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Fresh from the Festivals: November 2001's Film Reviews

Jon Hofferman reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Tom Schroeder's traumatic Bike Ride, E=mc2 by Alina Hiu-Fan Chau, Insect Poetry from Will Vinton Studios' Marilyn Zornado, Lint People by Helder K. Sun and Maaz by Christian Volckman. Includes QuickTime movie clips!

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short format productions, whether they be high budgeted commercials, low budgeted independent shorts, or something in between. The growing number of short film festivals around the world attest to the vitality of these works, but there are few other venues for exhibition of them or even written reviews. As a result, distribution tends to be difficult and irregular. On a regular basis, Animation World Magazine will highlight some of the most interesting with short descriptive overviews.

This Month:

Bike Ride (2000), 6.5 min., directed by Tom Schroeder, USA. Info: Tom Schroeder. Email:

E=mc2 (2001), 8 min., directed by Alina Hiu-Fan Chau, USA/Hong Kong. Info: Alina Hiu-Fan Chau. Tel.: 310-592-6751. Email:

Insect Poetry (2001), 6 min., directed by Marilyn Zornado, USA. Info: Sandi Serling, Serling & Associates, Inc., 14495 Fosberg Road, Lake Oswego, OR 97035-1813. Tel.: 503-697-0649. Fax: 503-697-3139. Email:

Lint People (2000), 7.5 min., directed by Helder K. Sun, USA. Info: Helder K. Sun/Umba Jumba, 1377 Lucile Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90026. Email:

Maaz (1999), 8 min., directed by Christian Volckman, France. Info: Atom Films, 815 Western Avenue, Suite 300, Seattle, WA 98104. Tel: 206-264-2735. Fax: 206-264-2742.


See visual jazz in Tom Schroeder's Bike Ride. Courtesy of Tom Schroeder.

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view a clip from each film by simply clicking the image.

Bike Ride

This entertaining and wonderfully low-key film tells a simple, heartbreaking story: James Peterson rides his bike fifty miles to see his girlfriend, gets dumped, and rides home again. Conceived as an exercise in improvisation,Bike Ride sets the protagonist's first-person narration against an accompaniment by drummer Dave King and simple white-on-black drawings. Sometimes literal, sometimes ironically impressionistic, the images loosely follow the ebb and flow of Peterson's sad tale, combining with the other elements to create a jazz-like composition that's an apt vehicle for relating the spontaneous nature of the ill-fated journey. There are a few moments when the drumming overwhelms the narration, making it difficult to hear, but otherwise the conceit works extremely well.

It's not surprising that director Tom Schroeder lists legendary Canadian animator Norman McLaren among his influences, asBike Ride is very reminiscent of the abstract, coolly witty work of McLaren, and other notable mid-century figures such as Saul Bass. ForBike Ride, Schroeder used ink and paper, which he scanned into Photoshop. The film was then assembled using Macromedia Director.

Schroeder lives in Minneapolis, where he teaches and makes independent films. Bike Ride has screened at numerous festivals and was named Best Animated Film at the 2001 Atlanta Film and Video Festival.


Alina Hiu-Fan Chau shows us The Big Bang in E=mc2. © 2002 Alina Hiu-Fan Chau.


Alina Hiu-Fan Chau's conceptually ambitious film is a revisionist creation myth that gives human form to the cosmological ideas of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Opening with a funny Lucasfilm sound parody, E=mc2 goes on to tell the story of "Proton" and "Electron," a brother and sister whose falling out leads to the Big Bang and the creation of the universe. The film is beautifully made using traditional character animation rendered in Photoshop and After Effects and features a live orchestral score (inevitably one thinks of Fantasia), but the Disney-ish characters and overly simple storyline aren't up to the cosmic ideas being considered. The denouement, in which the narrator is revealed to be a young Albert Einstein telling this story to his sister, is a nice idea that doesn't quite come off.

The lush musical score for E=mc2 is by veteran composer Mark Lathan, who also conducted the UCLA orchestra. Chau was required to book the orchestra a year in advance and had one hour to record the score in a studio without film or sync sound equipment. She and Lathan had to time the film frame by frame to prepare a click track to guide the recording session.

Alina Hiu-Fan Chau has been drawing since she was four and has won forty-two awards in art and design.E=mc2 is her thesis project in the MFA program at UCLA.


Glide with a literary-minded butterfly in Marilyn Zornado's sultry Insect Poetry. © Will Vinton Studios.

Insect Poetry

Marilyn Zornado, a longtime producer at Will Vinton Studios, brings together several of her enthusiasms -- as well as the talents of friends and family -- in this first directorial effort. Based on the poems of Meme Marie Meyers,Insect Poetry employs stop-motion and 2D animation to create a charming and highly civilized entomological literary gathering, in which several eloquent insects read their poems. In three of the segments, Zornado uses her calligraphic skills to enhance the spoken text, and at times the combination of visual and aural elements gets to be a bit much, hindering rather than enhancing comprehension. The final segment, featuring a particularly sultry butterfly and a lovely sequence of 3D fly-throughs, is the most successful; here, words, music, graphics and motion blend together in a flowing and harmonious whole.

Insect Poetry was shot on 35mm after-hours at Will Vinton Studios. In addition to Meyers, other local participants included members of the Portland, Oregon theater community, who performed the readings, and Zornado's entomologist husband, Alan Garren, who served as anatomical advisor. The music was composed by Judith Gruber-Stitzer and arranged for mandolin orchestra by David Gossage.

In her fifteen years as a producer for Will Vinton, Marilyn Zornado's commercial work has included the Dominos Pizza Noid and the California Raisins. She has also produced longer-form programs for Sesame Street, the Smithsonian and others, and teaches Book Arts at the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts.


Perfect comic timing is displayed in Lint People by Helder K. Sun. © Umba Jumba.

Lint People

Helder K. Sun'sLint People has two key ingredients that immediately identify it as a potential classic: a horde of small, oddly shaped creatures and the use of funny, high-pitched and largely incoherent voices. (OK, maybe this says more about me.) In any event, this very funny stop-motion film presents a grim peek into the dysfunctional world of a cotton/rayon blend family, in which the father -- for unexplained reasons -- has developed a taste for his children. There are echoes of the Brothers Quay in the beautifully detailed, decrepit sets, and the characters' movements are executed with perfect comic timing. The impressive, deceptively simple score by Dan Cantrell and sound design by Craig Smith are extremely effective and funny in their own right. Unfortunately, as in so many otherwise accomplished films, the story and motivations (such as they are) are underdeveloped, which gives the film a shapeless feel, and detracts from the overall effect.

Director Helder Sun received his MFA from Cal Arts and lives in Los Angeles, where he makes films, paints, draws and sometimes works as a motion control camera operator. Among his roommates is a family of snails, which will star in his next film, The Snail Parade.

Lint People was funded in part by a Princess Grace Film Award, and has screened in over 60 festivals, including Sundance and Annecy.


Enter the maze in Christian Volckman's Maaz. © Onyx Films.


Maaz is a visually stunning film that combines live-action and 3D animation with a clutch of digital effects to produce a kind of paranoid nightmare, in which a caped figure runs (is chased?) through a surreal, threatening landscape. Director Christian Volckman demonstrates a high degree of imagination and expertise, using expressionist lighting and camera angles, and playing with subtle shifts and sudden changes in scale, tempo and perspective, to create a visceral dream world of muted colors and uncertain meaning. The reverberant soundtrack, featuring music by Jibril Lahbabi, is as impressive and complex as the visuals. Yet,Maaz seems less like a unified narrative (or a suggestive evocation of a state of mind) than it does a collection of techniques in search of a story. It's beautiful to look at and listen to, but it doesn't leave the viewer with much beyond the immediate experience.

Christian Volckman, a graduate of Ecole Supérieure d'Arts Graphiques in Paris, is a painter, graphic designer and photographer. His other film work includes two clips and the short, Le cobaye, which received a Prix du Jury at Annecy in 1995.Maaz has been shown at nearly 100 festivals and has won 30 prizes, including two for sound.

Jon Hofferman is an independent filmmaker, writer and graphic designer, as well as the creator of the Classical Composers Poster ( He has a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion and an M.F.A. from UCLA's School of Film & Television. Appropriately enough, he is currently working on a documentary about the nature of religious experience.

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Jon Hofferman's picture
Jon Hofferman is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster, an educational and decorative music timeline chart that makes a wonderful gift.