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Fresh from the Festivals: April 2004’s Film Reviews

Taylor Jessen reviews five short films: Annie & Boo by Johannes Weiland, The God by Konstantin Broinzit, Hike, Hike, Hike by Anouck Iyer, Delivery by Patrick Smith and Pavlovs Bell by Evan Mather. Includes QuickTime movie clips!

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.

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

This Month:

Annie & Boo (2003), 15 minutes, directed by Johannes Weiland, Germany. Contact: Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttenmberg Institute of Animation Mathildenstr. 20 71638 Lundwigsburg Tel.: +49 7141969-800 Email: animationsinstitutut@filmakademie.de Website: www.annieandboo.com, www.animationsinstitute.de

The God (2003), 4:20 minutes, directed by Konstantin Bronzit, Russia. Contact:Alexander Boyarksy, Melnitsa Animation Studio, Melnichnaya ul. 4, St. Petersburg 192019, Russia. Tel/fax: +7 81256715 40 E-mail: info@melnitsa.com Website: www.melnitsa.com

Hike, Hike, Hike (2002), 4 minutes, directed by Anouck Iyer, U.S., E-mail: anoucksi@mindspring.com.

Delivery (2003) 8:30 minutes, directed by Patrick Smith,U.S., E-mail: pat@blendfilms.com Website: www.blendfilms.com

Pavlovs Bell (2003) 4:27 minutes, directed by Evan Mather, U.S., E-mail: evan@evanmather.com Website: evanmather.com

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A little girl meets up with a coincidence in Annie & Boo. © Filmakademie Baden-Wüerttenberg/Schaefer Filmproduktion.

Annie & Boo

Annie & Boo really, really wants to be endearing. A girl named Annie is tripped up by an unseen hand on her way to catching her train, and, while waiting in the station for the next train, she strikes up a conversation with a fanciful character named Boo who looks equal parts rabbit and vacuum cleaner. Boo is a Coincidence, one of a team of chimerical agents of mayhem who create all the synchronicities we run into daily. Boo isnt supposed to reveal himself to humans, but hes clearly smitten with Annie and so has come into the open to chat her up. Bouncing around the interior of the train station, his metallic limbs magnetizing a dizzying array of loose objects, Boo explains the Coincidences modus operandi to a by-turns intrigued and exasperated Annie. Finally, annoyed that Boo has made her late, Annie boards the next train out, but Boo is determined not to let her get away and attempts to charm her one last time.

This 15-minute CGI short wishes it were a feature in many ways; the train station set is cavernous and packed with detail, and the acting conveys maximum emotional information with minimum facial expressions. The abundance of orchestrated music wants a feature in front of it, too, but it demands an emotional weight the narrative doesnt earn. The cinematography is feverish with hand-held frame weave and smash zooms, evoking first documentary and then bad documentary. Theres too much exposition and too little follow-through to movements and the filmmakers have put themselves at a disadvantage by giving one of their leads a name thats already familiar to CGI fans and children everywhere.

Annie & Boo was directed by Johannes Weiland, and animated in Maya as a graduation project at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttembergs Institute of Animation.

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A fly disturbs a Shiva in The God. © Melnitsa Studio.

The God

Its another stately afternoon in the life of Shiva, hovering far above it all in brassy splendor. The Lord of Dance is in his familiar Nataraja pose, balancing on one foot, his three pairs of arms engaged in various godly gestures. All is balance. All is serenity Enter the horsefly. In Konstantin Bronzits brilliant CGI short The God, the all-powerful Shiva is left powerless in the face of a winged insect tickling the underside of the holy foot. Swatting away with every available limb at once, this metallic deity quickly progresses from mild annoyance to apocalyptic fury, smashing all his hands together at once in a mitty dogpile that fails to kill the perpetrator.

This is one of those exquisitely-timed comic masterpieces that audiences surely will wish outlasts a major religion. Special kudos to soundman Vladimir Golounin, who sells Shivas metallic state with a choice selection of creaks and bangs, and who gets most of the laughs with his hyperactively buzzing fly.

Bronzit has directed a number of killer comic shorts, including Die Hard, a traditionally-animated ultra-short short that telegraphs most of the major thematic elements of the John McTiernan action blockbuster in a brisk minute and 20 seconds. (You can see all of Die Hard, and a big chunk of The God, online at www.melnitsa.com). His At the Ends of the Earth was an Annecy Grand-Prix winner. The God is a production of Melnitsa Animation Studio in St. Petersburg, and was animated using Softimage Toonz and Speed Razor.

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Hike, Hike, Hike follows a dogsled team. © Anouck Iyer.

Hike, Hike, Hike

Hike, Hike, Hike is a simple, experimental mood piece about a dogsled. In scenes altered from regular movie footage, a dog team is assembled and sets off into an abstract white landscape. The scope of the animation is minimal, with movie frames re-painted in a semi-rotoscope fashion using charcoal xerography and repeating loops. The soundtrack is alive with the howls of dogs and the whoosh of wind. In the closing minute, the animation momentarily breaks free of representation and becomes abstract, with the music likewise asserting itself, but the moment is all too brief.

Director Anouck Iyer is an experimental animator who has studied at Rhode Island School of Design and CalArts, and she animated Hike, Hike, Hike at Harvards Film Study Center in 2002.

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A mysterious package brings out the worse in two young men in Delivery. © 2003 Patrick Smith.

Delivery

Patrick Smiths 2003 short Delivery neatly illustrated the keynote of every abusive relationship he may be your tormentor, but youll miss him when hes dead. In Smiths traditionally animated film, the scenario begins with an anonymous deliveryman approaching a house with a package. Inside are two friends, or lovers, or brothers, one fair-haired and one dark-haired. Theyre watching TV on the couch and sharing a bowl of popcorn when the doorbell rings. The fair-haired dude answers it (his friend refuses to budge), takes the package and cradles it curiously, but his buddy takes it away from him. When he tries to take it back his bud punches him with it repeatedly, spattering blood on the wall and knocking him to the floor.

The fair-haired fellow spends a brief interlude lying on the floor hallucinating that a platoon of his buddys clones are walking all over him, before he finally gets up to confront his friend. Theres more blood, and then the inevitable reveal of the boxs contents which could have been too discursive; but Smith ties a tidy bow around the whole enterprise with a creepy and ambiguous final shot.

Like Don Hertzfeldts Billys Balloon, this is a wordless and darkly comic piece that turns no-action longueurs into the heartbeat of a diabolical comic timing, deftly rendering suspense out of the spaces between movements and expressions. Unlike Hertzfeldt, Smith has abuse issues hes specifically working out through his animation, sparked by a relative who used to grab him by his face and throw him across the room (He called it The Craw, Smith says). Fortunately, Delivery doesnt feel didactic far from it; its universally appealing, due in equal parts to its formal perfection and its lack of dialogue.

Delivery was animated in pencil and scanned and colored in the computer; the results pulse between clean lines and funky crystalline structures as Smith emulates the xerographic look of Disneys 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Book. The hypnotic music is by Karl vonKries, who also scored Smiths harrowing mind-expansion trip Drink (2001). Smith was animation director for MTVs Downtown and Daria series. Delivery is a product of his own New York studio Blend Films.

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Aimee Mann sings and flies in Pavlovs Bell. © Evan Mather.

Pavlovs Bell

When I was eight I made up some amazing adventures with toy cars and Star Wars action figures, sitting in a tiny chair at the big red table in my upstairs bedroom. Evan Mather is one artist who has had the courage to remain at his childhood table; the through-line of his Mac-based movie output remains the world of little plastic toys.

Notorious to Star Wars fanboys for his curb-level lowbrow yet artful deconstructions of the George Lucas universe, the Tarantino universe and potty humor, Mather did a whole slew of stop-motion desktop animated films, beginning in 1997, starring his own collection of vintage Kenner action figures. If your inner eight-year-old isnt tickled by the incessant fart jokes, your post-modern lobe will get a workout watching the Miracle gunfight sequence from Pulp Fiction re-enacted by Han Solo and Luke Skywalker dolls. (In a priceless bit of sampling from Star Wars, skeptical Han survives a close-range phaser blast from a stormtrooper only to quip, I call it luck.)

Mathers drawn animations are more personal in their surrealism. In Fansom the Lizard (2000), a child dreams his pet lizard has gone to Vegas after his mother sucks it up with the vacuum cleaner. Action figures and Fisher-Price dolls figure heavily into Mathers flat CGI character designs; elbows are frozen, arms swivel 360° at the shoulder, two slashes make the eyebrows above dotted eyes on noseless faces. Pavlovs Bell, Mathers music video for the Aimee Mann song of the same name, goes further with this design tack.

Pavlovs Bell is the second video Mather has done for Mann, following Red Vines in 2001. If you see this new short on the big-screen, watch out; this turbulent air-travel-themed piece could give you motion sickness. Aimees on a plane to Idaho, in a pop-up paper landscape covered in the wheat fields and power lines of the great American Flyover. The scenario confirms what you suspected as a child when the plane doors close, they lift you up, bounce you around and thats it. Mathers plane is land-locked above a field, accordioning on a length of folded cardboard, a metaphor that the viewer can fly anywhere. Its a bracing and boldly-colored world brought to life by Mathers innovate designs. (Most of Mathers oeuvre, including Pavlovs Bell and his many live-action shorts, can be viewed at the artists web site, www.evanmather.com.)

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. His piece on the production history of the animated feature Twice Upon a Time will appear in Animation Blast #9.

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