Saturday, June 26, 2010

Annecy 2010 (2/2): short films and Andreas Hykade

Short film selection
The heart of the Annecy animation festival has always been the short film competition. This year I only saw three out of five programs. I was surprised that these 90 minute reels only contained seven to nine shorts whereas usually there were up to 15 within the same amount of time. The relative length of these shorts affected my ability to concentrate heavily. I really wished for the occasional two or three minute film that would ease the suffering of having to fight sleep during many an overlong film that began so promising. I do prefer slow-building movies over fast and flashy ones, but there has to be substance to justify the length.

Rumour has it that about 800 films had been submitted for the short film competition alone (not counting graduate films). As a result, one would expect a pretty strong competition. But it’s important to keep in mind that the preselection of films that make it into the competition (only 39 this year) is based on personal decisions by a specially designated selection committee. This year’s competition represented the selection by Isabelle Favez (Swiss director), Jennifer Oxley (American director) and Alexis Hunot (French journalist). I’m not saying that they chose the wrong films but that any other selection committee might have presented us with a totally different competition.

On a more positive note, this selection still provided a wide variety of different techniques and storytelling approaches which is why animation festivals are so inspirational. Aspects of vastly different films leave a lasting impression even if I don’t like a movie as a whole.

Strong primary colors
The vibrant color and background design of Old Fangs is one such example. One of the most important aspects for me is a film’s ability to evoke a certain mood. In recent years, excess filters and textures tended to obscure great design and flattening initially dimensional animation. I didn’t see enough films this year to say something about current trends but at least film makers are now handling textures more economically.

While the story about a cat, a fox and a wolf didn’t intrigue me much I adored the glowing evening and night colors that communicate a certain gravity that is inherent to the story. Although this kind of nostalgic color treatment has become an annoying staple in American feature animation, it looks fresh in this Cartoon Saloon produced short mainly because it was combined with non realistic water color backdrops and ornamental tree designs.

The integration of backgrounds and characters seemed more organic than in Tomm Moore’s bold Brendan feature.

My favorite film of the festival however was a short I have already seen online a few weeks before: Love and Theft by Andreas Hykade. (Watch a full-lenght version here.) With its original treatment of animation/comic history it also served as a suitable 50th anniversary celebration clip.

In my opinion it Hykade's best film to date. All his films are available online under . Not all of his films are my cup of tea but their artistic brilliance can’t be denied (some of them are not safe for work, by the way). In German speaking countries, Hykade may be most well-known for his video clip for 10 kleine Jägermeister by Die Toten Hosen.

Although Love and Theft is an almost seven minute experimental film, its initial rhythmic drive never breaks down. You couldn’t tell if the music or the image came first, they feel so unified.

The progression of morphing “characters” is tightly structured. The individual steps vary in complexity of “character” design, morphing technique and color. Background colors alone divide the film in white, yellow, orange (which he calls red), blue and black segments. He seems to have a preference for the primary colors red, yellow and blue which can also be seen in his other color films.

We lived in grass (1995)

 10 kleine Jägermeister (1996)

The Runt (2005)

Love and Theft (2010)

He never used the hues as pure and saturated before, though. Love and Theft proves that flat primary colors don’t have to look cheap when handled by a master. Despite all the red there is no need for complimentary green or earthtones to balance it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Annecy 2010 (1/2): features and old fashioned 3D effects

This year’s Annecy experience was a little different for me. Not because with its 34th edition the festival celebrated its 50th anniversary, but because I came relatively late to the party (not too many tickets left) and was only able to stay for two days due to current work assignments. This is also the reason why my promised Dumbo posts have been postponed. They are just delayed, not forgotten though, so please keep coming back here.

Traditionally I like to see as many animated features in competition as possible because most of them are not getting an international cinema release afterwards. This year I’ve only managed to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox (which still isn’t available in Switzerland), so I cannot tell if its award for best feature in competition was justified. I liked it although it somehow fell short of my expectations.

I finally saw Don Hahn’s Waking Sleeping Beauty (missing the first 15 minutes due to a misunderstanding). Hahn did a fine job even if he didn’t have time to explore some of the more interesting issues. There’s nothing much for me to say about it except that I agree with most of what Michael Barrier and Michael Sporn have written about it. I was probably most surprised that animators were not labelled yet every executive was. Or as Michael Sporn writes:
“Yet the story being told - without an iota of fat - is the story of the above-the-line players and how they felt about each other. […] Only a couple of times do we really get to imagine how the artists felt about what was going on. There’s a meeting called by Katzenberg to talk about how the people felt about the period. They explained that they weren’t able to spend appropriate time with their families because of all the excess overtime that was demanded of them. Katzenberg tears up and promises that things will get better. They don’t; things get worse.“
3D backlash sold as state of the art
Then I attended the avant-première of a Belgian children’s film called Les aventures extraordinaires de Samy. The director’s claims that this film was exclusively made to be seen in 3D were more than justified. Just when you think that 3D has finally grown out of throwing things at the audience, a veritable “fourth-wall breaker” comes along that works much better as an overdimensioned rollercoaster than the uneventful story about the coming-of-age of a cutesy ocean turtle would suggest. And yes, there are these moments where a small fish is swimming towards you out of the screen (Jaws 3-D, 1983, came to mind) or a harpoon is causing you to wince in your seat.

But the 3D really works in communicating size relations: for a long stretch the turtles are out on the ocean with little else to compare their sizes to. In these scenes the three-dimensional images not only emphasize the camera position close to the water surface but also show how small these turtles are.

It was no coincidence that Samy resembles an overlong IMAX-presentation because its production company nWave Pictures and director Ben Stassen have been doing exactly that kind of IMAX show films for years (Wild Safari 3D, Fly me to the moon). While the turtles swim all over the world and still always meet the same few characters, environmental issues are present in several scenes but never really affect the protagonists or the audience, for that matter. Spilling oil and the destruction of the Amazon forest just serve as colorful backdrops. Overall, the narrative contains no real obstacles, it all just floats along without real conflict. Seeing that without the benefits of 3D-effects would be about as interesting as seeing Magic Journeys (1975) or Captain EO (1986) in 2D. Besides, it was obvious that the presented French language track was dubbed and not the original version.

French Dubbing was also the reason why I didn’t catch the first two Toy Story movies although I would have been able to get tickets. Even though I enjoyed Samy for what it was, the fact that this year’s main 3D attractions were upgraded regular movies and an old-fashioned effects-rollercoaster made me about as enthusiastic about the future of 3D like the prospects that Brad Bird is leaving animation for MI:IV and Pixar’s next few movies are sequels. I'm still looking forward to Toy Story 3 however, if only for its Michael Arndt screenplay.

To get an impression of what makes Annecy so special, read this official blog entry.