Apr 23, 2011

Pas de Deux

Where would we be without Adobe today? How could we possibly manipulate images?

Well, in case you have already forgotten--I know I sometimes do--it bears mentioning that people have been doing the same things we're doing with Photoshop long before Photoshop came along.

Norman McLaren's "Pas de Deux" (1968) is truly a masterpiece of image manipulation. The title is the name of a type of ballet dance danced by two (French for "steps of two").

McLaren shot the film with strong side-lighting, and later layered different sequences by using optical printing. Today, we can basically imitate the same effect with a few clicks of the mouse. The computer crunches some numbers, and--voila!--there's your film.

Pas de Deux, Norman MCLAREN, 1967 by shortanimatedworld

But what you lose in the process is an understanding of what exactly is happening to the film.

McLaren's firm understanding of the mechanics of film are demonstrated in the range of techniques employed in his films. Take "Neighbors" (1952) on the one hand, a film made using stop-motion animation, and compare it to "Begone Dull Care" (1949), an abstract animation made by making marks right on the film.

McLaren is a tremendously versatile filmaker with a great understanding images, sounds, and the intersect. Take a lesson from this Scottish-Canadien fellow.


Apr 21, 2011

North American Film Festivals and the Fate of Animators

I've been to the Ottawa International Animation Film Festival twice now, and it's given me a tiny peek into how people find work and get noticed in the independent animation community. Cards are exchanged, demos are handed out, promotions are held and there are competitions even for high school and undergraduate students just starting out. It struck me as very healthy to the community of artists and filmmakers, to discuss eachother's films and get references, and learn a little more about what works and what doesn't in the film and television industries.

That being said, I can't properly express my mixed feelings and creeping nausea when I spot the Telétoon booth each year. Based out of Canada, it's become a rather formidable player in children and teen-aimed television and cartoons, mostly featured on the Canadian station, but over the past decade or so has begun leaking into popular United States' children's networks. This is sort of okay, but also sort of not-- the shows are largely produced in Flash and are easy and cheap to animate; the character designs are angular and gaudy, and the stories and writing are poor even for children's shows. They choose demographics easiest to exploit, and little care is put into their pilots and premises.

This is all my personal opinion, of course, but what else can it possibly mean for young North American animators? Telétoon is a large player in the industry, especially for novices just starting out, but little hand-drawn or stop-motion is practiced, and the shows are mainly produced in Flash. Now, Flash can be a wonderful program when used well (see Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends) but experience shows that this is rare, as it is time-consuming and the purpose of using Flash in the first place, I imagine, is to save time and money. Young animators get lured in by the promise of steady income and a gateway into the market, and soon grow complacent. This doesn't mean it happens to everyone, but the thought of it makes me twitch.

It's so mind-boggling to me that each year at Ottawa, I am witness to scores of amazingly talented and hard-working North American animators, and yet the biggest thing out of Canadian television is cookie-cutter exploitative fodder. Some truly amazing artists make themselves known at festivals just like these-- it doesn't mean they absolutely have to go into children's entertainment, but can't I hope?

I'm also going to stop myself before I start spouting even more baseless nonsense and sounding like John K. But hey, what do you guys think?


Apr 20, 2011

"The only thing was to stay at home and wait for it to happen" Caroline Leaf - The Street

After watching the hand-crafted animations of Caroline Leaf , I felt intrigued. There was something so therapeutic about her work, the color scheme, the music and sound effects. I enjoyed how her art told a clear story about the loss of a loved one, dealing with the death and the family's reaction. I wish that there was more animation made in this style today, even as a young adult I would watch Leaf's work and enjoy it. She uses the process of watercolor and goache painting on glass, images made by scratching the emulsion of exposed color film. This film actually came in second place at the International "Olympic" competition. The Street won over Disney and more commercial based animation work.


-Arianna Quinn

Confronting Death

The dynamic, beautiful animation When the Day Breaks addresses the emotional turmoil of a young female anthropomorhpic pig character. She witnesses the death of a total stranger and the experience sends her reeling. In the aftermath she puts the death in quiet perspective through an animated exploration of the city in which she lives, including to the dwelling of the stranger who was killed.

The animation itself addresses a common experience to those who have witnessed deaths: the uneasiness, quietude and matter-of-factness of death. The animation itself pays special attention to objects- giving them a life, will and character all their own, even while they remain, for all intents and purposes, just inanimate objects. Lemons roll heedlessly into sewers, toasters crackle with a hidden energy and potato skins seem nearly acrobatic midair. The focus here illustrates the seeming independence of objects, and their continuation after their user/owner has passed on.


The title's relation to the animation is interesting as well. It implies both a 'breaking' of the day, a violent interruption or intrusion, perhaps the shattering of an illusion- but culturally, the idiom "the break of day" implies the start of the day. In the animation, the day "breaks" in both the literal and idiomatic senses- it begins, and is violently interrupted, then begins again.


This little Piggy went to market, This little Piggy wishes she had stayed home

When the Day Breaks is a cartoon animation, with a theme that uses the song, and a plot that uses it as a double-entendre. It begins with a Chicken, who finishes his breakfast, and goes to the store to buy more lemons, and biscuits. Meanwhile, over on the other side of town, a cheerful Pig sings the song’s title to herself as she peels potato skins for her breakfast. As she reaches for milk to pour into her bowl of potato skins, she realizes that the milk had gone bad, so she decides to take a stroll over to the closest store to go buy some more milk. Coincidently, this is the same store the Chicken had gone to earlier to buy his lemons and biscuits. And as he leaves the store with his groceries, he accidently bumps into the Pig, and one of his lemons falls out of his hand and rolls down a drainpipe. He doesn’t take the accident to well, and gives the Pig a quick, sharp scowl, and storms off. The Pig cringes, and walks into the store to pickup her milk, glancing at a tray of lemons as she enters. But before she finishes her purchase, she hears a loud crash coming from outside. She rushes out to see what had happened, and is horrified to see that the Chicken she had bumped into earlier, had just been hit by a car. The film begins to meld into the Chicken’s entire life, his family, his childhood, and even his anatomy. And just as quickly as we enter this vision, we come back and see the ambulance with the Chicken drive off into the fog. The Pig, devastated to have witnessed the death of somebody she had just met, quickly finishes her purchase, and sprints back to her apartment, panting, and hearing her own heartbeat. Once she’s home, all senses of joy, and optimism, are gone. She pulls down the blinds for her windows, blocking out the grey, and reality of the day outside. Though as she finishes her breakfast, she pulls herself back together, and reopens the blinds, and lets the sunlight back in. Earlier I mentioned that the theme of this cartoon revolved around the song ‘When the Day Breaks’, and that the plot used the title as a double-entendre. Well in my own opinion, indeed it did. Metaphorically speaking, the Pig was having such a wonderful and cheerful morning, prior to the incident, and it was this incident, which had almost in a sense broken all of that. The film was created by Amanda Forbis, and Wendy Tilby. It used a series of creative and innovative approaches to animation, in which the initial footage was filmed live action, where Amanda and Wendy would act out what the characters were doing, and the live footage was painted over into a cartoon; it was rotor scoped. The film was made for the National Film Board of Canada in 1999, and won many awards, including a nomination for an academy award (which it did not win, but came extremely close). 


Image was copied from www.nfb.ca/.../viewing/ when-day-breaks-fr/

There Will Be A TIme When We'll Be Nostalgic About This.

The thing that I respond to most in A Letter To Colleen is the frankness of the time and place. This could have been any suburban home in America. Even though this took place in the early '90's when people wore baggy Jenco's and Kathleen Hanna was getting into fights with Courtney Love; the story of testing out boundaries is timeless. Being young thinking everything at the moment is so important and most importantly making really bad decisions.

Through the grim pessimism of Andy writing a letter that he'll never send. The reflecting back with out the rosy lens of nostalgia, feeling awkward about the eleven year olds drinking beer and a first sexual experience. Andy knows that these were essential moments that make him who he is today. He can never go back and even seeing Colleen, years later, sober and trying to make her way is taboo. Because you can never go back. Sometimes a memory is safer, easier, and cleaner than the present.

Most importantly Andy doesn't regret, while he might hold a flame for a past form of her. He is looking forward. He is out of the sleepy suburban area. Moved on to be with like-minded people in the city. Facing tomorrow.



In searching the internet for more information on Frank Mouris, I discovered very little past what I already knew of his Oscar-winning animation: Frank Film, made in 1973. I did happen upon a website taken from the April of 1999 issue of Animation World Magazine titled On Winning an Oscar. The article interviewed Frédéric Back, Gene Deitch, Faith Hubley, Tyron Montgomery, Jimmy Picker, and Frank Mouris, asking the effect the Oscar has had on their careers. I was surprised to learn, in more than one interview, animators did not base the success of their films on whether or not they won or lost, and in some instances, animators preferred to not win. Gene Deitch claimed "Not winning it is not an artistic failure, and winning it is not necessarily an artistic success, but as the most heavily hyped award on the planet, the Hollywood Oscar sure does give you something to talk about!" The animators interviewed in this article did not deny the exposure that their careers were given, simply as nominees, but in many instances they preferred to work independently. I was also surprised to learn that Frank Film was planned by Frank and Caroline Mouris to be the one personal animation they made before joining the industry. Instead however, it won an Oscar and its success allowed them to work as independent film-makers and continue to pursue their 'personal film quest' while simultaneously profiting off of freelance animation work.


The Animator Who Flattened Bambi

Marv Newland started his animation career in LA with the animated short Bambi Meets Godzilla in 1969. from here he animated commercials for a short period of time lasting until he moved to Canada. While there, he worked on animated advertisements for Sesame Street and Educational Television. He also worked on pieces of longer films. He co-designed and story-boarded "Super Joe." He did other commercial and promotional animations as well. He eventually relocated to Vancouver where he worked for several more companies including some in LA and Chicago He created the storyboard for the TV series Barbapapa during the course of his stay in Holland. By 1975 Newland had created International Rocketship Ltd. which was a film production company. Through his new establishment, he animated Sing Beast Sing (1980), Anijam (1984), Hooray for Sandbox Land (1985), Black Hula (1988), Pink Komkommer (1991), Fuv (1999), and a few other films. Some if his notable achievements were the production of commercials for MTV, Nickelodeon, and Locomotion. The company also produced pilots for series and a couple of longer films. Newland received Grande Prix at the Annecy International Animation Festival in 1996. At this time he also worked on animations of series for other companies. Recently he has produced the work of other directors: Friday Night Idiot Box, Explodium, and My Friend Max. He is now working on his film Scratchy, after having finished his film Postalolio.

Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marv_Newland

Image: http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=616236&gsub=18369

Norm McLaren's Neighbors

Norm McLaren was born in Stirling Scotland in 1914. He studied at the Glasgow School of Art. His earlier works involved scratching the enamel off of film and painting on it. Two of his earlier films won several prizes at the Scottish Amateur Film Festival.
McLaren moved to New York just before World War II, and asked to join the National Film Board of Canada a few years later. In 1952, McLaren made one of his most recognized shorts, Neighbors. The short is about two men who live in similar houses right next to one another. The men are friendly toward each other at the start of the film, but when a small flower blooms between their two houses, the men fight over who it belongs too. The men fight to a point where they harm one another and their respective families, without realizing they have killed the flower in the scuffle.
Although it is now one of McLaren's well known pieces, it was considered controversial at the time it was made.

"I was inspired to make Neighbors by a stay of almost a year in the People's Republic of China. Although I only saw the beginnings of Mao's revolution, my faith in human nature was reinvigorated by it. Then I came back to Quebec and the Korean War began. (...) I decided to make a really strong film about anti-militarism and against war." — Norman McLaren

Despite this, Neighbors had won both a Canadian Film Award, Academy Award and an Oscar, under the Documentary category.



Apr 18, 2011

Martha Colburn's World of Anarchy

Stills from Martha Colburn's "Myth Labs"

Martha Colburn is one of my favorite contemporary animators, and having been able to see her work and listen to her speak at the Museum School last semester was definitely a highlight of my academic career at the Museum School. My favorite animation by Colburn is "Myth Labs" (2008) and "Dolls VS. Dictators VS. Deerhoof VS. Evil" (2010). Her marriage of folk, punk, and traditional animation techniques which fabricate anarchic environments lends the animations to becoming a beautiful weaving of the grotesque and the humorous.

"Sea See" Martha Colburn, 2001, painting

While there is a grotesque notion to her overall body of work, there are raw bits of humor and political satire that are a relief from the bombardment of horrific imagery that encompasses her works. In addition to animating her works, oftentimes there is a direct control of the musical compositions--either by her or bands that typify and mesh with the concepts and visuals in her animations. What attracts me most to Colburn's work, of the many, is her ability to integrate gestural mark making in a way that builds upon a narrative and mythology. It is this narrative and mythology of anarchy that Colburn focuses on within the dialogue of popular American/Western culture that is conceptually fascinating and visually complex.



Art in America Magazine

|| Post by: Stephanie Clark ||

Apr 16, 2011

The Draw of the Dark and Mysterious

Polish artist Walerian Borowczyk is not too well-known today. Or perhaps he is, though not necessarily for his animated short films. Trained in painting at the Academy of Fine Art in Krakow, Borowczyk first earned public attention as an artist through his poster designs for cinema features, which earned him a national award in 1953.

Soon thereafter he found his way to animation, and produced some of his first films, including Był sobie raz (Time Upon a Once) (1957) and Dom (House) (1958, with Jan Lenica).

Just before Les Jeux des Anges (1964), Borowcyzk made this short film titled Renaissance (1963), another stop-motion animation.

It cleverly utilizes stop-motion animation played in reverse to create the illusion of objects assembling themselves. After a long build-up, the picture-perfect scene is complete, with all objects reconstructed after initial chaos. This scene does not last very long, though, as a ticking bomb brings everything full circle by exploding and putting the whole scene in disarray once more.

Borowczyk, it seems, is intrigued by the dark and mysterious aspects of life. The violent and hidden forces operating in his animations often take on a strong psychological dimension.

Perhaps, then, his drift from animation to erotic live-action films is not all too surprising.

It is for this reason that he has somewhat fallen from grace towards the end of his career. Though still visually compelling, Borowczyk's later films put those topics prevalent in his animations into explicit form.

Too bad he couldn't resist the temptation. His animations are truly compelling and stimulating and in a strange way...Oh, the power of subtlety!


Apr 13, 2011

Michaela Pavlatova

Early Czech animators were faced with the misfortune of Soviet censors scrutinizing their work. Michaela Pavlatova was fortunate enough to miss these times in Czech history, but they are evident in her work in other ways. Absurdity and sexuality seem to be a response to the "sphere of personal relationships rather than the Communist State" in her work. Michaele Pavlatova has claimed that real life can be more interesting than the imaginary and as a result, she works with themes of relationships and libido driven situations that she observes from life and recreates with her own interpretation. Taken from the autobiographical documentary This Could Be Me (1996) Pavlatova admits ‘I like the world of ordinary things. Reality can be more interesting than fiction." Carnival of Animals as well as The Crossword Puzzle focus on sexually driven characters. In the first, absurdity is evident in the craze of women, men, and animals, who interact and frolic sexually to no end. In The Crossword Puzzle, a woman with one thing on her mind waits for her husband to get in bed with her. Preferring to work on his crossword puzzle, the husband only equals her excitement when her distractions help him to solve a clue. Both animations deal with human sexuality and poke fun at our own obsessions and fascinations with sex. The Crossword Puzzle makes a more direct comment on a frustration she voices from a woman's point of view in a humorous and light manner.