2012 was an amazing year for animation short films. This year’s Oscar nominees share one thing in common: they are all silent films, each demonstrating the power of pure storytelling with only visuals and music! The nominees are: “Paperman”, “Fresh Guacamole”, “Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare,” “Head over Heels,” and “Adam and Dog.”
Paperman (John Kahrs)
Have you ever looked at a total stranger and imagined what it would be like to spend a life with that person? That is the story of what first-time Disney director John Kahrs is trying to tell through his delightful 6-min film, “Paperman,” which played before the “Wreck-it Ralph” feature that opened in November 2012, and is now available in its full glory on YouTube since Jan 29, 2013, with already over 10 million views! Watch:
The story starts out when an attractive young woman Meg catches the eye of a sad-looking young man George, both waiting at a New York subway station. As Meg gets onto the subway, she looked at George in a way that Kahrs described in a panel discussion at the 2012 Platform International Animation Festival as “we could have made a great couple.” Unexpectedly, George spots her again in the highrise building where he works, and makes a daring attempt using paper airplanes to catch her attention.
“Paperman” is an incredible film, the best animation short I have seen last year! The art is a seamless bend between CG and 2D animation, retaining the feel of fluid hand-drawn movements. The film is done in black and white, conveying the time period of the 1900s. The color gives it a nostalgic feel, but not enough to distract from the main story. The characters are shown with great detail using the lighting, movements, and evocative music that changes with the mood of the story, from melancholy to light-hearted moments. George has a dark color scheme and looks bored and depressed, while Meg is more lightly colored. Finally, the film conveys a deep story with underlying themes of love, fate, and connections.
I was delighted to interview director John Kahrs at the Platform Animation Festival in Oct 2012, and gave him a drawing I did from the film. He told me that he was inspired by a time when he lived in New York City. During his commute, he saw that “everybody is looking to make a connection out there”, and he had the idea to make a film about connections. John got started doing animation by making flip books out of his mother’s romance novels when he was my age. Making these books really taught him a lot about the principles of drawing. Later, he got a camera and began to make his own short films. His best advice for aspiring animators is to “know how to move the characters and when to stop moving the characters. You have to find the balance between the two,” he explains,”because that’s what life is like.”
I noticed that a man would do anything to get a woman’s attention. The only flaw in the film is that George and Meg took completely different trains even though they worked right next to each other. Meg got onto the train while George stayed for the next one, and when they both returned from work, they arrived at the station from trains of opposite directions. When I pointed out the flaw, director Kahrs acknowledged that “this is a giant plot hole, and you are the first person to ask it.” But I told him that the story more than makes up for it.
I give “Paperman” 4.5 starfish, it is “Perrific!” I recommend this film to people of all ages, although adults would appreciate the story more. I predicted it to be nominated for an Oscar and win an Annie Award, and I was right on both!
Moral: Everyone longs for love and connection. With persistence, destiny will take flight.
Fresh Guacamole (PES)
Fresh Guacamole is an innovative stop-motion animation, based purely on the idea of using common household objects to make guacamole. The director, who goes by “PES” (born Adam Pesapane), came up with amazingly creative substitutes for guacamole ingredients, such as grenades for avocados, baseballs as onions, and pincusions as tomatoes. Fresh Guacamole is a very unique film, because it has no characters (except for an anonymous set of hands belonged to PES), and at one minute 46 seconds, is the shortest film ever to be nominated for an Oscar! Watch:
I loved this film because it is simple, clever, yet expressive. I give it 4.5 starfish, it’s “Perrific!” I had the pleasure of meeting PES at the Platform International Animation Festival in October 2012 when he drew me his famous chair from his first stop-motion animation short, and interviewing him recently by phone. He gave me insight on the intensive work and his inspiration behind the scenes. When I asked him about how he gets his ingenious ideas, PES replied, “It’s partially just my sense of humor…when I walk into a supermarket and look at avocadoes, I think it’s a pile of grenades. If I grab one and throw it, it would blow up the supermarket. Just one of those little funny thoughts. I thought about what an object is like, looks alike, or is similar to and started making a film about those ideas.” Some of the feats could not be accomplished easily, such as cutting Christmas lights, so PES designed a replacement in CGI, printed it on a prototype printer, and hired professional painters to make the lights look realistic, taking several weeks to make a single scene that lasted about 12 frames.
PES gave great advice for young filmmakers: “Spend more time with your ideas. The idea is the most important thing, and shooting is secondary. Your idea should have a clear beginning, a middle, with a twist or surprise at the end, even for a very short film like mine.” PES is working on his first feature film based on the “Garbage Pail Kids” franchise, to be produced by Michael Eisner. PES’s filmmaking style is inspired by Cech surrealist Jan Švankmajer, who also brings back inanimate objects to life through stop motion.
Head Over Heels (Timothy Reckart)
“Head over Heels” is a stop motion claymation about an old couple, grown apart over the years, who have opposite gravities, one living on the floor, and one on the ceiling. The couple can’t agree which way is the correct way up, and after a fight, grow farther apart than ever. Will they ever get back together and repair their broken bond? Watch trailer:
The effort put into the film behind the scenes is astounding. The crew actually animated the figures on the ceiling using pins attached to the feet! I had a phone interview with Tim Reckart, the director of “Head Over Heels.” I told him that I noticed that in the old couple’s wedding photo on the wall, they were both standing on the ground. so I asked Tim how and why did the couple move apart. “I don’t have a good explanation,” he said, “But my brother has a theory: the couple had kids who were so boisterous that they went up the ceiling, so the wife had to go up the ceiling to chase after the kids, and the husband stayed down to look after them. The wife never came down from the ceiling as she got used to it.” But for me, this still doesn’t answer how the couple’s love diminished over the years. I give the film 4 starfish, it is “Perrific!”
Tim gave me good advice, which was to keep practicing, because he believes that practice and a good foundation is the most important for young people. “Practice is important, because when you have mastered all of the skills, you’ve got all of the skills you need when you go to film school.”
Tim was inspired by Wallace and Gromit from Aardman, and enjoying the style since he was a child. He actually worked on Aardman’s Oscar-nominated feature animation, “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” and made 300 eyebrows! It took 15 months to complete “Head Over Heels,” 5 months of the time was in designing the sets, and the animation took 6 months. Tim draws his inspiration from his friends and classmates, whom he often collaborates with, as he did in this film, “Head Over Heels” used eleven of his film school classmates from the National Television and Film School in the UK, and just won the Best Student Film Annie Award on Feburary 2, 2013. I enjoyed meeting Tim and his producer at the awards, and love his drawing for me.
Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare (David Silverman)
“The Longest Daycare” is about the adventures of Maggie Simpson, the youngest Simpson who is a toddler (Known by the TV show “The Simpsons”) in her first day at the Ayn Rand Daycare. After being labeled by a security system as “Nothing Special,” she is led past a bright, sunny room for “Gifted Babies” to a bleak room of average kids making messy art and eating paint. After watching a mean-looking baby Gerald squash two butterflies with a mallet, Maggie finds a caterpillar on the ground, realizing that it could suffer the fate of its two predecessors, she does everything she can to keep it alive.
I love this film for its humor, wit, and creativity, with a great and interesting storyline full of twists and turns. I thought that the relationship between Maggie and Baby Gerald intent on smashing the butterflies was very interesting. It shows the importance of keeping life and hope alive, and not let anyone squash your dreams. This short film was silent, in contrast with the Simpsons TV show, which is full of dialogue. I give the film 4 starfish, it’s “Perrific!”
David Silverman, the director, whom I interviewed at the 2013 Annie Awards, said that “we started the idea of making a pantoumime film, and we always got a lot of visual humor with ‘The Simpsons.’ I am pretty good at that, they always come to me for visual construct. so it wasn’t too difficult to remove the dialogue. Jim Brooks and Matt Groening (creator of “The Simpsons) always wanted something that is pantoumime-driven, and not dialoug-driven.” Commenting on the inspiration for the film, he credited watching old silent movies with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. And the lesson from the film? “Be kind to butterflies, my friend, because if you are not, fate will deal you a very bad hand…”
David started drawing cartoon when he was four years old, and “nobody told me to stop.” He animated two scenes in this film: The operatic scene of Maggie towards the end, and Maggie running with the caterpillar on her shoulder. Because of the success of “The Longest Daycare” film, David told me that we may see more short films about the Simpsons in the future.
The Simpsons is the longest running TV show of all time since its debut in 1989 (almost twice as old as me!), but the characters never aged. When I asked David about their secret to eternal youth, he replied, “…because cartoons never age, my friend, cartoons never age. It is the law!” His advice to me and other aspiring animator is “to always be curious about everything all the time; be very interested in art, music, movies, dance, theater. If you are in animation, watch people and how they move, do quick sketches of people in motion, whether it is going for a walk in the park, going to a dance or rehearsal. That’s the best advice I can give you.”
Director David Silverman will be a special guest on opening night, Saturday Feb 9 and 10, 2013 at the 30th Anniversary Extravaganza of Spike and Mike Animation Festival in San Diego, Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, which I plan to attend as well. Oscar-nominated animation feature director Rich Moore of “Wreck-it-Ralph” will be attending and signing autographs on March 1 and 2. If you want to meet either or both directors, and enjoy the best indie animation festival, including over 10 Academy Award Winners or Nominees, visit here:
Adam and Dog (Minkyu Lee)
The final Academy Award nominee was “Adam and Dog” by Minkyu Lee who is currently an animator at Disney. The the story is about a curious dog living in the Garden of Eden, playing in the grass, peeing on trees, and sleeping by trees. You could say he was living a dog’s life! But, one day, in a golden meadow, he encounters a strange creature: Adam, the man. They form an inseperable bond…
I like the visual style of the film and the beautiful scenes of nature. The story is a bit weak except for the bond between Adam and the dog. I give the film 4 starfish. It won last year’s Best Short Film Annie Award, is now available on YouTube:
The film was inspired by a National Geographic article on the Origin of Dogs, mixed with a writing workshop that Minkyu attended, and took two years and a half to complete, the first animation short directed by Minkyu, though he started drawing at a very young age. He studied animation at CalArts, and mentioned Glen Keane, Yuri Norstein, and Brad Bird as his inspiration. “I notice that true masters of animation also have wonderful, inspiring thoughts to share. What makes them great ‘artists’ is the fact that they are great ‘thinkers.’” Some of his favorite animated films are: Pinocchio, Princess Mononoke, Hedgehog in the Fog, Man who planted trees, and Father and Daughter, and such Disney films as 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Fantasia, and The Little Mermaid.
Minkyu also worked on character designs for the video game Hero’s Call in Disney’s “Wreck-it-Ralph,” and is working on a few projects that involve hand-drawn animation. His advice for aspiring young animators is to “study art and film rigorously. It gives you so much comprehensive perspective on everything. Also learn how to discern criticism. It takes wisdom to know who and what to listen to- being thoughtful is key. Study and practice writing stories. Writing, as a skill will surely come in handy. Study nature around you, the design behind it is sublime and unfathomable, but the more you study, the more your art will have integrity. Be brave, thoughtful, and pure!”
Among the nominees, my favorite is Paperman, which is so beautifully crafted, that I believe this and the Oscar-nominated feature “Wreck-it-Ralph” could signal the rise of the great Disney animation films again. I believe that Paperman is the frontrunner in this race, having just won the Best Animation Short Annie Award on Feb 2, 2013. I predict Paperman to win the best animation short Oscar. “Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare” and “Head Over Heels” are both strong in storytelling, and each has a slight chance of upsetting “Paperman.” Though I love “Fresh Guacamole,” without a traditional storyline that involves characters, it is difficult to imagine it winning unless the Academy truly thinks outside of the box. “Adam and Dog” is a charming story, but probably has the least chance of winning.
2012 is such a great year for animation shorts. It goes to show that you don’t need dialog to make compelling, moving short films. Catch these “Perrific!” Oscar-nominated animation shorts at your local Landmark Theaters BEFORE the Oscars on Feb 24, 2013. The films are hosted by last year’s Oscar winner William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg whom I interviewed (directors of “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”), distributed by ShortsHD (which also distributes my own animation short about a young Holocaust survivor “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest”). Other Oscar-nominated shorts in live action and documentary are also available. Watch trailer:
For those of you in San Diego, you can catch me at the official Oscar Party, the “Oscar Experience San Diego” fundraiser on Oscar night, Feb 24, 2013 starting 5 pm, with ABC 10 News anchor Virginia Cha as co-emcee, organized by the San Diego Community Campership Council to raise funding for underprivileged kids to go to summer camp, a worthy, wonderful cause. I am invited for the third year to predict Oscar winners on stage. RSVP by Feb 18, 2013. Join me to watch the Oscar telecast and see if my Oscar predictions come true. Details:
Copyright 2013 by Perry S. Chen
About Perry Chen:
Perry S. Chen is a 12-year-old award-winning film critic, artist, animator, TEDx speaker, and entertainment personality, currently in 7th grade from San Diego. He started reviewing movies at age 8 in 3rd grade using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, and has been featured in CBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, CCTV (China Central Television), Variety, Animation Magazine, The Young Icons, The Guardian, The China Press, etc. He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation, and has written movie reviews for Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews blog.
Perry is currently writing, animating, and directing his most personal film to date, “Changyou’s Journey,” produced by his mom Dr. Zhu Shen, about his beloved father Dr. Changyou Chen, a cancer researcher who passed away in July 2012 from terminal cancer after a long, brave battle, please watch trailer and donate to support Perry’s animation film: