Monday, April 14, 2008

Poor Little Animated Shorts: CG Edition

Title: Geri’s Game (1997)
Director: Jan Pinkava
Time: 5 minutes
Availability: Online through Pixar’s site / iTune’s Store here.
Starting with “Luxo Jr.” in 1986 Pixar has created an winning streak of high-profile CG shorts, of which my favorite is “Geri’s Game.” Geri is an elderly chess player who squares off against his doppelganger in a scenic park. Moving back and forth around the board, a bespectacled version of Geri matches wits with his naked-eye twin and the combat soon heats up. With his strategies failing and checkmate looming, the glasses-wearing Geri fakes a heart attack, taking in his rival long enough to turn the tide (180 degrees). The loser must begrudgingly pay their usual wager, though of course, there is really only one Geri.

After a long hiatus from animated shorts, “Geri’s Game” made a huge leap forward for Pixar, demonstrating human movement, expression and depth along with the original goal of getting the clothing to look right. I think this one still plays well today though CG has reached all new levels of realism. Other popular Pixar shorts include “Tin Toy,” “For the Birds,” and “One Man Band.” In the last decade, the company traditionally presents an original short along with each new feature.

Title: 9 (2005)
Director: Shane Acker
Time: 11 minutes
Availability: On YouTube here.
A zippered-up doll creature in a post-apocalyptic junkyard/toy-graveyard witnesses the deaths of his fellow kind at the hands of an insectoid-crab robot. Left alone in the rubble, #9 (each of his people is numbered on their backs and their pelts are stitched onto their killer) hatches a risky revenge, tricking the monster with the help of a soul-compass, a dummy and a carefully engineered deathtrap. “9” is one of the best-looking CG shorts yet made, making ample use of texture, shadow and a dense mise-en-scene to show off a sci-fi tinged world that feels immediately real.

The academy overlooked this one for reason of their own, but computer graphics showcase SIGGRAPH made no hesitation awarding this short their top prize. The film has been so successful that a feature length adaptation has been green lit with Acker in the director’s chair and an all-star voice cast that includes John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Elijah Wood, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer. Focus Features is hoping to get it into theaters this year, but don’t be surprised if it slips to next.

Title: Elephants Dream (2006)
Director: Bassam Kurdali
Time: 11 minutes
Availability: Available as a free open-source download from the homepage here along with all the productions files or on YouTube here
Elderly, eccentric Proog leads his young skeptical accomplice Emo through a massive, unpredictable facility known only as The Machine. Each room of The Machine can vary widely from the next. They are connected by vast systems of passageways, catwalks and elevator shafts festooned with wires and populated by exotic robotic creatures. Proog expertly navigates the dangerous environment, but fails to impress his protégé. It becomes ever more obvious that Emo does not even see The Machine and that the vision presented to the viewer is only in Proog’s imagination.

“Elephants Dream” is a landmark in CG cinema, funded by donations and created entirely* with open source software (freely available programs whose code can be modified by any user): Blender as the 3D modeling suite and Linux as the operating system. The end result is a staggering demonstration of visual effects that outdoes most of the output from mammoth animation studios. Despite the gorgeous presentation, many viewers were disappointed with the highly abstract plot that leaves interpretation very open-ended. I, for one, see this as a plus, flexing the wider artistic choice available to independent production.

BONUS!!! (Extra review provided to shed some light into the obscure depths of internet-only CG shorts)

Title: The End (2005)
Director: Michel Samreth, Maxime Leduc and Martin Ruyant
Time: 6 minutes
Availability: On YouTube here.
A scarecrow is put on trial and condemned for the crime of friendliness towards a crow. His ragtag peers throw him in a decrepit cell where he awaits a fiery death sentence. To add injury to insult, the crow returns and rips hay from his body for its nest. Exasperated at this last straw (myeh), the scarecrow collapses, awaking later to a very pleasant surprise. The B&W CG visuals are not as polished as some of the big studio output, but the bold character design manages to be creepy and sympathetic at once.

Burdened by a generic name and a total lack of publicity, I’m not surprised how hard it was to dig up information about this short. It was made by the talented students of France’s Supinfocom, a prestigious French animation school whose members put out a wealth of impressive material completely below the radar. You can add this to the long list of great shorts adrift in the swirl of obscurity along with The Black Heart Gang’s gorgeous gem “The Tale of How” (2006) which could just as equally have held this spot on my overview (follow the links and go watch that one as well).

1 comment:

Mad Dog said...

9 was included in The Animation Show 3, so I was lucky to see it in theaters. As for Internet-only shorts, I recommend searching for Pyrats, a French production. Very short, but VERY high quality and with a swashbuckling sense of wit, too.