‘Centrefold’ by Ellie Land

Released over a year ago this animated docmentary looks at the current UK trend for labia surgery, a procedure which trims and tidies a woman’s labia.

Directed and designed by animateddocumentary.com’s co founder Ellie Land.

http://www.thecentrefoldproject.org/

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‘StoryCorps Animated Shorts’ by the Rauch Brothers

StoryCorps is a US independent non-profit oral history project, charged with the task of recording, sharing and preserving personal stories of American lives. Many of the thousands of stories are broadcast weekly on National Public Radio’s ‘Morning Edition’ while a handful have been adapted into short animated documentaries.

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Image from ‘A Family Man’

The Rauch Brothers co-directed all fifteen of the shorts. The series demonstrates a strong influence from the school of American cartoons; Tim Rauch’s distinctly caricatured personalities inhabit beautifully constructed backgrounds designed by Bill Wray. The off-kilter geometry of the architecture and pastel colour palette is reminiscent of the 1960s-era ‘Pink Panther Show’, while the thick outlined digital character animation has a stronger connection to contemporary Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network kids animations.

Image from ‘Eyes on the Stars’

Image from ‘Eyes on the Stars’

Many of the StoryCorps recordings selected for animation deal with themes of mortality. ‘John and Joe’, ‘Always a Family’ and ‘She Was the One’ commemorate individuals lost in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, where family members recall their last conversations with loved ones. Meanwhile ‘Danny and Annie’, ‘Germans in the Woods’, ‘A Family Man’ and ‘No More Questions!’ deal with natural deaths. In some instances recordings were made with an elderly family member not long before their passing. Every reference to mortality is a celebration of that individual’s life, highlighting their idiosyncrasies and honouring memories of them.

Image from ‘She Was the One’

Image from ‘She Was the One’

Films like ‘Eyes on the Stars’, ‘Facundo the Great’ and ‘Icing on the Cake’ refer to the experiences of racial minorities, including stories of inequality and immigration. They are however told with a stereotypical American optimism and sentimentality. The people involved look back from improved circumstances, mocking the absurdity of racism or displaying awe and wonder for the struggles of their parents’ generation.

Image from ‘Facundo the Great’

Image from ‘Facundo the Great’

Eccentric personalities seems to be another theme which pops up in these films. ‘Sundays at Rocco’s’, ‘Q&A’, ‘The Human Voice’, ‘No More Questions!’ and ‘Miss Devine’ all feature domineering or uncongenial characters. These stories celebrate diversity and highlight the importance of individuality.

Image from ‘The Human Voice’

Image from ‘The Human Voice’

While many of the animations make reference to romantic or family love, ‘To RP Salazar, with Love’ concerns an extraordinary circumstance that leads to a digital age fairytale ending.

Image from ‘To RP Salazar, with Love’

Image from ‘To RP Salazar, with Love’

Occasionally the animation is noticeably clunky, in particular lip-synching feels a little rough. However the character designs are marvellous. The Rauch Brothers have sensitively depicted a variety of ethnic groups without leaning on illustrative clichés. Family members are designed with an appropriate level of genetic resemblance while managing to avoid looking identical and the exaggerated use of body language and posture helps bring the individuality of each character to life.

Image from ‘Miss Devine’

Image from ‘Miss Devine’

The StoryCorps project has now been running for ten years. An archive of the recordings is being collected at the American Folklife Centre at the Library of Congress. Although we couldn’t embed all the ‘StoryCorps Animated Shorts’ here, I recommend taking time to flick through them on the StoryCorp website.

‘The Man Inside Mickey’ by Daniela Sherer, for the ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ project

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Don’t Talk To Strangers’ is a blog focusing on collecting urban stories; these are then reworked into animation, illustration or song. The creators encourage visitors to the blog to leave a recorded message, on their skype address: dttsanimation or telephone: 020 3290 4348, describing a story, experience or thought. You may also simply email your tale to donttalktostrangersproject@gmail.com. The blurb reads: ‘Life in the city surrounded by strangers can bring about unexpected encounters. We want to hear your stories; from the awkward, alienating or unpleasant to the amusing, bizarre or touching. Call and leave us a message or drop us an email of a thought, experience or story. Our team of artists will pick stories and bring them to life through animation, illustration or song.’

‘The Man Inside Mickey’ is the project’s first episode; a curious and creepy anecdote concerning an unexpectedly charged encounter with a poorly impersonated Mickey Mouse.  Retold by an anonymous female voice, the quality of the recording suggests the tone of an answer-phone machine.  The animator, Daniela Sherer, adopts a minimal and scrappy 2D digital aesthetic common to graphic tablet sketches. The seemingly naïf style combines a limited colour palette with a pleasing line boil. The unsophisticated, uninhibited drawing style skillfully supplements the sinister nature of the short narrative.

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‘The Man Inside Mickey’ is the first and only episode available. A blog post from May 2013 states the project was put on hold while the group focused on their graduate films. Christine Hooper, the producer, has been in-touch to explain they team have taken a ‘strategic pause’ while they apply for funding. The ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ team is mostly made up from the Royal College of Art’s Animation MA 2013 2013 graduate year. On show in June at the RCA’s animation exhibition was Daniela Sherer’s marvelous nine-minute 2D digital short ‘The Shirley Temple’, an animation where mimesis and storytelling is reduced to the point of abstraction. We wish Daniela, Christine and their collaborators luck in gaining funding to develop the ‘Don’t Talk To Stranger’ project.  A few more stories from the public may help spur them on (hint, hint).

If any animators or illustrators are interested in getting involved then please get in touch via donttalktostrangersproject@gmail.com

Iki – See you soon (Iki – Bis bald) by Florian Maubach

Florian Maubach documents his bicycle journey from Kassel, Germany, to the coast of Lithuania. In one minute twenty Maubach convinces us of his reverence for landscape, passion for adventure and artistic dynamism.

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The viewer adopts a satellite perspective while the surroundings immediately visible to the cyclist distort into a miniature globe. This frenetically changing sphere helps communicate the joy associated with propelling ones self across great distances.

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Further definition is added to his activities and various modes of transport through clear and simple sound design, avoiding the use of a narrator. For instance, his passage through the town of Palanga is punctuated by both the name appearing briefly across the skyline and a ringing of his bell. The visual emphasis placed on the movement of the sun and the moon helps abbreviate the passage of time in this very short film.

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In the final moments Maubach breaches the realism of his constructed universe by having the character jump up from the sea, cling on to the sun, plunging the world into darkness. It might be fair for one to assume this is a playful metaphor gesturing the traveller’s triumph over nature.  While this decision reduces the film’s authority as a descriptive document, its location at the very end minimises such an effect. As credits are bound to break all cinematic illusions, this filmmaker seems to have recognised an opportunity for conceptual freedom in the seconds beforehand.

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The 2012 student film, made at Kunsthochschule in Kassel, has screened at 14 festivals across Germany and the rest of Europe. I found the cheerful simplicity of concept and execution in this film resonant and refreshing.

‘Irish Folk Furniture’ by Tony Donoghue

Irish Folk Furniture [clip] (2012) from Alan Eddie on Vimeo.

https://vimeo.com/59224188

We must have been busy with all sorts of of other things here at the blog (we have! – more soon) as it’s taken us a few months to catch up with this short which won the Short Film Jury Prize for Animation at Sundance this spring.

It has screened at many festivals, including Sheffield Doc/Fest this June, who described it thus:
“A strikingly beautiful stop motion animation exploring a local craftsman’s restoration of rural furniture in a small Irish community. Experimenting with the vivid expression of folklore storytelling, artifacts of bygone days are transformed from decaying neglect and brought to life, with playful vivacity.”

An interview with director Tony here:
http://irishamerica.com/2013/03/irish-folk-furniture-an-interview-with-tony-donoghue/

And various news reports here:

And here:
http://www.thejournal.ie/sundance-irish-folk-furniture-763455-Jan2013/

The film was funded by the Irish Film Board’s Frameworks scheme:
http://www.irishfilmboard.ie/funding_programmes/Frameworks/65

‘The Whale Story’ by Tess Martin

This is a story constructed from second-hand accounts of a phenomenal occurrence where a trapped whale seemed to express gratitude to its rescuers. The true account is condensed into the narrative of a single fisherman’s efforts to free the entangled creature.

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Scenes are painted and repainted on a wall in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park. Most noticeably this technique restricts motion; carefully composed images are constructed and then adjusted. A second feature is the presence of residual marks, also noticeable in the works of animators such as William Kentridge and Blu.

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This is where an image is adjusted rather than replaced and attempts are made to mask previous drawing, although this is never fully erased. As a result the filmmaker must embrace, accept or incorporate the traces left behind. Particularly interesting marks are created when water is used, presumably to wash away previous layers of paint, resulting in a dilution and dribbling effect,suggesting an underwater environment.

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The film is filled with broken illusions; a pixillated actor gestures swimming while mounted on top of a stepladder. Our disbelief is suspended by a mere thread, but half of the charm of this film is the inclusion of such mechanisms. Unlike some more technically complex animations, here we are provided with evidence as to how the scenes were constructed. For example, we are made aware of the filmmaker’s surroundings where the grass and the unpainted wall are visible at the edge of the frame.

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Tess Martin draws attention to the frame presumably because she felt process was as important as narrative. This is further indicated by the choice to include a link to a making-of time lapse film.

Some of the Vimeo user comments below the film refer to the sound as distracting. Personally I enjoyed the disrupted patterns of speech. This is an interesting device for editing down what must have been a much longer account. The film was based on the Radiolab Podcast ‘Animal Minds’. It was a public art project commissioned by Sound Transit’s STart program in association with Seattle Experimental Animation Team.

‘Allergy To Originality’: A New York Times Op-Doc by Drew Christie

Drew Christie’s animation explores notions of originality through the vehicle of an uncannily informative conversation between a cinema box office attendant and an inquisitive patron.

The animated sequence was commissioned by The New York Times’ Op-Doc forum, an online sub-section of the editorial department. This initiative hosts ‘short, opinionated documentaries, produced with wide creative latitude and a range of artistic styles, covering current affairs, contemporary life and historical subjects.’

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The pencil drawn short takes it’s visual cues from a rich assortment of internet imagery. These drawings are adjacent references which snap to the dialogue in such a quick succession that the viewing experience reaches the fringes of an information overload. The scrappy mark making and looseness of the mimetic drawings act as a buffer, slowing our recognition of what is depicted, further inhibiting the intake of information.  Such a process challenges the viewer to identify the visual references and establish their connection to the densely informative dialogue. Although I was not able to spot all the connections I found this an engaging and rewarding viewing experience.

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The documentary element in this animation can be justified by the casual introduction the film makes to complex ideas such as poststructuralist philosophy. Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes were among the first to articulate the illusion of originality in the arts.  In their respective essays, ‘What is an Author?’ and ‘The Death of the Author’, they proposed originality was scarcely achieved, if ever, while suggesting that creative endeavors, such as writing, are simply the amalgamation of an incalculable collection of conscious and unconscious influences. By referencing Wikipedia content this film exquisitely crafts sweeping summaries of such notions while tying them irrefutably to contemporary popular culture, specifically Hollywood cinema.

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The comedic value in this short animation is found in the juxtaposition of encyclopedic rhetoric in the context of every day conversation. Further tension is crafted as an element of one-up-man ship creeps into the dialogue. However I find this animation’s purest social commentary is found in the implausibly informed box office attendant. This character embodies a contemporary world where anyone is a few clicks away from appearing to be an expert.