‘BBC Knowledge Explainer DNA’ by Territory Studio

BBC Knowledge & Learning commissioned Territory Studio to create an animated explanation of the structures, processes and purposes of DNA.  The result is an exquisitely mesmeric graphic exploration of the mysterious structure.

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With only three minutes to work with, and an incredibly rich topic to explore, the challenge for this film was to gage the appropriate level of information to cram in. A less well-crafted film could have resulted in the sequence becoming indecipherably dense, or worse not informative enough to have any value. The producer, Sam Hart, and creative director, David Sheldon-Hicks have overseen a project that is meticulous in its development and final outcome.

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For many of us the structure of DNA inspires memories of stale classrooms, stuffy teachers and lifeless textbook graphics. However the ‘Explainer DNA’ does not suffer from such negative associations. Rather than trying desperately to modernise this documentary Will Samuel, the art and animation director, develops the aesthetics of schoolbook biological imagery, revelling in its nostalgic triggers while snapping the sequence sharply into the 21st Century. When the pre digital print texture and colour pallet is applied to pristine motion and 3D modelling a retro feel is crafted.

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The attention to detail is extraordinary. When the human set of chromosomes are spread out in sequence each of them wave subtly as if held against a gentle current.  Details like this when combined with Room 24’s down played sound design make for a sumptuous audio-visual experience.

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Andrew S Walsh’s script, created in collaboration with the molecular biologist Dr. Matthew Adams, is impressive. When covering aspects of the topic that are common knowledge the subject still feels fresh. I feel this may be due to the authority with which the information is imparted. It was pleasing to see the gaps in our knowledge concerning Junk DNA and genetic modification being explored diligently. I must say however the ending is slightly abrupt.

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Review of ‘Caldera’, by Evan Viera

It is not often one comes across a CGI film with such a consistently rich sense of artistry. With his film ‘Caldera’, Evan Viera and a substantial team of supporting artists demonstrate a brilliant sense of composition, lighting design and mastery of the 3D medium.

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This animated short attempts to represent a series of visual hallucinations that take place during a psychotic episode experienced by the female protagonist. Viera is not interpreting his own experiences, but those of his father, a long-term sufferer of schizoaffective disorder. The title refers to the self-destructive process of collapse when a volcanic crater is formed after a major eruption.

As there is no attempt by the film-maker to claim this to be a documentary it may be unfair to criticise this short on the grounds of accuracy when depicting an unstable mental state. The psychological phenomenon is by its very nature subjective, however the lack of discord present in the character’s demeanour was striking. The protagonist spends most of ‘Caldera’ looking calm and concentrated in the context of the fantastical happenings she experiences. When depicting a gross thought disorder such as this it might be be fair to suggest that the subject would likely be considerably less composed during such events.

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Evan Viera writes that his father has “danced on the rings of Saturn, spoken with angels, and fled from his demons”. The traces of these delusions are quite literally interpreted in ‘Caldera’ yet the feeling is very much second hand in tone. Watching this glistening film gives one the impression of a challenging CGI exercise more than that of a depiction of pathological imbalance.

When viewing this film on Vimeo we are confronted in the blurb by Viera’s statement about his father. The film-maker wants us to be aware of the direct link between the protagonist’s vision and his father’s experiences of mental illness.  For that reason I propose this is a documentary of sorts. Although it is based on second-hand observations, the film makes an effort to interpret a subjective experience that most of us could never fathom. Viera repackages it as a digestible image sequence granting the audience insight into a fascinating and difficult topic.

However, the story telling is carried on the back of the film’s aesthetic. The synopsis, for instance, is minimal. In essence a sad-looking woman decides to not comply with her medication (an enormously contentious point in its own right which is not really addressed), leaves the city and goes for a swim. Within the ensuing visualisations good and evil are represented through the colours blue and red, as well as by an animal sprit guide and a telekinetic daemon. Such simplistic symbols are surprisingly successful as narrative features and indicators of tonal change. The absence of dialogue inhibits our expectation of further explanation leaving the imagery to speak for itself. (Spoiler Alert) A lack of resolution is apparent at the end of the film; the screen fades to white during an unjustified moment of mortality. This sequence is treated with such casual romantic vagueness one can only hope, for the protagonist’s sake, that drowning is an extension of her delusion; if not then we are left with a quizzically cynical finale.

‘Caldera’ left me nourished visually but a little under-fed intellectually. A sumptuous film with an elegant air of visual poetry which sadly was not complimented by the reductive narrative.

‘Green Porno’ by Isabella Rossellini & Jody Shapiro

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No animation here, but a new way with documentary story-telling which we feel sure you’ll want to see!

Five years ago, the most iconic of David Lynch’s heroines, Isabella Rossellini, went from ‘Blue Velvet’ to ‘Green Porno.’ The actress and student of biology took on the characters of a mantis, a dolphin, a bedbug, a snail and many more, all for the purpose of enhancing our knowledge on the sex lives of animals.

These educational, experimental videos see Rossellini in full species costume, puppeteering her cardboard mates, whilst providing thoroughly researched narrative in her sultry accent.

Rossellini recently gave an interview for the Independent to discuss a new series for 2013, ‘Mamas’. This time she’s exploring maternal instincts in the animal kingdom.
For those who missed the online series (if you’re past the PG age) I’d recommend watching all of the ‘Green Porno’ videos.

In North America you can view them and lots more info on the Sundance Channel website http://www.sundancechannel.com/series/greenporno/

Elsewhere you’ll need to watch on Youtube:

Also available on iTunes for $9.99.

You’ll never look at an earthworm in the same way again.