Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Animated Outbursts

There was a time when animation was simply regarded as an extended series of drawings -- a cartoon with no other purpose than comic entertainment. However, after 20 years of The Simpsons, numerous Spike & Mike animation festivals (including their Sick & Twisted Animation Festivals),  and the use of animation to deal with serious topics (Waltz With Bashir), stunning advancements in computer technology have allowed animation to become an art form unto itself.

The average viewer (who is caught up in the action of an animated film) may not give much thought to the time and effort that goes into creating a short film. But animated shorts offer today's filmmakers a chance to exorcise new and very specific demons. 

Thanks to the linking power of new media, it is now possible to learn much more about a filmmaker's thoughts and artistic process by visiting the filmmaker's website. Writing in her blog about Synchronicity Series (which will screen at this month's San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, Eileen Anastasia Reynolds explains that:
"The Synchronicity Series is an animated pixilation shot and performed in Little India and at The School of Art, Media, and Design in Singapore. It is an American artist's interpretation of living as an outsider and an alien in a foreign land where conformity is seen as admirable and where the government takes pride in its systems of order, cooperation, and control. 

This 2 minute video is the result of 12 consecutive weekends choreographing and performing group formations within the urban space. These organized formations reference flight patterns of birds, such as geese, and schools of fish, where large numbers of separate entities work together as one cooperative organism. Some of these aspects within this project were inspired by small passages in Matt Ridley's book, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation

The rapid development of Singapore’s infrastructure in an incredibly short amount of time would not be possible without the cooperative actions of different cultures and classes working together. Social status and hierarchies within the workforce, at times, creates social conflict, however, the need to survive ultimately prevails and results in the cooperative action amongst groups of people dependent on each other in a complex system. To illustrate this case, Reynolds developed a portable digital capturing system and has created innovative animations with groups of people from a wide range of backgrounds, which test their ability to cooperate to reach a shared goal. This shared goal is the creation of a short film. So far she has created animations with communities of people in Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and New Mexico."
This photo, used to promote the Synchronicity Series, only gives a hint at the film's impact.

Thankfully, you can watch the entire stop-motion animation here.

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Michael Tay's six-minute stop-motion short,  Wet Season. is almost impossible to explain in words. The festival's brochure describes it as: 
"A son's tribute to his deceased father, this stopmotion animated film reflects on how emotional expressions help us cope with the loss of those who are, even in death, closest to us."
However, a little online research reveals this fascinating description of the filmmaker's artistic process:
"When I first set out to make this short, it wasn’t meant to be a fully animated 6 minute short film. The original story of Wet Season was a 15 page script about a guy living in a fast paced world who dreams of sperms whenever he thinks of the girl of his dreams and is haunted at the same time by visions of his dead father in the form of a skeleton.

I was halfway through the second rewrite of the script that I decided to scrap the whole idea because I felt it wasn’t honest enough. If this is going to be a tribute to my dad, it better be just about my dad and my dad alone. So I deleted the entire 15 pages of material and just start writing the script in the most primitive method I know. In the form of a letter to my dad.

That letter which I wrote in Chinese over the course of nearly a week became the narration for Wet Season. And that letter went through many rewrites even till post production stage which became really scary for me then because I never take rewrites this far. Ultimately, I guess the effort is well paid off and this final output really feels like a tribute to my dad."
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Some animated shorts are just for fun. Dave Quion's delightful two-minute video,  Lobster Shmobster, certainly fits the bill:

But, occasionally, you'll discover an animated short that shows great technique and a delicious sense of humor while delivering a startlingly relevant message about protecting our health and the environment in which we live. Mina Yonezawa's quirky four-minute video from Japan (A Happy Thermometer) is that tiny gem.  

With an animated (and fairly urgent) message about the ecosphere that could probably do more to educate the masses about global warming than Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, it demands attention. A Happy Thermometer may take a while to load, but be sure to watch it here!

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