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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Friday, September 13, 2013

07:04:00 pm , 1114 words, 9312 views     Categories: Animation

Ghost Stories

A collective of animators called the Late Night Work Club has just released a nearly 40-minute anthology of shorts called Ghost Stories, available for free viewing online on Vimeo. Entirely produced without funding, during off-time from work, it's a very well-produced package that rivals any of the pro anthologies I've seen doing the rounds at the festivals in the last few years.

As evinced by the title, the stories all deal with somewhat dark subject matter, and do so in a variety of different styles and techniques. Some are more serious and some more facetious, but they each tell a story of a different kind of ghost in a very contemporary style and context.

I Will Miss You by Dave Prosser uses computer-drawn clean lines and simple shapes and a flat red-blue-yellow color scheme to explore the idea of online identity. A man's online doppelganger comes alive and documents his own life. The way he expresses the familiar using highly formalistic, stylized shapes reminds slightly of David O'Reilly. It's ironic, clever stuff that defies simple explanation. This is a ghost story for the iPhone generation.

The Jump by Charles Huettner witnesses a boy and girl playing in an urban wasteland by hopping onto the ghosts of the dead as they fly by to vicariously experience their death. Unfortunately, one of the ghosts turns out to be the boy's own, and he falls to his death. It's a bleak humor that goes well with the lovely style and animated transformations.

The American Dream by Sean Buckelew is one of the most unique films in the set - no CG, unlike all of the other shorts. All hand-drawn and with a very analog aesthetic. A woman narrates the circumstances leading to her death. It's an ironic comment on the aimlessness of today's young adults, who never seem to want to grow up and face the world. By the time she's ready to find out what she wants to do, it's already too late.

Mountain Ash by Jake Armstrong & Erin Kilkenny is a tragic tale about a woodcutter and his symbiotic relationship with the forest animals. It has a circular rhythm and cute animal designs that give it the feel of a picture book. This somewhat alleviates the blow of witnessing their slow death by starvation. Its lush visual ethos and fun characterizations of the animals make it a pleasure to watch.

Rat Trap by Caleb Wood is the most visually experimental film of the set. With its largely black and white color scheme, scratchy lines and a noisy soundtrack, it's a bleak visual expression of the idea of being trapped in a dark, dank place. It's a big contrast with the clean CG animation aesthetic that seems to dominate today. It's also the most abstract film in the set narrative-wise, coming across as closer to visual poetry than a narrative.

Loose Ends by Louise Bagnall returns to the clean CG visuals that dominate the set. Swirling ghost drops gradually gather around the head of the protagonist, seeming to represent the little stresses that accumulate little by little from the many things that we have to deal with in our modern daily lives. The story is economically told with no words using a clean and spare visual style. Its narrative is pleasantly lacking in drama, only showing slices of a day in the life of the protagonist, and the conclusion comes elegantly and effortlessly as she discards the trash.

Phantom Limb by Alex Grigg tells the story of a man's guilt about causing his girlfriend to lose her arm. Emotionally affecting, delicate, humane, and visually gorgeous, it's hands down my favorite film in the set. It has great character animation that wordlessly conveys the protagonist's emotional state at every moment. The directing visualizes his growing sense of guilt, and the resultant hairline cracks in their relationship, through the metaphor of a literal phantom limb that haunts him. I look forward to seeing more from Alex Grigg.

Asshole by Conor Finnegan tells the tragic tale of an asshole who just wanted to be loved. The most Spike and Mike outing in the set, the film is a gory but funny gag. The asshole in question comes alive after eating its owner's towel, but the owner shits it out and then cuts its throat in terror. It's plenty fun to watch as an absurdist horror.

Ombilda by Ciaran Duffy tells the story of a mysterious tree that consumes the creatures around it on a desolate shore that seems hewn out of an old Bergman film. Animated in richly textured black and white, it's an atmospheric horror story economically told in a quick arc, from the time the man sees ominous mist descending the hill until it engulfs the house.

Post Personal by Eamonn O'Neill is a seemingly random sequence of odd character sketches involving death and technology. A kid at a computer codes a digital doppelganger who when completed kills the original, while another kid plays a video game on his smartphone, oblivious to the death of those around him - until death overtakes him, too, to the apparent joy of his sentient smartphone. I'm reminded a bit of the dark humor of Don Hertzfeldt in this pleasantly unpredictable and absurd commentary on modern technology.

Last Lives by Scott Benson is an incredibly dense sci-fi story that in a mere few minutes evokes a complex story about the hunt for a cyber ghost that nonetheless feels epic in scale. Through busy cutting and dense animation, he manages to convey the sense of a future world in which we are all cyber-connected, waving our hands about oblivious to the outside world like so many wearers of Google Glass, exploring inner worlds as we zoom around our dome city on a hyperfast rail. This is tremendous stuff: fantastic storytelling, and visually very accomplished, with consistently gorgeous visuals that each convey the feeling of a living world with more depth to explore. I would love to see a longer piece in this vein. It's somewhat abstract stylistically but deep down it seems like a great hard sci-fi story like Bladerunner.

All in all, a great little omnibus put together purely for the love of the art by some incredibly talented and generous folks. Don't forget to check out the links to each artists' web site, because many of these guys and gals have produced other shorts that are very much worth exploring. For example, Dave Prosser has produced four other amazing shorts that you can watch on his web site. And Jake Armstrong is of course the talented animator who several years ago produced the lovely retro-sci-fi short The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9.



Neil [Visitor]

Thanks for posting this! I was pretty blown away by this anthology as well, it was like all the great indie animated music video guys from vimeo got together and made an anthology with just as innovative an animation and storytelling, but without the music video side of it.

I’m particularly a fan of Scott Benson’s other work.

09/13/13 @ 20:03
Ben [Member]  


I discovered Scott Benson with this film and I’ve become very enamored with his work after going through his back catalog, not to mention his blog, in which he eloquently expounds on the plight of the indie animator today.

09/17/13 @ 18:19
Neil [Visitor]

Btw, he has a kickstarter out for a video game, its adequately funded, (no thanks to having a very popular developer that he teamed up with), but still interesting nonetheless.

One of my animator friends actually hangs out with him on skype sessions where he gathers non-LA animators, its really cool what he’s doing - doing excellent work far removed from the traditional centers of the industry (he’s based in Pittsburgh).

10/29/13 @ 20:45