Tombes & manèges — Short Film

Another short film to get you in the goulash spirit.

Tombes & manèges is a delightful animated short from France’s ISART DIGITAL Video Game and 3D Animation / VFX School. The story follows a boorish gravedigger trying to amuse his bored son as the pair work in the cemetery for the night. I really love the look of this film — the textures and color palate reminds me a lot of the Paranorman or The Boxtrolls —  and the story is very effectively told without relying on dialogue. I definitely did not see the ending coming, which is unusual for a student film, and really loved how smoothly and deftly they brought the story to a close. Definitely worth a watch!

Animation: Nicolas Albrecht, Jérémie Auray, Alexandre Garnier, Antoine Giuliani, Sandrine Normand, Ambre Pochet and Marc Visintin

Music & Sound Design: Guillaume Bonneau, Arthur Bouflet, Julien Cautru, Florian Desnoyers and Régis-Pol Maisonnave

“I started to do stop-motion when I was a kid. You take a Super 8 and make some models, and move, click, move, click. All that. I love all forms of animation, but there is something unique and special to stop-motion: it’s more real and the set is lit like a set. But I think it’s also a kind of lonely and dark thing to want to do.”

— Tim Burton

Cursed — Short Film

Kicking off the Halloween season for us at 540 Feet this year is the cleverly twisted short film Cursed. A graduation short by Merel van den Broek and Nicole Derksen, who both attended the University of the Arts Utrecht in 2014, Cursed is a retelling of the classic damsel-in-distress /villainess/handsome prince conflict, but told from the point of view of the villainess.

Using a classic Disney-esque design, Broek and Dereksen delve into what happens when an evil villainess finds her damsel-distressing plans interrupted by a handsome prince, with whom she (inconveniently) falls in love. This is a great story, made all the better by how faithfully the beginning recreates the fairytale genre only to turn it on it’s head. I like the girl-power ending as well (I always knew those Princes Charming were rogues at heart). A good short and a great inspiration for a badass witch to emulate this Halloween.

WIth the 20th anniversary of Pixar’s Toy Story approaching, Fortune has posted a wonderful interview with Ed Catmull on the relationship between great animation and new technology. In the interview, Catmull points out that Walt Disney himself was a great believer in continuing to develop the technology of filmmaking alongside developing the stunning art and great storytelling that is so evident in Disney projects. Part of what helped Disney make a comeback after the drop in quality after Walt’s death, and the thing that makes Pixar great today, is the renewed interest in developing the technology that allows ambitious stories to be told.

This is a great interview for many reasons, but I really love that Catmull connects Walt Disney’s insistence on technological innovation to the culture that exists at Disney and Pixar today. I think for a lot of people who lived through the 80s and 90s, the Disney brand is often associated recycling and resting on their laurels; a heavy reliance on nonsensical sequels (who needs a Cinderella 2?) and unambitious projects more interested in merchandizing than developing anything original seemed, more often than not, the hallmark of the Disney corporation when I was growing up (not to say that there weren’t some wonderful things too). Looking at the work of Walt Disney himself, though, it seems that his eponymous company was as much in the business of developing new film technology as it was in creating entertainment. Despite his company often being on the edge of financial crisis, he refused to make easy money sequels to his successful features (just think what the world would be like if he had given in and made Snow White 2). Instead, he insisted on continuing to innovate, both with the stories they told and the way they told them. Just a few of the innovations overseen during Walt’s lifetime:

  •  Developing better ways to fully incorporate sound into cartoons with Steamboat Willie (1929),
  • Animating in three-strip Technicolor with Flowers and Trees  (1932)
  • Developing a gigantic multiplane camera to give animated scenes depth,
  • Creating Fantasound (a multichannel sound system that predated stereo and surround sound by 20 years) for Fantasia (1940)
  • Building the first regularly-operating monorail in the US for Disneyland
  • Improving the optical printer, allowing better combination of live-action and animation (including use of the “yellow screen” a photochemical predecessor to green screen) for films from The Three Caballeros (1945) to Mary Poppins (1964)
  • EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which was intended to be an experimental utopian city rather than a feature of a new Disney park

For Walt Disney, innovation and entertainment went hand in hand, and the most exciting thing about coming up with a new story was also coming up with new ways to tell it. It is wonderful to see that Catmull is continuing that tradition in his work with Disney and Pixar today.

Fall Film Preview 2015

It’s that time again, dear reader. Fall is officially upon us, and with it the another big season for animated feature films. I know that fall is officially here, not just by my calendar, but by the lament of my 9-year-old neighbor that her teacher actually gave her homework this week. Teachers instinctually know when the torpor caused by the summer heat should give way to the deeper thinking that becomes possible with cooler weather (or, at least, that is my explanation); filmmakers, too, seem to follow this logic, as the high-octane summer blockbusters give way to the more staid, award-seeking dramas of the fall.

Luckily, this fall also has a wide variety of visually engaging, heartstring-tugging, laugh-inducing animated films coming to the theaters. Here are the ones to look out for: Continue reading

Coda — Short Film

I don’t know what it is about Irish animation schools that seems to bring out deep, soul-searching animation projects, but there are more mortality-questioning shorts coming from there than almost any other area. Coda is a perfect example of how satisfying these deeper animated shorts can be if done well; it is an extremely well crafted exploration of mortality and longing.

The winner of Best Animated Short at SXSW, Coda follows the soul of a young man who is unexpectedly killed outside a nightclub. He races to escape Death and, failing that, pleads for more time.

I loved the striking use of color and the flat style of the characters, especially Death and the disembodied soul, which really enhanced the abstract, meditative feeling of the short. The decision to make Death’s voice female was, to me, another brilliant stroke, changing the story from that of a man being hunted down by a sinister figure to a story that reaffirms that everyone will be cared for at the end.

“Harry Warner set the tone of our day in court by observing that he had no idea where our cartoon division was, and added, ‘The only thing I know is that we make Mickey Mouse.’ We were proud to hear that and assured him that we would continue to keep Mickey at the top of his popularity. Jack Warner suggested that is would be healthiest for our future if we did so.”

— Chuck Jones, Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist