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.

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

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

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Little Yeyos — Short Film

This week’s short film is a cute animation from Beijing’s Light Chaser Animation. A relatively new animation studio, Light Chaser was founded in 2013 by Gary Wang — the creator of Tudou.com, one of China’s top video sharing websites — with the aim of creating high quality animated films with a basis in Chinese culture.

The studio’s new short film, Little Yeyos, is a good example of that business plan in action. The Little Yeyos are seven cherubic spirits living in the mythological Chinese spirit world. The discovery of a mysterious dot of light by the meekest of the spirits sends the community into disarray as the spirits try to capture the beautiful light. Although the spirit characters start out a little too twee for my tastes, once the mystery light is discovered both the story and characters seem to solidify and altogether the result is a very fun and humorous short film. The best part, though, is the beautiful animation itself, which — true to the aims of Light Chaser — certainly rivals the sleek look of the animated films coming out of Pixar and DreamWorks. The company is looking to debut its first animated feature film in the near future and, if this short is anything to go by, it should be quite beautiful. I am really looking forward to see what comes out of this ambitious company in the future.

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.

“At Pixar we’re almost more excited about the things that didn’t work because it’s like: well, we tried this but we didn’t expect this. It’s like a trapeze artist, who’s going to do a quintuple somersault – it’s never been done before in the world. Hollywood is a place where, typically, if something doesn’t work you lose your job. In Hollywood terms, not only is there no net but there’s poison spikes down there. Of course you’re only going to do something you know you can land. Whereas at Pixar we don’t just have a net, we have down comforters and air bags, and you have everybody trying stuff constantly. That’s one of the things we’ve changed here.”

— John Lasseter, talking to The Guardian

A la Française – Short Film

If you’ve ever wondered what Versailles would be like if giant chickens took the place of humans, wonder no longer. This amazingly funny short film was included in last year’s Oscar animated short film compilation as a “highly commended short,” and ended up being one of my favorite films of all of them. I love all the sight gags here, and the build up to the chaotic climax was really well planned. A la Française is definitely worth the seven minutes it takes to watch, and should brighten up even the worst cases of New Year doldrums. Enjoy!