Great Animation in 2018 Lives at the Local Level

Last week I attended the Sweaty Eyeballs monthly animation festival here in Baltimore and besides imbuing me with a greater degree of motivation, it also reminded me that great animation lives in far more places than on Netflix and TV in general. For one, it lives right on my own doorstep.

Baltimore is not a major centre for animation, but it is the east coast’s quirky, weird equivalent to the west coast’s Portland. Art there is unafraid to be bold, independent, and challenging of the status quo; everything that mainstream art is not. It attracts a crowd that dares to be different and aspires to be something more than a cog in a machine at a large studio.

Some of the animated shorts on display were student works, while others were collaborations with artists in other cities. Yet they were all remarkably different from what you’d see on a TV screen. They had a sense of ‘life’ to them that exhibited a vibrancy and excitement. Even the shortest student films were alternately amusing and stylish. Better yet, they were all different from each other! There was no repetition or slovenly imitation! Every short was a feast for the eyes and gave pause for thought.

What all this served to do was to remind me (as I’m now reminding you) that great animation actually doesn’t reside on the screens we’re been brainwashed into believing they are. Mainstream animated features are not great animation; indie features are. Animated TV shows (even those on Netflix) are not pushing the envelope; shorts on the internet and elsewhere are.

So perhaps consider this a recommendation to check out what’s animated events are happening in your area. You might discover something you’d never see otherwise. And if you can’t make it to a major city, consider starting a screening event of your own; there’s no reason why not in this day and age.

This Weekend: Animated Shorts in Baltimore.

Yes, something animation-related on my own doorstep! Starting tonight, May 6th, the Maryland Film Festival runs until Sunday. Besides loads of great films, there is an animated shorts segment featuring the following:

  • BOTTLE, Kirsten Lepore, 6 mins
  • THE COW WHO WANTED TO BE A HAMBURGER, Bill Plympton, 6 mins
  • ENRIQUE WRECKS THE WORLD, David Chai, 5 mins
  • FAMILY PORTRAIT, Joseph Pierce, 5 mins, UK
  • FLESH COLOR, Masahiko Adachi, 4 mins, Japan
  • HONEYSUCKLE BLUE, Miranda Pfeiffer, 5 mins
  • KIDNAP, Sijia Luo, 4 mins
  • ONCE IT STARTED IT COULD NOT END OTHERWISE, Kelly Sears, 8 mins
  • STANLEY PICKLE, Victoria Mather, 9 mins, UK
  • THIS ROOM IS WHITE, Karen Yasinsky, 5 mins
  • WONDER HOSPITAL, Beomsik Shimbe, 12 mins, Japan
  • X.O. GENESIS, Rowan Wernham, 12 mins, New Zealand

Some names are familiar, some not so familiar so it appears you are in for a treat.Last year featured Elliot Cowan’s masterpiece ‘Brothers in Arms‘ so you know the bar is set quite high.

The shorts will be screened tonight (Friday) at 9:30pm in the Charles Theatre (I’ll be there) and again on Sunday in the Windup Space at 5:00pm. Tickets are $10.

You can find full details of the program as well as complete info on the Maryland Film Festival here.

Why You Should Remember That Cost is Not the Be All And End All in Animation

Via: USAToday

It can play a part, but it as with any movie it does not a winner make.

Take for example the Academy-Award nominated short, Let’s Pollute. Can you guess how mush it took to make it? That’s right, $15,000 or in other words, less than the cost of a new MINI Cooper.

This should be seen as a sign that films do not need to cost the earth and that with careful planning and execution, you can make a really funny film for very little money. It makes me think of the many student films on display at the annual ASIFA-East Festival. I’m sure they were made on a shoe-string but they are often some of the wittiest, humourous and inventive pieces of the evening.

The great thing about the rise of the internet is that distribution costs have now approached zero, so getting an audience for your film costs next to nothing. Now there are folks out there who decry the internet as a terrible place that will steal your first-born before making you money, but I beg to differ.

I have found that people tend to focus on different aspects of animation when it comes to judging quality. Some people look at backgrounds, others look at the direction, still others focus on the writing. I tend to focus on the characters, if they are interesting and complex enough to capture my attention then that is what makes a good film for me. Creating good characters costs next to nothing (in comparison to everything else).

So just keep that in mind when you think that good animation has to cost a lot of money. (It also takes away another excuse you had for not making that independent film!)

And You Thought Educational Films Had To Be Boring

Not so! Thanks to Brad Caslor and his tribute to the classic cartoons of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Follow Bob Dog as he hunts for that next big career break all to the tune of some classic doo-wop.

I’ve seen this film before but thanks to Will Finn for reminding me 🙂

A Look Back at David OReilly’s Octocat

Via: David OReilly.com

With his latest masterpiece, The External World, (that I have yet to see!) currently gaining momentum in advance of its US premiere next month at the Sundance Film Festival, I thought to take a look back at OReilly;s first major break into the international stage. No, not Please Say Something, his excellent short film that was showered with awards, his other series of shorts, Octocat.

If you remember, David released the series under the pseudonym RANDY PETERS, who was supposed to be a nine year old kid living in Chicago using MS Paint to create the films. I remember thinking two things at the time: first of all, damn, that is one ugly cat and secondly, kudos to the kid for making something like that. Sure it isn’t smooth, flawless animation but I’m 23 (at the time, ah, to be young again) and I can’t do anything like that!

Of course, the thrilling conclusion revealed David as the source behind it all. If you haven’t seen the whole adventure, I highly recommend, nay, command you to watch the entire series compiled together below before continuing on,

http://vimeo.com/1690174

As you can probably tell, there are certainly different parts to the story (you might also be able to tell that the voice, and that the cup of tea is a dead giveaway for being Irish) but the over-arching theme is that Octocat is looking for his parents.

The dramatic conclusion is perhaps one of the greatest twists I’ve seen in a film because it plays very much on the difference between what the audience expects and what it receives. Overall, it’s a very melancholy film, there is mixture of excitement, wonder, anguish and ultimate disappointment all in a few short minutes.

The films were a great calling card and certainly got OReilly noticed among the international animation community and beyond. It’s creative ideas like this that can help make someone stand out from the crowd and certainly helped David make a name for himself, which ensured that he had an audience all ready to go for Please Say Something.

Although some people will naturally feel deceived, imagine if they weren’t? Imagine if David had released Octocat under his own name. There’s a good chance it might have garnered a few views and some critical praise from ‘experts’ but the average Joe Schmoe would still not have a clue. Attributing the work to a nine year old, David picked up on the willingness to share and tell others about something that seems genuinely amazing. “A nine year old made THAT? It’s awesome!” rather than “Oh, it’s just another short film that I can’t understand and it’s got some shitty animation that a kid could do”. As I was writing this, I had to go back and check out the comments on the original Cartoon Brew post, and to my non-surprise, they were all positive, with many people gunning for “Randy”.

I think sometimes as adults we tend to get too focused on what we consider the be the ‘standard’ for good animation. In Octocat, the animation does tend to play second fiddle to the story, at least until the end when the roles reverse. David says as much in the blog post that revealed the truth behind the series.

I’m sure I’ll be accused of misleading people again, but I won’t apologize for that. Why? Because you’ve all proved one vitally important point: audiences don’t need polished, slick animation to find a story engaging. They are happy to follow the worst animated, worst designed and worst dubbed film of all time, and still laugh and cry and do all the things you do watching a so-called “high end” film. Its amazing, I’ve never been so excited about independent animation.

He’s right, too. We watched every new segment as it was released because we wanted to see what happened to the poor Octocat. Would he find his parents, what other adventures would he set off on, and most importantly (at least for me), would he have another cup of tea.

The old saying that there are some people out there who are naturally lucky is sort of true, but that’s only because they make their own luck most of the time. David OReilly managed to succeed with Octocat because he took a chance and did something that no-one else had done before (no, not deceive the audience, just have them pre-load themselves with certain expectations). His success since then is proof that a bit of inventiveness and some skill can go a long way to progressing your career.