Annecy 2016

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Animation in 360 degrees

Not being directed to follow a certain storyline. Deciding yourself what and where to watch. Several big and small stories in one film. Welcome to a new form of animation films that is in the spotlight this week at the Animation Film Festival in Annecy, France.

Google is setting the pace for these 360 degrees animation films, which should be watched om mobile phones and tablets because you must be able to move your screen around. Otherwise you miss some of the features and storylines. In 2013 Google Spotlight Stories started this animation form and presents, already, its eighth film ‘Rain or Shine’, directed by Felix Massie of Nexus Productions in the UK. The trailer is available on Youtube

Using 360 degrees in a film, especially an animation film is not really new. Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for more than 25 years, with flight simulators as the best example. Game makers and other users of VR are used to anticipating the interactive user. And both applications work with an 360 degrees panorama. And even they are not pioneers. In the 19th century the Irish painter Robert Barker became famous and rich with his panoramic paintings of Edinburgh, the beautiful city in Scotland. The Dutch have their own 360 degrees painting of the city of Scheveningen and the sea, called Panorama Mesdag. It was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag in 1881 and still at display in its own museum in The Hague.

Perhaps not new, Google has succeeded in offering an exciting visual experience through the means of a special app and Youtube. Some of the eight films give the feeling that you are inside a big film ball because if you move your mobile device up you can see the top of the trees or see the stars in the sky.

The first 360 degrees film of Google Spotlight Stories is called ‘Windy Day’ and dates back to 2013. This charming film about an squirrel is made and directed by Jan Pinkava. Pinkava is a former Pixar employee. He received an Oscar for his short ‘Geri’s Game’ and was creator and co-director of the animation feature ‘Ratatouille’, which won an Oscar in 2007.

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‘Windy Day’

Other animators who joined the project are Patrick Osborne, who won an Oscar in 2014 for his animated short ‘Feast’, Glenn Keane, one of the great Disney animators and Tim Ruffle of Aardman Studios. Their films ‘Pearl’ , ‘Duet’ and ‘Special Delivery’ can be found on the app and Youtube.

French animators have also joined the bandwagon of 360 degrees animation and use of VR. We saw a presentation of ‘Amnesia’, an interactive short about a doctor who loses his memory. The film has many different characters and is expected to have as many storylines. The background will be filmed real life nature scenes. When it will be presented, is not known yet.

It is a co-production of the French animation studio Folimage, the film studio Camera Lucida and the production company Kolor, which specialises in 360 degrees production. In 2014 Camera Lucida launched a special app about the musical fairy tale ‘Peter and the Wolf’ by Prokoviev, in which interactive animation is combined with music. The app can be found online but is, contrary to the Google Spotlight Stories app, not for free.

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From left to right: Patrick Osborne, Felix Massie & Chris O’Reilly and Tim Ruffle.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Aardman Studios celebrates its 40th birthday. More the reason for the Annecy Animation Film Festival to pay a tribute to founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton. The men behind the making of Wallace and Gromit, Pirates and Shaun the Sheep were given 90 minutes to talk about their passion and ideas in the Bonlieu, the main venue of the festival. Sproxton called himself the ‘entrée’ and Lord the ‘main dish’. It was a great menu.

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From left to right: Peter Lord, David Sproxton, Nick Park.

The meeting with Peter Lord and David Sproxton was inspiring because they did not shy away from acknowledging that even they were standing on the shoulders of other animation giants, to paraphrase Isaac Newton. ‘Ideas are past on. I love that ideas are carried on like a baton in a race’, said Lord. He told with much enthusiasm about the meeting with his hero Eliot Noyes on a film festival in San Francisco recently. It was Noyes’ ‘Clay or the Origin of Species’, that inspired Lord to pick up clay for animation. ‘I love the fact that the audience can see it is clay and at the same time the audience thinks they [Wallace and Gromit] are alive.’

For Dutch and Flemish people the name ‘Aardman’ is quite ordinary: man of earth i.e. a man of clay. According to Peter Lord the name means ‘almost nothing’. More than 40 years ago they came across the South-African word ‘Aardvark’ or earth pig. Sproxton and Lord took the pig away and put a man in its place and hence there was Aardman. Aardman became the superhero of the first hand drawn animation film which they sold to the BBC. This animation is ‘so, so, important’ because with the money the Aardman Studios became a reality. And now they have two studios in Bristol and hundreds of employees.

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David Sproxton and Morph

But Aardman, stressed Lord, is more than 40 years of clay and the Stop-Motion animation technique that is now used for Aardman’s big tv-series and film success ‘Shaun the Sheep’.
The studio also makes computer animated and hand drawn animations films, with the latest example ‘Special Delivery’, a 360 degrees film for Google Spotlight Stories.
Nevertheless clay is the core of Aardman, and certainly of Peter Lord, who reduced his long-term companion Morph to a ball of red clay, to resurrect him again within the hour. A process the audience could follow, during the interview Lord and Broxton did with Peter Debruge of the American magazine Variety. Morph is also almost 40 years old and has its own Youtube Channel.
Or follow his adventures on Twitter.

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The first big success of Aardman is of course Wallace and Gromit, created by Nick Park. In 1985 Sproxton and Lord took Park out of the National Film and Television School to work for them. They lured him with the promise that Aardman Studios would help him to finish his graduation film ‘A Grand Day Out’. It was the first Wallace and Gromit short. When this film was in post-production, Park made ‘Creatures Comfort’, where a recorded dialogue with people is used for the dialogue of the animals. ‘A Grand Day Out’ received a BAFTA, the British Oscar and an Oscar-nomination and ‘Creatures Comfort’ received a Hollywood Oscar.

For both Broxton and Lord it is important to continuously work on new and innovative projects and techniques and to take care of different sources of income. Broxton is very clear in his answer to the question if an animation studio should be involved in making commercials. ‘Yes, because you learn a lot, through precision. The advertising is a good laboratory to work on short projects. You learn discipline and dealing with a budget. And somebody pays you to work at the projects.’

The presentation of and interview with David Sproxton and Peter Lord can be watched on Youtube.

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Peter Lord in Annecy

Who else but Guillermo del Toro?

Every year the Animation Film Festival in Annecy has an impressive line-up of famous directors and producers. Like the students and up and coming directors they are usually here to plug their latest film. This year the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro touched down in France to promote his first TV-series called the TrollHunters. On the stage in Annecy, with some of his life action films – Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak projected behind him, he was boisterous and swore a lot. The audience was in awe and gave him many ovations, especially when he said that if you believe in your project ‘you can never give up. You can never surrender.’ And clearly Del Toro did not.

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TrollHunters is a cooperation between the filmstudio Dreamworks (Shrek, Shark Tale and KungFu Panda), NetFlix and who else but Guillermo del Toro. He must be so relieved that his pet project finally has come alive. Back in 2010 TrollHunters was announced as a feature animation film of Walt Disney Pictures. But as Disney pulled out its idea of creating a special scary film line for young adults, Guillermo Navarro, the director of photography of Del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth, introduced him to Dreamworks. There he could work on his project and in the meantime be a consultant and an executive producer for Dreamworks. One of the things he did, as he told the audience in Annecy, was to take out 8 minutes of finished animation from the animation film MegaMind. Taking out finished material is considered to be sacrilege in animation and is very expensive, but, as Del Toro explained, ‘a thing you do in live action’.

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Guillermo del Toro

The result of more than five years pushing and finally making is to be watched as an animation series on Netflix at the end of 2016. Who cannot wait, can already read the adventures of 15 year old Jim Jnr and his friends in and around the small city called Arcadia in the book ‘TrollHunters’ by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus, which is published by Hot Key Books.

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The storyline resembles Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a young adult becomes in this case, a troll hunter and discovers a whole troll world beneath the surface of the earth. An underworld so to speak, a recurring theme in Del Toro’s work. The voice of Jim the TrollHunter is Anton Yelchin and the Troll Boss is Kelsey Grammer. Ron Perlman, a recurring actor in Del Toro’s work, is also part of the voice actors

Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder and CEO of Dreamworks, was invited on stage to join Del Toro and the interviewer Peter Debruge from the American magazine Variety. He called the new series of TrollHunters ‘the benchmark of storytelling’. Nevertheless there must have been a lot of pressure from the executives of Dreamworks and Netflix, because both Del Toro as Katzenberg acknowledge that the producers of Netflix and Dreamworks had to do their best to create a ‘bubble of creative protection.’

Artistic director Marcel Jean of the Animation Film Festival had a little surprise up his sleeve. At the end of the interview he presented Katzenberg with an ‘Annecy’s golden ticket’, a reference to the reward in Roald Dahl’s book Charley and the Chocolate Factory, a life time accreditation badge for the festival. A visibly moved Katzenberg protested that he did not need a special badge given that he had already been three times in Annecy before. Given his career in animation, which spans over 40 years, the special badge could be an incentive to come more often.

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Jeffrey Katzenburg and his golden ticket.