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Pictures moving faster than the eye - Which is not unduly obvious, as I am about to explain
Pictures moving faster than the eye
Tonight I went out to see the Best of the Ottawa Animation Festival. Not everyone I invited showed up (probably due to the snowstorm), but that's a good thing, as it wasn't a great selection. Nice to see Jason and kfops there!

The technical quality of the animation was top-notch, no problem there. But nothing... moved me emotionally. Most of the pieces were experiential, and had no plot; or had themes I've already seen a lot in these kinds of anthologies. (Oh look, the action moves really s l o w l y and then someone dies at the end.) Unusually, at least three of the shorts had fish as a theme. But it's hard to get emotional over fish.

Actually the show started with a National Film Board of Canada short that was not part of the "Best of", perhaps thinking that getting played next to it would improve its stature. Not so. While the NFB has produced some timeless animated classics, they have also produced a lot of animated dreck, which by law we must all watch.

Okay, I'm being too harsh. "Louise" wasn't dreck, but it wasn't especially interesting. It's another of the NFB's "Let's demonstrate Canadian culture by talking about something dull and avoid the risk of offending anyone in the country" pieces. Louise can be summed up as follows. (To be spoken in an old, rickety voice with a strange, vaguely French accent):

"My name is Louise. I am a 96-year-old woman who is still active. I make lists of things I am going to do today. I garden. I remember the fun things my friends and I used to do together. I am showing you photographs, and my friends are not visiting today because then I won't have to animate them. I live on the prairies and kill a lot of flies." Our tax dollars at work.

Okay, quick observations on the Best of the Ottawa Animation Festival:

The Curse of the Voodoo Child. Scrawls across film set to music. NFB did it better decades ago.

Ichthys. A man rows to an island to eat a fish and almost dies while waiting weeks for it to be served to him. Dies in the end anyway. Slow, death, fish, mildly absurdist. Enh. High-quality work, though.

Phoenix Foundation Hitchcock. Computer animation of cars. Stylistic but little substance.

Grau. Abstract computer blobs. Long. A bit like trying to see pictures in clouds, but with ugly clouds. Snore.

Chestnuts Icelolly. Like an abraisive underground black-and-white comic book, but animated.

City Paradise. Meaningless, highly absurdist, but the most amusingly meaningless and visually positive one of the bunch. A young Japanese woman goes to London. There are scuba divers and strange glowing flowers. I especially liked the bit where she took a fishtank out of her suitcase. Recognized the music they were using over the end.

Overtime. Vaguely about mourning over some old dead guy, using kermit-like puppets. I was entertained but again, it didn't seem to be saying anything. Great editing.

Fish Heads Fugue and Other Tales for Twilight. Fish again. Lots of vignettes in some weird kind of shifting stage format. Complex, but empty.

Die Toten Hosen Walkampf. Animation set to a German song - images had something to do with water, fish and a beached whale? Mildly visually interesting, but subtitles would've helped.

Morir de Amor. Two caged parrots, desperate to be fed, imitate noises and re-enact the sounds of the affair of their owner's wife. Silly fun. Best thing in the show.

At the Quinte Hotel, images set to a poem. Not bad.

Actually, what was enjoyable was the opening animation to the anthology, in which the screen was divided into nine panels showing people taking weird methods of transport to a movie theatre, arriving there at the same time. Ironically, this introductory throw-away piece was better than most of the stuff that came after it!

One of the things that struck me tonight while watching the animation was that computer animation was becoming increasingly prevalent in independent animation over more "traditional" methods (drawing, cut-outs, figurines, stop-motion, etc). And yet several of the pieces were deliberately given a "traditional" look. In some cases I wasn't able to tell which was being applied, thinking that some traditional methods had been used, but then had been edited and blended together using computers.

It made me wonder - why is there an artistic need to look like old-fashioned media, when you're using completely new media? Does more modern media fail to engage us as fully? This is kind of hard for me to explain what I'm thinking... okay. When we watch moving images, there's a language at work, of symbols, artistic conventions, editing, what have you. These change over time. We know when the screen goes all wobbly, there's a flashback. Old silent black-and-whites had their own visual language, and we still understand them, but we're aware it belongs to a different generation of viewers. Our generation is used to its own visual conventions, many of them subconscious. One of the newer generation's styles, in Hollywood anyway, is "let's have lots of movement going really fast everywhere on the screen at once", e.g., in The Matrix, Van Helsing, etc.

Suspension of disbelief is an important factor. Watching, say, The Dark Crystal, we know these are Jim Henson muppets, but it's believable. Our generation has watched computer animation mature to an increasing level of realism, and it's been hard to believe in the image all the time. Argh. What am I trying to say. I was interested in the fact that computer animation, although a new medium, largely has to communicate with its viewers by using the old styles of visual language - it's what our brains expect and understand. Arright. Enough rambling on that.

I also got nostalgic tonight for the animation anthologies that used to go around all the alternative movie theatres around the 1990s. Again, with a lot of stuff I'd rather not see again, but each show had at least one or two really good pieces. And then I thought, hey, I'd really like to put together those for a personal best-of copy for myself. But wouldn't you know it? They're not on DVD, and the VHS tapes are mostly long gone or deteriorated. Heck, doing web searches, I'm hard-pressed to even find lists of what shorts were played! Remember The British Invasion? The Festival of Animation? And several International Tournee of Animations. Oh yeah, and Spike & Mike's, that's easy to find, but I prefer the more artsy and less of the fartsy.

So here's to memories of Balance. Tango. Pas de Deux. The Big Snit. How to Kiss. Creature Comforts. Night of the Carrots (ouch, maybe not that one). That one where it's a history of painting and all the pictures morph into one another but the director left out Dali and Magritte just because. That one based on Japanese legend with the sliding panels moving around. Damnit, brain! Anyway. Good memories. If I'm lucky, maybe I can put something together eventually. If I'm really really lucky and can track down titles and recordings.

Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

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From: cjthomas Date: March 2nd, 2006 06:23 am (UTC) (Link)

Nostalgia and symbolism.

Part of the reason for emulating other media via computer animation isn't just to use cues we're already trained for; it's that the choice of emulated medium itself attaches connotations, and can be part of the artistic whole. South park is arguably a good example of this, though I realize I'm going out on a limb calling it "art" (looks like something put together out of construction paper by a kid, which fits the atmosphere of the show itself).

As for nostalgia, this is why Siggraph demo reels were on my Christmas list };>. Way too expensive to buy unless I have another windfall, though (the current windfall is already earmarked for a milling machine).

Another blast from the past was finding "Where the Wild Things Are", which I'd read as a kid but forgotten about. This could easily be where some of my furry leanings came from. Finding "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" was nifty, too. I'm starting to appreciate that one of the qualities of a really *good* childrens' book is that it isn't irritating to read again as an adult.

And then there's "no two people are not on fire" };>. But I'm rambling.

entropicana From: entropicana Date: March 2nd, 2006 06:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Phoenix Foundation Hitchcock?

Maybe I can add another level to that one for you.

You see, 1980s icon and mullet-wearer MacGyver worked for an organisation called the Phoenix Foundation.
dronon From: dronon Date: March 2nd, 2006 07:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Ahhh. I never followed the show! I think that particular piece was called "Hitchcock" and was by a production company called Phoenix Foundation. Basically it was a bunch of supposedly British electric cars sliding around impossibly on various roads and other locals, eventually pitted against a huge obnoxious U.S. 4x4 vehicle.
entropicana From: entropicana Date: March 3rd, 2006 02:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Sounds interesting to me. Do they transform and duke it out at the end? :)
okaree From: okaree Date: March 2nd, 2006 01:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hated Chestnut's Icelolly so much. That is all. :)
plonq From: plonq Date: March 2nd, 2006 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd hoped to make it back into town for that, but by the time we got home yesterday the traffic and roads up in our end of town were pretty nast. =/
niall_ From: niall_ Date: March 2nd, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Chestnuts Icelolly is by a now-no-longer-student who used the exact same technique to arguably better effect in his first film that won many awards (whyyyyy?), "Son of Satan". Which I've seen about six times now - four times too much. This one is abrasive for absolutely no reason; at least SoS took a strong piece of writing to animate.

Yeah, you did not get the best pieces, probably for reasons of length and rights. I mean, you missed on The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, or the best ad for Honda UK. The Walkampf is quite surreal, and I didn't need subtitles.

Morir d'Amor was indeed hilarious, and Ichtys was all about mood - but twice too long. I guess they really wanted us to feel like the character and wait as long as he did. Unnecessarily. Fish Head Fugues was just showy, without substance or cohesion when it needed strong cohesion to be able to take in the complex visuals. City Paradise was complete and great whimsy, in the way the Japanese have excelled. And oh god, they put Curse of Voodoo Child?? That one was pathetic!

A few of the better winners is here on my review. It's nice that the festival has this showreel going around, but when it has only the middling stuff (trust me, none of these were the "worst") and none of the high-quality winners, what's the point?

As for using computers, I'm actually happy that people aren't going to the "if we use computers it must look like it's made BY computers" rule anymore, and using it as the tool it is to enhance, rather than overtake, the personal visions. Sometimes the effect done by hand would need complex optical processing - hence costly - and since they're already using the computer to store images, manipulating them to make the same effect makes it faster and cheaper. It does not change the planning, drawing and timing, which are still and always will remain the art part.
dronon From: dronon Date: March 2nd, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd vaguely remembered your positive post, and I know you try to attend each year, so I was enthused to go see this showreel. Ah well! Okay, I'm off to look for The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. And lists of all the other international anthologies that used to show. And then I'm going to make me my own (biased) anthology. Muah hah hah!
orleans From: orleans Date: March 3rd, 2006 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I usually attend the Animation Festival and have a good time. But it's very hit and miss. Like you, I dislike the abstract works (well, most of them) and those seem to be popular with the selection committee lately.

I liked "Icthys" and "At the Quinte Hotel" a lot. And "City Paradise" amused me too. On the other hand, I too thought "Chestnuts Icelolly" was utter drek. :O

I think that the selection for a show like this needs to change, as the audience is not going to be animation insiders or experts compared to the Ottawa fest. They should make a good number of the pieces exciting and or comedic. "Icthys" and "At the Quinte Hotel" should be there to show the more expressive, artistic side of animation (instead of being the more accessible pieces). Abstract, inacessible works should be dropped.
porsupah From: porsupah Date: March 8th, 2006 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)
One aspect of computing in animation, of course, is simply as an assistant - ink & paint can become a much less tedious task. Then there's actually animating using a computer, which can be anything from merely digitising hand-drawn sketches, through to Flash style vector animation. Similarly, Flash - a technology - can be responsible for mind-pummelingly corporate websites and tedious "let's cause the lettering to zoom in quickly, then make a slight recoil backwards" advertising banners, just as it can bring us Bernard Derriman's Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me.

On the other end of the scale is full-blown 3D CG, not pretending to be anything but that, as with Pixar, who tend to be good at highlighting that technology means nothing without a story people give a damn about.

Of course, different technologies can make some things much easier, whilst causing problems in others - early CG TV logos had plenty of shiny surfaces, as that's trivial on a computer - but realistic kinematics took quite a bit more effort. (Much maligned as I feel it was, despite the wonky story, I'll also defend Chicken Little, as it exhibited great comic timing and classic comedic animation traits - again, something the result of the animators, not their tools)

Now, well.. we're at the point where computers are ubiquitous in live action as well as animation - just look at how much compositing there is in movies, typically quite flawless, creating vistas that never really existed, or, as in Dinosaur, were melded seamlessly from entirely different parts of the planet.

And thinking of CGI appearing to be something else, Flushed Away seems like as good an example as any. ^_^; It's not quite up to the level of the real thing, but it does look like they've done a pretty decent job of it. Come to think of it, The Magic Roundabout (recently dubbed from English to English for US audiences, and renamed Doogal; not sure if they reworked the script as well) and the recent revival of Captain Scarlet also portray the shift from "real world" to pure CG productions - in one case stop-motion, marionettes in the other.
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