Every year Ron Diamond, the founder of Hollywood’s Acme Filmworks animation studio (specializing in animated television commercials), puts together an Animation Show of Shows, consisting of his pick of about a dozen of the best animated short films of the year, from those shown around the world at international film festivals, for presentation at the major animation studios and schools in California (Disney, DreamWorks, ILM, Pixar, Sony Pictures, Illumination, CalArts, San Jose State University, etc.), several East Coast states, and selected locations around the world. The winner of the following year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film has often been included on an Animated Show of Shows program.
This year’s is the 15th Annual Animation Show of Shows, screening from September 23rd for approximately the next month, with scattered screenings over the next few months. It presents fourteen films, including the grand prix and other winners from the Anima Mundi, Annecy, Golden Kuker (Sofia), and other festivals.
All fourteen films are excellent, but the subjects and animation techniques are so varied that each viewer will doubtlessly have different favorites.
The Show leads off with Get a Horse!, directed by Lauren MacMullan (5 min. 58 sec.), from the Walt Disney Animation Studios. It is unreleased theatrically until November 27 (with the Disney feature Frozen). This is the 3D combination hand-drawn black-&-white cartoon that turns into color CGI animation partway through, which everyone in animation circles has been talking about for months. It was made to showcase the styles of animation that the studio used at its beginning in 1928, and today. The voices are taken from 1930s cartoons dubbed by Walt Disney himself as Mickey Mouse, Marcellite Garner as Minnie Mouse, and Billy Bletcher as the villainous Peg Leg Pete; adjusted appropriately electronically (although Mickey has no real dialogue; just squeaks, “Uh-oh!, “Oh, no!”, and the like). The story – Spoiler Alert! – is of Mickey, Minnie, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and their friends enjoying a leisurely horse-drawn (that’s Horace) musical haywagon ride, until Pete runs them off the road and kidnaps Minnie. Mickey is knocked out of the early-1930s-style cartoon into the present, whereupon he, Horace, and their friends use 2010s-style CGI technology to defeat Pete. This is the best 3D that I have ever seen; it really feels as though objects are flying out of the screen and whizzing about your head! (And I was seated in the last row, farthest from the screen!) Get a Horse! premiered at the Annecy International Film Festival, June 10-15, 2013; was first shown in the U.S. at the Disney D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center on August 9; and at the 40th Telluride Film Festival, August 29-September 2 — a major sensation at all of them.
Gloria Victoria, by Theodore Ushev of Canada (7 min.), produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 3D, is the concluding film in Ushev’s “20th Century” trilogy, following his Tower Bawher (2006) and Drux Flux (2008). The Ottawa International Animation Festival 2013’s synopsis is, “Gloria Victoria unfolds on the still-smouldering rubble of a furious 20th century, propelled by the exalting “invasion” theme from Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony (No. 7). Resembling a military march with bolero overtones, the music sweeps over imagery of combat fronts and massacres, leading us from Dresden to Guernica, from the Spanish Civil War to star wars. It is at once a symphony that serves the war machine, that stirs the masses, and art that mourns the dead, voices its outrage and calls for peace. Gloria Victoria is the third film in a trilogy on the relationship between art and power. It is the work of an exceptionally gifted filmmaker and multi-faceted artist, a virtuoso of collage and recycling who conjures up everything from surrealism to Dracula, and makes cubist constructions emerge from the horror of dismembered bodies. Through a multitude of quotations, allusions and references, Theodore Ushev orchestrates a thundering nightmare in the name of peace.” Gloria Victoria, visually in the modern constructivist art style, debuted at the Annecy International Film Festival in June, where it received a FIPRESCI (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) Award from the International Federation of Film Critics. It also won the Best Film award at the Fantoche 2013 festival (11th International Festival for Animated Film, Baden, Switzerland, September 3-8, 2013), and was selected for both TIFF 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival, September 5-15), and the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2013, September 18-22.
Bless You, by David Barlow-Krelina of Canada (2 min. 30 sec.) is a 3D short in a mixture of traditional 2D cartoon animation and 3D computer animation, with animated objects. It had its World Premiere barely two weeks ago at the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2013, September 18-22. The festival’s synopsis is, “A man takes the subway. Inside his brain, a countdown clock hits zero and a little person prepares for lift-off. The man sneezes. He blasts into outer space. He gets ripped apart by the speed. The little person emerges from his brain and falls back down to Earth.” Visually stunning, but too little plot; the viewer wonders, “Why?”.
Subconscious Password, by Chris Landreth of Canada (10 min. 58 sec.) is a 3D parable of absent-mindedness carried to ridiculous extremes. The National Film Board of Canada’s synopsis: “In this short animation, Oscar®-winning director Chris Landreth uses a common social gaffe – forgetting somebody’s name (in this case, its animator John Dilworth) – as the starting point for a mind-bending romp through the unconscious. Inspired by the classic TV game show Password, the film features a wealth of animated celebrity guests who try (and try, and try) to prompt Charles to remember the name. Finally, he realizes he will simply have to surrender himself to his predicament.” The celebrity guests range from Yoko Ono and Sammy Davis Jr. to William S. Burroughs, James Joyce, Ayn Rand, and H. P. Lovecraft with Cthulhu, who threatens to devour Charles. Landreth uses pixilation, stop-motion, cartooning, painting, CGI, live-action, and just about every other form of cinematic art here. Subconscious Password won the Grand Prize (Crystal) at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, June 10-15, 2013; showed at the (40th annual) SIGGRAPH 2013 convention, Anaheim, California, July 23-25; and was a selection of TIFF 2013, the Toronto International Film Festival, September 5-15.
The Blue Umbrella, directed by American Saschka Unseld with the animation staff of Pixar Animation Studios (7 min.), premiered at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, February 7-17, 2013. It was widely released along with Pixar’s Monsters University on June 21. It is a fantasy romance of a blue male umbrella and a red female umbrella who meet and fall in love on a crowded city street during a pouring rainstorm (downtown San Francisco was used as a model). When a strong wind blows the blue umbrella out into heavy traffic, the nearby inanimate objects – a mailbox, sawhorses, rain gutters, traffic lights – intervene to rescue him and bring him to the red umbrella. Aside from the drawn faces on the two umbrellas, everything in the film appears to be realistic live action, with the subtle movements of the inanimate objects as their “body language”. The Blue Umbrella utilized new computer and cinematic terminologies, including “global illumination” to simulate the reflection of light off wet surfaces, and “deep compositing” to add depth to images. It was also screened at SIGGRAPH 2013, July 21-25.
Home Sweet Home is a 10:00-min. graduate short made by four students (Alejandro Diaz, Pierre Clenet, Romain Mazevet, and Stephane Paccolot) of SUPINFOCOM Arles, France. Its studio synopsis is, “A house uproots herself and goes on an adventure.” The house is in a decaying, abandoned small town, and seemingly wants to save herself from demolition. Along the way she inspires others to join her — another ancient house/gasoline station, a doghouse, and a house trailer. After an impressive beginning, Home Sweet Home seems to just meander until it comes to a stop, not a real ending. This CGI short was shown at the Spark Animation ’13 (Vancouver’s Animation Conference & Festival), September 11-15; Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival, Bristol, England, September 17-22, 2013; and will be a selection of the KuanDu (Taiwan) International Animation Festival, October 20-26, 2013, and of the 2013 CutOut Fest International Animation Festival in Querétaro, Mexico, November 14-16.
International Father’s Day is by Edmunds Jansons of Latvia, but produced in Estonia (5 min.). The IMDb summary is, “For people Father’s Day is a celebration, but for one small bird – an ordinary working day. And concerns are the same old – to get food for his family.” The bird tries to pick up seeds, and is soon picking up any “black dots”, from the holes on a musician’s flute to the center of a bicycle wheel. His fledglings enter the largest black dot/hole and wind up projected onto the Moon. Impressive, but increasingly surrealistic. It won “Best Animated Short Film (up to 10 minutes)” at the 4th Golden Kuker International Film Festival (Sofia, Bulgaria), May 7-12, 2013; and received a Special Mention at the 16th International Holland Animation Film Festival, Utrecht, March 20-24, 2013. It has been selected for the programs of more than a half-dozen other animation film festivals from Hiroshima and Tehran to Stuttgart and Chicago.
Drunker Than a Skunk is American Bill Plympton’s animated adaptation (3 min. 30 sec.) of the rollicking cowboy poem, ‘The Time The Drunk Came To Town And Got Drunker Than A Skunk, Or So He Thought’ (1973), by Walt Curtis (1941-present). Plympton tells this tale in his traditional free-wheeling, exaggerated art style about a town of rowdy cowboys – and pistol-packin’ wimmen, kids, and dogs – all hazing an itinerant drunk. Drunker Than a Skunk premiered at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, June 10-15, 2013; had its U.S. premiere at the 1st annual Rahway (New Jersey) Film Festival, June 21, 2013; was a selection of the 22nd annual Woods Hole Film Festival, July 27-August 3, 2013, the 40th Telluride Film Festival, August 29-September 3, 2013, and the 57th London Film Festival, October 9-20, 2013; and had its Texas premiere at the (9th annual) Fantastic Fest 2013, Austin, September 19-26.
My Mom is an Airplane! (Моя мама – самолет), by Yula Aronova of Russia (6 min. 46 sec.), a co-production of Studio Pchela in Moscow and Ron Diamond’s Acme Filmworks in Hollywood. It is told through the eyes of a young boy who imagines his mother to be an airplane traveling to exotic lands. The film is in the style of a child’s naïve drawings. Moia mama – samolet premiered at the 18th Open Russian Festival of Animated Film in Suzdal, Russia, February 27-March 3, 2013, where it took a Best Film for Children award. It has since been chosen for the programs of eight other international festivals, including the Blue Sea Film Festival 2013 in Rauma, Finland, August 23-25, where it won a Golden Baltic Herring (I love that name!) 2nd-Place Award.
Madly in Love (Mero Mero), by Ikue Sugidono of Japan (4 min. 20 sec.) I confess that I could not guess what this was about. It mixes realistic, attractive cartoon art of an older girl, two younger girls, and anthropomorphized cakes(?) with incomprehensible, surrealistic action. It was first shown at the 12th AniFest, Teplice, Czech Republic, April 26-May 1, 2013; then at the Animanima International Animation Festival of Cacak, Serbia, September 5-8, 2013. It had its North American premiere at the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2013, September 18-22.
Nana Bobò was produced by four graduating students (Andrea Cristoforo, Valentina del Miglio, Francesco Nicolò Mereu, and Lucas Wild do Vale) of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia Piemonte / Scuola Nazionale di Cinema, Dipartimento Animazione, Italy (4 min. 27 sec.). It begins by showing a young man in leisure clothing arriving by airplane at a paradisiacal vacation beach. By the flat, brightly-colored stylized art, it could be a travel advertisement. But gradually the viewer notices that the man is only interested in the unattended young children that he sees … Nana Bobò (an ancient Venetian lullaby that is sung at the end) is a subtly powerful warning against child sexual slavery that has been seen at many festivals since 2012, including the Anima 2012-31st Brussels Animation Film Festival, February 17-26; 16th Cartoons on the Bay 2012 (Rapallo, Italy) March 22-25; the 9th Human Rights Film Festival of Barcelona, May 17-22, 2012; Zagreb Animafest 2012, May 29-June 3; Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2012, June 4-9; Anima Mundi 2012, Rio de Janeiro – São Paulo, July 13-29; 14th Hiroshima International Animation Festival, August 23-27, 2012; 10th Tindirindis 2012 International Animated Film Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania, October 22-28; Cinanima 2012 (Espinho, Portugal), November 12-18; the 10th Animateka International Film Festival, Ljubljana, Slovenia, December 2-8, 2012; Anima 2013, and the 32nd Brussels Animation Film Festival, February 8-17, 2013. It was the winner of two awards at the Piemonte Movie Festival 2012, Turin, March 6-11 – Best Animation Short (Premio Maurizio Collino), and the City of Moncalieri Prize.
Requiem for Romance, by Jonathan Ng of Canada (7 min. 26 sec.) is animation of water-ink painting in blues (sometimes in greens) to tell a story of a modern romantic break-up, with visuals of Oriental martial-arts films. YouTube’s summary: “In this ‘crouching love, hidden breakup’ story, inspired by 50′s Shanghai water ink animation & kung fu films, themes of distance, tradition, art and longing dominate a telephonic conversation as a martial arts tango provides the visual backdrop.” Ng’s own synopsis: “A modern-day couple’s secret love affair comes to a bittersweet end during an evening phone call. Cell phone static creates distance between them as they anguish over details of their relationship. But the visuals of the film reveal something entirely different: the epic re-imagining of their relationship set in feudal China, where family influence, cultural pressures and their lust for adventure makes more sense. Coming this spring, love goes to war over art.” Requiem for Romance won the Best Art Direction award at the 21st Anima Mundi 2013, Rio de Janeiro & São Paulo, August 2-18; and it will be given the AnimAsian Award at the 17th annual Toronto International Reel Asian Film Festival, November 5-10, 2013. Shannon Kook-Chun, who provides the voice of Yun (the boy), won the best voice performance for his role in the film at the 11th annual ACTRA awards, Toronto, February 23, 2013: Outstanding Performance – Voice.
Marcel, King of Tervuren, by Tom Schroeder of Minnesota (6 min.), was produced under his Ein Aus Animation name. It is the story, told in fine penmanship and swirling bright colors, of a haughty, bad-tempered Belgian rooster who awakens everyone with his crowing; barely escapes being killed with sleeping pills during a bird flu scare; fathers a son, Max, who grows up to challenge and defeat him for leadership of his flock of hens; and comes back to regain his leadership from Max. The summary of the SXSW 2013 Festival & Conferences, Austin, Texas, March 8-17: “Marcel survives the bird flu, alcohol, sleeping pills and his son Max. Though blinded in one eye, he remains the King of Tervuren. Greek tragedy as acted out by Belgian roosters.” Marcel, King of Tervuren premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2013, January 17-27; was selected for the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, June 10-15, 2013; and had its Canadian premiere at the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2013, September 18-22. It was nominated for awards at Sundance and at Annecy.
Ascension is another graduate short made by SUPINFOCOM Arles students (Caroline Domergue, Florian Vecchione, Martin de Coutenhove, Colin Laubry, and Thomas Bourdis) of France (7 min. 9 sec.). SUPINFOCOM’s synopsis is: “In the early years of the 20th century, two climbers make the traditional ascent, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary to the top of the mountain.” (Rochemelon or Rocciamelone, one of the highest peaks of the Alps along the French-Italian border, has a small statue of the Virgin Mary atop its peak. Wikipedia says; “The teutonic knight Bonifacius Rotarius (of Asti) made the first ascent of Rochemelon on 1 September 1358, to bring a small metal image of the Holy Virgin as a gesture of gratitude for having survived captivity in the Holy land during a war against the Muslims. The summit of Rocciamelone is the destination of a traditional pilgrimage, every year, on August 5. A three metre high statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was erected there in 1899.”) Ascension’s CGI is so realistic that it looks like a live-action film – but the action, depicting increasingly ridiculous mountaineering mishaps, is anything but realistic. Ascension got the most laughs at the Show of Shows. Thomas Bourdis says of Ascension: “graduation movie done with 3ds max 2012, Maya 2013, Vue 11, Vray and Nuke. We were a team of 5 students and we worked 1 years and 2 month on it. I was co-director, modeler, shaderer, lighter, renderman and lead matte. The film arrived 1st ex aequo during the [SUPINFOCOM] jury.” It was a selection at the Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival, Bristol, England, September 17-22, 2013; and will be a selection of the KuanDu (Taiwan) International Animation Festival, October 20-26, 2013.
My favorites of this 15th Annual Animated Show of Shows are Get a Horse!, The Blue Umbrella, Home Sweet Home, and My Mom Is An Airplane! But they are all imaginative and exquisitely-animated. If you’ve seen these, which ones were your favorites?
The screening of the 15th annual Animation Show of Shows that I attended had an unexpected bonus. Two sets of invitations were sent out, giving different times; 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. To kill time while waiting for those who were coming at 7:30, four additional films were shown: Crac, by Frédéric Back (1981, 15 min.), Next Door, by Pete Docter (1990, 3 min.), Frannie’s Christmas, by Mike Mitchell 1993, 4 min.), and a 20+-year-old untitled student CalArts pencil test film by Chris Sanders – all old, but very worth seeing again.