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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Allumette: Something 3D/VR Beautiful

Allumette Penrose Studios Penrose Studios

Animation is ready for "the next best thing." Let's face it: animation basically hasn't progressed that much since the Disney Golden Age. Yes, the techniques have improved, the colors are better, everything is more "real." However, you basically are looking at caricatures of people and things in a 2D environment. I even would bet you that I could show a few "improvements" that are nothing of the sort.

Allumette Penrose Studios

You may not buy that argument, because new animation is undeniably snazzier, with better audio (a vastly overlooked aspect of modern animation) and lots of computer techniques that get the look sharper. However, what the industry really needs is to break out of the 2D world and actually present a more realistic portrait of, well, reality. That would be a game-changer... if done right.

Allumette Penrose Studios

So far, I haven't seen much progress in that area. I am not a fan of 3D television or 3D films, but animation is one area where 3D could make a huge difference. Combine it with virtual reality, and it may be revolutionary. A promising pioneer in the field is Penrose Studios.

Allumette Penrose Studios
Eugene Chung and staff working on "Allumette."

Eugene Chung, a money guy ("venture capitalist") who sipped some coffee at Pixar, is behind Penrose. He is credited as a "writer and director" at the studio, so he is a creative type as well. Chung hooked up with Oculus, the virtual reality outfit, which then got acquired by Facebook, and maybe that's where a lot of that money came from. Chung seems to only stay at places briefly; he was out of Oculus after only about a year to found Penrose not much more than a year ago. So, this is brand new and in a state of flux.


It is too early to say where this new field of animation is headed. I could throw more facts at you about this, but the proof will be in the pudding. 3D is one of those things that keeps getting hyped and then disappoints, so let's not get all excited to no purpose. Virtual reality, combined with stellar animation, would be a completely new sort of experience which will be worth checking out. In my very casual opinion, though, virtual reality itself still needs a lot of development to really realize its potential.

Allumette Penrose Studios

So far, Chung has been involved with only two films: "Lost," a short film that Oculus and he worked on; and "Allumette," a full children's story that Chung and his team worked up after he left Oculus and began Penrose. Allumette is what we are all waiting to see, and it is not out yet anywhere as far as I can tell. Chung posits that "this is that next major medium of human storytelling." Well, that's a pretty grand statement. We shall see. I am willing to give them a chance, and that isn't always the case.

Allumette Penrose Studios

There is some interactivity involved with "Allumette." While it is very minor, there is a point or two where you can actually move around within the story and open up different views, not just different angles of the same thing. Virtual reality gives you that kind of true 3D experience, which is a lot different than what we usually think of as 3D film, with things flying at the screen and so forth. I can't review "Allumette" yet, because I haven't yet seen it. You have to wear one of those obnoxious headsets, or perhaps just big glasses, which is a downer. Anyway, the details will sort themselves out. I am just giving a head's up that something new is coming down the road, and you may be interested when it gets here. I sure am.

Allumette Penrose Studios

So, I'm not sure what to think about this yet. I like the entire concept of a marriage between virtual reality and animation. I don't particularly like the bulky VR viewers that you have to strap to your head and the fact that it could make a lot of people nauseous. With "Allumette," the medium is the message, as the famous saying goes. I'm not interested in the story, which I'm sure is very pleasing and novel, but in the technique. Unfortunately, pictures cannot do this justice. Let's just say you'll have to see this to believe it, so if you are into animation, you may want to make that a priority at some point. Unfortunately, we all still have to wait for it.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Inside Out and Bear Story Win Oscars

To absolutely nobody's surprise, Walt Disney Pictures' "Inside Out" won the Oscar for best animated feature film. There was absolutely no suspense to the award whatsoever. To be frank, this was a weak year for animated feature films, with no "Ratatouille" in sight, let alone a "Frozen." I can think of several great animated films of recent years, such as, oh, "Wreck-It Ralph" for example, that were more enduring than "Inside Out." In a weak year, though, the big-study favorite invariably wins. It was the safe choice, and was deserved. Kids love it. Congratulations to the winners, superb execution.

"Bear Story" won for best short, which was a minor (but welcome) surprise. Well-deserved, but a surprise considering that it was up against a Pixar film. The animation was indifferent by modern standards (which are quite tough to stand out from), but the story was told well and the tale touched the heart if you let it (the bear works through sadness and regret and marches on). Really, that is what film - not just animation - is all about. It also is something that I personally found lacking in "Inside Out" despite its brilliant technical execution.

I personally like the choice of "Bear Story," which required some actual thought and originality from the Academy members. It was nice recognition of the wide range of animation today throughout this great big world.

The official synopsis for "Bear Story" (Historia de un oso) states:
"Every day, a melancholy old bear takes a mechanical diorama that he has created out to his street corner. For a coin, passersby can look into the peephole of his invention, which tells the story of a circus bear who longs to escape and return to the family from which he was taken."
"Bear Story" was made by Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala at Punkrobot Studio. In my preview of the Oscars, I went on and on about how my sentimental choice would be a win from one of the foreign efforts, and Bear Story - from Chile - fits the bill nicely (financed in part by the Chilean government).

Well done, Academy!

"Inside Out" also was up for a Writing (Original Screenplay) Oscar. It did not win. This did not surprise me at all. The whole concept behind "Inside Out" is a hoary cliché that goes back over 40 years, when Woody Allen did an extended riff on it. It was fresh then, not so much now. In this case, the true honor really was to be nominated.



Boy and the World

Inside Out - WINNER

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There


Bear Story - WINNER


Sanjay’s Super Team

We Can’t Live without Cosmos

World of Tomorrow


Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 Animated Oscar Nominations

2016 Oscars

"Big Hero 6" from Disney won the Animated Feature Film in 2015. This year's field is a relatively weak one. Pixar's "Inside Out" is a favorite for that Oscar in 2016. The Animated Short Film field does not have a clear favorite, but Pixar also has an entry there - "Sanjay's Super Team" - and that will be a strong contender.

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony will take place on 28 February 2016 at 7 p.m. EST.

My personal picks - meaning the ones I think will win - are "Inside Out" for Animated Feature Film and "Sanjay's Super Team" for Animated Short Film. Yes, another good year for Disney. Its quality is just too great to mess with these days.

My sentimental picks - meaning what I wish would win - are "Boy and the World" and "Bear Story." This is just because the odds against them even being made  - in South America! - and nominated were so great. Animation is in great shape south of the border, but nobody can compete with the Disney machine on even terms. Richard Williams is just phenomenal and kudos to his nomination so  many decades after "A Christmas Carol," I love it when the legends return for another bow.

The biggest injustice was "The Peanuts Movie" being snubbed, but I admit that it was kind of just what you would expect from a, well, "Peanuts" movie. With that exception, I think the nominations were appropriate. Several foreign-made films ("Boy and the World," "Shaun the Sheep Movie," and "When Marnie Was There") were nominated, illustrating the health of the global animation industry.


Bear Story
dir. Gabriel Osorio, pro. Pato Escala
dir. Richard Williams, pro. Imogen Sutton
Sanjay’s Super Team
dir. Sanjay Patel, pro. Nicole Grindle
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
dir. Konstantin Bronzit
World of Tomorrow
dir. Don Hertzfeldt


dir. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, pro. Rosa Tran
Boy and the World
dir. Alê Abreu
Inside Out
dir. Pete Docter, pro. Jonas Rivera
Shaun the Sheep Movie
dir. Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
When Marnie Was There
dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, pro. Yoshiaki Nishimura

As widely expected, "Inside Out" also nabbed a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Walt Disney Oscars


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Einstein's Theory of Relativity - Animated

Albert Einstein theory of relativity

One of those never-noted but significant dates in history is 25 November 1915. Aside from some fighting during World War I, this was the date that Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity.

Einstein's theory is still difficult to understand. This animation aims to make is simple.

A lot of talent went into this. It was animated by award-winning animator Eoin Duffy, who worked with filmmaker Jamie Lochhead. That voice you hear may sound familiar - it is Doctor Who star David Tennant. Some of the basic science was supplied by science communicator Anais Rassat. And all in three minutes!

#Einstein100 - General Relativity from Eoin Duffy on Vimeo.

Albert Einstein theory of relativity

A short film celebrating the centennial of Einstein's theory of General Relativity.

JAMIE LOCHHEAD - Writer / Producer
EOIN DUFFY - Design / Animation
WESLEY SLOVER - Sound Design
ANAÏS RASSAT Writer / Science Outreach / Communication


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Shortlist for 2016 Animated Feature Film Oscar

It is time to start thinking about the 2016 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.

The 88th Academy Awards are coming up, and the process already is under way to find out the winners - even though 2015 still has over a month to go, and several contenders haven't even been released yet.

It is impossible to handicap this race at this time, but some guesses are in order. "Shaun the Sheep Movie" is my own sentimental pick, and "Minions" is so popular ($1.15 billion) that it is one of the favorites, along with "The Good Dinosaur" (not yet released, but sure to be a holiday hit). I was not impressed by "Inside Out," but it also will get a lot of consideration simply due to how much money it made ($840 million). After that, "Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet" is my choice for a dark horse slot, though nobody saw it.

Five films out of these 16 will be nominated.

The submitted features, listed in alphabetical order, are:

The Boy And The Beast
Boy And The World
The Good Dinosaur
Hotel Transylvania 2
Inside Out
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
The Laws Of The Universe – Part 0
Moomins On The Riviera
The Peanuts Movie
Regular Show: The Movie
Shaun The Sheep Movie
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water
When Marnie Was There

The Oscar noms will be announced on January 14, with the Oscars telecast set for February 28 on ABC hosted by Chris Rock.


Oscar Shortlist 2016 Best Animated Short Film

Below is the shortlist for the 2016 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

The 88th Academy Awards nominations will be announced on January 14, 2016, and the 88th Oscars will take place on February 28, 2016. The process of selecting films is already in motion. A second round of voting commences on 30 December 2015, and the results will be announced on 14 January with other nominees.

While there is no clear favorite, any entry by Pixar such as "Sanjay's Super Team" is likely to get serious consideration. There are two National Film Board of Canada entries, and it always does well, too.

Five films will make the next cut.

The shortlisted animated short films:
  • “Bear Story (Historia De Un Oso),” Gabriel Osorio, director, and Pato Escala, producer (Punkrobot Animation Studio) 
  • “Carface (Autos Portraits),” Claude Cloutier, director (National Film Board of Canada) 
  • “If I Was God…,” Cordell Barker, director (National Film Board of Canada) 
  • “Love in the Time of March Madness,” Melissa Johnson and Robertino Zambrano, directors (High Hip Productions and KAPWA Studioworks) 
  • “My Home,” Phuong Mai Nguyen, director (Papy3D Productions)
  • “An Object at Rest,” Seth Boyden, director (California Institute of the Arts) 
  • “Prologue,” Richard Williams, director, and Imogen Sutton, producer (Animation Masterclass) 
  • “Sanjay’s Super Team,” Sanjay Patel, director, and Nicole Grindle, producer (Pixar Animation Studios) 
  • “We Can’t Live without Cosmos,” Konstantin Bronzit, director (Melnitsa Animation Studio) 
  • “World of Tomorrow,” Don Hertzfeldt, director (Bitter Films)
The 10 shortlisted films for Best Animated Short Film were chosen by members of the Academy’s Short Films and Feature Animation Branch from among 60 qualifying films.

Disney is by far the leader in wins in the category, and the company has won two of the last three years, with “Paperman” in 2013 and “Feast” earlier this year. It does not have an entry in the race this year for the first time in several years.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos (2015): A Surprise Mexican Hit

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

Mexico is often overlooked as a source of animation, though I have written about it once or twice before. There are no borders when it comes to animation; it just requires skill, dedication and creativity. Released in early September 2015, a satirical CG-animated film from Mexico titled "Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos" ("A Rooster With A Lot Of Eggs") became a surprise hit at the U.S. box office.

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

As reported on 14 September 2015, the 3D animated feature film in Spanish film opened in 10th place in the U.S. with a domestic gross of $4.8 million. To date, two months later, it has grossed over $9 million in the States and an unreported amount - probably a lot - elsewhere, including Mexico and Spain. Not too shabby for a film most Americans had no idea existed. The total was earned at only about 400 U.S. cinemas nationwide, too, which makes the size of its surprise hit even more unusual. In fact, it is the first Mexican animated feature to open in the United States with a limited theatrical release, and is paving the way for others.

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

The film was produced for about $5.3 million and distributed by Pantelion, a partnership between Lionsgate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa. It already is a financial success. It was a smash hit in Mexico, where it opened on 21 August and held the top spot at the box office for three weeks. Additional international releases are scheduled for Russia, Europe and Latin American.

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

It really shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, though. The property has a relatively long history in Mexico, where it is quite popular. The marketing there includes a successful website, merchandising and a pair of 2D animated features. In fact, its origins are from the website, not vice versa, which makes the entire process even more unusual. The site, "Huevocartoon," was created by brothers Rodolfo and Gabriel Riva Palacio — who wrote, directed and produced "Un Gallo" — as a satirical site somewhat similar to The Onion. The uniqueness came from portraying the satire in the form of eggs. Just as in America, "Huevos" has the slang meaning of "balls," and you can conclude for yourself why a satirical website would choose that particular image, and why the titular character might have a lot of them.

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

The first cartoon appeared in 2002, and it was an immediate success. As Rodolfo has said:
“We were expecting to have around 6,000 visitors in the first six months, but what happened is that immediately everybody loved the idea of making a society with eggs and we had around 3 million visitors to our website in just two months, which was crazy!”
The brothers quickly formed a company, Huevocartoon Productions, to put out a successful line of merchandise.

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

Videocine, a division of Televisa, approached Huevocartoon about doing a standard 2D animated movie. "Una Pelicula de Huevos" ("A Movie about Eggs") came out in 2006, followed in 2009 by "Otra Película de Huevos y un Pollo" ("Another Movie about a Chicken and Eggs"). Both were hits in Mexico — Riva Palacio says the first movie was the second-highest grossing Mexican film of all time when it was released. Its success was exceeded by the sequel.

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

Release of the first two films were limited to Spanish-speaking markets. The next step was to go global. Videocine, Pantelion and the government provided funding to make the project a possibility. The brothers had to learn how to do CGI, and then production took about 2½ years and involved 120 artists. Much of that time went into developing the story. Expense was always an issue, so the company developed its own software.

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos

The talent is primarily from Mexico, where there is growing interest in animation, though the brothers themselves studied in the U.S. Pantelion was formed by Televisa and Lionsgate in 2010. It was a new direction for Lionsgate, which does not have much animation experience and is more known for its teen dramas like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent." The brothers’ relationship with Televisa and its Videocine division opened the door for the deal with Pantelion. The film was targeted at Spanish-speaking markets in the United States due to cost factors. However, there is an English-language version of the movie that likely will get a home-video release. And, yes, there is a sequel on the way.

Rather than for me to try to translate the humor, just watch the official trailer and see if it is your cup of tea.