Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Annecy Colors

A visit to Europe's largest animation festival reminded me of two things: colorful animation is very much alive in all parts of the world. Computer tools and the internet have enhanced the awareness and skills of color design. But the full impact of colors is only perceived in a dark theatre (or any other darkened room without contrasting colors). 

After missing out on it for several years, I managed to visit the Annecy International Animation Festival once again at last. In those two and a half days I saw a lot of films and it dawned on me that I must come back for the whole week again next year. It is, after all, a celebration of the cinema going experience and seeing a film in the packed Bonlieu rightfully gives one the impression that this is indeed "the greatest audience in the world", as some of the world-renowned guests liked to put it.

Of course, an animation festival is also a great place to see how artists work with color to tell a story and create mood. That is why I would like to share a list of films that stayed in my mind because of their colors, some of them conventional, some of them innovative. So here it is, in no particular order:


LA SOUPE AU CAILLOU: Cut-out animation made of vibrant layers of translucent watercolors. Striking use of basic colors red, yellow and blue. Simple but sweet children's story.

CRABE PHARE: Cruise ship passengers build a candy colored city on top of a blue crab. Diamond shaped clouds and a color scheme that looks limited but actually spreads across red, yellow, green and blue.

PETE'S STORY: High contrast duotone style with additional spot colors. Strong and beautiful anidoc.

A COAT MADE DARK: The combination of gray and orange-red is very powerful, even as subdued as in this film. Unfortunately, I could not really connect to the story but maybe a second viewing will enlighten me.

RUBEN LEAVES: A film I wanted to mention for a long time since I have seen it at least four times now. Strictly limited to three (or five, if you count the two shades of blue and yellow as two colors each) colors without variation of saturation and darkness. Outlines are also limited to the most basic needs.

LAST JUDGMENT: Not sure why the story turned out how it did, but liked it anyway. Blue and yellow.


The great thing about independent animated features (especially French ones) is that the beautifully personal design approaches that you usually only see in "art of" books are right up there on the screen. The storytelling, however, is often another story and there are reasons why some of the films are limited to special-interest audiences.

PSICONAUTAS, THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN: What works in a comic book divided up in panels and pages does not automatically make for a captivating story arc of a 76 minute film. Despite a strong and quirky opening, the narrative unravelled rather quickly. But the fine and varied choices of color and mood kept me interested.

LA JEUNE FILLE SANS MAINS: For me, this was one of the highlights of the festival. A highly inventive combination of realist animation and abstract design. The still images do not live up to the experience. The full beauty lies in the combination of mood and motion.

TOUT EN HAUT DU MONDE (LONG WAY NORTH): Technically not an Annecy 2016 film. But I bought the Blu-ray there and have never seen it before. There are no outlines, just razor sharp shapes of colors next to each other. Color-wise this is such an enormously thrilling film that I would love to look into it any further. Unfortunately, this is the only Blu-ray I own that prevents me from taking screenshots...

There are certainly many more films presented at Annecy worth checking out regarding colors, but these were among the ones I managed to see this year. I would like to end this post with a few (mostly experimental) shorts I remember fondly but not particularly related to color design:
  • THE EMPTY (CHAMBRE VIDE): surprisingly fresh and poetic
  • WALL DUST: experimental cinema is gaining momentum. This is a fast and excitingly unpredictable ride.
  • MODERN LOVE - A KISS, DEFERRED: animated documentaries with sketches over white backgrounds have become an inflated staple of graduation film programs. This visual New York Times column nails it, though.
  • I FELT LIKE DESTROYING SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL: I kept thinking: why do I never see such a film coming out of Switzerland? Then: oh wait, this IS actually a Swiss film!
  • BALKON: If there is something like a genre of films that seem to be custom-made for the Annecy experience, BALKON is one of them. No, there is no "lapin" in it. Much easier: just give the crowd in the Bonlieu a reason to scream...

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

London Screenings

London must be a paradise for cinemaniacs. There are so many great films playing (in cinemas and on rooftops) every day that one gets easily overwhelmed. Being in England for only a few days, I nevertheless grabbed the opportunity to see two very different films that I highly recommend to anyone near the city for different reasons:

Every patron matters

Practically by chance and out of curiosity, I went to a very small, very independently produced first time feature called CHICKEN, simply because there was a Q&A by its London based director Joe Stephenson.

The film has already finished its festival circuit, where it drew the attention of audiences and people like Sir Ian McKellen, and is now practically self-distributed because its opening weekend got eclipsed by the latest X-MEN movie. So like in the good old days of independent movies, Stephenson books the film on a screening per screening basis around town and country, often with a Q&A, because he is a strong believer in the cinema experience as opposed to DVD/VOD.
Yasmin Paige

Scott Chambers and Joe Stephenson
CHICKEN is an adaptation of a play that feels so natural that you would not even think of its theater origins if you were not told. It might not have a high concept or even a star (well, Yasmin Paige should be well-known for her part in SUBMARINE, but that has not happened so far), but for a first time effort it is extremely focused and consistently gaining momentum. In fact, the film is completely built around Scott Chambers tour de force performance that really carries the small scale coming-of-age drama.

Besides, Joe Stephenson is a great interviewee. In the screening at the Prince Charles Cinema last Wednesday, he even managed to win the audience over without a proper interviewer. But what's more, try to catch a cinema screening because every single patron really matters to these filmmakers!

Next screening: Thursday, June 9, 9:00 pm, Genesis Cinema Whitechappel
Further screenings here.

Like most of us have never seen it before

And then there was VERTIGO. A film that anyone with an interest in cinematography, editing patterns, and especially color and music has to see at least once in a theater, and one of my all-time favorites. So why see it again in a place that offers culture and entertainment in abundance? Because the Prince Charles Cinema at Leicester Square is currently showing it in 70mm! Except for a few scratches and such (that were adverted up front) the print itself as well as the projection were perfect.
And it is true, you absolutely positively have to see it in 70mm, accept no substitutes! The characteristic Technicolor reds, greens, skin tones and deep blacks were there, and most of all: the rear-projections and special process shots looked awesome, i.e. much more invisible than on digital or 35mm versions. Besides, the PCC members are a great audience which adds a lot to the movie-going experience.

And if you are near London, make sure to check out their schedule. Who would want to miss out on a special screening of THE IRON GIANT - SIGNATURE EDITION followed by Hitchcock's THE BIRDS?