Fresh from the Festivals: July 2001's Film Reviews
Also broadening his scope is Thomas Stellmach, perhaps best known for his Academy Award winning puppet animation, Quest (1997). His drawn and computer animated short, Chicken Kiev, differs vastly in form and content from the former film. Chicken Kiev tells the story of an extremely cute baby chick who hatches and sets out looking for his mother, who left the nest to peck at some grain. Along the way, the chick tries to be friendly to a host of potentially dangerous characters, but manages to avert trouble every time. My only beef with the story is what I might call its 'Bambi Meets Godzilla-esque' ending; naturally, I won't give it away, but it left me wondering whether this was supposed to be black comedy or some kind of commentary on life. Like Quest, I think, Chicken Kiev also has an open-ended structure, where there is no real resolution to the narrative events -- or, at least, not a very comforting one.
To create Chicken Kiev, Stellmach worked with a crew of twenty individuals located in various cities within Germany. This crew included commercial artists, animators and computer specialists who collaborated via the Internet from Kassel, Mainz, Cologne and Berlin. While backgrounds were completely computer-generated, the animated characters were first drawn on paper and then digitized with a line tester on an Amiga computer so they could be exchanged over the Internet in a small file size. Later, images were drawn with heavy black lines, scanned into a Silicon Graphics computer at a high resolution, and colored with Animo. The 9-minute film was stored in 80 gigabytes of space. Its production was supported by a film grant from the Hessian Broadcast Company and the State, the Office of the Federal Government for Cultural Affairs and Media, and the Institute for Film Promotion in Berlin. It has shown at festivals worldwide and won numerous awards.
Although the film was created as a graduation film from the University of Kassel, where he studied animation with Paul Driessen (who is credited as story consultant on the film), Thomas has created animation for several years. Since 1982, he has produced sixteen animated works and currently teaches at both the Film Academy Ludwigsburg and the University of Kassel. In addition he co-founded an animation company, Lichthof, in Kassel with P. Lemken and Joachim Bode, who is credited as designer on Chicken Kiev.
We Are Immortal
Working on a much smaller scale -- in fact, completely by himself -- Daniel Guyonnet created Nous sommes immortels/We Are Immortal as an animated New Year 2000 greeting card for his friends and family. In the 2.5-minute work, a series of odd and interesting characters walk across the screen. For example, a little man who rocks toward and away from the camera stands his ground as a huge fire, a gigantic creature and even a nuclear bomb threaten to destroy him, yet he holds his ground, untouched. This is the character who demonstrates the film's title message: the words "We Are Immortal" follow this series of actions. As the director explains, there is no narrative in the short; rather he wanted to create something 'energetic' and stylish. Incidentally, Guyonnet made the film in both French and English (there is no dialogue, only printed phrases following each of the actions in the film).
Two things make We Are Immortal particularly interesting to watch, aside from the array of amusing, original characters Guyonnet has created. The sound design is one of them. While minimal sound effects and music accompany the images, they are well timed and add a lot of depth to the visuals. These images are rendered in monochromatic colors, basically sepia tones, and appear to be on textured paper. In fact, the film was made through a combination of drawing on paper and Photoshop effects, compositing with Premier and output on Digital Beta. Guyonnet says he spent a lot of time creating the grainy texture used throughout the film. It was time well spent, as this texture makes his characters even more interesting to look at. We Are Immortal has shown at numerous international animation screenings, including the Annecy and Hiroshima 2000 festivals. It won the audience prize in international competition at the BITFILM festival, Hamburg.
Maureen Furniss, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Film Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. She is the founding editor of Animation Journal and the author of Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics (John Libbey, 1998).
We Are Immortal