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Red Stick 2010: Tangled Up in Baton Rouge

I arrive at Baton Rouge’s Belle Hotel, which until April was the Sheraton Baton Rouge. (BR from here on, saves space.) The hotel’s terrible online reviews don’t seem to apply, as the place is actually quite nice. (Wish the internet service was a little more steady, but I’m online now – for the moment…)

Stephen Beck (interim director, LSU Center for

computation & Technology) (l) and John Hays (animation
producer, Howl).

written by Joe Strike

I arrive at Baton Rouge’s Belle Hotel, which until April was the Sheraton Baton Rouge. (BR from here on, saves space.) The hotel’s terrible online reviews don’t seem to apply, as the place is actually quite nice. (Wish the internet service was a little more steady, but I’m online now – for the moment…)

Evening comes and Stephen Beck, the current director of Louisiana State University’s Center for Computation and Technology (the Festival’s host) picks me up. We’re heading for the Rave Theater a ways down from BR’s Shaw Center for the Arts, where the Festival is based. Rave? I’m expecting a spontaneous dance party in some empty warehouse, but the Rave is a classy 15-screen multiplex, and they’re about to show Tangled to various invited guests and schoolkids.

Before the film begins Beck lends me his iPad so I can review the three finalists for Red Stick’s Best of the Fest grand prize. I sit on the lobby floor and watch the first one, Chris O’Neill’s Lilac Wine: pure black-on-white calligraphy as zebras, fish, peacock and trees come to life and flow into one another, illustrating a poignant art-rock song.

I press the iPad screen… instead of coming across the next finalist, I’m suddenly in Beck’s video library. I poke around a bit and find Barko, a Kricfalusi-influenced 2D piece about a sad-sack mutt in a circus poodle act and his hot-dog phobia (spoiler: happy ending). Next I come across a modern-retro homage to Fleischer (complete with proscenium arch-framed title cards pivoting into view): James Tancill’s St. James Infirmary music video: deliberately primitive, sepia colored, thick-lined characters set in the streets and cemeteries of N’Orleans (almost a home movie, seeing as the city’s an hour down the road) set to an up-tempo funk/bluegrass interpretation of the title song… there’s more on Beck’s iPad, but it’s time to put on those 3D glasses.

I just saw Tangled two days earlier at a NYC screening, but I really, really like this film, and seeing it again gives me a chance to look past the narrative. (The best animation screenplay Disney’s had in a long time – not a second of screen time that doesn’t develop the characters or advance the plot – and often does both at once.).

Festival Director Stacy Simmons introduces Clay Katis, one of Tangled’s three animation supervisors, who in turn introduces the film. I’m glad he’s there because this time around I can’t take my eyes off (evil step-)‘Mother Gothel’ – some of the most subtle CGI character animation I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe there isn’t a key animator for her, but evidently the film’s ultra-quick eight month animation turnaround (according to Katis) meant everyone had to pitch in everywhere to get the thing done in time for its release.

Before the film begins we’re treated to a few 3D trailers: First glimpse I’ve seen of Cars 2 (is this trip really necessary? We’ll see; best joke in the trailer is a British accented 007-style spy car), and then – aahhhh, run away, run away!  – another Zombiescope mocap film from Bob Zemeckis – Mars Needs Moms. The aliens are cool (no Uncanny Valley here) but the hero kid and his space-fanboy buddy are all too, too (yet not quite enough) human… welcome to the Valley, bwah ha-hahh!

After the movie: a bit of a pub crawl, starting with pizza at ‘Schlitz and Giggles’ where I meet up with Katis, Simmons, former Disney TV Animation exec Leah Hoyer (who’ll be doing a Thursday session on character development) and Lucas Martell (director of Pigeon: Impossible, second of the three Best of the Fest nominees). On a balcony overlooking the bar’s two giant TV screens much discussion follows re the relative merits of Wall-E, Kung-Fu Panda, Tangled and The Emperor’s New Groove, not to mention the private lives of certain Hollywood celebrities. Next we relocate to Happy’s, the best (only?) Irish bar in BR for brewskis and live rock music. After spilling most of an Abita on my pants leg (I never could hold my booze) I call it a night…