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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« Film of the SeaKaiba #10 »

Monday, September 22, 2008

10:25:56 pm , 1149 words, 4698 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie


THE FACE by Ray & Penny (

I'm back from China. Apologies if the site was down for a few days. The domain registration picked the worst possible time to expire.

I was lucky enough to attend an animation screening in Beijing last Saturday. It was all very last minute and by chance, but I'm glad I had a chance to go. It was a screening of student films from all around Asia. I'm always pleased to see student films. Those of Japan in recent years have been particularly compelling, with a willingness to try unpolished and brash new things, unrestrained by the conventions of the profession. I was glad to be able to see student films from elsewhere for once. Korean films dominated this screening, which was held at a small cafe evocatively named the Space For Imagination Coffee House, but there were films from all over Asia, including China, Japan, India and Taiwan. The owner apparently organizes the screenings on a regular basis, as well as hosting premieres of local indie films. The small coffee shop was packed with young people. I wonder how many were studying to become animators or considering doing so.

I don't want to overstate the quality of the films. There was way too much uninspired CGI, mostly from Korea, in addition to one from Taiwan. Luckily there were two outstanding films among the bunch, and a handful of decent non-CGI films with some original flair, so I was satisfied that I had gotten somewhat of a representative selection of the diversity of work coming out of Asian schools today - both the positive and the negative aspects. The two that stood out from the bunch were hand-drawn films, each of a very different character from the other, but both from young creators already displaying real talent for animated filmmaking in every sense, from theme to design to motion.

The Chinese film The Face by Lei Lei 雷磊 and Chai Mi 柴觅, AKA Ray and Penny, was instantly my favorite, a film full of great design ideas brought to life by good techniques, an underground vibe, and great dynamism of motion and directing. The two are actually boyfriend and girlfriend, and the film was their graduate film for the Academy of Art & Design at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2007. (You can see a photo of the two on the page of this Chinese interview.) Together they run a site featuring their design work, which clearly shows their great design sense in a variety of media - you can see sculptures and a clever rubix cube they created based on the design of the characters in the film, among many other drawings and objects they've created. Korea already has its share of great artists in animation, but I knew very little about the Chinese scene before seeing this film, so I found this film in particular a tantalizing discovery. China is already brimming with great artists in the other fields, so it will be exciting to see what great animators develop in the coming years.

You can download the film from this entry on their blog, where you can see some high-quality screencaps, or you can watch it online

The only other film that showed anything even remotely close to this kind of sharp design sense and assuredness of touch both technical and poetic was Way Home by Korean animator Erick Oh. Erick has a home page, but there isn't anything on it yet, and his film isn't available online yet, presumably because he would like to show it at festivals. It's too bad it's not viewable anywhere yet, as this was the one I came away most wanting to share with people. It deserves to be seen at festivals around the world, so I hope that happens. Erick's far less polished but still impressive earlier film shared something of the style of Way Home, with its breakneck roller-coaster ride of imaginative transformations and unexpected twists and turns revealing a real love of animated motion and a rare ability and patience to put in he work required to create rich motion. Very little happens in Way Home - the naming is clever in underlining that simplicity - but he makes the spareness an asset, expertly manipulating the subdued tone of screen, spareness of line, unforced pacing and relentless attention to detail in the motion of the character to achieve a strong effect reminiscent of the films of Michael Dudok de Wit. It's a mesmerizing, lyrical, lovely film. You can see some screencaps and a photo of the creator here. More than anything, he is a fantastic animator. He brings the character alive with a density and nuance of motion that is a marvel to behold.

None of the other films were quite up to this level, although there was an interesting variety. It was nice to see a stop-motion film from India with Dhimant Vyas's Happy Planet. Vyas cites heavyweights Norman McLaren, Caroline Leaf and Ishu Patel among his influences in this interview, and the film indeed seems to harken back to an older age in animation, when creators were willing to get their hands dirty, to mess around with physical objects and materials, to try out new things in animation, instead of doing it all on the computer. It was refreshingly analog and tactile and honest. It's not surprising to hear that he's been associated with Ardman. Claymation as a form has a surprising tenacity, and even seems to be seeing something of a resurgence lately. The Vancouver International Film Festival will soon be showing the first Canadian stop-motion feature, Edison & Leo. I suppose there's something about the physicality of claymation that continues to appeal to would-be animators.

Although not online, Hyeon-myeong Choe's Bulpyeoni was a well made hand-drawn children's film about the imaginary adventures of a little girl who wears her mother's shoes to school. It had a smart sense of wit and irony, and did a good job of showing the world from the point of view of the youngster's imagination. Black Rainbow, which can be seen here, was a little bit lacking in dynamism and was hard to make sense of, but was nonetheless pleasing for its original sensibility and voice, something direly lacking in most of the cookie-cutter Korean CGI films at the screening. Women of Yunnan, which I can't find online, was an interesting wash of dark textures reminiscent of the early shadow-puppet work of the likes of Ofuji and Reiniger. The creator is obviously a fan of Mind Game, as he paid the film homage by subtly incorporating a bit of the animation from the god scene. At least, I'll interpret it that way. It was an odd and unexpected place to run into that old film, but the wheel of influence wends its way around the world, and so much the better for animation.



Dhimant Vyas
Dhimant Vyas [Visitor]  

Thanks that you liked my film Happy Planet (Clay animation film).
It gives me lot of encouragement to see good response from the international audience.
Bets regards
Dhimant Vyas
Animation Film Designer

09/23/08 @ 15:07
Ben [Member]  

Keep up the good work, Dhimant. Happy Planet was wonderful. I look forward to seeing more of your films.

09/23/08 @ 15:46
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]  

Hey Mr. E,

I’m sure if you had the time you will do it sooner or later. But even if it’s early I have to spill the beans on two ep 1s I saw.

First Casshern Sins;

Madhouse reboot of vintage 70s Tastsunoko Pro robot show. AWESOME VISUAL STORYTELLING. Very “show don’t tell” approach. Surprised by how little dialogue there was compared to say 95% of other shows.
Great designs by Yoshihiko Umakoshi, like streamlined lankier Ishinomori. The direction and storyboarding by Shigeyasu Yamauchi who is otherwise known for old Toei junk (DBZ, Saint Seiya in particular).
The music is by Kaoru Wada, you heard one of her’s you’ve heard em all IMHO, but she’s still so great it doesn’t matter and it works very well here with the material. The story will be very retro but the visuals and acting (Toru Furuya and Kenji Utsumi are here) really sell the show and make it unique.

Very High Recommendation

Shikabane Hime Aya;

New Gainax joint. Nice moody directing and color styling here. The animation was somewhat underwhelming given what I expected from Chikaashi Kubota’s char designs (very boring on their own) but still a couple of action scenes were really zippy and well done, as was the story boarding. The story itself is rather meh, but it’s based off a Shonen Gangan comic so I guess that’s to be expected. Only real attraction was the new actors particularly for Aya, her seiyuu is a film actress so naturally she sounds different.

Modest recommendation

10/03/08 @ 10:20
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]  

Just to add to the Casshern directing/storyboarding;

The selling point is the awesome posing of characters and compostion of scenes, great use of sillhouettes with both characters AND backgrounds. The art direction is also awesome.

10/03/08 @ 10:22
Ben [Member]  

Yes, well put. I really dug Casshern too, and I’m going to try to write about it and the other new shows, which I’ve been dutifully slogging through, actually. The Gainax show didn’t do much for me either.

10/05/08 @ 00:21