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Fresh from the Festivals: March 2008's Reviews

Andrew Farago reviews four short films: Life Line by Tomek Ducki, Procrastination by Johnny Kelly, Tale of How by The Black Heart Gang and To Shoot a Rurf by Shane Sheils and Paula Sheils.

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.

Life Line (2007) 6:30, directed by Tomek Ducki (Hungary). Contact: Tomek Ducki [W] [E]

Procrastination (2007) 4:15, directed by John Kelly (U.K.). Contact: Johnny Kelly [T] +447930436653, [W], [E]

The Tale of How (2006), 4:30, directed by The Black Heart Gang (South Africa). Contact: The Black Heart Gang [T] +27 (0)214686030 [W] [E]

To Shoot a Rurf (2007), 8:40, directed by Shane Sheils & Paula Sheils (Ireland). Contact: Shane Sheils and Paula Sheils, Dwarfed Films [W], [E]


Life Line is a beautiful piece of animation, and is anything but simple. The impressive attention to detail makes the film worth watching in slo-mo a few times. © Tomek Ducki.

Life Line

Time waits for no one. Young or old, great or small, all of us are moving forward, constantly, forever.

Hungarian director Tomek Ducki explores this notion of predetermined, fatalistic pathways in his compelling new short film Life Line.

The story follows beings constructed entirely of gears skating along a series of trackways. Forward motion is their raison d'être -- they skate onward, forever, or they cease to be. Day in, day out, for all eternity, and no one questions the system.

That is, until love enters the picture. Our nameless, identity-lacking protagonist nearly crosses paths with a female skater racing along a parallel track. A series of tantalizing near misses leads him to do the unthinkable, and he attempts to change his existence and pursue his newfound reason for being. Unfortunately, the system doesn't take kindly to variations from the norm, and our hero's efforts to change himself are ultimately in vain, as the system conquers all.

Life Line is a beautiful piece of animation, created by Ducki using Moho 2D animation software and Adobe After Effects. The plain, soothing sky in the background provides a great contrast with the stark, simple gear people that populate its universe.

Actually, "simple" is the wrong word to use in describing Ducki's characters. Each one is composed of dozens of interlocking gears, most of which move and rotate individually as each character progresses along its pathway. The attention to detail within each character is impressive, and it's worth watching Life Line in slow motion a few times in order to fully appreciate just what Ducki was able to accomplish in this short.

The peaceful, relaxing, repetitive soundtrack puts the viewer at ease throughout the film, and no matter how much individual suffering the characters endure, the "don't fight the system" theme of Life Line is constantly reinforced. In the words of Ducki, "rules are set, paths are narrow, mistakes fatal, and there's no way back. Sound familiar?"


Finally, after years of thinking about maybe possibly doing something about it, director Johnny Kelly has bravely addressed Procrastination. © Johnny Kelly.


Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? Or the next day? Or the day after that?

Everyone is familiar with procrastination, but finally, after years of thinking about maybe possibly doing something about it, director Johnny Kelly has bravely stepped up to the plate and addressed this serious malady, which affects just about every man, woman and child on the face of the earth.

Procrastination was created as Kelly's thesis project in pursuit of his postgraduate masters degree in the field of animation. Armed with a budget of $900, Kelly's own difficulty in determining subject matter for his thesis led him to choose procrastination itself as his topic, and he's got nine festival awards and honors to confirm that he made the right choice.

The film itself is a meditation on the act of procrastination, revealing a myriad of ways in which someone can avoid dealing with more important tasks. The list, ably narrated by Bryan Quinn, meanders through a series of unrelated and barely related methods of procrastination, including computer games, selecting the right pen, getting drunk, daydreaming, doodling, growing a moustache, and color coordinating your shelves (which Kelly claims is an actual form of procrastination practiced by his girlfriend).

Procrastination seems to have been a fun exercise for Kelly, and it's a very fun exercise for the viewer, as well. Utilizing a combination of stop-motion, hand-drawn, pixellation, CGI and video animation, he seamlessly transitions from one scenario to the next, barely allowing the viewer to absorb one concept before darting onward to the next. Kelly didn't create full storyboards before animating the film, preferring to work as instinctively and spontaneously as possible, often generating and fully realizing an idea within the space of a single day.

Unfortunately, this short offers no suggestions for actually curing procrastination, and in fact, it is actually contributing to it. One of Kelly's friends now watches the film on his computer every morning as part of his own daily procrastinations, and we're now farther than ever from putting an end to this dreaded affliction.


The Tale of How is a bizarre film. It's as if Hieronymus Bosch and Dr. Seuss got into a jam session with Tony Millionaire and Renée French with Gilbert and Sullivan providing the soundtrack. © The Black Heart Gang.

The Tale of How

In a land far away -- or, on a land far away, or -- actually, it's easiest to come right out and mention that the setting of The Tale of How is an island which happens to be an octopus, named Otto, who has a gigantic tree growing out of his head. Hundreds of tiny dodo birds live on Otto, and he occasionally (frequently) grows hungry or bored, at which time he rips the dodos to pieces so that he may feast on them, or at least enjoy their suffering. The birds are only released from their torment when a small white mouse, named Eddie, appears from nowhere and vows to use his engineering skills to alleviate their suffering. Through Eddie the Engineer's efforts, the octopus slumbers and the remaining dodos enjoy peace and prosperity forevermore, as a cheerful Viking ship sails off into the glorious sunset.

It's a bizarre description, but The Tale of How is a bizarre film. The Black Heart Gang, a group of South African animators consisting of Ree Treweek, Jannes Hendrikz and Markus Smit, have drawn from a vast array of inspirations and concepts in the creation of this short. The imagery is fascinating and beautiful to watch, yet the choice of subject matter is utterly weird and incomprehensible all the same. It's as if Hieronymus Bosch and Dr. Seuss got into a late night jam session with Tony Millionaire and Renée French, with Gilbert and Sullivan providing the discordant soundtrack.

And yet, somehow, it works. All of the disparate themes and concepts floating and flying through this short are somehow pulled together to create a uniform and intriguing visual experience. The artistry in the film is oddly compelling, and the twisted operetta that accompanies the animation makes for a disconcerting yet enjoyable viewing experience.


To Shoot a Rurf is the latest production from sibling animation team Shane and Paula Sheils. Their goal was to create a dark, psychedelic short that showcased the capabilities of free Open Source software. © Dwarfed Films.

To Shoot a Rurf

Ever have one of those nights where you're just trying to sober yourself up enough to avoid a terrible hangover the next day, but you inadvertently take some mind-altering medication and are forced to confront the deepest, darkest recesses of your own soul instead? This film is kind of like that.

To Shoot a Rurf is the latest production of the brother-and-sister animation team of Shane and Paula Sheils. The pair's main goal with this film was to create an an atmospheric, dark, psychedelic short and at the same time try to showcase the capabilities of freely available Open Source software.

The film opens as our nameless protagonist has imbibed a vast amount of the mysterious alcohol "Rurf," and is suffering from ill effects as a result. In an attempt to set himself right, he takes some headache medicine, neglecting to read the label bearing the warning "Danger: May cause insanity."

Throughout the remainder of the film, the protagonist wrestles with his inner demons (and several external manifestations of said demons) in an odd stream-of-consciousness series of hallucinations. A small, hideous squeak-toy torments the protagonist until he murders it in cold blood; a broken mirror produces a miniature version of the protagonist, who then journeys into his psyche by way of his ear canal; the ear canal contains a twisted cabaret populated by the aforementioned squeak-toy creatures; and so on. It's an unsettling and unpredictable ride, and the Sheils succeed in their goal of creating an unpredictable story that constantly challenges the viewer's expectations.

The film conveys a deep sense of unease throughout, with excessive use of eerie red lighting, flickering light sources and a steady stream of nightmarish imagery. To Shoot a Rurf is not a pleasant film to watch, but given the Sheils' stated intentions for the short, that seems to have been their intention from the start. By the end of the nearly nine-minute film, the protagonist has gone irreparably insane, and is absolutely desperate to find a way out of his dilemma. While I didn't manage to reach his level of discomfort, I'm thankful the film didn't go on any longer than it did. A little insanity goes a long way.

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.