Animated Shorts of the 84th Academy Awards (and more)

My concentration on the Oscars each year is focused in one section primarily, the animated shorts. While I tend to only concern myself with the five nominated features I have in the past also made an effort to check out the short listed films as well, sometimes the best film isn’t exactly the ones that got nominated. That is not the case this year, but all of the short listed films that did receive a nomination this year deserve notice and recognition.

This category has been a part of the Academy since the fifth incarnation of the awards ceremony, but for many of those years the field was dominated by Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and MGM. In the 60′s a change began as foreign works began to be nominated as well smaller productions. In 1974 when the award officially became Short Films (Animated Films), known before as Short Subjects (Cartoons) it also took a special change as that year Will Vinton won with the very psychedelic Closed Mondays that he animated with Bob Gardiner. It was not the first time an unusual or abstract toon had won the award, in 1965, a very simplistic The Dot and The Line took home the award and two years prior the similar in animation style The Critic and even going back to 1959′s Moonbird, an abstraction of style based on a radio recording. The win of Will Vinton though would usher in a whole new field to award, which would embrace all kinds of animation. Pixar’s second film Luxo Jr. was also its first nominated and its fourth Tin Toy was its first win in 1988, its 5th and 6th shorts would also win in 1997 and 2000. Amazingly they have not won the award since, but have had a short up for nomination in every year they produced one theatrically since, except for 2009 when Partly Cloudy got nodded out. That push outprobably came from the nomination of  the most  recent at the time Wallace & Gromit short b y Nick Park, 3 time winner of this award with 2 other nominations.

Throughout 2000-2010 there has been everything in the nominations from CGI to traditional animation. Claymation, conceptual, new technology, it has run the gamut and from every conceivable country. Before breaking into this year’s nominees for the 84th Ceremony I’ll be quickly listing some of my personal favorites, with some information and links to a trailer, official website or the ability to see the cartoon yourself (in some cases all). These have been either winners or nominees and nothing unlisted is meant as a snub. These are just my personal aesthetics.

Previous favorites
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello: Presented to be the first chapter to a long reaching four episode arc that would also include a feature film, the project has seemed to stop at this short. A combination of hi definition vehicles & backgrounds and shadow style minimalist animation with stark design & flourish combined with amazing story telling made it quite a joy. There is a DVD version available with many extras, but fortunately there is also a lower quality edition available for viewing on Youtube.

OKTAPODI: A production out of Gobelins L’Ecole de L’Image, this a simple love story about two octopus or possibly squids done in CGI that was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen and to know it was was developed by people who at the time were still “students”  amazes me.

Strange Invaders: Cordell Barker is easily one of the funniest animators to ever create. A two time academy award winner, first in 1988 with The Cat Came Back and again with this, there is something quite infectious about his work. It is a very gruff art style indeed, but undeniable in its quality.

Granny Ogrimm’s Sleeping Beauty: Based on the comedy of Irish stand-up Kathleen O’Rourke who voiced the titular character, this maniacally hilarious short is simple and sweet… well not sweet exactly and comb. It combined CGI with a storybook like flat animation for an amazing look.

Logorama: One of the most intriguing pieces to not only be nominated but win this award, the incorporation of quality music and story is what makes what could be what a design student made as a thesis into high quality art created by a masterful studio.

The Lost Thing: Last year’s winner shows what can truly be achieved with the short film animation format, narrated by comedy musician Tim Minchin it tells a fairly “large” story adapting a children’s book that is not so simple.

Short Listed for 2011/84 Academy Awards
Cul de Bouteille: This magical adventure uses traditional animation with a very sketch-like style to tell a fantastic little tale. It is a darling French toon and worth seeing if you find it.

Paths of Hate: Looking almost like a Motion Comic and/or Animatic this very charged action short shows how violent and atrocious war can truly be.

Magic Piano: This short was developed by the team behind award winning Peter & The Wolf as a commission to Chopin’s birthday and was used for the The Flying Machine, a feature film which the team worked on as well, staring Heather Graham. As the film is more a collection of shorts combined into a feature to display famed pianist Ling Ling performing Chopin I don’t think it’ll make it to America outside of arthouses and maybe a DVD, but one can hope. Although as the short didn’t make final nominees possibly not.

Lumaris: This is a very different kind of animation. I didn’t get to see the entire thing , but it is very intriguing in its style, although I feel it belongs more in Live Action even if it is a type of animation, using real photographs of humans for stop motion is an original way to create.

I Tawt I Taw Puddy Tat: A new high quality CGI animation over Mel Blac’s 1950 recording of the hilarious composition. One is planned for Daffy’s Rhapsody as well, although who knows with not getting an Oscar nod here. I have to assume shortlisting is enough merit to continue a project for a major studio.

Nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Short Films (Animated)
Daminche/Sunday: Simply animated with nothing but grunts this feels like a vaudevillian silent film. A very small story about an average Sunday that turns out to be nothing but ordinary for one young man. Animator Patrick Doyon previously worked on the program Station X and has a background in illustration.

Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore: The first work from acclaimed storyteller and academy award winner William Joyce’s new production company Moonbot Studios is an amazing piece of animation, and equally as a film itself. Mesmerizing in tone, scope and concept, it is easily my personal favorite of the category that I have been able to see in full. The entire making of is really worth seeing as well.

A Morning Stroll: I haven’t been able to see this one, just a very short trailer and some screen shots, but it looks impressive and a combines all the talents of director Grant Orchard with minimalism, illustration and CGI.

Wild Life: This painted style animation tells the story of a young British early 1900′s America Canada. It was directed and animated by Amanda Forbus & Wendy Tilby who have previously been nominated for the award.

Pixar’s La Luna: The one that most won’t see till it officially premieres with BRAVE, but did show at some theatre in 2011 to be submitted for nomination. I am excited for this one as it was designed and directed by Enrico Casarosa, whom I became a fan of through his comics work published in FLIGHT. I’d only hope for La Luna to win so that folks like Enrico can make more shorts and possibly Scott Morse will be able to do an original short of his own conception as well.

Interesting side note: Two of the nominated shorts feature a Pork pie hat and in one the hat is an important player like in old silent films (mostly because the lead character is based on Buster Keaton).

POSTSCRIPT:

In 1996 all four of the nominated films were of extremely different conceptual styles and innovations in animation in abstract, claymation and CGI.

They were as follows:


Quest: A very abstract puppetry, written and produced by Thomas Stelbach and directed by Tyron Montgomery. Stelback now works in commercial films throughout Germany and Montgomery works in visual effects.

CanHead: Stop motion animation by Tim Hittle which at the time used innovative new techniques in filiming and developing. He is currently an animator at Pixar.

La Salla: A computer generated animation by Richard Condie, it was the long time traditional abstract comedian’s first CGI toon.

Wat’s Pig: Claymation by Peter Lord, the co-founder of Aardman, home to Nick Park’s works. There is a high quality built for full screen viewing available on iTunes.

Games That Tell Tales

As TellTale Games truly expands their line of excellent produced games in the end of 2011 and beginning in 2012 with magic based on the Jurassic Park movie franchise, and two very popular the Comic books in Image Comics The Walking Dead created by Robert Kirkman and the Vertigo fantasy series FABLES created by Bill Willingham, I thought it best to look at Telltale’s game history as a whole as well as quickly review their three last distributions in Back to The Future-The Game, Puzzle Agent and the second chapters of Hector-Badge of Courage.

I’d previously reviewed the first chapter of Hector on PCS, but I’ve yet to throw praise their way for everything else and they’re highly deserving it. So, away we go, with the history of the company as I understand it without all that legal and technical mumbo jumbo and with applauding their efforts and criticizing a bit (because it’s video games and one still must criticize video games) along the way.

Telltale was founded by former Lucasarts team members Dan Connors and Kevin Bruner. Both have had an extensive hand both creatively, administrative and technologically in bringing to life some of LucasArts most popular franchises such as Sam & Max and Grim Fandango, along with some Star Wars titles as well. Along the way they’ve been able to bring in some really awesome people to the team including Mike Stemmle, who was co-lead on Sam & Max as well as Escape from Monkey Island, Andy Hartzell, an award winning independent comics cartoonist and most notably Dave Grossman, co-creator of Monkey Island, Pajama Sam, and Moop & Dreadly with Ron “Grumpy Gamer” Gilbert (who now works at the other base of operations for awesome games Doublefine with Tim Schaefer, who worked alongside Stemmle, Connors and Brunner back when) was brought in as head designer. Along with incredible artists, producers and more, this assembled team has allowed Telltale to be one of the only successful adventure game companies in the United States today. Most of the adventure game companies with success are based in England, the Netherlands and Germany. Thankfully though Telltale exists and helps bring franchises you’d think were primed for a game, but also difficult to envision to life.

The first series they tackled was Jeff Smith’s BONE. Visually and intellectually, as well as voice acting, this production was awesome, but it definitely suffered serious flaws in their action and mini-games sequences. Despite this, it is a great shame that they only got to do Out From Boneville and The Great Cowrace. I’d love to see them return to the series at some point and maybe try and create a side adventure instead of the adaptations done here. Maybe an untold Grandma Rose story would be best suited.

TellTale was given the CSI franchise to develop for publisher Ubisoft, but these games never really seemed to fall into line with where Telltale’s style and bread&butter landed. It wasn’t long into Telltale’s existence as a company though that the opportunity to “come out like gangbusters” presented itself. While the exact reasoning behind how Sam & Max ended up at Telltale has many stories suffice it to say they got their hands on the Freelance Police, along with their creator Steve Purcell along for the ride for brand new adventures not tied to the LucasArts design. That gave us “Save The World” which was followed by “Beyond Time & Space” and eventually “The Devil’s Playhouse”. All three games used very interesting and intriguing uses of puzzle design and twists in the adventure gameplay to deliver games that were quite awesome, even if they somehow never have yet to reach the epic-ness that was “On The Road”. This was not for lack of trying. It could be because of the SCUMM system, maybe it’s because of nostalgia on my part. I enjoyed all the Sam & Max games from Telltale but there were decisions made in gameplay style which caused problems.

These same issues would plague their very thought out and high quality “Tales of Monkey Island” series. This game did have the excellence of Ron Gilbert working alongside Grossman and Stemmle to come to fruition though. What hurt this game, much like in the Sam & Max game was that each episode was not exactly standalone. They were treated much more like chapters in a book and some episodes were weaker than others, in terms of length, puzzles and more. If played in one sitting, this could be ignored, but if played the way they were originally designed it was very noticeable. In the long run though, it truly proved that Telltale was on to the magic. (Although it should be noted Ron Gilbert did come in for one chapter of this series, helping with design and writing, helping stir the pot that Stemmle and Grossman started.)

During this time they had also worked with Aardman Animations on their “Wallace & Gromit” franchise. Now I never saw how that could be a video game, but they figured it out. Even more amazingly they found how to turn the Strong Bad flash cartoons in to fascinating and funny games. I was never a fan of Strong Bad and I am still not, but my god, they seriously figured out how to make me in the least like those Strongbad games. It’s a testament to the talent of the Telltale team.

In 2010, Telltale became more than just a developer of their own products, but the housing platform for smaller games which would come out on their own, but with Telltale backing them had much more chance at being seen by a public desiring adventure games on all levels. They called it the Pilot program and the first title was Nelson Tethers, Puzzle Agent. Designed by cartoonist Graham Annabelle, who had been working in some capacity at Telltale since 2005 as they published his webcomic DUNK, it was an an example that Telltale didn’t just make good games, but they really could find excellent ones. I actually had problems with Puzzle Agent, both the original and the sequel in the puzzles. Some of them just went beyond my style of thinking. That’s not on me though, the game is called Puzzle Agent and that meant all kinds of puzzles, logic, math, visual, and when it comes to two of those I tend to have some issues, especially super complicated mazes. The game has both super easy and then slider puzzle types and I am not good at slider puzzles. Never hand me a Rubik’s cube, my way of solving it is to crack it open and re-glue it together when solved.

Back to the Future: The Game was announced in June of 2010, alongside with the upcoming Jurassic Park, as part of a licensing deal with Universal. Fan interest was high straight from the start and only got higher when the game was announced as “the fourth chapter” in BTTF and that Christopher Lloyd would be voicing Doc Brown. From the first chapter I was immediately sold. While my computer wasn’t completely up to snuff to handle the graphics completely I could tell the writing, acting and gameplay were everything I’d been wanting from Telltale and that the franchise only helped this. I think with this series the company really found their swing. Maybe it was knowing that there would be even more discerning eyes on it to accomplish their goals. Yet, yes, the episodic formula caused this to also suffer from some episodes being weaker than others and the game can truly only be appreciated best if played in succession. It truly was one of the strongest efforts from Telltale and gives amazing hope to their Jurassic Park game, not to mention The Walking Dead and Fables.

The most recent Telltale game to “ship” were chapters 2 & 3 of the Straandlooper developed HECTOR-Badge of Carnage. These both continued the excellence of the first two chapters and truly compel you complete the entirely funny, well thought out and constructed point & click game. The way this project finished gives me not only hope to see what if anything Straandlooper produces next, but what the pilot program may offer. While it’s obvious Telltale’s efforts for the next year will be in the three previously mentioned franchises and hopefully a second Back to the Future game, I hope they understand what they can really do here for gaming as a whole. Especially being one of the only, if not the only developer who is not an independent creator to produce games like this with distribution on almost every available platform one can think of.

There was a TellTale panel scheduled for New York Comic Con 2011, but based on research I could conduct it has been postponed for rescheduling or possibly all out cancelled.  This is a shame as I was excited at the prospect of possibly meeting Stemmle, Grossman, et. al… but alas.  I shall just continue to enjoy their products.