Each year since the launch of AWNtv, I've put together a collection of web toons that must be seen. With the growing influence of YouTube, more and more short animation is finding audiences around the globe. Some are blowing up and becoming viral hits. This year's edition will focus on the top ten submissions to AWNtv over the course of 2009. These are some of the toons from our filmmakers that we think deserve to be seen by a greater audience. Please enjoy. If you like them send the link to friends, and share your thoughts with us and the filmmakers.
10) Ropper Dapper - Sasha Svirsky From its ink block style to its limited animation, simplicity is used to great affect to tell this visually interesting tale of a man's fight through the streets in search of alcohol. Svirsky shows great attention to bringing all the elements of filmmaking, from design to music to pacing, together in a cohesive style that perfectly matches the quirky story being told.
9) WinterHunt - Amit Tishler Tishler's ironic tale of a hunter who ends up needing help from his prey is an example of what the web allows filmmakers to do. It's violent and bloody. But Tishler isn't gratuitous because he has the patience to tell a story. The timing is impeccable and the twists are nicely handled. The film also has the freedom to do what animation can do best — be surreal.
8) Breathe - Stephane Hamache This CG music video for the band Mickey 3D is practically all set up for its poignant conclusion. For a three-minute short, the film shows how you can make a statement in a short period of time. Hamache does one particularly smart move by hinting at the conclusion without giving it away. By doing so, the narrative builds suspense and the twist doesn't seem to be tacked on. Also, the 2D CG look makes the film stick out style-wise and the video proves that a good visual narrative can transcend language barriers.
7) County Ghost - Episode 1 - Mike Geiger AWNtv received four episodes of Geiger's wonderful classic-styled cartoon series, each of which is of equal quality. This Looney Tunes-inspired 2D cartoon finds a moonshiner blasting away at a ghost in his house. The premise is simply and sets up a series of wonderfully executed gags. This is a great example of how timing is so essential to humor in animation. The gags are no different than those in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but they still make you laugh. Geiger's great design style only makes the animation all the more sweeter.
6) Time to Harvest - William Patrick, Pat Jandro & Drew Mueller When I first saw this CG student short, the first thing that caught my attention was the style. It combines 3D characters in a cel-shaded 2D world effectively. The second thing that struck me was how Patrick, Jandro and Mueller set up their simple story and used the elements of that story throughout the film for laughs. With any film, the ending is crucial, but it's more important in a short film, because there is so much less the audience has to take away with them. This film has some steady well-timed laughs throughout and closes with an unexpected twist that brings the story full circle.
5) nakedyouth - Kojiro Shishido Combining photos and CG animation with 2D computer animation, this haunting coming of age tale has a lasting affect on the viewer. It delicately handles its story of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. With its deliberate pacing, the film captures the hold that puberty has on the minds of young people, as well as the uneasiness that it creates. Shishido goes for a realistic feel in both his visuals and soundtrack that compliments his narrative perfectly. The film proves that animation is simply a filmmaking technique and is open for any kind of story.
4) Crow Moon - Selina Wagner This gorgeous looking paint on glass and cel short is beautifully animated and richly executed. In under five-minutes, Wagner builds her narrative by stacking scene after scene with new reveals. Without any dialog, she tells a fable full of story detail and magic. Yuri Norstein once said that poetry is found in subtlety and that's exactly what this film proves. While there is a story being told, like experimental animation, this film can be appreciated as dance as well.
3) Pencilmation #3: MC Hammered - Ross Bollinger Bollinger submitted several episodes of his Pencilmation series in 2009, but none of them made me laugh harder than this one. For all intents and purposes, it's just a series of gags strung together. The brilliance of it all is how Bollinger flows so effortlessly from one to the next and builds from one to the next. From the rockin' midi music to simple character design, this cartoon proves the adage that less is more. He also proves that great animation acting doesn't need complex character designs. Great timing and excellent key frames are what's essential.
2) Sweet Dreams - Kirsten Lepore This ingenious stop-motion short is the story of "a stalwart cupcake [who] yearns for something beyond his world of sugar cube skyscrapers and frosting-covered friends." To call this short sweet might sound corny, but that's exactly what it is. Lepore takes her premise of a sugar world and vegetable world to its fullest extent, but never allows the conceit to override the narrative. This is a perfect example of style and narrative working hand and hand. In a subtle way, the film says something important about our fast food society, as well as our diets.
1) Terry Runders Kicks a Stone - David Ferguson So why did I place this film at #1 -- Because it had the most lasting impression on me. The surreal nature of the narrative highlights the freedom of animation to work outside the box. This story could not work in live-action. Ferguson understands his characters and human nature then twists it in a hilarious way. The look is a simple flat retro design style and the animation is limited, but timed subtly. Its pure sense of invention makes it surprising every step of the way. While it might seem random, every element of the quick story is planned out perfectly.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.