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October 1999's Film Reviews
(continued from page 1)

Humdrum. © Aardman Animations.

Also from England comes the Aardman Studios produced film Humdrum, directed by Peter Peaks. From the beginning of the film -- as its two characters say, "Anything on telly? . . . Only some weird animation thing. . . . Oh God." -- it is evident that the film will be a self parody. Since the characters themselves are composed of cast shadows from animated figures, the joke is heightened when they resort to playing shadow puppets with their hands. One character comments, "I can't think of anything more boring than staring at some stupid shadows for God's sake. Is this what happens when you don't have any friends?" One has the feeling the idea for this film came about after some animators found themselves having the very same conversation. Heavily reliant on the dialogue of its two characters, the short work remains a relatively simple, humorous film that turns on a few good jokes.

Uncle. © Adam Benjamin Elliot.
Cousin. © Adam Benjamin Elliot.

Uncle and Cousin
Even simpler in its execution are two films by Australian animator Adam Benjamin Elliot, Uncle and Cousin, the first of a trilogy that will be capped by a film called Brother. As these films' titles suggest, they are personal works based on relatives of the artist. Strongly driven by voice-over narration, read by William McInnes, the actual animation in the film is relatively little. Instead, clay figures tend to remain relatively still in front of simple, flattened backdrops, as if they were created by a child.

The stories themselves are at once charming and sad, investigating two individuals who are removed from mainstream society in some manner. The "Uncle" is a sensitive man who loses touch with reality after his wife commits suicide and his dog gets killed. Living out his last days in a "gentleman's home," he dies quietly with a cup of tea and a scone in his hand. The "Cousin" is a boy born with cerebral palsy, who is the subject of ridicule by neighborhood children but nonetheless finds his own way in the world. Cousin was funded by the Australian Film Commission, Film Victoria and SDS Independent, and also is part of an Australia-wide initiative, "Swimming Outside the Flags," a one-hour showcase of Australian animation screened on SCS.

Plug. © Meher Gourjian.

At the other end of the spectrum is a sophisticated computer animation film, Plug, by first-time director Meher Gourjian and first-time producer Jamie Waese. Described as being about "a futuristic society in which people live their entire lives plugged into electronic dream machines," the film is visually interesting for its combination of live-action and animated effects. The basis of the action was provided by live performers in front of a blue screen, whose images were scanned into a computer and modified. The effect is something in between rotoscoping and motion-capture, with the characters reminding me of the movie Tron, or in general the rotoscope work of Ralph Bakshi films. Computer-generated backgrounds and props were composited with the characters and, after being digitally compressed, the footage was then recorded back to 35 mm in CinemaScope. The production of the film, costing a mere $12,000, was supported by numerous computer-related companies in the industry. Sound design is by Randy Thom, an Academy Award winner with impressive credits to his name, including Contact and Forrest Gump.

Maureen Furniss, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Film Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. She is the Founding Editor of Animation Journal and the author of Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics (John Libbey, 1998).

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