Men in Black

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Working on a tight budget? The piece below is a beautiful example of how great artwork combined with creative compositing can be just as effective as a piece of full animation. True, the movement may be limited, but the graphic thinking behind the piece is fully developed and intelligently executed. It is called “Men in Black,” and it’s a sequence based on a story by U.S. Army Specialist Colby Buzzell. It premiered on April 16 as part of the PBS film Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.

The illustrations were done by Christopher Koelle of South Carolina-based Portland Studios. Animation and compositing was created by a group called The Law of Few.

(Thanks, Chuck Gammage for letting me know about this, and to Brad Constantine for finding the whole film on YouTube)


  • Chuck

    Amazing artwork! Christopher Koelle rocks. The voicework leaves a lot to be desired though. Sounds cold —like it was read off a script.

  • http://www.andylyon.com Lyon

    Cool! It’s basically a glorified animatic with mood, dirt, dust, and perfect parallax. This could definitely breathe new life into documentary filmmaking. Kinda puts Ken Burns to shame.

  • Ian Copeland

    Stunning. And scary as hell, too. I agree with Chuck – the voice is a little flat – but the artwork is pitch perfect.

  • Brad Constantine

    I thought this was very well done…the contrast between fast and slow is very good and the “irrati-cam” is fantastic…you can feel the chaos….great stuff!!

  • LNG

    The power of strong drawing has for too long been dependent on the gimmicky mechanics of film. These graphic statements could stand alone pinned on a wall, without the aftereffects or camera jars.

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Excellent. No doubt we’ll see the same styled images (drawn by halfwits and simpletons) selling icecream or tennis shoes or burgers in the near future.

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    It’s nicely designed and executed, but I don’t think it’s anything original. It the same basic idea Disney used in the Baby Weems sequence of The Reluctant Dragon. I’ve seen commercials from the 50′s that also used the animatic style.

  • http://www.travisgentry.com Travis Gentry

    Incredible! Agreed about the voicework, but the images are stunning. I’m usually not one for flashy aftereffects stuff, but it really seems to add a lot to this one, it’s so well done.

  • amid

    Steve: I wasn’t claiming it as anything original so sorry if it came across that way. A lot of UPA’s industrial and military films from the 40s and 50s are little more than fancy animatics, and the Baby Weems sequence you mentioned also qualifies. I just thought this was a great combo of illustration and compositing that shows the same approach can be successful even in today’s animation environment, with the added benefit of digital tools that weren’t available back then. But no, quite obviously it’s not a groundbreaking piece of work.

  • Brad Constantine

    check out this one which aired on the same show…notice the subtle use of word placement to emphasize the dialogue…This is not animated but well put together match move wise. also shows some contrast to the animated segment..that’s why the animated segment is so effective in the program because it is so visually different than the other bits…enjoy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfrE1EvAwv0

  • http://sobaditsgood.blogspot.com/ Tony Mora

    Looks like the Metal Gear Comic for the PSP.

  • Ian Copeland

    An equally terrifying story. While not animated, the extreme slow motion has a stop motion quality to it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EVX26dgHfs

  • http://www.louiedelcarmen.com Louie del Carmen

    This is well so done. Just goes to show what clarity of vision and execution can achieve. In a bit of coincidence, just this morning a colleague sent me a link to the digital graphic novel from the game company Konami for METAL GEAR SOLID with artwork from Ashley Wood. A lot of you guys might have already seen this but here is a link for the trailer.

  • amid

    Tony & Louie – Thanks for the links to the Metal Gear piece. Another well done piece that I hadn’t run across. It’s nice to see Ashley Wood drawings in animation.

  • http://www.milkmoneycartoons.com Ohjeepers

    This is a great little film… Really good work on every front. It’s always bugged me that the Animatic approach is just used as a stepping stone to “finishing” other kinds of work. I’m always really excited by the implicit quality that they have… and the freedom that they offer to economically tell a story with both time and mood.

    I really think that as technology and the Web breaks down the barrier between Artist and their potential audiences we will see a lot more of these ideas coming out and accepted as finished work.

    Amazing inking…

  • Kyle

    I saw this when it aired on PBS, and thought it was really powerful. to be able to communicate such intense, real emotional events that this guy went through in drawings, is impressive. The power of these drawings lie in the horror of the reality.

  • http://dekku.blogspot.com/ DeK

    “The Law of Few” are: Bernard Kuh Jr. and Hunter Lee Soik.

    TheLawOfFew.com

  • pSICOYOTE

    mmmmh looks cool but I´ve seen this kind of animation before:
    Metal Tear Solid ops

    Examples are at the beginning an at the end of the trailer. The animatics of the game are full of great voice acting and a memorable story!

  • http://www.io.com/~o_m/omworld OM

    …Fracking amazing. You kids realize what he’s done with this? Where we started out with cut-out animation of the type Trey & Matt parodied with the first South Park and inadvertently took it to a new level by recreating/simplifying/complexing the technique in Maya, Colby – through whatever process he used – has managed to add a dimensional level of complexity to those same techniques.

    …Could you imagine taking some of the old limited animation pieces and reworking them using the same techniques as Colby’s done? Imagine an episode of The Flintstones or Clutch Cargo reprocessed accordingly? Or even some of Filmation more atrocious works?

    [thinks]

    …On second thought, there’s one set of cartoons that would be *perfect* for such a reworking. Those Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super-Heroes shorts of the 60′s, where the did the “animation” using actual cut-outs from the uncredted works of Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, and the rest of the Marvel Bullpen from that classic era.

    Colby’s taken “limited” animation to a new un-limit here, kids.

  • http://www.brilliantisland.com Robert

    I think the voice performance works; it tells us this is a recollection of events past and not the “here and now”. It’s testimony, not dramatic re-creation. He believes that these events pretty much speak for themselves and that he doesn’t need hype them for you. That tells us something about the narrator character.

  • http://zinzi.us/ chain

    Hey – Thanks for the research into this video.When I posted it on youtube I could not find out anything about the creators.But alot of ppl emailed me asking about it.I will glady redirect them all to your site..Thanks again..see yah…….

  • http://geritopia.blogspot.com Geritopia

    This works because it’s kept on a very psychological plane. The limited movement, in terms on the animatic style, is actually well-matched with the “minds-eye” recall of events. It has intention and weight to it, rather than just being a flimsy excuse for animation. So, rather than coming up short, it just tilts the piece’s focus in favor of the narrator and the engaging quality of writing.

    It’s like post-modern Clutch Cargo.

  • Anne

    Amazing!…I love how simple this is but how clearly it reads. Looks like a moving comic book. Can they stop bleeping the word fuck, though? It’s distracting.

  • http://www.eje-zeta.com Matthew Woodhams

    Excellent stuff, I really enjoyed. I found TheLawofFew website if you want it: http://www.thelawoffew.com/

  • http://www.thedocumentarygroup.com Richard Robbins

    Hey all. I’m the director of the film Operation Homecoming – a friend forwarded me this little discussion, and i just wanted to say how appreciative we are that you all seem to like this work. I can’t say enough great stuff about Chris Koelle, the guys at LawofFew, and the writer Colby Buzzell. A lot of people looked at me funny when I started talking about animation in documentary – but these guys all got the concept immediately. And they took the idea of getting the details accurate seriously – which was really important to me. I know Chris spent a lot of hours looking at photos of Strykers in Iraq while he was worknig on this.

    As for the voice over – its pretty deadpan mostly becasue that’s what Colby is like. He specifically asked us not to have some “over-the-top” dramatic reading. Justin Kirk (the actor who did the reading) did a version that was a little more breathless and high intensity – but I liked this one better.

    BTW – Not sure if its out there on the net – but the PBS version is actually the short version of this segment (and the overall film). The feature length version will be out on DVD over the summer with no irritating beeps for language. If you live in the Bay Area we’re playing at the Red Vic in SF over Memorial Day weekend – a beautiful 35mm print.

  • http://www.thelawoffew.com thelawoffew

    thank you for all the amazing comments, this was really special project for us, and could not have done it with out the vision of Richard Robbins and the artwork of Christopher Koelle.

  • Chris

    Hi,

    This was an excellent short animation. One thing I enjoyed was the musical score in the background. Does anyone know the title and composer of the music?