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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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.

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

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.

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.