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Animated Shorts Celebration At DreamWorks

At the Dreamworks stop, Rick Farmiloe meets the filmmakers and hears about their thought process and methods of getting it on the screen. For him, this year the field was exceptionally strong, with every film being quite unique and different from the rest.

Me on the left with This Way Up director Alan Smith.

written by Rick Farmiloe

I was lucky enough to be included in part of the Oscar Showcase tour this year. Every year the nominees for animated short films are given a tour and luncheon at some of the animation studios here in the Los Angeles area.  The organizer of these celebrations, Ron Diamond, invited me to join them at DreamWorks on the last day of the tour.  Ron and I are on the Executive Committee of the Short Films/Animation Branch of the Academy, and see scores of animated shorts every year.  There is always a wide range of styles and ideas presented in various mediums.  It’s always interesting to see which ones will make the final cut for the Oscar nominations. This year the field was exceptionally strong, with every film being quite unique and different from the rest.  Meeting the filmmakers and hearing about their thought process and methods of getting it on the screen was extremely interesting and inspiring.

Everyone gathered outside the Campanile Building where the theater is located.  There would be a screening for the DreamWorks staff, then a question and answer period with the filmmakers afterwards.  It was fun to meet the filmmakers beforehand and mingle around a bit. The director of PRESTO, Doug Sweetland, could not attend this day, unfortunately. This was the last of the tour stops, so they were very friendly with each other by this point. There seemed to be a common bond, regardless of language or background.  They were joined together by a love and passion for filmmaking and animation.  There was absolutely no competitive vibe among them.  They were just all together as filmmakers, celebrating the animated art form.  Jeffrey Katzenberg showed, and greeted everyone very warmly, making everyone associated with this tour feel extremely welcome.  Jeffrey is one of animation’s biggest fans and supporters.

More...Jeffrey Katzenberg gives an introduction to the screening.

He introduced the filmmakers to the audience before the showing. The films were shown to a very appreciative and enthusiastic audience.  The theater was absolutely packed, with several people standing.  Questions were then asked of the filmmakers as to what their inspiration were in making their particular films. Why the style it was made in?  How long did it take, etc?   The one common thread that ran through the answers was that the filmmakers wanted to keep things simple and direct.  They felt the film could only communicate well if it was kept simple.  When you only have a few minutes to tell a story, it’s important to not have too many distractions to confuse the audience, thus keeping them involved.

It was also interesting that there was almost NO dialogue in any of the films.  This was also a means to keep things simple and communicate to variety of audiences worldwide. There was no language barrier problem because of this choice.

Kunio Kato explains the making of his Oscar-winning film.

The director of LA MAISON EN PETIS CUBES, Kunio Kato said that his inspiration for his film about a man who relives his past through building layers onto his house, was simply the idea of houses building additions on top of their structure.  The plot of the man revisiting points in his life came later.  Kunio is a painter, who feels through animation he can express his art more fully and communicate his ideas better.

The directors of OKTAPADI (about two octopi in love) felt it was best to keep the idea very simple and have the two get separated and try to reunite.  They wanted no dialogue to keep it visual, and short to keep it to the point.  They also felt they wanted to keep one step ahead of the audience to keep it unpredictable.

The two directors of THIS WAY UP, Smith and Foulkes, felt they also needed to keep the plot simple and dialogue free.  The simple plot of the mishaps that befall them as they try to deliver a corpse in a coffin worked very well and kept audiences interested in what would happen next.

The director of LAVATORY LOVESTORY, Konstantin Bronzit, took a full year to do the storyboards, and two years to make the film, which was hand drawn and very charming. He also stated his preference for having no dialogue to keep things simple, citing Charlie Chaplin as an inspiration.

The question of 2D or 3D came up as well. The two filmmakers who did their films in 2D, Konstantin Bronzit and Kunio Kato were adamant that hand drawn animation is the ONLY way they would ever work. They felt it expressed best the feeling they were trying to get across to an audience, and it made it more personal for them.

It was interesting to find out that some of the filmmakers were going on to other feature length projects, while others were staying in the shorts field.

A luncheon was served afterwards, with some DreamWorks staff attending, where more stories were shared between filmmakers and other attendees.  One common thread that tied everyone together was a real love for animation and an excitement at what lies ahead for them as individuals in their careers, and the art form in general.  You really got the feeling that these people where in this for the long haul continuing to explore and create great work.

The This Way Up filmmakers get ready for Monsters vs. Aliens in 3-D.

There was then a tour of DreamWorks, where we were treated to a screening of some sequences of the upcoming release, MONSERS VS ALIENS in 3-D.  The sequences looked amazing, and the 3-D was some of the best I’ve ever seen. We saw some new technology in a hand held 3D virtual camera that can move around an environment with already created animation, giving the director the chance to change camera angles on the spot.  I can't remember exactly what it’s called, but it was really impressive.  We then were shown some test animation by Kristof Serrand for a new feature called HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

The day was winding down, but everyone still had a lot of enthusiasm for everything they were seeing.  The Oscars were only two days away, so you could really feel the excitement among the filmmakers.  It’s important to note that they just seemed to really enjoy being part of the whole Oscar celebration and not too concerned about winning awards.  They were happy to be a part of something pretty wonderful, and just sharing this special time with one another, being supportive and complimentary of each other’s outstanding work.  It was pretty inspiring to realize that this art form of the animated short film is very alive and well.  Regardless of the medium that is used to tell the story, or the country it comes from, or budget or time, there are still a lot of great stories to be told.  It’s nice to know there are such enthusiastic filmmakers out there who feel the animated short film is a vital tool to inform and entertain.  Let’s just hope they all get the support and accolades they deserve.  From what I observed, the animated short film has a very bright future!

Rick Farmiloe Animator and Executive Board Member of the Short Films/Animation Branch AMPAS

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.