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Fresh from the Festivals: June 2005’s Reviews

Taylor Jessen reviews five short films Flatlife by Jonas Geirnart, Snip by Steven Woloshen, Pita by Mike Hollands, Bear Hunt by Vance Reeser and Everybody Else Has Had More Sex Than Me by Bernard Derriman. 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:

Flatlife (2004), 10:33, directed by Jonas Geirnart (Belgium). Contact: Nathalie Meyer, La Big Family 42, Rue Dethy1043, Brussels Belgium. [V] +32 2 538 31 58, [E] meyer@labigfamily.com [W] www.labigfamily.comnathalie

Snip (2004), 1:42, directed by Steven Woloshen (Canada). Contact Steven Woloshen, 5787 Rue Cartier, Montreal, Canada. H2g 2V1 [V] 514.270.3563 [E] swoloshen@hotmail.com

Piñata (2005), 4:08, directed by Mike Hollands (Australia). Contact Exec producer Thomas Schober, [V] +61 3 9510 8943, [F] 61 3 9510 8953, [E] Thomas@act3animation.com, [W] www.act3animation.com.

Bear Hunt (2005), 6:01, directed by Vance Reeser (U.S.). Contact Vance Reeser 104 S. Maxwell St., Siloam Springs, Arizona 72761, [V] (479) 524-0565, [E] vance@vanceresser.com, [W] vanceresser.com.

Everybody Else Has Had More Sex Than Me (2004), 4:00, directed by Bernard Derriman (Australia). Contact: Bernard Derriman [E] bernard@squetch.com, [W] www.squetch.com and www.arjandpoopy.com.

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Sometimes you just have to make a short film with a panda as in Flatlife. © Jonas Geirnart.

Flatlife

Sometimes you just have to make an animated short. Other times you just have to make an animated short with a panda. Jonas Geirnaert is a 2004 graduate of the KASK Hogeschool, Gent, and his traditionally-animated short Flatlife was his senior thesis as well as a Jury Prize winner at Cannes, an accolade that must have gone well with the school tassel.

In a multi-story, high-density McBuilding in some grey cityscape live four anonymous apartment dwellers. Theres a conservatively-dressed balding business drone well into a second career as a painter; an old man in a red scarf passing the day with solitaire and TV; his wife, whos down one floor in the laundry room; and a bulky guy with a goatee and a toolbox taking time off to knock back a cold one. The proscenium of the screen frames a cutaway view of their adjacent flats, split in quadrants, two to a floor.

As simultaneous actions continue in each corner, tiny dramas unfold, first in isolation and then in disastrous and hilarious tandem. The painter is marking time in his chosen idiom of endlessly repeated still lifes of a red vase. As he hammers a nail in the wall to hang his latest canvas, his burly neighbor bangs on the ceiling with a broom handle. The painting falls, the glass breaks and the artist goes downstairs to bang on the burly neighbors door not to complain but to borrow a broom.

The washing machine downstairs suffers an unbalanced load and leaps about the room, which causes the burly guys furniture to dance from wall to wall. Then the pensioners TV upstairs and the burly guys TV downstairs get in a grudge match over a single cable stream they refuse to share. The panda documentary upstairs comes to life with a whack of the TV that causes the interstellar sci-fi epic on the tube downstairs to disappear.

Two whacks at once and the two shows unexpectedly merge into a vision of a panda rocketing through space. The action accelerates as the laundry cycle finishes and the old woman hangs up a double-sided comforter in front of the window to dry. One side has puffy cloud pattern - the sight of which causes a stream of birds outside to smack into the glass. She reverses it to show the starry-night pattern on the reverse instead. From nowhere a flying panda smacks the glass.

Its a brilliant work of non-sequitur grace, and it should come as no surprise that animator Geirnaert is also part of a four-man improv comedy cabaret called Neveneffecten (Side Effects). One wonderful gag about a TV thrown from the window pays off in a laugh thats 180 degrees away from expectations, and twice as funny for the effort.

Jonas has one other short in his C.V., a two-and-a-half minute political abecedary set to the tune of God Bless America called The All-American Alphabet, completed just in time for the run-up to Bushs war (A is for Army) Both are cartoony in style, and Flatlife was cel-animated and composited in TOONZ to achieve a comic-strip style of clean, thick lines and desaturated colors.

If, as his bio suggests, theres exposure on Belgian TV in the works for him and his improv compatriots, itll be interesting to see if the actor-animator paradigm takes him along the infrequently assayed Terry Gilliam career path. If so, I cant wait for his Brazil.

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Woloshen again brings beauty directly to the filmstrip in Snip. © Steven Woloshen.

Snip

Steven Woloshen is an experimental animator whos never fallen out of love with the painted filmstrip, even as he bypasses the traditional animators practice of illusion of life. He has a long filmography full of short colorful works, most of them abstract. Not having seen his other films Im left to speculate on the content based on nothing more than a list of titles; given his word choice alone, theres considerable joie in this Canadians vivre. His works include Son of Dada (1982), Youre No Fun (1983), Hey Papa Dey (1983), Love Stinks (1984), MeMeMaMa (2000), Dirty Dot Comma (2001), The Babble on Palms (2002), Bru Ha Ha! (2002), and The Curse of the Voodoo Child (2005). Five out of his 22 films are in CinemaScope, and pure abstraction in widescreen is always a treat.

Snip (2004) is a burst of swingin nonrepresentational boogie thats danceable in two media at once. To the tune of Zonky, a speedball blues piano ditty delivered at a drop-the-dishes-dash-for-the-door-and-jump-the-fence sprint by Fats Waller, Woloshen fills the screen with shapes and colors that dart and duck like playground tykes. A little scissors icon deconstructs and rebuilds itself as it wanders to and fro amongst swatches of fiery red, elongated blobs of green, rows of syncopating sprocket holes and shards of cutout geometric shapes.

Woloshen painted directly onto blank leader, and the polyhedral forms were cut and pasted into the film not in any nonlinear AVID sense, but the old-fashioned way, with scissors and glue. In its visual style and jazz-based soundtrack its obviously indebted to Norman McLarens Begone Dull Care, but its not like that genre was exactly exhausted, was it? Stan Brakhage is another touchstone, particularly his 1990s works done in hand-painted emulsion that stunned in their psychedelic upheaval of chroma like 24 frames of Jackson Pollack per second.

Snip was an un-birthday gift for Woloshens baby, still unborn, but due a month after the films inception, and Steven designed it precisely to appeal to the visual tastes and attention span of the very young. Youll dig it too, though.

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Piñata is a calling card for Mike Hollands and his Act3Animation © Act3Animation/Thomas Schober.

Piñata

Piñata is a short, sympathetic look at the desperate lives of the paper-shelled, candy-filled characters we regularly sacrifice in the name of childrens entertainment. The short opens on a perfect blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds, from which we pan down into the branches of a startlingly real eucalyptus tree strung with colorful party streamers. From a low branch hangs a brightly-colored burro swaying slightly in the wind. The sounds of merry children float up from a distance and the burro wakes, as if from a trance.

Straining to see the approaching crowd, the happy donkey mimes galloping feet against the force of the string holding him tight to the branch. Finally the kids are underneath him, a diminutive crowd of boys and girls in sombreros whose faces never quite peek over the bottom of the frame. Theyre a joyful bunch, bouncing to the Mexican Hat Dance, courtesy of a live instrumental combo thats following the impulsive mob from one party game to another.

The burro is ecstatic to have the company. Imagine his horror when the children wield a gaggle of sticks and proceed to punch hell out of his hide. This is no way to win new friends. All he can do is thrash about until his momentum carries him high enough to grab the rope between his teeth and chew himself up out of harms way. However an adult in a grande sombrero approaches with a double-length lickin stick, and when the whacking continues, the strain is so great the poor burro has no choice but to expel the candy goodness inside him through the only available orifice.

Piñata is a four-minute calling card for animation director Mike Hollands and his Act3Animation studio in Melbourne. The production house makes its payroll through the usual commercial commissions, from game cinematics for Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers to TV ad campaigns and network interstitials. Piñata is a real beauty, with gorgeous color and lifelike movement. The sense of friendly sociability and longing for company evoked in the donkeys physical expressions is remarkable, considering there are few real joints anywhere on the creatures body. Piñata was co-produced by the Australian Film Commission.

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The Bear Hunt quietly dissects the things not said between family and friends. © Vance Reeser.

The Bear Hunt

The Bear Hunt was a finalist in this years Greatest Story Never Told online competition from Zoolook Ent. A mesmeric and disquieting mood piece, it bypasses words to explore the dark spaces between friends and family that we fill with television. Illinois animator Vance Reeser tells his tale in six minutes in a colorful present tense, interrupted by monochrome flashbacks.

A man in a checkered shirt with a gun is out in the wild, stalking from meadow to forest glade in a hunt for big game. Theres no sign of human life anywhere, but hes not exactly away from it all, not when hes got the TV with him a 10-inch black-and-white screen built right into his belly, in which his idealized visions of life flicker in the form of vintage stock footage from the 1950s. Even the sky itself gleams with the varying voltages of a cathode ray tube, as a long-ago memory of puffy white clouds roll by and a previously recorded sun bears down.

As the hunter wanders from place to place his reverie takes us back to The Big Job Interview, where in an anonymous hi-rise building he sits across a desk from a high-level UrsuCorp executive who plays visions of company ideals on his own chest. With two fingers the executive gestures to his interviewee to bring his own vision of the job to the table, and with a grimace of effort the man delivers. They shake hands, and the man begins his rise to the top of the building.

In an elegant time-lapse sequence, the man stands staring out his ever-rising executive view as a series of family photos appear and disappear on his desk. Pushing in to a triptych of the man with his wife and son, the photos come alive and act out a scenario where the young boy wants to play with Dad, but the father only replays footage of some Platonic Dad ideal tossing the pigskin with Junior. He gestures for the son to come back with his own footage, but when the boy insists on playing Cowboys and Indians and wont even make an effort to get some footage up on his own belly-button screen, Dad grows cold and returns to his paper.

Still standing at the window, Dad is growing years older by the second, and the family photos disappear even as stuffed fish and wildlife start to decorate the office wall. Back in the colored meadow of his present life, the real world intrudes into the mans reverie. Still in hunters cap and with the gun across his lap, hes fallen asleep under a tree only to be woken by a Volkswagen-sized Brown Bear preparing to charge, and its finally time to confront reality.

Vance Reeser originated his animation in hand-drawn frames with minimal in-betweening, then scanned them and constructed the piece in After Effects and Flash. Reesers degree is in illustration, and he gets maximum emotion out of a few expressions. His use of graded color is subtle and refined, and when it doesnt come from sampled watercolors his hybrid digital textures evoke the medium nonetheless.

The score is by Joe Hahn, a.k.a. Protman, an e-music composer based in Chicago, and it both supports and drives the emotion in this dialogue-free piece. His downtempo/uptempo techno percolates over cascading multilayered chords, conjuring poignancy in the pastoral scenes and, in the office montage, evoking a panicked hurtle toward mortality in a cue thats reminiscent of DJ Shadows You Cant Go Home Again.

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Everybody Else Has Had More Sex Than Me shows that great animating can happen in Flash. © Bernard Derriman.

Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me

TISM is an Aussie band that resembles an antipodean cousin of Sex Pistols, The Residents, and They Might Be Giants. They perform in masks; their tunes overflow with undeniable pop hooks; and their lyrics are mean-spirited, hilarious, and informed by esoteric knowledge they fully expect you to research in your spare time. This is not a one-joke band so much as a multi-joke band. In 1995, their album Machiavelli and the Four Seasons contained a track called (Hell Never Be An) Ol Man River, which eulogized the freshly-dead River Phoenix from the point of view of a fanboy obsessed with celebrity deaths who is busy collecting memento mori like Lynyrd Skynyrds plane reservations, Hendrix last injection and Mama Cass apocryphal sandwich:

I saw his body thrashing roundI saw his pulse rate doing downI saw him in convulsive throesI said, Ill have one of those!

Last year a new TISM tune hit Australian airwaves, and they held a competition to create a video. The self-explanatory title of this uptempo rocker is Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me. New South Wales animator Bernard Derriman won. Derriman is a 10-year veteran of Disneys Sydney animation studio, where he works as a traditional animator. Lately hes been animating scenes for Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest, and when hes not making Disneys Twos and Poohs hes got a web shingle called Squetch to exhibit his hilarious Flash animations (the TISM video can be seen there in full).

In the video a bunny with the rounded extremities of a childs doll, neurotically twitching whiskers, and a scarlet digit on his chest announcing the grand tally of his lifes sexual encounters, bemoans not getting as much as he imagines the rest of the world might be doing. Does anybody else get that feeling? he sings, banging his head on the ground and walking past a lineup of other bunnies of varying body types, their scarlet numbers running from double to quadruple digits.

Theres a droll timeout during the instrumental bridge, where a leporine pianist with a scarlet 0 and a hood hiding his identity beats out a two-finger counterpoint. Then just before the climax the first bunny lies on his back and makes this poignant soliloquy to the skies (under chord changes that evoke Long, Long, Long from the Beatles white album):

All loves have to die, of that theres no helpMy favorite way to end em Is the orb-weavers spider, whose pedipalpEnters the female pudendum Then dies on the spot, his corpse there still stuckLeft for his rivals to curse it He would rather die than not get to fuckPersonally, I reckon its worth it

For the Big Rock Finish, our hero breaks into a run in front of a massed cottontail chorus singing along with the anthem, and finally adapts a dozen pleading poses as he cries endlessly Does anyone? Does anyone? Does anyone! Does anyone! Theres an album edit and a radio edit, and depending on which one youre watching hell either make his pleas and fade out or - in the album cut - assume a parade of asanas from unlikely yoga poses to the crane position from Karate Kid to a slugger getting ready to swing, until he finally crumbles under the weight of his own self-pity and cries huge blue tears.

Squetch is also a portal to Derrimans genius Flash series called Arj and Poopy, where Poopy is a flatulent yet adorable pink cat and Arj is voiced by criminally funny California-based standup comic Arj Barker. (Tip for neophytes: the essential Episode 0 is in the post office box.) Derriman has a sophisticated line style, with a nimble command of thick and thin strokes that makes for effective caricatures. His timing is superb, too, not just in concert with someone elses words or music but in sui generis works of pure visuals, in particular his forty-second Zen-comedy masterpiece Two Fish in a Tank.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. He contains protein, iron, riboflavin, and trace amounts of Funk.

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