Tag Archives: Animation

Visual Oddysey

Ulysse Malassagne!

Lesser artists cringe, turning paint-stained pants away from the dark figure in the doorway.

Ulysse Malassagne!

He enters, returned after a long journey to find his banquet hall full of miscreants and vagabonds who merely pose at craftsmanship. He bares a shining sword. No one says a word. A few ragged beggars begin to file toward the door.

Malassagne!

I’m not sure how to transition from that gripping intro to the normal blog post. Really it was just a dumb joke based on the fact that his name sounds like Ulysses and his blog/portfolio is called Oddysey. Just forget it.

Ulysse Malassagne is an artist and storyteller from France with a wonderfully loose and imaginative style.

Malassagne_New Companions_2010Ulysse Malassagne, New Companions, 2010

He’s perhaps best known for writing and illustrating the graphic novel series Kairos, which was launched with a very cool book trailer (animation directed by Malassagne).

KAIROS Trailer from Studio La Cachette on Vimeo.

The first two volumes of Kairos are currently available, with one more to come.  To my shame, I don’t have the money to buy any of them. Hopefully I’ll scrape together some cash later this summer.

Malassagne_Kairos_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 1, 2013

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Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 2, 2014

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Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 1, 2014

There’s been a movement in the past few years towards what I’ll call the “Really-Fast-And-Quick-And-Sort-Of-Crap” school of drawing, embodied and largely inspired by the show, Adventure Time.  I have a beef with this school simply because (1) it has so many followers, and (2) it’s not visually rich.

But I love loose artists. Loose doesn’t necessarily mean “Sort-Of-Crap”, any more than it indicates a lack of effort, and Ulysse Malassagne is a prime example of a loose style, executed well.

Malassagne_TheHouse_2010Ulysse Malassagne, The House, 2010Malassagne_Poster_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Poster, 2013

Looking through Malassagne’s work, I get a sense of his genius for character, setting, and tone. As he tells stories that can only be told with pictures, his work takes on some of the rampantly original flavor of Miyazaki. If we were to cut this guy open, we might find liquid creativity in the place of viscera.

Malassagne_voeux_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Happy New Year, 2013  Malassagne_The Soul of the King_2009Ulysse Malassagne, The Soul of the King, 2009
Malassagne_Searching the Plain_2010Ulysse Malassagne, Searching the Plain, 2010

Malassagne_Jade_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Jade, 2013Malassagne_Anaëlle et la gouvernante_2010Ulysse Malassagne, Anaëlle and the Governess, 2010

 

Stop Motion Monday

I realize that it’s not (technically) Monday. In reality, it’s Thursday. Or maybe even Wednesday.

Minutiae aside, I’ve brought you four awesome animated films with three common threads.

Common Thread #1: you probably haven’t seen them (with the exception of #4, maybe).

Common Thread #2: They all employ some form of stop motion.

Common Thread #3: Each one has a terrific storyline.

#1: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship (1990)

Deep in the heart of Russia, there was a man and a wife living with their three sons. The two eldest sons were lazy and avaricious, but the youngest was good-hearted and honest.

After helping an elderly man, the youngest son finds himself embarking on a journey that will take him far from home.

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This great short film aired as an episode in the children’s TV series “Long Ago and Far Away”, and was guest-narrated by David Suchet (the show’s regular narrator was none other than James “No Luke, I am your Father” Earl Jones). I’m definitely checking more episodes out later, I hear they do a mean version of Abel’s Island.

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If it only for the colorful characters, The Fool is worth a watch. But it also has a timeless and engaging story. Check out Part 1 here!

#2: When The Wind Blows (1986)

Based on the graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, this cute, fun, romping film follows a darling British couple as they learn to cope with the aftermath of a nuclear strike.

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There are some films I watch when I need to hit rock bottom. This is one of them. What’s so great about it? I mean, apart from the opening song by David Bowie.

The message is incredibly powerful, and the story is as human as they come. It’s also a really cool use of traditional cel-animated characters on top of a stop-motion background.

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If you want happy fluff, move along. The Snowman (1982) is a friendly option, if you still need a Raymond Briggs fix without the dose of depression.

#3: Krabat (1978)

Krabat: The Sorceror’s Apprentice comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. When I first ran across this film in a Youtube search for Czech animation, I was skeptical. Were the characters a little too childish? Or maybe the scenes felt a little flat? My criticisms quickly dropped as I found myself drawn into a story that was as enchanting as the Sorceror’s grimoire.

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Do yourself a favor and check out this tale of friendship, love, and black magic. It’s also a fine example of cutout animation.

#4: Peter and the Wolf (2006)

Do you like Russia? Do you like Tchaikovsky? How about close encounters with ravenous beasts of prey?

PeterAndTheWolf_03 templeton-peterwolf SuzieTempleton_PeterandTheWolfIf you answered “yes” to any of the above, you simply must watch Peter and the Wolf, a visually stunning musical film directed by animation master Suzie Templeton. It features gorgeous sets and icy blue Russian eyes.

That does it for my little list! What are your favorite stop-motion films?

Double Feature Friday

I’ll bet you pickles to nickels you haven’t seen either of these very cool animated movies. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

The first, and the one I’m really into, is Grendel Grendel Grendel. It’s Australian in origin, and is that country’s second full-length animated feature.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981), directed by Alexaner Stitt,is a romp in the mysterious world of proto-medieval Scandinavia. The main character is a lovable and sophisticated green creature, Grendel from the epic poem Beowulf.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

What makes this one so great? The humor is goofy, the art is lush and vivid, and the story builds itself methodically and intelligently. This movie sits squarely between juvenile and adult storytelling, having fun with the silly, colorful characters while also striking deep chords of loneliness and curiousity in Grendel’s personal life.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

It also stars Peter Ustinov as the voice of Grendel- how can you beat that?

The second film is even a little further off the deep end. Angel’s Egg (1985), directed by Mamoru Oshii, is one long animated question.

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In a hauntingly beautiful 70 minutes, a young girl and a soldier wander a eerie landscape locked in eternal night. The plot, featuring mystifying references to the Biblical Flood, centers around a mysterious egg which the girl carries.

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If slow pacing makes a movie painful to watch, this is the Spanish Inquisition of animated films. But don’t let that stop you- it certainly has its moments. I would love to hear what you think it means, because even after watching it a second time, I’m still absolutely in the dark.

I’m always on the hunt for obscure animated classics! What are some of your favorites?

It’s Good to be British

The glorious island of Great Britain is the mother of my all-time favorite things.

For instance, the rock band Queen.  And C.S. Lewis.

This empire on which the sun never sets has also produced some fine animators.  I’m not going to make an exhaustive list, but here are some of my favorites:

George Dunning.  He directed Yellow Submarine (1968), a trippy album-turned-film featuring the music and members of the Beatles.  This movie sums up the entire psychedelic art movement of the 60s, all in a dazzling and disjointed 89 minutes.  It could be a slow experience for a non-Beatles fan (which I am not), but it certainly has its moments!

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

And… (insert drum roll) there are Yellow Submarine action figures!  NO WAY, you say? YES WAY, I say!

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Richard Williams: the man responsible for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).  He also directed The Thief and the Cobbler (1993), which is a better movie, for my money.  Although the project was stolen from him to meet deadlines and satisfy corporate concerns, it’s still pretty good.  Worth a watch, if only for the zany, lavish art style.

It’s also worth noting that the main villain, Zig Zag, is voiced by Vincent Price.  How cool is that?

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

Gerald Scarfe: although this fellow mostly does cartoons (by which I mean static cartoons, ones that don’t move), he did supervise the animated segments in Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1982).  I would argue that his sequences for The Wall are the most terrifying, evil animations ever made, hands down.  Golly, I love The Wall.

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Gerald Scarfe, The Wall, 1982

And I haven’t even mentioned Terry Gilliam.  Until now, that is.

You crazy British animators!  Keep it up.

Classical Music Monday

Happy Monday!  And Happy Columbus Day, although apparently he was a terrible person.

Just a real quick post today, highlighting Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto.

Bozzetto has had quite a career, directing a number of shorts, as well as 3 feature films starring his popular character, Signor Rossi.  More recently he’s turned to Flash cartoons, which I’m not as big a fan of (but to each their own).

Where does the Classical Music come in, you ask?

Just you wait, you lucky reader.

In my opinion, Bozzetto’s greatest work is the musical film Allegro Non Troppo (1971), in which classical pieces are accompanied by animation.  In fact, the film was intended as a parody to Disney’s Fantasia.

The film is composed (HAH!) of six animated segments.

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Bruno Bozzetto, Valse Triste from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Bolero from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Bolero from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Valse Triste from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

The best of the bunch is Bolero, by a mile.  It’s a jaunt on the wild side, to the tune of Maurice Ravel’s invigorating work of the same name.  Here’s a link to the segment.  Enjoy!

Opera Singers and Psychic Children

Let me make something really, really clear.

I’m not one of those animé kids.

That said, there’s some Japanese animation and even some Manga that is truly great.  And one of my favorite artists in this field is the superb Katsuhiro Otomo.

He’s not as well known in the US as overseas, but his impact on animation storytelling worldwide is incalculable.  A prime example of this is the movie Akira, based on Otomo’s 6-volume manga of the same name.

At a running time of slightly over 2 hours, it’s quite a monster.  It’s certainly not kids’ fare- plenty of cussing, blood, psychic children, and even a giant amoeba fetus.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.  But don’t say I didn’t recommend it, either.

As dark and stentorian as this story may be, it certainly has beautiful moments.

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(Otomo, Akira Volume 1 Cover art, 1982)

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(Otomo, Akira, 1982-1990)

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(Otomo, Akira, 1982-1990)

akira tetsuo

(Otomo, Akira, 1982-1990)

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(Otomo, Akira, 1982-1990)

wallpaper-1199740(Otomo, Akira, 1982-1990)

I realize that none of the images above were (A) “beautiful moments” or (B) from the film.  All of the above was from the Akira manga.  Let me amend this mistake:

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(Akira film concept art, 1988)

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(Akira film concept art, 1988)

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(Akira stills, 1988)

Ok, bragging time: I actually got to see some of the original cels used to make Akira.  They were part of an exhibit at the Toonseum, a terrific gallery/library in Pittsburgh dedicated to all things cartoon-related.

I’m not trying to be cute when I say that it was life-changing.  To see the craftsmanship that went into each frame of this enormous movie was really overwhelming.  And at the head of the entire hulking endeavor was one director: Katsuhiro Otomo.  The Man.

If you’re not feeling up to a 2-hour long venture into the depths of Otomo’s imagination, try Memories (1995), his trilogy of shorter animated films.  Magnetic Rose, from Memories, is an eerie exploration of human neediness, involving an opera singer- sorry if that spoils it.  I had to mention the opera singer because I put it in the title.

Otomo also directed a piece in the three-part anthology, Neo-Tokyo (1987), titled The Order To Stop Construction, as well as contributing to the much larger Robot Carnvial  (1987) anthology.

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(Memories, Cannon Fodder, 1995)

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(Memories, Magnetic Rose, 1995)

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(Memories, Magnetic Rose, 1995)

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(Cannon Fodder, Concept Art)

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(Memories, Cannon Fodder, 1995)

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(Memories, Cannon Fodder, 1995)

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(Neo-Tokyo, The Order To Stop Construction, 1987)

Between the manga and the mind-boggling animation, it’s easy to be impressed and inspired by Katsuhiro Otomo.

Czech Animation Festival

Gosh, there are so many great places to start.

While considering what to post first, I was struck with the vast amount of really great work out there.  How could I possibly just choose one artist, one book, one film?

That may sound trite.  But that’s how I think.  Tritely.

I chose Jiri Trnka, for several good reasons:

1. He’s the Czech Uncle I never had.

2. He was an illustrator AND an animator.

3. The man’s work is matchless.

Here are some selections of his illustration (he illustrated more than 130 books during his career).

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(Trnka, Andersen Fairy Tales, 1969)

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(Trnka, Andersen Fairy Tales, 1969)

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(Trnka, Fireflies, 1959)

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(Trnka, Fireflies, 1959)

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(Trnka, Fireflies, 1959)

Notice the colors.  And the textures.  And the composition.  And the details.  These images are so rich, you almost don’t need the stories behind them.  They become stories of their own.

When you have a few minutes to spare, do a Youtube search of Jiri Trnka’s animation work.  It’s just as startling and eye-catching as his book illustration.

You can see how the meticulous detailing carries over into Trnka’s animation in these stills:

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(Trnka, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1959)

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(Trnka, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1959)

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((Trnka, The Hand, 1965)

My all-time favorite is The Hand.  It’s one of the greatest stop-motion films ever made, and still universally relevant to creative people.