Melbourne Animation Festival 07

Right, so - I had great plans, for a nicely formatted blurb about each of the movies I saw at the animation festival here in Melbourne. It was amazing, by the way, and I highly recommend finding the time to go see any/some/all of the movies on offer in 2008.

But as all great plans of mish and men, mine got whittled down to this - to me writing this goofy non-intro then hiding the bulk of my unformatted brain-dump (unsent emails) by publishing this in August and dating it July but if I don't post this now it will be time for the next animation festival and I will truly suck.
Day One:

Once Upon a Time (France) - it mixed an old black and white Henry Fonda western with digital characters with cut-out flat real life film and even water - it had the black and white movie woman falling for the digitised hero who zoomed around the movie in cars and trains and submarines - it was just fabulous. ***Fox's Pick***

The Foxhole Manifesto (USA) - seemed to be based on a stand-up comic's monologue on God and how he saw God as he grewup from a child. It was okay but didn't really grab me though it got a few laughs from the audience.

Blindman's Bluff - So after that black and white film came a black film with colours that were drawn aroundthe outside of each character, so the landscape in Blindman's Bluff was defined by the negative space that the characters created - the black also gave the impression of night - the film was about a blind man and showed me how he saw the world. I thought that was really beautifully drawn too.

Dreams and Desires: Family Ties had the most amazing drawings - done in what seemed like pastels on paper - and the amazing "camera" work - really good stuff - fun and funny and very British - about a woman videoing or rather, the video from the wedding.

The Man Who Waited (Canada) - I didn't understand it - it was done in a woodblook style which was interesting but the story lost me or, and I lost interest in knowing what it was all about anyway.

Jeu (Switzerland) - an incredibly paced painted animation that, while not pen and ink, reminded me very much of Escher in the way the images folded in on each other and created optical illusions.

Day Two of the MIAF - digital animation (not including Motion Capture)

Tonight it was all about boys, and textures a marked constrast from the concentration on line and story from the night before. Not that the digital efforts tonight lacked plot, but it seemed secondary in many of the works. As with the night before, the first film was a show stopper. 458nm, from Germany was stunning. Macro shots of mechanical snails was amazing. Their fleshy bodies translucent to the mechanics of their insides working - the antennae absolute jewels of delicacy with wonderful subtle robotic sounds - simply stunning and Fox's favourite for the evening. Cellusions, from France, followed. Complicated cubed flora and fauna in a deep 3D space all moving, flowing and a stark contrast to the complicated, textured, moist world of 458nm. Another French entry followed: Faces had more than a hint of The Matrix and a dash of Sith about it. A vertical lift takes us up a shaft of capsules containing a head progressively damaged and infected - it was pretty gruesome as the film progressed and I found it funny though less desensitised people than I had trouble with the gore at times. The next film saw a murder victim's chalk outline animate and walk in the world. This film from Holland had beautiful late night street sceens, but it was just too long and not terribly interesting. Moloch from Poland followed and crystalised a thought that had been forming since the evening began: these digital entries were very male. All so far concentrating on the technical aspects that digital rendering does so well: textures and camera angles. This film had textures so detailed, the oxidation of metal and paint looked almost fleshlike at one stage. The moisture of the air that rusted the metal hanging like mist and dripping from pipes, it really did show those texture maps to perfection. After what seemed like an entire short film of panning rusting metal in a disused factory - the soldiers with guns arrived and I nodded to myself and said "Boys." In an lineup that was set and determined to contrast one film with the next, we traded the peeling paint for pristine computer generated plastic clay. Monster Samurai from the USA is set in old Japan with a cursed samurai swordsman as an ogre who can't kill any one anymore, battling against a demon army using the "dull edge wallop" instead of the blade. Typical japanese storyline, humour and animation - which is not to say it's quality isn't extremely high, just that it's nothing new. NannyBot from Slovenia is another digital film set against the whiteness of it's environment. How anyone can manage to portrait compassion on a tin robot's features is beyond me, but this robot was so human, if flawed in it's solution processes. I was so happy to see a New Zealand entry in the program tonight. It's a shame, though, that Ray Ray didn't bother including any credits. It's also a shame that this appeared to be a showreel demonstrating all the technical appitude of it's creator. It seemed to be either a portfolio piece (which might explain why there were no credits) or a video to accompany Fat Freddys Drop. [ ]Sigg Jones, another French entry, with a very Japanese feel. I heard one audience member comment on this being a Nike advertisement. It is an amazing, and beautifully choreographed fight scene, with splashes of humour, and great camera-work. Bulgaria's The Crown was absolutely perfect, though. A short, simple, digital-claymationlike piece with a simple story simply told and easy understood. clean, clear, funny, to the point: just fabulous and judging by the laughter and robust round of applause, I wasn't the only person who was delighted by this snippet. My favourite of the evening though, was from Japan. Tough Guy! is a film in three acts, following the adventures of a martial arts praying mantis. What I loved about this movie was the grainy film quality of the digital production. After all the perfect, pristine, texture enriched surfaces, the texture of this piece was all on the film and lens, with the later moving in and out of focus to the point I forgot it was even a digital animation. The story was solid too - three vignettes with a beginning, middle and end - I really do think that often the story in digital animation gets dropped down the priority list in favour of technical gymnastics, but not in this case, although I imagine the technicalities of this piece were emence. Une Charongne is an achingly beautiful piece from France. It has foregone the obvious texture mapping and manages to feel like traditional paperbased animation with it's transluscent trees and felt-tipped pen hair flowing around our main character. But again, with the silk fabric clinging to breasts and buttocks of our heroine, I felt this film had a very male quality about it even though it was so romantic, soft with a feminine character. The only film that I felt left that masculine tone behind was the final film of the evening - Doll Face from the States. A simple 3D space - a room with a trunk and an old television. Inside the trunk a series of robotic gears and insectlike protrusions emerge with the face of a flesh female. She watches the television and mimics it, striving more and more to be what she sees on the screen, to ultimately fail. This seemed to be the only film that dealt with it's character dealing with an emotional concept, rather than acting out a scene or interacting with other objects, which is why I believe it felt feminine to me. Beautifully done, no matter what the gender of the animator/animating team.

The third evening at Melbournes International Animation Festival was a challenging one for me. Overall, I found the works presented to beextrordinarily creative in both content and form - to the point I was challenged and uncomfortable at times. The fact of the matter is: I'm a square, and so some of these movies made me sit defensively with my arms and legs crossed because they weren't typical (if you can say any animated short film is typical) of the work I'd seen to this point. I have a feeling these films were about endings..

The first film was a beautiful and original look at a bus ride from an empty drink bottle's perspective as it rolled back and forth on the floor ofthe bus. the bottle's liquid had been used, and the bottle was at it's end of usefulness. I particularly liked the linework, and the way the scenes "slid" open and closed as the plastic bottle rolled. A really beautiful and simple film. It was followed by one of the first movies of this session to challenge my conception of a "typical" animation.

El Paguey, from Spain, had a man being swept down a swollen river, while another man attempted a rescue. I don't know how the first man got into the river, I don't know why the second man was sitting beside the river at the time, and I don't know if the rescue attempt was successful. It was a sliver of time out of context. It was strange - and it looked odd. And I crossed my arms as I looked at it, concentrating really hard in case I'd missed something but the only thing I missed was the thing that wasn't there: an ending. The next film was a comptuer generated piece with a couple who had a passion for the tango but after the male dancer suffered an accident, their dancing career ended. Unfortunately, the sound was out of synch and the magic was a bit mislaid because of that. Jar was my second problem film of the evening.

I notice on our shared program's "tasting notes" that Fox has written 'mon favorit' - I can't agree, and I think that's mostly because it reminded me a little of Monty Python's animation in the way surreal shapes grew out of and into each other - there seemed no beginning and no ending, these images morphing and growing one into the other that would continue as long as the animator managed it. It seemed to be black fiber-tipped pen on paper and felt very much like it was made as a student's answer to a animation-school brief.

Three australian animators brought us Fraught - a series of interviews with people describing embarrassing instances in their lives with each of the animators own style. The stories were gently funny and intensely ordinary, we all have stories like those told. The artwork was colourful and simple, and the film worked really well. It was a really nice collaboration that hung together well considering the different artists.

When we sat down in the theatre before the screenings began, a rather attractive (apart from the dreadlock tail that hung from the back of his skull, but we'll ignore that for the time being) man in a dapper suit fidgeted in and around the 5th seat from the aisle of our row. He seemed to have friends in the two rows behind and the two rows in front of his and it was a rather large group. It became evident when Little Dog Turpie screened, that this gentleman was the animator, Ben Mars. His animation was black and white with the surface qualities of a woodcut, with the animated qualities of an indonesian shadow puppet theatre.

The story seemed to be fable-like, humourous, and really well done with a cute and just happy ending. I really enjoyed his movie, and his "posse" help bolster the ample applause for the film. It was followed by a cute little piece called Come Rain or Shine. Again using interviews as the basis (a la Creature Comforts) the accented interviews backed the animation concerning the British weather. I can't remember any positive comments about the weather in this movie, and most of the voices wanted the changable/cold/bad weather in the UK to end. Sand seemed to be the media of choice for Do You Mind? shapes moved and morfed into each other as the story unfolded. I like the play of positive and negative spaces, especially when they interchange and blend to create new images. There was a feeling of loss in this film, of something that had ended or had been lost. Not the End was another of this evening's films that I found strange. It examined all the aspects of a couple's relationship, including their plants on the balcony. while each of the scenarios within the film came to an end, it wasn't the end as further investigation into the details carried the film on and on.

Lost in the Snow from Latvia was beautiful and strange. Ice-hole fisherman oblivious to the breaking pack ice could easily have been a metaphor for our attitude to resources and the consequences of our blatent arogance towards our planet. But I might be reading too much into it and it may have simply been the ending of Winter, and the Spring thaw. Crossing the Stream from the USA was beautiful and unusual. Traditionally rendered on paper mixing media to achieve a flickering of jewel colours and stuttering lines, a man leads his horses across a stream, breaking the surface of thewater and moving slowly under the stobing media of line and colour the animator's artwork created. This movie is so simple and passive in it's story, and so complex and creative in it's execution. Recto Verso gave me a brief respite and showed a more typical animation. Black and white, good versus evil, cause and effect - I loved the way the animators used the space the frame of the film occupied. It was cute, and funny, and sharp in its look of the eternal battle and the blurry lines between good and evil even giving the film was black or white. The last movie of the evening was just.plain.weird. Taste of Life from Estonia was strange looking and I couldn't figure it out. It seemed to be about a masseuse who ate his clients, and a shoe salesman who bewitched a pair of shoes, and a fickle girl who didn't like the smell of food or wearing shoes. I don't know what was going on here but it went on and on and on and I thought it would never end.

Day four had two international sessions and a lesson to be learned: being tired and trying to appreciate international animated submissions at a festival is impossible. I was less tolerant and found myself being harsher and using that dreaded word "boring" - it was a bit of a marathon and while I didn't actually fall asleep, I came mighty close more than a few times.

Program #3 started with a digital chase movid from France called Wanted. It was beautiful and well paced, funny and slapstick. A fabulous little short. Both Fox and I tagged the next movie as our favourite for the session. T.O.M. from the Uk was an offkilter story told by a young boy that captured our attention, and surprised us with it's ending. Very short, but extremely good. Origin from Taiwan was another sandanimation which I have decided I don't like by the choice of medium - I really don't enjoy sand animation - it unerves me even though I can appreciate it is as complex and as hard to do as it gets. I was pleased for some good old fashioned British clay mation with The Adventures of John and John - quirky and full of personality, with the best production name of the show "Will Bishop Threenames". Another French film, Rhapsody for Two was another film that my lack of sleep dominated my opinion of - it didn't interest me and I didn't like it much. The next film, another from Taiwan called Snail Supply I deemed boring - see? a person needs some powers of concentration and alertness when viewing these sessions. I perked awake to see the Australian submission, Fluid. I loved it - the mixture of colour and stencil-like art, it was very Macromedia Flash and I have a real soft spot for the warm clean vector lines this movie utilised. I suppose Dinner in Lisbon was good, but again my state meant I only tolerated this short. Another sand animation called No Days from Iran didn't rate with me for reasons of medium mentioned previously. Belgium woke me up with Administrators and it's scratch splattered primary coloured story of beaurocracy and made me laugh which I was most grateful for and needed for the next boring installment.While Caracus had the most beautiful artwork - reminiscent of illustrations for a childrens book - the story was boooorrring.. too long, without point, and another movie I felt my eyelids losing their battle to stay open. Mr Schwartz, Mr Hazen and Mr Horlocker finished the session strongly with a funny and lively short about noise control and finished the first half of our moviewatching night with a laugh. Great artwork too : very painterly.

Session 4/Program#4 followed then minutes later. It started with a Japanese film that, at first, I thought was a brilliant idea - animation on cards held in front of scenes but rapidly became mesmerising and boring and could have been fabulous if the animations were less abstract and doodly - I had an idea that if the backround of the scene (real life) was drawn on the cards that sould have been supurb but that's not what they did and so I didn't like it. Grumpy much, Michelle? and on we go to France again, and a claymation/model short about a man in a subway breaking up with his girl. The modeling was nice but the trend of having credits last almost as long as the movie itself started with this film. I didn't like The Hole in my Bank from France! Topless and Bottomess , another entry from France was cute and funny. Where's the Gag from Taiwan was one of a few movies in the festival making comment on how frustrating it is to be an animator. While it had some funny comments, and the sentiments obviously resounded with some members of the audience, I really don't want to see how annoying it is to be an animatore - look dude, every job is annoying so get over it and put some more effort into the creative process and stop whinging. The very beautiful and magical The Eye of the Cyclone from France (does *everyone* in France animate?) washed the screen with gorgeous colours, wonderful linework, an intriguing yet simple storyline and perspective. Simply beautiful. And I needed that to have to sit through Purple Grey from the UK - surly the most blatent argument for the animator utilising a creative PROCESS when determining a direction for a film - this animator decided to make a boring movie about being bored and then did it badly. I hated this movied. HATED it. A young man from the UK saved us all from the torment of Purple Grey with his beautifully drawn Puppet. I loved seeing the pencil marks from the original drawings underpinning the inkwork. An excellent animation. Another good idea but made boring in Penelope's Day from Hungary. My favourite for this session came from Italy in the wonderful woodblock/crosshatched style I love so much, The Memories of Dogs. The images seem to be carved from the sceen's surface, the lines are almost alive wanting to tell their story - it's a bleak look too, and suits the tone of this sad tale. I also love the way the story unfolds and the first frames link the last in a circle after I have pieced the story together. Wonderful work. Portugal pays homage to a celebrated graphic designer - while this black and white piece seemed well drawn with a tone from a bygone era, it was lost on me having never seen the graphic designer's work. Cry from the Past from Australia looked so familiar to me until I wondered if the animator, Susan Stamp, had provided the artwork for one of my favourite movies "Look Both Ways" - I can't find (I hate searching) confirmation of this and maybe it's a wrong memory. The evening finished up with a refreshing, bright, and wonderful Canadian autobiography called Here and There. This was Fox's pick for the session and very nearly was mine too.

The last night of the International Program, they brought out the big guns.A very strong selection and a good night's sleep meant I was prepared to finish this wonderful week on a high note. French film Story Ville was styled on the first days of animation. The tribute to Mickey Mouse with the gloved hands of our hero, and the scratchy vinyl soundtrack of New Orleans jazz. Gorgeous artwork, beautiful modeling, confusing ending but short enough that it didn't really matter. Moments of I don't Know had a slight Tom Yorkness bout it. The UK film's penciled lines and simple conversation narrartion illustrated perfectly the of the end of this particular relationship. While I didn't like Songs from the Haven of Despair, I had to appreciate the artwork and linework - there were some really nice animated dance sequences although I kind of feel that drawing over filmed work is almost cheating, I will leave that idea alone. I didn't like Soldier from Croatia much but it was rich in claymation work. Sarah's Tale from Russia was exquisite. Smudey charcoal on a stark white snowy landscape, with a beautiful narration and wonderful animation - so detailed for such smudgey representation. Perfectly lovely and Fox's pick for this, our final session. New Zealand's second entry to the International sessions, I can barely remember the details of Rip, and I'm not sure what that's all about except I must've been thinking about something else and not concentrating. I didn't enjoy Without An Of though I appreciated the artwork and techniques. Same goes for Bows and Arrows from the UK - this session had such high quality animation though I didn't always "like" what I was seeing. Carnivore Reflux made me laugh though - animated jointed characters accompanied a rhymed story about gluttony with huge amounts of vomiting - what's not to like! Postman from Holland was a great blend of drawn and digital lines - short and very good, clean, and interesting. Endangered Species was the final (thank goodness) of the "what it's like to be an animator" bunch of movies that were sprinkled about the festival. Made in the form of a documentary about the evoloution of animation, it was nicely drawn, and cute - but not so much in a good way. It almost seemed obligitory and I put up with it. X.Pression from France was just plain creepy - people being fed into a machine to feed the offspring of some dinosaur-like offsprint, it was very soylent green. I found Yarn...Good Light is Essential from the UK really annoying. The lines were all the same and tangled, like yarn, but not in a good way. My favourite of the session: