Fresh from the Festivals: January 2004’s Film Reviews

Taylor Jessen reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Boys Night Out by Bert Klein and Teddy Newton, Ward 13 by Peter Cornwell, Boxed In by Will Becher, Cane Toad by Andrew Silke and David Clayton, and Oola Oop Der by Carolle-Shelley Abrams. 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:

Boys Night Out (2003), 5:55 minutes, directed by Bert Klein and Teddy Newton, U.S. Co-produced by Jennifer Cardon Klein and Barry John ODonoghue. Email: barleyfilms@hotmail.com; jencardonklein@yahoo.com

Ward 13 (2003), 14:50 minutes, directed by Peter Cornwell, Australia. Trepuine Productions, in association with the Australian Film Commission. Web: www.ward13.com.au

Boxed In (2002), 5:20 minutes, directed by Will Becher, U.K. Produced by Donald Holwill for Edinburgh College of Art. Address: Edinburgh College of Art, 74 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh EH3 9DF Scotland, UK. Phone: +441312216135. Fax: +441312216115. Email: will_becher@hotmail.com; d.holwill@mail1.eca.ac.uk.

Cane Toad (2002), 3:57 minutes, directed and produced by Andrew Silke and David Clayton, Australia. Address: Andrew Silke, 9/5 Stanley Street, Randwick, 2031, NSW, Australia.

Oola Oop Dîner (2003), 3:38 minutes, directed and produced by Carolle-Shelley Abrams, U.K. Email: carolleshelley@beingbeautiful.net. Website: www.beingbeautiful.net

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Stepfather and son figure out how to have a good time in Boys Night Out. © Teddy Newton/Bert Klein.

Boys Night Out

Boys Night Out is a spiffy little retro chunk of eye candy, with both its setting and its UPA-influenced style very much of the Eisenhower era. Its Moms bible study night, and that means Dad and little Linberg are on their ownsie-wownsie until she returns. Dad is actually step dad Chet, and Linberg isnt sure he wants to while away the evening with this interloper until Chet suggests they sneak out and have a little fun while the missus is away.

The first clue that this isnt going to be a trip to the ballpark comes when Chet fits out Linberg in a stocking cap, and smears schmutz from the tailpipe on the childs face to simulate five oclock shadow. Then theyre off to a nautically-themed gentlemans club, where the 21-and-over crowd sips drinks and ogles exotic dancers. Linberg soon comes face-to-face with the concepts of firewater, starfish-covered breasts and men of the cloth after hours.

The six-minute short is traditionally animated, and, in addition to UPA, the filmmakers cite influences from classic Disney animators Ward Kimball and Freddy Moore. Eric Goldbergs stylistic thumbprints are visible too; the director of the Rhapsody in Blue and Carnival of the Animals segments of Fantasia/2000 was co-animator on the short. The piece was independently financed by the directors in cooperation with Barley Films Ltd., and was completed piecemeal in the United States, Ireland and New Zealand. It was directed by Terry Newton, a Disney/Warners/Pixar storyman, and Bert Klein, a Disney/Warners/WETA Digital animator. Boys Night Out is a nominee for the 2003 Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Animation for Short Subject.

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In Ward 13, the eyes tell the story. © Trephine Productions and The Australian Film Commission.

Ward 13

Visiting Hours meets The Wrong Trousers in Ward 13, an all-action stop-motion horror/comedy. Our protagonist is introduced face-planting the asphalt after being hit by an ambulance in the opening frames. He awakens in hospital with his entire head, save his eyes, swaddled in bandages, and its a measure of the talent of the director that in this wordless film the main character can emote solely through mime and the tiny acreage of face visible through his unbandaged eye-holes.

When an abusive attendant administers a sedative and sticks a fistful of flowers in the patients face for solace as he goes under, it becomes clear that whoever sent the ambulance has a somewhat different agenda than your average healing institution. After fleeing his room, the patient encounters a swamp-thingish creature on the attack, an operating theater equipped with kitchen knives and a metal detector, and a supply closet stocked with Pain Enhancers and Ebola in a jar. Sure its Hell, but the interior lighting is well up to code!

Needless to say, our patient wants out, but the doctors prefer otherwise and the last 10 minutes of this 15-minute short are consumed with an elaborate chase through the hospital corridors. The patient confronts doctors and human experiments-gone-wrong, evades a nut in a hockey mask, and fences with a wooden cane. Director Peter Cornwell, a former animator for the New Zealand childrens series Oscar & Friends, created Ward 13 independently on 16mm using the ANIMAC Pencil Test System. The characters were built from ball-and-socket armatures covered in clay, silicone and polyurethane.

The darkly funny short has won several awards, including the First Animated Production award at the Anima Mundi festival, Brazil, and Audience Awards at the Fantasia and Dahlonega festivals. The sound design is by Mit Out Sound under the direction of frequent David Fincher collaborator Ren Klyce. The shorts only weakness is literally its greatest strength the fact that its a drop-dead great action sequence in search of a larger movie.

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A surprise comes in Boxed In. © Will Becher.

Boxed In

Boxed In is itself a formal gift box, full of open space, with a gem in the center. This tidy stop-motion animated short takes place entirely inside a windowless room occupied by an elderly man. It seems a giveaway when a newspaper screaming the headline SENILITY is prominently displayed in the opening shot, but its just a red herring, making it all the more delicious when the narrative veers in a different direction.

Interrupted by a knock at the door, the man leaves the inner room and returns with a newly arrived parcel. Whats unbearably charming about the scenario that follows is the pacing with which it unfolds beginning with his machinations of peeling away the packing tape, removing a mousetrap with one hand and a mouse with the other, watching the mouses limp body swinging serenely between thumb and forefinger, putting it down and watching it when after two beats it suddenly darts away in a finger-drummed burst of rodential panic and is gone.

This expeditious use of silence is just the first giggle-inducing moment in a short devoid of dialogue and full of rapt silence and languorous dissolves. The bulk of the shorts five minutes is devoted to watching this irked pensioner try a variety of strategies, including dressing up in a body-length mouse costume, to try to capture the pest.

Becher produced this gleeful slice of English eccentricity as his student thesis at the Edinburgh College of Arts Animation Department, using stop-motion animation with a puppet composed of plasticine, wire, foam and fabric. It was filmed using a Perception Video Recorder at a total cost of under $500, and has won eight awards, including Best in Show at the Real to Reel Film Festival. Becher is now an assistant animator at Aardman Animations, where he is at work on the studios upcoming Wallace and Gromit feature.

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Lounge lizard Daz contemplates on his missing friend Baz in Cane Toad. © Andrew Silke and David Clayton 2002.

Cane Toad

In 1935, the Cane Toad (Bufo Marinus) was introduced to the Australian state of Queensland by sugar cane growers, in hopes that the toads would eat the beetles nibbling their crops. They didnt. (The beetles could fly; the toads couldnt.) So the toads scarpered, bred like crazy and spread over three Australian states. Now this poisonous pest has proved such a nuisance that Australian scientists are actively working on a virus to wipe them out. Theyre unloved and uninvited, like your neighbor with the bass-heavy stereo, and in the rudely hilarious short Cane Toad, the species, in the character of a toad named Baz, gets its just desserts.

This CGI-animated short is narrated by Baz friend Daz (My mates call me Dazza), whom we meet lounging in the neighborhood dog bowl. This foul-mouthed, flatulent amphibian is wondering aloud about his mate Baz, who sadly has gone missing. The film describes the various scenarios that Daz spins regarding how Baz may have met his doom hit by a nine-iron, flattened by a semi, and so on. The acting and the character design are uniformly excellent. The backgrounds are exquisitely well rendered, from a truck rising out of an asphalt mirage to a pullback from the window of a wonderfully detailed souvenir shop window. And what can one say but Yeah to computer-rendered frog guts splattering the lens?

Cane Toad was produced independently, animated in Maya and edited in Adobe Premiere. It has screened in many Australian festivals and abroad at festivals including Annecy and the International 3D Awards. It was nominated for Best Animated Short at the Australian Film and Television Awards. No information is available on whether any toads were harmed in the making of this film, but we can hope.

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Smoking is hazardous to your dates health in Oola Oop Dîner. © Carolle-Shelley Abrams 2003.

Oola Oop Dîner

Years ago a mischievous friend of mine turned me on to Pokey the Penguin (www.yellow5.com/pokey/). A comic strip done in Microsoft Paint, Pokey is, or maybe just resembles, outsider art. The cartoonist cuts-and-pastes, straight lines are drawn with difficulty if at all, and mistakes in word balloons are covered in black crossings-out. Most of the time the reader comes away muttering mental patient, but its impossible to stop reading, and finally one day it did deliver an epiphany that stopped me dead (www.yellow5.com/pokey/archive/index90.html). That will not happen, I fear, if any series is spawned from Oola Oop Dîner, a short Flash movie so inept in execution Im speechless with delight.

Technically speaking, this was computer-animated, but only in the 1987 sense of the phrase. Imagine, Los Angeles readers, that Angelyne got total creative control over an animated series. This is that pilot episode. A big-eyed, French-accented, waist-less woman slinking around her bedroom calls her boyfriend and insists he invite her to dinner.

They slide over to a café and take a table inside, whereupon she lights a cigarette. As the patrons protest, she shouts at her date, Defend my honor! Sadly, he gets the pulp beaten out of him, and, in a devastatingly ironic denouement, they are pictured on a patio, he swaddled in bandages from head to toe, she smoking. Ziz is much better, she quips.

These moving doodles are animation only in the academic sense. The acting is nonexistent, the pacing reminiscent of an avalanche. I sort of like it. In the spirit of this short film I will now fill the rest of my review with random phrases produced by talking gobbledygook into my Dragon Naturally Speaking transcription software. Gopal Park home and you will overhaul of all hello to him to happen to know that the podium notes you want within a doctor to Router, and thats the good old and I cannot say oo pure your own will oo, John tribute to the bugle home to. I dont come to do joke all trigger. But Bulger put all those sure I here, I and a half. It up.

Taylor Jessen is a writer and archivist living in Burbank. His piece on the production history of the animated feature Twice Upon a Time will appear in Animation Blast #9 in April 2004.

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