The Animation Show Returns to Santa Barbara
by Matt Kettmann
Even in this quickly evolving age of computer graphic feature films, animated shorts remain ahead of the curve. Unbound by feature-length costs and timelines, animators can use the latest technology. Plus, their creativity is less restrained by convention, and therefore freer to be artistic and open to wide interpretation. And, most importantly, these shorts are able to delve into taboo — even tasteless — topics, and find poignancy and stay light-hearted because of their cartoon-esque nature.
Don’t believe me? Then head down to the Arlington Theatre next Tuesday, January 16, and get a load of The Animation Show, the touring collection of animated shorts that kicks off its third incarnation in Santa Barbara. Presided over by Mike Judge of Beavis and Butthead fame and Goleta’s very own Don Hertzfeldt, an Oscar-nominated animator, The Animation Show is a collection of short films ranging from just over one minute to nearly 20. This year’s entries run the gamut from hilarious to horrifying, but they’re all inquisitive and insightful. Just to make the event sweeter, Judge himself will be in attendance to introduce the show and answer some questions. (Hertzfeldt, however, will be in Seattle to introduce the show there.) What follows is a rundown of some of the films on the slate.
Using 2-d diorama-like characters thrown together with computer animation, “Rabbit” tells the tale of a brother and his knife-wielding sister who hunt down a rabbit, chop it in half, and locate a magic, jam-eating idol who can zap bugs into diamonds. An English production directed by Run Wrake (www.runwrake.com), “Rabbit” carries an underlying message about what might happen when one worships earthly riches.
The notion of colliding worlds is at the heart of “City Paradise,” a mix of photographic live action, ink and paint, and 3-d animation that sets a Japanese woman in the heart of London. As she learns the language and gets used to the bustling tempo, she stumbles into a netherworld full of floating jellyfish and friendly fairies in this English production by Gaëlle Denis and Passion Pictures (www.passion-pictures.com).
Created at UCLA’s Animation Workshop, “9” is Shane Acker’s (shaneacker.com) peek into a mechanical, post-apocalyptic world, where a zipper-chested rag doll must battle metal dinosaurs to save the soul of his friend. The best look at what computers can do these days, the audience will also be enthralled with the protagonist’s lonely, avenging plight.
One of the world’s more recognized animators, Bill Plympton (plymptoons.com) delivers “Guide Dog” this year, a sequel to his Oscar-nominated “Guard Dog.” Starring a well-intentioned if overly eager mutt who wants to lead blind people, Plympton’s tragicomedy reminds us that animation needn’t be flashy to make us care.
From Germany, director Daniel Nocke (filmbilder.de) delivers a new take on reality television with “No Room for Gerold.” Featuring the roommate travails of a hippo, rhino, female ungulate, and a rowdy crocodile, the 3-d animation shows how quickly an apartment full of wild yet sophisticated animals can fall into relational disarray. With similar insight into the vainness of the real world, France’s “Versus” explores the stupidity in fighting over scraps of land with inventive weapons of destruction. Would the red warriors have fought the blue ones so fiercely had they know their ultimate fate?
There’s a few super short films, but the best is PES’s “Game Over” (eatpes.com), a less than two minute run through the classic Atari arcade games Centipede, Frogger, Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man. But instead of computer imagery, PES uses stop-motion animation with real-life objects to illustrate the games: Think pizza pie for Pac-Man, candy corn jets for the asteroid ship, and cupcakes as centipede enemies.
While the entire series is excellent, there are three true standouts. The first is “Overtime,” a computer animation by Frenchmen Oury Atlan, Thibaut Berland, and Damien Ferrié that explores what might happen when a slew of Kermit-like puppets find that their master has died. The tables are certainly turned in this animated twist on Weekend at Bernie’s.
Then there’s “Dreams and Desires,” the latest film from Joanna Quinn (berylproductions.co.uk). Much hilarity ensues when our hard-drinking, manner-less main character obtains a camcorder and sets out to record a wedding. The animation is a superb blend of old line drawing and a new, digitally inspired perspective, and the 10-minute storyline is rich with embarrassing truths.
But the centerpiece of this year’s show must be Hertzfeldt’s new one, which is short-listed for an Oscar. In the 17-minute “Everything Will Be Okay,” Goleta’s wonderkid (bitterfilms.com) mixes up his stick figure skills with experimental photography to show the slide into depression and insanity of a man named Bill. With his trademark salty-sweet take on life exhibited though poignant, simple writing, Hertzfeldt demonstrates how animation can tackle such tough issues as mental health and the doldrums of regular life better than Hollywood. It’s a sad tale, but one that’s likely pretty common in today’s world.