Saturday, 15 September 2007

Jimmy Liao, C. Jay Shih, Alan Tuan and Poliang Lin "A Fish With A Smile"

A Fish With A Smile by Jimmy Liao must be one of the happiest movies I have featured this year. It is perfect. The concept is simple enough. A man passes a pet shop featuring the biggest shop window aquarium I've ever seen. His attention is taken by one particular fish that appears to be mutually attracted to him. A series of encounters occur, each one utterly charming, until the guy purchases the fish and takes it home in a glass bowl. I won't divulge anything else though it has some of the most charming scenes imaginable (swimming, walking through a city at night, reliving childhood) and a constant wit that envigorates the movie and sustains interest throughout its 10 minutes or so. It is based on Jimmy's original short story "A fish that smiled at me". Two things drew me to the movie: one was the title which is kind of cute, the second was a still from the movie for a festival showing the guy in his bath with the fish in its bowl beside him. The animation is impressively drawn, full of colour and embued with great warmth, the atmosphere enhanced given a musical score by Chien-Chi Chen. Animation was by Liya Huang, Hong Mou Lin and their team. They used Maya, After Effects and Photoshop with 2D for the characters and 3D for the backgrounds. Jimmy was the executive producer for the project with directors C. Jay Shih, Alan Tuan and Poliang Lin - though the whole ODD Incredible Inc. production team seem to have been involved (as documented in a case study for Wakum.) The DVD can be shipped from Asia here and it is posted on YouTube. Jimmy is a very well known illustrator and author in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Julia Pott "My First Crush"

If having over 437,000 viewers this year for an amateur movie on YouTube is anything to go by, 22 year old Kingston University student Julia Pott has struck a chord. Her graduation movie "My First Crush" comprises three and a half minutes of interviews with her friends about their first loves. Julia has stitched together these disarmingly honest observations with animations that are both cute and funny. A charming collection of characters includes a pony, sparrow, dog, shark polar bear, fox and a sea horse. Julia intersperses printed dialogue from the interviews ("Will you sit next to me on the BUS") along with some names of the participants. Music is by Christopher Frost (assisted by Robin Bushell.) Julia herself has placed the video on YouTube and you can visit her at MySpace or pop into her colourful and distinctive website: And if you like skipping or swinging Learn This. But back to My First Crush: "If you're listening to this, Jackie, I'm Steve Bowler ......and I'm still in love with you." Now isn't that something.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Suzie Templeton "Stanley"

Stanley is a very successful, award winning comedy by Suzie Templeton released in 1999. At over 7 minutes in length it is full of black humour in a rich tradition of British movies. A very British movie in fact. An elderly couple seem not to talk with each other. Not once! They are full of dark suspicions of each other's interests. The wife cooks and wields the heavy knife on her various huge chunks of meat with relish. The knife is honed to perfection. Her husband, Stanley, fondly feeds, washes and generally dotes on his prize possession, a cabbage. Stanley even dreams of the beautiful brassica. He's smitten, in love. There are three in his marriage. Then one day the wife's eyes alight on a recipe that will change her life forever. Suzie's puppets are terrific. One perspective has us looking up at the old woman's lined face as she prepares to hack into the chicken, her eyes manic, her features florid. Wonderful. The set is a delight too with an archaic kitchen and the cabbage in the old metal bath in the backyard. There is also a perfect accompaniment of light jazz from Jonny Templeton and Sam Butterfield. To think this was a student project! By the way, the illustration is a little brighter than is the norm in a generally dark set because it is part of a dream sequence. Stanley is available at Atom Films and YouTube.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Nora Twomey "From Darkness"

From Darkness by the Irish film-maker Nora Twomey is a very moving film with one of the finest opening sequences I have seen. An Inuit fisherman is fishing in the cold ocean when he spots something in the water. It is the corpse of a maiden long since thrown into the sea by an angry father. The lonely young man develops an unlikely friendship. Nora has embraced the ancient Inuit story of "The Skeleton Woman" and created a powerful drama. I'm told the Inuit have many names for the different shades of white; well, Nora creates all sorts of shades of greys and white in the outside scenes. The remoteness of the location is vividly captured as is the blue of the ocean. Certain of the scenes are spell-binding, such as the first appearance of the girl and her eventual metamorphosis. To complement a gripping ending and satisfying development, the film ends in an emotional tour de force. From Darkness was made in 2002 using funding from the The Irish Film Board, The Arts Council & RTÉ. Nora has given an interview for the estimable AnimWatch in which she provides details of the production techniques and background. This is one of my favourite movies. Nora is one the founding partners in the Kilkenny based The Cartoon Saloon. They have produced several movies of which Nora's Cuilin Dualach has received much praise. Another facet of their work is television commercials and their website has examples. I particularly liked those for the Environment Agency with a great seaside scene, a delicate one for Positive Options signalling help for those women having unplanned pregnancies, and a jolly Christmas blitz for Cadbury's chocolates. Nora has a background and higher education both in fine art and traditional animation. She also has huge talent. From Darkness works in the classroom and students are captivated. A trailer for the movie is available on the company's website though one can view it in full at that great outlet for independent film-makers, Zed.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Luis Zamora Pueyo "My Grandmother"

My Grandmother produced and directed in 2004 by Luis Zamora Pueyo is a distinctive movie that packs a punch. Sketched in black on white it concerns an old lady who is seemingly happy, surrounded by her family, but has to be prompted by the local bakery that the annual delivery of her grandson's birthday cake is imminent. She talks endlessly, particularly to her cat. When the cake arrives the bakers have a shock in store for them. It is a powerful movie, with a surprise ending and some revealing choice of detail to show the old woman's life. Thus we have no real close-up of her face and the angles of view are often oblique; instead we gain a view of a dripping tap or, as in the still above, her feet and ball of wool. Two other features may be commented upon: first an excellent soundtrack and musical score both of which were produced by Luis himself; second, the convincing and expert voice of Liz Smith in the role of old woman. Those who know British television's The Royle Family and The Vicar of Dibly will find Liz very familiar and her portrayal here is touching. The film is over nine minutes in length and based on a story by Gonzallo Miralles. It was produced as one of Luis' first year works from his time studying for a BA at the Royal College of Art and may be viewed or downloaded from his website. His graduation piece is the equally enthralling "The Family", and his "About Sofia" gained him an MA. He now resides in Madrid in his home country though he has worked professionally here in the UK. I will write about his two other movies later this week.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Yamamura Koji "Man and Whale"

Man and Whale is a moving and very effective campaign movie made for Greenpeace by Yamamura Koji. Although only 2 minutes in length it manages to convey an alternative Japanese as well as world perspective on hunting great whales for food. It focuses on the ageing headmaster of a school whose office overlooks the sea. His interest in the whale is obvious given the sketches on his desk and wall, together with a pair of binoculars. But today he has not seen any whales. He considers the past when whales formed part of the diet in a poor country. Now in the modern and rich Japan there is no longer that need. How the headmaster harnesses the pupils to save a whale is one strand of the movie. The film is quite beautifully and sympathetically drawn. The present day is in colour, the past in black and white. However it is the recreation of the huge creature, both hauled in by the fishing boats or in its natural element, that the lies at the heart of the movie: the majesty of the beast is captured. Also the enthusiasm of the headmaster and his total commitment is entirely communicated. The presumed brief of the Greenpeace sponsors is to awaken modern Japan to the wonders they have in the oceans. The movie delivers this in spades. Yamamura is a hugely successful movie maker with a great number of films to his credit since his graduation from Tokyo Zokei University in 1987. His exceptional Atama-Yama was Oscar nominated. You can see other samples of Yamamura's work on the dauntingly slick On-Line Theatre. I will look at his other work including Atama-Yama in a further post.

I have decided to include a still from the movies I feature on the blog. I hope it adds something, if only to my workload! I may be tempted to backtrack a little and add images as the mood takes me.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Avi Ofer "Autofoto", "Sandbox" & "Tulik"

Avi Ofer's "Autofoto" was made in 2001 and is only 2.5 minutes in length. It is a cute tale of a guy who wanders into a shopping mall photograph kiosk intent on taking some self-portraits. Suddenly the first strip of prints appears and the background is a beach. He looks around him, can't see anything, and then places more money in the slot to see what happens. The Flash movie is simply but effectively draw by hand chiefly in black though the sparing use of colour is arresting. (For example look at the nice touch with the blue balloon linking the start and end.) The Israeli based animator, photographer and artist has posted three movies on his website which contains some remarkable work other than his films - such as these posters. Yossi Yampel composed the easy on the ear music and Ely Zak plays it on acoustic guitar. Avi's other movie "Sandbox" produced in 2006 has a similar style and features a playground where a little boy and girl have a bit of a problem with a low flying aircraft. Yossi Yampel plays a cheerful melody on synthesiser to add more than a touch of warmth to proceedings. Avi's third movie, "Tulik", again is in Flash though this time the colours are vivid as the boy sits on the beach and discovers the way to a lady's heart is to provide her with fruit. Simple really. You can view the movies at the films section of Avi's excellent website.
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