May 12, 2009
In my continuing habit of linking everything that Bruce Sterling links to at my own blog, I now present FPS readers with this video by Serbian band Strip. The video follows the journey of an older female robot as she looks at new models and faces attacks from thuggish humans. I like how the robot's animation is purposefully employed to create an Uncanny Valley response, thus commenting on how we relate to representations of human motion in general, as well as how consumer culture treats "older" women.

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September 24, 2008
Hot on the heels of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the Cinematheque quebecoise is offering a festival highlight in Montreal. Jonas Odell's retrospective, Revolver Bang! Bang! will be shown on September 24th, and it repeats on September 26.

I've provided a loose translation of Marco de Blois's description on the CQ website.

In 1981 in Stockholm, three students who loved illustration and animation formed a studio they named Filmtecknarna. Initially, Jonas Odell, Lars Ohlson and Stig Bergqvist dedicated their activities to production and direction of short auteur films. But a few years later, a new opportunity presented itself for the directors. Private television stations in Sweden had a demand for content that the studio worked to satisfy. Therefore, the founders threw themselves into the direction of television animation, commercials and music videos, as well as returning periodically to short films.

Imprinting an incomparable stylistic cohesiveness to their productions, Filmtecknarna attained international reknown. When one has clients, for example, like Ikea, BMW, U2 and Franz Ferdinand, one can meaningfully consider one's notoriety.

Another key moment in Filmtecknarna's history occurred in 1993 when festivals the world over attacked by an unidentified object, Revolver, which brought together the three founders and Martti Ekstrand. Even today it exerts a fascination the holds the spectator: this strange black and white film, made with looped movements and evoking the aesthetic of Muybridge and the Fleischer brothers, reveals a story of the world with nothing left but a few mysterious fragments.

Odell went on to follow a fruitful career in music videos, without abandoning short auteur films, deepening his approach in which the desire to seize the real applied itself on his sense of design that, paradoxically, has little to do with realism. In Family & Friends, he dives into his memory to create the coloured portrait of jaded people he has met in which the memory haunts him still. For the acclaimed Never Like the First Time!, winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2006, he provides a graphic counterpoint to real interviews with people who recount a defining moment of their existence: their first sexual encounter.

The programme, curated by the filmmaker himself, is composed of Revolver, My Best Friend Plank, Family & Friends, Never Like the First Time! and a series of music videos created for Franz Ferdinand, U2, Goldfrapp, The Hours, Audio Bullys, Erasure, Feeder et Mad Action. The Cinémathèque acquired a new 35mm copy of Revolver in 2006 thanks to the five generous donors. In addition, the filmmaker has a special surprise, his most recent film, Lies, which just had its world premiere at the Mostra de Venise.

Here's another video directed by Odell: Smile, by The Cobbs.

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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.

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August 11, 2008


Radiohead is reaching into their own pockets to award $10,000 each to the 4 first place winners of their video contest. The band had been meant to pick a single victor, who would then be furnished the prize money by sponsor, Aniboom to complete a video project. Upon witnessing the astonishing quality of the eventual winners, Radiohead has decided to once again break the rules and spread the cash-love around to Kota Totori of Japan (aka Hideyuki Kota), Wolfgang Jaiser and Claus Winter of Germany (aka 16tracks), Clement Picon of France, and Tobias Stretch of the United States.

More videos after the jump...












Watch more cool animation and creative cartoons at aniBoom

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September 28, 2007
In the last of this week's three-day Tekkonkinkreet tour, we present our latest video podcast: a music video set to Plaid's "White Dream"—or, more accurately, to the Shinichi Osawa remix of "White's Dream," from the Tekkonkinkreet soundtrack remix CD. The video is directed by Michael Arias, who generously provided it for us to post here.

Watch the video

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September 27, 2007


White's Dream is a music video based on the Tekkonkinkreet movie. Set to the Shinichi Osawa remix of Plaid's song from the soundtrack and directed by Tekkon director Michael Arias, the video encapsulates most of the movie from Shiro's (White's) perspective.

Links
Tekkonkinkreet review
Michael Arias interview
Tekkonkinkreet image gallery
Tekkonkinkreet soundtrack
Tekkonkinkreet soundtrack remix CD

Image credit: © Taiyo Matsumoto / Shogakukan, Aniplex, Asmik Ace Entertainment, Beyond C., Dentsu, Tokyo MX.
Special thanks to Michael Arias for providing this video.

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September 14, 2007

Ever since I first discovered CG-Arts and the Japan Media Arts Festival, I've been delighted to find that every year the festival features at least one short that looks and feels unlike any film I've ever seen—my criterion for an excellent film fest. This year one of the most striking was Tomonori Hayase's Mix a Miniascape.

Set to music by Jumpei Yamada, Hayase's film uses Adobe Photoshop and After Effects to create a funky, unusual Tokyo travelogue. Hayase took hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of people, places and thing as he passed by them, or they passed him. He then assembled the images into a collage, animating his travels through the city by erasing the image of, say, a building piece by piece at the same time as the next image of the same building is being built piece by piece. The effect is of moving through a fractured urban landscape, propelled by Yamada's breakbeats while navigating periods of both chaos and calm.

While Mix a Miniascape was an example of something new, there were also some nice reprises. Tochka Factory's Pikapika made its Japan Media Arts Festival debut—if you haven't already heard about this literally brilliant short, you should read my earlier praise—and Hikaru Yamakawa followed up last year's Oh Hisse (itself a followup to the previous year's Tope Con Giro) with La Magistral.

In Oh Hisse, Yamakawa presented a surreal world in which hundreds of faceless schoolboys marched in increasingly outlandish geometric processions, to the utter disregard of a man sitting on a bench and three schoolgirls talking among themselves. Oh Hisse's hypnotic appeal lay in its minimalist colour palette (black, white, a few shades of grey and spots of red), the mannequin-like quality of its characters, and its rhythmic and only vaguely natural movement. In La Magistral, Yamakawa explores the same concepts, but opens things up a little bit. The range of colours has expanded to include blues, greens and browns, as seven nearly identical men in grey tracksuits ride unicycles along a slender beam, observed on by swaying figures in coloured tracksuits, all of whom have spheres, cubes and cones for heads, and often casually defying gravity.

Not only does La Magistral have more colour than its predecessor, it also has a more dynamic cameral and yet, it's just as mesmerizing. Another distinction, however, is that Yamakawa decided to give La Magistral an actual ending—one that induces a chuckle, maybe, but otherwise doesn't offer much.

A more compelling film, however, was also perhaps more modest, at least in its tone. Naked Youth is directed by Kojiro Shishido, who coincidentally composed the music for La Magistral. As the film starts, a young man emerges from a school's shower stall. His towel falls, and just as he pulls it back up someone steps out of another stall. The two wordlessly face each other, and the camera cuts away to another scene. We soon see the boys training together and learn that they're members of a boxing team. There's little in the way of linear narrative here; the camera lingers with equal summer laziness on the sunlit trees and blue skies in their Japanese suburb, the mundane scenes of road trips, and the boys' vigorous exercise and practice regimen.

And then there's that shower scene, which appears and disappears like a metronome tick, four times throughout the film. Like the rest of Naked Youth, the scene is wordless and features just the right sounds to establish a sense of place and mood. But that mood is ambiguous, and increasingly charged with tentative eroticism whenever the boys face each other.

Are there clues to their relationship in other scenes? The boys sometimes work out together, sometimes alone; and they look away from each other as often as not. When one of them changes out of his shorts next to the boxing ring—a seemingly common occurrence, as no one really pays him any mind—is the other boy looking at him, or you know, looking at him? The delight of Naked Youth is that it obeys the maxim of "show, don't tell," but it doesn't go out of its way to show everything, either. Subtlety is king here, and the audience still has to work to figure out what it can.

From the standpoint of technique, Naked Youth presents its story in a way that seems very traditional, and yet unconventional. It's hand-drawn in what we consider the anime style, though its characters are perhaps a little less streamlined and a little more detailed—closer, one might say, to more of a manga style. The animation direction also favours a look and feel that's less flat than most commercial anime. Athletic scenes feature a moving, "handheld" camera, with figures looking more as if they're moving through three-dimensional space, with little of the exaggeration that's common in anime. Much of this look is a result of strikingly stylized integration of 3D computer animation, hand-drawn animation and beautiful lighting and texturing effects.

Shishido gives Naked Youth space to breathe by providing many moments of figurative, if not literal, silence, in which nothing more happens than, say, the team waiting out a summer downpour or sunlight filtering through the trees as crickets chirp. Of course, these kinds of moments aren't new to anime; for decades, this appreciation of stillness has been part of the medium's appeal. But in Naked Youth these scenes are even more engaging, as Shishido uses light CGI touches and careful audio work to effectively place the viewer in the scene. That downpour, for example, is pretty convincing, and while one nightttime scene is a just a little CGI-flashy—since when do moths flitting around a street light cast such stark shadows?—it beautifully conveys that feeling of being out alone on a quiet summer night.

It's films like Naked Youth that put the lie to the sentiment that animation must necessarily be simple, childish, or fantastic in subject matter; the complicated yet simple Naked Youth's exploration of a slice of adolescent life could well have been told in live action, but it would have been all the poorer for it.

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September 8, 2007
One of SIGGRAPH's (many) hidden gems is the collection of digitally animated shorts from the previous Japan Media Arts Festival. Hidden because in the middle of the constantly repeating Animation Theater, the 90 minutes or so of selected Japan Media Arts Festival shorts are each shown exactly once, across three half-hour programs. However, those screenings represent just a slice of all the films shown during the nine days of the festival. (For that matter, films are just one part of the fest, which includes manga, artwork and installations.)

A case in point is that the two films lodged most firmly in my brain were in the festival's Entertainment Division, and both are rooted in live action. In Tadashi Tsukagoshi's Arrow, a man notices that the cigarette butts he's extinguished under his shoe form an arrow, which points straight to a procession of ants marching... in the shape of an arrow. Digital trickery (as well as creative prop placement and hair gel) creates the procession of pointers that the man follows first out of curiosity, then out of dark compulsion.

Koichiro Tsujikawa's dreamy music video to Cornelius's "Fit Song" spends its entire time in the confines of a house, where CGI brings everyday items to a strange sort of life. Strange because aside from a few objects (most amusingly, a discus-throwing action figure and a top-heavy, ambulatory magnifying glass), almost none are anthropomorphized—and many replicate themselves with more of an eye to what looks good and, above all, what works with the music, rather than any strict adherence to physics. I'm a lifelong puzzler, so I was delighted to see a ball of matches explode into a floating array of early 20th-century Japanese matchstick puzzles, some of which solved themselves as the camera floated by. And is it just me, or is the rolling (and, yes, self-reproducing) sugar cubes' initial dance a nod to Norman McLaren's 1964 film, Canon?

The Entertainment Division did have some fully animated works, however. Satoshi Tomioka's Exit online ads for Taito are frantic and deliriously absurd, both involving noisy and chaotic chase scenes with characters looking for a way out of predicaments they've brought on themselves. (A naked man with a bored, negligée-clad girl in tow flees a woman—her mother? his wife?—down a hotel corridor; a cat tries to liberate a fish from the dinner table of an elderly couple. Oddly enough, in both cases the pursuers have glowing laser eyes and preternatural abilities.) Every time I watch these one-minute ads I think about the buckets of money companies like Dreamworks spend trying to make 3D CGI more cartoony, while smaller studios just sit down and do it—sometimes with better results.

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