November 11, 2005
When I was editing Armen Boudjikanian's article "Sifting Through Layers of Illusion" for our most recent issue, I thought its underlying premise—that "2D animation," as a term, is ill-defined and still largely unexplored—would have best been served with an accompanying DVD, so that readers could get an eyeful of the array of techniques out there.
It looks like the National Film Board agreed: within days of fps #5's drop date, they released Mindtravel, a compilation of eight recent (and two less recent) animated shorts by eight different artists, using eight different techniques.
The DVD release coincided with the International Day of Animation, and it's a fitting selection; these films are all wordless or close to it, so they showcase the art of animation with minimal distraction. (Of course, it's impossible to be distracted while watching Craig Welch's Welcome to Kentucky; the precise linework and its slow but inexorable rhythm are mesmerizing.)
Some of the shorts struck me as particularly outstanding. Nicolas Brault's Islet (with a story that reminded me of Mark Baker's The Hill Farm, but with Inuit characters) was completely drawn using a graphics tablet, yet it looks as sketchy and vibrant as pencilwork. Lejf Marcussen's Angeli looks like an extremely clever application of 3D CGI; actually, 98% of it is an even more clever application of great drawing and composition skills.
I'd seen some of the shorts before, but found that repeat viewings didn't hinder my enjoyment at all. Last year I praised Jacques Drouin's Imprints for its revolutionary use of the Alexeïeff-Parker pinscreen; watching it a second time, I actually liked it more. Similarly, Geroges Schwizgebel's L'Homme sans ombre (The Man Without a Shadow) held my attention more than when I first saw it. Most of the film is painted on glass, a technique that requires destroying the previous frame in order to paint the new one. This results in an energetic, straight-ahead style of animation, but Schwizgebel takes it farther than most by keeping the camera moving at the same time. In the first few minutes of the film, the camera circles, swoops and dives as the action continues, with one scene transforming into another. It's a little vertigo-inducing, but this time I was more appreciative of how it contributed to the dreamy, fablelike quality of the story.
The only thing missing? Commentary tracks. I'd like to hear what each artist has to say about his or her work, especially since some are so open to interpretation. The best we have are artist biographies, which provide only the tiniest insight, as well as show once again that the strangest things can spring from the minds of seemingly ordinary people.
National Film Board of Canada
Buy Mindtravel from the NFB Store