LIAF Siggraph Highlights

As you may or may not know, the London International Animation Festival has been underway for the past few days now and will draw to close this weekend; if you’ve missed out on the action then there’s still a chance to catch the grand “Best Of” finale this Sunday. Offering up the latest cutting edge material in the field of animation, the festival’s annual Siggraph Highlights show is always one not be missed. Like a multicultural patchwork quilt of moving images, the short films shown this year originated from all corners of the globe – France, USA, Germany, UK, Taiwan and Japan, to name but a few.

'The Sandpit' by Sam O'Hare

Watching them all, one after the other no less, can have its drawbacks. First there’s the episodic nature of the entire experience as you jump from one isolated narrative to another, to another, and so on – it’s like ADHD on film. The whole process can be draining, sapping the energy out of each consecutive film until after a while the beautifully drawn characters or perfectly pixelated scenes no longer seem so charming. But what viewing the films as a whole does do, however, is give you the ideal yard stick by which to measure them all – when after sixteen short films have run their course, only then can you truly appreciate the ingenuity of the ones you still remember.

'Nuit Blanche' by Arev Manoukian

My own personal highlights from collection included the Canadian short Nuit Blanche. The black and white sequence, with a sparse running time of just under five minutes, is a mesmerizing example of live action cinematography enhanced greatly by computer generated imagery. Infused with a distinguished air of French retro-romanticism that goes beyond just the title, Nuit Blanche depicts two complete strangers who become transfixed in a moment of spellbinding imagination. As the man and woman glimpse each other from across a busy street, him walking along the pavement, smartly suited and carrying a briefcase, her sitting glamorously in a restaurant window while drinking wine, the orchestral score plays out harmoniously with the slowly zooming camera. The two catch each other’s gaze and never break away as the man steps out into the road and in front of oncoming traffic, whilst she drops her glass as if it were a feather and walks head first through the restaurant window. Described as a “hyper-real fantasy” on the LIAF website, the short film, directed by Arev Manoukian, implements Matrix-style affects and bullet-time slow motion to the fullest. As the man steps off the pavement his foot descends into a puddle, small waves of water spouting slowly upwards like a miniature fountain; when the hypnotised woman crashes through the window pane, her face stays immaculate and untouched as sparkling shards of glass fill the air around her like a galaxy of stars. The short film succeeds as both a set piece for the impressive special effects as well as a simple but disarming tale about two people, connecting for a split second in a starry-eyed, unreal realm of imagination.

'Mobile' by Verena Fels

Another standout was the German short Mobile, a charming animation in the vein of Pixar that sees anthropomorphic farm animals dangling from a child’s mobile. One lonesome, red cow hangs on one side of a wooden balancing rod, whilst the other side is cluttered with a pig, a mouse, a dog, two sheep and some chickens. When the cow decides to make some new friends from the other side of the mobile, a sequence of classic cartoon slapstick ensues. Colourful and comical, the production, directed by Verena Fels, rightly received a rapturous applause at its screening.

Other noteworthy films included the equally playful if slightly less inventive Amazonia, whose appeal lies in its vibrant and fluid characters with their large doe eyes that deceive the film’s fairly dark comic tones of cartoon violence. It’s a shame there’s a slight cop out at the film’s postmodern, meta-cinema ending, as all the guiltless carnivore fun becomes undone somewhat.

'Un Tour De Manège'

Succeeding Amazonia was the French animation Un Tour De Manege, the only film of the bunch that I had actually already seen. Luckily for me it’s worth seeing a second time. The most delicately beautiful of all the films on show, this impressive production from the always impressive Gobelins School of the Image (if you don’t already know them, then definitely look them up) is a blend of 3D animation and 2D tones with the final image looking like a pastel painting in motion. Enchanting from start to finish, it tells the whimsical story of a family transported through a mysterious, dangerous land on a magic roundabout (Doogal and his pothead friends are nowhere to be seen I’m afraid). The film possesses a stunning aesthetic all its own, along with a perfectly punctuating soundtrack that mixes funfair chimes with lingering, almost menacing notes, all in all making for a thoughtful and earnestly crafted piece.

In total the Siggraph Highlights are a striking and varied collection of shorts, some with more bite than others, but each has its own merits and, for the most part, its own distinct visual style, from the unashamedly cartoony to photorealistic slow-motion. There’s moments of ingenuous wonder, such as Sam O’Hare’s time-lapse piece The Sandpit that makes the whole of New York look like a scale model train set, as well as instances of pure technological wizardry like Loom, a completely computer rendered close-up of an insect fight-to-the-death that, were his cameras’ up to the task, David Attenborough couldn’t have captured better himself. In short there’s something here for everyone’s taste; find out for yourself.

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