Friday, 19 March 2010

A blast from the past: "A Mouse's Tale" by Benjamin Renner.

I mentioned this film in a festival post ages ago, though I recently had an excuse to mention it to somebody, and found that it now exists on Youtube so I can finally show it to people.

It's a fucking tour-de-force of typically amazing Frenchie animation, tight-as-hell storytelling, razor sharp wit, and impeccable visuals.

One thing that may not be apparent is that it's actually 3D. I certainly couldn't tell when I first saw it a couple of years ago. Part of the reason is that the mouse character is largely allowed to be segmented, rather than a flexible, skinned, deforming single mesh. He's even allowed to come apart during most of the quicker movements, and it really gives alot of energy to the animation. You don't even see it most of the time, it just helps the feel of the motion.

Though sometimes you ARE allowed to see it. Which I think is awesome too. It's like the film is revelling in its own artifice, and kind of recalls traditional cut-out style animation.

Sometimes it's use to imply shadow on the mouse's rearmost legs.

The mouse's lip-sync animation is very distinctive, too. In this one shot, where he pleads with the lion, it's been drawn on (Flash?) and composited on top. No mapping in 3D or anything, it's matched by hand. Totally faked, and some stills look a bit weird, but it works wonderfully in motion.

There's a good bit towards the end with some side-on lip sync, too. I think that's actually done in 3D, but the mouth is animated without in-betweens here, too, so it has a similar feel to the front-on lip-sync.
It's hard to tell with a still, but his chest is poking through his head in that last shot. Which I think is cool.

I also like the way he has only one fore-arm segment and no hands when he's running around like a mouse, but has two-part arms and hands that appear when he's gesturing like a human.
By the way, I mentioned that his arms were segmented, and it's obvious, but looking again I'm beginning to think there was no skinning at all, at least for the mouse.
Check out the segments of his body showing along his back. That's awesome.

This snake's gotta be skinned. It's probably still pretty low-poly, though (the low-poly modelling throughout also helps evoke cut-out animation feel).

I mentioned previously that the red/white/black colour-scheme is a bit clichéd, and I still think it is, but the silhouette look couldn't be used better. Renner has mentioned in interviews that, most-of-all, he wanted to evoke in the audience the feeling of being a tiny, near-defenceless mouse in a forbidding environment, and the sheer blackness works amazingly for this purpose.

We fear the unknown, so what scarier way to portray a forest than as a jet black shadow of nothingness, and a lion as a huge dark mass that melts into it? We can't tell where it ends and the forest begins: this just makes it feel even bigger than it already is.

My absolute favourite moment is when he pounces on the mouse.

A looming, rocky cliff...
Gradually the maw opens...
It threatens to swallow its prey whole...
Out comes the paw...
To pin down its victim...
Then WHAM! Suddenly we, and the mouse, are engulfed in total blackness.

Genius. Not to mention the amazing sound design.

This film is great because it defies the traditions of how 3D is used, but instead of making things more difficult by trying to do things it's not designed or ideal for (like realistic humans, YEAH I SAID IT), it simplified the process alot (as Renner has said: I know my good friend Joe Sparrow will attest to how much easier things are if you don't have to skin anything). This meant that, instead of having to spend time and effort fretting over technical problems, Renner could put everything into the animation,  storytelling, design, and direction. It allows itself to look fake so that these elements can come to the forefront: who gives a fuck if the characters have perfectly normal-mapped pores and photoreal hair and fur? Does that help the story? The characters? The acting? The design? And even though it's sort of imitating something it's not (cut-outs), it completely has its own flavour. It's so full of wonderful little moments I couldn't possible write about all of them, and it's only 4 minutes long!

In short, if you don't like this film, you are gay. The bad kind of gay. you are the kind of person who sincerely thinks Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was good I don't like you I think you're dumb.

Also, apologies for the slightly flowery writing in this entry. For some reason I seem to get a bit like that when talking about short films.

Coming soon, nothing!

1 comment:

Joe Sparrow said...

this was an enjoyable entry to read! I agree with you about the red/white/black thing looking clichéd though., anyone?