Greg Singer reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Originated by Descent by Jung Eun Lee, Shaved Monkey by Thor Adam Goodall, 7 Cats by Laura di Trapani, Cameras Take Five by Steven Woloshen and Ananda by Mike Smith. 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.
Originated by Descent (2001), 5.5 min., directed by Jung Eun Lee, Korea/USA. Info: Jung Eun Lee, Seungdong-gu, Hangdang2-dong, Sindonga Apt. 3-1305, Seoul, Korea 133-776. Tel.: 82-2-6453-0909. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shaved Monkey (2002), 1.5 min., directed by Thor Adam Goodall, England. Info: Thor Adam Goodall, The Art of Darkness Studios, 2 The Haven, Newton Road, Castle Acre, Kings Lynn PE32 2AZ. Tel.: 44 (0) 1760-755386. Fax: 44 (0) 1760-755660. Email: email@example.com.
Cameras Take Five (2003), 3 min., directed by Steven Woloshen, Canada. Info: Steven Woloshen, 3900 Place Guay, Apt. A, Montreal, Quebec H4C 1G3. Tel.: 514-931-6294. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ananda (2003), 5 min., directed by Mike Smith, USA. Info: Kathy Radcliffe, Vinton Studios, 1400 NW 22nd Ave., Portland, OR 97210. Tel.: 503-276-0141. Fax: 503-226-3746. Email: email@example.com. Web: www.vinton.com.
Life: rock on! Originated by Descent © 2001 Jung Eun Lee.
Originated by Descent
Percussion music accompanies the viewers multiplane, watercolored descent into a cavernous cave. We see ancient rock paintings of animals on its walls. The paintings come alive as horses and deer transform into clouds, reflected in a pool of water. We descend into the watery depths and find schools of fish. The fish become fossilized, seemingly painted, into the walls of rock and their bones transform into the branches of a tree, in the open air again, among the chirping birds and passing clouds. The clouds take shape into the earlier, animated rock paintings. The branches of the tree slowly turn into the pulsing, ramifying veins of a heart, which itself forms into a fertility statue among other petroglyphs.
The beating heart of life is seen as the process of the earth itself. The relationship of living beings with the natural flow of the environment is captured in the gesture and memory of our human art, carrying us forward into the present. Director Jung Eun Lee explains that his intent was to see through the historical spaces (the remains and relics) of the accumulated times around us to feel the energy, force and inner rhythm underlying existence.
The work was created as a 2D computer animation, using Adobe Photoshop, Painter, Premiere and After Effects. It has played at the Foyle Film Festival (U.K.); Wissembourg Animation Festival (France); 42nd International Film Festival for Children and Youth (Czech Republic); Kalamazoo Animation Festival and VC Film Festival (USA). Originated by Descent won the award for Best Animation at the Semana International Film Festival (Spain).
Monkey business. Shaved Monkey © 2002 Thor Adam Goodall.
OBEY is written in large letters on a monitor. Everything is grainy black- and-white. A monkey is wearing goggles and a perpetual grimace seated before a row of levers. A system of wires is plugged into the mask, extending above. The numeral 1 flashes on the monitor and the monkey pulls the corresponding lever. A yellow banana appears in a bin next to the monkey, but he cannot reach it behind the grating. A 2 flashes on screen. The monkey dutifully pulls the correct lever, but this time he receives an electric shock. A 3 then flashes on screen. The monkey is hesitant, but he pulls the appropriate lever and the grating opens, allowing him to retrieve the vibrant banana. The fruit turns out to be a squeaky toy, not the reward he had imagined.
The camera then tilts to reveal, in the background, a whole pile of worthless, discarded bananas. EXECUTE appears on the monitor. The monkey turns to his side and pushes a button marked the same. The distant screaming of some other monkey can be heard. The monkey sniffs in the air, as RESET appears on screen. The monkey pushes the reset button, and again OBEY flashes, beginning the whole process anew. The camera pulls back to a wide shot of rows and rows of cubicles, reminiscent of an office environment, each with cables extending (like marionette strings) into some murky ceiling.
The film is a poignant look at the soul-numbing working conditions of modern life. The feeling is one of no escape. Obey or suffer the consequences. Even worse than its circular, ceaseless futility, our livelihood and welfare are achieved at the expense of others. The monkey works hard, does what he is told to do and receives his reward. Director Thor Adam Goodall says, It is an allegory of mans thankless task of working for nothing but shallow consumer products.
Goodall studied graphic design at Goldsmiths College in London. His work is inspired by David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Russian puppet animation and the Brothers Quay. From start to finish, Shaved Monkey was completed in four months using LightWave 3D and Adobe After Effects on a Mac G4.
The #7 is cool. 7 Cats © 2003 Sesame Workshop.
Commissioned by the Childrens Television Workshop for Sesame Street, 7 Cats is the tale of a family of felines who take a stroll through a medieval village. Seven shadows all a-move... The animation is set against a musical backdrop of jazzy, lyrical narration They got a continental attitude... Snapping fingers keep the beat. Seven catssss... They begin in a house, sitting on the windowsills. The cats amble outside and down the street to find seven bowls of food left out by some unseen benefactor.
Upon eating the mysterious meal, the cats blur together into a single spiraling pattern, as the narrator wonders, What if they all spin around? The brief story concludes with the cats perched on a wall, grooming themselves, watching the setting sun, tails happily tossing side to side.
Director Laura di Trapani observes, My intent with 7 Cats was to present a little tale of mystery and intrigue that the child could interpret on his/her own level without being blatantly EDUCATED. The purpose of the piece is to re-enforce number recognition (#7), co-relationships (7 cats will have 7 tails) and partitioning (the #7 is shown in different groupings, such as 3 and 4, or 2 and 5). Trapani adds, I never told the people at Sesame Street what it was that I put in the cats bowls. I wonder if they would have let me make the film if I had told them.
To create the film, live-action (digital) footage of a cat was rotoscoped using Macromedia Flash, altered and re-animated using Adobe Photoshop and composited into a photographic collage environment using After Effects. So far, 7 Cats has screened at Annecy International Film Festival (France), and the daVinci Days Festival (USA).
Um, scratch that. Cameras Take Five © 2003 Steven Woloshen.
Cameras Take Five
In between his day jobs, Steven Woloshen has been creating handmade, cameraless animation for nearly 20 years, in cinemascope! His latest work, Cameras Take Five, is an abstract exploration of Dave Brubecks classic jazz standard, Take Five. Engraving and painting directly on film stock, the animation is a swirling dance, the enduring romance of lines, as Woloshen says. It is the popping peekaboo pizzazz of dots, a firework display, a miniature maelstrom of color. Lines extending, collapsing, tumbling, folding, curling. Greens and purples. At times, it looks like holes are burned directly into the emulsion.
In his visual interpretation of Take Five, there were no edits or cuts. There was no planned narrative or characters. Woloshen explains, The idea was digested in my head for approximately one year. Then, without storyboards or script, I started Cameras Take Five, and I let the music lead me where it wanted to go... As I worked and listened to the track, the line drawings (representing the sound of a saxophone) were leading me either to one side of the frame or the other. Two main colors began to dominate, and I was sectioning my parts into choruses, solos and refrains.
This is an experience thrown down (on film). It is the marriage of motion and music, the tender goodnight kiss of animation in its simplest form.
Ganesh kicks holy ass. Ananda © 2003 Vinton Studios.
The kaleidoscopic story is charming in its essence the search of a man and woman to reclaim, within the suffocation of modern society, the unfettered joy they shared as children. Combining live-action, model-making, 3D, 2D and stop-motion animation, the film is seemingly a demo reel for Vinton Studios present production prowess.
The story begins with a blue-skinned boy enjoying the company of his childhood sweetheart, a little girl who embodies the spirit of awakening with her central third-eye and a lotus flower blooming in her palms. The two children live in a glowing, golden city, where the atmosphere is flecked with sparkles.
Through the eyes of the boy, we see that he has aged into a world-wearied adult. He wanders the bleak landscape of his mind, walking in an overbearing, cylindrical suit that sequesters him from the industrial world outside. His tin-suit looks part trashcan, part smokestack: a melancholic, microcosmic echo of the wasteland in which he aimlessly trudges a city built of crumbling high-rises and smokestacks spewing fire. Everything seems remote and distant, devoid of hope and possibility.
The man then notices a lotus flower amidst the ruin. In unraveling the dream of memory and choice, his imagination ignites with the playful recollection of his first love. Youthful exuberance chases away, in colors, the encrusted reality of his imprisoned heart, and he is filled with the wish that his beloved might escape tradition and come in search of him. The sadness of lost opportunity is felt as a small cloud rains on him, alone.
The man seeks to protect the cherished memory of his love, and the lotus flower itself bravely straightens to meet the onslaught of the encroaching city. Ancient, armored gods carry the cold, concretized city on their backs, as an ominous pall of smoke and fire looms above the world. The memory of love briefly transforms the march of modernity, once again, into its colorful, joyful prospect, but to no avail. The man is hit with the momentum of history. His dogma, as the saying goes, is run over by his karma.
When all has fallen apart, the man looks up to find standing there his childhood love. Now a grown woman, she too resides in the shielded constriction of a tin-suit. Waving hello, the two are happy to have found one another, again. Ethereal wisps of joy hover near to them, intimating an earlier time, when the city itself was holy and beautiful. A new, larger lotus flower blooms, floating above them, and a wiser version of youths freedom is restored.
The style of storytelling is intentionally vague, allowing the viewer to follow the feelings of the characters, but also to reinterpret the Hindi symbols and references. Director Mike Smith describes the film as a surreal fantasy, as Dali meets Bollywood.
All footage, including FX elements, was captured on high-definition cameras. The entire production took eight weeks to complete. Ananda has shown at Cannes Film Festival.
Greg Singer is an animation welfare advocate, eating in Los Angeles.