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Fresh from the Festivals: October 2008's Reviews

Andrew Farago reviews five short films: I Slept with Cookie Monster by Kara Nasdor-Jones, L'Eau Life by Jeff Scher, Nannyless by Anna B?aszczyk, Varmints by Marc Craste and Glago's Guest by Chris Williams.

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.

This month:

I Slept with Cookie Monster (2008), 3:33, directed by Kara Nasdor-Jones, U.S.A. Contact: Kara Nasdor-Jones [T] 508. 479.0057 [W] www.karanasdor-jones.com [E] karanasdorjones@yahoo.com

L'Eau Life (2007), 2:33, directed by Jeff Scher, U.S.A. Contact: Jeff Scher, Fez Films, 30 Main St., 2D, Brooklyn, NY 11201; [W] www.fezfilms.net [E] jscher@fezfilms.net

Nannyless (2006), 2:30, directed by Anna B?aszczyk, Poland. Contact: Anna B?aszczyk [T] +48.505.210.460 [W] www.annabgallery.ehost.pl [E] ankablaszczyk@yahoo.com

Varmints (2007), 24:00, directed by Marc Craste, U.K. Contact: Pam Dennis, Studio AKA, 30 Berwick Street, Soho, London, U.K. W1F 8RH [T] + 44.207.434.3581 [W] www.studioaka.co.uk [E] pam@studioaka.co.uk

Glago's Guest (2008), 6:30, directed by Chris Williams, U.S.A./Canada. Contact: Emily Hoppe, Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Program, [T] 818.460.8936 [W] www.disneyanimation.com [E] Emily.hoppe@disney.com

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I Slept with Cookie Monster's breezy title belies the very heady subject matter. © Kara Nasdor-Jones. 

I Slept with Cookie Monster

Don't let the title fool you -- Kara Nasdor-Jones's short film is not a tell-all expose about the seamier side of life on the (Sesame) street. Her short film, I Slept with Cookie Monster, details her tumultuous relationship with her ex-husband, a Colombian immigrant whom she met at his workplace, a local bakery. He wins her over during a brief courtship in which he creates elaborate cookies decorated with romantic messages, and in very short order, she finds herself raising a daughter with the aspiring baker.

Things go south very quickly, however, as Nasdor-Jones's boyfriend reveals himself to be very moody and temperamental, and prone to fits of rage directed at her and her daughter. She marries him in the hopes that he'll settle down, but the abuse actually increases in intensity after she makes this concession. Fortunately for Nasdor-Jones, she realized that her husband was too dangerous and unstable to provide a safe home for her and her daughter, and the pair left him and have begun a new life for themselves, far away from his rage and abuse.

It's very heady subject matter, given that straight-up autobiography is fairly rare in animation, and that autobiography about serious subjects is even more of a rarity. Nasdor-Jones narrates the film herself, and she animated the film as well, through a series of paintings and drawings rendered with pastels, acrylic ink, tissue paper and simple animation done through Flash and Photoshop. There's minimal movement in her artwork, which adds to the tension and drama inherent in her story. The soundtrack complements her artwork perfectly, setting the viewer's nerves on edge as the story unfolds. It's a powerful piece of animation, and one that will remain with the viewer long after the end credits.

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L'Eau Life is an exercise in minimalist animation. © Jeff Scher/Fez Films. 

L'Eau Life

Jeff Scher's L'Eau Life is, like I Slept with Cookie Monster, an exercise in minimalist animation. A series of 2000 watercolor paintings explore and celebrate water and its relationship to people.

The film was created using rotoscope technology. While that in and of itself sounds "old school," viewers will be even more surprised to learn that the rotoscope used for this film is one that Scher constructed 30 years ago as a student at Bard College. His device consists of a Bell and Howell Diplomat projector from the '30s with the motor and lamp house removed and replaced with a coffee can with a light fixture and a fan.

The film was created under very tight time constraints as well, produced in less than two months from concept to completion. The New York Times approached Scher, soliciting work for the animation blog on its website. L'Eau Life was already underway, and the editors readily agreed to showcase the work upon its completion. Scher worked very closely with composer Shay Lynch on the film's score, as the two traded clips of picture and sound via e-mail in order to deliver the film before deadline.

The end result is a soothing meditation on the relationship between man and the elements, and a fun exercise in basic animation.

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In Nannyless, unusual character design elements actually become a major plot point in the story. © Anna Blaszczyk. 

Nannyless

The most lighthearted of this month's "FFF" entries comes from Polish animator Anna B?aszczyk, who created the short Nannyless during a five-month training period at the European Animation Masterclass in Halle, Germany.

The story is a simple one: a boy has an overbearing nanny, and he wants to strike out on his own and see the world on his own terms. On a visit to the big city, which is full of menacing, shadowy figures, the boy attempts to win over the populace with his odd attempt at dancing. His concerned nanny yells at him until his head falls off, and then...

Under normal circumstances, a character's spontaneous decapitation would be cause for great alarm, but this is not the case with B?aszczyk's character designs. The nanny is large and round, shaped not unlike a teardrop, while the boy's design involves a small body with a detached head and hands that generally stay where they should in relation to his body. While these design quirks aren't particularly out of the ordinary for an animated short, I can't think of many instances of unusual character design elements actually becoming a major plot point in the story. After the boy's head falls off, it bounces around the city for a while, pinball-style, and the nanny's girth ultimately trips her up and immobilizes her, allowing the boy a chance to break free and live his life as he sees fit.

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