Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

09:37:58 pm , 1031 words, 1729 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie


Canada's NFB offers a good number of films from their collection up for viewing on their website, and the other day I had a look through it. I'd never seen Ryan Larkin's films, and seeing them was quite the revelation. Street Musique (1972) is perhaps my favorite, just because it's so fun and playful and has so much stylistic variety. It gives a sense of the imaginative aspect of the young Larkin. It's still exciting to watch after all these years, and seems like the creation of someone with a kind of naive excitement about being able to bring things to life in movement, experimenting with all sorts of fun ideas, whatever comes to mind. It's some of the most fun and free animation you'll see. The famous Walking (1968) is a tour-de-force of different approaches to animating differently designed people walking. Only in animation could something so riveting be created out of just shots of characters walking, with otherwise no story or anything. A number of the films in the NFB's Hothouse series are worth a look, too. I only wind up wishing more of their films were available online... I imagine there must be much more NFB animation than this.

Among the newer films on the site, the one I most enjoyed was Flutter (2006) by Howie Shia of Toronto production studio PPF House. Howie also made the music, and I like the way it comes in and out with shards of sound and melody, matching the rich collage of textures and materials that decorate screen in the various locations where the boy runs in his frantic dash to... escape? explore? It's a very pleasing, openly interpretable film in which every frame is a pleasure to watch as movement and as an image. The design has a nicely urban, rough feeling, and there's real variety in the feeling of the animation from shot to shot, making it deceptively rich viewing. Despite being a black and white film, the texture is very rich and the b/w scheme is effectively used. It's a really fantastic film. On the PPF House web site you can see not only a bunch of Howie's other shorts but also a lot of his really compelling art. (all the animation and art on there is by him) His art is irresistible for a lover of simple, elegant line-drawn design like myself, and his webcomic Century of Love is quite compelling, exhibiting the same great sense for interesting composition and use of black and white lines and spaces.

I was hoping Howie had done more than just that one film, and the promise of Flutter is fulfilled by the various other shorts you can see on his studio's site. His personal films are fun, haiku-like, idea-bubble-like films that are have a delightful directness and simplicity, like animated concept sketches. Howie's film in the Hothouse series, Ice Ages, is one of the most rewarding of the other films he's done, combining that great style of line-drawing with his genius for creating this dynamic screen texture and great visual and color sense, always keeping things toned own like the minimalistic free jazz that plays in the background and gives his films just the right note. The studio has a number of commercial TV series in planning, so hopefully those will pan out. I would love to see the style of Flutter expanded upon. I really like Howie Shia's style, with its great combination of hand-drawn and digital, and its cool, subdued elegance.

A few more shots were added since I first wrote about the Xam'd key animation photography page a few weeks back, but disappointingly, nothing else has been added since then. And now that the show is now ended, I guess that's the end of the goodies. Too bad. They only went up to the halfway point, and I'm sure they could have found a good shot or two in the second half of the series, somewhere, if they looked hard enough. I'm exaggerating slightly, but it's true that it was a little less exciting on the animation front in the second half. More than anything, though, it was shocking how far away the show veered from the series that seemed to be hinted at by the first two episodes, and steadfastly remained off course until the very end. What a waste of potential. They should learn something from the contrast with Madhouse's Yuasa shows, which achieved so much more with far fewer resources and half the length. But clearly they're aiming for something completely different as a company.

Anyway, this feature on their web site was really great, particularly the last batch that they uploaded, which wasn't just a looping animation of the key frames. You could turn off various elements like the sakkan's corrections, the time sheet and so on. What a great initiative, and excellent use of the particular technological advantages of the internet to offer behind-the-scenes content that extends the experience of the show. That's one thing they got right. I don't remember what other bits were of interest in the second half of the show, but I'm sure there was a good deal of nice work, and at the very least it would be nice to see more of the raw work of great animators like Seiichi Hashimoto or Kenji Mizuhata. Shingo Abe is supposedly a great mecha animator (he's worked a lot with Takashi Hashimoto), and he did a lot of work on the show, so he's a figure I'd like to learn more about. Having just seen the last episode, that episode is fresh in memory, and I recall quite liking the bit near the end where Benikawa and an older Yango are re-visiting the battle site at night. It was subtle, but the framing and the acting stood out as unusually convincing. I wonder whose work it was.

I'm always amazed how the Japanese are able to incorporate hyper-cute iconography in contexts that, to foreign eyes, seem completely inappropriate... Something I was reminded of while browsing the website of a certain industrial equipment manufacturer the other day. Is that a calico version of Jiji?? Looks like something Katsuya Kondo would have designed.



huw_m [Member]

Tha Japanese obsession with cute corporate mascots is quite bizarre indeed - That cat is cute! We only get photos of stocky guys in blue singlets and khaki shorts to hock our powertools over here…my favorite bizarre-corporate-mascot is Umatase!, a horse puppet used to promote horseracing to the youth of Japan:

Walking by Ryan Larkin is really great (I’ve never seen it before) - I love the movement of the one-colour characters zipping all over the screen towards the end there. Makes me really wanna check out the short film Ryan which from what little I’ve seen looks amazing. Thanks for sharing!

I agree about that scene in the last episode of Xam’d, it was very nice. It was the one thing that jumped out at me in that episode (aside from the live-action hand of course…hahaha WHAT). The slightly-below-horizon-level shot of the cap’n is really good, and Yango’s facial expression when he turns around and announces his name…Obviously somebody really good was responsible for it. And I don’t think that the ‘direction’ in the second half of the show could possibly have been a conscious decision…maybe the director hoped that the story would write itself towards the end, Miyazaki-style…

02/12/09 @ 18:20
Ben [Member]  

Ryan is one of the best CGI films I’ve seen, so yeah, do watch it. Another film called Spare Change was completed in 2008 after Ryan Larkin’s death in 2007 by animation students, and includes some of the last animation he made. It just played here not long ago here in Vancouver, but I missed it. I hope to see that sometime.

It would be interesting to hear how the story of Xam’d came to evolve as it did, and to what extent it was intentional. To you and me it may look completely out of control, but who knows, maybe the director is actually OK with how it turned out. Because honestly, the whole thing already felt wobbly and hollow right from the start. One of my other beefs with the show was with the writing, which was really overblown and bombastic and flowery. There was just too much pointless dialogue, with the characters waffling on about something or other for the greater part of most episodes. Not to mention that if you’d been persevering despite all this in the hope of catching some good action scenes like there were in Eureka 7, you’d have been sorely disappointed. The first two episodes seem very misleading in that sense. Speaking of which, I was wondering why Yasushi Muraki wasn’t here. I guess he must be working on the Eureka 7 movie.

02/13/09 @ 12:16
GGear0323 [Visitor]  

i am surprised to see people talk about how they think Xam’d somehow went of course. everything about the show told us that most of the things we were looking at was fluff and at its heart it was about nothing more then the characters. i mean think about it, they never explained the war, they never explained the cause of it, they never explained the northern and southern continents, they never explained the humanforms, they never explained the xam’d per se, they never explained the mechs and the whole mainsoul concept, they never explained a whole bunch of things, but even if they had, would that have changed the ending in any way, would that have altered how we felt when Akiyuki was returned or when Nakiami left. it is just background info, some of it you may feel in important but it was inconsequential to the characters we were following, Akiyuki doesnt need to know what the war is about, he doesnt need to know how it started, he doesnt need to know the true origins of Xam’d or the hiruko. the story from beginning to end was about one’s identity and knowing yourself. in that respect, they didnt deviate at all. sorry, long, i know, i just really loved the show.

02/14/09 @ 11:22