the secret


of the five animated features nominated for academy awards last year, the only one i never got around to seeing was the secet of the kells. i don't think i even had a chance as it never quite went into wide release. personally i was rooting for fantstic mr. fox. and naturally up won. no shocker there. but having finally gotten around to watching kells, i'm completely enamored. it's really an exquisite film from beginning to end. it has the feel of a hand crafted film coupled with scope and depth and environments that are breathtaking.

the artwork ranges from graphic [action sequences in particular] to painterly, and the transition between the two seems perfectly natural. the frame is often represented as a triptych, possibly referencing the european tradition of christian art while framing the action in a way that leads the eye right to it. characters move freely in and out of these tripled spaces. and while the edges of the frames are often decoratively adorned, the image does not feel static. i think what works for me so well in this film is not just that it is a unique film with a distinct vision, but that it is deeply rooted in the artistic traditions of it's origin. the film was made in ireland- both the story and the form reflect this in a way that is fresh and authentic. if you haven't seen it, please do. you will will be inspired by how experimental and beautiful animation can [still] be.


stills from the secret of the kells directed by tomm moore, 2009



when i was in film school, one early experimental animator who's films were repeatedly referenced was len lye. as a sort of godfather of direct film, he painted and scratched onto film which was then projected, resulting in a unique interplay of rythm, color and movement. a colour box and free radicals in particular continue to be relevant today in their incredibly avant garde aesthetic.

i only realized len lye was kiwi and that he had a very prolific career designing all kinds of interactive art installations after i moved to wellington and happened to catch a lecture about him at the new zealand film archive. his kinetic sculptures can actually be found all over new zealand and are quite remarkable in the way they harness energy and motion. in this way, they appear as natural extensions of his work in film and animation. the above photo is his wind wand sculpture in new plymouth, which inicidentlaly is a great little town to spend a short holiday.

hedgehog in the fog



there's something magical about fog. it sets a mood and transforms almost any landscape into a mysterious place. i took these photos a while back somewhere around here. when i think of how fog can be used not only to set a mood in a film, but also a sort of character i often think back to yuri norstein's animated film "hedgehog in the mist." tho quite old now, it still manages to capture a real sense of mystery. the entire film is meticulously handcrafted and so beautiful and precious. i want to go into this world and meet the hedgehog...



photos by me, "hedgehog in the mist" by yuri norstein 1975



very much in the tradition of eastern european films in general, kuky se vraci strikes me as lying somewhere between the films of jan svankmajer and emir kusturica. there is a sense of dark gravity and chaos balanced by whimsy and magical realism that seems quite unique to films of this region. the vision is decidedly unique- unlike animated films from anywhere else in the world, and the imagery complex and beautiful.

fantastic cutouts




aside from the whimsical humorous nature of "fantastic mr. fox", what i enjoyed most was the unique visual style of the film. it's unlike any other recent animated feature in that it has a truly handcrafted quality. you get the sense that the puppets and sets were really made by artists, giving the story an overall intimate quality, like you are watching this special world unfold whilst secretly spying into someone's dollhouse where the toys have magically come alive.

the staging of the film is also quite different. often it feels like an actual stage or a diorama. the way in which the characters move is a throwback to older styles of stop motion animation, at once fluid and emotive yet very organic, particularly in comparison to the sleek aesthetic of many cg animated films.

in this way i found myself thinking about how "fantastic mr. fox" reminded me a bit of the paper cutout films of lotte reinger. "fantastic mr. fox" is of course differently realized with its very elaborate sets, but the quality of motion, the silhouettes of characters and beautiful precious hand crafted quality feels similar.


images taken from FMF trailer and LR's film clips