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Fresh from the Festivals: October 2003’s Film Reviews

Greg Singer reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Henrys Garden by Moon Seun, The Polar Bears by Pierre Coffin, Terra by Aristomenis Tsirbas, Eat Your Peas by Paul Hargrave, and Love is a Bullet in the Heart by Diego Alvarez. 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:

Henrys Garden (2002), 8 min., directed by Moon Seun, USA. Info: Kevin Geiger, Simplistic Pictures, 2340 Overland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90064. Tel.: 310-234-1176. Email: kevin@simplisticpictures.com. Web: www.simplisticpictures.com.

The Polar Bears (2003), 16 min., directed by Pierre Coffin, France. Email: info@passion-pictures.com. Web: www.passion-pictures.com.

Terra (2003), 7 min., directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas, USA. Info: Dane Smith, MeniThings, 7408 Lexington St., West Hollywood, CA 90046. Tel.: 323-969-8039. Email: dane@menithings.com.

Eat Your Peas (2003), 2 min., directed by Paul Hargrave, USA. Email: phargrave@att.net. Web: www.255zerozero.com.

Love is a Bullet in the Heart (2002), 3 min., directed by Diego Alvarez, Columbia. Tel./Fax: (571) 410-3405. Email: lepixma@hotmail.com.

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Henrys Garden is destroyed by a tire attack. © 2002 Simplistic Pictures.

Henrys Garden

Movies are not generally described as gentle, but, if they were, Henrys Garden would be among them. Director Moon Seun and producer Kevin Geiger wanted to allow the movie some room to breathe; some time for the story to unfold and for its mood to settle in. Its unhurried motion and hopeful emotion are a rarity for audiences who are more accustomed to the frenetic, flailing action of what passes for stories these days.

Henrys Garden begins with the titular character, a gentle giant, delighting among the soft, muted colors, sunshine and breeze of his garden. Henry smells a daisy with deep appreciation. An automobile tire then wanders into the garden, and Henry considers it with the same innocent, welcoming curiosity as he does his flower. The tire doesnt seem as delicate and pretty and, though a tire by any other name, it certainly doesnt smell as sweet. Henry tosses it aside. Soon, more tires roll by, until a stampede of them plows through, knocking down fences and ruining his garden. The whole area is flattened and devastated.

As Henry realizes that his flower has died, an entire city storms around him. He dejectedly sulks through the lonely, stony cloister of high-rise buildings and alleyways. Henry picks up a passing tire with frustration, and through its central hole he sees a rainbow in the sky, a window of hope through the bleakness. As he walks toward the sunlight breaking through the clouds, he comes across a handful of daisies growing out of the pavement. Even here, beneath the sorrowful memory of once what was, amid the clumsy onslaught of overbearing city, life endures.

Henry smiles, plants a daisy on his bald head, and continues on. The movie concludes with a quotation: Nature is unforgiving; she will not agree to withdraw her flowers, her music, her scents or her rays of light before the abominations of man. Victor Hugo.

In crafting a performance for Henry, a language of posture and movement that was empathetic, the animation was appropriately understated. According to its creators, the aesthetic aim of the movie was not realism or caricature, but rather a stylized naturalism. The look-and-feel of Henrys Garden was inspired by black-and-white films such as Metropolis and Frankenstein, along with the illustrations of artists such as Lisbeth Zwerger.

Henrys Garden was created using Alias Maya, Adobe Photoshop and Premiere, Fractal Design Painter and Right Hemisphere Deep Paint 3D. The short film has been making the rounds on the festival circuit, having already played at venues in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Korea, Australia and the United States. Included among its honors are the Best Animation Award at the Great Lakes Film Festival (2002), Beecher Digital Art Competition (2003) and San Diego Asian Film Festival (2003); as well as the Spirit of Moondance Award at the Moondance Film Festival (2003).

An animated feature treatment of Henrys Garden, called A Green Winter, is in the works.

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The Polar Bears presents uncomplicated, British family humor. © 2003 British Broadcasting Corp.

The Polar Bears

The Polar Bears is solid, cuddly, good young-fashioned 3D cartoony animation. Four paws up.

Commissioned by BBC Television for the half-hour sketch comedy show Lenny Henry in Pieces, the seven short films were visualized by director Pierre Coffin of Passion Pictures in London (the same studio whose blokes brought us the Gorillaz music videos), and animated by production house and post facility MacGuff Ligne in Paris. Each episode is a couple of minutes of uncomplicated, quintessential British humor, glimpsing into the family life of four polar bears living in a concrete enclosure as an exhibit at the zoo.

In one short, Captive Breeding Programme, mother bear Cynthia is trying to convince her son Shane that life in the wild is not all that its cracked up to be. For example, when hunting fish, sometimes wild polar bears have to swim under the ice. Its hard for Shanes insular experience to imagine this. Why would someone go ice swimming when fish live under rocks and in buckets? Cynthia appeals to Uncle Ian to wise the boy up. Ian ruminates, Life in the arctic is overrated. Except for the sex, of course... One night stands, where the arctic night would last for months... Despite Cynthias shooshing, life in the wild is certainly not like the zoos captive breeding program. Gary, the father polar bear, heatedly reminds Cynthia of the smile on her face when she got back from San Diego. Remarking on Shane, he laments, Look at im... he looks nuthin like me! Cynthia answers, Well, hes not fat and impotent, if thats what you mean.

In a second short, Garys Fall, Gary is playing soccer and, true to the episodes title, he falls into a pit where he breaks his arms. With his arms stretched wide, held in casts, his family cant resist taunting him. How big was that fish? Tell us again, how far away were you from saving that goal? Gary expresses his gladness that his suffering is so amusing. Do you want a hug? Cynthia offers. Gary grumpily declines. Awww, you say that... but look at your body language. After the casts are off, Gary enthusiastically and rambunctiously returns to his soccer game. Unnaturally, he falls again, this time breaking his legs.

The Polar Bears shorts were shown at SIGGRAPHs Electronic Theatre 2003. The computer animation was completed over seven months using Maya and proprietary MGLR (MacGuff Ligne Rendering) software.

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Mala is forced to curb her curiosity in Terra © 2003 MeniThings Productions.

Terra

Terra is a 3D computer film from director Aristomenis (Meni) Tsribas and producer Dane Smith. The storys protagonist, Mala, is a young female, tadpole-like character who seeks to understand a mysterious object newly looming in the sky. She has crafted a spyglass to peer into the heavens, but no one believes her when she suggests that there may be life among the stars. Malas father asks her to surrender her viewing machine, assuring her that there are only supernatural beings above. According to the wishes of the elders, Malas father implores her not to offend the new god.

Unable to defer to her fathers wishes, and unwilling to forfeit her need to understand, Mala flees from the sanctions of her community to see more clearly the object nearing their world. As a new day dawns, she discovers with dread that there is some sort of spacecraft positioning itself in orbit, armed to the hilt with weaponry, pointing towards their civilization. As the craft rotates into full view, we see the emblem of a red-white-and-blue flag bearing almost 400 stars, denoting, presumably, the ongoing conquest of the United States of Armageddon.

With respect to its beautiful environments, and its whimsical burtonesque contraptions, Terra stands on firm ground. The short film was created using LightWave 3D over the course of 3 months. Terra was supported by Fox Searchlab, a mentoring program of Fox Searchlight Pictures for emerging filmmakers.

Terra has won awards for Best Animation at the 2003 Palm Springs International Short Film Festival, as well as the Radio Television Hong Kong Film Festival (2003). The film also received an award for Best Original Score (kudos to composer Matt Messina) at the One Reel Short Film Festival in Seattle (2003).

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Give peas a chance. Eat Your Peas © 2003 Paul Hargrave.

Eat Your Peas

Eat Your Peas only takes two minutes to consume. Directed as the senior thesis of Paul Hargrave (Ringling School of Art and Design), the short flick comes across with punkish charm, combining green-tinted 3D computer animation with 2D graphic designs. Some of the backgrounds look like flat fanzine art, with the wah-wah of dialogue ballooning onto screen like handwritten text cut from a notepad. Late in the story, the little boy-turned-monster even pushes away from himself the textual scream of his mother, before hurling his peas (literally and figuratively).

The story itself is pretty simple. A young boy is confronted with a plate of peas, as he contends with the dilemma of whether to trust his own judgment (yuck) or the exhortations of his mother (eat your peas ... just one bite).

The boy manages to eat one spoonful, dutifully, but the peas sicken him to his stomach. In this case, the boy very much embodies the adage that we are what we eat, for during the night the peas plunder his insides and infiltrate his DNA. When he wakes in the morning, the boy is alarmed to see that he has mutated into a monster pea-plant. But when his mother calls him to the breakfast table for more of her cooking, the boy attacks her with the newfound mischief to eat your parents.

In the triumph of imagination, there are times when listening to the little voice inside ones head prevails over listening to the voice of authority. Inspired by the work of designers like Todd Mueller and Jeremy Hollister, and taking cue from commercial motion graphics and music videos, Hargraves short film is cleverly appealing in its simplicity.

Created with Maya, Shake, Deep Paint 3D, Adobe Photoshop, Painter and Premiere, Eat Your Peas screened at SIGGRAPHs Electronic Theatre 2003. It also won the First Prize in Animation Magazines First Annual Student Short Film Awards.

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David Lynching dovetales with Flash. Love is a Bullet in the Heart © 2002 Diego Alvarez.

El Amor es una Bala en el Corazón (Love is a Bullet in the Heart)

Young Colombian animator Diego Alvarez draws on paper. He works in Flash. He even rotoscopes. More importantly, he describes his filmic influences as David Lynch, David Lynch and David Lynch.

His latest short film, Love is a Bullet in the Heart, was in fact born from the dialogue of a David Lynch movie. In Blue Velvet, Frank (Dennis Hopper) says to Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan): Dont be a good neighbor to her. Ill send you a love letter straight from my heart, fucker! You know what a love letter is? Its a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker!

Alvarez began with the idea of love is a bullet in the heart, and built up imagery from there. He describes his short film as a stray bullet that changes the romantic destiny of five people and a gorilla.

Let us set the scene...

A guy is admiring a television through a store window; the alluring, flickering TV screen promises, And much more! A boy and girl are chatting online in neighboring high-rise buildings. Two chess pieces stand next to one another, forever frozen apart. A kid is ogling a rifle on display on the wall. A man makes faces at a gorilla through the bars of the animals cage. A bungee jumper plummets with just enough precision in his cord to kiss the earth before ascending again.

Then the kid takes the rifle from the wall and fires off a single shot. With cool effect, the bullet races down a length of hallway and splinters through the glass window.

The bullet strikes a drainpipe, which falls to form a bridge between the high-rise buildings separating the boy and girl. The bullet shatters the store window, allowing the man to coddle the television in his arms and to adore the woman on screen with tender kisses. The bullet grazes one of the two chess pieces, nudging them into contact. The bullet cuts through the bungee cord, bringing the jumper and earth together in clear indication that love, indeed, hurts. The bullet rips through the hand of a clown, causing the entertainer to fall against a lever that opens the gorillas cage; the animal and his teasing observer come face to face. Lastly, the bullet pierces the breast of a passing dove, and enters its beating heart.

Alvarez is amused that when his movie first played in Colombia, no one seemed to relate to it. Now that it has been nominated and received some attention at international film festivals, people say to him, Oh, I really like your film, I perfectly understand it.

Love is a Bullet in the Heart has played at the Bit Film Festival in Germany (2003) and the Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival (2003); it won Second Place at the Notodo Film Festival in Spain (2002).

Greg Singer is an animation welfare advocate, eating in Los Angeles.

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