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.

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.

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

Ascension — Short Film

I’ve been meaning to post this amazing short for a while now, but the high number of mountain disasters that unfolded in the early portion of 2015 kept it in my stores until now, when it feels more appropriate to laugh at mountaineering mishaps.

Created by five students from the Supinfocom school in France, Ascension is a wonderfully inventive story of two climbers trying to place a religious icon on a snow-covered mountain peak. While I initially was worried that this would be a somber film — some form of think piece on the dark elements of religious devotion — I was soon proved entirely wrong.

Ascension is a beautifully crafted slapstick short, with elements that would have seemed right at home with both Buster Keaton and Bugs Bunny, but with enough serious elements to balance the tone of the film and make the short feel like a complete story. Add to that a gorgeous visual design with stunning landscapes and two completely engaging characters, this student film feels like the complete package and, moreover, feels like something that might have come from any of the big-budget animation studios.

Summer 2015 Animated Features Preview

Well, animation fans, summer is finally here; perhaps not strictly according to the calendar, but at least according to the thermometer outside my house, which means it’s time to take refuge from the heat in an air conditioned theater and enjoy a few good animated features. While last summer’s feature animation lineup was relatively sparse, with only How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Planes 2 making their theatrical debut over the warmer months, this summer is a little more packed, with four to five features being released this summer (depending on if you’re reading this from the UK or the US). Here’s what to look out for this summer when looking to beat the heat at your local cinema: Summer2015

Continue reading

“Luckily with animation, fantasy is your friend.  And the more fanciful and the more out of control the story seems to be reaching… I think all of these things go down more easily when the medium is an animated one and not a live action one.”

— Steven Spielberg,

from an interview with Movie Talk about The Adventures of Tintin

The Alchemist’s Letter — Short Film

Ok, you’re going to have to set up a bit to watch this one.

No, really — I know it’s tempting to just click that play button up there and watch this on your teeny tiny computer screen or (heaven forbid) your iPhone, but this is one film that deserves your biggest screen, a dark room, and your full attention.

I’ve been excited about seeing this short since the trailer popped up a few months ago, and the full version more than lives up to those heightened expectations. A gorgeously crafted film by Carlos Andre Stevens (Toumai), The Alchemist’s Letter is about a young man named Veridian who, upon his estranged father’s death, discovers that his father built a gold-making machine powered by his own memories. Guided through an enchanted journey through the vessels of the machine — an exploration of the alchemist’s most precious memories — Veridian is given one last life lesson, and a chance to save the relationship with his own daughter.

The touching story (narrated by Eloise Webb and Academy Award® nominee John Hurt) is the perfect vehicle for the biggest draw here, the stunning visuals that will leave you completely entranced (and make you glad you chose to watch it on a screen that does them justice). The color palate is beautifully designed, contrasting the warm, natural hues of the alchemist’s home with the bright, vivid colors of the memories used by the machine. Even more enchanting is the evocative way the machine flows from capsule to capsule, with each having a distinctive feel and weight. The music, composed by Mikael Sandgren, adds the finishing touches to this beautiful film. The only downside is that it is a mere five minutes long, when I could have easily enjoyed lingering in that magical space all day.

I’m sure we will be hearing good things about this film and this director in the near future. In the meantime, I hope you will take some time today to enjoy this amazing film and share it with others.