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Fresh from the Festivals: February 2009's Reviews

In this sixth and final excerpt from The Official Luxology modo 301 Guide, author Daniel Ablan shows how to sculpt landscapes.

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short-format productions, whether they are high-budgeted commercials, low-budgeted independent shorts or something in-between. The growing number of short film festivals around the world attests to the vitality of these works, but there are few other venues for their exhibition, nor are they often reviewed. As a result, distribution tends to be difficult and irregular. On a regular basis, Animation World Magazine will highlight some of the most interesting of these films.

This month:

Boar Attack (2006), 4:00., directed by Jay White, Canada. Contact: Jay White, Sly Cedar Visual Arts [W] www.slycedar.com [E] Gogomax49@gmail.com

Damaged Goods (2008), 9:24, directed by Barnaby Barford, UK. Contact: Christine Ponzevera, Nexus Prods., 113-114 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JN UK [T] +44 20 7749 7500 [F] +44 20 7749 7501 [W] www.nexusproductions.com [E] Christine@nexusproductions.com

ERGO (2008), 12:28, directed by Géza M. Tóth, Hungary. Contact: KEDD Animation Studio, Ms. Niki Karasz, Production Manager, Hungary H-1027 Budapest, Frankel Leo u. 7. [T] +36 1 201 9118 [Mobile] +36 70 520 6431 [W] www.kedd.net [E] kedd@kedd.net

Milk Teeth (2007), 11:22, directed by Tibor Banoczki, Hungary. Contact: Mr. Hemant Sharda, National Film and Television School, Station Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP91LG; [E] hsharda@nfts.co.uk

Rosa Rosa (2008), 8:41, directed by Felix Dufour-Laperrière, Canada. Contact: Johanne St-Arnauld, Director General, Distribution, National Film Board of Canada [T] 514-283-2703 [F] 514-496-1895 [W] www.nfb.ca [E] customerservice@nfb.ca

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Stories about wild pigs roaming the German forests prompted Jay White to make Boar Attack, an almost singular effort. © Jay White. 

Boar Attack

It's a scary world out there. Death, disease, poverty, famine... As if those weren't enough to worry about, Jay White has found a new fear to keep you awake at night: wild pigs.

Boar Attack is an odd narrative, with a young German man reflecting upon his father's disappearance, and, without emotion, cataloguing the various fates that could have befallen him. Perhaps an insect infected him with an incurable disease. Maybe it was a simple case of diarrhea? Or maybe, just maybe, a wild pig got him.

Jay White's film, with the exception of Maria Vaira's score, is a one-man operation. The original concept came from a series of drawings created on a single sketchbook page inspired by the year that he spent in Berlin while creating animation for German television. While exploring the forests around the city, he asked his co-workers about dangerous animals that lived in the woods, such as bears. Much to his surprise, he learned that the most dangerous animal that he was likely to encounter would be a wild pig, which have been known to charge people at unexpected speeds, causing injury and sometimes even breaking bones. White ran with this notion and assembled a story around the idea that even the most unexpected sources can lead to chaos and destruction.

White created the film in a log cabin studio in Canada's Yukon Territory, east of Alaska. Water was delivered to the studio by truck, but White was responsible for chopping his own wood to provide heat for the cabin, which, oddly enough, had high-speed Internet and electricity, but no electric heat. His characters are animated in Softimage|XSI. The looping textures were added to make each character appear hand-drawn throughout the film. Other elements were hand-drawn with ink and painted with watercolor, and the compositing and effects were created using Adobe After Effects, and the film was edited in Premiere. Even the voice of the narrator was provided by White, who dusted off his best German accent for the occasion.

It's a beautiful, poetic film, despite, or possibly because of, its unusual subject matter. White is a multi-talented artist, and we can only hope that his future efforts yield equally enjoyable results. And that wild pigs don't get him.

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Damaged Goods proves all you need is love. And possibly, some Krazy Glue. © Nexus Prods.

Damaged Goods

What if Toy Story had taken place a century ago? It's hard to say, but it might have looked something like Damaged Goods, a short film directed by Barnaby Barford for Nexus Prods.

Utilizing the classic "boy meets girl" framework, Damaged Goods follows the plight of a young, poor boy who falls madly in love with a beautiful girl who's out of his league -- and his reach. The protagonists in this love story are ceramic statuettes, and their world is a cluttered bric-a-brac shop inhabited by dancing girls, elegant women, circus folk and base villains. There is triumph, and there is tragedy, the kind that, according to the filmmakers, "inevitably occurs when high culture falls for low."

It's a charming story, told with all the flair and melodrama that should accompany statuettes of this vintage. The soundtrack hits all the right notes throughout, with appropriate flourishes for the circus, romantic music for love scenes, and tunes that evoke sheer evil when the villain of the piece rears his head.

Barford's film is primarily stop-motion with some 2D animation, followed by digital post-production. It's not particularly groundbreaking, but it's well staged, well scored, and the story is engaging. And sometimes, that's all you really need. That, and some Krazy Glue.

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ERGO is simultaneously beautiful, tragic and uplifting and will pull you into its complex story. © KEDD Animation Studio. 

ERGO

The remaining three films this month fall into the "haunting" category. Each one stayed with me for quite some time after my initial viewings, and each for different reasons.

ERGO is the story of two people searching for harmony in entirely different ways. The first moves across a bizarre landscape, creating musical notes and large stone pillars as he walks. The stone pillars are incredibly tall, and dissipate as soon as he breaks contact with them. Across the misty, dingy skyline is another, similar creature, who is also creating music, along with non-dissipating stone pillars that are slowly building an entire new landscape.

The two move inexorably toward each other, each oblivious to the other's world as they create and destroy, following divergent musical paths. When they finally meet, there seems to be potential for a wonderful musical collaboration... but their differences threaten their entire existence.

The film is beautiful, tragic and uplifting, often simultaneously. The character designs are simple, and very relatable, making their problems all the more real, and more upsetting. The bleak palette makes the fleeting moments of optimism in the film all the more poignant, with the complexity of the story pulling you in all the while. Attila Pacsay's music and Imre Madacsi's sounds complement director Géza M. Tóth's visuals perfectly.

ERGO was created using Autodesk's 3ds Max, Adobe After Effects and Steinberg Cubase SX. The filmmakers are probably best known for their 2007 Academy Award-nominated short Maestro, but if they can maintain this level of quality in the future, that's bound to change.

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Milk Teeth is positively eerie in every aspect. This one will stay with you. Courtesy of National Film and Television School. 

Milk Teeth

Director Tibor Banoczki's Milk Teeth is a much-lauded film that he created for his M.A. level graduate thesis, and it was by far the most difficult to watch of this month's "FFF" films.

It's not that it's a bad film, by any means. It's a bold film, with solid character designs and a clear artistic vision guiding it. But the film itself -- it's downright eerie, in every single aspect.

Milk Teeth is set out in the country, where the corn's as high as an elephant's eye, and there's no better way to spend an evening than driving around with your best girl in your pickup truck. Banoczki takes this setting and focuses on all of the most unsettling aspects of it. First of all, the action takes place at night, in a poorly-lit cornfield inhabited by nervous, dead-eyed animals. The human characters, a teenage boy, a teenage girl, and her younger brother, are awkward in disturbing ways, from their character designs to the way they move, to their reasons for hanging out in a field in a pickup truck in the middle of the night. Every aspect of the film, including the Jim Jarmusch-esque soundtrack, seems designed to leave the viewer ill at ease.

Banoczki's designs are evocative of German Expressionists, with an emphasis on the more disturbing aspects of their artwork. He accomplished this through cut out animation drawn in Adobe Photoshop, and composited and animated in Adobe After Effects. He doesn't list any specific influences for Milk Teeth, but I'm not sure that I'd want to know about them anyway -- it's hard enough getting scenes from this film out of my head, let alone the original source material.

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Explore the hand-painted effects of war in Félix Dufour-Laperrière's Rosa Rosa. © 2008 National Film Board of Canada. 

Rosa Rosa

The final film in this month's "FFF" explores life and love during wartime, as individual and collective fates interweave as Rosa and her lover try to preserve a state of fragile normalcy. Leaders make pronouncements, soldiers follow orders, bombs rain down on an unsuspecting populace, but human nature dictates that life goes on, no matter what. Rosa's plight allows us to see the human side of war and turmoil, and its impact on everyday people.

Rosa Rosa is beautifully animated short, and its uplifting story is nearly overshadowed by the incredible visuals employed by director Félix Dufour-Laperrière. He gathered old photographs from the era that he wished to recreate, then animated them using Adobe After Effects. Those still images were mixed, filtered and put in motion. These resultant animation sequences were printed, frame by frame, on paper and then reworked with painted and drawn animation.

Rosa Rosa is scene after scene of amazing visuals, with sketchy, penciled characters moving as specters through a ghostly city as planes soar overhead, reality flickers in and out of existence, and mankind moves on regardless, as it always has, and always will. As with Milk Teeth, the imagery lingers long after the final reel has passed, but unlike that film, Rosa Rosa will leave you with a sense of hope and optimism in the face of adversity. And that's something we can all use right now.

Andrew Farago is the gallery manager and curator of San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum and the creator of the weekly online comic serial The Chronicles of William Bazillion.

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