Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Anima Mundi 2011 Rio de Janeiro Audience Awards

Best Feature Film for Children

1. THE MISSED LYNX - Raul García (Spain)
2. HEART AND YUMMIE - Masaya Fujimori (Japan)
3. THE SANDMAN AND THE LOST LAND OF DREAMS - Jesper Mølle e Sinem Sakaoglu (France and Germany)

Best Student Film

1. CHYBICKA SE VLOUDI - Aneta Kýrová (Czech Republic)
2. HAMBUSTER - Paul Alexandre; Dara Cazamea; Maxime Cazaux; Romain Delaunay; Laurent Monneron (France)
3. PARIGOT - Mehdi Alavi; Loic Bramoulle; Alex Digoix; Geoffrey Lerus; Alexandre Wolfromm (France)

Melhor Short Film for Children

1. ORMIE - Rob Silvestri (Canada)
2. BRIDGE - Ting Chian Tey (USA)
3. HOOKED - Friedl Jooste (South Africa)

Best Brazilian Short

1. BOMTEMPO - Alexandre Dubiela (Brazil)
2. FURICO & FIOFÓ - Fernando Miller (Brazil)
3. OBSOLETO - Leandro de Souza Henriques; Victor Mendonça dos Santos; Heitor Mendonça dos Santos (Brazil)

Best Short

1. CAPTAIN AWESOME: THE RUMBLE IN THE CONCRETE JUNGLE - Ercan Bozodgan; Mikkel Aabenhuus Sørensen (Denmark)
2. THE SAGA OF BIÔRN - Benjamin Kousholt (Denmark)
3. FLY de Alan Short (United Kingdom)

Anima Mundi 2011 São Paulo Audience Awards

Best Feature Film for Children

1. THE MISSED LYNX - Raul García (Spain)
2. HEART AND YUMMIE - Masaya Fujimori (Japan)
3. LIGHT OF THE RIVER - Tetsuo Hirakawa (Japan)

Best Student Film

1. CHYBICKA SE VLOUDI - Aneta Kýrová (Czech Republic)
2. LE ROYAUME - Nuno Alves Rodrigues; Oussama Bouacheria; Julien Cheng; Sébastien Hary; Aymeric Kevin; Ulysse Malassagne; Franck Monier (France)
3. HAMBUSTER - Paul Alexandre; Dara Cazamea; Maxime Cazaux; Romain Delaunay; Laurent Monneron (France)

Melhor Short Film for Children

1. ORMIE - Rob Silvestri (Canada)
2. HOOKED - Friedl Jooste (South Africa)
3. BRIDGE - Ting Chian Tey (USA)

Best Brazilian Short

1. BOMTEMPO - Alexandre Dubiela (Brazil)
2. O CÉU NO ANDAR DE BAIXO - Leonardo Cata Preta (Brazil)
3. FURICO & FIOFÓ - Fernando Miller (Brazil)

Best Short

1. VICENTA - Sam Orti (Spain)
2. THE SAGA OF BIÔRN - Benjamin Kousholt (Denmark)
3. FLY de Alan Short (United Kigdom)

Anima Mundi 2011 Professional Jury Awards


1. ESSÊNCIA - Daniel Rabanéa
2. CACHOEIRA - Rodrigo Eba
3. FÁTIMA! - Jeferson T. S. Hamaguchi



1. WHEELS AND LOVE - Massimo Ottoni (Italy)
3. AJUDANDO NOSSO MUNDO EM 60 SEGUNDOS - Marlon Amorim Tenório (Brazil)


1. O FEITIÇO VIROU CONTRA O FEITICEIRO - Bruno Sarracceni Tedesco (Brazil)
2.FAST FOOD - Christiano Borges (Brazil)
3. NUDE - Colin Reid (Ireland)


FURICO & FIOFÓ - Fernando Miller (Brazil)


OBSOLETO - Leandro de Souza Henriques; Victor Mendonça dos Santos; Heitor Mendonça dos Santos (Brazil)


Best Film* – PATHS OF HATE - Damian Nenow (Poland)

Best Animation – LUMINARIS - Juan Pablo Zaramella (Argentina)

Best Script – THE SAGA OF BIÔRN - Benjamin Kousholt (Denmark)

Best Soundtrack – DRIPPED - Léo Verrier (France)

Best Design – THE BACKWATER GOSPEL - Bo Mathorne (Denmark)

Best Comissioned Film – LOSE THIS CHILD - Yuval & Merav Nathan (Israel)

*This year the Best Film award was chosen by the ANIMA MUNDI directors and the Professional Jury.

Pixar celebrates 25 years!

One of the most expected shows of 2011’s Anima Mundi was the 25 years retrospective of the biggest animation studio in the world, Pixar! The Pixar’s animation movies have been part of children and adults life all over the globe for the past one-fourth century. This special session not only represents the history of this important studio, but also shows us the growing process of the digital animation industry itself.

Pixar is an animation studio specialized in high technology for computer graphics. They not only do the animations, but also create the computer tools to develop then. There was a time , thought, where this balance did not exist. Initially, the company belonged to George Lucas, famous for the Star War saga. Lucas was far more interested in creating new computer graphics technologies that he could sell for big studios, such as Disney. For a long time, the company developed only computer programs. The sails weren’t taking of, so a few employees saw an opportunity to start doing what they loved the most: animation. John Lasseter was one of then. Graduated in Cal Arts, his biggest dream was to be able to develop animation through the computer. He found a way to do animated movies, without disobeying his boss: the first short film, Luxo Jr. was a great prototype to be showed for potential buyers.

In 1986 the company was bought by no one less than Steve Jobs and it was renamed after Pixar, a neologism that refers to the action of putting pixels. But not even the owner of Apple could help the company increasing the profits. Maybe because he was try to earn money with the wrong product, as the animation movies were still not consider commercially interesting. In 1991, the company was almost sold, because Jobs was spending too much money on it. Things started to change when they arranged a twenty-six million dollar contract with Disney to produce three animated feature movies. Toy Story, the first of its kind, was launched in 1995, setting the date were Pixar would start to become the giant it is now, winner of Oscars, Grammys and Globe Award. With the success of Toy Story, the doors for computer animations were opened forever and the industry started growing fast. We can see that Pixar is not only another company. It origins carries the very first seed of the dream of developing a computers graphic animation industry and with the stubborn of their employees this dream was turned into a fantastical reality.

The fourteen short movies in the Anima Mundi’s show allow you to take a dip in beautiful childhood memories. We brought films right from the beginning, such as Luxo Jr., the first episode of the life of the little lamp that became Pixar’s symbol, and the company’s first Oscar winner movie, Red’s Dream. The show comes also with some recent productions, like Day and Night. The short movie was produced in 2010 and was distributed to be exhibit just before Toy Story 3 in cinema rooms all over the world. The film is different from everything the company has done before, especially because of the mixing of 2D and 3D animation. Even when they are not using the most advanced technologies available, Pixar stills incredible. But the great surprise is that we brought two new films, never exhibit before: Hawaiian Vacation, a hilarious episode of Ken and Barbie’s frustrated holidays, and the beautiful and delicate La Luna, about the first steps of a little boy towards his adult life. Pixar’s movies continue to enchant kids and adults with its stories and we hope it will stay like this for another one-fourth century. When the time comes, I bet they will be doing 4D films!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Panorama and Portfolio!

Another session that cannot be lost is International Panorama! This category was created to be a wide open window through which the Brazilian animation fans could check what is being produced in the international circuit. The short movies came from almost thirty different countries and are not part of the festival’s competition. The show is extremely important to improve the cultural exchange between countries. Some of the artists are internationally renowned, but little people known then in Brazil. That is David O’Reilly’s case. His most recent film, The External World, is well recognized abroad. The short movie is remarkable for its sarcasm. The author produces an environment fulfilled with figures that are well know in the animation field. These symbols are visually easy recognized, but when you get a closer look you see they don’t feet the pattern. This loss of reference produces, in a first moment, an apparently disconnect narrative, until you get to see the deep reflection underneath. The film won the 67th Venice Film Festival.

This year the panel International Panorama had a special show that reunited only animated documentaries. All the movies have real themes portrayed in an animation form. The themes are varied: in Migrópolis the audience can take a deep look in the reality of kids that see themselves forced do migrate and in The Greek Crisis Explained you can have a very different economy lesson. It is a very good debate: can an animated image represent the “external world” better than a photographic record? Or can we assume that the animation is even more sincere if we think that this “external” does not really exists? Worth to check and to think!

For the ones that are trying to figure out how to make a living doing what they love the most, animation, of course, there is the session called Portfolio, with the best commissioned animations films in several formats: commercials, corporate videos, music videos, scenes for feature movies and a lot more! This category is judged only by the professional Jury. This year they choose the animated clip Lose This Child as best piece. The music video was built with the construction of figures in the sand, which move under the moon light. The band that plays the song is called Eatliz and the clip was direct by the Grammy winners Yuval and Merav Nathan. Good music and fascinating animation! Another great movie is Ode to a Post-it Note, a commercial for the company 3M’s most famous product. In the film, one solitary Post-it decides to look for his “father” and creator. The movie star is no one less than Arthur Fry, the man who invented the Post-it!

Animation in the classroom!

One of Anima Mundi’s biggest dreams is to see that the animation is foot by foot taking over the classrooms. That is why the special sessions Future Animator and Animation of Course are so important for the festival. They both represent different evidence of the animation presence and relevance in education, whether it is to form or train new teachers or through the insertion of this type of language in pedagogical initiatives for formal basic schools.

In the Future Animator panel, the short-movies were done by kids from all over the world, who are giving their first steps towards the animated world. We can see works from Argentina, Brazil and even Portugal. There are also films made by young adults who are starting now as well, such as the professors that join us in Anima Escola courses. It is really worth while to see this amazing work.

In the Animations of Course panels, we get in touch with projects developed in specialized animation schools (check a little about some of then here), the main symbol of the process that is leading towards a biggest expansion of the animated know-how. Some of those institutions offer the same technological tools that the big animation studios. When they did not exist, the production of films that were concerned about exploring new languages and techniques was practically restrain to independent animators. The rise of these new teaching spaces allows the production of high technique quality movies without being submit to commercial imperatives. A structural change like this one is central to guarantee the development of new languages and the experimentation of different themes. Some of the movies made in international animation school compete in the same categories as the films produced in big studios, not only in festivals but also in big awards, like the Oscar! Check how many great things have been done by these students!

In an orphanage in Ukraine, children are getting ready for mother's day, their mother being the Tchernobyl Power Plant.

Playing ghost
Five year old Amy and her Mum are divided in grief for Dad, occupying very separate worlds in their struggle to cope. But whilst Mum sinks into numb solitude, struggling to keep to routine, Amy seeks a more magical escape that ultimately has its own perils.

Condamné à Vie
Charles Bonnemort discovers his immortality after he attends to kill himself.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Special (and scary) short-movies shows!

This year we had sixteen short-movies shows in Anima Mundi. These films were competing in several awards categories . We had two specials: one with only terror movies and one we called Surreal Mundi. They were both scary, but in different ways!

The terror special came with eight frightening movies. The productions were brought from France, South Korea, Denmark, Italy, United Kingdom, United States and Singapore. The styles and themes were varied, but some of then were great movies that showed that animation can function in a several variety of genres. Check a little bit!

The Backwater Gospel
An incredible portray of one of man most natural emotion: the fear of death. In the movie, Gospel and Death walk over the same shadow and when this darkness arrives to Backwater, the citizens watch their most deep instincts coming to the surface. The script conducts the spectator in a subtle and tense way. The design and art are simply amazing.

and Junk
In Hambuster, a man is attacked by his own lunch. A metaphor about modernity’s bad eating habits? Technically well done and a little bit disturbing. And it seems that food is really one of the biggest villains nowadays. The film Junk talks about the same theme, focusing on the obsession in junk food. Terror especially for those who want to loose weight!

When two dichotomous and diametrically opposed realities meet and mix, we enter into the Metachaos. Aesthetically rich, the film is fulfilled with futuristic and dark elements creating an intense visual impact.

Another incredible special session is Surreal Mundi, indicate for those who love the surrealistic classics. The audience can fell the absurd generate by the movies Taevalaul, from the Estonian director Mati Küti and Maska from the incredibles Brothers Kay.

Stephen and Timothy Quay, also known as Brothers Quay, are two highly renowned animators, whose specialty is stop motion. The identical twins live in England and work together since high school. They developed a fascinating work, which involves most objects animation. Their film is very strong in terms of image and installs a weirdness aesthetically achieved through the lights and shadows orientations. Deeply admired in Anima Mundi, this time the brothers bring the history of beautiful Duenna, whose duty to accomplish a mission forces her to make a difficult choice.

Fernando Trueba presents Chico & Rita

This year we had the honor of receiving the recognized Spanish cinema director Fernando Trueba in our Anima Mundi Festival in Rio de Janeiro! He came specially to present and make comments about his new movie, the animation feature Chico & Rita.

Fernando Trueba is the author behind remarkable movies, such as Belle Époque, Oscar winning for best foreigner movie in 1993. He did also a film in Brazil, called Milagre Candeal, a documentary that promotes the encounter between the Cuban musician Bebo Valdez and the Brazilian Carlinhos Brown.

Chico & Rita is Trueba’s first attempt of using the animations language and technique. He told us that the main reason why he decided to do this project was his big admiration for his friend and co-director, Javier Mariscal, a renowned graphic artist from Cataluña who had always dreamed of doing an animation. The film has also a third director, Tonio Errando, Mariscal’s brother, who was in charge of supervising the animations, which were being made in studios spread all over the world. The audience was absolutely enchanted by the movie and its beautiful and sensual images embraced by high quality songs as sound track.

Marcos Magalhães, one of the festival’s director, joint Trueba in the stage after the exhibition of the film to have a little chat with the director and the audience. First, he was curious to know from Fernando which were the advantages and disadvantages of doing an animation movie in comparison to a normal life action film. Fernando said that one of the most difficult aspects of doing an animation is that it takes too much time to be ready. “We are one person when we start the movie and another when we finish it”. In spite of the differences during the production, he said he loved doing it and he has projects to start new animation movies.

To be able to direct the animators, Trueba had to take advantage of his experience with life action movies. So he decided to shoot the whole story with actors, in Cuba, setting also the camera angles. These scenes, however, weren’t reproduced in the animation through the use of rotoscopy. They served only as a reference for the animators to redraw everything and animate. The fact that the animation work would be divided in different studios all over the globe was one of the main reasons for that. The film has scenes that were animated in Spain, Hungry, Filipinas, Lithonia and even Brazil (Lightstar Studio, in São Paulo), so it was necessary to have a clear model to base on as well as a strong reference of the movements and Mariscal’s precision as art director.

Fernando defines the movie as a musical. Normally directors do the screenplay and then, after the film is ready, they add the sound track. Chico & Rita wasn’t made like that. The screenplay was written at the same time the sound tracks were chosen (classics of the Cuban music and the American Bebop), in a way that the lyrics and the songs could help telling and conducting the story. As our other guest, Shinichiro Watanabe, Trueba is a huge fan of music, especially jazz, and for him it was an enormous pleasure to record this amazing songs for the film

We hope that Trueba keeps up doing animations. Chico & Rita has already become a classic! The magic of the movie was spread all over Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, carried by the ones who have seen it and loved it.

Animated Chat Interview: Carlos Saldanha

Friends always come back. Carlos is an old friend of the Anima Mundi festival. He has participated in the festival several times, as a spectator, an animator and a guest. His first short, Time For Love, was screened in the festival in 1994 and included in our first collection of “The Best of Anima Mundi” (which was still in the VHS format). In 1996 and 1997, Carlos presented seminars in computer graphics, already representing Blue Sky studios, from New York. In 2002, he was invited as a guest in the Animated Chat for the first time. He had just finished directing Ice Age with Chris Wedge. He then went on to direct the Oscar nominated short Gone Nutty (2003) and co-direct the feature film Robots (2005), taking the next step into directing feature films on his own, with two huge blockbusters: Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (2006) and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009).

Carlos Saldanha is the newest national hero, due to his feat of transforming his (our) city into the scenery and character of yet another huge international animation blockbuster: “RIO” (2011). He will share with us, like close friends do, the best secrets in the construction of this hit film.

1. What first spiked your interest in animation?
I’ve enjoyed drawing since I was a little kid. I used to create comics and stories, paint, make caricatures, and I also loved watching cartoons. But my curiosity towards animation only blossomed when I was about eighteen, as I watched shorts created through computer graphics, especially “Luxo Jr.”, by John Lasseter. I was fascinated by the mixture of technology and art. That’s when I decided to go for it.
2. What was the research process for the film “Rio” like?
Having been born in Rio, I already knew a lot about the city, but I still bought dozens of books and DVDs, and did a lot of filming and picture taking around the city, so that I could show it to my crew, which was almost entirely made up of gringos! But this was still not enough, so I had to come to Rio with a small creative crew, to get the “feel” of the city and experience it in the same way as the character Blu. Sharing my emotion of being in Rio with the crew was amazing. We even got to participate in the carnival parade in Sapucaí! It was my first time doing that and it was a wonderful experience!
3. Are you developing a new project?
At the moment, I’ve got lots of ideas under development, but nothing definitive. We’ve bought the rights for the book “Ferdinand”, and we’re writing the script. But all I really want right now is a break!!!

4. What animators and artists inspire you?
I’ve always loved Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The Disney classics, from the golden days of animation, are also a source of inspiration. Bambi, Dumbo and Pinocchio are unforgettable.

5. Can you tell us a little bit about you relationship with Anima Mundi?
It’s always an enormous thrill and pleasure to participate in Anima Mundi! The festival is an incredible achievement, which I like to come to whenever I can! It has changed the lives of a great number of artists who dreamed of working with animation, like myself, and is still an inspiration to lots of new animators from all over Brazil!
Anima Mundi is just great!!!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Animated Chat 2011: Carlos Saldanha and the Magic of Rio

In the last Animated Chat of 2011’s Anima Mundi edition in Rio de Janeiro, the Animated Square was full of people eager to listen to one of Brazil’s most recognized animators: Carlos Saldanha, who recently direct the film Rio. Saldanha is an old friend of the festival and this was his second participation in the Animated Chat. He shared with us his own history of success and told us everything we wanted to know about Blu, the male blue macaw, star of the film Rio.

Carlos has been living in the United States for the past twenty years. He left Brazil and his home city, Rio de Janeiro, to do an animation course in New York. He had already studied a bit of computer science and he didn’t want to loose that. In the animation field he could put together his technological skills and art. When he first arrived to America he was shocked with how many computers there were available in the school, something that was rare in Brazil’s reality. He started working day and night and a professor invited him to do his masters in the school. Saldanha decided to stay and started taking lessons about concept and theoretical aspects of animation. Most of the other students came from an artistic graduation, but had difficulty to deal with the technique tools and programs. The digital part was never a problem for him, so he ended up doing two short movies during the masters. One of then, Time for Love, was presented in 2002’s Anima Mundi. “This is one of the very few movies that I can say it is a hundred per cent mine and it is great to have it as a reference and be able to evaluate my own growth process as an animator”, said the director.

Before finishing the masters, Saldanha received a new invitation this time to work in his professor little animation studio, the Blue Sky. Back then, the animation market was starting to boil because the first digital feature movie, Toy Story, was about to come out. The company was not very lucrative, but they decided to give it a shot. For a while they did only commercials, including Big Deal for Bell Atlantic. He told us that he had the opportunity of transforming something complex into a pretty simple and good idea, which for him is one of the most amazing things about animation, the capacity to turn very simple ideas in great contents. The commercial was a success and that helped open new doors to the company. For Carlos that meant the transition from animation to direction. He became after effects supervisor in the next project, the film Joe’s apartment.

With the thirteen minutes of the funny and disgusting animated cockroaches, Blue Sky achieved a new level within the American animation industry, which was going through a series of transformations. The studios were joint together to create big animation complexes and there was a rumor that new features movies were about to take off. Blue Sky ended up joint to Fox and a little while later came the opportunity to do Ice Age. Carlos co-directed the movie with Chris Wedge. A few months before the launch there was a big expectation in the company: if the film succeed, they will for sure be given other screenplays, if not, there was a highly possibility that the studio would be closed. To stimulate everyone in the office, Carlos decided it was the time to get on board in a different and funny project, so he started doing the short movie Gone Nutty. The film stars the squirrel Scratt, one of the most beloved characters in Ice Age. The movie was a hit and ended up nominated to the Oscar. Unfortunately, Carlos didn’t take the award home with him.

After the success of Ice Age, Blue Sky started doing movies without even stop to take a breath. Robots, Ice Age 2 and 3 and Horton Hear a Who were produced during this period. This was also the time when Carlos decided to achieve an old dream: making a movie about Rio de Janeiro. “All of the sudden people were thinking about doing films located in France, China and many other countries and I started asking myself why not a film in Brazil”, said the director. The initial idea was to do a movie about a penguin. “I remember reading newspaper articles about these little penguins that arrived in the beaches of Rio during winter”. In the story, the animal would be locked up by traffickers and would have to fight for his freedom. But the most touching aspect of the movie was not to watch the penguin getting rid off the physical chains, but actually the process of setting his heart free. The Brazilian’s heat would inspire the penguin and melt down his ice cold heart, teaching him how to love.

Unfortunately several other movies about penguins were being produced, so Carlos had to think about something else without loosing the essence of the story. They came up with the idea of using a macaw as character. From there, it was born Blu, who is actually from Rio in the story, but that has never felt his own land’s heat. Saldanha told us that the film has a lot about his personal experiences. “I wanted to reconstruct in animation the feeling I usually have when I first arrive in Rio after being a long time away”, he said. In the movie, it takes a while until Blu finds out his “brazility” and starts considering Rio as his home.

Saldanha wanted a very colorful and happy film, that shown not only Rio’s visual beautiful, but also its cultural diversity, music and carnival. The commercial viability of the movie was important. The film should be didactic and able to talk to everyone. “I was not doing a movie only to Brazil”, he said, “it was a movie to the whole world, so I had to incorporate elements that were familiar, which people would be able to connect even if they didn’t know anything about the city”. That was a challenge even during the production because only three of the team members actually have been to Rio. Saldanha decided to bring six of then to visit the town and find out their own impressions about it. The trip ended up being very positive to the production process.

Six months were necessary to bring the main characters of Rio to life. Blu’s design was outsourced and developed in several different countries, especially in Spain. Before animating the characters, once their design is finished, it is necessary to record the voices of the actors that are going to interpret each personage, so that the flash and bone facial expressions can be introduced to the animation process. After that, some 2D sketches are made and only when they are approved by Carlos, the animators can start transforming it in a 3D reality. Saldanha told us that one of the most difficult aspects of animating animals is the feathers. The Blue Sky team developed a special software just to deal with the fur of the animals in previous movies, such as Ice Age. The program was adapted to be able to animate birds. About five million microscopic feathers were put in Blu’s body. That increased the animation possibilities, making the animal a lot more real. Once finished the body and constitution, the animation challenges of movement starts. One of the biggest concerns was whether they could animate a bird that dances Samba, a typical dance from Brazil that involves several difficult and fast foot movements. In spite of everyone thoughts, it was not a legitimate Brazilian that were able to put his dance in the computer. It was a Finnish animator that had no talent at all to dance Samba, but a lot of ability with his hands to manage to animate the dancing bird.

Animating human figures was also a challenge. Saldanha didn’t want perfect real characters, so the people in the movie have a caricature aspect. He told us that it is very expensive to animate human by human, so what they usually do is create six basic models, in which they can chance the color of the skin, hair and clothes. These six types were used to create the main human characters, but can also be seen in the extras composition. To create crowds full of people, it is the same process. In the last act, for example, when they are passing through the carnival parade, it were necessary fifteen equal modules, with the same persons on each module, to fulfill the four thousand hundred sits bleachers. To create the favelas (slums), one of the aspects the animators were more interested about, the same scheme was used. Several sets of houses were created in 3D and then combined to form a big favela. Many technological tools were developed during the production of the movie to overcome the graphical problems. The animators were very dedicated and wanted to create a perfect picture. There are so many details that if you don’t have a Blue Ray DVD and a very good view you are not going to be able to detect!

Carlos Saldanha joint his computer skills with the passion for his home town to create a delightful and interesting movie. Rio showed a little bit of Brazil to the whole world and the fans are already eager to see the second. “Usually when the film turns out to be a success it is possible that the studio asks for another episode. But we don’t have anything closed, not even an idea for a screenplay”, he said, and add: “I don’t have any project now, I’m going to enjoy my vacations!” Is it hard to guess where he is spending his holidays? In Rio de Janeiro, of course!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A little bit about Shinichiro Watanabe

Japan invades Anima Mundi once again, with the presence of one of its most renowned and respected directors and authors: Shinichiro Watanabe. Born in 1965, in Kyoto, he is greatly admired for his works, such as the iconic television series that originated the feature film Cowboy Bebop, and the Samurai Champloo series.

Watanabe began his career as an animator at age 20. He joined Sunrise studios as a production assistant, and became co-director of Macross Plus, the continuity of the successful Macross series, in 1994. He began his career as a director with Cowboy Bebop, the series that became a huge hit worldwide and originated the feature film Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, 2001 (which later became known simply as Cowboy Bebop: the Movie). In 2003, Watanabe joined the select group of Japanese directors invited to create their versions of stories based on the universe of the action film The Matrix, in the cult American production Animatrix. He was put in charge of two episodes (Kid’s Story and A Detective Story), which helped consolidate his status as an international animation celebrity. His next work was a series that presented an innovative format, remixing samurai tradition with the modernity of hip hop – Samurai Champloo, which premiered in 2004.

As a matter of fact, remixing is a key concept in Watanabe’s mastery in harmonizing music and image. It is not just a simple mix of styles, but a balanced and intense combination of longstanding flavors, where visual and musical ingredients blend into a refined culinary recipe of a gourmet. The soundtrack commands his narrative, and the rhythm of his scenes varies in intensity and style according to the dramatic moment. This has led Watanabe to recently start working on soundtracks for other directors, an activity that brings him a sense of pleasure and accomplishment. In Michiko & Hatchin, a recently releases series with sceneries and characters inspired by Brazil, Shinichiro Watanabe, as a musical director, uses Brazilian music, of which he seems to be a great expert and admirer.

Cowboy Bebop: the Movie, which we will have the privilege of watching on a big screen, with the presence of the director (in Brazil, it was released as a direct-to-video and DVD movie), is a film where each sequence brings a different and sophisticated mixture of space and urban sci-fi, American jazz (thus bebop) and western movie style violence. Each one of these sequences was planned according to a specific hit song, such as Sympathy for the Devil or My Funny Valentine, or musical genre, ranging from samba to heavy metal.

Watanabe once stated in an interview that he would like to demystify the general idea that Japanese people avoid expressing their feelings. To him, this was true only during certain moments and time periods, such as the Edo period, a time of repression in which he placed the samurais of Samurai Champloo. This is the reason why, in this series, he creates this contrast through the eloquence of hip hop.

During the current reign of Anime, it is clear that the Japanese people, as quiet and shy as they might seem, have a lot to say. So prepare your eyes and ears for the Animated Chat with Shinichiro Watanabe, in the Anima Mundi 2011!

* The presence of Shinichiro Watanabe in Anima Mundi is a result of partnerships with the Instituto Japão POP Br and Dô Cultural.

Animated Chat 2011: Shinichiro Watanabe

Japan was one of the few countries that were able to build its own animation industry. In those far lands, the animation art end up acquiring original characteristics, that are known as Anime. There is a false idea that the world can be viewed through only one type of lens. That is proved wrong when we find out how rich is the animation language in Japan and how different it is from ours. To increase the exchange with the “oriental other”, Anima Mundi, in partnership with Institute Japão Pop BR, brought one of the most important symbols of the Japanese animation art, Shinichiro Watanabe.

Side by side with his translator (the polite Jo Takahashi, from Dô Cultural), Watanabe started to tell his life story to an audience that was anxious to know more about the director. He said he was also very happy to be in Brazil, a country that since a young boy he has been fascinated with. Deeply appreciator of Brazilian music, Watanabe has always tried to embody the rhythms of our culture to his movies. In one of his films, there is a sequence where we can see three old men sitting in a bar. Curiously, their names were Antonio, Carlos and Jobim.

Watanabe started at the age of twenty with an important doubt: cinema or animation? He told us laughing that back then there was a rumor that working with animation was really easy. He decided to give it a try. From that, he had a good and a bad news: he discovered he had talent to work in this area, but he soon found out that it wouldn’t be easy. In 1994, he was hired by the Sunrise studio, as production assistant. He learned everything he could until he was given the opportunity of co-direct a film, Macross Plus. Shinichiro told us that his part in the job was to give support to the main director, what frustrated him many times because the feature was not coming out as he thought it should. A few years later, he was reward with the freedom to do his own TV serie, Cowboy Bebop, which soon proved Watanabe talent.

In Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe reunited everything he liked in animation. Spike, the main character, is kind of an ideal figure that has profound impact in Sinichiro’s work and is a remarkable symbol to many animation fans all around the globe. He was inspired in the icon Bruce Lee, not only in the way he fought, but also his philosophy. “The way Spike fights is almost choreographed with the music and that is something I took from Bruce Lee”. The TV series became a film in 2001. Nowadays, Watanabe is writing the screenplay to transform Spike into a flash and bone character. Keanu Reeves has shown some interest in playing it. With the typical oriental serenity, he said that there is nothing confirmed. “The only thing I’m afraid of is to do a life action that ends up like Dragonball Z”. We appreciate your concern!

A few years after doing Cowboy Bebop – The Movie, Watanabe was invited to direct to episodes of the American series Animatrix, based on the big hit Matrix. The short-films Kid’s Story and A Detective Story were exhibit during the chat and Shinichiro told us a little bit more about those pieces. He told us that is very common for people to ask whether he used or not rotoscope (technique where the animation is designing over life action, frame by frame) to do the episode Kid’s Story, because of the almost photographical background. Some parts were actually shot with real characters, but the tapes were only used to serve as a reference. The episode A Detective Story was actually an accident. He was invited to do just one, but in the last minute the directors needed another one, so the movie end being produced with one-third of the time available for the first one. They had to cut some action scenes and put more passages without movement, just a quick simulation. This kind of technique, when well used like Watanabe did, can reduce the production time, without any loss of quality.

Shinichiro told us a lot about his relation with music as well. All his films have amazing sound tracks. But the level of involvement between music and director is a lot deeper than simply choose what it is going to be played in each scene. For him, music is a matter of concept. In Cowboy Bebop, he introduces the way of thinking and feeling within the Bebop movement, one of the most important influences in American jazz. Bebop seeks to bring a free halo to music. It is an attempt to break through that believes in the end of the score’s imperative and opens new paths towards improvisation. Sinichiro brought not only the Bebop’s rhythm to his films, but also embodied the very meaning of it into his work. He started to conduct his movies in a more loosen way, accepting advices, tips and suggestions from anyone. During the rehearsals for record the soundtrack, for example, he would let any musician come along at any time. He wanted to make the music richer day by day, introducing new elements. Even in the screenplay creation process, this way of working was adopted. Anyone could help thinking it through and adding new components. A guy who had just started in the studio became main screenplay director because of Sinichiro’s open mind.

None of this would be possible if Watanabe wasn’t a genius in compositing. He has the power to unite several elements and create an environment where they can potentiate one another. The result is a rich and broad product that has no cohesion flaws. This can be clearly felt in the TV series Samurai Champloo (2004). Watanabe puts together the traditional and serene culture of the samurai with the intense modernity of the hip-hop music. In the hands of other directors, the product of this sum would be a hybrid work incapable of inspire due to the disconnection of its elements. With Watanabe in control, we have an integrated narrative flux that strikes our attention from the beginning till the last minute. The harmonic marriage of image and sound is the key to make this possible. The music becomes an important narrative element, where the flux of its intensity and rhythm has the dramatic momentum as center of gravity. Even the series name is a reference to this capacity of integration. Champloo is a typical dish, made in an island on the south of Japan. It is easy to do! All it takes is to put together everything you like in a pan and fry! That is the essence of Shinichiro’s work: uniting all the elements he is passionate about, balancing ingredients to achieve the most tasteful flavor as possible. “I made an animated champloo”, said the director.

Nowadays, Shinichiro has been working as musical producer in the TV series Michiko and Hatchin. The historiy takes place in Paradiso, a country inspired in Brasil. He told us that he invited himself to work in the program when he found out that it had Brazilian elements. Shinichiro said he hopes that some TV channel in our country tries to bring the program here. Then, to finish, Watanabe presented something different from everything he has done before. “In my histories there are too much people killing each other. After thinking a little bit I decided that I wanted to do a movie where nobody dies”, said the director. It came from this decision the delicate and sweet short movie Baby Blue. It was clear that Shinichiro Watanabe is an artist of many skills. His specialty is the ability of working with the most different elements not only adding, but actually integrating. As a result, we see all the initial ingredients and something else. It is within this “else” that lays Shinichiro Watanabe’s magic.

Masterclass: Ryan Woodward

The last Masterclass was definitely one of the most touching moments of 2011’s Anima Fórum edition, an event specially organized for professional animators. In spite of the “business” purpose of the encounters, the felling and the passion were pretty much alive in all the lectures. This was remarkable in Ryan Woodward’s Masterclass. He is an American animator and storyboards artist, who worked in the films Ironman 2 and Spiderman 2 and 3. He came to Anima Forum to tell us about the creation process of storyboards and animatics for feature movies. And he did not forget talk a little bit about the inspiration and sacrifice demanded to create an authorial short-movie.

Since Ryan was five years old, he already knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. And others already knew that about him as well. In one of his notebooks, a teacher sent his mother a message: “Ryan doesn’t pay attention in class. He draws too much”. In 1995, he started looking for a job in the animation field. Back then, there were no such things as animation courses or specialized schools. The studios would hire you only by looking your portfolio of drawings and then you would learn working. He was hired by Warner and helped doing the feature movie Space Jam.

After a while, the animation industry started to change. New technologies were incorporated and now drawing well was not enough anymore. The animators should have knowledge of computer science and skills to deal with the new advanced tools. Ryan knew that he should learn to keep up with the transformation process. He tried, but he ended up finding out that his heart belonged to the simple pencil and choose to leave the algorithms behind. To stay in the business doing what he wanted, Woodward realized that he would have to find a new area. That is when he started showing some interest in storyboard and animatics’ creation, even thought he didn’t know absolutely nothing about it. He left WB to look for another job, while he was trying to learn more about this specialty.

For someone who used to draw too much since the age of five, learning the proper skills to create storyboards wasn’t that hard. Ryan developed sort of a method to adapt his own mind to the creative process of designing storyboards. He pointed out that one of the most important things is to always carry a sketch book, so then you can be able to draw pretty much everything that crosses your eyes. The purpose of this is not to improve aesthetics drawing abilities, but to stimulate the artist’s capacity of observing and documenting the biggest variety of situations as possible. “Then, when a director asks you to draw a man in a bike, for example, you already have a memory to rely on”. This way, the artist is amplifying his horizon of creation possibilities.

Another important advice given by Woodward is the necessity of training that part of your brain that is responsible for creativity and imagination. He told us that he usually draws figures based on living models, in a realistic perspective, copying in the paper what he sees. He call this an “academic” portray. After been bossed around by his eyes, he says he likes to let his imagination fly free, with heart and feeling. “I like to be able to interpret the model in a creative form”. So he draws the figures again, but now in exaggerated and deformed ways, that doesn’t correspond to the “reality”. This process, according to Ryan, activates the part of the brain that is responsible for creation and not only copy. In long term, this would make your mind a lot more reactive in moments of creation demand, where you have to draw something you are not actually familiar with or that you have never seen. He found out, working as an animation teacher, that the students that are more concerned about making a photographical copy of their models are the ones that have the biggest difficulty when it comes to creation. Woodward believes that drawing is a constantly journey through your own mind to find ways that allows you to think things in different frequencies and perspectives.

All these methods could only be discovered after years of practice. After living Warner, Ryan went to work for Sony, where he drew the storyboards for the last two Spiderman’s films, directed by Sam Raimi. Ryan told us that he learned a lot with the director. “The best type of director you can possibly work with are the ones that let you participate of the creative process”. Raimi used to come to Ryan and say: “I had an idea”, then he would describe something completely fantastic and would always finish with the sentence “draw that for me?” For Ryan, working like this is a million times better than to just receive a screenplay and an order to draw letter per letter.

All this time working in constantly communication with the director, made Ryan realize which skills make a good storyboard artist. He believes that is not the artist job to judge what can work in the movie, because the person doesn’t see the full picture as deeply as the one who is directing. The important is to give support and stimulate the expansion of the director’s ideas. The storyboard artist needs to add value to the initials thoughts and suggest new ones, to complement. The purpose should always be to add, never to compete. There is also the other side that should be kept in mind: the producer’s. The directors don’t spend their time worrying about logistics and budget. It is the producer job to make the film economically viable. Ryan pointed out that is important to have good-judgment and be able to balance creativity and possibility, so you don’t transform the production team’s life into a living heal.

Another important skill is the capacity of thinking the narrative arc of the film and its continuity. You can be able to do amazing figures inside every single board, but it is necessary that the scenes work in a harmonic and cohesive way, board to board. For that, it is central to know a lot about cinematography, which means actually knowing how the camera conducts the story. It is important to also think about the actors, recognize their possibilities and let they participate of the creative process. To cut a long story short: the storyboard animator is an artist of balance. He walks upon the tightrope, sustaining white china plates full of creativity, narrative, draw, cinematography and many other ingredients of the creation process.

Ryan Woodward seeks for balance within his professional life in Hollywood. But he is also trying to reach an internal balance. “I have a lot of fun working in these commercial projects, but it comes a time that something starts itching on the inside and you have to do something of your own, otherwise it will eat you alive”. From time to time, Ryan takes a breath from Hollywood to dedicate to something he really wants to do, something to feed his soul. Once he did a comic book and then he started doing short movies about things he liked. In this last creative momentum, Ryan produced one of the most amazing pieces that are being exhibit in this edition: the short-movie Thought of You. The inspiration came during a flight. He was feeling very tired, physically and emotionally for be working too much. All of the sudden, the music “Thought of You” started to play in his IPod. That minute he knew he must do something with it.

Simple, delicate and remarkable for a sweetness that brings the pain attached, the human figures’ dance of Thought of You translates the history of those who are watching. Ryan put together some of his greatest passions: drawing, 2D animation and contemporary dance. “I made a movie for me in a way that is almost a little selfish”, said the artist. “It is an attempt to solve some internal issues. But I would never reveal what the movie means to me. What I hope is that each and every single person who watches it can be able to find a little bit of their own life inside this animation”.

The lecture ended up with the audience applauding endlessly. It weren’t only the good advice he gave about designing storyboards or the beauty of the short-movies produced with the soul. It was the reunion of all these elements that can be resumed into one thing: the passion for animation.

You can check here the official website of Thought of You and watch the film and the documentary that tells its story, besides more information about the project Conté Animated.

Animated Chat Interview: David Daniels

When he turned eight, David Daniels had in insight as he and his sisters played with modeling clay: while cutting a block of clay with a sharp knife, he was enchanted by the forms that appeared in each slice. He carried that impression with him for fourteen years, until he went to study at CalArts and produced his final project film, Buzz Box, in the technique he named Strata Cut. The images fuse together and transform into other images in a rhythmic frenzy, as if they were moving oil paintings. From then on, David began perfecting and expanding his technique and the art of telling stories through slices of modeling clay filmed frame by frame. He applied this technique to several of his works, such as the Pee Wee’s Playhouse television series, Peter Gabriel’s award winning music video, Big Time, and ABC’s retrospective on Michael Jackson, Moonwalker. In 2002, David opened Bent Image Lab with Chel White, an award winning independent studio, known for its films and spots created with mixed media animation. In 2006, Tsui Ling Toomer joined the company, of which the Brazilian director Nando Costa also became an associate in 2009.

1. What aspects of your life converged to make the creatio
n of the strata-cut technique possible?
When I was a small child, I paid a lot of attention to very small details and textural things. I was given the time just to look, think, and amuse myself without too much interference, and I spent long stretches very focused in my own world. My adult life is so cluttered it’s hard to have time for truly original thoughts, but as a kid, I could stare at light hitting lint balls on the carpet with my face sideways to the ground for half an hour. My mother allowed me almost unlimited to ‘play with clay’ from the age of five, along with my two sisters, Shelley and Cary. She let us use a dedicated room and table to just this … a play room whose only purpose was to sit and create clay sculpture. The table this all took place we named ‘Claytown.’ Stories and imagination were of course a great deal of what came out of that time, but my fascination with how things are sculpturally shaped was ‘in my blood’ from my earliest memories. The germ of ‘Strata Cut’ came to me in an instant one birthday when I was eight years old. I don’t think it was my birthday, I can’t remember. We had the party, then went back to Claytown and made a crude cake out of modeling clay in imitation of the party cake. When my sister sliced open a piece of clay, and all the buried colors and shapes were still inside … that instant was a moment frozen in time for me. The cut made the image so fresh. It wasn’t dull, or blurry. it was magically clean, and clear, and precise. We went on to experiment with a clay hard boiled egg (with the hidden yellow yolk) and sure enough the slice revealed everything buried again. I knew this was special. I did not have any idea how to ‘use it’ at that age, but I filed it away forever as something I vowed to ‘return to.’ This revelation was something never to let go of and always to remember. So nothing was done at that moment, but the insight and determination to do something that became Strata Cut was absolutely born from that experience. I also had a young interest in architecture until I realized I could make all the building shapes I wanted, but they would just sit there and never really change or move or do anything. I dropped architecture around age 11, and when I was given a super 8 camera by my mother as a birthday present. I began to make stop motion movies, and one of them was good enough to win several awards when I was 13. This brought me some decent prize money when I had little, and an all expenses paid trip to New York, which definitely opened my eyes. I was impressed. I think I realized I a living could be made in this thing they call ‘animation,’ and have gravitated back to that feeling of adventure ever since. Animation = travel and running around money is the equation that formed my life. I worked on a lot of my own stop motion and low end live action shorts for the next nine or ten years, but never forgot ‘to go back to it.’ I vowed to always go back to those sliced images and really discover their secret. The time finally happened the summer before I went to Cal Arts, when I was 22. I had waited fourteen patient years when everything clicked.I was supported for expenses by my family and rent by my girlfriend for this entire summer. This is when I sat down and methodically sculpted and cut, and angled and sliced clay every which way, trying to develop a set of rules, a vocabulary for the use of this technique. It was all figured out by trial and error over 6 weeks. Without this lucky circumstance of free time without other school or job obligations, I don’t know that I ever would have followed up on my 8 year old insight. I was very lucky to have the time and the skills at that point to finally re examine the insight of hidden sculptural images. In my years at Cal Arts, I was given a massive studio space, the so called ‘phone closet’ to work in. No other student was given a space so large. This was in fact a hellishly noisy area that no one else wanted to work in, but the room was enormous. I could spread out and really paint with strata cut (Van Gogh style clay) and experiment with the emerging style demands and evolving look of things and everything about it. I was very lucky to have this circumstance, since it took several years to develop create and execute Buzz Box during the night, while doing my normal class work during the day. The constant extreme background noise of this environment drove me somewhat crazy, and accounts for some of the extra bit of angst expressed in the already visually aggressive movie. I was lucky that Drew Neumann did the sound for my first strata cut, and developed a cutting edge musical and sampling style (remember this was 1984) that fit the kind of happy/horror visual madness of the piece so perfectly. The soundtrack supports the uniqueness of the images that just any score would not have done.Since that time, I think I’ve developed an immense understanding and control of strata cut that never existed before I took up a fascination with time sculpting, and controlling the predictable outcome of the buried shapes that reveal hidden animation. In the years after Buzz Box, someone pointed out Oskar Fischinger to me … I knew his general work, but not about his abstract wax cutting machine. It’s a giant blade cutting a frame at a time, but it’s not what I would call strata cut. It’s mechanical abstraction without any of the controlled animation, the precise motion design or time sculpting language that I developed. 10 years ago, I somehow saw a few seconds of a silent movie Russian wax cut from the 20’s that was earlier than his abstractions. This clip was a simple figurative extrusion, I think it was of a cat or horse silhouette, but I don’t know who did it, and I have been unable to find it since.The abstract idea of cutting a clean surface pattern with a blade has been with us for thousands of years. The example of ‘Millefiori’ is an ancient sliced pottery pattern technique similar to ‘Fimo’ beads. Controlling the animation within a sliced substance to create narrative storytelling events at the level I do, is a whole other ballgame. Developing that ability to structure figurative animation as pre built extrusion blocks, and naming this new thing ‘strata cut’ has defined my unusual journey through life.

2. What have you been working on these days?
For almost thirty years, I have made my living as an animator/cameraman, then as a commercial director for character and mixed media Live/Animation work. I developed and helped launch the M and M candy characters for CG, and I directed their animation spots for several years. I still do a lot of commercial character work as a result of that. The past decade, I have been consumed with fostering my own animation production company. This is collaboration with several partners, and a great group of talented artists and producers who make up Bent Image Lab. Along with my family, this intense creative clubhouse takes most of my time. Sometimes I do a little directing as I used to do, but just as often my time is a blend of art, people, and business development. I prepare and pitch a lot of jobs, and I help others who are directing or working on projects. This can be exciting, but it is hard to explain and impossible to show as any result. During these years, I still have creative whims that end up as visionary feature scripts that never seem to get finished or filmed, and sculptures or paintings that I never mount at any gallery. I always seem to run out of time to do more personal work, before my kids and my job come back and take over. There is one pet project that shows some promise. I am closer to getting a proper program to do good CG strata cut than I have ever been. One of my sons is a budding programmer, and he is helping me realize this software, and currently test it out with several interested CG art students who are helping us part time. CG strata cut demands the same ‘mental muscle’ and it fits my way of thinking. It has much wider possibilities than clay, yet very different artistic restrictions and constraints. You can tell all kinds of extruded live action stories which would be impossible in clay, but if you allow things to seem too finished, people will feel it’s just computer generated, so there is no ‘magic’ in the mind of the viewer. Storytelling in such a strange and weird world is both daunting and thrilling. The technical obstacles are enormous, and they still slow everything to a crawl. CG Strata Cut has 3d animated texture blocks that run through the entire sculpture, so the need for RAM is immense. The results looks interesting so far, but it will be awhile before I have a real show piece. CG time extrusion animation demands a really different artistic sense, with different visual rules, and therefore demands I come up with different results and different storytelling than the analog primitive narrative from I originated. It’s also expensive, and requires a team, which is hard to keep when there is no money in it yet. I think I’ll finally have something worth presenting this time next year. I’ve been thinking I want to do a stereoscopic conventional clay strata piece, but one that has more character storytelling, as well as more mixed media. I think caves, valleys, open clay design with mixed objects, and radical timing changes is a very interesting way to keep progressing with basic hand made clay strata cut. I also want to stop ‘the fuse’ more often. Stop the progression of cutting, and do other things, before the cutting begins. Cutting at strange angles is also something to explore more … to vary the speed and angle of the knife to make an ‘animated’ blade, and not be consistent. There are more surprises still ahead, should I get the time to enjoy making them. I also want to someday do a short stereo pixilation piece. I believe stereoscopic viewing allows humans animated one frame at a time to become a whole new vivid re invention of traditional Pixilation.

3.What artists inspire you?

Peter Jansen: Brilliant. Gregory Barsamian: Genius. Jan Van Holleben: Great. Ron Mueck: Astonishing. Julian Beever: Get’s to blow minds while working outdoors. In common, they sweep away all preconceived expectations of spatial and temporal convention, and bring a level of private dream out into the daytime. They do this with excellence, panache, and fresh insight. They all possess a grace and flair to their work that goes beyond the technical magnificence that sits on the surface idea.I’m truly inspired by dozens of other artists every year. Some of those who do work for my studio have inspired me like Pascal Campion, Carlos Lascano, Colin Batty, and Portland’s own Brett Superstar who deserves a wider following than he get’s now, and has a look that will be discovered. I also love several of the Brazilian motion graphics gurus like Guilerme Marcondes and Nando Costa.

4. Have you been to Brazil before? How do you imagine Anima Mundi to be like?
No. I have visited both Argentina and Uruguay, but never yet Brazil. I have been all over the world and each time I am in some fresh new place very different from where I grew up, or where I live, I feel the experience to be a kind of revelation for me. I enjoy the excitement and thrill of new culture, geography and history (I really enjoy history) so I greatly look forward to this, as a great country with such a different story to tell. Brazil is something I should already have done a long time ago, but now I get the chance. Anima Mundi is one of the biggest and best festivals of great animation in the world. I am greatly honored to be a part of 2011. It brings an inspired focus to the artistic trust we keep in each other, but don’t always open up about. We are fellow travelers who share a common fascination with designed motion. One of the greatest joy’s I feel, is the reaction of other people who have gotten something special from my work. I hope to see that wonder in a few new faces who are unaware of what I do, and that will give me a chance to smile back, knowing their reactions are what make the whole trip worthwhile. I very seldom have time to visit festivals or get out from my work, so this is a rare occasion I passionately look forward to.