Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas all!

I've been insufferably lazy lately. I'm currently at the family house ("family" in this case consisting of my mum, my sister, and the retarded cat) having just celebrated Christmas. I'll return to my own lodgings in Stokie on the 27th, most likely (after shouting at Barclays for conning me out of lots of money, but that's another story), and I think once I do that I'll blitz through all the remaining festival posts as fast as possible, as I know people probably don't care about them THAT much, and I do of course have tons of other more interesting things to blog about.

Speaking of which, this is what I got for christmas, sorted by category and in alphabetical order by author, because I know you're all dying to know:

Music:
The Bug - Pressure; Deerhoof - Milk Man (apparently Reveille is coming too, I was spoiled!); Juno Reactor - Labyrinth; kid606 - ps I love you.
Manga/anime:
Kiyohiko Azuma - Azumanga Daioh complete collection (DVD boxset with Chiyo notepad and pencil, hell yeah!); Junji Ito - Uzumaki vol. 3 and Gyo vol. 1: The Death Stench Creeps (I kind of want to do an analysis of these two, actually, it was interesting to read them after John K's recent posts on "itchy" drawing); Hayao Miyazaki - NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind vol. 3.
Games:
Metal Slug Anthology (PS2)
Stocking stuff:
A bunch of Lush items; Gloves; Socks; After Eight mints oh god yes.

We had pheasant for dinner, but not before watching the new Wallace and Gromit, which was pretty cool, though not able to top The Wrong Trousers, or my personal favourite A Grand Day Out. Christmas has felt a bit of a non-event for me this year, probably due to it occuring right in that most uncertain time of life, between finishing uni and finding really steady work. However, I'm still happy, and hopefully everybody reading this will have had a very enjoyable Christmas (or whatever other seasonal holiday you may celebrate)!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Canterbury Anifest

So, after some procrastination, here's the next festival report: the Canterbury Anifest.
This was only a one-day thing, so it wasn't as eventful a stay as Bacup, however, it was still a fun event (despite the fact that I had to trudge for about half-an-hour through driving rain to get to the location). The B&B was also pretty nice (smaller than the first one, though).

This fest did of course feature shorts, but there were a couple of great talks as well. The first I went to was the Bob Godfrey Retrospective. Bob Godfrey is, of course, one of the geniuses responsible for Roobarb, among other things. A particular highlight of the talk was a showing of one of his earliest works, "Watch the Birdie" (which isn't anywhere online), a particularly hilarious and charming paper cutout animation about...well birds. While it's useless for me to say it, I hope you all get to see it someday as it is truly wonderful.Next up was the Competitive Shorts screening (which I was in). The only thing I really want to highlight from this is a film by Tom Senior, "One Nice Family Photo". It has a really, really rough, sketchy, painterly look to it that can seem cheap but that I feel Tom pulls off masterfully. It's not even rotoscoped (an easy approach to resort to with this kind of style).
It also features the best dog I've ever seen (well, maybe second best to Roobarb!)
I spoke to him and he's a really smashing bloke, so check out his website (which kicks the shit out of mine) and take a look.

The second talk was "Baahind the Scenes of Shaun the Sheep", which was, unsurprisingly, about Aardman's first animated children's series, Shaun the Sheep. I hadn't actually seen any of it before and it's pretty good (you can see a few episodes on Youtube). It's definitely nice to see old-fashioned stop-motion used on a successful and wide-reaching cartoon.
After that was the awards ceremony, at which I picked up the Creative Sound Design Award (which I felt kind of awkward accepting as Kenny Evans at Kingston gave me massive amounts of help with it). Tom got both the Technical Achievment and Audience Awards, so well done to him!

So, a short but interesting festival. Next is Filmstock, which was my personal favourite and promises quite a large entry. Coming soon!

Plug for a friend

Another intermediate post, I just want to plug some work done recently by a couple of mates of mine.Ben Wright and Will Milton, who studied in the year above me at Kingston, were commissioned by Nickelodeon a while ago to produce a few shorts on bullying as part of their "See Something Say Something" season. They aired during November, and while I sadly don't get the right channels and wasn't able to watch them on TV, Ben recently linked me to them online, and I was pretty impressed and wanted to give them a bit more exposure.

The format is similar to work they've done before with Bold Creative, using interviews with young people as source material to animate to (topics addressed in the work Ben and Will did previously included homelessness and race relations). Their previous stuff had clearly been done with very little time and possibly limited creative freedom, but these are Ben and Will in full swing. I can nitpick a bit (I feel the characters could have been more appealing and young-looking, and sometimes the acting competes a bit with the voices rather than supplementing it) but they're really lovely and even touching shorts with some very nice animation (Ben did the hand-drawn elements, Will did the 3D parts and presumably the compositing too, that is presuming they're still working the same way they have in the past). Unfortunately Mark's story seems to be down at the moment but do check out the other three.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Mutate Britian

Consider this an intermediate entry, just to quickly say that I went to the Mutate Britain exhibition in Shoreditch last night and it was a real treat. Lots of cool things made from scrap among other stuff (the scrap sculptures were by far the most interesting and least pretentious of everything that was there though).

Don't have any photos myself though there are plenty on this other random blog, and I did get a video of this awesome moving creature that the artist would occasionally mount and drive (it's pretty shit since I only had a camera phone and there are better videos in both the links I posted but dammit I shot this so you're damn well going to look at it).

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bacup Film Festival

I've been putting this off a fair bit, but I'm now going to start my long-promised rundown of all the festivals I went to last month (as if anybody reads this blog, hohoho). I'll give each one a seperate entry, and the first up is the Bacup Film Festival.

Held in the amazingly tiny hamlet of Waterfoot, in the middle of nowhere (the Rossendale Valley, which itself is somewhere in East Lancashire). It was an interesting start to my restival rounds as it was certainly the smallest I would go to, but also the furthest I would have to travel. I did get to stay in a really nice B&B though (although it wasn't especially cheap, but considering it was technically a double room and the shower was better than any I've used in the last five years I can't complain).

The festival itself took place in the Horse and Bamboo Theatre, and basically consisted of a couple of days of whoever wanted to turn up watching short films on a reasonably big projector screen, with drinks in-between, until the awards and best-of-fest at which point loads of people suddenly turned up, complete with local press and MP. I got talking to some people, including a nice Manchester lad called Flynn, a guy from Canada called Tyler (both of whom had films in the festival; though neither of them are online so I can't link) and others.

Overall the selection was, to be honest, a bit shaky. However, I later found it's actually more fun that way: onedotzero, for example, (which I'll cover later) had a consistently very high standard, but was somehow less memorable for it. I won't list loads of films, but here are some that caught my eye:


Bene 'N' Burnley: James Graham & Ricardo Martensen
A documentary about the Burnley Miners' Social Club, which apparently sells more Benedictine liqueur than anywhere else in the world. Basically lots of old people talking, and I'm all about old people talking. Though in all seriousness I did like that it informed about something specific and unknown, without getting so wrapped in that that it forgot to be interesting or relevant. This won best documentary.

Back In Ten: Barney Heywood (link is only an extract)
A boy waiting for his dad to come back from the supermarket ends up talking to a definitely-not-a-paedophile (really) old guy who is apparently Janis Joplin (somehow). A nice character piece, I thought, though maybe a bit forced in some aspects. Won best fiction, I think.

Red Sands: David Procter (no video link, sadly).
A documentary about bullfighting, but rather than trying to be an animal-rights piece, as one would expect, it highlights the dilemma between the cruelty of the practice and the importance and beauty of the tradition and sport. Proof of its success in this is shown by the following two quotes from this page:

‘Fuck bullfighting’
- Nedelcho Bogdanov – Director (Bulgaria)

‘That’s the first pro-bullfighting film I’ve seen outside of Spanish culture’
Rodgrigo Rios Legaspi – Director (Mexico)

Apparently some people left out of disgust during the awards ceremony, which I think is pretty cool. It's clear, though, that people's reactions to it very much stem from their own preconceptions. It won the Grand Jury Award, though oddly I didn't see it at any of the other festivals, even though it's already done the rounds in other countries.

I actually got to meet and speak to David (director) and Geoffrey Bellhouse (assistant director), who are both capital blokes, and we ended up getting shown around the inner workings of the theatre (including a spectacular collection of masks, costumes, and props which I wish my sister could've seen). Afterwards we went to a pub and got fairly pissed, then caught dinner in a nearby kebab shop, where we meet by far the ugliest woman I've ever seen. She took a liking to me and sat very-much-too-close to me before her older (and slightly less hideous) sister chased her away, and thus saved my life.

I know this anecdote is pretty lame without photographs, but unfortunately the only camera I have is a piece of rubbish so I never take it anywhere. You'll just have to picture it.

Other films I feel I should mention, even if I can't link to all of them:
Fashion Death: Daniel Rodrigo, which I'm actually mentioning because it was so awful. Just click the link and try to sit through it all (I had to do this twice, as it won Best Experimental Eilm).
All-Night Cafe: Flynn what's-his-name (sorry), who I mentioned above. Documentary filmed in a local 24-hour cafe, I thought it could've been really good but sadly he could only film for one evening due to an "incident", and had to just make do.
Pitch: Tyler Keevil (mentioned above), two film-makers stuck for an idea end up taking things to comedic extremes, I'd end up seeing this again at Filmstock.
How I Learned To Love Richard Gere: Detsky Graffam, first time I watched this I hadn't actually heard of Richard Gere (which I gather is fairly embarassing). Whether this made it better or not I'm not sure, but it was pretty funny.
I can't name either, but there were also two literally 5-second long animations (both stop-motion), which I thought a bit odd, to say the least.

All in all I enjoyed the Bacup Film Festival, enough that I might even go next year (if I feel I want an excuse to travel to Lancashire). This is not at all influenced by the fact that I won Best Animation (and a rather nice hunk of trophy-shaped glass) with Hikikomori.

Next up is the Canterbury Anifest, which I'll cover whenever I can be bothered.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Why I didn't like Waltz with Bashir.

As I mentioned, I've been going to lots of film festivals lately, and I'm going to do some writings about them all soon, but I saw a preview of Waltz with Bashir at encounters and felt it merited an entry of its own since it's just been released in (selected) cinemas and has been getting lots of press.

A forewarning: I'm not really going to be talking about what's good about it, because you can go almost anywhere else for that. I'm pretty much just going to talk about the issues I had with it. If you're likely to be offended by a big curmudgeon like me nitpicking what is essentially a pretty good but flawed movie please stop reading here.

Now, the reason I didn't particularly like it basically boils down to one thing: the character animation. It can't be denied that, static, the film looks very nice, but I found myself thinking as soon as I saw the first shots, "Wow, how the hell are they going to animate that?" Unfortunately, it seems to me they never fully solved that fundamental problem. They didn't use the rotoscoping approach of A Scanner Darkly, instead using filmed footage as reference, and animating with what looks like a combination of frame-by-frame drawing and tweening in After Effects or a similar program.

Now, tweened animation can look pretty goofy at the best of times. It's generally best used in an ultra-stylised context (that is, in terms of character design). When used with very realistically drawn characters like this it tends to make them look like poorly handled puppets, or even like a parody of themselves (this animation style is, for me at least, intrinsically associated with parody). It's exacerbated by the fact that there's almost no ease in or out in any of the tweened motions, so as well as looking a little silly the characters often look robotic and stiff. Ironically, things are at their best when there are difficult, complicated movements in 3D, or camera moves, as these necessitate more drawings, so it becomes more like full animation.

Even worse than this, however, is the faces. Drawn in a distinctly over-careful fashion, they'd be acceptable in a comic book, but in motion it quickly becomes apparent that they're completely incapable of displaying any sort of emotion. Of course, I'm not saying they should have been made cartoony, but there's a complete absence of even subtle nuance here. I thought the lip-sync was incredibly mushy and half-arsed as well (particularly apparent in the scene this shot is from). Overall the characters sit, for me, very much in the uncanny valley. This was somewhat of a hindrance to the sympathy and pathos that the subject matter was supposed to evoke (as an aside, I also felt the personal journey of the narrator didn't really reach a convincing conclusion, and the big reveal at the end failed to be much of a surprise).

Most of the best animation occurs when humans aren't involved. The sea and vehicles in particular (a scene where a tank forces its way through narrow streets, crushing cars and knocking chunks out of buildings, is especially notable). The naked-blue-lady dream sequence is pretty good, too. If anything, though, these occasional really nice bits just accentuate how dodgy the rest of it is.
As I said above, it is, for all my complaints, a pretty good film. Its vision is a truly admirable one, and there ARE very well done bits. The details I'm complaining about are details that 99% of people won't be so bothered by. I think I just tend to be frustrated by a really good concept marred by poor execution, whereas I can enjoy a mediocre concept done well, even if only in some areas. The former is a disappointment, but the latter a pleasent surprise (which might explain why I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda more than Wall-E). If you've wanted to see it you certainly shouldn't be put off by my moanings, I just wanted to voice them.

Tomorrow I go off to Manchester for exposures, the last of my festival trips this year. After that I'll go through all the dozens of films I've seen and pick out the best ones for review. I'll probably comment on the individual festivals, too.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

This blog

So I finally joined the bandwagon and started a blog. I'll be writing about pretty much whatever I feel like, but it'll generally pertain to animation, film, and maybe occasionally video-games and music. I've been going to lots of film festivals lately so I'll probably do a big write up of them some time soon, either collectively or on an individual basis. Check back soon.