September 27, 2009
The first Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival will take place on October 24th and 25th. If you already have a stop motion film, you still have a few days left to submit your film. There are no submission fees (but you should read the rules first). Submit your film by September 30th!
In addition to submitting your professional, independent or academic film, you'll need to:
(Erik has also contributed to fps in the past, interviewing Ray Harryhausen in the first online issue of fps.)
July 20, 2009
Imagine if your TV was hijacked by aliens with a sense of humour who wanted to give you a taste of the completely bat-shit weird-o things that they saw while conducting experiments in channel surfing to better observe our planet’s strange idiosyncrasies. Rather than ask for the remote from their spiney green hands, you sit back and enjoy the show. The Razzle Dazzle Zappin’ Party show curated by Quebec-based multimedia artist DJ XL5.
Consisting of short films, music videos and animated snippets, DJ XL5's shows always entertain and never disappoint. I still have visions of the KISS video he played flashing through my head and I can’t take a shower without expecting Gene Simmons head to pop his head past my shower curtain.
As for the animation clips featured in this year’s show, they were plentiful and wild and included such treats as Canadian David Baas’ Skylight which presented the perils of global warming using a very Aardman Studios vs. Gary Larson’s Far Side approach. (Spoiler alert – global warming results in everything becoming a cooked turkey.) Lone Sausage Productions (creators of the infamous Dr. Tran) returned to this year’s festival with two new shorts: 100% Ice and The Furious Little Cinnamon Bun. Completely bonkers material folks. Watch at your own discretion!
Simon Tofield’s mischievous cat came back in the adorable TV Dinner:
Aussie Dave Carter had several of his randy and wickedly bizarre stop-motion clips from the Psychotown series featured and won many snickers and guffaws from the crowd. Other laughs were generated by Éric Lavoie’s repurposing of the printed comic book pages of Batman’s Wedding accompanied by the backdrop of the 1960’s French version of the record of the same name. (Spoiler alert #2 - Robin is very disappointed by these nuptials.)
Patrick Boivin had several stop motion clips added to the repertoire including Condoms Are Bad?
Like many of the 700 others that packed the theatre, I was shocked, amused and amazed by the hallucinatory clips that the renowned DJ XL5 mixed together and tossed out for us to enjoy. It takes true talent to evoke a wide range of feelings en masse and DJ XL5 consistently gets it right. Bravo!
July 19, 2009
“Where do people go when they die?” “They go to hell.”
Hells is a well-executed stylish and action-packed animated exploration into a teenager’s journey back from the depths of hell after she’s the victim of a car accident on her way to her first day at a new school. It’s kind of an afterlife, afterschool special in anime format.
Oh, but it’s not that cut and dry. Linne, the protagonist, wasn’t supposed to end up in Hell and this is discovered because there’s no record of her death and she’s able to bleed—something that doesn’t happen to those who dwell in the netherworld.
Linne does end up at a school in the afterlife known as Death River Academy and she needs to graduate before she makes it through to Heaven because in Hell, you are studying for your next life. Her new school is full of a wild group of teens that don’t fit within the traditional, school uniform-wearing clique. In particular, the headmaster is a big burly red fella named Headmaster Helvis who bears striking resemblance a mash-up between the King and Hellboy.
Hells features some interesting Christian and Buddhist themes such as the classic Cain vs. Abel brother’s quarrel, mention of reincarnation, the power of intention, the energy of mantras, interconnectedness, emptiness, existence and the acceptance of both happiness and unhappiness rather than rejecting one over the other. On this note was the assertion by one of the characters that there is a denial of reality in not accepting death.
The notion of Hell existing in one’s own mind is also explored as one scene within the film was devoted to the perspective that we create the world that we live in and it can be viewed as a Hell if we make it so.
Japan’s Madhouse animation studio has delivered a highly energetic and colorful piece of work with Hells. I encourage checking it out if you are interested in being taken for a wild ride of the human and hell-dweller condition. It’s dark, fast, funny, rock and roll, sad, philosophical, colorful, detailed, shocking, sweet and optic nerve stimulating—all at once.
Check out the trailer here:
Hells has a second showing at Fantasia on Wednesday, July 22nd at 2:00 p.m.
July 18, 2009
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to see Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 at the Fantasia Film festival.
Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 comprises a selection of the series of both live-action and animation segments of fictional sports events, and I'm using "sports" in the loosest sense of the word. This film is strange, at times awkward, and always funny. I highly recommend it.
Some of the animated events include the CG-animated Men's Independence, in which men hurl their mothers in a discus-like throw (trust me, it works, you'll be laughing as you think, "This is soooo wrong"), and Bill Plympton's Love Race, in which female celebrity of Paris Hilton proportions is chased around the stadium track by runners who happen to also be world-class at winning a material girl's heart.
That was a trailer for 1000-character SMS Texting, but here's one for the Home Athlon short, which doesn't appear in the selection shown at Fantasia, in case you don't want a spoiler.
Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 shows again on Sunday, July 19th at 2:15 p.m., right after Evangelion 1.0.
July 6, 2009
In addition to the opening film and animation highlights revealed by the 2009 Fantasia festival, the rest of the films do not merely round out the animation portion of programming. These selections reflect some of the more interesting selections of on the cinematic edge.
The features, in addition to Genius Party Beyond, Hells, and Les Lascars:
July 2, 2009
The full Fantasia 2009 lineup will be announced soon, but here are some of the animation highlights of North American's largest cult film festival, right in fps's home base of Montreal.
I'm excited about Genius Party Beyond, Studio 4C's companion to Genius Party, shown last year at the festival.
Hells Angels is a Madhouse production with a star crew behind this manga adaptation. Cencoroll is a shorter take that seems quite intriguing. Seems equally intriguing, but with a more sedate, less over-the-top storytelling style.
The feature Les Lascars is based on the French cult show of the same name and should go over well with the boisterous festival crowd (if you've not yet made it to a Fantasia festival screening, the involvement of the audience is worth the price of the ticket alone).
Tokyo Onlypic 2008 looks like it will be a side-splitter. It's an anthology of animated and live-action shorts describing outrageous Olympic-style events. Check out Bill Plympton's Race For Love in the trailer.
DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party promises another year or crazily juxtaposed shorts (many animated) simulating the channel-changing experience... to the power of ten.
Celluloid Experiments always features edgy animation selections in its roster. I doubt this year will be any different.
You'll be able to view the full schedule online and procure a printed festival program with a DVD full of trailers on Friday. Hope you can survive the wait!
The entire lineup looks promising at the Fantasia film festival this year, running from July 9 to 29. While fps focuses on animation, Fantasia (the largest event of its kind in North America) is a combination of the best cult film worldwide, and has an impressive lineup of film of all types, including live-action and animated horror, action, fantasy, science fiction, weird and edgy films.
As I said, we like to stick with animation around here, but I have to mention this year's opening film, even though it's got (gasp) real people in it.
This year's opening film is the live-action feature Yatterman that began life as a manga in the 70s, which shortly after became an anime series (that was recently updated in 2008).
This is the part where we usually begin a lament (but not always). Definitely not this time!
The director is the irreverent Takashi Miike who made films such as Audition and Sukiyaki Western Django. To me this is more reason to see it. However, if viewers are worried about how he would do an all-ages film, I point to the fantastic film The Great Yokai War, which featured his signature style, but also was a wonderful film for younger viewers.
I think this film will be the type of fare which is best watched with an enthusiastic audience, in the same way that the live-action version of Cutey Honey (directed by animator Hideako Anno) wowed audiences just a few years ago.
The full Fantasia lineup will be available on Friday, July 3.
June 10, 2009
Animafrik, an African animation film festival that seeks to promote African art and animation will take place October 5th to the 9th, 2009.
Animafrik draws the relationship between art and animation and plans to offer a platform to showcase Africa's finest works with screenings, workshops (including workshops for children), exhibits, and professional meetings under the theme "Telling Our Own Stories". There will also be regional screenings in various cities following the festival.
DVD submissions may be sent by courier to: Animafrik Festival, No.5. Anowa Link, Tesano, Accra, Ghana; or by mail to: P.O.Box KN 150, Kaneshie, Accra, Ghana.
The submission deadline is July 31 2009.
More information can be found on the Animafrik 09 website
May 21, 2009
The Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) is reminding everyone that there are only a few days left to submit films for the 2009 Festival taking place October 14 to 18 in Canada’s capital.
Animators are invited to submit their recent work in six major categories including Independent Short films, Feature films, New Media, Commissioned films (TV series, commercials, music videos etc), Student films and Work Made for Children.
The OIAF 09 entry deadline is June 1, 2009 and preview DVDs must be received by June 15. Entry forms are available on the Festival’s website at www.animationfestival.ca.
Further information about this year’s Festival, as well as online entry forms, are available on the OIAF website at www.animationfestival.ca. If you have questions about submitting a film, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-232-8769.
December 4, 2008
Whoa! Christmas shows up early for Montreal animation lovers. This year's Sommets du cinema d'animation de Montreal (Montreal Animation Summit) literally explodes this year, with an expanded lineup, including exhibits and great guests.
As in recent years, Marco de Blois, animation curator at the Cinematheque quebecoise, has gathered some of the year's best animated shorts in two programs screening on Friday and Saturday. This year, the audience gets to vote on their favourite and award a public prize to the best director.
This is just the beginning. This weekend includes a program of the notable international student films from 2006, 2007, and 2008; the best recent Canadian animation; and a free screening of Acme Filmworks and Animation World Network's The Show of Shows, presented by Ron Diamond.
I'm not done yet: A major restrospective, Du praxinoscope au cellulo (From Praxinoscope to Cel), is divided into three programs, two of them specifically targeted to include younger viewers. This film series focuses on the evolution of French moving images, and touches on drawings, marionettes, and pin, cell, cut-out, mixed media, and computer animation. This is an extraordinary chance to see shorts by Emile Cohl, Ladislaw Starevich, and Paul Grimault, among others.
Now get a load of these prices.
Free 0–5 years accompanied by an adult
Free Show of Shows
$4 6–15 years
$6 students and seniors
$50 CinéSommets passport, all-access pass
For the full schedule, including parties and concurrent exhibits, download the PDF program.
November 19, 2008
Joseph Chen, curator of the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, likes to highlight the fact that animated films are neither tied to a specific genre or animation technique, nor are they thematically hide-bound – the only thing linking them is that they are animated and generally do not include much live-action (although some do mix it up). The “Midnight Madness” screenings are, in Joseph’s words “all about edge” – both story-wise and in the techniques used to “paint” the story.
This year’s two midnight screenings were We Are the Strange (by MDOTSTRANGE, a filmmaker based in San Jose) and From Inside (by John Bergin, a Missouri-based artist and feature filmmaker).
We Are The Strange is definitely edgy - an assault on the senses for which I wasn't really prepared, but which had me thinking for some time afterwards. It was a clever composite of 8-bit, pixelated gaming imagery, cut with stop-motion animation, a couple of live-action appearances, and anime-style animation. The soundtrack was cranked to 11, and, frankly, you're not meant to be comfortable with it. But I was definitely engaged - and it was as visually complex and interesting, as it was disturbing. Not for everybody, but I really liked it.
From Inside was the Saturday night midnight screening. John Bergin, the writer, director and animator, warned us before the movie started that the story was as bleak as the weather outside (it was windy, bitterly cold and snowing). What followed was a visually stunning, dark allegory. How do you find hope in a world going to hell - what can you do to stop it, and should children be brought into this chaos? Or are children the only redemption we have? I loved this movie - it combined 3D animation along with awesome 2D 1930s-inspired, dark illustration. Again, not for everyone, but a truly beautiful piece of artwork, and a story that ends on a more hopeful note than you're lead to expect.
November 18, 2008
On Day 2 of the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, we got to see a screening of an original 35mm print of Grave of the Fireflies. This is an Isao Takahata, 1988 Studio Ghibli film, based on a short story about a 14-year-old boy who tries to care for his sister after their ailing mother is killed during a raid in the 1945 Kobe bombings. He and his sister experience the fear-inspired selfishness of an aunt and he must find a way to take care of himself and his sister on his own.
There was a panel discussion following the film lead by Fred Schodt, author of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics; John O'Donnell, founder of Central Park Media (the publishers who license the film for North America); and Fred Ruh, author of Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii.
The conversation between the panelists and the audience covered debates as to whether the film was anti-American or rather just anti-war generally, given that the American bombers were barely referred to directly except by the subtle display of some American signage a couple of times on the bomber planes. Another point was raised about the divide between the themes considered culturally sensitive in western animation versus the plain-speaking storytelling of Japanese anime. As a nod to the animated film genre, it was agreed that this socially important, and poignant story couldn't be told the same way in a live-action film (a live-action version was made in 2005), given the youth of the actors required to play the parts and the fact that they couldn't be represented as realistically in the unhealthy conditions in which they were portrayed for the anime version.
This screening was also presented by UrbanEx and their Out Of The Cold programme.
November 17, 2008
Quirino Cristiani's parents had really wanted him to be a doctor. Just after the turn of the 20th century, the Italian immigrants in Argentina had hoped that Quirino would "get over" his penchant for drawing, and be a doctor in the Buenos Aires hospital where his father worked.
Young Quirino only wanted to draw and was especially fascinated with representing movement, and later made a living drawing political satire cartoons for various newspapers and magazines. Newsreel producer and entrepreneur, Frederico Valle, first commissioned Cristiani to make artwork for the end of his newsreels, and wanted Cristiani to see if he could make them move. This lead to them making El Apostol: a 70-minute animated feature satirizing Argentina's President Yrigoyen, which premiered in 1917 and was a runaway success, playing to packed cinemas for six months.
None of the footage survived a fire that destroyed all of Valle's precious stock in 1926. But we know about it - and its impact on the history of animation from the Italian documentary, Quirino Cristiani: The Mystery of the First Animated Movies.
This year’s Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema kicked off last Thursday night with a screening of Europe’s first animated feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Arbenteuer des Prinzen Achmed). Considered Europe's first animated feature film, it is 81 minutes long, and was made in 1926 by Lotte Reiniger (along with her husband and two others).
Reiniger made the film with paper cut-out shadow puppets – apparently over 100,000 of them. What was particularly special about Thursday night’s screening was the live soundtrack performed by Miles and Karina, who were commissioned earlier this year by The Northwest Film Forum to compose a new score for this amazing piece of cinematic history. I lost myself in the story – a tale based on 1001 Arabian nights – partly because the beautiful details of the animation worked so well at propelling the story, but also very much because the music was such a brilliant complement to the visuals… Miles and Karina’s music evoked the moods and humor of the story beautifully – and so subtly that I completely forgot the music was being performed live!
October 27, 2008
If you didn't get a chance to attend Richard Williams' masterclass at the 2008 Ottawa International Animation Festival, and live on the west coast, you may have another chance to catch him. Beginning today, the award-winning animator will be touring several west coast cities until November 7th.
Tonight, ACM SIGGRAPH's Vancouver chapter will host a free two-hour masterclass, signing and a screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
On Wednesday the 29th, he will be in Redmond, WA, at as a run-up to Seattle's 2D Or Not 2D festival. While the event is free, it is open only to DigiPen BFA alumni and working professionals, so follow the link if you qualify to find out how to get your tickets.
On Thursday the 30th, it's Portland time with the Cascade ACM SIGGRAPH chapter. The event is free for chapter members and 5.00 dollars for everyone else, but attendees need to RSVP by the 28th.
The last public event on November 2nd happens in San Francisco. A benefit for ASIFA-SF, this event will feature the two-hour masterclass and the event will be moderated by author and chapter president Karl Cohen (shown above, left, with Richard Williams, and Cohen's wife Denise McEvoy at the OIAF Animators' Picnic). The admission is only 9.00 dollars and only 6.50 for a child or a senior. A mere pittance for the wealth of information and experience that will be available and to help a great organization.
October 17, 2008
Michel Ocelot's Azur and Asmar had its US premiere tonight at the New York International Children's Film Festival, starting a five day run of the film at the IFC Center in Manhattan.
Ocelot, best known for his well-received previous film, Kiriku and the Sorceress, has created an engrossing fable with Azur, a film that links themes of racial and cultural barriers, immigration, prejudice and superstition with a resplendently rendered fairy tale.
Azur's art is both elegant and exotic; its characters navigate the film's Arabian setting as if Ocelot cut paper dolls from the pages of illuminated manuscripts of the Islamic Golden Age and brought them to life.
Complementing the film’s visual feast is a skillfully woven tale of two boys, one Caucasian (Azur), one Arab (Asmar), raised as brothers by Asmar’s mother, who regales the pair with tales of faraway lands and a fairy Djinn, who waits for a hero to free her from captivity. Azur is separated from Asmar and his mother, only to find himself in their company years later in an unfamiliar country where the fairy tales he heard as a youth unfold in waves of enchanting encounters, engaging characters and rich landscapes.
Azur and Azmar will be screened October 17 through 23 at the IFC Center in Manhattan.
Previously on fps
Azur and Asmar at Ex-Centris
October 16, 2008
Independent animator Bill Plympton's feature Idiots and Angels will be screened this Saturday at the 2008 Toronto After Dark genre film festival, running from October 17th to 24th.
Plympton's 2007 short, Shut-Eye Hotel, will also be shown on Sunday as a part of the Shorts After Dark program, which also features Michael Langan's Doxology, and includes an even split of live-action and animation shorts.
Previously on fps
October 7, 2008
Ryan Larkin, who animated Walking, and who was also the subject of the Oscar-winning Ryan, has a posthumous co-directing credit on Spare Change (with Laurie Gordon). The film will be showing at the Festival du nouveau cinema. It will also be showing before the feature, All Together Now, a documentary about the Beatles and Cirque du Soleil, which is also premiering at the FNC. Spare Change will precede the feature as it screens across Canada in the next week:
Vancouver: Ridge Theatre
Québec City: Cinéma Quartier
Sherbrooke: La maison du Cinéma
Montreal: Cinema Du Parc
September 17, 2008
It's been a crazy year, but I have been looking forward to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, well.. since the last one ended. This is always the case.
Emru will miss his first festival since 1988, but Brenden Fletcher, Rene Walling and I will be taking in the fest, and we'll try to bring some of it back to you, too.
As usual, there lineup is exceptional. I don't know how I am going to make to all of the special screenings and retrospectives. Just a few of my must-see list items include the Michael Sporn and Jonas Odell retrospectives, Brainwashed! Cartoons That Tell Us What To Think, and The New Wave of Japanese Animation.
Richard Williams' presentation (in interview with John Canemaker) would be in my list, but it's sold already out, which is altogether unsurprising considering the circumstances. If there are any seats left 15 minutes before the event, rush tickets will be sold, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I will have to satisfy myself with a special screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? instead. I'm also looking forward to the Yo Gabba Gabba! presentation on Saturday.
I haven't even gotten into the masterclasses, workshops and panels. Honestly, it's like trying to bail out the ocean with a bucket. I'm going to enjoy trying!
September 9, 2008
Anime After Dark is a new event being kicked off this year by the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. On October 18, a collection of anime features will be screened at the Somerville Theatre from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. (Among the lineup: Grave of the Fireflies, Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society, Cat Soup, Project A-ko, Tekkon Kinkreet and Millennium Actress.)
The cost? A mere twenty bucks if you buy tickets now, $25 if you wait until September 20, and $30 at the door.
September 4, 2008
The Montreal chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH is holding its season opener with an open-air screening in the park next to their usual haunt, the Society for Arts and Technology. Selections from the 2008 Computer Animation Festival will be shown, and while the event is free, you can pick up your annual membership to help support the chapter.
"Doors open" on Saturday, September 6, at 9:30 at Parc de la Paix. There's more info on the SAT website.
2008 SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival trailer
August 25, 2008
While much of the flavour of the Japan Media Arts Festival is Japanese (duh), they actively look for contributions from around the world, and indeed foreign entries have won top awards in the past.
The Japan Media Arts Festival is very open in what they look for; when they say media, they include animation, manga art, Web works, photographs, installations, still photos, commercial work, independent work, amateur work, etc. (What I cover for Frames Per Second is just a fraction what they display every year.) This is what makes their categories so rich and interesting, in my opinion.
Like last year, the Festival is again seeking recommendations from people about works they may have missed. Complete details for people who want to enter or make recommendations can be found on the Japan Media Arts Plaza. Better hurry, though: while submitters have until September 26 to get their works in, aficionados only have until August 29 to submit their recommendations.
August 17, 2008
Every year there's something in the Japan Media Arts Festival's Entertainment Division which also happens to be animated, and worth a mention. (The categories are porous like that.) This year that honour goes to the music video for Ryukyudisko's "Nice Day."
The entire video is a progression of still photographs starting somewhere in the 1970s, with a couple getting busy under the covers and producing a young boy. We watch him get older, get a job, and then he hits the clubs and meets a girl–and the whole starts going into reverse, as we go back into the girl's history. However, we find ourselves going back even farther than her parents, for reasons that eventually become apparent—and the eventual trip forward again carries its own surprises.
There's a lot of whimsy in this video, and the pity of the Flash-based video above is that you lose some of the detail in the historical photos, as well as the deliberate colour choices to replicate older film (up to a point—director Junji Kojima skimps a little when he starts getting into the 1930s and earlier).
By the way, if you think the tune is catchy you can drop a couple of sawbucks for an import of the single at Amazon.
Veterans of animation festivals know that the term "short film" is pretty elastic, from Malcolm Bennett's 30-second Rocky to Yuri Norstein's 29-minute Tale of Tales. They also know that the longer films are usually programmed at the tail end of a given screening, and that prior to the end of the Cold War many of those films were from Eastern Bloc countries—often gorgeous, sometimes inscrutable, sometimes dark.
What's surprising about the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival's award-winning works is that there are four films that pass the twenty-minute mark. The longest, Love Rollercoaster, is the most straightforward. The remaining three are reminiscent of those old Eastern Bloc films.
I'll start off with the 21-minute Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor because (a) director Koji Yamamura pretty much roped me in with his Mt. Head and The Old Crocodile a few years back; (b) it's actually based on the work of the Jewish-Czech Kafka, which gives it that weirdness that can be supplied only by Eastern European creators in general, and Kafka in particular; and (c) I can't help re-watching it whenever I can. Like any Kafka story, A Country Doctor starts with a seemingly normal premise combined (a country doctor is summoned at night to take care of a young patient) with some bizarre aspect ("unearthly horses" transport him there instantly). As in Kafka's better-known The Metamorphosis, the introduction of the preternatural element marks the moment the protagonist can never go back to the way things were. As in Yamamura's Mt. Head, the pace, sketchy images, and hand-drawn transformations complement the story nicely. At the rate A Country Doctor has been racking up awards, I think Yamamura's going to have to put serious thought into new shelving.
Ryu Kato's The Clockwork City also mines the surreal with traditional tools. The film is pretty much wordless, and you should expect to have to work at sorting some aspects of it out. A young visitor comes to a new city, and it's quickly apparent she doesn't quite fit in—every person, every bird, and even a few buildings have these wind-up mechanisms stuck in them, and she doesn't. After exploring the city for a little while she meets with the town's honcho (who wears a wind-up crown) and exchanges fruits and other goods. Soon after the city goes to war with an unknown enemy, its soldiers identically featureless and wearing blue ties and white shirts. In the aftermath, our protagonist confronts the top man and his flunkies over the discovery of a giant wind-up key; what mysteries does it hold? This is definitely on my "must rewatch" list.
Yusuke Sakamoto's The Dandelion Sister takes us into the realm of stop-motion animation, where a young girl has to contend with her older, sick sister—who happens to be a giant dandelion. There's a lot going on here: There's the younger sister missing out on social activities because of her responsibilities; her resentment of how much attention is heaped on her sick sister; her inability to draw, and express her feelings; and her fear of her sister's death. Like The Clockwork City, The Dandelion Sister is wordless, but as its concerns are more grounded in reality it's open to a number of interpretations about adolescence, caring for sick relatives, and acceptance.
August 16, 2008
Another odd little parallel shared by some of the award-winning animation shorts in the Japan Media Arts Festival: three of them had to do with birthdays—after a fashion.
My least favourite of the trio was also the longest: Hiromasa Horie's Love Rollercoaster unfortunately has nothing to do with the Ohio Players song, but is instead about a cutesy young bear cub named John trying to solve the mystery of a mysterious birthday present left behind my his late mother. Involved in the search are his friends, and they soon drag in the creepy Lovegun, an eyeless, sharp-toothed green-skinned critter who lives half in and half out of a rocketship. I like the idea behind some of the characters (especially the pair of mischievous panda siblings), and the overall story idea is a solid one—the ending is particularly sweet. But the whole thing is killed by the execution.
As a clay animation fan it shouldn't bother me that a CGI film tries to emulate a plasticine look for its characters. And I've never had a problem with Japan's cult of kawaii. But whenever the characters talk or scrunch their eyes, their skin wrinkles and folds in an a way that quickly renders them uncute. I'm sure John's initial concept drawings were very cute, but his textured skin, along with the bags under his eyes and all that wrinkliness just made me ill. Throw in excessive camera movement, the same kind of needless bobbing and weaving that bothered me in Skyland, and a half-hour–plus running time, and, well... let's just say that sometimes I watch these things so you don't have to.
(As an aside, I should mention that Love Rollercoaster is one of several projects generated from a Japanese talent incubator called Anime Innovation Tokyo. I'd rather have seen just about anything else their creators have put together.)
The much shorter, lo-fi Ushi-nichi (or, as the English titles say, Happy Birthday) is pretty much Love Rollercoaster's exact opposite. Created with pencil and paper (complete with smudges) by Hiroko Ichinose, the nine-minute short features a motley crew of characters each going through their own machinations. A man stands in the desert waiting to hitch a ride, but turns down almost everyone who stops for him; a man wakes up every morning transformed in some way (extra-long arms, a huge 'fro) and cheerily skips to the employment office to find new work based on his condition; a woman starts eating pieces of her pet giraffe, mindless of the transformations it causes to her own body. Everything comes together in a whimsical denouement. Deep meaning? Who cares? The jittery, rough and utterly charming style makes the whole film a pleasure.
Meanwhile, Toshiaki Hanzaki's Birthday puts another spin on the word, relating the evolution of life on Earth from one-celled organisms to man and, it seems, beyond. Working mostly with silhouetted forms, it's slicker than Ushi-nichi, but it is, if anything, more whimsical, with its portrayal of a giant fanged asteroid killing the dinosaurs and aliens accelerating our evolution. (It's also in the opposite direction of Hanzaki's earlier Birds, my favourite of the Digital Content Association of Japan's 2005 Digital Creators Competition's award-winning works.) Finally, at about a minute and a half, it's more compact. It gets where it needs to go, and then ends. Brevity really is the soul of wit.
One of the pleasures of film festivals, whether you're watching them or organizing them, is in discovering unintended themes in the films. Sometimes it's inevitable, such as when social or political issues are on everyone's mind, but these are so unsurprising as to almost be banal. It's the small, quirky and sometimes trivial themes that are the most interesting to discover, and this year's award-winning short animation offerings from the Japan Media Arts Festival has a few worth mentioning.
One thing I look forward to in any compilation is when people take a backward step, especially when it comes to CGI. There's such a tendency to lard on the detail, be it photorealistic or natural-media or whatever, that few make the deliberate choice to step back and pare things down.
This year three films made a point of dialing down the detail, each in different ways. Youhei Murakoshi's Blockman goes the furthest. The viewer peers through a telescope to a strange world where everything is made up of identically sized cubes. Some are black, most are white, some make larger blocks, and some of the larger blocks have faces, courtesy of dots or lines on individual blocks. The curious lifeforms walk, fly, float, combine and come apart in a variety of ways, with the telescope lazily floating from one vista to another. The effect is similar to that of the even more minimalist Dice—an earlier Japan Media Arts Festival honoree—but perhaps more mesmerizing.
Sejiro Kubo, Ichiro Tanida and Katsunori Aoki collaborated on Copet, a series of shorts starring a cast of animals that are all straight lines and simple curves, plugged together like deranged Lego. At first glance it's appallingly cute, but little touches like camera shake and nifty bits of business (like a gorilla who repeatedly shivers himself out of a stupor) are at odds with the simplistic motion, and the tension works. But what really kept my attention were the bits that didn't follow the simple-is-better formula, like an erupting volcano, a meteor streaking toward Earth and water that looks, well, watery. The characters' occcasional forays into the live-action world, along with incomprehensible but still amusing storylines were also bonuses. If you can read Japanese you can check out the Copet website, which goes into the shorts' world in considerable depth and pimps Copet merch, including a DVD.
Hiroshi Chida's Boneheads was produced by Polygon Pictures, which I mention because it shares a certain aesthetic sensibility with Polygon's Polygon Family shorts, in which the characters' blockiness is celebrated, rather than smoothed and textured to death. But Polygon Family is mostly monochrome, whereas Boneheads' colour pops with Day-Glo intensity. The latter's characters are also ever so slightly asymmetrical, which just makes them kookier.
Moreover, where Polygon Family's animated used the anime and fighting videogame idioms, Boneheads is pure, non-stop Tex Avery-style mania (it's running time of seven minutes makes it even more reminiscent of a Golden Age cartoon). Roccos and Bone are two primitive creatures fighting over bananas—between themselves, and between other critters who get wind of the tasty fruit (or them). The whole thing is really just an escalating chase scene, but as every Blues Brothers fan knows, that's not really a bad thing. Radar Cartoons reps Polygon in the U.S., and Boneheads was produced for Viacom, so here's hoping that it pops up on our screens soon.
August 14, 2008
Film festival venues can be overwhelming and conference venues can be overwhelming, but when you combine them... well, the experience hovers somewhat above the horizon. That said, here are some tidbits:
1. Much discussion, several panels, and two full days of screenings of stereoscopic (3D) films, commercials, sports events, games and scientific visualizations on the first day of the conference. 3D is the agenda for 21st-century digital releases. I took in the two-hour screening of 3D clips and then heard fine artist and installation/performance artist Catherine Owens speak about collaborating with Bono on the 3D film of U2's concert in Buenos Aires. She spoke convincingly about "experimental" exploration and commitment to "idea" in relationship to her personal art, as well as in relationship to her directorial debut of the film U2 3D.
2. The Computer Animation Festival is programmed into seven two-hour screenings that most often repeat the commercials, trailers, and synopses of film titles submitted. For example, Rhythm and Hues showcased effects scenes of the polar bears in "The Golden Compass" and that is screened alongside the commercial from Bridgestone Tires many have seen of the squirrel running onto the highway to retrieve a nut as a car swerves to miss killing him. The festival is screening two impressive studio shorts worth mentioning here: Pixar Studios' Presto and Disney Studios' Glago's Guest. If you've seen WALL-E you've seen Presto before the feature screens.
3) A wonderful Tribute To Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas happened today with Tom Sito moderating a panel that included Frank Thomas' son, Theodore Thomas, documentary filmmaker, as well as a group of celebrity animators who had worked with the two of them in a mentor relationship. All of them delightfully shared their experiences with Frank and Ollie and were very well received. More on this later.
A closing note in case you don't want to wait: you may go online to read about all the sessions at SIGGRAPH 08 and can listen to them on DVD. All panels and discussions have been recorded are available for purchase.
I have constantly forgotten the number one rule for attending film festivals and conferences: find a place to sit, eat well and if you do this, thinking might follow! That said, I will return to report more soon, in spite of the L.A. smog my allergies are swimming in...
August 12, 2008
We love our Lego around here, and when it's moving around, all the better. So we're happy to pass on this bit of news about the upcoming Nicktoons Network Animation Festival, which is happening this October in Los Angeles. Nickelodeon is specifically looking for stop-mo shorts using Lego bricks and minifigs, no more than two minutes long.
The contest is open to just about anyone who isn't living in a country on the U.S.'s "ain't no friend of mine" list, so Cuban animators will have to look elsewhere. Peep the rules and regulations, and find out how you can win $25,000 to create a new Lego short for Nick. Don't forget to read all the fine print so you don't have any surprises when it comes to rights. The final due date is September 15, so get to it, blockheads!
August 8, 2008
Normally around this time I'd be gearing up for the annual SIGGRAPH conference; in fact, if things had gone as planned I'd already be in Los Angeles right now. But a number of things about SIGGRAPH and the way we're covering it are different, and I figured I should pass this information on to you.
A little over a year ago, I was selected to be the chair of SIGGRAPH's Computer Animation Festival. My first order of business was to restructure the festival, which was then divided between the theatrically screened Electronic Theater and the constantly running Animation Theater. The idea was to provide a new structure that kept the spirit of SIGGRAPH while more closely resembling a traditional animation festival.
Working out the overall framework and ideology was about as far as I got before the precursors to my leukemia started to hit in November. I'd started working out a few details here and there about the jurying process with my director, but that was about it.
Back during the initial meetings, I was concerned about how Frames Per Second was going to cover SIGGRAPH. After all, we'd been covering the conference since our days as a print magazine (I believe our first report was in 1996), but there was the issue of conflict of interest. I ended up sitting down with the people responsible for SIGGRAPH's media relations, and we worked out a solution that we're going to follow even though I ultimately participated far less in the process than intended.
This year our SIGGRAPH coverage will be handled by Janeann Dill (who wrote up a SIGGRAPH festival report with me back in 2005), but utterly independent of me. That is, nothing she writes about is discussed with me beforehand, and I won't be editing any of her blog posts, even for things like typos. (Any editing will be handled by Kino Kid.) In short, no editorial intereference from the guy who was on the inside. Janeann's posts will be as fresh to me as they are to you, and I anticipate enjoying them just as much as any other reader, as well.
August 5, 2008
They say the best things in life are free, and in this case it's hard to argue. Since July there's been an exhibition in Manchester called How Manga Took Over the World, and they've been offering free anime screenings that will continue through to September 21. The roster is staggering: there are daily screenings of the first episodes of Astroboy, Tetsujin 28, Noein, Naruto: Unleashed, Otogi Zoshi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Dominion: Tank Police.
But that's just the appetizer. Every Thursday through Saturday, there are screenings of anime features, many of which have been seen on DVD but really deserve to be shown on the big screen. Drool-worthy entries include Hayao Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky (start lining up—it's this Thursday!), the Cowboy Bebop movie, Akira, and the wonderfully old-school Golgo 13. Check the Urbis website for dates and time.
July 21, 2008
I'm all for do-it-yourself projects. Self-starters can take part in Montreal's newest film festival, M60. Participants will make a 60-second film, animated or live-action, which must be completed by August 24th, to be screened for 2 days in September.
Register at the launch party on Thursday, July 24th from 9:oo pm to midnight. The theme will be revealed during the launch. While you're there, enjoy the short sets from several bands, one of which is Ragni (including fps's newest blogger, Brenden Fletcher).
The 2008 Animation Block Party begins on Friday, July 25 and continues until Sunday, July 27. If you're near Brooklyn you can catch three different programs of animated shorts. Friday's program will be screened outdoors at Rooftop Films and the remaining programs, played twice each day, can be seen at the BAMcinematek. Not only do you get to see tons of shorts, the event lives up to its name with beer and live music every night. Party on!
July 16, 2008
Montreal is home to the world's largest comedy festival, Just For Laughs. The festival's annual live action and animated Eat My Shorts program begins today and continues until July 18. Among the animated offerings are John and Karen and Lapsus (pictured above) two recent shorts I enjoyed.
Space Chimps, a CG feature by the Vanguard in the UK and Starz Animation in Canada, will also be previewed tonight.
July 8, 2008
The audience of the Monday screening of Fear(s) of the Dark was treated to a bonus before things got rolling: Hot Dog, the third in a series of shorts by independent New York animator, Bill Plympton. Many know Bill Plympton's name, but those who don't will immediately recognize his trademark style in the clip shown here. Only a portion of the short is in the clip, and gets much funnier as it moves from one stage to the next.
His current feature, Idiots and Angels, seems distinctly different in tone. In Plympton's words:
The look of the film is very Eastern European - something like what Jan Svankmayer might make, or David Lynch if he made animation - very dark and surreal.
Fear(s) of the Dark will replay again tomorrow at the Fantasia festival, but without Hot Dog preceding it. Later in the day, Plympton will present the Canadian premiere of Idiots and Angels, and continuing the festival's spotlight on Animated Auteur Visions.
Previously on fps
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Review: Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton
I had the opportunity to catch the Canadian premiere of Fear(s) of the Dark, a French film that understands what it is to tell a story, many in fact, about fear in various forms. The six stories are not told consecutively, a surprising but successful choice, as viewers are often used to stories being discrete. As a result, the viewer is briefly disoriented at times, returning to a story that was not quite over.
Some fears are completely mundane. Others are truly horrifying, because they are so outlandish, like Charles Burns' story, or because they may have actually happened, like the one by Blutch.
The standout piece was by Richard McGuire and Michel Pirus. It is a taut story that is not incredibly scary (this is arguable - my viewing companion was squirming in her seat), it is beautifully conceived visually, aurally and had the complete attention of the audience.
The DVD will be out later this summer, but it is definitely worth catching if it shows theatrically at a theatre near you.
The screening I attended was also a fundraiser for my brother, the creator of this site and the original Frames Per Second print magazine. All the ticket proceeds will be given to him and his family. I would like to extend my thanks to all who attended and the Fantasia festival team for offering their support.
Peur(s) du Noir screens again in French with English subtitles on Wednesday at the Fantasia film festival.
Previously on fps:
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Peur(s) du Noir Screening at Fantasia to Benefit fps Editor
July 6, 2008
The Canadian premiere of Peur(s) du Noir on Monday is a part of Fantasia's 2008 spotlight, Animated Auteur Visions. Not all of the six shorts are horror films, but each features a black and white animated exploration of fear. Contributors include comic artists Charles Burns and Blutch.
The screening will also be a benefit for fps editor, Emru Townsend. A portion of the profits from each ticket sold will go toward Emru and his immediate family as he prepares for his upcoming bone marrow transplant.
(Earlier this year, Emru wrote a message letting people know that they could help to save his life or that of another person waiting for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. In June, a potential match was found in the system where there previously were none among over 12 million people registered as potential donors. You can read more about his experience on the Heal Emru blog.)
Previously on fps:
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
July 2, 2008
There is a reason Batman has his own label on fps. Besides many of us being big comic fans, many of us are huge fans of the Bat specifically. He has numerous animated interpretations and the notable incarnations in the 90s and 00s have definitely left their mark on (what was) Saturday morning television, cable television, comic book adaptations, and Warner Bros. television animation.
So people are a little nervous about an anime version of Batman since Batman: Gotham Knight was announced. I am a huge Batman fan and a huge anime fan, but I won't champion one at the expense of the other. After hearing about the talent behind the series of interrelated shorts, both American and Asian, I was somewhat relieved, but I was also willing to wait for a final verdict once I'd actually seen the shorts. After getting a peek at the soon-to-be released DVD in a theatrical setting gearing up for the 2008 edition of Fantasia, I think people's fears are largely unfounded.
Disliking the stories because they use the visual style of anime is just as bad as only liking it because it is anime. What you need to know is the stories are told well. What you need to know is these stories all embody something about the Legend of the Bat and are consistent with the characters that have already been established. It does look great!
And the same people that dismiss the anthology because it is anime will probably be the ones who refuse to notice that there are six very distinct visual styles that are employed to tell each story. The level of interestingness does vary depending on the style you are drawn to, but this is also the case of a decades long comic-collector who has some artists they prefer over others. Like these artists, Batman's look changes at the whim of the artists involved. The two stories with styles I found the most recognizable and distinct from the others were produced by Studio 4°C. They were even distinct from each other. Selecting one of these as the first story in the set was a great choice as it breaks conventions of what people consider the "anime style."
There are no spoilers in this entire post. I am not interested in ruining it for anybody, especially the die-hard Batman fans. However, if you are told or read spoilers elsewhere, you will not find out anything new about Batman if you already know his character. You will feel comforted by the way the stories fit easily into the mythos that has already been created from past stories. Just go and watch the stories unfold, and enjoy another glimpse of Batman's early days as he tries to learn the ropes of crimefighting.
You can catch a theatrical screening of Batman: Gotham Knight at Montreal's Fantasia festival on Saturday at noon, before it is released on DVD next Tuesday.
Previously on fps
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Batman: Gotham Knight Promo Video Online
DC Comics OAVs
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo
The End of Justice League
Previously on The Critical Eye
Batman & Batman Beyond
Bruce Timm & Glen Murakami
July 1, 2008
It's a week of firsts for this blogger - this is my first post on fps and my first experience with Montreal's famous genre spectacle, the Fantasia Film Festival. Illustrator and fellow fps blogger Matt Forsythe and I attended the press symposium and were treated to a preview of what we can expect from July 3rd-21st.
This year's animated offerings feature an unusual and unintentional focus on collaborative efforts and collections of short films, from DC Comics' Batman: Gotham Knight, Studio 4C's aptly named anime extravaganza, Genius Party, and the cutting-edge showcase, Best of Ottawa Animation Festival 2007. There are only two single-narrative feature-length animated presentations in the entire fest - Bill Plympton's poetic, pencil-scratch surrealist vision, Idiots and Angels and John Bergin's bleak, post-apocalyptic fable, From Inside. We'll cover each entry in more detail throughout the festival.
Continue past the jump for a full schedule of the animated films screening at Fantasia 2008:
July 4th - 7:30PM - Hall Theatre - Genius Party
July 5th - 12:00PM - Hall Theatre - Batman: Gotham Knight
July 5th - 1:00PM - J.A. De Seve - Best of Ottawa Animation Festival 2007
July 6th - 1:00PM - Hall Theatre - Genius Party
July 7th - 9:45PM - Hall Theatre - Peur (s) Du Noir
July 9th - 3:00PM - J.A. De Seve - Peur (s) Du Noir
July 9th - 7:30PM - Hall Theatre - Idiots and Angels (Hosted by creator, Bill Plympton)
July 12th - 2:40PM - J.A. De Seve - Outer Limits Of Animation 2008 (Shorts from around the globe)
July 13th - 9:40PM - J.A. De Seve - From Inside
July 14th - 3:00PM - J.A. De Seve - From Inside
(Okay, who's the putz that programmed Batman: Gotham Knight to screen at the same time as the Ottawa Festival shorts?! ...sigh... guess I'll have to watch you at home on Blu-ray, Batman...)
Tickets go on sale July 2nd at 2PM at the Concordia Hall Theatre (Guy-Concordia Metro) and throughout the Admission Network at $7.50 each.
Directions:Hall Theatre - 1455 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions
DB Clarke Theatre - 1455 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions
J.A. De Seve - 1400 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions
Previously on fps:
2007 Fantasia Line-Up
Batman: Gotham Knight Online
Genius Party Trailers
Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton
June 18, 2008
It's a given that even with such a wealth of animated shorts on the Internet, there's nothing like rubbing shoulders with like-minded people at a film festival. But when it comes to festival compilations on DVD, things get a little trickier. After all, if you're going to watch a bunch of shorts on the small screen, why buy them on DVD when you can probably find many of them, legally or otherwise, online?
That question plagues the third iteration of the annual Animation Show DVD release; a quick glance at its contents revealed three shorts that I'd seen online already, and I'm sure most, if not all, of the rest are lurking around somewhere.
Ah, but then you wouldn't have the distinct pleasure of watching 103 minutes of some of the best shorts of the past three years by pressing just one button from the comfort of your couch. Really, there isn't a false note here. I've seen Rabbit, City Paradise, Tyger and Learn Self Defense a gazillion times, and cheerfully sat through them from start to finish again. The kaleidoscopic Collision was serviceable and short enough not to be too taxing, and One D entertained me despite its one-note gag, unsurprising animation in-joke and glaring technical inaccuracy. (Hello, these characters are two-dimensional, not one-dimensional. Watch Ladd Ehlinger, Jr.'s interpretation of Flatland to see it done right.) Overall, a nice variety of films in a nice variety of styles.
Also, you wouldn't get great extras like an animatic and three video interviews, along with text interviews you can read by putting the DVD into a computer. That's some good bang for the bucks.
For all that, though, there are a few things that bother me here. I'm still not sure if I'm keen on the DVDs including a bunch of shorts that weren't screened during the theatrical run. I expect to see shorts on the big screen that I won't see on DVD due to rights issues, but it feels kind of odd that neither medium, by itself, is the complete experience.
Most glaring, however, is the inclusion of an eight-minute trailer for MTV's The Maxx, which is stuck in the middle of the festival extras instead of with the MTV trailers. (The Animation Show DVD is distributed by MTV Home Entertainment.) It's strange, because it's not part of the festival content, but its placement implies inclusion in the festival. Er, um, why exactly? It feels like a bit of corporate pimping, which doesn't reflect well on anyone involved.
Where to Get It
Buy The Animation Show, Vol. 3 on DVD from Amazon.com