Interviews

What The Animation Pros Are Watching

It can be hard keeping up with what’s great in animation – there’s just so much content around these days. So, we asked animation pros from around the world what they’ve been liking in recent times and what they would recommend to Cartoon Brew readers.

The recommendations range from strictly animated-related shows to live-action films, and from brand new releases to classic pieces of content. Some pros we talked to even recommended more than one thing.

Enjoy this dive into an eclectic mix of things you shouldn’t miss, from some of the best in the industry.

Wesley Allsbrook, artist/art director/writer

Recent projects: The Sunladies, Cosmoramarama, Dear Angelica

Recommendation: Can I Come Over?

I’m in love with the work of Jie En Lee. She is stylistically fearless, which is one of the things I want most from illustration today, in an aesthetic sense. Younger – and already, I think, more watched than artists like me, she’s searching for a look. I almost hope she never lands on one for too long. Even without a consistent style, something our community over-prioritizes to its detriment, she already has a very well developed language. Her themes and metaphorical structures are crystal clear. She uses a grotesque-kawaii approach to speak about the future, our sense of disconnect from old structures in history and advertising, and our resignation to apocalyptic circumstance. Maybe I’m projecting? But, decide for yourselves! I love in Can I Come Over?, how she gives us transparent access to the subtext of digital relationships.

Cinzia Angelini, director/story development/head of story

Recent projects: Mila; head of story on Harold Lloyd at Cinesite; story artist on The Grinch

Recommendation #1: Partir De Cero campaign

I’m recommending this for others to appreciate how well animation can express difficult themes.

Recommendation #2: The Stained Club

Another film with a strong theme. Home violence on kids. Just done beautifully.

Recommendation #3: Team Supreme

Joshua Leonard is developing this great tv series of all-African American superheroes with handicaps. He got 6.5 million views in two weeks and a lot of tv coverage and attention. We definitely need more African-American artists to be given the chance. He is going to go places!

Nikita Diakur, director

Recent projects: Ugly, Fest

Recommendation #1: The Tale of Little Puppetboy

It is an underrated stroke of genius and the funniest short I’ve ever seen.

Recommendation #2: Animation Showreel (Possibly the “best” ever)

A perfectly executed example of bad animation.

Arslan Elver, animation supervisor, Framestore

Recent projects: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Christopher Robin

Recommendation: One Punch Man

I’m always fascinated by anime stuff, but One Punch Man takes animation to a next level with beautiful and crazy choreography and superb, spot-on humor! It’s on Netflix UK at the moment.

Maureen Fan, CEO and co-founder Baobab Studios

Recent projects: Executive producer on Crow: The Legend, Invasion!, and Asteroids!

Recommendation: Paddington 2

Paddington 2 brings out your sense of wonder and reminds you of what it was like be a kid. You believe a bear can charm jailhouse inmates to put on Broadway musicals or make award-winning pastries, that you can make a hot-air balloon out of laundry. As Paddington does with all the adults in the film, he charms his way into your heart. The film is sincere and unabashed in its embrace of imagination. When you finish watching, you’re left thinking that the impossible is possible, which is what we need more of in this world.

Hal Hickel, animation director, Industrial Light & Magic

Recent projects: Animation supervisor on Rogue One

Recommendation: Jacques Tati’s Playtime.

I just re-visited this after not having seen it for many years. It was a revelation. The film is a bottomless cornucopia of animation inspiration. The sight gags and brilliant physical comedy throughout the film are all grounded in the observation of the mundane lives of ordinary people. I’ve often heard that character animators need to be avid people watchers. Well Playtime is non-stop people watching from beginning to end. It’s also a masterclass in shot composition, and directing the viewer’s eye.

Hjalti Hjalmarsson, animation director at Blender Animation Studio

Recent projects: Agent 327, Dweebs, Cosmos Laundromat, and the the upcoming Spring project from Blender

Recommendation: 2009 Ottawa International Animation Festival keynote speech by Josh Selig

After many years of searching, I’ve finally tracked down a copy of the 2009 Ottawa International Animation Festival keynote speech that gave me massive inspiration as a young artist. You can find it here.

Mark Osborne, director

Recent projects: The Little Prince, and an unannounced upcoming animated feature film

Recommendation #1: The Green Bird

This is a recent student Academy Award finalist. The Green Bird is a beautifully produced and rendered modern version of a classic silent short. The timing is impeccable, the gags are very funny, and the design is incredibly fresh and original—which is so rare in cg. The fact that this very accomplished film is a student short is astonishing.

Recommendation #2: The Telephone Book

This is a 1971 experimental/avant-garde feature film directed by Nelson Lyon. Thanks to genius programmer Justin LaLiberty, I got to recently see The Telephone Book at my local Alamo Drafthouse. It’s primarily live action, but if you can find this gem, you will not be disappointed by the completely bonkers animated sequence that comes out of nowhere and brings the movie to a frenetic climax of pure lunacy.

Emily Paige, co-owner and creative producer, E.d.Films

Recent projects: Giant Bear, Elemented series (currently in development with Teletoon); Scene Track

Recommendation: The Mill’s ‘Mascot’ I.T. Monster

Future tech combined with traditional puppeteering = cuddly robots, oh my! This marks the further convergence of character animation, real-time puppeteering, A.I., interactivity, and personalization. My imagination explodes beyond everything when I think of where this kind of research is going. What will this do for storytelling and for entertainment?

Helen Piercy, animation lecturer, Norwich University of the Arts

Recent projects: Educational advisor to Animated Women UK

Recommendation #1: Baron Prášil (The Fabulous Baron Munchausen)

Baron Prášil is a fantastical 1962 Czechoslovakian romanic adventure film directed by Karel Zeman that interweaves animation techniques with live-action filmmaking. I recently discovered this film when I took a trip to Prague and stumbled across the Karel Zeman Museum, a quirky little museum tucked away under the famous Charles Bridge. Each scene is beautifully crafted, using early special effects techniques, including matte painting, stop motion and puppetry. Zeman‘s work has been influential to an number of a directors such as Tim Burton, Jan Svankmajer, Wes Anderson, and Terry Gilliam. It’s a wonderful film and a visual treat for the eyes.

Recommendation #2: Punanimation – a directory of women, trans and non-binary working with animation and motion graphics

I’m a huge advocate for anything related to promoting and supporting women working in the creative industry, and Punanimation does it exceptionally well. I discovered the online community when a director friend of mine took part in the Punanimation Instagram takeover, a regular feature that invites women to share their work in Instagram stories. What started as a Facebook group is now a world wide network offering knowledge exchange, inspiration and advice. I highly recommend everyone to take a look at the brilliant showcases of work.

Elaina Scott, animation lead, Encore Hollywood

Recent projects: Supergirl, The Flash, Titans, Doom Patrol, Black Lightning, Riverdale

Recommendation #1: Spiderman: Into The Spider-Verse

I think people are going to love the hell out of Sony’s upcoming Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, because not only is it a gorgeous looking movie, but many people will be introduced to Miles Morales, a character that is deeply endearing and that many people have never heard of.

Recommendation #2: Gris

I think people will be deeply touched and inspired not only by the gorgeous animation and art direction, but also the very personal story it tells.

Francesco Siddi, producer at Blender Animation Studio

Recent projects: Agent 327, Dweebs, Hero, Cosmos Laundromat and the upcoming Spring project

Recommendation: The Common Chameleon

Take three minutes to immerse yourself in this documentary. It’s hilarious.

Bin-Han To, director

Recent projects: Co-director on Revolting Rhymes, currently working on an unannounced augmented reality project

Recommendation: So, my pick isn’t actually a piece of animation itself, but the audience’s reaction.

It’s a compilation of various public viewings of Latin and South American crowds watching the final episode of Dragon Ball Super (last March) in its original Japanese version with subtitles, streamed half-legally, directly after the original Japanese tv broadcast. (I don’t know how they get the subtitles this quickly). It shows the absolute passion and enthusiasm of tens of thousands of fans, as one of the most popular anime shows for the last decades in South America comes to an end (until the producers inevitably decide to revive it). I don’t even know if a Spanish-dub is announced yet for DBS, but clearly the crowd didn’t want to wait that long.

After the last story arc of DBS lasted for almost a year, which in typical Dragon Ball fashion consists mainly of people punching each other, this is the final episode that will show if the heroes can save their universe in an inter-dimensional tournament to eliminate all losing universes. You can read up on the plot if you like but it’s not that important, just know it’s the final climax for the beloved heroes, with literally everything at stake.

I especially love the moment in the end when they realize the ‘bad guy’ has lost. It’s like a football match! What I find fascinating is that, as someone who loves both animation and live sports, I thought it impossible for animation to elicit the same fervor, enthusiasm, drama and passion as live sports do in the audience, simply because animation isn’t ‘live’ per se, and because I’ve never witnessed it. What you get in film is more often emotionally touching, hilariously funny, upliftingly inspiring, and horror-like suspenseful, among the many emotions one can feel watching a good film. But the immediate, unfiltered, crazy enthusiasm akin to a football game, a game-winning goal or play, a real time last minute save, the dramas of real athletes and their careers being rewarded or punished, all that is something I’ve always connected with live sports, and never thought it’s possible for animation to reach those crazy heights of publicly displayed emotion. Just completely bonkers. I love it!!

The best part: The show isn’t actually that good, it’s decent, but it just excels at very effectively playing all these charming characters, which people have loved for decades. Kudos to the showrunners!

Nora Twomey, director and partner at Cartoon Saloon

Recent projects: The Breadwinner, currently developing My Father’s Dragon

Recommendation: Hilda

What’s astonishing about this series is that the director and crew managed to keep all of the charm and beauty of the original graphic novels, while making the medium of ‘high volume series animation’ work for production. Often times, producers can pick popular books that aren’t going to transfer easily to animation. The result can be some kind of horrible Frankenstein’s monster of unworkable elements. But it always really impresses me when it is done well. And while that is astonishing me, my boys are completely enthralled by Hilda and her world, which is the important bit.

Members of the Animal Logic art department

Crew from Animal Logic’s art department, fresh from various Lego movie projects and others such as Peter Rabbit, weigh in with their recommendations.

Felicity Coonan, art director, Animal Logic

Recent projects: The Lego Ninjago Movie

Recommendation #1: Food (Jídlo), 1992, by Jan Švankmajer

I love Švankmajer ‘s films for their madness and originality.

Recommendation #2: Erik Ferguson

It’s always a fleshy delight to come across Erik’s visceral creations on Instagram. Somehow they offer more than just images.

Recommendation #3: David Firth’s Salad Fingers

Creepy and well told. The triumph of story and imagination over technique. I’m sure this had an impact on my kids’ development.

Recommendation #4: Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro Non Troppo

This Disney spoof is fabulous in its own right, and an icon of its time – 1976.

Recommendation #5: Ubisoft’s ZombieU trailer

An oldie but a goodie.

Toby Grime, art director, Animal Logic

Recent projects: Peter Rabbit, The Lego Ninjago Movie

Recommendation #1: My Neighbor Totoro

Without a doubt, one of the sweetest, most sentimental animated films of all time from the grand master, Miyazaki. Apart from being visually stunning, it taps into a certain purity of what being a child means, the joy of life which was magical to witness on the screen.

Recommendation #2: Yellow Submarine

George Dunning’s psychedelic masterpiece packed with amazing music from The Beatles, what’s not to love? This is a must see film for anyone interested in animation. Beautiful colors, characters, and design, this film stands strong after all these years in its sheer out there craziness and uniqueness.

Recommendation #3: Fantastic Planet (La Planète sauvage)

A quirky and at times tense, dramatic sci-fi animation which has themes of animal cruelty and racism wrapped up in its incredible design – this is a must see animation. If Hieronymus Bosch was to make a sci fi, this would be it.

Recommendation #4: Birdy Nam Nam – ‘The Parachute Ending’

A fabulously visually delicious music video that combines beautiful character design, environments and a cool pumping sound track. It’s comically weird and wonderful in every aspect, a joy to watch.

Donald Walker, story artist, Animal Logic

Recent projects: The Lego Movie

Recommendation #1: Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler color tests.

Being a big fan of the Richard Williams Studio’s work, this is just gold.

Recommendation #2: Disney’s Lorenzo short

Beautiful movement, subversive story. I wish Disney would release it on Blu-ray.

Recommendation #3: Long Way North

This is a French/Danish feature. It’s traditionally animated with illustrative art direction, and tackles a story in a way that Hollywood wouldn’t.

Recommendation #4: Disney’s Get a Horse! short

Who doesn’t love Rubber Hose animation?!

Fiona Darwin, concept artist, Animal Logic

Recent projectsThe Lego Ninjago Movie, The Lego Batman Movie

Recommendation #1: Siamés – “The Wolf”

I love the flow and movement in this music video. It doesn’t stop to entertain your eyeballs and the movement works well with the audio.


Recommendation #2: Le Royaume

The first time I saw this I couldn’t believe it was a student project done at Gobelins in 2010). Amazing and so full of character! I love the expressions and the build up to its conclusion.

Recommendation #3: Your Name – the animated timelapse shots

This film is thought provoking and beautiful and I particularly like how they did the timelapse shots. The effort put into it and the resulting sequences are awesome.

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