Tag Archives: animation

Anilogue in Budapest 2018 – my Best of the Fest and the City

How do you holiday?

The possibilities, if you really think about it, are overwhelming. You could visit every village in Yorkshire that has a funny name and interview strangers about nomenclature. You could systematically visit every city in the world with a population greater than one million in alphabetical order, consuming only media in that city that begin with the same letter. You could stage a murder mystery party with friends on the actual Orient Express.

The problem with any of these ideas is that they only make you (or me at least) feel more strongly that there’s an even better idea out there that you’re missing out on. Obviously if you also have children, things are further complicated.

So, here’s my generic quite-interesting-holiday generator that feels fairly optimal:

  • Pick something you love (animation, juggling, poker, murder mysteries)
  • Find a list of places in the world where that thing is being celebrated in the next year (a festival, convention, tournament or whatever)
  • Pick a date and destination from that list, and do sightseeing in the day and the thing you love in the evening

Clare and I love animation, and needed a holiday before Christmas; consultation of festival listing websites like this one meant we ended up in Budapest in late November 2018, to attend the Anilogue animation festival.

Also: European Train Travel

If you’re travelling within Europe, I maximally endorse The Man In Seat 61, a website by Mark Smith, who uses his extensive rail experience and appetite for railway-based research to maintain this incredible resource, covering the best routes in Europe and how to buy tickets. Including getting from London to Budapest via Eurostar and sleeper train:

Budapest crash course

As a moderately well-travelled UK resident, I am embarrassingly ignorant of Eastern Europe. Visiting Budapest was a great way to start putting that right. Here’s an extremely terse list of the things I found most insightful:

  • Budapest occupies a strategic position on the Danube in the middle of the Pannonian/Carpathian Basin, a useful geographical feature to reference when making sense of Eastern Europe on a map
  • For purely frivolous reasons I enjoy the fact that Budapest was formed by joining the two historic towns of Buda and Pest (on the West and East banks of the Danube respectively)
  • Buda was built on the Vár, a distinctive steep and lozenge-shaped hill. It appears much more strategically advantageous than it actually is, as throughout history it was taken and re-taken, “ ravaged and rebuilt 86 times over seven centuries”, according to the Rough Guide.

  • Hungarian (or Magyar) is a Finno-Ugric language, which places it amazingly far from the Indo-European languages most Europeans (or indeed most people in the world) would be familiar with. Don’t expect to figure thing out by similarity to any French, German, Latin or Greek you may know!
  • Hungary entered WWII as an Axis power in 1941, sought peace with the allies in 1943, leading to a Nazi coup to install a puppet fascist government, which then transitioned directly and tragically to a brutal Stalinist regime after the war. A revolution in 1956 was brutally suppressed, and the first free elections were in 1990. The scars of this recent history were palpable in much of the art, the beautiful-but-battle-damaged architecture and the museums that we visited.
  • Lots of mysterious staircases:

If you’re planning to go, I would recommend the following two things slightly off the beaten tourist track.

The Flippermuseum / Pinball museum

Everything you would hope it could be: 140+ pinball and other arcade machines from all eras, all playable for free for as long as you want, covered by one very reasonable entrance fee.

An interesting trend you can experience here is that over decades pinball machine design tended towards faster movement but also greater player agency.

The Labyrinth

Two kilometers of poorly lit and unsupervised tunnels, with an optional detour you can take entirely in pitch blackness; warm, damp, and with some creepy mannequins to encounter. You can tell from that if you’ll love it or hate it. Also, surprise cinema screening sub-cave:

Anilogue Animation Film Festival

We caught four of the feature-length animations shown as part of the festival’s competition:

Dilili in Paris (2018) 1h 35m, trailer

Director Michel Ocelot’s series of African folk-tale Kirikou films saw him graduate from a traditional 2D animation style to a sort of 3D cell-shaded version that surprisingly maintained their idiosyncratic charm. Dilili transposes the action to Paris, maintains the precocious child protagonist, and adds real-world photography to the backgrounds, which some might regard as cheating and others as efficient, but most importantly is aesthetically interesting.

The story requires a certain amount of suspension-of-disbelief as it takes in just about everyone who was anyone in Belle Epoque Paris, and like the best children’s stories gets surprisingly dark at times. While I’d sooner re-watch a Kirikou, I’m nonetheless extremely interested to see what Ocelot does next.

Seder-Masochism (2018) 1h 18m, not-very-representative trailer

Nina Paley’s debut feature Sita Sings the Blues entwined a personal story of love and loss with the Ramayana as told and discussed by several Indian storytellers, accompanied by some brilliantly-chosen out-of-copyright songs by Annette Hanshaw. The nature of copyright was something Paley studied and wrote about extensively, and that’s at least partly why the film is available for free.

Her long-awaited (by us at least) follow-up Seder-Masochism takes a somewhat similar approach by juxtaposing the story of Moses with her childhood experience of the traditional Jewish Seder, as recounted by interviews with her father – again with some extremely well-chosen songs, this time from a range of more recent artists, in a direct challenge to the restrictions of copyright law as it stands.

Overall though the result seemed less successful, assuming quite a lot of knowledge by the viewer, and ending up somewhat unevenly weighted. It doesn’t help that there are ten plagues to get through, each animated with amazingly ridiculous aplomb to a range of surprising music choices.

The film tacitly addresses the fascinating topic of how an ancient history of goddess-worship was supplanted by more patriarchal religions in multiple cultures. The musical format elevates this to a visceral feeling of an ancient and epic tragedy, but begs many more questions – fortunately there’s a bibliography at the end.

Similarly, the topic of Paley’s own upbringing and relationship with her parents doesn’t dig too deep, and one senses that she is limited by the range of the (now 7-year old) recordings of her father she had available.

If you haven’t already, you should at minimum watch This Land is Mine to see the kind of effect Paley is so great at creating.

Virus Tropical (2017) 1h 37m, trailer

Instantly recognisable in style and tone as an autobiographical coming-of-age story that started life as a graphic novel, Virus Tropical finds a way to breathe animated life into the idiosyncratic caricatures of Power Paola’s original comic, retaining the charm without merely puppeteering cutouts. Being based on real life, the story is strangely meandering, but told with a judicious economy that holds the attention throughout and leaves a strangely lasting impression of life growing up in South America.

Funan (2018), 1h 24min, trailer

Denis Do’s directorial debut Funan draws from the harrowing real-life experience of his own mother, trying to survive and keep her family together through the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime. It was particularly haunting to see in Budapest, having read and seen so much about Hungary’s double occupation. Most importantly, I think a film like this paints a vivid picture of day-to-day life in such a regime that history exhibits barely begin to evoke.

Another Day of Life (2018) 1h 25min, trailer


The ultimate winner of the festival’s feature-length competition, and another film on regime change, this time covering one reporter’s experience of the outbreak of civil war in Angola (1975-2002), which quickly became (another) proxy battle in the Cold War. The film joins the dots all the way from geopolitics to ground-level reality, and also powerfully intercuts live-action interviews with some of the participants in these events. Where Waltz With Bashir cut in live action at the very end to bring the message home, Another Day of Life does well to round out some of these characters and ground the story by intercutting more regularly.

The film is rendered with a fascinating take on the cell-shaded 3D style, backed up with motion captured performances. The result is visually arresting, especially on some of the dreamlike interludes, but has one major shortcoming: in a simpler animation we easily accept that the voices are emitted by the characters you see, but in some sort of uncanny valley effect, Another Day Of Life fails to achieve this, and the combined effect is a little less than the sum of the parts.

Short Animations

Art in general and animation in particular is fascinating for the range of creative possibility, but also frequently disappointing: faced with the possibility of creating anything, the average human (or typical artist) is seemingly interested in visualising just one thing: naked people.

Having seen a lot of short animations over a fair few festivals, there are also a few standard tropes that now rarely evoke much interest:

  1. The protagonist suffers through a series of nightmarish scenes
  2. Cute creatures struggle and suffer, procreating only to pass on the suffering
  3. Sexual objectification with a male gaze

Skipping over those (although some amount of (3) is depressingly hard to avoid entirely), a few highlights stood out:

Łukasz Rusinek’s music video, Ohoho (Vimeo) was my overall favourite. From the perfectly musical gait through to judiciously timed glitching, it’s a synaesthetic joy, even if a little (3) sneaks in there:

Vojtěch Domlátil’s Waves experiments with the idea of combining time-lapse photography from rolling fields with the sounds of water, to increasingly fascinating effect:

Something of a reversal of trope (1):  SOLAR WALK by Réka Bucsi. Available in full on Vimeo; trailer on YouTube:

Directed by Lucia Bulgheroni, Inanimate gets very meta with the stop-motion ouvre, and is well worth seeking out for an epic and exquisitely planned wide shot at the climax, which the trailer only begins to hint at:

In Jon Frickey’s Neko No Hi (Cat Days), a young boy is surprisingly diagnosed with cat flu, compellingly conveyed by the doctor using an outline drawing of a cat with a molecule in it. Here’s a trailer:

Georges Schwitzgebel’s The Battle Of San Romano brings Paolo Uccello’s 15th Century painting to life in a mind-boggling loop, which you can glimpse for a tantalising moment about 19s into the Anilogue 2018 trailer:

I’ve seen semi-abstract rotoscoping used to beautiful effect a few times, most notably in Ralf Hildenbeutel’s 2-minute Disco, but never before at the scale of Zbigniew Czapla’s Strange Case, which you can glimpse from this trailer:

In conclusion

Anilogue was a lovely animation festival, although the weekday afternoon shorts screenings were surprisingly poorly attended. Perhaps this was due to the programme being published only a few days in advance, or possibly being in conflict with the simultaneously held Israeli film festival. On the plus side this did mean we got to have some interesting conversations with two of the jurors (Piotr Kardasz and Veljko Popović).

Through the history and art explicitly on show and implicitly embedded in the battle-damaged city, Budapest reads as a plea to humanity: to learn from history, and to strive for peaceful, democratic power transitions. Those lessons are just as urgent now, especially in Hungary, to the point that I would specifically recommend checking the gov.uk travel advice before planning a trip there, as the current political trajectory is looking depressingly familiar.

- Tim Mannveille tweets as @metatim and also wrote about IDFA 2016 and Tricky Women 2011.

The Lion King versus The Third Dimension

Take any movie studio with a strong back-catalogue and an aversion to risk. Put it in a world where virtually every multiplex can screen 3D movies. Now mix in the ability to create some kind of post-production 3D effect.

The inveitable result is post-production 3D releases of our favourite movies (or at least the highest-grossing ones).

So far, so predictable. But what about Disney? They have arguably the biggest collection of movies that are both well-loved and timeless, so they stand to gain the most in this new world. But while live action movies have an underlying 3D reality, 2D animation doesn’t.

So can they make it work?

I saw The Lion King in 3D at the Edinburgh Film Festival, mainly because I wanted to know the answer to that very question. But before I get to that, a little bit of context.

I’m a fan of Disney 2D animation.

At university I got into Japanese anime. Animation is hard work, so when they want to produce 8 hours or so for a full-length TV anime series, corners are understandably cut. Animation sequences get re-used (the classic being transformation sequences), characters can have extended dialogue scenes without even moving their chins, and dynamism is often achieved through ingenious use of cuts, pans, and background streaking. So when something really serious happens, and the camera moves in three dimensions, or the characters move (usually fight) with sudden grace, the effect is profound.

After years of enjoying that kind of thing, I picked up some Disney DVDs, and was immediately blown away. Characters are moving in three dimensional space all the time! The use of body language is downright extravagant, and faces actually contort to produce expressions! It was like the climactic high-quality animation I enjoyed the most in anime, but throughout the full run-time of the movie. I’ve been strategically waiting for Buy One Get One Free Disney Blu-ray offers ever since.

3D Works For Me

A lot of people are down on 3D, saying it must be a fad, just as it proved to be before.

I once went to a screening of Creature from the Black Lagoon in red/green anaglyphic 3D, and while it was enjoyable as a novelty experience, it was certainly not something you’d want applied to more regular films. The information from the eyes is actively in conflict: one sees red, one green, and the result is some kind of confusing non-colour that conveys information against a background of constant visual dissonance.

In comparison, modern 3D is a wonder. Doubtless there is much to learn: new restrictions on panning and editing, optimal methods of production, best-practice depth ranges to use relative to the screen, or new kinds of shot that never worked before. But it turns out that 3D, no matter how good, just doesn’t work for a sizable chunk of the population. I’ve not seen data, but it seems like at least 10%. I suspect this is why Nintendo moved away from 3D being a functional part of games for the 3DS.

So when someone opens a review of a 3D film by saying “I’m not a fan of 3D”, my first suspicion is that 3D just doesn’t work that well for them.

But it works for me.

All of which brings me to the Lion King, now with an extra D.

Given the above, when the preview was announced at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2011, which I was already attending, I naturally had to check it out. I could see what was at stake: if this method of re-selling classic material was deemed by the public to be worthless, it could fatally damage a potentially lucrative new stream of rerelease revenue for Disney. With so much on the line, and with all their collective talent, you could be sure that if it was possible to wring 3D goodness out of 2D animation, Disney would do it.

The screening took place in the Festival Theatre, using active-shutter 3D glasses. Recalling that the screen there is rather small (especially given the size of the venue) I booked seats close enough to the screen that it would subtend to my eyes at a satisfyingly immersive 30 degrees (or thereabouts). In this position, with The Lion King my favourite and most re-watched Disney VHS as a child, I felt an exaggerated sense of self-importance: this screening was a test for Disney, and I was the best-placed person to judge. (Clearly this is ridiculous – the real judgement will be measured in the box office when it is released on September 16th).

Here’s the short version:

It actually works, most of the time, and when it doesn’t really work, it isn’t actively bad. It’s frequently amazing, and worth paying for.

If all the above has made me seem too biased towards 3D, here’s my overall feeling about 3D films I’ve watched so far, in terms of quality of 3D vs whether it adds or detracts from the overall experience:

It doesn’t always work, and it’s not always a good idea. In Thor, Pirates 4, and especially Alice in Wonderland, the 3D was so poor, or unnecessary, or badly integrated into the direction, that it actively detracted from the experience (I note that the last two of those are Disney productions). Tron Legacy (again, Disney!) tried to use 3D like Wizard of Oz used colour – but Tron’s digital world uses such a sparse aesthetic that there’s hardly anything to actually perceive at different degrees of depth, making the whole carefully-created illusion almost imperceptible (excepting all the scenes featuring physical-trail-leaving vehicles, which worked beautifully).

The biggest question for three-dimensionalising 2D animation is a similar one: with just lines and blocks of colour, how can 3D do much more than make paper-cut-outs of the characters? Indeed, in Kung Fu Panda 2, flashbacks were conveyed in 2D animation, becoming 3D in exactly that limited way.

It turns out there are two answers to this. First, and somewhat obviously in retrospect, the lines defining the characters and their features can be pulled through the z-axis as appropriate, and where sufficient definition of a character exists (as it does for all of the main characters in The Lion King), the brain happily assumes that the areas of colour bounded by these lines must also exist at the appropriate depth.

Second, Disney animation frequently (but not always) goes beyond simple ‘cell shading’. A gentle highlight or shadow accentuates the figures, blending in to the main blocks of colour smoothly. While this improves the overall impression of the original animation (at presumably non-trivial cost in terms of additional effort), it really comes into its own when rendered three-dimensional. The impression of depth and physical presence of characters under these circumstances is truly incredible, with results unlike any kind of animation technique I’ve seen before.

This naturally raises the other big question: the production was not storyboarded with a 3D version in mind, so surely altering it in this way, while sometimes effective by luck, is very likely to be pointless for the majority of the film?

Recall my observation from the start – something that puts Disney animation a cut above the rest is that characters are moving in three-dimensional space much of the time. If someone that hadn’t seen the Lion King saw it for the first time in 3D, they might well assume that a large number of shots or angles must have been specifically added for the 3D version, so great is their use of depth.

The opening sequence of The Lion King is uncannily ideal for adaptation in this way, which leads me to suspect that this was precisely why this particular part of the Disney canon was chosen to forge the path. Indeed, that sequence is being used as a trailer for the forthcoming rerelease at 3D screenings right now.

But then, as I said, it isn’t always perfect. It couldn’t be. Some scenes just happen to have a lot of mid-ground action, or the lighting means the shadows/highlights aren’t used, and in these scenes the 3D becomes almost unnoticeable. A few scenes (particularly the James Earl Jones In The Sky scene) would almost certainly have been designed differently if 3D had been planned all along. But unlike some of the worst offenders I mentioned above, the 3D is not actively bad in these conditions, it’s simply not noticeable. Just as an escalator can never truly break down, but only become temporarily stairs, 3D-ised 2D animation, at worst, becomes temporarily 2D animation.

So when it’s 3D, it’s great. Some of the time it’s as if it was 2D, and then it’s as good as it ever was. If I had to put an average on it, I’d say the film is about 2.85D. And it certainly sits in the right quadrant in my chart:

Tricky Women 2011

 

Tricky Women is a wonderfully specific annual film festival located in Vienna: the 4-day programme consists entirely of short animations by women, which I find particularly brilliant, since not only does it Venn two things I’m particularly interested in (animation of any form because it’s like art squared, and stories from women, who are generally underrepresented in the creative landscape as a quick application of the Bechdel/Wallace test to the last 10 films you’ve seen is likely to attest), not only that, it also provides a wonderful opportunity to be ostentatiously unconventional when people ask about what you did on your holidays, which would be a terrible reason to go on its own, but was a particularly enjoyable bonus for me, as for some reason ostentatious unconventionality directly supports a large part of my self-esteem.

(At this point I have to specifically thank Clare for coming up with such a brilliant idea for a holiday, and her friend Anna for making the accommodation part of the trip so fantastically simple).

Altogether, we ended up watching over 100 short animations over a 4-day period, which as we should perhaps have anticipated is quite intense, and ended up giving me the entirely novel feeling that my brain was, at least temporarily, at standing-room-only for new ideas. Brilliant.

You can get some idea of this effect from my holiday scrap-book, in which I collected together the thumbnail images from every animation we saw from the programme along with other memorabilia and self-made stickers for doing various things:

 

 

As I noted after Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010, the great thing about short animations is that in many cases you can subsequently find them online. So after watching more short animations in one weekend than I had previously seen in my entire life, It seemed like a good idea to bring together a few of my favourites.

For Pedants
What exactly does “animation by women” encompass? Specifically, what counts as animation, and what counts as “by”? The curators of the festival seemed to adopt a sensible standard for the latter, with (as far as I could tell) the primary driver of any given piece (usually the Director) being female in every case; they were on occasion rather more broad with the idea of animation. Arguably, the medium of film itself is a kind of highly-automated stop-frame animation, and so perhaps on these grounds they included things like the first video below.

Vitalic – Birds (Pleix, FR 2006, 3′)
Even though it raises questions about the consent of animals in art, and even though it’s really not an animation in any commonly understood sense, I was very glad that this was brought to my attention:

Cooking JPEG (Christa Lehner, AT 2010, 3’55)
If you want to understand the JPEG compression process, you should probably read up on that. If you just want to watch some funky animation that is tenuously related to it, you should watch this:

V Masstabe / In Scale (Marina Moshkova, RU 2009, 7’14”)
Quite possibly my favourite short from the festival. It’s got an interesting style, a beautiful story, and has lots of those magic animation moments where the combination of movement and sound is just perfect. It takes a long while to stream from Vbox7, so hit play then read on (now embedded from Youtube – T.M. 12/01/19). If you like the first minute, you’re very likely to enjoy the rest.

 

Sinna Mann / Angry Man (Anita Killi, NO 2009, 19’50”)
I can’t find the full 20-minute version online, which is a shame because this was one of the most important and moving animations shown. It’s an extraordinary example of animation tackling a difficult subject in way you couldn’t do with any other medium.

30 second trailer:

2 minute excerpt:

Slavar / Slaves (Hanna Heilborn, David Aronowitsch, SE 2008, 15′)
Another case of animation tackling a difficult subject to great effect, this time by providing imagery to accompany a recorded interview. I can’t find the full length version online, but you can view an extract here. (You can now view the whole thing here – T.M. 12/01/19)

 

 

Tord och Tord / Tord and Tord (Niki Lindroth von Bahr, SE 2010, 11′)
This animation resonates with my introvert tendencies. A sly evocation of the challenges of successfully interacting with other beings. Funny and sad. Like life. Only an excerpt is available unfortunately:

Caniche / Poodle (Noémie Marsily, Carl Roosens, BE 2010, 16′)
I like animations that feel as if they’ve sprung directly from someone’s fevered imaginings; where strange techniques are deployed to mysteriously powerful effect; animations like this one:

Four Tet – A Joy (Jodie Mack, GB 2008, 3′)
Ever so often I see something that feels tantalisingly close to producing the perfect synaesthetic abstract experience. Here’s one of those – I just wish the synchronisation of abstract image with sound was more consistent and sharper:

Le Nez / The Nose (Claire Parker, Alexander Alexeїeff, FR1963, 11′)
This was like no other animation I have seen. It apparently makes use of a pinboard with hundreds of thousands of pins, which somehow reflect light with different degrees of brightness depending on how far they are pushed in (I think). Animation is achieved through painstaking incremental alterations and stop motion photography (or at least I assume that’s how it was done).

I don’t know what kind of referencing or rotoscoping tools were used or what degrees of fantastic skill were being deployed, but somehow this process produced results that in some cases look as precise as CG animation. And this was in 1963.

MISSING FROM THE INTERNET
Finally, there were a couple of animations I really enjoyed but can’t find any video footage of online, but just have to give a shout-out to.

Looking for Love (Adele Raczkovi, AT 2010, 8’25”)
A tale of a dog that loves oranges, executed through an impressive range of animation techniques, including the best abstract rotoscoping I’ve ever seen. It would be great to at least see that bit on the internet if nothing else, if Adele is listening…

Kacheli / Swing (Elena Kurkova, RU 2009, 8’42”)
An old woman and a crow and a swing. Trust me, it was great. Especially the crow.

(It’s now on YouTube! – T.M. 12/01/19)

Transmission finally ends