Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Animated Inspiration: Jason and the Argonauts

To commemorate today being the 90th birthday of stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen, here is a clip from the 'Talos' sequence of Jason and the Argonauts, the first film with Harryhausen's animation that I remember watching as a child.

A couple years back, I was at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (2002 or 2004, I think) and they held a special screening of Mr. Harryhausen's completed film "The Story of 'The Tortoise & the Hare'"--a film that he had started back in the 1950's but had never finished until recently. Yes, even back in the day, billable work took precedence over personal projects, as many animators well know. As he approached the age of 90 years, Mr. Harryhausen went back and finished a project he started half a century earlier. I've long admired his skill as an animator, but now I'm wondering if I should be admiring his persistence even more?

TAIS 2010 AniJam: Aquarium

This past Thursday was the Toronto Animated Image Society's 2010 AniJam--an evening of animation from Toronto animators and animators from around the world. Every year, a new topic is selected and animators world-wide submit ten-second films. This year was 'water.' The following film is my entry, a spoof on the aquarium screen saver from the days of the Macintosh Plus.

I know I've mentioned it before, but last Thursday night was a perfect example of why I make the four-to-six hour drive to and from Toronto every couple of months. It's all about the community. Where else can you attend an animation screening and discuss concepts for pixilation films with an animation professor from Sheridan College, attend an art show and have a conversation about how the rich history of Eastern European puppetry affects stop-motion animation with an animator from Prague, and then have a roundtable discussion on animated film at a Chinese restaurant with renowned animators like Madi Piller and Patrick Jenkins, all in the same night?

I'm told by my friends that Toronto is a tough city to succeed in (due in no small part to the huge number of talented people there), but the community is one of those added perks that must really make the effort worth it. I'm doubly blessed that, not only do the Canadians tolerate my regular visits, but that over the past ten years I've been discovering the animation community here in Michigan through our local chapter of ASIFA. Animation, especially independent animation, is such a solitary pursuit. Communities like TAIS and ASIFA provide more benefits than just networking for business and learning new skills. Sometimes its just refreshing to be among like-minded people who understand your quirky vision of reality, can sympathize with the long hours you spend trying to breathe life into the inanimate, and understand all the inside jokes culled from hours of watching animated film from around the world.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Inspiration: Red River Bay

Wow. That's all I can say. The motion, the lighting, the special effects, this is one of those animations out of Gobelins l’école de l’image that I can watch over and over and find something new every time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Animated Inspiration: Gobelins l’école de l’image

So I talk a lot about the Ottawa International Animation Festival--as it's just down the road and it's also the second largest animation festival in the world. Well, the Annecy Festival in France is the largest. And every year it seems, they have the students at Gobelins l’école de l’image produce the trailers shown before every screening. And every year, when I see these trailers I'm encouraged about the future of animated film. It is simply astonishing that students are producing work of this calibre. I only spent a day in Paris during June's research trip to Europe, but I think that on my return trip to France, I'll have to spend a day at the Gobelins school just soaking up the creative energy!

M. Eustache

Soapy Trip


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Inspiration: Le Royaume

Okay, sometimes I watch a film from Gobelins and I just have to say 'I get it. This film makes sense'.

This is not one of those films. The animation is great. The pacing and editing works. But the concept of a king forcing a beaver to build a castle for him kind of leaves me scratching my head...

But it's out of Gobelins l’école de l’image, so I really don't care if it makes sense or not, it's worth watching!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Animated Thoughts: Locale

I finally got to see the Secret of Kells here in Michigan--though I had to make a two-hour, round-trip drive to Grand Rapids to see it. My first attempt was the previous night in Ann Arbor. I drove to the State Theatre only to find out that someone had updated the website incorrectly and the film wasn't being shown at 9 p.m. Two hours and over half a tank of gas wasted. So. The next evening, it was off to the Grand Rapids Celebration Cinema with my friend Jeff. This time, success! The screen was a little smaller than the first time I saw Kells in Waterloo, but I saw it one last time in the theatre.

Watching Kells on the big screen reminds me why I go to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema every year. In Lansing, we just don't get to see animated feature films in our theaters unless they're from (or sponsored by) big Hollywood studios*. I can't help but believe that if the Odeon Theatre in Frandor was still around, I'd get to see films like Kells locally.

Growing up back in the 1980's, the Odeon was the place in Lansing to see independent film. And for a budding animator like myself, it was the place to see the International Tournée of Animation. Though I had never visited the Odeon before a girlfriend took me there to see the Tournée, viewing that collection of animated films took me from the world of 'watching cartoons' and opened my eyes to the wider variety of animated film that was out there--from hand-drawn to stop motion and, eventually, computer animated. I believe it was that experience at the first Tournée of Animation that became one of the driving forces fueling my desire to attend animation festivals around the Great Lakes area--from Chicago to Toronto and as far away as Ottawa.

Sadly, the Odeon Theatre shut down (despite being a moderately profitable venture, as I am told by a friend of the former owners). And even with the advent of the internet and online video, the animation festival remains the best place to see the majority of independent animated film on, for most of them, a screen large enough to show these films the way they were meant to be seen. And while I'm encouraged by studios like Pixar who are leading the charge to show shorts in front of their feature-length animated films and touring shows like The Animation Show and Spike & Mike, festivals like Annecy, Ottawa, KAFI are still one of the only places where you can see experimental animated film, student-produced films, and independent animated films.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival came one step closer to 'getting it right' this year (due in large part to local animator Gary Schwartz). AAFF took one Friday evening screening and showed a 1.5 hour block of experimental animated films, followed by a Q & A session with a few animators who had made the trip to Ann Arbor for the festival. While I would've preferred to see all the animated films handled this way, since I can't afford to spend an entire week sitting through live action films that don't interest me just to see the one or two animated films interspersed throughout the other screenings, I'm happy to see that AAFF is moving in a direction that is a little more friendly to those of us who want to see these animated films. And for the record, the theatre was easily three-quarters full. A good showing for a very esoteric segment of the animated film medium.

Well, the whole point of this post is not so much to rant about festivals, but rather to celebrate the following announcement: Secret of Kells will be released on DVD in the United States this October 2010. So this foreign-made, Academy Award nominated film, which proved hand drawn animation is still alive and well, will soon be accessible to the entire population--especially to those who didn't get to see it at a theatre near them.

* Props to NCG Cinema and Celebration Cinema for showing Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and Spirited Away...now how about showing the Evangelion relaunch films or Technotise: Edit and I! :)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Animated Inspiration: Fly

Since I was in England over the last two weeks (and drove past Bristol, home of Aardman Animations), here is a rather amusing film by Alan Short. According to animation historian Jerry Beck, this film is part of a series that Aardman Animations is funding to showcase the talent of its directors. This animation is a very good example of the 'gag' film--there is very little in the way of character background and no dialogue. Rather what you have is a protagonist, an antagonist, and a problem to be solved. Much like the Wile Coyote and Road Runner films from Warner Brothers, you don't have a very complex plot nor do you have the use of dialogue to expound upon your characters' motivations. However, what you do have is a series of misadventures that the director/animator uses to develop the characters' personalities--mainly through their actions, reactions, and expressions.