SIGGRAPH 2003: July 28
Emru Townsend · July 28 | I started my day with my second-to-last Animation Theater screening, the one I was most looking forward to: "It Takes Character." As the name implies, this compilation is all about acting in computer animation, and the efforts shown here were almost uniformly stellar.
One distressing feature of the "Realities Challenged" program I saw yesterday was the number of commercials and effects demo reels from established studios: ten out of nineteen. It's an inevitable aspect of SIGGRAPH because the larger houses put out more work, but at times there's an almost depressing corporate aspect to the work shown—sort of like watching three Hollywood blockbusters in the middle of a collection of an independent film festival. Yeah, they've got polish, but where's the personal touch?
"It Takes Character" was refreshingly free of that for the most part, though it's bookended by a best-bits look at the Tippett Studio's "Carl & Ray" Blockbuster ads and a clip from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There were also Aardman Animation's "Blobs" IDs for BBC3, but six pairs of those are sprinkled throughout all four programs, in each case roughly fitting the theme. They also run the usual Aardman gamut from wry humour to drop-dead funny. And there was one UK ad for Sprite. But the remaining ten shorts were by and large exemplary.
It's hard to pick a favourite. Except for the ads, dialogue played no part in any of these, with animators expressing themselves the old-fashioned way—through imagery. Veterans of animation festivals would find Wojtek Wawszczyk's Pingwin an interesting evolutionary step. It has an admittedly predictable story but translates the sketchy Eastern European illustrative style to great effect.
Most faithful to the theme of character animation is Moonsung Lee's Bert, which uses such simplistic models and rendering that it could have been made years ago—but thanks to clearly communicated acting and smart timing, it doesn't matter in the least. The characters are little vegetable people, with a mother who plucks her freshly-grown green offspring out of the earth—along with one orange misfit. It's an ugly duckling story that you can see coming a mile off, but it's so well told you don't care. Unsurprisingly, this was one of the three films that drew the most laughter.
The third film that had us rolling in the aisles was Ritterschlag (Knight Games), from the Institut of Animation, Visual Effects & Digital Postproduction at Filmakademie Baden-Wüerttemberg. Here, we see a damsel in distress being used as bait by an adult dragon and its offspring so that the elder can pass on its knowledge of how to dispatch knights—with panache. Even though it's the longest film at six and a half minutes, it never feels drawn out; the gags always come up with something just unexpected enough to keep the laughs coming, and the final payoff caps things off perfectly. It's especially heartening to note that Ritterschlag was one of four productions to come out of schools, and all of them were exceptional in one way or another. The future's in good hands.