Seattle-based Michael Langan emailed to let me know about his latest film, Heliotropes, which “documents the parallel goals of man and nature, through the most primitive and sophisticated means, to simply stay in the light.” The short, which debuted at SXSW last March, is based on a poem by Brian Christian. Langan tackles big ideas in three short minutes, exploring the recursive patterns and laws of nature that govern both natural life (sunflowers, migratory birds) and human behavior. The writer’s statement on his website offers additional perspective on the film’s meaning, but Langan’s crisply executed visual concepts stand on their own merit.
One of the questions that we get asked most frequently is, Which animation festivals should I submit my animated short to? Withoutabox offers an unedited list of thousands of regional and niche film festivals, but there’s no clear hierarchy of which festivals are important to the animation community. Considering the time and expense required to submit films, we thought it would be helpful to create a simple guide for filmmakers who wish to participate in the most significant animation festivals around the globe. So, let us introduce Cartoon Brew’s Animation Festival Guide.
We’ll update the list regularly with submission deadlines, and add more international animation festivals to the list. We encourage festival organizers to keep us up to date. Though the list will grow, it will also remain carefully curated to include only major international festivals that have diverse programming slates and invite guests and attendees from around the world. If you’re looking for a comprehensive and unedited list of every film festival in the world, there are other places to find that.
How minimalist can a lead character be in an animated short and still elicit an audience’s emotional reaction? CalArts student Nelson Boles explores the possibilities in his smartly designed The Little Boat. His sparing approach evokes the live-action short The Red Balloon which similarly imbued life into an obstinately mundane object. Boles doesn’t anthropomorphize the titular character; the dinghy’s behavior stems from its interactions with other characters in the film and its surrounding environment. And though its movement is controlled by an external force (wind), we still feel something for the boat. For instance, the shot at 2:10 that shows the boat resolutely pushing forward only to have its mast shattered in half–it’s as heartbreaking a moment as anything that could happen to a more conventional animated character with eyes, hands and legs.
Stylish 1982 British public service announcement directed by Richard Taylor. There’s some ‘making of’ details posted on the excellent British animation blog Lost Continent.
I’m not sure how effectively Plug, the New World promotes Nissan’s electric vehicles, which is the soft sell purpose of the commissioned film, but it’s an undeniably creative and well made effort. The director of the short is Tsuneo Goda, who is best known as the creator of Domo, the poop-inspired mascot of Japanese broadcaster NHK-TV. There are lots of behind-the-scenes photos and making-of details on the website of Goda’s production company Dwarf.
(Thanks, David OReilly)
Think of the animation possibilities…
(via Animation Anomaly)
Anyone interested in the history of computer animation and the roots of Pixar is in for a treat. Headlining this post is a forty-year-old video created by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull and classmate Fred Parke at the University of Utah. The animation of the hand, which is among the earliest examples of rendered 3D animation, was reused in the 1976 feature Futureworld.Â It was the first use of computer modeled animation in a feature film. The backstory of who had a copy of the entire film and why it’s posted on Vimeo is also fascinating and worth a read.
Next up is Vol Libre by Loren Carpenter. The film is considered a classic of early computer graphics and caused a huge stir when it debuted at SIGGRAPH in 1980. In fact, Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith walked up to Carpenter after the screening and offered him a job on the spot in George Lucas’s Computer Division, which eventually became Pixar. Carpenter has been with the studio ever since. Here’s what he wrote about Vol Libre in the video description on Vimeo:
I made this film in 1979-80 to accompany a SIGGRAPH paper on how to synthesize fractal geometry with a computer. It is the world’s first fractal movie. It utilizes 8-10 different fractal generating algorithms. I used an antialiased version of this software to create the fractal planet in the Genesis Sequence of Star Trek 2, the Wrath of Khan. These frames were computed on a VAX-11/780 at about 20-40 minutes each.
I didn’t interview Catmull or Carpenter when I wrote The Art of Pixar Short Films, but I did speak to three of their colleagues on the technology side–Alvy Ray Smith, Eben Ostby and Bill Reeves. Of the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted over the years, I’ll admit that these were the only times I’d ever felt intimidated. These folks are brilliant minds who are smarter than I could ever hope to be. I have a layman’s understanding of how computer animation works, but I can’t pretend to grasp the nuances of how they write code that translates ones and zeros into fantastic computer animated imagery. I’d be willing to wager that very few of the artists who work in computer animation have any clue either. The technology is taken for granted; we simply accept that these programs enable the creation of wonderful images.
The software didn’t exist four decades ago though. Watching these early pieces of computer animation only heightens my sense of awe and admiration for the scientists and technologists who have made computer animation possible. In a mere blip of time, they’ve built the technological platform that makes possible every one of today’s computer-animated and effects-laden films. Not to mention that their discoveries have led to the development of entirely new forms of entertainment like video games. They are some very smart people indeed.
(Thanks, Brian Hoary, for the Ed Catmull link)
Trailer for Alois Nebel, a new Czech animated feature directed by TomáÅ¡ LuÅˆák. It debuts this month at the Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, and opens soon afterward in the Czech Republic. The story looks engaging which is good because the graphic style that stems from the Waking Life school of floaty rotoscope doesn’t excite me at all. They combined the roto with a black-and-white palette, which has been a trendy look in recent indie animated features like Renaissance, Persepolis, Fear(s) of the Dark, and the semi-b&w Mary and Max. No word on international release dates, but stay tuned to the official website AloisNebel.cz.
Film synopsis if you want to know more:
The end of the eighties in the twentieth century. Alois Nebel works as a dispatcher at the small railway station on the Czech-Polish border. He’s a loner, who prefers old timetables to people, and he finds the loneliness of the station tranquil – except when the fog rolls in. Then he hallucinates, sees trains from the last hundred years pass through the station. They bring ghosts and shadows from the dark past of Central Europe.
The feature film Alois Nebel is an adaptation of the graphic novel by Jaroslav RudiÅ¡ and JaromÃr 99 combining animation and live-action. The authors have chosen rotoscoping as the visual approach for the film in order to remain true to the style of the original comic book.
(Thanks to Tom for pointing out the story on Twitch)
Lots of buzz yesterday over the announcement of Wacom’s new Inkling device. It allows users to sketch directly onto paper using a real pen, and records the strokes, which can then be exported to the computer as a vector file. The consensus amongst various professional artists posting on Twitter appears to be, “Wow, this is a cool gadget, but I’m not sure how it fits into my workflow.” On the plus side, it’s priced at $200 which is a relatively affordable cost of entry for a new technology. Are you excited about the Inkling? Can you envision using it in your film production workflow?
Watch this intro to the Inkling:
Eighty-one-year old Fred Cohen, owner of Poughkeepsie’s Overlook Drive-In movie theater, is either clairvoyant or a crotchety old man. He offered his assessment of 3-D movies in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and it ain’t pretty:
“I’ve been in this business long enough to see it fail once. And I’ll be in it long enough to see it fail again.”
The jury is still out on how much longer Fred will have to wait.
One of the reasons I like Chipotle is their emphasis on humanely raised animals. Whether raising meat can ever be as idyllic or beautiful as depicted in this new stop motion short called Back to the Start is open to debate, but it’s an undeniably attractive piece of advertising. It was directed by designed by London-based Johnny Kelly whose hand-made approach to the art form is a perfect match for Chipotle’s message. Like George Pal’s Puppetoons, Kelly knows how to animate stylized geometric forms with organic appeal.
Behind-the-scenes production photos on Johnny Kelly’s Flickr account.
Making of video and credits after the jump:
Passenger is a hand-drawn film that abstracts the nighttime driving experience into a playful, kinetic performance of color and shape. It’s a junior year film by the piquantly named Africanus Okokon. He attends Rhode Island School of Design, which was also the point of origin for Playing for Keeeps, the short that we debuted yesterday as part of our Student Animation Festival.
Here’s an animated piece by Maud Remy and Gérald Guerlais describing Sketchtravel, a sketchbook that has been sent around the globe and drawn in by over seventy artists, including Frederic Back, Quentin Blake, Juanjo Guarnido, Glen Keane, Hayao Miyazaki, and Carlos Nine. We first announced the project back in 2006. The book is finished now and will be auctioned off later this year. A reproduction of the book will also be published and it is available for pre-order on Amazon France. A new website, Sketchtravel.tv offers video interviews with the participating artists.
I’ve attended my fair share of foreign animation festivals over the years, and have always bemoaned the lack of Los Angeles industry artists at these gatherings. In Annecy artists from throughout Europe’s animation industry show up, in Ottawa a sizable lot from the New York and Toronto industry attend, but artists from Los Angeles have been conspicuously absent at every animation festival I’ve ever attended. There might be a few stragglers, but undoubtedly they’ll be outnumbered by the LA-based development and creative execs, who pounce on any opportunity for a free “business” trip.
The apathy of LA industry artists is historical. During the legendary 1967 Montreal animation expo, which was one of the great all-time gatherings of animation talent, only one Disney animator who had worked on Dumbo and was still employed at the company, took the time to attend the screening of that film. It was, of course, the studio’s most creatively curious artist, Ward Kimball.
This all leads up to some positively encouraging news. Browsing through the schedule for the upcoming Ottawa International Animation Festival, I noticed that not only are Adventure Time and Flapjack being shown in competition screenings , the creators of both shows–Pen Ward (top photo, left) and Thurop Van Orman (r.)–will attend and participate in a discussion about their work. This interaction between Los Angeles animators and the much larger world of animation beyond the San Fernando Valley doesn’t happen nearly often enough. Considering how relatively inexpensive it is to attend one of these festivals versus the mind-expanding benefits of meeting like-minded artists and seeing innovative new animation, I’m surprised that more studios don’t encourage and finance these trips for their employees. It would certainly be a wiser investment than shipping a cartload of executives to each festival.
The appearance of Ward and Van Orman isn’t the only TV-centric event at Ottawa either. Aaron Augenblick (top photo, center) who runs Brooklyn-based Augenblick Studios (Superjail!, Wonder Showzen, Ugly Americans) will be presenting a retrospective of his work. The program isn’t exclusively TV-related, but Augenblick is best known nowadays for his studio’s consistently high quality TV output, which is no small accomplishment.
Last May, we posted Peter Lowey‘s short Sidewalk Scribble, which was an entry in the Annecy animation festival’s YouTube contest. The film went on to win first prize in the Annecy contest, and Lowey’s rewards were trips to both Annecy and Los Angeles.
Lowey, who runs Piepants Animation in Melbourne, just wrapped a music video for Art vs. Science’s “With Thought.” In the video, he illustrates a challenging concept–human thought–which he portrays graphically as a billowy, mutating object that stems from individuals but also forms a collective consciousness. Like a cloud, the abstract form occasionally resolves itself into recognizable imagery before returning to its ethereal state. It’s an elegant piece of animated filmmaking that serves the music well.
Music by Art vs Science
Directed and animated by Peter Lowey at Piepants Animation
Compositing, TD, backgrounds and animation by Glenn Hatton
Backgrounds and inbetweening by Young Ha Kim
What advice would you give to a budding artist who’s considering entering the lucrative and glamorous animation industry? It’s tough telling someone where to start, but I’ve rarely seen better advice than this blog post by “Waveybrain”. The artist who wrote it has experience in both feature and TV animation, and his advice is grounded in hard-earned personal experience, which he generously shares in the post. With the school year kicking into gear, it’d be a good idea for students to read Waveybrain’s post as a reminder of what they need to learn if they want to end up with a job in the industry.
This just might be every cartoonist’s worst nightmare: Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was kidnapped and later found bleeding on the side of a road with his hands broken. Unsurprisingly, the attack is being blamed on the security forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Ferzat, according to the Guardian, is “one of Syria’s most famous cultural figures,” and he has “long criticised the bureaucracy and corruption of the regime and since March has turned to depicting the uprising.” His work has also served as inspiration for animated projects in Syria.
A few weeks ago, the Syrian regime killed the singer Ibrahim al-Qashoush, the composer of a popular anti-regime song, and dumped his body in a river with his vocal chords ripped out of his throat. These desperate attempts to shut down the voices of the country’s most creative people is disheartening, but it also speaks to how much power artists wield throughout society and how much fear they can instill into governments. Even in the United States, cartoonists have been responsible for bringing down corrupt politicians with nothing but their pens. Ferzat’s story is something that every cartoonist and animator should remember the next time they make a drawing: cartoons have the power to create positive change, and there are cartoonists around the world risking their lives to do just that.
The Facebook page We Are all Ali Ferzat has been set up in his support. We applaud Ferzat’s bravery and wish him a speedy recovery.
According to a tweet, this is the last cartoon Ferzat drew before he was beaten and here’s a selection of more cartoons by him:
Dan Cohen takes existing sheet music and animates it to the songs. The concept bears out the cliche that the best ideas are often the simplest. Not only does animating music in this manner hold great potential as an educational tool, it also helps the listener–musically-inclined or otherwise–to appreciate the artistry of musicians. The best thing that Cohen does is to display each individual note as it is played, which really allows the listener to visualize the melodies and rhythms of a composition. It’s an especially striking effect for some of the songs, like Charlie Parker’s “Bloomdido.”
Oh, and because someone will inevitably mention High Note, yes, it’s true that Chuck Jones once made an animated short that used sheet music as a setting, and frankly it’s not nearly as interesting or entertaining as the musical visualizations that Dan Cohen has created.
Max Hattler‘s “AANAATT”, a music video for Japanese artist Jemapur, is an abstract stop motion journey that disorients the viewer through novel placement of mirrors and windows. Hattler’s geometric universe functions using an internal logic of its own that isn’t immediately evident to the viewer, and thus creates a visual tension that is both mysterious and hypnotizing. The video dates back to 2008 but is appearing on-line for the first time. It ranks among the more unique examples of stop motion animation I’ve seen recently.
Director/Producer: Max Hattler
Animation: Max Hattler, Noriko Okaku
Assistant Animators: Philip Serfaty, Rodrigo Vives
Commissioned by: W+K Tokyo Lab
Creative Director: +cruz
An Abstract Day is a 2009 experimental short by Dutch animator Oerd van Cuijlenborg that has just been posted on-line. The film uses semi-abstract imagery to visualize the sounds in the daily life of a couple. (Note: Audio is NSFW so wear headphones.) The film is unique enough to stand on its own, but intentionally or not, it owes a debt to a UPA industrial film that John Hubley made called More Than Meets the Eye that represented sound in a similarly abstract manner.
To be sure, there’s a cute voice track in this interstitial for British children’s channel CBeebies, but the piece as a whole is charming and delivers on all fronts, with sharp direction, design and animation (I love the run cycles of the brothers at the beginning). The piece, called “Sam,” was directed by Matthias Hoegg of Beakus, who also made a couple other shorts in the series earlier this year.
Ted Parmelee (pictured above, right) is perhaps best remembered today as the director of UPA’s The Tell-Tale Heart, but his career in animation stretched from Pinocchio through Rocky & Bullwinkle and included lots of fine work in TV commercials and industrial films inbetween.
While browsing through some files related to my book Cartoon Modern, I stumbled onto scans of an article that Parmelee had written in the mid-1950s. The piece, which I’ve reprinted below, smartly sums up many of the issues that progressive animation artists faced in the 1950s. For example, Parmelee argued that Disney’s heavy reliance on live-action was an artistic dead-end and countered every other development in art at the time:
All efforts were directed toward better drawing to produce a kind of reality from what had originally been a very simple and direct medium. They were so delighted to see it move, and pleased with a medium more plastic in the use of “time” that they became involved in trying to make it round, real and spacious as they could. This was exactly the same standard of “good” that made Aunt Matilda’s “real-genuine-oil painting” good. “The apples looked so sure-enough for real you coulda’ picked ‘em right out of the painting.” For this the artists to the Italian Renaissance for aid and borrowed the know-how of several centuries of draughtmanship. It was only natural and practical thinking. If you have a new gadget, don’t you take it out and try it on anything handy? Finally you have it doing the things it was designed for so well that it just gets monotonous, so you have it attempting things it never was built for.
There is a strong correlation between Parmelee’s critique of Disney in the 1930s and ’40s, and today’s art form — only the technique has changed. Contemporary big budget CG features exhibit increasing sophistication in lighting, textures, character animation and effects, but to what effect? Realism has again been cast as an end, when it is only a means for expressing a personal artistic vision.
Parmelee credits World War II as the impetus for animators experimenting with new filmmaking techniques, storytelling approaches and graphic styles. He also hails the arrival of the TV commercial, in which the form’s brevity allowed artists to explore different approaches for communicating with audiences.
Thankfully today’s animation medium is diverse enough that there is tons of experimentation happening, even moreso than in the 1950s. Parmelee, of course, anticipated this when he wrote that the single biggest improvement awaiting the industry “would be a decisive change in the actual physical means for making animated pictures, a more fluid kind of thing. . . a thing that provided quicker results.” Indeed, digital animation software and techniques have proven to be the savior, and offer an improvement over old production methods, especially when used by artists for the purpose of expressing themselves.
Read Parmelee’s article by clicking on the image below:
I’ve been a fan of Winnipeg-based Mike Maryniuk ever since I saw Cattle Call, a 2008 short he co-directed with Matthew Rankin. Mike recently posted another one of his films on-line, Tattoo Step, a high-energy experimental affair that celebrates the inherent beauty in temporary tattoos:
Made with nothing but thousands of temporary tattoos and a strip of 35mm leader. A tip of the hat to Stan Brakhage’s “Moth Light”.
Liberty Mutual has commissioned a handful of animated projects over the past few years as part of their long-term ad campaign The Responsibility Project. The shorts each contain thoughtful messages that explore the theme of “what it means to do the right thing.”
The latest animated piece is Lighthouse, a solid three-minute effort directed by Stephan Wernik. He tells Cartoon Brew a little bit about putting together the film:
I was the animation director as well as overseeing all aspects of production from the animatic to the compositing. A script as good as this only comes along once in a while. It was a very intimate story, but at the same time had huge crowd scenes and needed very careful handling animation wise to show the Lighthouse Keepers thought processes.
I shot a lot of reference videos and collated a library of footage of actors doing similar scenes for each shot. Funnily enough, I also studied reality TV shows like The Biggest Loser as they’re not actors and you can see real emotions. I really worked with the animators on striking the right tone for each shot. I’m really proud of what the team did in every aspect of the production. The production company was Exopolis in LA and the animation studio was ProMotion Studios in Australia.
Bob Schuldt was going through his grandfather’s possessions when he discovered an envelope addressed to his grandfather from Robert J. McIntosh:
Inside it was FULL of tiny little pen drawings and a few pencil drawings of various characters and that look like they were doodles cut out and sent to a friend. The date is what amazed me, 1929. Upon removing the envelope I found hidden behind it a full color drawing with a note saying “Bout time I kept my promise, but I kept it! Happy New Year!” of two amazing characters on a piece of paper a little bigger then a postcard also signed Robert J McIntosh, 1929.
Click on the image above to see all the drawings. Bob McIntosh was, of course, a superbly skilled background painter who worked on Bambi and dozens of UPA theatrical shorts. One of Bob’s background paintings appears on the back cover of my book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950s Animation. According to the date on the envelope, Bob would have been thirteen years old at the time. It’s amazing that these childhood sketches have survived for over eighty years.
The lesson: always look through your grandparent’s belongings, and when you find something, email Cartoon Brew.