Fresh from the Festivals: November 2003’s Film Reviews

Taylor Jessen reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: NSPCC Cartoon by Russell Brooke, A Pesar de Todo (In Spite of Everything) by Walter Tournier, Mickeys Buddy by Pete Paquette, Line of Life by Serge Avedikian, and Show and Tell by Mark Gravas. 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:

NSPCC Cartoon (2002), 1 min., directed by Russell Brooke (live action directed by Frank Budgen), UK. Info: Sian Rees, Passion Pictures. Tel.:+44-207-323-9933. Email: sian@passion-pictures.com. Web: www.passion-pictures.com

A Pesar de Todo (In Spite of Everything) (2003), 6 min., directed by Walter Tournier, Uruguay. Email:tournier@adinet.com.uy

Mickeys Buddy (2003), 1:41 min., directed by Pete Paquette, USA. Email: pete_paquette@yahoo.com

Line of Life (2002), 12:07 min., directed by Serge Avedikian, France. Info: Dora Benousilio, Les Films De lArlequin 23 Rue Meslay 75003, Paris, France. Tel.: 0142772055; Fax: 0142772056;

Show and Tell (2002), 4:04 min., directed by Mark Gravas, Australia. Info: Phil Klaunzer and Sandra Walters, Kapow Pictures. Tel.: 9929445455. Fax: 99294755. Email: info@kapowpictures.com

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Placing cartoon violence in the real world shakes up viewer complacency in NSPCC Cartoon. © Saatchi & Saatchi. Courtesy of Passion Pictures.

NSPCC Cartoon

NSPCC Cartoon is a public service TV campaign from Londons Passion Pictures. In the :60 spot, a father comes home to his son and proceeds to scream and smack him around for watching TV all day, leaving his toys lying about and other domestic sins. The boy retreats to his room, but the father continues his attack, ending by throwing him down a flight of stairs. What gives this dire scenario its power is that the boy is the only animated character in an all-live-action environment. He squashes, stretches, wets himself and bounces off walls, all to the accompaniment of laugh track. Its appropriately horrifying for a general audience, surely more effective as a hybrid than it would have been in 100% live action.

Its also a head-turner for people in the business of animation -- by re-contextualizing cartoon violence in the real world, the directors have not only freshly conveyed the terror of domestic abuse, theyve taken a generation raised on Looney Tunes and put it through some changes as we are forced to re-register the kind of cartoon violence that wed previously brushed off. The shorts technique is impeccable, with the cartoon-styled main character flawlessly integrated into the live-action background.

The hand-drawn animation was directed by Russell Brooke; the live action was directed by Frank Budgen at Gorgeous Enterprises. The campaign was commissioned by Saatchi & Saatchi, London, for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It has won seven awards, including Grand Prix for Best Commissioned Film/Video at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and it was nominated for Cartoon DOr in 2003. (Recommended)

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The music undercuts the message in A Pesar de Todo (In Spite of Everything). © Torunier Animation.

A Pesar de Todo (In Spite of Everything)

A Pesar de Todo (In Spite of Everything) is a stop-motion theatrical short from Uruguayan animator Walter Tournier. It opens in a darkened space where our protagonist, a bare-framed puppet armature with only a head and hands attached, lies asleep on the floor. As he wakes for apparently the first time, he takes a look at his body, which creaks uncertainly as from neglect. Spotting a nearby oil can, he dabs at his joints and achieves a full range of motion. He seems to be in a small apartment, and as he looks around he spots a drawing of another armature-character, his female counterpart. He hugs it longingly, then decides to set off in search of her. He digs in the dark for a suitcase and packs a few items, but as he is leaving the sun comes up, revealing a war-torn landscape of burnt-out cars and denuded countryside, which holds a few awful surprises.

The animation of the armature-man is finely achieved in its exquisite smoothness; and his gropings for the suitcase in the darkened cavity are nicely evocative of dimly-lit basement searches. The musical score, unfortunately, is third-degree melancholia, with an echoey distortion that gives the piece the veneer of an Iron Curtain-era European short even though it was produced only this year. Tournier created the short as a meditation on the effects of war, but the music sinks it in morbid sentiment, and, in the end, the shorts title doesnt fit its content.

The short was written, produced and animated by Walter Tournier.

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A good comedic set-up and pay-off are displayed in Mickeys Buddy. © Pete Paquette.

Mickeys Buddy

Mickeys Buddy is a charmingly brief one-joke short that delivers the goods and vamooses. An old man named Mickey lives alone with just a dog for company; its a very accommodating pet because, due to shortsightedness and/or senility, Mickey hasnt noticed its stuffed. He plays games with it, and provides heaping bowls of dog food into which it promptly topples head-first. Hes taking it for a drag one day when he passes a garbage can bursting with canine rumpus. Out of it pops a boxer-like mutt, who attacks the stuffed doggy and shreds it to bits. Mickey hears the commotion and turns around -- and scolds the flesh-and-blood dog for getting off its leash.

The short was animated entirely in CGI, and the palette is monochrome, a novel change of pace. The dog is strongly characterized, sporting a dynamic and expressive face; the acting on display in Mickey seems weak by comparison. Director Peter Paquette made the short as his thesis project for Ringling School of Art and Design. It was animated in Maya 4.5, textured in Photoshop 7 and Deep Paint 3D, and composited in Shake and Premiere 6.

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Serge Avedikian captures the horror of a WWII prison camp in Line of Life. © Les Films de lArlequin.

Line of Life

Line of Life is a narrative piece set in an unnamed European prison camp during World War II. A French prisoner describes daily life in the camp, rendered in a muted, muddy palette. For sport, the camp guards have arranged a diversion where they force the prisoners to endlessly push wheelbarrows full of rocks from one place to another. To amuse themselves, the guards have made it into race, and the prisoners are timed with a stopwatch. Into this fresh hell comes a new P.O.W.: an artist who has somehow retained pencil and paper, who draws, draws, draws to make the time go, and to take himself and his fellows out of their environment. Things get worse, a prisoner goes insane and dies, and finally the artist and a sympathetic prison guard meet untimely ends after trying to escape into art.

The film is harrowing in equal parts because of the events it describes and the style in which it is told. The Primitivist animation is all sticks and rusty razors -- the characters are drawn in rough strokes that evoke Munch and natural movement is abolished in favor of static images that float desolately across the frame like moving storyboards. Its Schroeders dream from A Boy Named Charlie Brown transferred to Dachau; ghostly images drift about and characters fade from one pose to another as if the animation itself can barely muster the strength to go on. The music, a combination of string quartet and synthesized instruments, shouts its protest at the proceedings.

The film was directed by actor and documentarian Serge Avedikian, and designed by Belgian painter Raymond Delvax; the music is by Michel Karsky. The film was created using Computador 2D software. It was produced by Les Films de lArlequin for theatrical distribution in France; the dialogue is in French with English subtitles. Line of Life won the Junior Jury prize at Annecy this year, and was a Cartoon DOr nominee. (Recommended)

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Show and Tell shows its stuff well. © Kapow Pictures.

Show and Tell

From Sydney comes Show and Tell, a CGI short about a boy with a peculiar eye for collectibles. The studio behind the piece is Kapow Pictures, and the pow stands for powerhouse -- this behemoth has resources aplenty, both in capital and talent. (Its Yakkity Yak series for MTV Networks International numbers 52x11 episodes, and the studio has numerous commercials, shorts and pilots in its C.V.)

Show and Tell is eye candy that wears its Tim Burton influence like a blazer badge, but theres some Monty Python in there as well (our shy schoolboy Earl is seen reading a Brand New Bok that directly apes the design of Pythons own Papperbok of 1974). A voice over in verse tells the story as bespectacled Earl Parker comes to school one day to be called before the class for Show and Tell. At first it seems hes woefully unprepared, proffering only some interesting rocks, and his classmates laugh in disdain. But the big guns are yet to come, as he goes from a cactus and a bedspring to a glowing toadstool and piece of year-dead roadkill. Still, his book bag isnt empty, and he procures a drunk he found in the street, and finally a mooses head impaled on the grill of a Volvo. The class is delighted. Nerdy Earl gets his cool cred, and his teacher collapses in shock.

The design is darkly goofy, with the children resembling potted eggplants and the backgrounds draped in neon foreboding. The classrooms color palette is mostly unsaturated, making the bright colors of Earls fantasies pop all the more in contrast. The acting is excellent, from Earls chest-swelling pride to the teachers final exit. The sheer wealth of detail demands repeat viewings. The transitions are particularly bold -- dark liquids spattered on the camera lens become, with a single cut, the trunks of trees in a purple landscape. And, of course, there is the undeniable appeal of disco-dancing maggots.

Show and Tell was directed by Mark Gravas, written by Bradley Trevor Greive, animated by Darren Price and Ben Cowell, and co-written and produced by Sandra Walters. It was animated in 3dx max, with some After Effects compositing and a basic grade in inferno. It won the Best Animated Short award at the International 3D Film Festival. (Recommended)

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 first quarter 2004 and his article on Disneys Brother Bear appeared in Animation World Magazine.

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