Friday, October 31, 2008

[Animation Nation] Aardman Showcase

When I learnt that Animation Nation had an Aardman Showcase, it was a no brainer to get tickets for it. What sweetened the deal was having the festival and screening graced by the presence of co-founder David Sproxton and director Luis Cook who were present for a Q&A session after the screening, where the latter had his award winning The Pearce Sisters included in the showcase.

To the uninitiated, you'll probably have watched an Aardman production when I say “Wallace and Gromit”. If you haven't, then you don't know what you've been missing and should go out to the stores right now and grab yourself a copy of any episode, with the chance that you'll soon be bowled over and charmed by the quality of the stop motion animation, as well as the quirky, original story.

The showcase presented a kaleidoscope of the studio's works, ranging from the earlier ones like the Grandmorph series, to more recent ones like Cook's film. With an anthology like this one, you can marvel at how far the studio had come, where over the years it had become more sophisticated, and you can observe for yourself the progress made and the results achieved, being more refined in the design of their models and techniques employed. But that doesn't mean that the more pioneer works are shabby. In fact they do hold plenty of charm.

Amongst the shorts featured, there were a few that were my favourites that I wish to talk about, and incorporate some of the comments made by Cook and Sproxton where appropriate as shared with the audience. Creature Comforts ranked tops, as it was an extremely well made, well thought episode whose simple presentation in the form of interview segments with zoo animals betrays the immense wit it possessed. The Brazilian jaguar undoubtedly will be a favourite amongst those who like this short, and probably the star and scene stealer too. Sproxton shared that Nick Park, who directed this piece, had once commented that the short's dialogue and strength of script almost animated themselves, and this was one of the easiest to make because of that strength, resulting in some animation that flowed straight out.

The Purple and Brown episodes shown were probably the shortest of the showcase, but the most madcap among the lot. It's just plain silly fun and in contrast to the longer, more measured and quirky shorts such as Not Without My Handbag, which resembled like a precurrsor to Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, and the fun-filled Stagefright, which deals with the notion of the show having to go on, despite repeated setbacks. Shaun The Sheep's Save The Tree was a delight as well even with its simplistic, effective story, and you can't help but chuckle at the amplified stupidity and docility of the animals in question when they have to meekly surrender their defense. Even the farmer and his dog did look a little bit like Wallace and Gromit, where the famous duo were featured here in two Cracking Contraptions shorts that are nothing short of brilliant.

The highlight of course would be the recent award winning The Pearce Sisters, as directed by Luis Cook. It's somewhat of a departure from what one would expect from an Aardman flick, with characters quite unappealing both in character and in aesthetics. Also, the usual stop-motion perfection that we associate with Aardman also got put aside, and this looked more 2D than 3D plasticine figurines, which Luis shared that it was a conscious decision to make a different film, with an arduous process going into creating this experimental animation – building the characters in plasticine before doing so on the computer, then animating them before printing them out on paper, where paint was applied on top, then scanned back to the computer, and to recompose everything. The effect? We have 2 really revolting looking sisters in a story that's dark, grotesque and morbid, but still entertaining in an Aardman fashion no less.

Before the session was up, David Sproxton and Luis Cook did share other nuggets of information, such as how Aardmaan got its name – which had its roots in the animal Aardvark, which to David was a rather idiotic name for an idiotic animal which somehow suited a superman-like character they were creating at the time. David also detailed how the earlier stuff was done on Bolex cameras and shot without any video feedback, so the animators would have to wait for usually a week before they knew what was happening. This though enabled them to learn the craft, and the Grandmorph episodes become something like their training ground, where in a single day and without distractions, the animators could shoot up to 20 to 30 seconds worth of footage..

Announcements were also made that dangled all those in the audience in anticipation of their release. There's a new Wallace and Gromit 30 minute film which was finished just last week, and is set in a bakery entitled Matter of Loaf and Death, and it should be released around Christmas season. Another project that got the green light from Sony yesterday was one involving pirates. I'm sure everyone in the audience, and fans worldwide, would be waiting for these projects to hit the big screens with bated breaths.

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