Sundance: Animation Spotlight

Mary Ann Skweres shoveled her way through the snow and crowds of Sundance to discover the spotlight on animation.

From traditional 2D craft to mixed media extravaganzas, there was an animation style for everyone at this years Sundance Film Festival. Whether created in a cramped apartment by a singular passionate artist or done in collaboration with an artistically driven group of animators between commercial projects at a studio, the films displayed at the Animation Spotlight, truly shine as the brightest and best stars in the art form.

Winner of the Sundance Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking, The Wraith of Cobble Hill took director Adam Parrish King (left) six years to complete. © Adam Parrish King.

Winner of the Sundance Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking, The Wraith of Cobble Hill took director Adam Parrish King (left) six years to complete. © Adam Parrish King.

The Wraith of Cobble Hill (USA, 2005, 15 min. B/W, Sony HD Cam) Director: Adam Parrish King

Winner of the Sundance Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking, this heartfelt Brooklyn fable tells the coming-of-age-tale of Felix, a disaffected teen, left to fend for himself by his deadbeat mom. Felix habitually pilfers candy bars, comic books and TV dinners from the corner deli, right under the noses of the shopkeeper, Mr. H, and his beloved dog, Mitzie. At night, when the widowed shopkeeper returns home, the lonely young man can hear Mr. Hs sobs and the nostalgic Polish ballads he plays on an old 78 in the apartment above the boys room. When Mr. H asks Felix to watch the store and care for Mitzie while he is on holiday, the boy must decide between acting with uncharacteristic honesty or betraying the trust the kindly shopkeeper has bestowed upon him.

Director Adam Parrish King converted the only bedroom of a small apartment into an animation studio while he and his wife slept in sleeping bags on the floor. Started while he was a student at University of Southern California, the production became an all-consuming passion, eventually taking six years to complete. King painstakingly crafted this haunting, visually stunning film from scratch, meticulously re-creating the brick exteriors, fire escapes, cramped interiors and sorrowful characters of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn where he had lived for a number of years. The detailed process included constructing costumes and hundreds of props including the original comic books, liquor bottles and branded TV dinners that line the stores shelves.

King created the film using stop-motion animation. Monique Zavistovski produced and co-edited. Steven Gutheinz composed the original music, a Polish ballad reminiscent of Edith Piaf, which was sung by Magdalena Bircynska. To King, the choice to use animation was a more subjective approach to story than telling the tale with live-action. It was like choosing between having a portrait painted and taking a photograph.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is an award-winning, Oscar-nominated animated short created entirely in silhouette using a unique style of animation that director Anthony Lucas has dubbed, Shadowlands.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is an award-winning, Oscar-nominated animated short created entirely in silhouette using a unique style of animation that director Anthony Lucas has dubbed, Shadowlands.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (Australia, 2005, 27 min., color, 35mm) Director: Anthony Lucas

In a story that pays tribute to the gothic traditions of Edgar Allan Poe, Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator, journeys on a desperate voyage, attempting to redeem himself by finding the cure for a deadly plague that is decimating his world. Set in a fantasy future, where magnificent airships are fashioned like iron dirigibles and computers are steam-powered, Jasper travels into the unknown through vast un-chartered skies filled with horrors. It is a very personal race against time, because his beloved has become infected with the fatal disease. In the shocking climax, Jasper discovers the greatest horror of all.

The nearly half-hour, award-winning, animated film was created entirely in silhouette using a unique style of animation that director Anthony Lucas has dubbed, Shadowlands a silhouette world of gothic horror, of spindly figures dwarfed by bleak landscapes and Jules Verne machines. The characters were computer animated over photographic collaged backgrounds.

The film was written by three-time Awgie Award-winning writer, Mark Shirrefs, exec produced by Susie Campbell and co-produced by Julia Lucas and Anthony Lucas.

A nominee for the 2005 Oscar for best animated short, Gopher Broke features a top-notch story, a beguiling lead character, impeccable comic timing and plenty of laughs. © 2004 Blur Studio Inc. All rights reserved.

A nominee for the 2005 Oscar for best animated short, Gopher Broke features a top-notch story, a beguiling lead character, impeccable comic timing and plenty of laughs. © 2004 Blur Studio Inc. All rights reserved.

Gopher Broke (USA, 2004, 4 min., color, 35mm) Director: Jeff Fowler

In hilarious this Oscar-nominated short, a hungry gopher discovers that there is no free lunch. When produce trucks traversing the dirt road between fields, spill some of their load when they hit a pothole, the gopher patiently lays in wait for his next meal, but hes not the only one looking whos hungry. And fresh beef is definitely not on his menu. With a top-notch story, a beguiling lead character and impeccable comic timing, this one will make you laugh every time.

In the lighthearted style of a Pixar film, director Jeff Fowler and the talented artists of Blur Studios, create colorful, technically sophisticated computer animation and compliment the visuals with a classic comedic score. The film was exec produced by Blur Studios creative director/co-founder, Tim Miller.

Los ABCs: ¡Qué vivan los muertos! features a colorful group of animated Mariachis who bring a new twist on traditional ABCs  this time the song tells satirical stories laced with social commentary. © John Jota Leo&ntild

Los ABCs: ¡Qué vivan los muertos! features a colorful group of animated Mariachis who bring a new twist on traditional ABCs this time the song tells satirical stories laced with social commentary. © John Jota Leo&ntild

Los ABCs: ¡Qué vivan los muertos! (USA, 2005, 5min., color, Sony HD Cam) Director: John Jota Leaños

A colorful group of animated Mariachis invite the viewer to sing-along with a new twist on traditional ABCs this time the song tells satirical stories laced with social commentary. This Xicano docu-animation alphabetically catalogues the real-life testimony of skeletons that have returned to tell their life and death war stories. These lively social documentarians take you on a guided tour of a warped history, that will make you laugh, cry and wonder why.

Director John Jota Leaños believes laughter is the best way to expose people to serious issues. In additional to humor, he uses music and 2D animation to engage his audience in political, personal and social discourse. Based on news events or generalities from the news, the film was three months in the making and is intended to be the first act of a four-act Internet opera. Leaños painted into Flash and then animated. Color is an important element in his digitally created work. He draws from his cultural roots, believing that the ancestors are here with us every day.

Leaños is a multi-disciplinary artist, digital cultural worker and assistant professor in the department of Xicana/o Studies at Arizona State University. Originally from Pomona, California he identifies as part of the mainly hybrid tribe of Mexitaliano Xicangringo Güeros called Los Mixtupos (mixt-up-oz).

At the Quinte Hotel was created with handmade and computer-assisted techniques. Included were more than 2,000 paintings and drawings and stop motion on real elements © 2005 Bruce Alcock.

At the Quinte Hotel was created with handmade and computer-assisted techniques. Included were more than 2,000 paintings and drawings and stop motion on real elements © 2005 Bruce Alcock.

At the Quinte Hotel (Canada, 2005, 4 min., color, 35mm) Director: Bruce Alcock

In a visually beautiful, organic and playful interpretation of one of Al Purdys best-known verses, a poet wins a bar fight and then waxes on about beer and flowers to the captive audience at the small-town tavern.

In 1992, director Bruce Alcock got a grant and, after receiving permission from the poet, he did about a quarter of the work on the film. This included a frame-by-frame map of the CBC recording, designs for the paintings and some pencil animation. Then the project was put on hold due to other commitments. It was picked up last fall, when a team of six fit it in between other commercial assignments. It was finally finished 13 years, three animation companies and 300 flower blossoms later.

The film was created with handmade and computer-assisted techniques. Alcock used mixed media with both traditional and experimental animation. Included were more than 2,000 paintings and drawings oil paint on paper, charcoal drawings on paper and cut paper. Also used were stop motion on real elements bottle caps, flowers, a neon sign an electric kettle. Almost all of the animation was done in camera. Alcock shot with a Nikon D1X SLR camera and composited and edited in After Effects, then filmed out to 35 mm from 2K digital files.

Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot is a humorous story based on a personal dilemma. © 2005 Thunderbean Animation. All rights reserved.

Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot is a humorous story based on a personal dilemma. © 2005 Thunderbean Animation. All rights reserved.

Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot (USA, 2005, 7 min., color, Sony HD Cam) Director: Davie Chai

Fumi faces a shotgun barrage, wild moose attack and infant electrocution, but still manages to transform the curse of her unlucky foot into a means to save the world.

This humorous story, based on a real persons personal dilemma, was done in traditional 2D animation. The project took 55 days and had a large crew composed of director David Chais students. The students worked on different areas from animation to backgrounds keeping a consistent look and style by following model sheets created by Chai.

Originally inspired by the purity of the image of a white owl against a dark sky, Fable was developed into a study of the conflicts between men and women. © Daniel Sousa.

Originally inspired by the purity of the image of a white owl against a dark sky, Fable was developed into a study of the conflicts between men and women. © Daniel Sousa.

Fable (USA, 2005, 7 min., color, 35mm) Director: Daniel Sousa

The story organically grew without a script from different sketches of animals. Director Daniel Sousa was drawn to the purity of the image of a white owl against a dark sky. It evolved into a study of the conflicts between men and women.

The animation is hand-painted and etched into acetate. It was colored digitally under the pencil line work. Sousa took five years working in his spare time to create the film, although in the last year he spent about 50% of his time to complete the work.

A bizarrely humorous short, A Half Mans big problem is his organs keep falling out. © Firas Momani.

A bizarrely humorous short, A Half Mans big problem is his organs keep falling out. © Firas Momani.

A Half Man (Canada, 2005, 5 min., color, Sony HD Cam) Director: Firas Momani

In this bizarrely humorous story, a half man has to live in society. The only trouble is, his organs keep falling out. The idea for the film came from the anatomy charts seen in doctors offices where the human figure is halved to should its inner parts.

Director Firas Momani created the puppets and sets for his stop-motion animation film, animating from the inside out. He has an animation background, but also used music as an inspiration. Using lighting to create mood is an important part in his creative process. His tools included Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere.

Claras world changes forever when she has to face the death of a friend. © Film Camp & Film Victoria 2004.

Claras world changes forever when she has to face the death of a friend. © Film Camp & Film Victoria 2004.

Clara (Australia, 2004, 7 min., color, 35mm) Director: Van Sowerwine

In this touching story, a 12-year-old girls world changes forever when she has to face the facts of life the death of a friend. Director Van Sowerwine creates a richly textured world full of flowers and ants. His wide-eyed, expressive main character is filled with melancholy. Using stop motion animation, he brings his characters to life, and death.

Hadacol Christmas brings a twisted sense of humor to the holidays. © Brent Green.

Hadacol Christmas brings a twisted sense of humor to the holidays. © Brent Green.

Hadacol Christmas (USA, 2005, 13 min., color, Sony HD Cam) Director: Brent Green

Get into the spirit of Christmas, but bring a slightly twisted sense of humor, the key for watching director Brent Greens seasonal, 2D fantasy about how Santa Claus invents Christmas with a bellyful of cough syrup and a head full of dying cows. Ho ho ho and away we go!

If youre an animation buff and this Sundance slate sounds appealing, dont take my word for it, see for yourself. Many of these films can be viewed on Sundances site through June 2006.

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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