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Fresh From the Festivals: May 2000's Film Reviews

The world of wireless animation is sneaking up on many of us. Christopher Harz outlines the current state of the industry, its players and its potential.

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.

The Child, 3 min., directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, France. Info: Judith Bruneau, Le Village, France. Tel: (33) 01 45 29 99 99. Fax: (33) 01 45 29 87 00.

Steinflug (Flight of the Stone), 15.5 min., directed by Susanne Horizon-Fränzel, Germany. Info: Sultana Films, Kaiserstr.117, D-73547 Lorch, Germany. Tel: (49) 7172 91 48 38. Fax: (49) 7172 86 78. USA: Bullfrog Films, Inc., P.O. Box 149, Oley, PA 19547. Tel: (610) 370-1978. E-mail: bullfrog@bullfrogfilms.com.

Slim Pickings, 4.5 min., directed by Anthony Lucas, Australia. Info: 3D Films, Studio One 40 Green Street, Prahran VIC 3181 Australia. Tel: (61) 3 9529 4399. Fax: (61) 3 9529 4188. E-mail: snork@netspace.net.au. URL: http://www.plasto-scene.com/au.

Wild Card, 3 min., directed by Van Phan, USA. Info: Van Phan, 4644 W. 137th St., Unit A, Hawthorne, CA 90250. Tel: (310) 840-8085. E-mail: vphan@usc.edu. URL: http://anim.usc.edu/phan/index.htm.

To Build a Better Mousetrap, 2 min., directed by Christopher Leone, USA. Info: Digital Filmworks, 3330 Cahuenga Blvd., Ste. 300, Los Angeles, CA 90068. Tel: (213) 874-9981. E-mail: leone@blackmire.com.

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view a clip from each film by simply clicking the image.

© Sultana Films. Courtesy of Bullfrog Films, Inc. - clip

Flight of the Stone

In this 15.5-minute film, we follow the path of a stone, which has been thrown by an angry young man. The stone travels across the world, causing havoc and startling many people along its way. The animation is achieved through time lapse, as well as (apparently) computer animation of the stone itself. This footage is interwoven with brief segments of live-action footage, mostly showing the reactions of individuals to the stone. Flight of the Stone would make a nice film for initiating a discussion of geography or cultural differences, though one or two scenes (such as the stone averting a potential suicide) might be considered too strong for young audiences. However, on the whole it is humorous and fun to watch.

Evidently, the director captured these sequences in a trip around the world, which included stops in Germany, France, the United States, Japan, Thailand, India and Greece. If it had been me, I might have shortened the film by about three minutes, since the idea gets a little strained by the end. Still, most of the footage is very interesting. Being from the Los Angeles area, I appreciate the images of a woman meditating and someone in a hot tub that obviously were meant to represent my locale. The film contains small amounts of dialogue in various languages, none of which greatly impacts ones understanding of the events.

© 3D Films - clip

Slim Pickings

This plasticene animated short tells the story of a little creature who is so hungry he is forced to eat his best friend, who happens to be a plant. In better days, the two had shared picnics and joyful times, but now they are in a post-apocalyptic setting -- the last two beings on earth. To his horror, he realizes -- too late -- that his friend had produced a big tomato for him to eat. Director Anthony Lucas describes the film as Hitchcock suspense combined with classic tragedy, explaining, "On a hungry planet theirs was a friendship that was all-consuming."

The films success lies in its use of music to enhance the emotion in the film, which is created quite well through animation of the central figure. Also well designed is the environment in which the action takes place, which consists primarily of a dimly lit home and a junkyard. Lighting effects and a variety of camera angles and movement, as well as cinematic editing add greatly to the storytelling. Slim Pickings was shot with a motion control camera with in-camera effects on 35mm, using a Mitchell GC. It runs approximately 4 minutes and has no dialogue. The film was produced in association with the Australian Film Commission and has been shown at a variety of film festivals, including Sundance. It is distributed theatrically by Spike & Mike (contact: Sara Henson by e-mail: spectra@cts.com).

In 1995, Lucas founded his company, 3D Films, to produce all kinds of three-dimensional animation. To date, it has specialized in clay and model animation, making mostly television commercials and an occasional work for childrens television. Currently in production is a series of station IDs in the style of Jules Verne and an internationally co-produced short film about a drought in the Australian desert.

© Van Phan. - clip

Wild Card

Van Phans computer animated student project, Wild Card, depicts the search of a Queen of Hearts card for her true love. No King or Jack can satisfy her; instead, she holds out for the Wild Card. This work actually began as an exercise with cutouts, then progressed to an animated production using a deck of cards, which were sturdier and more suitable for animation. Through his study of various other works, Phan decided that his focus in the film should be on story elements, rather than detailed models and environments. However, he has used effects such as rack focus, shadows and silhouettes creatively, to add variety to his visuals. The card-like characteristics of his central figures, which are flat and simply colored, made them easier to model, bone, texture-map, animate, light and render. Skillful use of sound effects makes the hard card figures even more convincing. Textures were applied using scanned images and textures painted with Alias|Wavefront StudioPaint 3D. Animation was created in Alias|Wavefront Maya running on an SGI O2. Altogether, the project took nine months to complete. The 3-minute film contains English-language dialogue.

After winning several prizes for Wild Card, including SIGGRAPHs Big Kahuna Award and a Student Emmy, Phan continued his work as a graduate student at the University of Southern California. He also interned at Sony Pictures Imageworks where he worked with animators on Stuart Little. Phan is currently working on his thesis film, Family Values, which should be finished by August 2000. The complete version of Wild Card, as well as interviews with Phan, can be seen on the AtomFilms Web site.

Maureen Furniss, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Film Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. She is the founding editor of Animation Journal (John Libbey, 1998).

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