The Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival is made possible by sponsor JibJab and their strong support for emerging filmmakers.
A nine-and-a-half-minute piece of experimental student animation is a daunting proposal on most days, but that’s not the case with Dumb Day by Kevin Eskew. The short, made at DePaul University’s fledgling animation program, is the most experimental film we’ve ever featured in Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival, and it also might just be one of the most enjoyable.
Dumb Day is difficult to describe. The film uses a man’s everyday activities as its launchpad, just as Robert Breer’s classic A Man and His Dog Out for Air used a familiar activity as its starting point, but Dumb Day deconstructs and reconstucts daily trifles into a comically cosmic journey.
Its humor is even more difficult to address, but there are laugh-out loud moments throughout. One of my personal favorites appears at the 2:20 mark when a mysterious bulbous object drops down onto the screen. A second bulbous form promptly drops down, each with its own custom creaking sound. Then, a nose with two ridiculously oversized nostrils springs out between the bulbous objects, which we now recognize as cheeks. The nose sniffs the flower on a vase and promptly deflates like a balloon losing its air. The simple act of sniffing a flower has never been presented in such a transcendent manner in animation.
Eskew’s drawing style is fresh and different. It falls somewhere between the chunky late-Philip Guston style and certain schools of contemporary indie comics. Dumb Day’s sound design is as surprising as the visual components, and the music and sound effects enhance every moment of this unique animated piece.
Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker Kevin Eskew:
The film came together around the drawings. Originally, it had a more ambitious storyline that was part sci-fi part HGTV, something about a man who ate furniture and reassembled it inside himself. But as I started figuring out the drawings, what really worked well was the almost plotless stuff of simple domestic routines, drawn into a fury. That opened it up for me, but I think the feeling of the original story is still there.
Mostly BIC #2 mechanical pencils. It’s all hand-drawn, pencil on paper, scanned, and edited & composited in After Effects.
Get the drawings in the computer sooner and into a rough timeline. I think I underestimated how much of any movie comes together in the process of editing. I didn’t use storyboards in any strict sense and instead let the details dictate the pacing—half straight-ahead, half pose-to-pose—which is kind of like building a house from the top down. Some my favorite images came up that way, unexpectedly, but it isn’t until you put these pieces together that you see the larger shape of the film emerge, as well as connections and ideas that you may have missed initially.
Some favorites are James Duesing, Jim Trainor, Atsushi Wada, Suzan Pitt and Sally Cruikshank. When I was first starting on the project, I had just bought a book of Pascal Doury’s comics that I was carrying around everywhere. Along the way, I listened to a couple Raymond Chandler audiobooks and a bunch of Joe Frank radio shows.
WHERE YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS
Hopefully hunched over a lightbox somewhere, smoking a cigar. Tough to say, but I’d like to find a way to keep making short animations, preferably in collaboration with some likeminded ne’er-do-wells.