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Fresh From the Festivals: April 2000's Film Reviews

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short format productions, whether they be high budgeted commercials, low budgeted independent shorts or something in between. The growing number of short film festivals around the world attest to the vitality of these works, but there are few other venues for exhibition of them or even written reviews. As a result, distribution tends to be difficult and irregular. On a regular basis, Animation World Magazine will highlight some of...

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short format productions, whether they be high budgeted commercials, low budgeted independent shorts or something in between. The growing number of short film festivals around the world attest to the vitality of these works, but there are few other venues for exhibition of them or even written reviews. As a result, distribution tends to be difficult and irregular. On a regular basis, Animation World Magazine will highlight some of the most interesting with short descriptive overviews.

This month, Maureen Furniss reviews the winners of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Twenty-first Annual College Television Awards. Awarded at an elegant ceremony in Los Angeles, California on Sunday, March 12, 2000, the awards represent the best in student work.

Traditional Animation Winners:

First Place: The Reunion (1999), 12 min., directed by Dwight Hwang, Cal Arts Character Animation, USA. Info: Character Animation, California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia CA 91355 USA. Tel: 1 805 255 1050. E-mail: dwighty74@yahoo.com. Second Place: Mum (1999), 7 min., directed by Nicholas Peterson, Cal Arts Experimental Animation, USA. Info: Experimental Animation, California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia CA 91355 USA. Tel: 1 805 255 1050. E-mail: mumfilm@hotmail.com. Third Place: Giovanni & Alice Fly South for the Winter (1999), 3 min., directed by Kevin Gralewski, Cal Arts Character Animation, USA. Info: California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia CA 91355 USA. Tel: 1 805 255 1050. E-mail: kgrlwski@muse.calarts.edu.

Non-traditional Animation Winners:

First Place: Luz (1999), 8 min., directed by Jose Javier Martinez, UCLA Animation Workshop, USA. Info: jotajota@ucla.edu. Second Place: Hollow (1999), 3 min., directed by Jason Shulman, Ringling School of Art & Design, USA. Info: Jason Shulman. Tel: 1 661 297 0516. E-mail: shulmanator@yahoo.com. Third Place: Rip Dash: Galactic Hero (1999), 9 min., directed by Hugh Elesh, Chapman University Film and Television Production, USA. Info: h_elesh@hotmail.com.

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view a clip from each film by simply clicking the image.

In reviewing the student animation winners selected by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, certain generalities can be made. Most notable perhaps, is that the leader in animation training within the United States apparently continues to be Cal Arts, which provided all three winners in the traditional animation division. Having said this, however, there are a number of questions which arise about the student work as a whole and about the categories used by the Academy.

Curiously, the category of traditional animation contains examples of charcoal on paper, puppet and mixed media/cel animation. The non-traditional category apparently is reserved for computer-generated imagery. To my mind, traditional suggests cel-animated productions, most likely following the Hollywood style of cartoon animation. Non-traditional suggests most of the formats employed by the student winners in the traditional category. Where does computer-generated imagery fit into all this? Well, thats a good question; perhaps in its own category. In any case, dividing the animation competition into these two categories is somewhat confusing.

From the following reviews, you can see that my overall impression is that these works are all strong visually, but in most cases the storytelling aspect is somewhat lacking. Only in one case did I feel the work was constructed and edited adequately, to reflect a clear sense of purpose in the film. What this suggests to me is that these students are primarily visual artists, as opposed to writers -- not particularly surprising, I suppose, since they are enrolled in animation programs. Since I am very interested in non-narrative work, in general, I do not want to suggest that story-driven animation is somehow superior to other work. Rather, I am pointing to what I see as a general tendency of student production: more emphasis on the style of the visuals than the cohesiveness of the work as a whole. Still, it is nice to see visual experimentation taking place, since the commercial animation world is so visually limited.

Traditional Animation Winners:

reunion.gif

© Dwight Hwang.

First Place: The Reunion

Director Dwight Hwangs film, The Reunion, focuses on the fate of two lovers during World War I. It was inspired by a trip to Paris, his interest in history and his study of various animated productions, including Frédéric Backs The Man Who Planted Trees and a range of anime. Rendering lovely images using charcoal on paper, Hwang employs significant amounts of camera movement over his stills. Animation through sequential images, when used, typically was shot on 6s and 8s; because each piece of art was held for 6 or 8 frames of film, as opposed to the usual 1 or 2, the movement often has a stepped appearance. This film, which lacks dialogue, is atypical of the work produced by Cal Arts Character Animation department; I expected it to be from the Institutes Experimental Animation department instead.

Visually, the film is strong, particularly with the addition of effects such as snow drifting over a scene and multiplane effects. Sound, too, is used effectively to give dimension to the images. Hwangs interest in anime is suggested in the face of his female character, with her slightly oversized eyes, longish nose and doleful expression. The pacing of the film is slow, but because the images are engaging, that isnt completely unwelcome. After a couple of minutes, the pacing begins to suggest the passage of time as it is experienced by the woman whose mate has gone to war. Hwang might have abbreviated the black passages between sequences which tend to linger a bit too long, weighing down what is otherwise fairly balanced (if reserved) timing. The Reunion took two years to complete.

mum.gif

© AtomFilms.

Second Place: Mum

The Experimental Animation program at the California Institute of the Arts is known for creating exceptional student work; headed by Jules Engel, it is considered to be one of the best animation programs in the world. Among its recent productions is Mum, a puppet animation that tells the story of a woman who appears to be trapped in a marriage with a violent man. The film was produced and directed by undergraduate Nicholas Peterson, whose faculty advisors included Raimund Krumme and Mark Osborne.

The film opens with a slow pan along wooden floorboards, slightly parted and tacked unevenly with nails. Eventually we see the fine lace of a wedding dress, followed by the fidgeting hands and tense face of a young bride. From the onset, one can see that among the films primary strengths is its set design, which is quite detailed and lends much to the creation of mood. Producer-director Peterson created the sets, plus served as director of photography and editor. Although his use of soft focus and quick edits is sometimes distracting, on the whole the photography (on 35 mm film, using some CGI) helps set the mood as well. Slow pans, accompanied by a mournful score by Jasper Randall, reflect the sense of entrapment and dread the character feels. To be honest, the films story itself is not very clear -- though I know there is resolution at the end of the film, I am left wondering about what transpired to get to that point.

giavanni.gif

© Kevin Gralewski.

Third Place: Giovanni & Alice Fly South for the Winter

On a completely different note than its fellow award-winners, Kevin Gralewskis film, Giovanni & Alice Fly South for the Winter, tells a whimsical tale of two birds who leave town only to be bombarded by a storm of other birds doing precisely the same thing. After that, the details get a bit sketchier, but essentially the birds fall into the ocean and one of them gets really, really big (possibly by eating fish). Running just over three minutes in length, it is no surprise that its story is less developed than most of the other award winners. It excels primarily in terms of its visuals.

Attached Files 
AttachmentSize
1517-reunion.mov1.24 MB
1517-mum.mov1.52 MB
1517-giavanni.mov1.19 MB
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