2014 Animated Short Films | Savannah Film Festival

SPOILER ALERT:

{For every film and short that I attend at the festival I will be including both a brief, unspoiled synopsis, followed by a spoiler filled discussion beneath it. So be warned before you read-on that if you do not wish to spoil any of the following titles that you watch for my included warnings.}

Yesterday morning, I attended something that I don’t often get to attend: an animation showcase. Back in the very early 2000s, I had been an entrant at the young age of 9, to the Kalamazoo Animation Festival: which at the time was a slowly expanding and eventually high-profile event for Michigan and the tri-state area. I was actually one of the Bronze winners that year in 2002 for my age group, 9-12.

During my life in Michigan,  I attended 4 KAFI festivals in total, and each time got to watch many many short form animated films from both amateurs, students, and professionals. The sad part though, was that as the festivals went on, the shorts got darker, grimmer, and more angsty: very melodramatic stuff most times. It ended up giving the whole event a rather gloomy atmosphere. The director of the 2005 festival even said directly to an audience that she felt the festival desperately needs more funny and comedic films next year. So you can imagine that, especially if you’re a young kid, going to an animation festival full of grim and dark tales is not the most entertaining of experiences. This, however, was not one of those experiences.

Out of the 8 animated short films presented, every single one of them was a masterpiece, and 6 of them were simply extraordinary: almost beyond words. And although I would very much like to do so, all of these films are of course only going through the festival circuit right now and are not available on line to view. But hopefully in the near future that will change, because all of these deserve to be seen by the general public.

So let us break them down, shall we.

And to make things easier, I’ll provide each of the film’s synopsis and major credits as they are written on the Savannah Film Festival website, and then I’ll give my personal thoughts about them beneath each.

I will also warn everyone now that all of my personal thoughts below will be filled with SPOILERS; however, I don’t believe any of them should actually spoil the experience of watching these, as it would be rather difficult and lengthy to intentionally try and ruin them.

1. Stan

USA, 2014, 5 min. and 40 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Meirav Haber

Producer: Meirav Haber

Writer: Meirav Haber

Cast: Iain Sandison

“Stan was born with a hell of a problem: an unfortunate resemblance to the devil. Rejected by society, Stan is forced to live a life of solitude. But Stan stays hopeful, creatively seeking connection and persisting despite all odds. Stan’s life is destined to change when a strange delivery arrives at his door.”

This was one of the shortest shorts of the day, and perhaps suffered a little for it. I don’t know, it just felt like they didn’t show enough when describing Stan’s life with horns and a tail. They show him as an abandoned baby, then a twice-orphaned pre-teen, then a young man with his own home (despite the fact that since he has been discriminated against, then how did he get a job in order to pay for a house?); and then it immediately jumps to him in his late 60s/early 70s. So what happened in the intervening time? Did he ever land any girlfriends who had a thing for horns? Did he ever go on vacation to anywhere and have trouble outside of his town?

I know that in a short film you don’t really have to show these things, and perhaps the film accurately explained everything that it needed to. But even so, sometimes when a short film cuts as many corners as this does in terms of its story, it just feels like we’re missing so much that we could be seeing, and it leaves me with so many questions.

Nonetheless, the payoff of this short is well worth it and becomes a big “Awe” moment.

2. The Planets

USA, 2014, 12 min.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Andy Martin

Writer: Andy Martin

Cast: Andy Martin, Sarah Martin

“The Planets” is an intergalactic animated adventure through 12 distinct worlds in which we find plasticine battles, bored sheep, robots in love, ghostly fish and chips, superhero kids and lots of other shenanigans. These bizarre, creepy and often hilarious planets give us a glimpse into an undiscovered part of outer space while mirroring how we spend our lives on planet Earth.”

Perhaps the most entertaining and humorous short of the day, The Planets presents us with a varied set of 12 distinct planetary worlds; each with their own quirks, landscapes, creature designs, and inhabitant personalities. This short also presents each planet in a distinct animation style: most of them are still done in a vector format either with Flash or Toon Boom or something similar, but one of them utilizes some hand-drawn animation, one of them replicates the style of paper-cut-out animation, and another uses clay animation on an actual animation set rather than with green-screened snap-shots.

The creativity involved here was quite impressive. There was a lot of graphical arts elements prevalent here, not just in the overall design but in some of the transitions and bookending imagery that took us from one planet to another. The end of the short also included a song which ended with a bang, so I thought that was a rather fun choice as well.

For a short flash-animated piece, this is one of the most elaborate and well colored that I have seen, and one of the most humorous. An extremely fun time.

3. Granddaughter

USA, 2014, 5 min. and 10 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Nicolás Villarreal

Producer: Pedro Villarreal

Writer: Nicolás Villarreal

“An incoming storm transforms a young girl’s perspective of the world.”

Likely intentional by the director, you don’t pick up on the point of the film at first. But once it explains things visually in the end, you understand what in the world you were watching at the beginning.

Simply put, this short is about the bizarre and magical world seen in the mind’s eye of a young blind girl: where grandfathers become tall, lanky creatures with hooked heads and magic wands; and fountain spouts become streams of gold rushing onto an azure-blue floor.

This concept has been successfully presented before in another amazing short film, called Out of Sight; which I actually can show you here for your viewing pleasure: you can see that below. It’s a bit like if the comic strip FoxTrot were animated by Hayao Miyazaki.

But thankfully, Granddaughter presents the concept of the blind interpretation of the world differently enough that it can stand on its own without much comparison. It tackles the subject in its own subtle and beautiful way.

4. Sunny and Steve: Enjoy the Sweets

USA, 2014, 2 min. and 37 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Directors: Bill Dorais, Ty Coyle

Producers: Derek Macleod-Veilleux, Matthew Creden

Writers: Bill Dorais, Ty Coyle, Graeme Revell, Jacob Fradkin

Cast: Ty Coyle

“This short film tells the humorous tale of an office worker as he struggles with a protective, seemingly innocent bunny on a quest for sweets. In the first episode released for Easter, Sunny revels in every opportunity to keep the Easter eggs from Steve and goes to great lengths to ensure there is no sharing allowed.”

I’ll be honest, I was a little confused by this one and didn’t end up liking it too much, mostly because of how jarring the animation was.

From what I could tell, it looked like stop-motion, but the stop-motion wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, even if it was done in a limited fashion. It seemed to jump frames too much. But it also couldn’t have been actual stop-motion because the characters were too complex and detailed and had too malleable of a skin layer to be plastecine or clay models. So what I believe was going on was that someone had created an entire short film in the computer; had designed and built the set, the characters and the props; and then animated them all in a very choppy, limited stop-motion style. But why?

Why animate this like stop-motion? And then why animate it so choppily? I’ve sort of seen this same approach, maybe even a couple of times before. But each time I see it I like it less and less. It’s certainly an economic way to go about things, but it isn’t the most enjoyable or interesting looking. And like I said, it is most certainly jarring to watch, at least at the beginning.

As to whether I thought the plot was good or not, it was average.

5. My Dearest

USA, 2014, 5 min. and 50 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Tim Fisher

Writer: Tim Fisher

“An independent animated short about a man’s quest to be reunited with the woman he loves.”

This one was weird. First of all, it seems that the director himself did the voices for this, which at first is bad because he give a terribly stiff, middle-school style delivery of his own lines; but then becomes worse when he starts having to do the same thing in a woman’s voice. So already I’m not very impressed by what I’m watching.

Then to make matters worse, the animation for this short is extremely rough, almost like an inked and colored story animatic. It certainly isn’t a finished product as far as I’m concerned. I suppose for an animation contest, it gets a pass because it still counts; but even so, it’s extremely rough and rudimentary work. Which only begs the question of why this short was included in an animation block at a festival that had a series of far superior works? This is the one short that stands out as the odd-ball: the weakest of the bunch.

Beyond all that, the story itself was a weak story. Despite what the tagline sound like, this is about a steampunk looking scientist who’s wife has been dead for some time, and he has been working for years trying to build a surrogate robot body to transfer her consciousness into. But once he does and embraces his newly awakened wife, she doesn’t know her own strength, and crushes him to death. And then as if I didn’t see it coming (which of course I did), the robot wife then begins to build her own surrogate robot body for her newly dead husband, so that they both may share in their mutual immortal torment as robotic abominations.

Eh, it’s dark humor, whaddya gonna do?

6. The Looking Planet

USA, 2014, 16 min. and 40 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Eric Law Anderson

Producers: Anne Uemura, Eric Law Anderson, Thomas Southerland

Writer: Eric Law Anderson

Cast: Samuel Hery, Cindy Robinson, Joe Cappelletti, Peter Oldring

“During the construction of the universe, a young member of the Cosmos Corps of Engineers decides to break some fundamental laws in the name of self-expression.”

By far the most amazing film of the morning, this was one of the single greatest short films I have ever seen. Even more so than The Planets, The Looking Planet exudes enormous amounts of creativity and visual design.

What this film amounts to is a visually stunning depiction of the birth of our universe as if it were a contract job by an alien corporation. And as the many planets in our local solar system are being designed and built, one of the workers becomes fed up with working on planetary rings, and decides that he wants to do something different. He sets his eye on the 5th planet from the sun, which actually ends up being the moon in its own orbit, and he decides to carve his likeness into the moon’s surface (which explains how we got the Moon’s maria surface). This kid then discovers through a unique set of blueprints, the eventual history of the Earth with all of its many plants, animals, and civilizations; and realizes that Planet 5 is not where it should be at all. So he decides to take matters into his own hands and push Planet 5 into orbit around Planet 3, thus creating what is sometimes referred to as the Double-Planet of the Earth and the Moon.

The most incredible thing about this short, I think, is how it creates this environment of the planet builders, almost like Magarathea in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Except here, the entire universe is the building site rather than an isolated mega-planet that builds other planets inside itself. And so what happens is that this building site is filled with all of these brightly illuminated spires, astrolabes, and gyroscopic rings around every planet; which allow these builders to measure, move, and rotate the planets around in order to work on them. And surrounding all of these planetary control mechanisms are these endless streams of sunlit clouds that stretch on to infinity. But once the builders are finished and leave the universe to return to their own home, the enormous controls disappear, the clouds disappear, and the darkness and emptiness of the universe returns; leaving us with what we see in the night sky today.

The icing on the cake that then brings all of these beautiful visuals together is of course the musical score, which was an astoundingly gorgeous and uplifting orchestral track filled with strings, French horns, and booming percussion. And I hope someday you all can share in the magic of this short film; as it was one of my more rewarding experiences as a film goer.

7. Silent

USA, 2014, 2 min. and 40 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Directors: Brandon Oldenburg, Limbert Fabian

Producers: Angus McGilpin, Vince Voron

Writers: Brandon Oldenburg, Limbert Fabian

“Two street performers dream of bringing their “Picture and Sound Show” to life. When they discover a magical contraption inside an old theater, they embark on a cinematic adventure of sight and sound, traveling through movie history to find the audience they always wanted.”

An extremely swift and concise short, Silent was apparently an independent advertisement for Dolby Digital in that it emphasized the marriage of Picture and Sound by presenting us with a series of film genres and typical movie scenes, played in quick succession on a movie screen as a young girl’s father is pulled along through them all which she backs him up on the pipe-organ.

So much stuff happens in such a short amount of time that after its over you don’t really know exactly what all happened. But at least you know it was friggin’ awesome. That’s for damn sure. And the music was stellar here as well.

8. The Oceanmaker

USA, 2014, 10 min. and 4 sec.

Category: PROFESSIONAL ANIMATION

Director: Lucas Martell

Producers: Christina Martell, Lucas Martell

Writer: Lucas Martell

“After the seas have disappeared, a courageous young female pilot fights against vicious sky pirates for control of the last remaining source of water: the clouds.”

The final short of the day was a bittersweet story about a young woman living in a post-apocalyptic world that is nearing the brink of extinction due to the severe lack of water. As water pirates fly overhead in their airplanes scooping up any amount of cloud condensation they can in water collecting bags they pull behind them, one young female pilot has a different solution: creating more rain clouds. Her plane is then equipped with a smoke generating sparkler system attached to the bottom of her craft, which when activated, sends out streams of yellow smoke into the rain cloud and begins to seed new clouds, and most importantly, rain storms.

In the end, after duking it out with another plane in a fatal dog-fight, the woman sacrifices herself in order to complete one last cloud seeding job, and ends up jump starting a widespread heavy rainstorm that may finally spell the end of the planet’s “dry-spell.”

Extremely well animated for such a small team of people. Excellent musical score. And an empowering and inspirational story told in a very economic manner. A great way to end an amazing series of shorts.

If fate is kind, I may be able to provide some links to these short films as they become available in the future. Until then, I hope that some of you may get the chance to see these in your own local festivals.

Next up, we have a very interesting independent feature film to talk about called The Sound and the Shadow. But before that, I have another small bit of business to take care of…

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