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Slamdance: Sparky Honors Animation

Mary Ann Skweres visits Park City and reports on what animation the upstart Slamdance Film Festival featured this year.

In its 11th year the Slamdance Film Festival (Jan. 21-28, 2005), often called the alternative independent film festival in Park City, Utah, garnered a record audience of over 20,000 attendees. To celebrate the beauty and importance of animation as an art form, the programmers created a new competition category for this years festival. Six films, using a variety of formats, vied for the Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Animation Short. Behn Zeitlins microscopic adventure, Egg, took top honors with Ruben Mollers Sheol receiving honorable mention. Also worthy of special note is the feature competition selection Four-Eyed Monsters that seamlessly incorporated animation into its imaginative storytelling.

Egg by Behn Zeitlin, took home the Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Animation Short at this years Slamdance Film Festival. © Court 13 Pictures.

Egg A Microscopic Tale of Epic Tragedy

Egg is a surrealist parable that pits the bloodthirsty pursuit of glory against the bloodthirsty forces of nature. This variation on the classic Moby Dick tale takes place inside an egg, following the life-long quest of the pirate Ahab to slay the golden yolk that robbed him of his leg, arms, belly and eye. In his obsessive pursuit of his nemesis, Ahab has slain his whole crew except for cabin boy Pillsworth, but as Ahab prepares to dispatch his last crewmember, their entire world the egg is devoured by the ravenous Bird Children, mechanically fed from a conveyor belt with choreographed precision. Mercilessly consumed by the Bird Children, Ahab and Pillsworth plunge through the birds digestive system towards their ultimate demise. A fully realized animation, filled with conflict and tension, Egg makes perfect narrative sense while defying all common sense.

A combination of stylized live action and stop-motion animation, the 16mm film was created over nine months as a senior thesis film for Wesleyan University in Connecticut. The live-action photography took two days to shoot and was shot at double speed with actors Sara Bremen, Max Goldblatt and Corey Harrower moving at half speed to create the jarring bird-like movements for the hungry Bird Children. Another four months of photography were stop-motion animated using real meat, dead mice and an armatured cow tongue with the whole making-of process of armaturing being filmed and included in the DVD extras.

Zeitlin was the creative force behind Egg, serving as director, writer, animator, editor and sound director. Artist Eliza Zeitlin designed and sculpted the fanciful animated characters. Katie Goldschmidt was cinematographer and Ray Tintori created the art direction, special effects and masks.

Ruben Mollers Sheol, which took 11 years to complete, received honorable mention. © 2004 SHEOL by Rubén Möller WWW.RUE.CC PRODUCTIONS.

Sheol Journey to the Underworld

The Hebrew word for cave, sheol is the place under the earth where departed spirits are believed to go. The film takes us on this mythical journey.

Sheol blends computer graphics with time-lapse motion control movement. Coined the RUEbot, the robotic rig used to produce this film is highlighted by tabletop camera work. The lighting and camera mechanisms for this style of computer graphics took seven years to develop and fabricate. Another two years was consumed in production, perfecting the shots. All in all, the 11-minute film took a year per minute to complete. Director Ruben Moller an independent animator in Vancouver, Canada, pursues film and digital production to evolve his theory and practice of new media structures.

Canadian director/producer/animator Anne Koizumi mixed traditional 3D puppet technique with flat stop-motion animation to separate past and present time periods in Patricia Grey. © 2004 Afterhours Productions.

Patricia Grey A Dark Tale of Murder

Patricia Grey is a psychological exploration of a woman living in a disillusioned reality who must confront the reality of her life and marriage after the strangling death of her daughter.

The film uses two styles of animation to represent the past and the present. A traditional 3D puppet animation is used for the actual events that occurred within the family leading up to the death. Flat stop-motion animation, using the time-consuming technique of plastercine on glass, is used to convey the current reality as Patricia (S. Siobhan McCarthy) is questioned by an unseen Interrogator (Peter Fischer), who attempts to guide Patricia to the truth.

For the six-minute film, director/producer/animator Anne Koizumi shot nine minutes of footage on color 16mm film using a Bolex camera with an animation motor. Tristan Orchard designed the sound and Dan Werb, also know as Woodhands, composed the score. Patricia Grey was Koizumis graduation project for the department of theatre, film and creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

Days That Were Filled With a Sense of Fear A Classic Love Triangle

This film noir inspired animation explores the consequences of a classic love triangle between an ultra-rich mafiosa, his beautiful wife and the right-hand man who becomes his wifes lover.

This surreal two-dimensional sketch animation was created by Hungarian director Laszlo Csaki. Csaki is a 2002 graduate of the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts of Budapest, department of visual communication and a member of the Hungarian Independent Film and Video Association and the Young Artists Association.

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Lisa Barcys The Guilt Trip (left) survived a filmmakers nightmare and made it to the big screen. Previous Slamdance winner Tom Gibbons presented his latest work, Still I Remain at this years festival. © L. Barcy 2004 (left) and © Downtime Films 2005.

The Guilt Trip or The Vaticans Take a Holiday Or What Would Jesus Do on a Date?

Jesus comes done from the cross for a roadtrip with Mary Magdelene while the Pope controls the Vatican with an iron fist. The allegory examines the notion that you can always leave, but you never really escape.

A silent film with musical accompaniment, the animation is a collage of stop-motion animation puppets, found objects and photographs. Although only 14 minutes long, The Guilt Trip 10 years in the making survived five moves around Chicago, lost negative, broken puppet heads and the directors excessive procrastination filled with fear and doubt. Director Lisa Barcy has been making animated films for almost 20 years. She teaches stop-motion animation at The School of the Art Institute and Columbia College Chicago. When not animating, she designs puppets for Redmoon Theater.

Still I Remain (A Fish Out of Water) The Trouble With Recurring Relationships

Some relationships are like a fish slipping through your hands. And even if you dont like fish, sometimes you end up with fish again anyway. This surreal short-short explores those slippery relationships.

A primitive Down Shooter table on saw horses, no electricity, no water, some paper cutouts and a dead trout wired for animation are part of what it took to create this 1:47 mini epic. Director Tom Gibbons won the 2002 Slamdance Audience Award for best short with his animated film The Hunger Artist. He has been an animation supervisor on such films as Hollowman, Matrix: Revolution and Catwoman.

Animation in Feature Competition: Four-Eyed Monsters A Modern Romantic Tale

In my quest for animation I was pleased to discover the refreshing Four-Eyed Monsters, a film that embodies the gamut of new techniques available to indie filmmakers. A live-action feature, the film incorporates animation into its bag of storytelling tricks that also includes documentary-style footage and a reality-based narrative. Based on the real life experiences of the films creators, this story about online dating for a generation of singles living in a city full of people, but having difficulty connecting with a significant other in any meaningful way, is told with subtlety and humor. The main characters, afraid of meaningless conversation, use a notepad to communicate with each other, allowing the sketch animation to mesh naturally into the films premise.

For collaborators writers/directors/producers/cinematographers/editors/actors Arin Crumley and Susan Buice, the film was a process of trial and error. The making of the film, which began with shooting from a one-page outline, included numerous reshoots, writing and abandoning the script, acting lessons mid-production and much re-editing before its ultimate submission and acceptance into the Slamdance festival.

Mary Ann Skweres is a filmmaker and freelance writer. She has worked extensively in feature film and documentary post-production with credits as a picture editor and visual effects assistant. She is a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.

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