Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Reportage

"Look into the mirror, look into your soul!"
I'm back from my not-as-rainy-as-expected Annecy trip and feel like I've run a marathon. It was a whirlwind of catch-ups, meet-ups, write-ups, interviews, parties, rain-dodging, sun-spotting, networking and completely responsible drinking; all in all, we made massive pests of ourselves and had a blast doing so.
Following on from last week's pre-fest round-up, here's the first batch of coverage put out while we were over there (and check back later in the week as there's plenty more to come). Firstly, as promised, you can have a read of my interview with Franck Dion, whose film The Head Vanishes was one of my personal highlights of the festival that had the good manners to win the Short Film Cristal!
I also note with glee that another top pick, Theo Ushev's Blind Vaysha, received not only the Jury Prize but the Children's Jury Prize - you can have a read of my recent interview with him about that project here.
http://www.skwigly.co.uk/courgette-review/
Another Cristal winner (also picking up an Audience Award) was the gorgeous feature film My Life as a Courgette by Claude Barras. While it initially lured a lot of festivalgoers in simply by looking pretty, when word got around about just how amazing it was on the whole the remaining screenings sold out pretty quickly. You can have a read of my attempt to put my own enthusiasm about it into words in my review, which went up today.
http://www.skwigly.co.uk/window-horses-conversation-ann-marie-fleming/
Also discussed previously, I was able to chat with Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming about her feature-length NFB production Window Horses, brought to life by an assortment of top Canadian animation talent such as Kevin Langdale and Janet Perlman. It's a lovely film and a tremendous showcase of different animation approaches and styles, so keep an eye out for it.
https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/269130819/download?client_id=02gUJC0hH2ct1EGOcYXQIzRFU91c72Ea
The latest episode of the podcast is our first to be recorded from the festival's gathering ground for inebriate tourists, Captain Pub. Give it a listen to hear about my travel woes, an interview with Chris Renaud (director of The Secret Life of Pets, which saw its premiere at Annecy on Thursday) plus Katie and Julia join us to discuss Annecy's good sportsmanship traditions. Download here, subscribe or stream below:

Later on in the week we did our first ever live vodcast via the Skwigly Facebook page, where myself, Steve and Katie discuss some of the highlights of the fest as well as the grim fate that befell our Marketing Director Aaron.
I also swung by the Toon Boom booth at MIFA to catch up and found myself being interviewed about Skwigly, the festival and my upcoming book Independent Animation. You can give it a watch below:
 
On our last day I met the world's biggest Klementhro fans, one of whom being acclaimed Lithuanian animator and caricaturist Ilja Bereznickas who was keen to immortalise me, throwing in some references to the film (cheers to Steve for documenting).
Will post again soon with more good stuff from the fest, in the meantime check out the full list of special prize recipients and award winners from this year's edition!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

I hope I packed enough sunscreen

FFS
Happy Sunday everyone! Typin' atcha while bathed in the eerie, warming glow of Bristol Airport's flourescent lights at a time of morning I'm very rarely awake either by or until. Soon, however, I'll be Annecy-bound and it's sure to be a fun jaunt, if wet and exhausting. There'll be lots of Skwigly coverage, naturally, in fact some of it's already gone up. Steve has a round-up of the UK presence at the fest while I catch up with Patrick Osborne, he who directed the universally-beloved Oscar-winning Disney short Feast (that we spoke with him about previously). Since then he's been working away with the Google ATAP team on the VR film Pearl that festivalgoers can check out at the festival, where Patrick will also be part of a panel discussion on the possibilities and practicalities of VR filmmaking.
While most of what Annecy has on offer will be new to me, there are few personal recommendations for others who are attending that I have from my various travels and dealings in recent months. On the features side of things, look out for Ann Marie Fleming's NFB film Window Horses, which draws on the talents of some wonderful animators to tell a story of Iran's cultural landscape from the perspective of an out-of-water Westerner (I also have a director interview going up next week).
Also worth a watch is the fascinating Psychonauts: The Forgotten Children by Alberto Vázquez and Pedro Rivero, a feature-length outing for the characters established in the short film Birdboy boasting much-improved design and animation and some unexpectedly bizarre humour that was right up my street. You can read my full review of the film for more on what I made of it.
I also have to give props to Penny Lane's Nuts! - it's a film that at first strikes the viewer as misguided and a little confused, being an adaptation of a clearly non-impartial biopic of medical and broadcast pioneer 'Doctor' John Brinkley. As it goes on, however, all confusions are evaporated, revealing a very astute and commendable character study. Ironically my only issue with it is the animation, but I'll expand on why when my review goes up later in the week.
As far as short films are concerned, again there's a lot I've not yet seen but of the ones I have here are some absolutely cracking pieces of work to watch out for:
How Long, Not Long (Michelle Kranot/Uri Kranot, Denmark)
Squame (Nicolas Brault, Canada)
Spoon (Marcus Kempken, Germany)
Stems (Ainslie Henderson, UK)
Blind Vaysha (Theo Ushev, Canada) 
Accidents, Blunders and Calamities (James Cunningham, New Zealand)
The Head Vanishes (Franck Dion, France) - interview going up on Skwigly tomorrow.

In non-Annecy Skwigly round-up news, on top of an interview with Ren & Stimpy APC veteran and Looney Tunes-redesigner Jessica Borutski about her new show Bunnicula, last week was largely devoted to shining a bit of a spotlight on some fresh-faced Canadians who have recently made their first professional animated films as part of the National Film Board of Canada's ongoing Hothouse apprenticeship scheme. We did a similar thing last year, this time around hearing from Hothouse alumnus and Mentoring Director Malcolm Sutherland, as well as the filmmakers themselves: Curtis Horsburgh, Duncan Major, Rhayne Vermette, Lorna Kirk, Catherine Dubeau and Pascaline Lefebvre. There's some really lovely work there and the films are all very short, so give 'em some love.
Righto, time to wrap up, I've got a plane to catch.
UPDATE: No I don't! Not for another five goddamn hours. Top notch work, EasyJet!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What happened, Billy?

http://www.porto7.com/
Hey-hey-hey!
So more good news for June, to follow on from Monday's post I just got the memo that Klementhro is also playing at Porto 7 - Oporto International Short Film Festival tomorrow, June 9th. It's in the festival's Competition 4 screening that kicks off at 11:30pm. Full venue and programme info can be found at the festival website.
As well as being the film's Portuguese debut this inclusion also marks the third film of mine to be shown at this festival, with Ground Running and The Naughty List both getting an airing back in 2012. So obrigado to the Porto 7 team, I'm stoked to be involved again!
Looking forward, here's another GIF character preview for my next film Sunscapades. Meet Billy, the non-IP-infringing friendly ghost!

Monday, 6 June 2016

You can't keep a good Klementhro down

A good year in, I've finally gotten off the ol' tuchus and slapped together a teaser trailer for Klementhro. Enjoy the vagueness!
I've also learned my prior assumption that the film would be having a quiet month until July has turned out to not be the case. The film will play in Romania (the country of its premiere) at the Ploiești International Film Festival in their Dark Comedy screening, which runs at 8:30pm Thursday June 16th and again at 4pm Friday June 17th at the AFI Palace.
http://www.ploiestifilmfestival.ro/en/films/dark-comedy
That week I'm very happy to say I'll be back in France for the Annecy Festival, mainly for meetings about a few projects on the boil, but I'll also no doubt be pestering some of the talent for interviews and hopefully getting some sunnage and swimmage in. If anyone's there do give me a shout! Daytime drinking is always more acceptable when one has company.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Living Legends

It's been a particularly busy week over in Skwiglyville, with highlights including Katie's interviews with voice actor Jeremy Shada of Adventure Time fame and Jackson Publick, creator of the longest-running Adult Swim series The Venture Bros. Plus migraine-riddled worrywart Dani recounts her bank holiday weekend spent devoted to making an animated short from scratch and Laura-Beth interviews the team at MewLab about their ambitious installation-cum-short The Evening Her Mind Jumped Out of Her Head (which some of you may have seen at our MAF screening last year).
Meanwhile my Lightbox video interview series has kicked off again, featuring a chat with Job Roggeveen and Joris Oprins; two thirds of Job, Joris and Marieke, the Oscar-nominated studio who've made such fantastic work as MUTE, A Single Life and their latest, (Otto). You can hear from remaining team member Marieke Blaauw in our recent KLIK! Podcast minisode.
https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/267028957/download?client_id=02gUJC0hH2ct1EGOcYXQIzRFU91c72Ea
On the subject of podcasts, we've officially barrelled past the fifty-episode mark and are pleased to welcome back the legendary Bill Plympton, whose divisive (the LA Times call it one of his "most entertaining feature films", the AV Club call it "fundamentally misconceived") new film Hitler's Folly is free to stream from his website as of today. We also chat about other projects including Revengeance, the next fully-animated feature he has lined-up, a collaboration with kindred spirit Jim Lujan. As I've doubtless mentioned before, I credit Bill with my decision to shift my attentions from motion graphics to character animation and storytelling and am always stunned by just how prolific he is (he's like the Mike Patton of animation), so it's always a privilege to feature him on the show. Stream below, download here or subscribe for future listenin'!
Another crucial influence at a key stage in my animation studies was legendary Czech surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer, whose gloriously bizarre work embraces animation's full potential and often tows the line between comedic and nightmarish (an interplay I have a particular fondness for). As such I'm beyond thrilled to have gotten an interview with the man himself, which is up today. This was no easy feat with the language barrier - to the best of my awareness his English is only marginally better than my Czech - so I'm hugely grateful to him and his team for taking the time with their translation efforts.
Jan Švankmajer in his atelier (©Kazumi Terazaki)
In the interview we mainly discuss what he has declared to be his final feature film Insects, which he is presently crowdfunding. It looks to be an absolutely wonderful endeavour that embraces everything I love most about his work and process, I hugely advise you all to give it a look and help it become a reality!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Summer Break

It's been a long journey for our simple lad Klementhro, but the last stops of Kurzfilmnacht Schweiz, the first leg of the Short Film Nights tour focusing on Swiss-German speaking cities, will be this Friday (27th) and Saturday (28th) in both Uster and St. Gallen. For both nights the Uster programme will start at 8:30 at the Kino Qtopia while things kick off a little earlier (8pm) in St. Gallen at the Kinok Lokremise. Many thanks to the folks at Short Film Nights and I'm looking forward to the second leg of the tour later on in the year!
http://www.shortsattack.com/travel-stories/
In the meantime Klementhro will be laying down his paddle for June (I'd had my fingers crossed the film would be picked to screen at Bill Plympton and Nancy Phelps's wonderful Annecy + party - which included The Naughty List a few years back - but alas it looks like the event is taking a hiatus this year) though it will be back in Germany for Shorts Attack, a series of themed screenings from Interfilm Berlin, in July! Exact time(s)/date(s) to follow.
I'm also happy to report that the recent burst of activity and wonderful response the film received has broken a dam, so to speak, and I've been filled with a renewed energy to make more films. While I'm not quite ready to start uttering the B-word again, I have scripts for several short'n'bizarre - as well as one not-so-short-but-especially-bizarre - film ideas that I'm itching to get started on, the first of which (working title: Sunscapades) I've already put a rough animatic together for and even done some early assets/animation tests. I'll leave you with one of the latter to chew on:

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The podcast that wouldn't die

Don't want to fall behind on the updates, so here are our latest Skwigly podcasts for May if you've not yet chanced upon them yet. Both of these feature the wonderful Laura-Beth taking time out of her busy MA to speak with the excellent filmmaker Conor Whelan (director of the enchanting Snowfall) and Joe Brumm (whose work includes the short film The Meek and some of CollegeHumor's most popular animated skits, including Tinderella and Paperman Threesome). Laura-Beth and I also go through some of the Stuttgart official selections that stood out the most, including some fantastic work by Chloé Alliez, Erik van Schaaik and Joost Lieuwma among others, while regular co-host Steve and I discuss animation highlights from CIFF, creepy animated propaganda, animation's debatably racist roots, upcoming films and festival etiquette.
The latest episode brings us up to 50 shows. Back in the days when we first began, where I'd grumble about crap like the Road Runner and Steve was obsessed with listmaking (we've both come so far), I don't think either of us thought it would last this long. Thanks to all for the support over the years and here's to another fifty!
Stream below, subscribe or, if you want to save them for later, download episodes 49 and 50 respectively.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Throwbacks

Thought I'd round up a handful of old endeavours I recently gave a bit of spit'n'polish to. Sort of a #ThrowbackThursday thing. Is that still a thing? Probably not. God damn kids and their ephemera.
I'm still quite keen on the idea of re-releasing some of my old albums on Bandcamp now that I'm all nicely situated over there. The challenge is working out how far back into the past I reach before the music gets too embarrassingly awful to share with the world.
Going back to 2008, probably my most obscure music project (in that there were literally only 50 copies ever pressed) was Silverfish, a fairly moody album with some harmonious moments but horribly rushed production. With some proper love and attention I think it'd mostly hold up quite well, so I'm gradually working through the project files and fixing them up. Here's one from this week that finally has some oomph after being long-oomphless:
Flashback a further four years to 2004, here's a somewhat cheerier song I attempted during the sessions for the second Struwwelpeter LP Rapeseed but I could never get a decent end result, mainly down to some horribly out-of-tune guitar parts. Unearthing the old RNS file during a big HD cleanup this week I took a crack at it again in Reason with what I know now and it's finally listenable:
To fully appreciate how much is going into the remixing/remastering, here's a before/after clip that should make the reasons for it going unreleased for so long obvious:
video

I also found the source video for one of my old BA projects over a decade ago, a music video for the Rapeseed song 'On A Limb' that mainly served as an After Effects experiment combining footage of me in dress-up dancing around like a dick, interspersed with some home movies from the 20s of our place in the Laurentians that a neighbour had come across.
I've updated the Vimeo file with a new HD render, which may seem a bit redundant as it's meant to look old and shitty, so all you get is more highly-defined blurriness. It does significantly lessen the compression artifacts, as this comparison shows:
Either way, I never looked better. I'm told by the fine folks at Rumpus that this video was partially responsible for the design of Count Fulchmuckle, one of the characters I voiced in their excellent game The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle.
Yeah, I can see it

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Klemenspreading

Basel-bound
You can't keep a good Klementhro down. After yesterday's mumblemouthed attempt at an explanation for his existence, here are the specifics for the film's next Swiss screenings as part of its Short Film Nights travels.
This Friday (May 13th) a slightly-truncated version of the programme (though Klementhro still appears to be part of the bill) will play in Chur at the Kino Apollo, kicking off around 9:15pm. That same night you have three opportunities to catch it in Basel, with a number of different times and running orders of the programme taking place in several cinemas in the Kult Kino Atelier (the earliest of which starts at 8:45pm).
The following Friday (May 20th) the tour heads to Lucerne where it will play at both the Kino Bourbaki (8:30pm start) and the Stattkino (8:45pm). As always be sure to swing by the main tour website for more info and the latest dates as they're announced.
On a related note, I recently realised why I've been so enamoured of the tour logo; it's a spiritual sibling to a favourite album cover:

Monday, 9 May 2016

Dunham on Dunham

There's no real material on this blog about the coming together of Klementhro, my fifth film (fourth that's seen the light of day) presently touring scenic Switzerland and having recently screened at ITFS Stuttgart. Those who've seen it can probably appreciate why I haven't loaded the blog with production materials as it's undoubtedly the most minimal of all the films I've done and there isn't really a lot to document, it just sort of plopped out of me.
I did get interviewed about it (by the multi-talented artist Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck) at Stuttgart on the night of the screening and during the filmmaker brunch the day after, however, and I pocket-recorded them both in case they turned out podcast-worthy. They didn't really, but I thought I'd slap up a transcript in lieu of any other explanation or backstory for the film here. There are a couple of plot spoilers I guess, but plot is such a loose concept in the film that I don't think it'd be a big deal, so do plow on if you feel you can handle it:
Ben, you did the animation, the music and you were the producer...what did Sue Dunham do?
Yeah...well, I am she, and she is me. It's a pseudonym – Sue Dunham/pseudonym...?
(justified audience groans)
I know. That just undid all the actual laughs the film got. It's a name I use for projects very rarely when I produce something that isn't the kind of thing I usually do, which this film definitely isn't.


And what kind of films do you usually do?
Heh...films that kind of make sense, I guess? This was something that kind of popped into my head, pretty much exactly as it turned out. And I thought I'm an animator, sort of. Let's see if I can make that into a film and if it would be watchable at all. And that's what you got.

I googled 'Sue Dunham' this morning to find out what other films you did under this pseudonym and all I found out was that Lena Dunham is suing somebody, but I couldn't find your other projects.
Well, the second film I did, there was two versions of it, and the first version was a Sue Dunham film. Then I kind of changed it up and when I re-released it, to slightly better success than the first, I changed the director credit back to me. But occasionally there have been little art projects or things that are more for younger or general audiences, where sort of in my head it made sense to do under a different name because the stuff I do under my own name can be quite dark, I suppose, or perceivably 'adult'. So it's sort of about different headspaces, I suppose.

And 'Klementhro', is that a real name?
No, it's actually made it very easy to track how well the film is doing, if you make up the title, because then if you Google it there'll be nothing else but your film, which can be quite helpful. So yeah, made-up name, made-up sounds, in keeping with the whole made-up logic of the film, I suppose.

Sequels?
There are so many places you could take the character(!) Yeah, I think it's sort of a one-and-done, we've accompanied him on his journey sufficiently.


And you work in many different fields, you do graphic novels, you've written a book on animation – I hope you have it with you, so we could sell it?
It comes out in September. The book was actually the thrust behind making this film because the whole point of the book is about independent, auteur animation, it's about how, at this point, it's a much more feasible thing to be able to make our own films outside of a studio system; so many amazing films have been coming out. So it's sort of a book of case studies predominantly, and a cultural study, and sort of an academic textbook as well, so I'm hoping it will have some resonance when it comes out. Lots of amazing people have helped with it coming together.
But I was about a third of the way through the manuscript of this book, where the overall message is “Hey, you're an animator? You can make your own films!” when it struck me that I hadn't actually done that myself in five years. Even though it's not a book about me and my films, I kind of felt like if I made a new film I'd feel like less of a hypocrite, to actually do what I'm saying people can do. I had very little downtime last year, around a week and a half, so this thing happened in that week and a half. And, y'know, it's gotten into festivals, I'm sitting here with you guys which is amazing, audiences seem to get it which is a surprise...not that I don't give people credit to understand it, it's not a smart film or a conceptually avant-garde film, but I always thought it would be more irritating than anything else.


So what kind of reactions were you hoping for?
Well, the surprise I have found is that when the character dies at the end – spoiler alert – people oftentimes are like “aww” - like they kind of don't want him to die. And I thought that people would be so annoyed by this character that they'd actually be cheering on the drowning at the end. Whenever I see my films in festivals I find there are always things that you think people will respond to that don't necessarily get the response, but then people will pick up on something that was almost an afterthought, so that's always a nice thing.

And you've been to a few screenings with Klementhro before, I believe?
Mm-hmm.


Were the reactions different from screening to screening?
For this it's actually been more or less the same. It's a very tense first half, because I think there's a point where people are like “Is this gonna be the whole film?”. That I think came from - because I also co-run an animation magazine in the UK, it's an online magazine, and we go to festivals all the time and see so many films each year, and the greater percentage of them are very good but you do get some that are just unrelentingly repetitive and almost unfair to have to sit through! So a part of the film was sort of a reaction I suppose to that, to make a film with that kind of character and then kill them off, or put them through some troubled waters. So it's a bit of a bait-and-switch: The first half you can usually sense some tenseness in the audience and then as soon as it goes off in this different direction I think there's a kind of relief and that maybe gets a bit more laughs, because of that.


And what is that magazine?
It's called Skwigly. There are cards in the foyer! I assume a lot of people here are into animation, we're absolutely wild about it, obviously. It's full of interviews, we do podcasts, little video documentaries, news, reviews, we do a lot of festival coverage, so it's a big passion project of ours. As I think is the case with a lot of animation websites or blogs out there, it's something that keeps an enthusiasm going, because we all work in animation ourselves, so to have another area of animation to stay excited about, sometimes when your day job is working on a commercial for travel insurance or banking or whatever, it's nice to have different areas of the industry to focus on at the same time.
(To audience) Any questions or comments?


Audience member with great taste: For anybody who doesn't know Skwigly, it's excellent.
Thank you very much!

Audience member #1: I was wondering if you'd ever planned to animate the rowing in any more detail?
Yeah, had there been more than a week and a half I think I would've done a bit more. In my head, that loop was gonna be a bit more playful, his head was gonna loll about as he rowed. But it turned out to be just a minimal loop


Audience member #2: It's perfect as it is.
Thank you! Well, also he'd be paddling around in a circle, because he only rows on one side of the raft, so he's going nowhere fast. Because there are no real backgrounds you don't know much about where he is or where he's going, that helps keep it vague. But that loop is probably the most animation – we were talking earlier about what does and doesn't qualify as 'animation' in a film, this film is basically a drawing! Y'know, with lip sync and a couple of frames of animation, and the ghost sort of has a wobble to it – that was basically it, to think of the easiest way to put together this story quickly but make it watchable.

You did all the voices?
Yep.


So you really did do everything? 
Pretty much, I think for this type of film bringing on other people would've been surplus to requirements. I also wanted to do it as an exercise in staying out of my head and just doing something without overthinking stuff like “Well, this bit doesn't actually make sense, so what if I change this, add this, maybe do some more animation here...”, because I do that a lot with my films, I tend to over-embellish them early on and then inevitably have to pare them down later. So this was sort of a discipline exercise, to keep it as minimal as possible, so in that respect it really was easier to just knock it out in Toon Boom over a few days. And it was sort of a secret as well, which was an easy thing because it happened so quickly, so it was quite nice to let people know I had a new film long after the fact, when it had actually been picked up. 

So there ya go, a little bit of light shed on the wily Klementhro and his antics. As I mentioned it above I may as well reveal that the publication date for Project Group-Hug (real title: Independent Animation: Developing, Producing and Distributing Your Animated Films) has indeed been confirmed as September 22nd and you can go ahead and pre-order it on Amazon! Exciting times indeed. 
There are still a couple of stages left before it goes to print and the cover on the Amazon listing is a TBC mockup (though as an Adam Elliot devotee I obviously like it a lot) but all seems to have come together smoothly. I'll reserve my insufferable gushing about the experience until closer to the release date but needless to say it's been one of the most professionally rewarding projects I've worked on to date and I can't wait to share more about it with you all.