Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Northern Exposure

It's another busy period with little blogging time available; I'm currently hard at work cackhandedly educating today's youth working on some more science-ey films while alternately hard at work cackhandedly educating today's not-so-youthful youth putting Project Group Hug together, the next milestone deadline for which is the beginning of April. So between the two I'll be radio silent for the rest of the month.
In the meantime check out a video interview with NFB director Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre, whose film Jutra has, in the time since my original February article went up, gone on to win both a Canadian Screen Award as well as a Jutra Award, suitably enough.
 
On the subject of the NFB, I was able to catch up with Chris Landreth, director of the Oscar-winning Ryan, on his involvement as Mentoring Director of the most recent Hothouse apprenticeship programme which the Film Board have run since 2003. You can read more in our interview here as well as some insight into each of the scheme's participants: Esteban Azuela, Stephanie Braithwaite, Alex Boya, Alexandra Lemay, Frances Adair Mckenzie, Neal Moignard, Benjamín Mugica and Kathleen Weldon.
Chris is also the director of the Annecy Cristal-winning Subconscious Password, for which Steve interviewed him when we were at the festival back in 2013:
 
If you missed it at the time, you can hear the full interview in episode 15 of the Skwigly Podcast.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Blessed Days

First things first - Radio 1 debuted Faith No More's new single 'Superhero' last night. This is the one I've been most vocal about being on tenterhooks to hear - having been at its first ever live performance last year - and it's so unbelievably goddamn great the English language frankly comes up pathetically short when it comes to existing adjectives that might describe how utterly elated I am.
Their new LP Sol Invictus (their first since 1997) isn't out until mid-May, so fingers crossed my skull doesn't pop in anticipation before then.
Another reason to be cheerful was discovering my animation had made an unexpected appearance on The Anthony Cumia Show when my old O&A/Jim Norton short (the dancing chicken one) recently got played by accident. To my relief it got a good response, have a watch here my friends:


While I'm still typing things I'll point you in the direction of Skwigly where fellow cartoon-making personage Matt Walker has done this month's site banner:
Matt Walker
Also worth mentioning the other two excellent 2015 banners, Rumpus for January and Tony Johnson for February. Talented bunch we're amongst, us Skwigly lot:
Rumpus

Tony Johnson

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Skwigly Spectrum

https://soundcloud.com/skwigly/skwigly-podcast-28/download
A good ol' Skwigly roundup for you fine folks today. Starting with the latest podcast which went up today - Steve has interviews with Daisy Jacobs (director of the BAFTA-winning NFTS film The Bigger Picture) and Chuck Steel creator Mike Mort, while one of our talented writers Nathan Wilkes chats to the Shaun the Sheep Movie directors Mark Burton and - making his return to the Skwigly Podcast (having also been featured in episode 11) - Richard Starzak. It's a fun one, friends! Subscribe, stream or download to your heart's content:
There's also a new episode of Lightbox up this week in which the always-brilliant Laura-Beth learns about Disney's Feast from Director Patrick Osborne, Designer Jeff Turley and Producer Kristina Reed. There are two versions of this one, you can check it out on YouTube (where it's already doing very well) or watch the slightly nicer edit below:

On the other end of the animation spectrum I'm really happy to have an interview with legendary Estonian director Priit Pärn up on the site this week. I've been a fan of his work since 2000 when I saw Hotel E on, of all things, a semi-pisstake Adam and Joe C4 documentary that doesn't appear to have surfaced online. It was pretty funny though. My prevailing memory is a moment where BaaadDad threatens to stab a child for a Pokemon card. Cheered me some.
Back to Priit Pärn, if you've not caught his work it's worth the research; Though heavygoing at times it's often incredibly witty and always brilliantly-executed - and absolutely, irrefutably Estonian. His latest film Pilots on the Way Home, one of several co-directed with his wife Olga and his first collaboration with the NFB, shows he hasn't mellowed with age either:
On top of all this there's a new book review up on Animate to Harmony by Australian indie animator Adam Phillips. It's an invaluable guide to ToonBoom Animate and Harmony and it's really filled in some gaps in my overall knowledge of the software. More importantly, reading it has motivated me to follow-through on a recent promise to myself. Sometimes when we feel like we're floating without a paddle...well, a good book can take one's mind to a better place. To read my gushing in full check out the review here.
http://www.skwigly.co.uk/animate-to-harmony/
Lots more in the wings but I reckon that covers it for now. Happy weekending, everyone!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Exercises in Humility

Jutra (Dir. Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre)
This week on Skwigly I have an interview with Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre, a kindred spirit in the sense that she makes animation documentaries, albeit with more of a creative spin. Working with the NFB and notably influenced by Norman McLaren, she's made the multi-award-winning McLaren's Negatives and last year's Jutra among others. She has a brilliant style and interesting process, you can learn more by giving the interview a read here: 
Interview with Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre
Back in the more straightforward world of my mini-documentary series Lightbox, this week we have a special on Aardman's Shaun the Sheep Movie in anticipation of its release on Friday. We went up to Aardman Features in Aztec West where one of the film's lead animators Will Becher gave Steve, Laura-Beth and myself a nice demonstration of their puppets:
I'm quite interested in seeing how the film does compared to their other recent features, especially as this one feels more unabashedly/traditionally Aardman without trying to play to a broader audience.
Elsewhere I've had some disappointing news regarding the planned distribution of my most recent film Bullies. The short version is that interest from a company I'd been holding out for since last summer has been rescinded, so I'm back in limbo for the time being. Bit of a knock but I'm fondly keeping this little cinematic analogy in mind:
video
Frankly I'd been getting a little spoiled with things coming off without many hitches of late, so in a sense it's good to be brought down to Earth every once in a while. Keeps a fella humble, which is always a hard business given how unbelievably gifted and handsome I am. Plus, sometimes when we feel like we're floating without a paddle...well, new plans emerge. Watch this space.
Finally, just a reminder that I'll be in Cheltenham this Saturday, exhibiting at True Believers. Swing by and peruse my bookey wares, why doncha?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Sticking Points

http://www.skwigly.co.uk/jeff-chiba-stearns/
The latest Skwigly feature is on a brilliant chap who I got to chat to recently as part of Project Group-Hug, Canadian animator/documentarian Jeff Chiba Stearns. The piece focuses on his short film Yellow Sticky Notes, an extreme-auteur production (it was animated entirely straight-ahead, using Post-Its) that went viral in 2008, as well as its follow-up Yellow Sticky Notes: Canadian Anijam which extended the same production approach to a mass collaboration with every exceptional Canadian animator under the sun - including the likes of Cordell Barker, Janet Perlman, Paul Driessen, Alison Snowden, David Fine and many more. Check out the interview (and watch the films) over on Skwigly.
http://oktruebelievers.com/
While I'm a-blogging I want to mention that on Saturday February 7th I'll be exhibiting at my first indie comics fest in a good long while. The True Believers Comic Festival will take place in my old stomping grounds of Cheltenham at the Racecourse and will be open to the public from 11:30am. Please do swing by and say hello, I'll be predictably touting my graphic novel wares in a bid to shift some leftover stock. On sale will be House Guest: The Graphic Novel (with a free DVD of the film), Brain Spillage and of course multiple versions of my 2012 labour-o'-love Throat. I also want to mention that I will be selling the last handful of copies of my 2006 comic anthology That Isn't Funny, You Stupid Child. Once these are gone, they're gone for good (I'll be pulling the eBook editions too).
http://benmitchellblog.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/that%20isn%27t%20funny%20you%20stupid%20child
Not that anyone's asking but there are two main reasons - I'm not that crazy about the overall presentation of the book and, being nearly a decade old, I wouldn't say it's dated terrifically. I'm still proud of the stories in some regard and, at the time, I felt I was being terrifically witty in lampooning all sorts of social taboos and bigotries. It seemed back then that people were getting smarter and more attuned to the role satire can play in pointing out the ludicrousness of intolerance, but I've watched with increasing despair in subsequent years as it's all gone the other way instead. It's less 'political correctness gone mad' (possibly one of the most misused phrases in the English language) than Poe's Law run amok. More to the point - especially as I'm loathe to self-censor in light of recent events - I feel like I've since moved away from my outlook and artistic direction of that time. So if you fancy yourself a Ben Mitchell relic that may or may not serve as an appropriate blackmail tool (for the shite drawings more than anything else) down the line, this'd be your last opportunity to grab it.
Check out the festival as well as the other smashing guests and exhibitors over at oktruebelievers.com - hopefully catch some of you there!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Babble On

https://soundcloud.com/skwigly/skwigly-podcast-27/download
This first Skwigly podcast of 2015 is up today!
Be sure to stream, download or subscribe to never risk being out of the loop and, rightly, shunned by your betters.
In this episode we have Julia Young's extended chat with Disney veteran and Duet director Glen Keane; Steve Cav and earnest protégé Fiona Stuart-Clark grill the directors of the Oscar-nominated The Boxtrolls (out to buy next week) Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi; and I dig out my interview with Torill Kove of the NFB on her latest short Me and My Moulton, which is also amongst the Oscar nominees. You can also watch a bit of said interview and get a glimpse of the film itself in one of my Lightbox docs from last year:
 
Elsewhere Steve and myself keep it real whilst recalling such technological game-changers as the Game Boy Printer. Mmmboy, that's good listenin'!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Cabinet Reshuffle

As I expect nobody has noticed, the digital version of The Book of Women is no longer listed on Amazon (you can still buy the physical CD for the foreseeable future). If you're just joining us, that's my last album which came out over four years ago. LOOK AT IT:
All in all it's had a good enough run thus far to keep it available in some digital form, so I've put it up on Bandcamp. This is the latest in a long line of music hosting sites I've haunted like the ghoul I am, starting with the original mp3.com way back in '99, through to Cafepress, MySpace, Createspace and SoundCloud. The latter is still the main place to go for free tracks/exclusives/remixes et al but Bandcamp has the advantage of letting you purchase individual tracks and streaming the album in full. One of many protracted projects of mine has been the gradual remixing/remastering of my back catalogue which was halted when I heard about the new VAT laws for digital distribution in effect this year. Bandcamp seems to have the most streamlined approach to dealing with this so it's very likely I'll reissue all the older stuff digitally through them in the near future as well.
As touched upon last month, a new album called The Birdcage is also in the works and will hopefully be ready by the Spring. To prove I'm not a lying liar here's a sampler of in-progress tracks I put up on my Facebook page a little while back:

Friday, 16 January 2015

Nom Nom Noms

The Oscar and BAFTA nominations for 2015 have now both been announced, which I've taken as a cue for a bit of reflection on some films of note.
Leading the charge are Dice and Robert of Tonko House, whose film The Dam Keeper is an astounding concept-art-come-to-life piece of work. If asked to put together a 'Top 10' list of the best films of the past year it'd easily be amongst them. Proof of which is viewable at Revue 24 Images, for which I (along with numerous other more accomplished critics and curators) was asked to put together a 'Top 10' list of the best films of the past year. See, I zigged when you thought I was gonna...well, zig probably.
If your clicking finger is broken then the other films I picked are:

The lists were compiled by Marco de Blois who, amongst other laudable animation-related activities, is the main programmer for Quebec's Sommets du Cinéma d’Animation. As this Cartoon Brew article makes clear, one thing I can't be accused of is going with the crowd. That being said, many of the other critics' favourites would easily make my top 20 (also some folks cheated a bit and picked films from the year before, but what am I, the list police?). In fact, for the sake of why-the-hell-not, here's my next ten favourites of last year:
Submarine Sandwich (Dir. PES - this one would've made the original list but was released just after)
Monkey Love Experiments
(Dir. Will Anderson, Ainslie Henderson)

Give those all some investigation, my lovelies. Anyway, our first Lightbox of 2015 is on the making of The Dam Keeper. Seriously, if you haven't come across this film yet at all, treat yourself to a peek here:

You can also hear more from Rob and Dice in episode 25 of the Skwigly Podcast.
Also in the running are Daisy Jacobs, Joris Oprins, Disney with Feast and, happily, Torill Kove of the NFB, who I interviewed during the production of the film.
Aside from the comparatively indie Song of the Sea, the feature film noms were all fairly predictable. Though I'm not so up-in-arms about The Lego Movie being ignored I would've loved to see Bill Plympton's Cheatin' and Signe Baumane's Rocks In My Pockets in with a shot. Que cera cera. Fortunately this arrived today so I can start my weekend off right:
http://www.skwigly.co.uk/cheatin-review/
Going back to the shorts, Alan Holly's Coda really stood out to me last year and I urge everyone to keep their eyes open for it:
That this film and Glen Keane's Duet (admittedly more successful as an interactive experience) didn't make the nominations is a massive shame - I've yet to see Plympton's Footprints but I'm sure I'd feel similarly - massive kudos to them at any rate for getting shortlisted.
Also worth mentioning that amongst the BAFTA noms was Will and Ainslie's Monkey Love Experiments, which has already won itself a Scottish BAFTA but one more wouldn't hurt.

Fantastic stuff from those two, though this one will probably remain my favourite for a good long while:

Monday, 29 December 2014

Chocolate Substitute

http://skwigly.co.uk
Our Skwigly advent calendar has wrapped up for another year, and what a thing of beauty it has become!
Here's another sampling of brilliant contributions:
Tanya Scott
Ross Butter and Louis Hudson
Rok Predin
Blue Zoo
Charlie Miller
Elliot Crutchley
Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

Massive gratitude again to everyone who took the time! Until next year, boys and gals.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Season Song

"Ew, why's that prick buggering up my lovely song?"
Happy allocated-family-togetherness week, m'lovelies! Here's hoping you have a tolerable time with you and yours this season. In lieu of a scrapped plan to put up some free downloadable EPs I've cleaned up my live recording of Danny Elfman's "La Canzone di Sally"/"Sally's Song" (from Nightmare Before Christmas) from the other week and made it downloadable between now and the new year as a sort unofficial Christmas single. Obviously I didn't write it so can't sell it, but should you feel so inclined give it a download here!