The ANIDOX:VR Awards, factual and visual storytelling in emerging media/VR

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The Animation Workshop (home to ANIDOX lab), is for the second year running their new initiative – the ANDOX:VR Award and Exhibition. The Awards include a cash prize and a residency grant for the development of new work.

The 2019 awards included five projects in competition and one project out of competition.

This review will focus on the information available for each project online, usually a trailer and reviews. Unfortunately, I have not experienced the projects as a VR experience yet, due to not being able to attend the festivals the projects have exhibited at. My aim is that the information I provide will be enough to introduce the reader to the project and by following the links, knowledge about where to access the work will be clear.

 

‘Ayahuasca Kosmik Journey’ by Jan Kounen (2019)

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This 18 minute VR film allows participants to immerse themselves in visions triggered by a dose of ayahuasca – a tea made from the leaves and stalks of shrubs found in Brazil and traditionally drunk by ancient Amazonian tribes. The spectator lives through the eyes of the director who has experienced the psychoactive brew.

“Imaginative, architectural and delirious visualizations. More than an imitation of a drug trip, the world presented is a spiritual one. Chants fill the headphones. Snakes slither. And no amount of text we can draft can dig deep enough into the actual experience.”
Review by David Graver on Cool Hunting

You can find the trailer here and a link to the project’s website here

 

‘Homestay’ by Paisley Smith, Jam3 and the NFB Digital Studio (2018)

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The trailer for this VR Animated Documentary cuts directly to the dramatic points of the story. This is the tragic story of a Japanese student who stays with a Canadian family; a look at how complete immersion in another culture can create a clash of expectations and change our understanding of family, hospitality, nationality and love.

The user experiences the story through a voice-over by the director, giving an account of her experience. The visuals embrace technological challenges by depicting a paper cut-out and origami aesthetic, created within game engine Unity.

You can watch the trailer here and read more about the project here

 

‘Another Dream’ by Tamara Shogaolu (2019)

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Winner of the ANIDOX:VR 2019 Award for Innovative Storytelling, ‘Another Dream’ is a hybrid animated documentary and VR game bringing to life the gripping, true love story of an Egyptian lesbian couple. Faced with a post-revolution backlash against the LGBTQ community, they escape Cairo to seek asylum and acceptance in the Netherlands. An accompanying installation allows audiences to reflect on what they have seen, heard, and felt in VR.

Another Dream is part of Queer in a time of forced Migration an animated transmedia series that follows the stories of LGBTQ refugees from Egypt, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia across continents and cultures — from the 2011 revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa region, to the world today.

You can watch the trailer here and find more out about the project here

 

‘Accused #2 Walter Sisulu’ by Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte (2018)

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This 360° video immerses the spectator at the core of the Rivonia trial, which took place in South Africa 1963-64. Accused no.1, Nelson Mandela and accused no.2, Sisulu faced a racist and aggressive prosecutor. The defendants used the trial as a political platform against apartheid, at the expense of their freedoms. The original sound archives of the trial form the narrative, with illustrations by Oerd Van Cuijlenborg brought to life.

You can watch the trailer here and find out more about the project here

 

‘The Scream’ by Sandra Paugam and Charles Ayats (2018)

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Winner of the ANIDOX:VR  2019 award for Best Immersive work (€1000). Bringing to life ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, this VR installation enables the user to interact with the painting. The trailer sets a scary tone: set in an empty museum you are invited to touch the painting…beware of what you might unleash.

You can watch the trailer here and find out more about the project here

 

‘Songbird’ VR installation by Lucy Greenwell / Michelle & Uri Kranot (2018)

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Songbird is a fairy tale with a dark heart. You will be transported to the island of Kauai in 1984 and into a painted replica of a lush cloud forest filled with colourful birds. Here, you are invited to search for the last known ʻōʻō, an iconic black bird with yellow leg feathers and a beautiful song, a bird whose existence has been threatened to the point of extinction.

Watch the trailer here

Online Submissions are open until 20th July, for the ANIDOX:VR 2020 awards.

The ANIDOX:VR Award is supported by The Animation Workshop/Via University College, Vision Denmark, The European Union, Viborg Kommune, The Danish Film Institute, and the Swedish Film Institute. The exhibition is sponsored by HTC VIVE.

‘Loving Vincent’ and ‘I’m OK’: two approaches to documenting the life of an artist

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Image: ‘Im OK’  by Elizabeth Hobbs

 

While still in production, there was a lot of talk among art lovers about the 2017 animated documentary Loving Vincent. ‘It is completely hand-painted’, ‘an army of artists has been employed for its production’, ‘it will look like a moving painting’ (see Frizzell, 2017; Mottram, 2017; Vollenbroek, 2017)… I was in suspense for its release and fascinated by all the hype surrounding it. When I finally got to watch the film, I could not help but feel a bit let down. Yet, I could not understand the reasons behind this disenchantment. The imagery imitated van Gogh’s style flawlessly, the storyline dealing with the circumstances of the artist’s death was interesting enough, and as far as I could tell, the acting was good. What was it then? Why was I feeling like I wanted to see more? 

Part of me felt that my art education was to blame, an education that was perhaps wrongly distinguishing and discriminating between art and craft. I could not see the point behind this repetitive exercise of recreating an art style whose value lay in being different, in being original and unique. The recreation seemed like a copy, an imitation and therefore to me, of less value. It seemed no further away from art than a printed reproduction of the original painting. It seemed almost futile, unnecessary, a bit kitschy. The story could hold its weight without the hand-painted stylization, and the stylization might have had a stronger effect without a storyline. However, I remembered how art students and apprentices used to study images and still do to some extent by copying the masters. This film employed over one hundred artists who worked painstakingly to recreate the footage in Van Gogh’s style. Keeping in mind this tradition of learning art, it seems like Loving Vincent acted as an apprenticeship for them. An homage to the technique of this master of modernism. To me, it is a performance that pays tribute to this great artist, not so much in its completed form, the final film, as by the painstaking process of its production. And that change in perspective elevates a rather good film to a masterpiece.

Loving Vincent. Dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.

In her short film I’m OK, Elizabeth Hobbs (2018), took a completely different approach in depicting the life and work of the Austrian Expressionist artist Oskar Kokoschka. Despite some loose references to his work here and there, Hobbs did not try to emulate Kokoschka’s style, nor did she have a script and employ actors and rotoscoping. Using expressive, playful lines and bright colours on paper, the animator highlights aspects of Kokoschka’s life. She specifically focuses on the time when the artist volunteered for service during WWI, after being rejected by a lover. Although Hobbs communicates well the message of heartbreak, war and pain, unless a viewer is already familiar with the life and work of Kokoschka, it is unlikely that they would gain an education of the artist merely by watching the film. This, however, does not seem to be the priority of the short. Instead, it acts as a loose interpretation of the life of an artist.

I’m OK Dir. Elizabeth Hobbs (U.K. and Canada)

These two examples are very different approaches to document the life of an artist through animation. Both films take advantage of the medium to simulate an aspect of creation that van Gogh and Kokoschka were using. Loving Vincent partially employs rotoscoping in the form of hand-painted live action footage but remains confined within the indexical qualities of the recording. It takes advantage of van Gogh’s painterly aesthetics and simultaneously maintains a strong relation to ‘reality’. I’m OK, on the other hand, does not involve the tracing over live-footage and without this strong and recorded initial connection to the world, it recreates Hobbs’ own version of it from scratch. I’m OK applies an expressive approach with emotive brushstrokes, music, use of colour and symbolism to tell a story while highlighting the animator’s unique perspective and is without any pretence of presenting ‘the real’. Hobbs refers to Kokoschka’s style not by directly emulating his art, but by adopting a similarly expressive aesthetic while maintaining her artistic voice. Hobbs’s film is not only an homage to an artist. It is much more than that, as it is, at least in my humble opinion, a work of art in its own right.

References

Frizzell, N., 2017. 65,000 Portraits Of The Artist: How Van Gogh’s Life Became The World’s First Fully Painted Film. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/13/loving-vincent-van-gogh-painted-animation-dorota-kobiela-hugh-welchman [Accessed 9 March 2020].

I’m OK. 2020. [DVD] Directed by E. Hobbs. United Kingdom and Canada: Animate Projects Limited and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

Loving Vincent. 2017. [DVD] Directed by D. Kobiela and H. Welchman. Poland and United Kingdom: BreakThru Productions and Trademark Films.

Mottram, J., 2017. Loving Vincent: How The First Fully-Painted Feature Film Took Six Years. [online] The Independent. Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/loving-vincent-van-gogh-douglas-booth-armand-roulin-hugh-welchman-dorota-kobiela-a7994186.html [Accessed 9 March 2020]

Vollenbroek, T., 2017. ‘Loving Vincent’: 6 Facts About The First Oil Painted Animated Feature. [online] Cartoon Brew. Available at: <https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/loving-vincent-6-facts-first-oil-painted-animated-feature-150443.html [Accessed 9 March 2020]

 

LIAF 2015 – animated documentary programme review

London International Animation Festival’s Animated Documentary screening returned to the Barbican in London in December 2015, showcasing a diverse selection of animated docs from around the world.

Many films of the selected films did not include any live action elements, and featured voiceovers which were obviously scripted and acted – raising questions about what makes a film a documentary at all. All these films were both presented and received as documentaries, but in many their claim to real world truth rested on trust – there was no ‘evidence’ presented in the film that what we were witnessing was real.

This is an interesting quality of the animated documentary – one which sets it apart from most live action work and which can, when successful, elevate it. This programme of films offered a rich variety of perspectives; not only on the world but on the documentary form itself.

The screening kicked off with Everyone is Waiting for Something to Happen, a mixed-media piece by UK-based animator Emma Calder. Calder’s film used the social media posts of one of her acquaintances to create a portrait of him over the course of a critical time in his life – his cancer diagnosis and treatment. The film offers a light-hearted look at the images we project of ourselves on social media, and the audiences we do not always know we have, who observe these.

Everyone is waiting for something to happen (Official Trailer) from Emma Calder/Pearly Oyster on Vimeo.

The Beast Inside by US filmmaker Drew Christie is a portrait of a homeless young person, determined to live a compassionate, creative and optimistic life in spite of his circumstances. The film is upbeat, with a lively, musical pace, but has moments of deep pathos that make an impact, such as when the protagonist is refused a job at a fast food joint because – he is told – he looks as if he would steal money or scare the customers. The young man’s hurt at the apparent indifference that the general public has towards the fate of those on the street, also provides a moving and memorable perspective.

The Beast Inside from Drew Christie on Vimeo.

Drew Christie’s second film in the programme is Psychedelic Blues, an animated interview with ‘freak folk band’ Holy Modal Rounders which explores their formation and early days. This is a non-stop, acid- and amphetamine-fuelled celebratory rollercoaster of music and absurdity. The characters move fluidly between their old and young selves, caught up in moments that they’d never forget, if only they could remember. The gonzo glory of the memories is tempered by a twinge of sadness, evoked by the fragility in the voice of the ageing, drug-saturated narrator, allowing an openness in terms of how the film can be received.

Psychedelic Blues from Drew Christie on Vimeo.

Baba is a colourful and entertaining short by New Zealand filmmaker Joel Kefali, in which his grandfather describes his experience of arriving in the country as a Turkish immigrant many years before. The film successfully captures the experience and character of an exuberant man, baffled by certain cultural oddities but ultimately filled with humour and joy of life; able to take the world on and adapt to his strange new environment.

BABA from joel kefali on Vimeo.

A Portrait by Greek filmmaker Aristotelis Maragkos is another film about a grandfather, but this one has a very different tone. In this piece, the film-maker’s grandfather is seen from the outside through the memories of his grandson. It is a sensitive portrayal of a complex relationship. The film touches on ugly and violent elements the man’s mysterious past, of which the film-maker only knows fragments – which lead him to fear what potential for darkness may lie inside his own genetic material. This sense of violence is undercut however by the clear love that the narrator has for his grandfather, and the tension between these two perspectives is elegantly brought out in the very short film, making it a moving and memorable work which brought depth to the programme.

Food, by US/China based Siqi Song, is a bizairre and compelling take on the talking heads interview format – in which the talking heads are in fact foodstuffs, discussing their own food choices. A plucked chicken describes its decision to go vegetarian, while a loud-mouthed burger extols the virtues of meat-eating. “I think maybe healthy is overrated” he says, his bun flapping open to reveal a tongue-like slab of meat and cheese as he speaks. The film is comically grotesque and, while the interviews themselves do not tell us anything very new, the delivery certainly makes for compelling viewing which adds a new dimension to the issues discussed.

FOOD from SIQI SONG on Vimeo.

The theme of food was returned to later in the programme with the visceral Canadian production Table D’hote, which combines an attractive illustrative style with repulsive and disturbing imagery, reflecting on the industrial savagery of meat production.

Me and My Moulton is an NFB-supported film by Torill Kove. It tells the story of a young girl growing up in Norway and coming to terms with her unconventional parents and her place in the world. The film takes an unhurried approach to storytelling and paints an engaging picture of this girl’s life and the everyday issues she deals with. It balances humour with nostalgia, conjuring a picture of a childhood world that is, while not untroubled, ultimately safe and filled with love.

Me and My Moulton (Trailer) from National Film Board of Canada on Vimeo.

Ode to Joy by UK-based filmmaker Martin Pickles is a tribute to hugely influential but near-forgotten animator Joy Batchelor, affirming her rightful place in the canon of British Animation.

Ode To Joy (2014) from Martin Pickles on Vimeo.

Elsewhere in the programme another film by Pickles, What is Animation?, is an insightful meditation on the nature of animation wrapped up in a portrait of British Animation legend Bob Godfrey. You can read more about this piece here.

In Last Words by Yuwen Xue, the filmmaker interviews hospice residents at the end of their lives, creating imaginative visual representations to capture these characters, and broadening the scope of the film beyond the individual sounds captured to wider thoughts and feelings. The visuals play experimentally with live action and animation, conjuring a fantastical space between life and somewhere else. Fascinating insights into the artist’s process can be found on Yuwen Xue’s production blog.

Words are again the focus in Arlene, by UK filmmaker Farouq Suleiman. This film is a portrait of a woman who suffers from Aphasia, a brain condition affecting language. Her difficulty with words is expressed with strong visuals including the memorable image of letters of the alphabet falling from a tree like autumn leaves.

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Still from Arlene

Hora, by Israeli filmmaker Yoav Brill, is a longer piece exploring same-sex love in Tel Aviv through reflections on public hand-holding. Interviewees discuss the practice of hand-holding, what it means to them and how the meaning changes when it is observed. There are some truthful and tender insights here, delivered with slick and engaging visuals; making for a film that carries you through smiling.

Still Born, by Swedish filmmaker Asa Sandzen, was the most hard-hitting film in the programme, in which a pregnant woman describes the experience of discovering that her 18-week old foetus has serious heart defect, and making the devastating decision to end the pregnancy. The film does not shelter from the painful process of this, taking the audience through the whole physical and emotional journey of late abortion and delivery. The film is made to feel very real by the small but affecting details that are recalled about the medicalised termination process and the disturbed thought process that takes place in parallel. Ultimately this is a raw and truthful film about the pain of loss, that is as disarming as it is memorable.

‘Table d’Hôte’ by Alexandra Levasseur

A Vimeo user named Surreal Magicalism needed just two sentences to effectively sum up this unconventionally abstract approach to animated documentary. “Simultaneously subtle & brutal indictment of meat production/consumption; brilliant! The animation style, pace & sound design are all incredibly strong.”

Somewhat subtler than Morrissey’s declaration that eating meat is worse than pedophilia, Alexandra Levasseur  represents her anti-meat message through metamorphic visual poetry, semiabstract narrative and masterful sound design.

A fly functions as a discordant device; it evokes a creeping notion of disgust while the viewer is presented with clinical images of meat preparation and consumption. This, I assume, is the central goal of the film.

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The title ‘Table d’Hôte’ refers to a ‘set menu’ in restaurant terminology. A situation with little choice may refer to the decadence of a society that insists on consuming meat as a norm, despite the agricultural inefficiency, environmental costs and ethical ambiguity.

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I am intrigued by the inclusion of a horse. Levasseur, a Montreal based student, may not be aware of the recent meat adulteration scandals in Britain. Maybe she references an animal that is normally revered and rarely consumed to highlight the perceived absurdity of accepting the industrial scale slaughter of some animals over others. Hopefully this isn’t simply explained by my ignorance of French Canadian livestock practices.

The illustrative style is confidently minimal, aided by a consciously fleshy colour palette. I observed a few careless animation glitches; the flickering line above the cow’s eye distracts from what is otherwise a powerful image.

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The sound design, despite being very simple is genuinely intriguing. The glimmering digital base track acts as a bed for all manner of thoughtfully selected sound effects. We are struck by silence in the final scene as the horse collapses into a pile of meat. Only an invisible fly is audible, reengaging the viewer’s disgust instinct once again.

Awarded the Vimeo Staff Pick, ‘Table d’Hôte’ is the second student film made at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema to grab my attention in so many months.

‘Just a Mess’ by Laura Stewart

Laura Stewart, an animation student at Concordia University, recorded her grandmother during the 2012 winter holidays. Of the many stories she heard about life on Prince Edward Island in Eastern Canada, ‘Just a Mess’ stood out.

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Gentle banjo plucking is sprinkled behind this playful and charming claymation. The use of a folding map to tackle a set-design dilemma is an efficient and enjoyable solution.

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Occasionally the animation is a little jerky, the character design a little simplistic and the illusion of life size scale is never quite achieved, however any short comings pale in significance when considering the kind humour and delightful ease of the story telling.

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An extraordinary shot where the grandmother inhales fumes from the rotting skunk snouts stood out. The green wool tears its way up her nostrils as we watch at an uncomfortably close angle.

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Although there is a slight flippancy regarding animal welfare issues, Stewart’s job was to merely represent her grandmother’s story and not drag the historical tale through a complex of contemporary ethics.

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Laura Stewart continues to study Film Animation at Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University. Her progress is well documented on her blog.

‘The Chaperone 3D’ by Fraser Munden

The Chaperone 3D Trailer from Thoroughbread Pictures on Vimeo.

Something new here – I’m fairly certain this is the first animated documentary made in stereoscopic 3D that we’ve featured! Is this a new movement in animadoc film-making? It’s definitely one that I didn’t see coming.

Just the trailer available to view on Vimeo at present. The film has recently been premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. We look forward to reading reviews. It sounds intriguing…

“When told that bikers once invaded a middle school dance in a Montreal church basement, Neil Rathbone couldn’t believe it.

I said ‘No way that’s true. That’s the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard,’ he recalled.

The story is told by Ralph Whims and Stefan Czernatowicz, who were the teacher/chaperone and DJ at the dance.

Rathbone said the film includes live action Kung Fu segments, puppets and exploding piñatas.

“It has a strong comedic flavour,” he said.

More from the interview with Rathbone here:
http://www.thespec.com/news-story/4070910-burlington-grad-s-animated-short-premieres-at-tiff/

‘The History of Typography’ by Ben Barrett-Forrest

Ben Barrett-Forrest has constructed a charming introduction to the field of typography. This topic, which over the years has enthralled a certain type of graphic designer, has also left the rest of us puzzled as to what all the fuss was about.

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Forrest’s short educational film provides a carefully measured level of insight; not so much detail that a newcomer to the field feels overwhelmed but enough substance to make them appreciate they are learning something.

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As Ben is the only name credited in the film it is fairly safe to assume this was a solo experience. Whilst the cut out paper technique employed is engaging in its simplicity, the addition of pixillated hands certainly must have complicated the production process. The result being the film exists just beyond what one could imagine achieving single-handed.

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‘The History of Typography’ has functioned as a promotional tool for Forrest Media, Ben Barrett-Forrest’s graphic design practice. The animation has received over 500 000 views on Youtube and a further 74 000 on Vimeo, as well as being featured on mainstream North American online media. It is rewarding to see how independent animation can function as a vehicle to generate business in this way.

‘Money As Debt’ feature by Paul Grignon

A Canadian feature doc which explores recent financial developments and asks questions about the global banking system.

Watch on Youtube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbdHar4hSsU&feature=player_embedded

There’s a review from Top Documentary Stream here.

There are two sequels and subsequent additional shorts on the film’s website here.