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“Little Boat” by Nelson Boles

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.

  • hash

    That was really unique and incredibly refreshing. I dont know what else to say but the year we will have to wait to see his thesis film will feel very long

  • Bud

    Fantastic! Truly amazing, and one of the best shorts I’ve seen in a while.

  • Bob Harper

    “How minimalist can a lead character be in an animated short and still elicit an audience’s emotional reaction? ”

    Dot and the Line come to mind. This here is a nice short as well..

  • Like this comment if you remember that amazing gif loop nelson made a few years back.

  • Beautifully designed, and has thoughtful, sophisticated pacing. Lovely.

  • Paul N

    I disagree that the boat isn’t anthropomorphized. At one point the tears in the sail absolutely suggest a face. Granted, the actions of the boat don’t suggest an intelligence at work, but the imagery certainly implies that there’s a character here.

  • That was just perfect. Absolutely perfect. BRAVO!!!!

  • One of the most brilliant films I’ve seen in years.

  • Sardonic Tuba

    Proof you don’t need big googly cartoon eyeballs to create empathy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with big googly cartoon eyeballs.) Nicely done.

  • Mike

    I don’t think Dot and Line serves as an apt comparison. D&L relied heavily on narration to get the viewer emotionally invested in Dot. Little Boat does far more with less. It’s a wonderful film.

    • Bob Harper

      Dot and the Line relied on narration for the story not to elicit empathy for the characters, which was achieved with thoughtful animation.

  • Wonderful ! Great work.

    It’s become a cliche reaction now, but I still feel compelled to say that when I see work like this (and Nelson’s other student film: “This one time…” I can’t understand why the major studios are not grabbing these artists and putting them to work on fresh, new hand-drawn films. This sensibility could truly reignite interest in hand-drawn animation. Films like this, or Ian Worrel’s shorts (, and the various Gobelins shorts, among many other examples which could be named, show that stylistically and thematically there is still so much new ground to be covered with both hand-drawn short films and features which are not merely re-treads of earlier Disney or Warner Bros. styles.

    • Matt

      It all boils down to brands, business & the tentative decisions of worried rich men. Hopefully one of them will give these kids a chance.

  • Fantastic film, fresh, surprising and very well thought through.

  • Little Boat is my new friend!

  • Matt

    I knew he’d do it ;-)

  • Dan Kyder


    Didn’t expect so much out of this one, even with the notes of what to expect

  • Great work, I’m sitting here impressed at the demostration of all aspects of animation in such a sophisticated film. The water animated with negative space only was very cool, the explosions, the flock of birds… wow…

  • Rick R.

    This was a really fun film.

    I would agree with Matt that unless they can put a toy line with it, there are sadly few media companies interested in pushing art for the fun of it.

    We got D&L and so on because back then, the execs weren’t “creative execs” and so long as something filled the time allotted, they could play. Now, not so much.

  • Best animated film I’ve seen this year!

  • Stephen M. Levinson

    Definitely one of the best shorts I’ve seen in a long time! Great job Nelson!

  • bob kurtz

    i really enjoyed the film. it touched me. and isn’t that what you really want a film to do? looking forward to what you are going to do next, nelson. bravo!

  • Love this short … amazing.
    And I loved also Nelson’s Orfeus.
    This man will go far.

  • This is super beautiful, and my favorite short from this last years CalArts producers show. Wonderful job Nelson!

  • Mic

    I have to admit that I was blown away by this. I went to check out his other shorts and I was like…… blown away again… big time.

    And he’s a student.

  • dave

    man some poeple have such an understanding of beauty…good job nelson…you made my evening dude…you did your job well YUP!

  • Eus

    truly ingenious. I am deeply moved.

  • Jason H

    This is amazing.