We’re back from our Comic-Con hiatus with the fifth film in Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival: The Impossible Moon by Meinardas ValkeviÄius. The film was made at the Vilniaus Academy of Arts in Lithuania. To comment on the film or read extensive behind-the-scenes notes from the filmaker, click HERE.
This just might be my personal favorite film of the festival. There are countless student films that tell stories set in space (with a large percentage of them revolving around the Russian dog Laika for some inexplicable reason), but this one stands out, mainly because it dares to challenge our perception of a famous historical event. The Impossible Moon convincingly presents an alternate history of an iconic moment through superb command of the animation medium, especially camera, staging and sound. Regardless of your feelings about the story (and for the record, I’m a space buff who doesn’t buy into any conspiracy theories), the film immediately grabs the viewer with its audacious, thought-provoking concept. My favorite part of the film is the relationship between astronaut Michael Collins and his two inflatable travel companions, which affirms that an emotional bond can exist even in a conspiratorial setting.
Cartoon Brew’s second annual Student Animation Festival is made possible through the generous support of Titmouse and JibJab.
Brew reader “Test Pilot” was looking through his copy of The Illusion of Life when he stumbled onto some Xeroxes circa 1989 tucked inside of the book. The story and artwork, posted in its entirety on this blog is by Chris Sanders, director of Lilo & Stitch and How To Train Your Dragon. It’s called The Big Bear Aircraft Company, and of course, the drawings ooze with typical Sanders appeal.
But this isn’t any normal story concept. The sub-title is “A Book for the Big Retreat.” And the story is an allegorical tale about the animation industry. The message is loud and clear: a management-heavy, writer-driven animation studio will be doomed to produce safe and unoriginal animated films. His devastating takedown of writers is notable; he doesn’t even bother extending a metaphor to them and bluntly depicts their uselessness in his story’s setting, which is an aircraft factory:
The writer likes airplanes; he saw one on TV once. He has actually never worked on one before, and couldn’t tell you for sure what makes one fly. But now he’s got the idea, and is hammering away at an incredible rate. . . . Without the visual engineer’s guidance, the writer is guaranteed of making the same mistake every time. He will make his airplane look like every one he’s seen before, and he will power it with a plot and dialogue engine, the biggest and heaviest he can find.
The document raises a number of fascinating questions that perhaps Chris or someone else familiar with the document’s origin can answer. For example, what retreat was this created for, who saw the document originally, have Chris’s views changed or evolved in the past couple decades, and most importantly, did anybody listen to Chris’s passionate plea to trust the artists?
UPDATE: Chris Sanders wrote two detailed comments about the purpose of the book, what he hoped to accomplish with it, and the role of writers in animation. Click HERE to read Chris’s thoughts.
If the Mexican Top Cat feature isn’t your cup of tea, here’s the slick trailer for Ana, a 3-D CG feature directed by Carlos Carrera currently being produced in Mexico. The production company Lo Coloco Films has a placeholder website for now. A Hollywood Reporter piece from three years ago suggested the film’s budget was only $3.2 million which I find kind of hard to believe. But even if it that number doubles or triples, it’s still a bargain compared to American and European animated features.
There’s not much to go by in this trailer, but Carrera has a strong track record as a director. He was nominated for an Oscar for his 2002 live-action film El crimen del Padre Amaro, and earlier he made animated shorts, like El héroe (below) which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
UPDATE: A five-minute clip from Ana was posted today on the film’s Facebook page. The release date on Facebook is listed as May, 2013.
Aimee de Jongh‘s One Past Two is about as depressing as student films get. The filmmaker effectively pairs unpredictable violence with the mundanity of everyday life in a way that makes the events even more shocking, and it all leads to a twist ending. Animated in TVPaint, the short was finished this year at the Willem de Kooning Academy in The Netherlands.
Does it bother you when someone calls multiple pieces of animation “animations”? Well, there’s a Facebook group for that: Stop Calling What We Do “Animations”. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me as much as it should. If the craft and creative instincts of the animation are solid, you can call it whatever you want. Plus, it’s a useful term to keep around for distinguishing who knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t.
The Animation Collaborative is a new series of animation workshops that take place in Emeryville directly across the street from the Pixar campus. While not affiliated with the studio, all of the school’s teachers work at Pixar. In my opinion, the class prices, which range from $1,400 (8-week summer sessions) to $1,900 (13-week fall sessions) are too steeply priced for a school that has no official accreditation, so you’re essentially paying a celebrity surcharge for learning at a school run by Pixar artists. On the plus side, class sizes are intimate (8 people) and if you stand outside of the school long enough, perhaps John Lasseter will wave to you as his chauffeur drives him home.
No one turns to the Wall Street Journal for insightful animation coverage, but that’s still no excuse for this egregious error in an article about the use of motion capture on Rise of the Planet of the Apes:
The film, which follows the development of the chimp Caesar from baby to adult, takes advantage of “motion capture,” a technology the visual-effects company Weta Digital Ltd. first developed for the 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” and has evolved one step further.
The sentence is written in such a way as to imply that Weta developed motion capture, which it clearly did not. Motion capture is a major filmmaking technology that has been used in dozens of films and has been utilized for decades. A newspaper claiming that it was invented in 2009 by Weta defies comprehension.
Winnie the Pooh, Disney’s first hand-drawn animated feature since 2009′s The Princess and the Frog, opened in 6th place with $7.85 million dollars. Cars 2, another Disney release, pocketed $8.4M in its fourth weekend, good enough for a 5th place finish and an overall gross of $165.4M. Below are the openings for the other recent films in the Pooh franchise:
The Tigger Movie (2000): $9.4M Piglet’s Big Movie (2003): $6M Pooh’s Heffalump Movie (2005): $5.8M
The film’s reason for existence has nothing to do with box office, however. Like Cars 2, it appears to be a corporate obligation first and foremost. Winnie the Pooh is the second-largest character franchise in the world, earning $5.7 billion in revenue last year. To put that into perspective, Pooh earned more in 2010 than the combined Toy Story and Cars franchises, which are the fifth and sixth highest-earning character franchises.
The world’s most valuable franchise is Disney’s Mickey Mouse, which took in $9 billion last year. If the company’s approach to its other top-earning franchises like Pooh, Cars and Toy Story is any indication, could a Mickey Mouse feature be that far off?
Tod Polson (El Tigre, The Secret of Kells) announced recently that he’s putting together a book on Maurice Noble that will be published in 2012 by my pals at Chronicle Books. Polson knew him as well as anybody, and I have no doubt he’s going to make this something special. This book will not only give Maurice his due, it’ll also make up for the disappointingly shallow biography of Noble that was published a few years back.
The last few years of his life, Maurice had been working on a design textbook that described his approach to design. Unfortunately he passed away before he was able to complete the text. For most of the last year I have been working with Chronicle Books in putting together what I hope will be the book that Maurice had dreamed of. It will be chocked full of his pre-production art, notes, and thoughts from the master himself describing his process. The book will also be full of reflections from folks that knew and worked with him.
Here’s a fun foreign culture lesson for a Friday. Teru Teru Bozu by Brooklyn-based Lori Samsel reinterprets a traditional Japanese nursery rhyme through animation. The song illustrates the uniquely Japanese custom of making small white paper or cloth dolls, which represent Buddhist monks, and hanging them from windows as an amulet to bring out the sun and stop the rain. The Wikipedia entry about the song is fascinating, and discusses the sinister history of the 1920s song:
This song is rumored to have a darker history than it first appears. It allegedly originated from a story of a monk who promised farmers to stop rain and bring clear weather during a prolonged period of rain which was ruining crops. When the monk failed to bring sunshine, he was executed.
Lori’s distinctive animation technique is also worth noting. She told me that she roughed out all the animation in After Effects, printed out each frame, inked it onto paper, and scanned it back into the computer.
An intriguing trailer for The Monster of Nix, a new half-hour animated short by Dutch director Rosto (Jona/Tomberry). He describes the short, which debuted in Annecy last month, as an “existentialist musical fairytale.” Rosto composed the music himself and wrote on his website that, “A major source of inspiration has been Disney’s Silly Symphonies from the Thirties.” Tom Waits and Terry Gilliam provide voices. More info at MonsterofNix.com.