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Drawing Conclusions

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.

1_rabbit_y3_big.jpgUsing 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).
1_cityparadise_y3_big.jpg

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.

1_guidedog_y3_big.jpgOne 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.

1_no_room_y3_big.jpgFrom 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.

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