The Present — Short Film

We have cute short film to share with you this first week in February. The Present is a touching story about an angry boy whose mother buys him an (initially unwanted) present. A thesis short by director Jacob Frey — from the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in Ludwigsburg, Germany — this is a great calling card for a new animation talent.

In addition to some really nice animation, The Present is especially impressive in how it develops the story arc over the three plus minutes of screen time. While I don’t want to give too much away, I will say that this short made me go from kind of hating the boy (and wondering if he might be a sociopath) to really feeling sympathy for him in just a few seconds; it’s quite an impressive feat to create a character arc in such a short span of time, and even better that it is done without laying on the schmaltz too thickly.

This short has already had a great run at film festivals, and I have no doubt we will be hearing more from it’s creator soon. If you liked this short, be sure to check out more of Frey’s work on his Vimeo Page.

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“When you take something that’s inert, and through motion, give it life, make it appear to be alive, living, breathing thinking and having emotions, that’s animation. But when you take something that’s live-action, and move a part of it, that’s a special effect.”

— John Lasseter, talking to Variety

Happy 60th anniversary to one of the best cartoon shorts ever made — One Froggy Evening. Written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones, One Froggy Evening made its debut on December 31, 1955 as part of the Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies cartoon series.

The story (if you don’t know it already) follows a lowly construction worker who thinks he’s struck it big when he uncovers a singing frog (the first appearance of Michigan J Frog, although he was named after this short was released). The only hitch: the frog who can’t stop singing when they’re alone becomes inexplicably frog-like once others are watching. Called “the Citizen Kane of animated film” by Steven Spielberg, this classic is one of three Chuck Jones cartoons recognized by the National Film Registry (along with What’s Opera, Doc? and Duck Amuck).

 

The Harvest — Short Film

One more day until Christmas!

What’s that you say? You’re tired of Christmas already? Seeing the ads and listening to holiday music since Halloween has you sick to the teeth of the whole season? Well, I’ve got just the holiday short for you!

The Harvest is an impressively scary holiday tale from Colombia about a little girl who gets out of bed to try and see Santa and sees… something else entirely. Directed by Jorge Jaramillo and written by Luis Fernando Mora, this short film is guaranteed to keep you for from attempting that midnight run downstairs to snack on one of Santa’s cookies.

More Stuff — Short Film

There’s nothing quite like trying to watch TV during the holiday season to convince you that the true meaning of Christmas might actually be about stuff. From arguments about coffee cups to ever-expanding shopping days to the car commercials that think that a family of two really needs four cars (just put a bow on it!), it’s incredible how many times per day we are encouraged to get, well, more stuff.

More Stuff, a short animated musical from Blue Zoo and musical comedian Ben Champion, is a hilarious response to the sometimes-overwhelming Christmas commercialism. Directed by animators Simone Giampaolo and Joe Kinch, the short has the look and feel of a for-television Christmas special, which contrasts wonderfully with the cheeky lyrics by Champion. My favorite bit is the nude elves — now that’s something you’ll never see in a Christmas special!

Sort (No Man’s Land) — Short Film

Given that today is Armistice Day, this seemed like an appropriate animated short to share. Armistice Day, for those who don’t know, marks the end hostilities on the Western Front in World War I, which took effect “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918.

Sort, also titled No Man’s Land, is an impressively constructed reminder of the living hell that led to the armistice and finally ended the first World War. To be honest, this is a tough one to watch; the filmmakers do not shy away from recreating the gruesome horrors of trench warfare. That is precisely the point, though, as Sort reminds us that Armistice Day isn’t all about the poppies.

In order to create the gritty look of Sort, the filmmakers combined animation (with 3ds Max) and motion capture (edited in Motionbuilder) , and then rendered the film in Iray (Nvidia) from 3ds Max 2014 with a fixed number of iterations to achieve the grainy look of the final product. I was very impressed with that consistent visual graininess, which I haven’t seen in many animated projects, and also with the use of light (or lack of light) throughout the short to really effectively create the panicked atmosphere of the battlefield. This short probably won’t be for everyone, but it’s an impressive memorial of a truly dark period in the history of the world and the sacrifices of the people who were put through those horrors.

Dia de los Muertos – Short Film

Here in the US, the day after Halloween seems to be reserved for laying around in a candy coma and scooping up rotting pumpkin off the front stoop. But for our neighbors to the south, today is one of three days devoted to the remembrance of family who have died, the holiday Día de Muertos.

This lovingly crafted short film by HouseSpecial’s Kirk Kelley is a great way to dive into the holiday. Each scene is beautifully lit and evocatively shot, as the reflective mood that begins the short seamlessly gives way to the (pardon the pun) liveliness of the dead’s celebration. I also love how richly textured this short is, with every stone, candle and bone taking on unique qualities of their own.