The Boxtrolls Review

This was going to be about the Animation Show of Shows since I was planning on going to that but I had a last minute invitation to see The Boxtrolls, hosted by ASIFA, and there was a great Q&A with the directors, Graham Annable and  Anthony Stacchi, and producer/animator Travis Knight after. Loved it! The animation was ridiculously amazing and the movie itself was deep yet with all the right elements of comedy.


The Boxtrolls is a heartfelt story about finding out who you are and making yourself to be who you are. Amid all that is an adventure of Egg saving his family and stopping the villain, Snatcher, from obtaining power all for the sake of cheese. From the trailer, the original beginning seemed to be about The Boxtrolls finding an unwanted child in the trash but that's changed somewhat and I really like the change as it gives the characters more association and relation with each other.

The animation is ridiculous. In stop motion, everything that moves have to be manually moved frame by frame by an animator. There were a lot of little inflection in the face and auxiliary acting choices which just means more frames that the animator would have to animate through. Just as impressive is that animators are assigned to scenes instead of characters so there is a whole ballroom dance sequence that was done by a single animator. There is a giant robot with detailed pistons and cogs that all had to be animated on top of having a character giving a full performance.

Loved the artistic style of the film. It was interesting to hear that various oil painting artists such as Lucian Freud. They really liked the various contrasting colors that would be used on skin. One thing that I would be interested in if Laika could develop is accurate specular highlights on eyes. Currently the eyes are doll-like with everything painted on instead of having an actual cornea to catch the highlight on. It may be strange, as the shape of a cornea and the iris may look strange in certain angles and unlike in CG a bump map can't just be used to cheat the effect.

The Q&A after was great. There was getting to know about the behind the scenes process which was neat but I loved hearing about how Laika is evolving their workflow and keeping up with the current technology.  Rapid prototyping has been used since Coraline but the way it's used has evolved. First of all, rapid prototyping is typically used for quick concepts that someone can print out, look at, and throw away; however, Laika is using it to print their thousands of faces to create the facial replacement animation. Back in Coraline, the faces were printed to be plain gray and an artist would have to go and paint each one. In Paranorman, Laika was able to get color into the prints. Now in Boxtrolls, not only were they able to advance the colors but they found out, through an accident, that they could print on top of prints and create what would look like a classic 2D animated smear frame. Also, make sure to keep a close eye on the ballroom sequence as Laika was able to get a capillary system under the face so the characters actually blush!

Make sure to stay through the credits. As per usual, there's a small sequence at the end as the movie makes a nod towards animators and stop motion animation. It really gives an idea to how stop motion is "an obscene way to make a film" as every little movement has to be created manually from hand gestures to a single blink and since the movie was shot in stereoscope the vfx artists would have to paint out rigs and facial seams twice.

NFB Film Screening with Chris Landreth and Theodore Ushev

On Thursday I got to see some films at the Animation Show of Shows and Friday night I got to go to ILM to see screening of more films! Hosted by SIGGRAPH, ASIFA, and NFB (National Film Board of Canada), and joined by the directors Chris Landreth and Theodore Ushev. It's great to see what others are creating outside of the Hollywood mindset, particularly as they use animation as a form of medium to express art and is not blocking animation into just a film genre. While I had already seen Subconscious Password and Gloria Victoria at the Animation Show of Shows, I got to see them again but this time in stereoscopic 3D as they were created and meant to be seen. It was a completely different experience and blew my mind. Chris Landreth, who won an Academy Award for Ryan in 2005 and recently the Grand Prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival for Subconscious Password , his first film in stereoscope. Chris described himself and his work to be very interested in realism and hyper-realism. However, it's not just about making things in his film look like reality but he explores and analyzes the perception of reality and the reality of humanness. While Subconscious Password still holds up well without stereoscope, it says so much more with it. Instead of just seeing an image on a large screen having this large gap between the audience and the front of the image, the film and characters are brought right before the audiences' eyes and it makes everything more intimate.

At Annecy 2013 Theodore Ushev was given the Fipresci Award by the International Federation of Film Critics for Gloria Victoria. This new film completes his trilogy with Tower Bawher (2005) and Drux Flux (2009). The series focuses on the revolutionary relationship between art, industry, and power using imagery reminiscent of the Russian constructivistism. On the opposite side of Chris Landerth who used realism to describe himself, Theodore Ushev used abstract to describe himself and his work. I have no problem with that as, even though it's not personally my style of art, I enjoy appreciating it for its ideas and the questioning that arises, particularly with my art history background. When I first saw Gloria Victoria at the Animation Show of Shows without the stereoscope my reaction was  just "this is a beautiful 2D animation", "I like the strong graphic style, reminds me of printmaking". Gloria Victoria was specifically made for stereoscope and now seeing it in its true form I was completely blown away. Theodore Ushev talked about using stereoscope as part of the medium to create art and using the layering and depth to create "sculpture" to film.

Pictures from the ILM Letterman Theater Lobby!

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

At ASIFA screenings they always sell dvds and box sets of films that they have screened. It was there that I saw The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and I knew I had to have it as part of my animation collection as it is an amazing piece of work. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is an Academy Award winner of the 84th Academy Awards, beating out Pixar's "la Luna". The animated short is created by Moonbot Studios. I love "la Luna", it has become my top favorite Pixar short followed by Presto, Day and Night, and Geri's Game. However, as I just watched Mr. Morris Lessmore again, as I am now a proud owner of the film on dvd, I can see why it won out over la Luna."la Luna" was beautiful and I would say the armature of the story was something like "be your own unique self" with cute little tidbits such as matching the various tools to the mustaches of the boy's father and grandfather. Mr. Morris Lessmore on the other hand, in addition to having a wonderful story, had a very specific goal in mind of showcasing the curative power of books and their story. The metaphor of how books effect people is easy to understand in the film. After a disaster the world became a bleak black and white, then through books color is restored and happiness is given. Another portrayal was the sequence of the old grandfatherly book that scattered and had to be put back together. However, just assembling the book together wasn't enough. Books are given life when someone reads them.

I absolutely loved the animation also. Not only is it generally done well but the animation of the Humpty Dumpty book was not only interesting but also highly creative. While the book itself has legs and sometimes arms, Humpty also shows up on the pages inside the book and functions as it's own character. The way Humpty moves is like a flip book with the poses changing as the pages flip back and forth.

Additionally what is even more amazing is, unlike Pixar who is an animation specific studio, Moonbot is a multimedia studio, who, I believe, made the film as a promotion to the app and picture book that they were developing. With the film is quite long with it being just a bit under 15 minutes and accomplishing that is quite a feat.

It was somewhat unfortunate that on my 1920x1080 monitor that I wasn't able to watch the films that I bought in fullscreen as it pixelated badly. I was looking forward to watching it in higher quality than what I can find on the internet.

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ASIFA - 14th Annual Animation Show of Shows

While ASIFA is showing in a few places around San Francisco, the one I went to (and the one that I could get into with an rsvp) was hosted by Dolby Labs today, Nov 5th at 7:30pm. The event is free as usual as ASIFA is a non profit organization with an aim to promote and encourage animated films. The organization is open to anyone, whether someone who is in the industry or just someone who enjoys animated films.The auditorium at Dolby was pretty awesome. They had speakers everywhere, from the ceilings to behind openable walls. Additionally, since two of the films that were being shown were in 3D, we all got to wear super fancy 3D glasses. Not those flimsy kinds that you get at movie theaters, these were nice solid ones with very cool polar lens and anti-theft tracking chips.I overheard someone introducing himself as Steve Seagal. I may have just heard wrong as he didn't seem to be the actor but I did hear him talk about currently teaching History of Animation and having had worked at Pixar in the past in the interactive technologies department back when Pixar had one. Pretty cool.

The following are my thoughts on some of the films. They are not all the films that were shown but were the ones that stood out to me and that I have something to say about.

The first film that was shown was Disney's Paperman. I've already written a review on Paperman back with Wreck-it-Ralph so I won't go too much into it but I will say that it's still great the third time watching it and that I absolutely love the music. Particularly the part starting with where the woman sees the paper airplane sticking out of the flowers and then starts chasing after it as the plane flies away.

The Brain Centrifuge Project by Til Nowak, from Germany, was a very interesting and hilarious film. It was about "the effect of amusement park rides on IQ". The film was styled like an interview and showcased some pretty amusing yet horrifying amusement rides, such as rides that will fling people 360 degrees around and a ridiculously long ferris wheel that takes 14 hours to go around. I'm personally not the type that goes on extreme rides, I've only started going on roller coasters recently, so when I saw those rides my thought wasn't "that looks so cool, I want to go on that" but rather "holy craaaaap".

Here and the Great Elsewhere, by Michele Lemieux, was an amazing film done with pinscreen. Pinscreen is basically a screen with a bunch of pins stuck through it and thus casts a shadow. The film was done entirely with pinscreen in a short of stop motion type of animation. There was no pen or pencil or computer graphics done to create the animation and for that the piece  was amazing. The images were highly detailed, had form and volume, depth and perspective, and a contrast of lights and darks. Unfortunately the film did feel like it dragged on, particularly due to it's abstract storyline making it hard to follow.

Pixar's Carlo Vogele made an independent film called Una Furtiva Lagrima. The film follows a dead fish's journey from the market and into the pan, all while the fish is singing the aria. While the film may be hard to grasp initially, as the aria was not sung in English and thus I didn't know what it was about, for I did not know if it was suppose to be something serious as the fish laments about the fleetingness of life, or if it was a ironic piece. The process behind the film making was also interesting as real fish were used and Carlo described how he had to handle the fish and pose them with strings and wires and working with the fish half frozen.

Flamingo Pride, by Tomer Esheds, was shown in 3D. This was amazing and hilarious. The film tells about a heterosexual flamingo who experiences growing frustration as he struggles to distinguish himself from the gay masses and find true love. I was already loving the film with all the pink flamingos dancing, partying, and hey girl, but I loved it even more with the appearance of two tigers.

Daffy's Rhapsody, also shown in 3D, by Matt O'Callaghan, was unfortunately a let down. The characters and the world were modeled in 3D. While I'm not one of those "you're ruining my childhood with your new fancy technology" kind of person, the CG in this case did ruin it somewhat for me, particularly due to how the characters were shaded. Elmer looked waxy and had really weird light pink lips but they were shaded on the inside of his mouth and Daffy had a really glossy body. Yes, feathers have a certain amount of gloss to them but the amount that was on Daffy just made him look very slick and shiny. I also felt the idea of this short has already been done with Bugs Bunny in Rabbit of Seville.

The final 3 films shown were considered parental advisory and I'll just say they were "interesting" and leave it at that.