anyone. Cockroaches and termites of course are different, especially after seeing the three ads. The work, by the way, is from Barcelona-based Dvein.  Production company was Blacklist. I get lots of information. Here's something on Sink. “Our main goal was to create a very flexible and adaptable creature, who can narrow itself to get into your home by any tiny hole, as cockroaches do. In this case, we weren’t looking for a destroyer look but we wanted to show cockroaches as a synonym for dirt. We wanted to stress the disgusting mouth with no teeth, in contact with bathroom objects and licking everything around it.”

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Adam Foulkes & Alan Smith "This Way Up" (2009)

This Way Up, although nominated, failed to win the Oscar in 2009. It was unlucky. Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith make a lively romp as their hapless pair of undertakers set out to deliver the coffin and corpse of a little old lady in red slippers. Their task is not made any easier by malevolent circumstance, the journey to the grave jinxed; indeed, everything two resourceful animators can devise in the way of obstructions and near escapes. The two men are stoic throughout, in that stiff upper lip British tradition, not speaking and yet, in extremity, risking all for their client and each other, and in consequence supporting the highly exaggerated comic. Technically and artistically the film is supremely confident, the dark humour, and funereal dress being more than matched in the carnival atmosphere towards the close. There is also one of the most imaginative depictions of death's grand entrance, the boys struggling to stay topside. Adam and Alan are mainstays of Nexus.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Yves Geleyn "Colosse: A Wood Tale" (2009)

Colosse: A Wood Tale: an unexpectedly cute wooden puppet robot gets tangled up in a forest and has to be helped out by a woodpecker. It's amazing how such a diversity of ideas gets animated. Type in Yves Geleyn to the search this blog facility here and you will discover, firstly, what a wonderful device it is, then four other equally unusual shorts by the French animator. What a wonderful world when little treasures like this are made, in this case for New York's Hornet INC. I've enjoyed the music and sound work of Huma-Huma before. A nice start to the week.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Great Schools of Animation: Filmakademie Baden-Wuertemmberg (Germany)

The Filmakademie Baden-Wuertemmberg is situated in Ludwigsburg, 12 kilometres from Stuttgart. Compared with some other schools, the Filmakademie is a newcomer but commonly recognised as being one of the top ranking institutions in the world. It formed its Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction in 2002. For European students tuition fees have been waived for the university courses as of this year, although there are modest costs for administration and student social services. Overseas students will need to satisfy the authorities that they can finance their studies abroad. Entry qualifications are tough and include proficiency in German, 12 months' work experience and a portfolio, interview and entrance exam. Precise details are here. The 41/2 year course takes students through the full range of software programs, classes being in small groups with the opportunity to work together in large groups from other departments for the project films that are such a feature of the school. Two forms of film-making are identified, Character Animation and Visual Effects. (See here.) Facilities are outstanding. There are approximately 50 on the course with, at any one time, between 1-5 foreign students. Staffing is very generous, with 60 guest teachers and lecturers in a year from all over the world, a feature of this top rank school. Collaborations of the Filmakademie with public and private broadcasters is a feature of years 3 and 4, accounting for some of the very high profile films they make. There is a variety of accommodation provided although demand is higher than supply for halls of residence. Das Rad was nominated for an Oscar in 2003. Graduates, naturally enough, are sought after and employed all over the world.

The selection of films below shows the variety of approaches and styles. It should be noted they represent films produced at different stages in the course, from a test piece made by way of application, to a graduation movie.

Jacob Frey and Harry Fast made Bob, after their introduction to Maya in 2009 during their second year. You'll have seen those pitiful rodents mindlessly treading their wheels, getting nowhere. Here's a hamster on a mission, and a globe trotting one at that. An amazing competence with the software, glorious punchline.

A6/A9 was achieved in only three weeks by Johannes Schiehsl in 2007. The key sound design from David Christiansen exudes power as a motorway snakes its way through the land. As the pieces here show, the Filmakademie produces diverse responses from its students. However, I would have staked my reputation (ha) on the source.

Fallen makes sky diving look easy as a cute meteor falls to earth and adapts.Wolfram Kampffmeyer and Sascha Geddert made this in 2007 but, a feature of all the films from the university, the music and sound design from David Christiansen is astonishing.
By way of contrast, going back to 2005, Ruth Weber uses cel animation in a deceptively simple but beguiling fashion. On the Way is described by the director quite differently to my reading of it. I thought something on the lines of Icarus reborn. Whatever, the increasingly lithe movement of the figure and pulsating music of Vladimir Martinka culminate in an abrupt halt to proceedings.

Wolfram Kampffmeyer's Refrain from 2005 is offered as an example  of an animation completed in only three days as an entrance examination exercise for the university! Wolfram made Fallen above, assisted on Red Rabbit. Easy life teaching a student this talented. The piece is visually complex and technically resourceful.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Gil Alkabetz "Rubicon" (1997)

Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and started a civil war. So how do you get a wolf, sheep and cabbage over a river without the wolf eating the cabbage (or something like that!) Gil Alkabetz provides an implausibly extended explanation in the extremely funny Rubicon. Cartoonists (and animators) are cleverer than the average joe and Gil is a very clever man in the way he spins out the tale. There's are a few laugh aloud moments. The fin in the water, the confusion over identities, that damn cabbage. The clean graphics are a delight, each frame crisply drawn. The animator utilises his medium adroitly, his film full of optical tricks. Born in Israel in 1957, Gil moved to Stuttgart in 1995 and has taught at a high (professorial) level at a variety of animation schools. (See tomorrow's feature on Filmakademie Baden-Wuertemmberg, if I can get it written!!)

And, on a personal note, I notice I'll achieve half a million page views today. The numbers have been building up in the last few months since I updated the site. The figure is something between 1200 and 1700. If I wrote on Pepper Pig each day it would be at the one million mark in no time at all. To be serious, it helps when there are so many good films to write about. So thanks to the film makers and to you for reading this frippery.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Carla Veldman "The Scarf" (2010)

Grandma forgets how to knit, pours the orange juice into the breakfast cereal: She was there and not there. Who are you? she asks of her doting grandson. Carla Veldman's graduate film, The Scarf, from 2010 is an affectionate stop motion film that does not try too hard for sentimentality in its treatment of Alzheimer's Disease. And, of course, it is. This is not a personal blog in the sense that I reveal all, but my grandfather said something similar when I visited from university. Unusually for me I never spoke about it. I was hurt and took it too personally. The boy in Carla's lovely film hides his scarf away and a neat piece of script writing ties the loose ends together at the close. Another wonderful film from Sheridan College. Carla works freelance in Toronto. May she always be in work.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Donato Sansone "Topo Glassato al Cioccolato" (2011)

I'm going to introduce today's animation by reference to an earlier work from Donato Sansone when he made a marvellous flip book, Videogioco - the link being to an article I wrote in 2009. The film was full of, as I said at the time, butchery and decapitations, and so is Topo Glassato al Cioccolato, only more so really. Plus some modest sexual imagery. So having obtained your interest, I can't unravel in any meaningful way a narrative other than I made a screenshot of some pretty birds to indicate the sketched style, rather than lovers who are wrenched apart, er literally, or erupting human beings born to break like porcelain as they hit the ground. My money was on the rabbit to survive. I lost. In fact the piece is stylish and artistic, the arresting stream of images, finely drawn on a cluttered canvas, delighting in their little explosions and mutations. There is also the rather fabulous sound design from Enrico Ascoli who created the sound for Donato's flip book and, as it happens, for The Box - Poltergeist. Two further points. First the translated title is Mouse Frosted Chocolate. (And, no, I wouldn't buy it either.) Second, Donato has the pseudonym Milkyeyes. Sweet.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

John Minnis "Charade" (1984)

John Minnis won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for Charade. You know the game. Film: man bends over taking his trousers down. "The Black Hole". "I know this one." Movie and Book: Guy with collar turned up, holding crucifix, drinking blood, flying as a bat, stake in chest: Sorry, time's up. As signalled by the title this is a brisk canter through a game of charades with the voices provided by Minnis himself during a three month spree when on vacation from Sheridan College. It is the only animated short of his that I know about. It was coloured by Pantone markers on paper. There is a clever and witty script and I like the English accents interspersed with voices from our colonial brothers (joke!) I'm amazed by just how many of the movie suggestions seem so modern. I can't believe they all predate 1984. Is it the best animation I've seen awarded an Oscar? No. But it's within one man's compass and I like that it.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Jamie Caliri "The Rifle's Spiral" (The Shins 2012)

The Rifle's Spiral, the second music video in two days and it is a stunner from Jamie Caliri for The Shins. Jamie is one of the very best in the business. He mixes stop motion and 2D on a striking set with a roughly washed backdrop, and puppets possessing mystery and menace. Three evident villains look like they have emerged from one of those spaghetti westerns, mercenaries transported by railway to town, up to no good, with metal fingers wielded like daggers as they muscle in on a young conjurer's territory. Their attempt to magic up their (paper) rabbit however comes to grief when they unwittingly become immersed in a spectacular act of illusion. Or is it just illusion? I'm a fan of the band and the track takes flight in the magician's hands, puppet and director. A theatrical tour de force by a master performer. This, by the way, is no solo feat, Jamie enlisting a talented crew, the many credits and the technical detail provided in the Vimeo link above. I had praise for Jamie way back in 2007. He was soaring away then, magic man that he is.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Ian Robertson ‘Get By’ (Delta Heavy 2012)

I could have done a before and after screenshot today but in deference to our younger browsers I limited myself to the former. For sheer audacity and outright brutality today's music video takes the biscuit. Now this is a cute English expression that would be pulverised to flour by director Ian Robertson. Get By, for Delta Heavy's forthcoming album, Down The Rabbit Hole, destroys more games and toys in four minutes than my kids did in a lifetime. And I'm not talking stuffing scrabble pieces down the back of the sofa, I'm talking smashing the square plastic letters to dust and feeding the debris into a mincer so the whole glossy whole is mush. And revelling in it. In short, the video is superb - genuinely merciless and so slick in its devastation. No toys were hurt in the making of this motion picture. Rubbish. They were annihilated in chillingly iced blood. You will doubtless have gathered that I was blow away by this stop motion film. The ingenuity and planning that goes into the production is more than first class. Setting up the scenes  must have taken an age and they are so deftly executed and filmed. Destruction can be a work of art. Annie Ward gave us the illustrations, Matt Cameron the visual effects and finishing. Ian's fabulous music video will be the second to be featured here in two days.

Sam Burton & George Coffey "A client's guide to making an Animatic" (2012)

A client's guide to making an Animatic
is a light-hearted guide to the process of running a professional studio and attempting to earn a living. George Coffey and Sam Burton, Head Animator at Three Blind Mice, introduce us to the team, then seize the paper aeroplane with a script prior to meeting the agency face to face, reach agreement, scamps, trace, line, colour .... watch it on the telly. Simon Gregor's voice-over all makes it all seem pretty simple, and he's got a pleasant, accessible voice. It may well be basic for those in the business but many readers of the blog are amateurs, students, me! There's a clear animated style that renders the glass a little less opaque. Two and a half blind mice now.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Great Schools of Animation: Sheridan College (Canada)

Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Oakville, Ontario, was one of the very first schools in the world to offer animation as a degree. The four year course leading to a BA (Animation) provides thorough training and opportunities in all aspects of animation, 2D, 3D and stop motion; from initial life drawing to the animation projects in terms 7 and 8.  Admission is on the basis of academic qualifications and the submission of a portfolio. Precise details are here. There is an internship in the animation industry in the summer between years 3 and 4. Staff provide high quality teaching as they are all experienced professionals. The facilities are considered outstanding. Rooms are available at the Trafalgar Road Campus for $5,900 CDN. Sheridan serves close to 17,000 full-time students at its three campuses. Tuition fees for Animation are currently $23,258CDN for overseas students who are required to sit the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Currently students from 50 countries are registered in the university. The graduate employment rate for the university as a whole is 82%. When Dean DeBlois was short-listed for the 2011 Academy Award for co-directing How to Train Your Dragon he became the 8th Sheridan alumnus to be so nominated. John Minnis and Eric Armstrong were previous Oscar winners for their animated shorts Charade and The ChubbChubbs! It is no surprise that the likes of Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks come recruiting. The college details may be accessed here.

Once again I have selected a series of recent thesis films with a range of styles. Sheridan does not seem to have a house style as such with commendable variety in its films. It is justifiably proud of the commendation from animator Michael Hirsh in 1996, when he deemed it "the Harvard of animation schools”. To judge from the work below it can certainly claim its place in the meritocracy.

Stacy Chomiak has enjoyed success in the festivals with Tah-Dah a 2D film from 2009 in which bug and musician engage in a little disharmony before becoming orchestrated. Stacy obviously collaborated well with composer Corey Wallace in a cartoon of traditional manner that warms the heart.
Ellie Ventura varies the diet with a gentle comedy from a year earlier in 2008, Crema Suprema, in which two chefs duel over who is the king of the kitchen. I particularly enjoyed the two famous pieces of confectionery they created adding the delicate flourishes that great artists are prone to: a little tap here, a nudge there. An excellent film this one.

Abhilasha Dewan  is now working in Delhi for the Rajya Sabha TV channel since graduating from Sheridan last year. Her comic tale, Satori,  has a bus robber meeting his just deserts in celestial form. It has a nice mix of techniques and a surprise.

There is a compelling subtlety about Sheared from Nikolas Ilic that is most appealing. In my experience of farm life, sheep are more stupid than stubborn. My family had a hard time keeping them alive from what I seem to remember. They were forever falling from great heights in the mountains of my childhood. This particular sheep detests the idea of being sheared.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Elena Pomares "The Henhouse" (2010)

The Henhouse is just classy, in its off-beat, deadpan style. It features a hungry fox who looks into a restaurant, sees a lady feeding a pet pooch and thinks to itself, why not? Naturally enough, a fox entering the fray does not excite any interest amongst the diners, even being taken onto the staff. Then a series of unfortunate mishaps cause some anxiety in the ranks, though nothing that a change of role cannot rectify. The fox is still hungry though and there's a terrible little boy. Made in 2010 at the National Film and Television School by Elena Pomares, who originally graduated in Fine Arts from the University of Barcelona before venturing to London for her MA and where she is presently based. The fine arts background shows in the arty hand drawn figures and settings, against screen printed backgrounds. But then there's that immeasurably restrained way in which Elena sets up the humour, never overdoing it, never rushing. It's a cool piece of work. I've already said it is classy. Well it is.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Jean-Francois Laguionie "La traversée de l'Atlantique à la rame" (1978)

A young couple on their honeymoon are paid by a newspaper to row across the Atlantic. They sail from New York, the crowds cheering them on their way. They drink champagne, play their musical instruments and initially enjoy untroubled waters. Their diaries trace the years. The journey takes a lifetime, during which they witness dramatic events and have their matrimonial differences. I have wanted to write about Jean-Francois Laguionie's classic short for years, thwarted by a lack of a translated version of the French original. La traversée de l'Atlantique à la rame  (Rowing Across the Atlantic) may be viewed in one single chunk if your French is up to it; failing that in two parts, 1 and 2 should you require a translation. The initial scenes of enormous beauty develop to cold brutality as the pair wage war on each other and there is a memorable scene where they pass by the stricken Titanic, not only for the tragic spectacle but their reaction to it. Seascapes change from ice to the tropics, there are strange interludes, the pair age before our eyes, surreal moments of metamorphosis. There is also a blissful closing sequence that is the equal of any animated film I have seen. Pierre Alrand's music is majestic and the film features the voices of Charlotte Maury-Sentier and Jean-Pierre Sentieras as the couple. This is a major film in any language, an extended metaphor that works. It is always in the top hundred or so movies of all time. Jean-Francois' biography may be obtained from an earlier post I made in 2008 of his La Demoiselle et le violoncelliste.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Hyekung Jung "Drawing The Line" (2006)

There is a remorseless logic driving Hyekung Jung's Drawing The Line. I'm as sane as the next man, but then I'd think that wouldn't I? If I miss a day here on the blog I get kind of twitchy but I will survive. Hyekung's character commences by drawing lines, a habit that develops into an obsession. His life is ruled by it. There's a chilling detail that signals the danger that such behaviour can lead one into. A red line bisects a plate. In its centre appears a beetle that crosses the line. Quick as a flash the knife decapitates the unfortunate insect. From then on the deterioration is inexorable. Years ago I featured the animator's exceptional SofaDrawing the Line is just as good. Andre Standke's music gives a Hitchcock feel to proceedings. The sound of scoring with pen and knife has a similar chilling effect. Paul Driessen acted as adviser, I note, and it shows. Hyekung was born in 1970 in Seoul, studying at the Seoul National University of Technology and, from 1996-2004, at the Academy of Arts in Kassel

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Mikey Please "The Eagleman Stag" (2010)

London's Royal College of Art is an intellectually stimulating establishment apart from being an international finishing school for the world's finest animators. Mikey Please won the much sought after BAFTA for Best Short Animation in 2011 with The Eagleman Stag and it has just come on line. In effect it is a treatise on the passage of time, featuring Peter, an entomologist in that great Victorian mould, who dedicates his life to the contemplation of ageing. We follow his footsteps and thoughts, from womb to hospital bed. Worldwide exploration leads him to the eagleman stag, a remarkable insect that seems to possess powers of regeneration attractive to the now elderly scientist. Featuring the sonorous voice of Tony Guilfoyle and the integral and wondrous music of Benedict Please, the stop motion film has a quite extraordinary beauty, the many detailed paper sets and puppets painstakingly constructed and filmed with a Canon EOS 1000D, before being worked on with Dragon Stop Motion animation software. Time is manipulated in a series of ingenious ways. There is too an underlying humour, Peter being somewhat eccentric in his obsession, but I was left with an emotional reaction as the 9 minute film drew to a cinematic, sweeping close. Also a feeling of wonder, for this hugely ambitious work is that of an undergraduate and students aren't supposed to be this good. The quality of writing is another feature that distinguishes Mikey's film. Based on his own short story it has a rational, literary tone I found most appealing.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

David Prosser "Matter Fisher" (2010)

For part of my childhood I lived by the coast, scavenging for driftwood for the fire, enduring the winter storms. It was anything but romantic, a dark period of my life. Matter Fisher  is as impenetrable as the ocean itself. The weather forecast warns of low pressure, the wind beats against the battered fisherman's shack, the door bangs open and shut, the timber of the jetty creaks and groans.  A lone fisherman toils over his line, at one point thrusting his head under the surface to peer into the depths where in the murk a white mass effervesces, to be gobbled up by a fish, and disgorged unnoticed in the bottom of the boat. What it grows into and the relationship between it and the fisherman is the subject of an ecological intrigue that is not readily explainable. I guess it is nasty but I'm not sure. What goes into the sea must come out, and a lot of rubbish goes in. Some of it glows! I keep certain films back because I like to sprinkle the world with stardust. Matter Fisher is an engrossing, original piece of work, David Prosser being one of the UK's most talented young animators. His 2010 graduation piece from the  Royal College of Art combines a highly individual use of 2D and 3D and a stupendous sound design from Joe Tate. There are sections of the heavily textured look of the film that are ravishing, the animation subtle in its transformation; at other times the look is spare indeed, as with the screenshot. Then there's that darkening lump attracting fish, seabirds, fisherman and my curiosity. Read the review at Short of the Week by the ever discerning Andrew S Allen. I guess he's curious about that blob too. David works for one of those Rolls Royces of British animation, Studio AKA.

"Responsibility Project" Daniel Oeffinger, Yker Moreno, Justin Fines & Chad Colby (2012)

I've featured work from Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project before. This particular Responsibility Project is a smooth running, optimistic short pressing home the advantages of taking ownership of our own world, helping people rather than hindering or ignoring. S'not rocket science y'know. Made by four guys from Buck, the Los Angeles and New York studios, Daniel Oeffinger was Animation Director, aided by Yker Moreno, Justin Fines and Chad Colby. It seems a laudable way for an insurance company to spend its money. And we get a slick piece of work into the bargain.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Thermaikos Film Festival: Call For Entries

Thermaikos Film Festival
"A film for Thessaloniki: in light and darkness"

2012 marks the centenary of its liberation of Thessaloniki City from the Ottomans. In 1912, Thessaloniki was incorporated into the Greek State. A new period in its long history was thus inaugurated. The physiognomy of the city changed radically, large waves of refugees and economic migrants settled, other populations were expelled and the urban landscape was entirely transformed.

The city is preparing to celebrate this anniversary of liberation, facing plenty of challenges for its future development and approaching the shocking historical events of the last 100 years through a new lens.

Special call – concept

On the occasion of this centenary, we invite you to join us in this celebration by creating a film up to 2 minutes about our city of Thessaloniki. The general concept – which bears an affinity to this year’s Festival slogan “Lights on” – is “Thessaloniki in light and darkness”. The concept framework leaves plenty of room for artistic freedom, interpretation and expression. We will be glad and proud to receive films about Thessaloniki (with their own unique title) according to the general regulation of the Festival.

All the films will be screened at a special tribute section of the 5th Thermaikos Film Festival. A special prize will be awarded to the best film.

Please send us your films which must not exceed the duration limit of 2 minutes via the following address:
Thermaikos Film Festival: Regulation and Entry

8th World Festival of Animated Film Varna

After the success of the 7th edition of the World Festival of Animated Film in the city of Varna 2011 we are delighted to announce its return as a global annual event.

We are honoured to invite you to participate in the 8th World Festival of Animated Film that will be taking place in the city of Varna between the 10th and the 15th of September 2012.

In order to participate please visit our website where you can complete the entry form online and find further information about your application. Entry forms will be accepted until the 5th  of June 2012.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at any time.

We are looking forward to seeing your films at our festival.

Yours faithfully,

Festival coordinators
Denitsa Hristova
Silvia Ivanova
Bogdan Nedkov

VIII  World Festival of Animated Film Varna 2012,
Festival and congress centre Varna,
10th - 15th September

"Hambuster" Paul Alexandre, Maxime Cazaux, Dara Cazamea, Romain Delaunay & Bruno Ortolland (2011)

Of course even if it is just another chase movie from those crazy, multi-skilled French students from Supinfocom ArlesHambuster  (or, if you prefer it fried in calorie laden StereoAnaglyph, eat here) is pretty sensational all the same. An Arnold Schwarzenegger hamburger, pumped up on testosterone laced ketchup, launches itself on a revenge-driven gross-out. Jaw dropping, bloodlettingly excessive, with sound effects to match and enough carnage to satisfy your teenage son or brother for six minutes. Paul Alexandre, Maxime Cazaux, Dara CazameaRomain Delaunay and Bruno Ortolland excel themselves, paying homage to B and not so B movies everywhere. You've seen the movie now enjoy the cartoon. Naturally, I've witnessed all these events on the big screen but never from a burger. In my innocence I believed all those calories took years to silt up the arteries. Never in my wildest dreams .... Enough of the hype. The movie has naturally enough gripped the internet, as such boodfests normally do, particularly if parodying Hollywood and casting a burger in the main role. If all the movies featured here or created in the great animation schools were like this then I'd give up the blog. Of course they are not. More hors d'oeuvre, however spectacular, to a very varied cuisine. And in this case, witty, great fun, marvellously made.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Great Schools of Animation: Ringling College of Art and Design (USA)

Ringling College of Art and Design is situated in Sarasota, Florida in 35 acres of mainly pedestrianised campus. The private, independent, four-year visual arts college has some 1100 students including students currently from 40 countries. The Computer Animation course, one of 13 disciplines on offer, is the most popular. A requirement of entry is proficiency in English and the submission of an art portfolio. The university as a whole has an acceptance rate of 74.0%, not surprising given applicants need to be able to afford the high fees. That said, the quality of tuition and the standard of facilities is widely considered state of the art, whilst the Computer Animation major has the most demanding standards for admission. Programs include motion, modeling, sound and lighting. Computer Animation majors take core courses in such topics as drawing and design. The graduate employment is outstanding with Pixar, Disney, Blizzard Entertainment, Dreamworks and Hallmark actively recruiting. Tuition and fees was $32,290 in 2011. The gender ratio last year was 41.5 percent male students and 58.5 percent female students. Freshers are housed within the campus. In terms of alumni one cannot get more contemporary than Brandon Oldenburg, the co-director of the 2012 Oscar winning short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore. For more detailed information on the college click here.

Ringling is rightly proud to point out that 3D World Magazine has selected it as their top college for computer animation in North America for the past two years. Bear in mind though, computer animation is a loose term; just about every animation I cover uses a computer somewhere in its creation. 3DWM has its own focus so the award is not all embracing. Other schools of animation in Canada or the USA, of course, have their own style, often praised in the Animation Blog. I shall look at their qualities as the series develops. For now, the four films below are chosen at random from the Vimeo presentation site for the 2011 Ringling Thesis Films. I simply looked at the last four posted. They each display an assured mastery of the 3D software (thereby endearing them to the editors of the 3D magazine) and unlike some thesis films from some other schools, they are chiefly by individuals.

Hunted from Gordon Pinkerton has the last of his kind hunted to extinction in a humorous and well made 3D (Maya) short. The production extends to a character voice in what I take to be an English accent though nothing like mine.

Origins from Robert Showalter has a beguiling little tin man, all rust and odds and ends, board a train on a voyage of discovery.

Stephanie Russell's Marshmallows features a dragon exhibiting dog like behaviour in its lust for the squelchy confectionery. Never trust dragons though this one is something of a sweetie. A terrific score from Erez Koskas.

Shadow of Doubt once again is a comic affair, this time tracing the antics of a bungling killer as he attempts to cover up his crime. Eric Chou and Russell Miller show why the big companies are so keen to employ Ringling graduates. They should and hopefully do look at the musicians too because, again, Erez Koskas' contribution is exemplary. He's a star if I've ever heard one.

Ed Barrett "The Complete Animade Lernz" (2012)

I've been wasting my time all these years. Here's the complete guide to animation in less than 2 minutes. Made by Animade the London studio of Tom Judd and Ed Barrett, The Complete Animade Lernz identifies all the pitfalls the inexperienced animator might fall into. Should the complete tutorial be too much to digest in one bite do try the ten segments edition. The culmination of a major mini series.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Moritz Mayerhofer "The Last Tree" (2003)

Here's an early film from Germany's Moritz Mayerhofer whose latest work and graduation piece, Urs, is doing the festival circuit. The Last Tree is as they say on the packet, the story of the last tree standing. It commences in a grey world of monotonous computer graphics from which an equally grey robot is distracted by a single blossom, the colour of which acts as a magnet, drawing him out of his world to renaissance and rebirth. Moritz has just completed his degree at one of the world's top animation schools,  Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, (a shameless plug for my weekend series though Sunday's featured school happens to be in a different continent.) The film is that of an embryonic talent but I found its central concept compelling, and Moritz's animation very effective, moving even. The music of Kostia Rapoport adds gravitas. It will be interesting to trace his development over the years when I get my hands on Urs. To judge from the trailer it has the same sense of wonder but a real man with a mountain to climb.