The Friday Five - The Crowd, the Cloud, and the Chaos (Week of 4/13/12)
In both my career as a student, and in teaching animation, I've always found that short works are a breath of fresh air, something that, because of brevity and smaller budget, can take bigger risks than a feature. But, for all their inspirational merit, shorts can often get steamrolled by the flash and advertising of a full-length movie, or written off as accessories of the mainstream, like opening credits, music videos, or advertising itself.
It is a concern for the livelihood of experimental shorts in the wider animation arena, and a conviction that they're on the rise yet again, that has led to this, a kick-off post. The Friday Five is, in many ways, the spiritual kin of former AWN column Fresh From the Festivals. Like Fresh, the aim of The Friday Five is to shine a spotlight on short pieces that break the mold, serving as a toss-box for the best of what crosses my dashboard during the week. Each week, I'll be posting a selection of short films, commercials, motion graphics experiments, and trailers for currently circulating films, all from within the last year's cycle of festivals, premieres, and online releases. Whether it's a new technique, a unique design element, or a bang-up hybrid, the focus will remain on work that would rather push forward than play it safe.
Painterly CG animals interact with objects and limbs more reminiscent of oil paint daubs than sculpted polygons in Omer Ben David's graduation film For the Remainder. A loose narrative follows a skeletal feline as it explores the sketch of a dilapidated house. The wide strokes describing the space and characters tend to blur and intersect, veering into the abstract without losing atmospheric effect. A new way of skinning 3D that begs a longer format, and makes for a satisfying taste in the meantime.
Mauro Carraro, , Raphaël Calamote, Jérémy Pasquet's MATATORO has cropped up on AWN before, as part of the screening lists for Cartoon Brew's Student Film Festival at the Big Screen Plaza. The full film, as their program blurb states, presents "the hermetic world of bullfighting and its public", here reinvented and reinterpreted. As a fan of the tactile texture of traditional animation, I was stunned by the group's innovate approach to CG modeling. Using Maya and After Effects, characters are rendered to resemble ink, watercolor, and pastel drawings, while utilizing the consistency offered by a 3D model. An abstractly devised crowd adds another odd touch to this tale, a bullfighting story that neither glamorizes nor condemns the now-controversial event. The result is illustrative and entirely surreal.
A seamless blend of practical effects and CG culminates in a psychedelic burst of joyous destruction in SOLIPSIST, from director Andrew Thomas Huang. Featuring two sets of dancers, and a Henson-esque puppet sequence, SOLIPSIST's three acts create a gradually interwoven musing on the connections between individual beings, where an increasing complex interaction leaves neither body the same. The film won at Slamdance this year, scooping up the Special Jury Prize for Experimental Short. Also included on Huang's Vimeo page is a making-of, for those interested in the nitty-gritty of the piece's crafty, kinetic aesthetic. Design Boom also did a great breakdown of the VFX in Solipsist here.
Short, stylish, and bittersweet, Jules Guérin's Remington Requiem is based on the BABX track of the same name. Guérin's motion design and art direction foundations show in this Nagel-like noir, where the picture's flickering edges, and a restrictive color palette, give the impression that each frame is a vintage screen print. Trenchcoats, femme fatales, and period typography await. A little minimalism goes a long way, and this requiem stays engaging without staying its welcome.
Funny how themes occur by coincidence in a single season, and there's definitely something in the air besides chaos and color. That something is sand. (Well, sort of.) Again on this week's TF5 is the body and "sand", but this time from a different, technological angle. In this unnamed soundsculpture test, project heads Dan Franke and Cedric Kiefer used data of a dancer recorded by a Kinect, and composited the information as a 3D point cloud. In addition to the dancer's movements, the cloud volume reacts to sound, whether that made by the performer, or from the soundtrack, the haunting "Kreukeltape", by Machinefabriek. While there are many digital artists and programmers cannibalizing Kinects (and other tech that includes depth cameras and motion tracking), this test is notable for its understandable style, and hypnotic, overlapping movement that is reminiscent of Norman McClaren's optical printing work. Turn up your speaks, and get lost in the cloud.