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Without Roy Disney pushing his latest short film at the 29th Annecy Festival (June 6-11, 2005), as he had in the previous two years with Destino and then Lorenzo, the shorts competition lacked the buzz and celebrity buzz of the previous years. This gave festivalgoers cause to check out the student work more, which was exemplary, and the theatrical competition in the worlds oldest animation festival held in Annecy, France.
Actually there was a fair amount of interest in John Canemakers The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, USA. Well-crafted, passionate and revealing, it played for 28 minutes more like an animated documentary or animentary, as did some other films in the competition. (Did Chris Landreths Ryan the year before start a trend?) Canemaker explores with his 2D drawings the difficult emotional terrain of father/son relationships as seen through his own relations with his father. Painful, family relations were the cathartic subject matter of many of the films as well as many suicide resolutions to storytelling.
Many were quite moved by it, but the judges opted for the 28-minute The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, by Anthony Lucas, Australia, which seems more like a full feature with its pace, character development, storytelling and wondrous production style combining cutouts, stop motion and 3D done with dramatic silhouette lighting. One truly wants this gothic horror adventure to continue just a bit further and allow the much shorter works to compete a bit more evenly and in the spirit of a short.
Inspired by the work of authors Edgar Alan Poe and Jules Verne, and set in a world of iron dirigibles and steam powered computers, this gothic horror mystery tells the story of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who leaves his plague-ridden home on a dangerous voyage to redeem himself. There is also a touching underlying love story, in which Jasper is driven to desperate measures to save his wife.
A true short, 2:32, that is snappy and entertaining is Melina Sydney Paduas Agricultural Report (Ireland). Her comical 3D cow drives herself batty obsessing over a radio report she overhears about a disease threatening livestock in the area. Another clever, graphic short (2:00) is Safety Procedures by Richard Fenwick (Great Britain), a playful 2D/3D look at the absurd safety instructions one gets on an airplane.
Audiences appreciated the 3D Oscar-nominated Gopher Broke, by Jeff Fowler from the USA, about a hungry gopher who comically learns theres not free lunch. They also enjoyed Dying of Love, by Gil Alkabetz, from Israel, working in Germany, a colorful 2D film with a softly molded quality featuring two tropical parents singing about their long life which leads their owner to unexpected consequences for all three of them.
Clearing the best use of music with a lovely score that blended well with the watercolor quality of the 2D/3D animation is in Imago by Cedric Babouche from France. An eight-year-old boy uses his dreams to deal with the death of his aviator father.
Another touching, funny and autobiographic films is Louise, in which Anita Lebeau of Canada tells imaginatively through 2D the story of her fiercely independent Belgian grandmother, who lives alone, at 96, in rural Manitoba.
Another father is more lovingly portrayed in Puleng, by Ali Taylor of the Great Britain, in a beautiful photorealistic and surreal 2D/3D look at a young girl who struggles to take care of her ailing father somewhere in Africa experiencing a terrible drought.
Politically funny with a bold UPA style is Learn Self Defense by Chris Harding of the U.S., a 2D five-minute film abut a character who, after a mugging, takes self defense lessons which mirror the recent American defense policy. Turned loose on the street, he wreaks bloody havoc.
With a Simpsons sensibility and a Klasky Csupo look is the funny Remote Paradise, by Frederick Temblay of Canada. When the TV explodes in this 2D 6:54 film, two kids use their imaginations and the remote to switch into fun, laughs and adventure on a wonderful desert island.
One lady goes over the 3D edge when she becomes obsessed with knitting, unraveling even her clothes to keep up with her clocking needles in the comical, sans dialogue, The Last Knit, by Laura Neuveonen of Finland. Another 3D crowd-pleaser was Pinata by Mike Hollands of Australia. He packs a lot of character and comical action into a 4:07 film about a paper donkey who tries to evade getting whacked with sticks by children while he dangles by a string from a tree.
Godmothers Present is a rich fantasy world of stop-motion puppets and a glittering, bejeweled world by Ekaterina Mikhaylova of Russia. Its a cultural, 15-minute fairytale delight about a young girls visit to her fortune-telling godmother-witch to find out who she will marry, complete with a transforming cat and pretty effects.
In addition to animentaries, there were a fair number of music videos, often competing outside of the music video category. One that is most imaginative, and you had to truly apply your imagination to find any animation in it, is Bow Tie Duty for Squareheads, by Stephan-Flint Müller of Germany (13:24). It was a series of still photographs, set to music, showing the creator and his friends in various size relationships to objects, or intermingled with those as well as billboards about the German countryside. The results will hilarious and startled people to view their environment with a fresh eye.
Another one more like a music video is an intriguing mix of 2D, live action and 3D, City Paradise, by Gaelle Denis from France. The 5:58 film follows an attractive Asian girl who hits London, finds a cool place to live, work, friends and uncovers some strange things about her new place.
Films were a great mix of mediums and styles, from varied cultures, with more attention paid to musical scores than in the offerings a year ago.
Some of the ambitious student films included Calling Back the Spirit, a 3D computer piece from Korea and a young geisha who helps and falls in love with a member of the resistance. Very funny, and in keeping with the suicide theme is Born to Be Alive, a 3D computer piece from France about a bigheaded cat who tries in vain to kill himself. Offering a completely different looks at suicide is 529 (Five to Nine), a stopmotion piece, from Belgium, with an elegant modern style about a man who tries to escape his drab life.
Very artsy is a paint-on-glass film, Last Howl, from France, about a dog who dreams of joining a pack of wolves. With a storybook quality and haunting sound is The Carpenter and the Winter, a cutout piece from Germany about a sad carpenter who invites into his cabin the spirit of winter.
Romantic and touching is Mate to Measure, stop-motion puppets from Germany about a tailor who must unravel his daily routine when love enters his shop. Exhibiting a bold graphic style, Cheers shows feuding neighbors resolving their differences comically and amicably over food in this 2D film from Israel. Exhibiting a great sense of interior design and grabbing the feel of a year is Retropolis, from France, depicting a Stepford housewife living in a technologically perfect world designed to look like the 1950s.
Outrageously entertaining with humor, sound and design is The Microwave, amazing mix of 2D and 3D from France, where a students drawings come to life and try to cannibalize each other. Another funny one is Pet Shop from the USA, with two adorably molded 3D creatures desperately trying to attract the attention of a young boy in a colorful pet shop.
Poignant and simply told in black-line art is My Grandmother from Great Britain, about a policeman and a baker who break into an old ladys house when she stops her everyday routine.
Quite memorable for addressing the feelings of a foster child with a unique cutout look in black, white and gray tones, executed in 3D is The Shadow in Sara, from Denmark, about a young girl who feels alone and misunderstood in her world.
Simply brilliant computer work, design, storytelling and acting that exceeded the mocap work and acting in The Polar Express is Annie and Boo from France, about a teenager who meets up with a real coincidence materializes as a the odd character Boo, who, in turn, has never encountered a real girl before and sets out to impress her with comical mishaps.
Truly belonging in the professional pack is Overtime, a 3D computer piece from France about a group of ragdolls as they encounter their dead creator in his studio.Another one that exceeded professional efforts is 9, from the USA, an intricate 3D computer world of rag doll creatures scavenging an existence in the ruins of their world.
There was a surprise world premiere of Pixars latest animated short film, One Man Band, a delightful film with quite a European flair showing two street musicians competing for the coin of a little peasant girl who was going to cast a wish in the piazza fountain. As the dueling bands vie for her attention, the humor and pathos mounts. It was written and directed by Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews, and produced by Osnat Shurerk, head of Pixars Short Group.
The general comment on the TV competition was that people were disappointed with the selection, hoping it didnt reflect the state of television now with the exception of the winners which had all been feted in previous competitions. These included Peppa Pig for the Mummy Pig at Work episode by Mark Marker and Neville Astley, Great Britain, the Fear of a Krabby Patty episode of SpongeBob SquarePants by Alan Smart from the USA and Darren Walshs Angry Kid episode, Who Do You think You Are from Great Britain.
While there were many good singles amongst the shorts, the ultimate battle of the bands came down to the feature film category and two duos of filmmakers with similar philosophies and constraints duked it out for top spot Terkel in Trouble and The District.
It was hard for the soft cutout kid film, Among the Thorns, with its cutout technique, it looked like someone had cut apart a bunch of pretty Hallmark greeting cards and assembled a film. The Legend of Alosha Popovich, a 2D film from Russia, didnt have the naughty boy edge which was there in Frank and Wendy, but the assemblage of 2D shorts strung together as a film didnt hold up as a theatrical, it was like watching a DVD compilation of the best episodes of a TV series.
But the makers of Terkel in Trouble and The District shared an outrageous sense of humor, pioneering approach to filmmaking on incredibly small budgets and production windows with small crews and contempt for big studio, multi-investor productions. Coincidentially, both films were released in their respective countries 2004.
At a cost of 1.5 million euros, it took one year for actual production plus another year for finishing the script and obtaining financing for Terkel in Trouble. The feature film was produced completely in-house at A Film in Denmark (with funding from Nordic Film and Danish Film Institute), by a small team, which averaged eight and never grew to more than 15. It was directed by Kresten Vestbjerg Anderson and Thorborn Christoffersen.
It was based upon a radio play by Anders Matthesen and Mette Heeno, about eight years ago, which appeared in Børneradio, a legendary and extremely long-running show for preteens and young teens (which is also noted for its very direct and un-PC approach to kids entertainment).
From the opening credits, a parody of Kyle Coopers classic title sequence from Se7eN, the film hits a note far away from your usual animated kids stuff. It follows sixth-grader Terkel, who receives death threats and has trouble with a couple of bullies at school, as well as his annoying little sister, his alcoholic uncle Stewart. It features cartoon-y violence, black humor, sight gags, various parodies, and relatable characters, even if they are more or less stereotypical and extreme. Matthesen, a popular standup comedian in Denmark, voices all the characters. As an extra bonus there are Pixar-like outtakes during end credits.
Making The Simpsons and South Park look like wuzzies in comparison, Terkel in Trouble is full of foul language, some sex and loads of violent pranks. To give you the flavor of its common tone, the chorus of the central love song is, Please fuck off, youre too ugly for me and your mom is up for anything.
Many were surprised to see something so outrageous come out of Denmark.
I hope we shocked some people, said Andersen. Its OK to glorify bullies so long as they see the consequences of their actions. He admitted it seems terribly violent but allows for it, Because I think the audience feels something for the characters.
I think this is much more representative of true Danish rough and twisted humor, added Christoffersen.
Andersen said they discovered tricks to make small budget film with an OK quality. He modeled 3D characters (all resemble each other and Kermit the Frog), using 3ds Max, built the first environments and rigged the characters while Christoffersen did 80% of the storyboard. It was the studios first feature film in 3D. They developed the process, along with help from Stefan Fjeldmark (Help! Im a Fish) who also directed on the film.
They purposefully kept the team small and somewhat aloof. The smaller the team, faster the communication and approvals, said Anderson. This translated into, More freedom, more fun, no censorship from other countries.
He said they, dont ever want to be in charge of a high budget film because you answer to too many who seems to be at odds with each other. It slows the process enormously as well as waters down the humor.
Whole lot of money is wasted, added Christoffersen, keeping track of things, sending work out and losing scenes, having loads of production assistants and lawyers.
Making their directorial debut at age 27, both Anderson and Christoffersen had been working on commercials. They had studied at The Animation Workshop for slightly over a year, sent their samples to A Film and were immediately hired.
Christoffersen said he loved to draw since childhood and was drawn to comicbooks, graphic novels and illustration. Hed never thought of being an animator until he saw the ad from the school.
The makers of The District Aron Gauder, director, and Erik Novák producer perhaps most resemble a young Matt Stone and Trey Parker, down to their physical build and hair. They set up their own company and turned out a feature film in less than two years for about 500,000 euros.
Set in a Budapest ghetto, it presents a Romeo and Juliet type story between the offspring of two rival gangs. Local school kids scheme to make some money, because money gets girls. They bet on oil, find a way to get it and then everyone wants to control their action, even their parents, who resemble families from The Sopranos. Filled with political humor, local politicians, George Bush, the Pope and even Osama Bin Laden get involved in the money for oil action. The smart dialog and sharp characterizations appear to come directly from the scribes for MTV or Comedy Central, although it may be difficult for non-Hungarians to grasp all the references to Budapest urban folklore. The great singing and rapping help smooth out the jumpy/stickish movements of the players.
But its completely Hungarian homegrown, with a universal, contemporary sensibility.
Novák had a background in illustration, but was interested in films and friendly with many of the leading gypsy musicians in Hungary who ended up contributing music and doing voices for many of the characters.
Gauder graduated from the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts animation department and went to work immediately in computer animation at Kosmo Studio. He worked on various features and short films and museum interactive piece before hooking up with Novák who put Lichthop Production company together and rose funding from the Hungarian government.
They came up with an innovative new technique, a mix of cutouts and 2D manipulated in 3ds max. They took 350 headshot pictures of each actor, used for expressing emotions and the animation of the heads. These were composted onto hand-drawn bodies and environments.
Novák said most of the work was done mostly on a freelance basis, as friends could help them out, while he and Gauder essentially worked non-stop for weeks to make the budget. By the productions end, about 60 different artists (including the voice cast) had contributed to the film.
Novák and Gauder share the Danish duos contempt for films made by committee and hope to parley they success with The District in to more films.
Sarah Baisley is the editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.