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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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