This final article about the Oscar nominated short animations is on one of the greatest animations in recent memory. The thing is, I wouldn’t even be that upset if it didn’t win the Oscar, as both Head Over Heels and Paperman are great short animations. It’s a great time for the medium.
Eden is a place that has been symbolically ripe for film makers for decades now. The ideas encapsulated in Genesis 1 and 2 are some of the oldest themes in art: the beauty of nature; the fall of man; innocence; sin. Yet it’s only really something that has been approached at a thematic level. American director Terrence Malick keeps returning to ideas about the fall from Eden, and German auteur Werner Herzog is similarly concerned with man’s place in paradise, yet both these directors only use it as a concept rather than a literal idea (Malick came close with Tree of Life). Adam and Dog, the stunning animation by Minkyu Lee, takes us to Eden itself, a world of shimmering, fish filled ponds and giant trees bursting with life, and tells a story of how dogs became man’s best friend. By setting his film in the garden of Paradise, Lee breathes vitality into the old ideas about creation, beauty and grace.
At 15 minutes long, the film takes on a neat three act structure: creation before man; the advent of man and the fall of man. These three stages of creation are seen through the eyes of a dog, and perhaps the most impressive section is the dog’s adventures before he befriends the strange bipedal creature that arrives a day later. Lee’s imagined version of a world untouched by evil is bathed in a beautiful glow, like the benevolent gaze of a creator shining through the foliage. There’s a stunning moment at night when the dog chases fireflies in the field; a wide frame showing the glory of the stars in the night sky and the wonder of this new and beautiful world. That’s the key word here; wonder. Even once man has come along, the world is full of light and colour, waiting to be explored. The dog’s big eyes perfectly capture this sense of awe at the planet, and helps the audience view it in the same way, too. When sin enters the world, everything gets a whole lot uglier and more brutal, but the final shot, representing companionship, suggests that there is still goodness left in the world, and Lee certainly helps us to believe that.
Everything about this film is beautiful, from the sound design, to the wide angled shots to the simplicity of the story. By looking at the world at its very foundations – whether you see it as mythical, symbolic or literal – Minkyu Lee causes you to see the earth with new eyes, and shows just a glimpse of the glory of creation.
My second favourite of the Oscar Nominations for Best Animated Short Film is still one of the best things I’ve seen this year. On Saturday, I’ll publish the final Oscar Shorts article and you can watch all four before the ceremony (where the Simpsons short, unreviewed here, will probably win just to spite me).
I’m not married, but the impression I often get is that sometimes you don’t really understand your husband or wife. When it gets particularly bad, it may feel like you are working on entirely different levels. Head Over Heels is a stunning stop-motion short that takes this abstract concept and makes it a visible reality. It’s about an old couple who don’t communicate especially well any more, and the rift between them is represented by the fact that they have opposite gravities. They live in a house with two floors, two kitchens, two worlds. The interaction between them is limited and strained. But this is a hopeful short film, and the conclusion is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in any short. The house they live in is brilliantly realised, showing inventively how two people can live literally on top of each other. The stop-motion is fluid, the set is minutely detailed, and the character animation showcases how to use the face to great effect. But in spite of the technical brilliance, it is the story that impresses.
I’m not married, but the impression I often get is that love means having to go out of your way for the other person, of finding some kind of compromise even when you seem to disagree at a fundamental level. That’s what I love about Head Over Heels. Their method of working with each other is so simple, yet so instantly moving, that it captures some of the beauty of being in love, of its constancy, and of working together even through seemingly impossible situations. And really, you don’t have to be married to be moved by that.
Continuing the series on the Oscar Nominated Short Animations in order of how much I like them, here comes a film so incredibly good that the remaining two must be absolutely phenomenal for me to choose them ahead of this. It’s Disney’s Paperman, available online or at the cinemas before seeing the wonderful Wreck-It Ralph.
A chance romantic encounter seems like the perfect subject for a short film. In a matter of minutes you can capture an entire romantic arc, one potentially life changing moment, and then leave the audience to fill out the rest of the story. Paperman captures one such moment, in stunning black and white. The animation – blending CG and hand drawn elements – is gorgeous, the focus on transport and office blocks giving it a somewhat Japanese feel. One morning an office worker meets a ludicrously big-eyed woman at the station, but misses his chance to talk to her. When he later sees her in the tower across the street, he tries to catch her attention. It quickly becomes a fable about fate, buying into the ancient romantic notion that some people are just meant for each other, and there isn’t much you can do to stop that. If that sounds a little mawkish, it works within the context of the story as it slowly escalates to its triumphant, magical finale.
Arguably the film could have ended in some way without requiring the planes coming to life – there was a beautiful tone and story to the film before that plot development – but it makes the brief encounter even more magical and romantic. As the music swells to a crescendo, and the man cannot escape the power of the paper planes, it gets into shameless heart stirring territory, but it does it beautifully. In six minutes Paperman manages to be more romantic than the vast majority of rom-coms released today. It’s a little bit twee, but if you get past that, you are sure to get swept away by its army of paper planes.
In the run up to The Oscars, I’m going to take a look at four of the five short films nominated for Best Animated Short Film. Only four because the Simpsons short, The Longest Daycare, is unavailable online. On the strength of the competitors this year, it must be an incredible piece of animation to match up to the masterpieces on display here. Each of these four films showcase a different kind of animation, and the stories you can tell with it. I’m also going to publish each article in order of preference, so today’s Oscar Short is my least favourite (although it’s still impressive) ending with the one I would most like to see win.
PES has a collection of short films available on Youtube that are all marked by his unique visual style; he takes objects and uses them in totally different contexts to create bizarre, inventive scenes. So in Kaboom! he uses keys as anti-aircraft guns and matchsticks as missiles, whilst in Game Over he uses all sorts of strange objects to re-enact famous computer games like Pacman. Perhaps most impressive is The Deep, which uses a variety of tools to create an eerie underwater scene.
His Oscar nominated short Fresh Guacamole is a kind of sequel to his earlier short Western Spaghetti. Both are simple cooking demonstrations, but using anything but food to create the dishes. Fresh Guacamole, it turns out, is made with a combination of grenades, baseballs and dice. What PES does so well is to match up items to their food counterparts, making this a constantly inventive, amusing short. He also has a great flair for sound effects, making it even more believable. This is an impressive, entertaining short but I would love to see what PES can do with a story. He’s proven with all his shorts that he can set a scene really well, so now it’s time to see him have something happen in these wonderful worlds he creates.
This week’s Weekend Short is released a little bit late, but this short is too good to miss. Thanks to @elab49 for the recommendation, and don’t forget to let me know if you find anything that would interest me. I can’t embed the video this week, so you’ll have to go through to the site to watch it. It’s definitely worth it.
This site has gone a bit Disney mad, recently. The project to watch all 52 Disney films has taken over, which is all well and good for the legions of Disney fans out there. But what about those of you who find the studio’s output to be too sickly sweet, or too removed from reality to really entertain you? If talking puppets and singing animals aren’t really your cup of tea, then you may well love John Weldon’s 1977 short Spinnolio, a brilliantly wry take on the classic Pinocchio story. The premise is simple: what if everyone believed that the puppet had become a real person, even if it hadn’t? How successful would an entirely inanimate object become in the real world?
The opening Gothic lettering and airy voice over suggests this is going to be a traditional fairy tale. The first sign that something isn’t quite right, though, is the ugly, Peanuts style character animation, and the film becomes firmly rooted in parody when a cricket jumps on the window sill before getting promptly eaten by the cat. What follows is the life of this inanimate puppet as he moves through school, employment and jail. It’s a witty little tale, taking a scathing look at the common tropes of fairy tales, and giving a much bleaker, real life alternative of what would actually happen. The crude animation just adds to the anti-Disney sentiment and makes this silly, hilarious short all the more memorable.
For the first Weekend Short of 2013, it’s time to revisit one of the classics, a Tom and Jerry that has found its way on to the internet for all to enjoy. This is one of my favourite Tom and Jerry cartoons, but I’m sure everyone has a unique favourite. If you have any short films to recommend, or have made one yourself, let me know in the comments section or on facebook or twitter (see the sidebar). Enjoy this classic bit of slapstick.
When you consider the content of Tom and Jerry cartoons, you may have reason to be concerned. Rarely has television for children been so consistently violent, the rage meted out on poor Tom is enough to kill a thousand cats. Every episode, the cat gets destroyed in a number of ridiculous and painful ways, when really he is just doing the house a good service by getting rid of a persistent pest. The horrors inflicted on this poor feline have been parodied very effectively by the Simpsons’ Itchy and Scratchy, and so this duo have become one of the most familiar cartoon sights in children’s television. It’s easy to forget, therefore, that Hanna Barbera’s iconic creations are amazing examples of just how inventive and wacky you can be with animation. There’s a dazzling wit and a visual ingenuity in all of their cartoons, from the way they match music up with action in Cat Concerto to the way a lot of the action happens off screen in Quiet Please! (both are award winning shorts, well worth watching.)
Designs on Jerry is no different, playing around with the medium to create big laughs. By bringing Tom’s drawings to life, the violence can become even more absurd and over the top, as the characters literally unravel on screen. The animation within the animation draws attention to the silliness of it all, but opens up new ways of committing heinous violence – a rubber can neuter the cat, and a pencil can change the entire shape of his body. It’s a similar concept to the greatest Looney Tunes cartoon ever – A Duck Amuck. I guess I chose to write about this and not A Duck Amuck simply because of the ludicrous Rube Goldberg style machine that Tom creates at the end. It’s so over the top you have to admire it. Managing to be both silly and very intelligent all at once, Designs on Jerry proves that the old cartoons, the ones we used to love as children, still have so much to enjoy even as adults. A word of warning, however: once you start watching Tom and Jerry shorts on youtube, it’s very difficult to stop.
This week’s short article on a short film comes courtesy of a recommendation by Twitter friend @Grizzly_Sar, a lifelong fan of The Lorax who, like most, was thoroughly disappointed by the latest shiny, empty adaptation of the book. So to coincide with the release of that rather lacklustre animation, here is an article and a link to a much older version of The Lorax that does a far better job of capturing the Seussian spirit of the book. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s an interesting contrast to the latest version.
One of my biggest complaints about the latest Lorax film is that it was just a bit too glossy to really make an impact. It was a film that speaks against mass produced rubbish, yet was perhaps guilty of being that very thing. It was a bit too sleek to be true Seuss. So here, instead, is a film that is a far more direct adaptation Dr Seuss, complete with rough lines, rhyming couplets and his distinctive character designs. It’s a lot shorter, but the advantage of this is that they cut out the pointless plot of a boy trying to impress a girl, and get straight to the actual Lorax plot. This section of the plot is remarkably similar to the feature film, in which ‘The Once-ler’ invents a multi-purpose thing called a Thneed, and becomes remarkably successful at the cost of the local wildlife.
It is, however, a far more effective piece of story telling than the Zac Efron/Taylor Swift film, making more of the eponymous character as he tries to defend the trees he loves. It feels VERY 1970s, complete with a funky soundtrack and rubbish songs, but does a much better job of getting the message across. Where the recent film addresses the rampant growth of capitalism with one awful song, here it’s the focus of the film, as each set of animals gets ousted from their home one by one, and we see the machinations of the factory that’s ruining the landscape. Neither film is subtle, neither film will win music awards, but Hawley Pratt’s short has something that was so crucially lacking from the 2012 version: character. It’s a charming, amusing little film, with some nice Seussian artwork and an admirable commitment to rhyming.
This weeks short article on a short animation is slightly different, in that it is actually an advert for a charity. This is not the sort of thing I will normally cover on the site, but this bears attention for two reasons. Firstly, it is made by my friend’s brother, so I’ll gladly spread the word about it. Secondly, it’s a really well made advert, and it’s an excellent cause. I can’t embed this video, so below I’ll just link to the page with it on. Please do check it out, and I hope you don’t mind this charitable digression.
The Cause: Mozambique is in bottom ten countries in the world for life expectancy, and has the 4th lowest life expectancy for women. It is in the lowest fifteen countries in the world for adult literacy, GDP per head and in the Human Development Index. In spite of all this it doesn’t even register in the top 40 countries of aid received per capita.* Clearly this is a country with many needs and in a state of desperate poverty. The result of all of this dire need is that there are many orphans without homes and security. Project Moz believes that “everyone has a right to a future and that hope can be found in seemingly hopeless situations.” Rooted in Biblical teachings about looking out for the poor and caring for others (read Jesus’ teaching to see what I am talking about), Project Moz seeks to provide futures and hope for those even in the most desperate situations. This video in particular, Pedro’s Story, is a plea to all of you watching it to donate just a bit of money to provide a house for orphans in Mozambique. And if you are able to watch the video, and read what it says, that suggests to me that you are already far more privileged than the vast majority of the world, so this is definitely a good cause.
The Animation: What I really like about Thomas Kelly‘s work here is that he hasn’t gone the obvious route of a charity ad. You know the type: crying child; emotional voice over; manipulative soundtrack that builds to a hopeful crescendo. By using animation instead of slow motion stock footage of poverty, he’s actually managed to be far more evocative in conveying the needs of the project. Note how the father’s face isn’t actually shown as the brushstrokes don’t go that far; this could be the father of any child in need. The beautifully rendered drawings don’t actually move, the camera just shifts from still to still, letting the individual images do the talking. It’s as obvious as any charity advert, but this clearly has had a lot of care and attention put into it, and it really shows. This gets the message across effectively but also tells a moving story in the process without being overly heavy handed. Don’t just appreciate it for the brilliant drawings though: listen to the message of the video, pull out your phone and donate now.
The animator of this short, Thomas Kelly, has a site with more work you can check out at http://www.broadwing.co.uk – there’s some great stuff on there, highly recommended.
If you want to find out more about the project, visit http://www.projectmoz.com
*all stats from The Economist Pocket World in Figures
This weekend’s short animation for you all to enjoy comes at the recommendation of @NoelCT, a friend of the blog and an all round good chap. He highlighted this video via Twitter, and if you find any short animations you feel may be of interest, please let me know on social media of any kind, or just in the comments section below.
Surrealism is not dead! The movement, made popular in the 20s, was famed for shocking, almost nonsensical images and plotless explorations of fractured psyches. This weekend’s animated short feels like a modern version of these disturbing classics, and this short article will explore the influences of surrealism on this modern short.
Katayama Takuto‘s strange, captivating animation Dissimilated Vision comes across like a blend of classic surrealist directors Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Luis Buñuel; a plotless, obfuscating short that uses the image of the human body in strange an unnerving ways. Dali is perhaps the most obvious influence here, with the repeated use of eyes reminiscent of his famous dream sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound; blinking, soulless and everywhere. Eyes where they should not be are always terrifying – Guillermo del Toro used them effectively in both Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth – and so this short could easily be classified as body-horror.
Aside from Dali, this film also feels rooted in Buñuel and Man Ray, two other master surrealists. Dissimilated Vision could almost be described as a series of match-cuts – the technique in which you take two similar shaped objects and match them up to cut between two different scenes (the most famous example of this is from 2001: A Space Odyssey when a bone floating through the air is matched to a space station). Buñuel loved the potential of match-cuts to jar and shock audiences, and in his short Un Chien Andalou, he starts the film with a cloud crossing a moon, before cutting to… well you have to see it to believe it, but it was shocking in the 20s and it’s still shocking now. Takuto’s film, freed from the constraints of live action, is like a constant stream of these edits, with one shape quickly transforming into another, creating a disorienting short that Buñuel would be sure to enjoy. Meanwhile the sparse, staccato piano score that accompanies Dissimilated Vision, set against the monochromatic animation, is as dissonant and uncomfortable as Man Ray’s ironically named short A Return to Reason. The result of this chaotic group of influences is a film quite unique and bizarre. I won’t try to shed any kind of meaning on it, however, as that’s something you should do for yourselves.
All the surrealist shorts and clips mentioned in this are on YouTube, so be sure to check them out if the surrealist movement is something that interests you. Be warned though, they are very weird.
Our series of short articles on short animations is back after a hiatus. With so much coming out in cinemas and at festivals, the talented animators out there on youtube sadly had to take a backseat to the might of werewolves and circus afros. Needless to say, it’s coming back with an absolute classic, Yuri Norstein‘s sublime The Hedgehog in the Fog. If you have any recommendations for Weekend Shorts, or if you have made a short animation that is available online, please let me know in the comments section or via Twitter/Facebook.
In The Simpsons, when Krusty loses Itchy and Scratchy to the Gabbo show, he plays instead the Soviet equivalent, Worker and Parasite. It’s a bizarre, incomprehensible mess, and to many that is the prevailing image of Eastern European animation. In all honesty, many animated shorts from this area are confounding, strange little things. Yet there is a rich world of animation out there, and this weekend’s short film, Hedgehog in the Fog is straight out of Soviet Era Russia, and is one of the most charming, delightful shorts I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s not told with the slick skill of, say, a Pixar short, but essentially it’s a story about a small person lost in a bigger world, who just wants to find his friend. Nothing too strange or odd about that at all.
What is so utterly winning about Norstein’s film is the tone of it. It’s at times unnerving (the feeling of being totally lost is always quite discomfiting for me), but the layered, story book style of animation means that the ten minutes pass like something out of a dream. The fog gives the impression that nothing is quite the way it seems, and as owls and bats flit in and out, and a mysterious horse lingers in the murk, this misty world becomes the realm of the unknown. There is a sensation of curiosity and exploration that runs throughout the film, topped off by the fact that he has taken his journey merely to gaze at the stars. My knowledge of Russian History and Yuri Norstein is severely lacking, but perhaps during the time of relaxation during the cold war known as detente, Norstein’s film reflects an increasing freedom of film makers to explore. The slightly melancholic, fearful atmosphere could further suggest that the freedom is not total and still carries risks. That’s putting a spin on it that I have no basis for, so don’t take it as fact; it’s merely a passing thought.
This short is also a great example of Mickey Mousing, the technique in which the non-diegetic music reflects the movement and action of the film. So when flies flutter in, the piano flutters with them. It just adds to the slightly ethereal quality of the film, which is perhaps best displayed in the moment when the Hedgehog walks with a firefly lantern into the dark. Norstein captures that one moment with such breathtaking beauty that this ten minute film becomes a more effective, haunting and gorgeous piece of storytelling that most feature films can only dream of.