“The Backwater Gospel”

Backwater Gospel

The Animation Workshop, a school in Viborg, Denmark, has posted this year’s crop of student films onto their Vimeo page. The school has embraced the model of successful French animation schools, like Gobelins and Supinfocom, that encourages students to work in teams. Like those schools, the Workshop’s films exhibit the same strengths (incredible production values and technical craftsmanship) and weaknesses (stories lacking point of view and personal voice).

I haven’t watched all of The Animation Workshop’s graduation films yet (the program is 3-1/2 years hence the mid-year debut of these films), but among the ones I have seen, The Backwater Gospel is a visual standout. The film offers a fresh look that I haven’t seen before, although Luis Cook’s The Pearce Sisters could be considered a stylistic forefather.

The Backwater Gospel filmmakers–there’s eight of them–made a sincere attempt at stylization, not only in how they textured the characters and used flat lighting, but how they fused that together with a restrained style of movement that doesn’t immediately yell out, “I’m CG!” In particular, I love the stylized mouth shapes of the hobo character, which have a nice sculpted look.

Drenched in grim atmosphere, every frame looks like a fully rendered illustration; the effect of seeing the characters move through space so effortlessly appeared jarring at times because my eyes didn’t expect to see illustrations moving like this. Terrific use is also made of Flash, which is seamlessly integrated into the CGI.


CREDITS
Bo Mathorne – Director
Arthur Gil Larsen – Animation Lead
Mads Simonsen – Technical director
Thomas Grønlund – Animator
Rie Nymand – Animator
Esben Sloth – Art Director
Martin Holm-Grevy – Environment lead
Tue Toft Sørensen – Animator

Music composed and performed by:
Sons of Perdition

Voice actors:
The Tramp: Zebulon Whatley
The Minister: Lucien Dodge
Bubba: Phillip Sacramento
Towns people: Laura Post

Supervisors:
Michelle Nardone – Production supervisor
Katrine Talks – Production supervisor
Jessie Roland – Animation supervisor
Christian Kuntz – Animatic supervisor
Patrick Voetberg – Editing supervisor
Sunit Parekh-Gaihede – CG supervisor
Jared Embley – Rigging supervisor
Thomas Christensen – Sound supervisor
Svend Nordby – Technical supervisor

Consultants:
Peter Albrechtsen – Sound design consultant
Michael Valeur – Story consultant
Andrew Harris – CG Consultant
Mads Juul – Animatic consultant
Saschka Unseld – 3D animatic consultant
Anna Kubik – 3D animatic consultant
Jericca Cleland – Story consultant
Marec Fritzinger – Design consultant
Tomm Moore – Design consultant
Lawrence Marvit – Design consultant
Niels Bach – Background consultant

(Thanks, Justin Goran)

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  • Paul D

    I visited this school a number of years ago while we were recruiting for The Illusionist. Very impressed with what I saw! Great place to study, and the work some of the students produced was top notch!

    Really enjoyed this film!

  • Markus

    Outstanding work. My favourite is The Saga Of Biorn. This guys from Denmark sure have a thing for vikings!

    http://vimeo.com/18011143

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    That was pretty spectacular. THE SAGA OF BIORN is also great and well worth a viewing – stylized and funny as Niflheim!

  • http://aalong64.blogspot.com Aaron Long

    Very neat visual style. I also really loved Captain Awesome. Some very funny animation in that one. “What The Time Is” was pretty amusing, but incomprehensible (probably intentionally).

  • 2011 Preteen

    We keep praising the quality of these European studios’ work here. … could it be the key to making shorts this successful is to work in groups? I hear of tons of animators who work on projects solely by themselves and their shorts never even remotely reach the level these guys can!

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    Can it still be called a “student film” with such a huge credit list?

  • Caresse

    “…a restrained style of movement that doesn’t immediately yell out, ‘I’m CG!’”

    Perfect choice of words, Amid!

  • http://dana-draws.blogspot.com Dana-T

    Backwater Gospel was beautifully done! I really enjoyed that, along with Captain Awesome. They produced some beautiful stuff this year.

    And @Aaron H. Bynum: I think as long as the students are the ones directing it, writing it, and doing the bulk of the work it’s still a student film. Doesn’t matter how long the credits are. I mean, haha, I think I saw something in there that said “moral encouragement”.

  • Lib

    Easily the best film I’ve seen this year so far.

  • http://behiboe.blogspot.com Betsy Bauer

    Really great stuff. I saw a very similar style a couple of years ago though with a former classmate’s less-celebrated student film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL8M-NBL7yY

  • Dave

    Backwater Gospel had stunning, inventive art direction and made the “restrained movement” animation style really work for them. But I am so tired of the college students’ grim fascination with depicting viscera. It’s like the whole structure of the film was a set up for the mass murder montage. It doesn’t really say anything besides, “hey look how many cool ways I can show someone being killed!” Gross and boring. Would have loved to see the art direction be used in a better way.

  • Axl

    @Dave: the ‘mass murder montage’ was kinda relevant to the message they were trying to convey, but it kinda seems like you missed it or just didn’t care for it.

    Really cool short!

  • Dave

    I get that it was the point, but the depiction of the killings were so fore-grounded that it veered more into the realm of Happy Tree Friends, and, for me, ended up detracting from the message. It seemed like the animators took too much glee in animating the killing to have any kind of moral high ground in commenting on how religion can get people to do horrible things. But, that’s just me.