‘What is Animation?’ by Martin Pickles

Martin Pickles is the director of an animated interview with Bob Godfrey titled What is Animation? This was one of two films by Pickles that were screened as part of London International Animation Festival’s animated documentary programme. Martin is well known through his role as the organiser of the London Animation Club, a monthly screening event in Fitzrovia.

roobarb_01

In What is Animation? Pickles animates a snippet of wisdom from Bob Godfrey (1921 – 2013), the British animation hero responsible for creating Roobarb and Henry’s Cat.

When thinking of this film in the context of animated documentary, I was struck by how relevant Godfrey’s words are to one of the larger tensions within the genre: how does a filmmaker faithfully document their subject matter without simply replicating it? Godfrey encourages animators to be whimsical and to forget the limitations of physics or representation.

The key phrase he uses, one which I have heard many times before, is “…if this thing can be done with a live action camera then for God’s sake do it with a live action camera.”

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While Godfrey wants animators to confront the “absolute freedom” of their medium, animated documentary makers maintain an adjacent balancing act. Our challenge, perhaps, is to find a subject that requires a Godfrey-esque whimsy in order for the story to be documented usefully.

Without wanting to sound pretentious, it’s all very ‘meta’. Not only is this an animation about how animators should animate, this short documentary is also structured around an almost visible feedback loop.

Firstly there is Martin Pickles the director, interviewing his hero Bob Godfrey, who effectively imparts wisdom and instruction to the audience. Then, much deeper in the mechanisms of this film, we can feel Martin tangibly being inspired by Bob’s words and legacy – Martin even credits meeting Godfrey as the stimulus that pushed him to study animation at the Royal College of Art. The next revolution of the feedback loop begins with me, the viewer, inspired enough by Bob’s words and Martin’s film that I chose to write about it. It’s fair to predict that this whole process might inform my own or someone else’s next animation; and so the wheel spins.

Ignoring my theoretical posturing, the true joy of this film can be found in its back-story. Martin Pickles and Bob Godfrey met in Croatia at the Animafest Zagreb festival in 2004. A fan since childhood, Martin sought every opportunity to foster a friendship with Bob. Officially, he found himself in the role of odd-job-man – when they met there was always a light bulb or whatever that needed replacing. Over time, his visits to Godfrey’s ACME studio in Deptford became much more social in nature.

Martin spoke about Bob’s aptitude for story telling and teaching with great affection. One day, as Martin sat opposite his hero, sipping tea, he felt that it didn’t seem right that he was the only one experiencing this. He was struck by the realisation that no one had made the effort to record these pearly nuggets of wisdom. With a real sense of urgency he got his hands an old tape recorder, and with Bob very much enjoying the spotlight, they recorded over two hours of rambling fun from one of the British animation scene’s more charismatic icons.

The two animators started to hatch grand schemes for what to do with the material. Collaboration seemed on the cards until Bob’s health began to suffer. By this point Godfrey was in his late eighties, and with great sadness Martin witnessed his gradual decline. Out of respect the project was put on hold indefinitely. A while after Bob’s passing in 2013, his family and the Bradford Animation Festival released an open call for archival content relating to Bob’s life and work. Following that the rest of the pieces fell into place.

You can read a full transcript of the interview here.

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‘Rocks in my Pockets’ by Signe Baumane – trailer

Check out the trailer for Signe Baumane’s first feature expiring mental illness through the stories of five women in her family – ‘a funny film about depression’.

Upcoming screenings around the world in Sept & Oct 2014 listed here:
http://www.rocksinmypocketsmovie.com/Screenings.html

And a series of ‘making of’ shorts here: http://www.rocksinmypocketsmovie.com/Process.html

Signe’s portfolio site here: http://www.signebaumane.com

‘A is for Atom’ by John Sutherland

Well, what you might expect from a US 1953 public information film about nuclear power and weaponry: simplified science and a rather narrow political view!

This came from Public Domain Motion Pictures on Youtube, a ‘free channel devoted to Public Domain, Open Source and Copyleft movies, TV shows and serials’.

‘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.

‘Heirlooms’ by Susan Danta and Wendy Chandler

Heirlooms from Wendy Chandler on Vimeo

Recently screened as part of the animadoc programme at the Tricky Women festival, Vienna, here’s a compilation of short episodes from a series made for Australian broadcaster SBS.

In each episode a possession passed down the generations recalls memories and family histories, often of migration and war.

‘Lies’ by Jonas Odell

Lies – Part 1 – Directed by Jonas Odell from FilmTecknarna on Vimeo.

https://vimeo.com/32735700

If you like ‘Never Like the First Time’ you may enjoy this, the first of three first person narratives, from a film which won at Sundance 2009.

Review from Short of the Week here.