This is just so good.
This year’s Academy Award nominees in the Animated Short Film category are kind of downer for a medium that’s often associated with uplifting children’s fare. In “Dear Basketball,” director Glen Keane partners with basketball legend Kobe Bryant to tell the story of the star’s retirement from the sport. The French “Garden Party” follows a cadre of amphibians as they pick over the detritus of a luxurious party at an opulent estate mysteriously devoid of residents. Pixar’s “Lou” begins with a playground bully robbing children of their cherished toys, and “Negative” Space features a character mourning his absentee father. Finally, the framing device of “Revolting Rhymes” — the longest of the bunch at 29 minutes — focuses on a character describing the deaths of his nephews. Despite the theme of loss, viewers can take heart in knowing that their time and money will not be lost if they catch one of the many theatrical screenings; this is the first crop of nominees in many years without a single dud.
Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from the sport that dominated his life in a November 29, 2015 letter to The Players’ Tribune. That letter serves as the basis for Glen Keane’s short film as Bryant reads the letter over colored pencil illustrations. The sketchy pencil drawings also allow the protagonist to slide back and forth between child Kobe and adult Kobe, making apparent the importance of basketball throughout the decades of Bryant’s life. However, the MVP of this short is Bryant’s voicework. While no particular line readings stand out, the wistful love of the sport can be discerned from his voice without seeing a single image.
The dialogue-free short “Garden Party” is easily my favorite of this year’s nominees. Produced by a group of six French animation students, this computer-generated 3D spectacle is downright stunning. Detail abounds on every surface. Visual minutiae are so finely tuned that each of the frogs hopping their way through the aftermath of a decadent party is rendered in a unique texture, reflecting their personalities. While the obese bullfrog gorging on sweets and caviar is riddled with bumps and granules of dirt that reflect his slovenly nature, the curious tree frog’s body is a smooth surface conducive to stealth. As the invaders pillage the luxury home, the viewer gets to enjoy two equally compelling stories in a scant six minutes: the journey of the frogs and the mystery of what happened to the home’s owners, which is gruesomely solved in the short’s final seconds.
If you’re reading this article for tips on your office Oscar pool, let me help you: Dave Mullins’s “Lou” — like most previous Pixar shorts in this category — is likely to win. Continuing the Pixar tradition of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects which started with Toy Story, “Lou” is the story of the contents of a lost and found box (whose missing letters spell the film’s title) teaching a bully named JJ an important lesson about stealing toys. What’s truly interesting in Lou is the rendering of movement. The box’s contents transform into a Frankenstein’s monster composed of objects like a hoodie, a toy dump truck, and a tennis racket topped off with baseball eyes. With every jerk and stumble in its pursuit of and escape from JJ, Mullins convincingly shows how this shambolic creature with no feet might move.
Stop motion animation is particularly crucial to this study by Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter of an emotionally stunted man memorializing his traveling salesman father. The halting, inhuman movements of stop motion are well-suited to portraying the narrator’s estrangement. His body also resembles a papier-mâchéd cooking spoon, sporting a big head that makes him seem even more alien. The unnamed protagonist attempts to find closure by recounting his father’s lessons for packing a suitcase, and as he describes the process, shoes, pants, and shirts fold themselves and make their way into the baggage. While the film feels a bit lightweight with its less-than-five-minute runtime, the visuals of “Negative Space” provide a welcome respite from the other nominees’ hand-drawn and computer-generated animation.
The final nominee adapts Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake’s 1982 children’s book of the same name, although the 3D computer-generated animation smoothes away some of the chaotic personality of Blake’s illustrations. While subversive re-imaginings of fairy tales have been done to death in recent years, “Revolting Rhymes,” by Jan Lauchauer and Jakob Schuh, innovates by repurposing the shared universe trope of contemporary storytelling. The stories are united by the framing device of a wolf — voiced by Dominic West, known to many as Detective Jimmy McNulty of The Wire — meeting an older woman in a diner and telling her the true stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the Three Little Pigs. In this telling, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White are good friends, and the wolves that menace Little Red Riding Hood and the pigs are the nephews of West’s canine. By linking these well-known legends, Lachauer and Schuh highlight the tropes common to all of them, unearthing the truths that make these children’s fables resonate throughout the ages.
For those whose taste in fairytales favours a darker touch, we’re traveling to the far reaches of Eastern Europe, and into the enchanting world of animator Jiří Trnka. The late Czech animator (whose name is pronounced “Yershy Trinka”) created nearly two-dozen films over his lifetime, from folksy gems like Grandfather Planted a Beet (1945) to the gutsy anti-Stalin short, The Hand (1965).
Craftsmanship ran in Trnka’s blood. He was born in Bohemia in 1912, where his grandmother sold toys for a living and his mother worked as a seamstress.
My son asked me what were my favorite shows when I was his age. There were so few options compared to now, but I recalled Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Crusader Cat and Minute Mouse, Zoom, 321 Contact, Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes shows, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Kroft Superstars (Land of the Lost and the other ones), The Banana Splits, The New Zoo Revue.
When I was older I loved Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, The Greatest American Hero, the A-Team.
But the show I was absolutely obsessed with when I was his age was “Battle of the Planets”. I even wrote and drew what would now be called fan fiction in my own comic book version of the show that I called “Battle of the Stars”.
The show had Japanese animation and was a mishmash of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Japanese shows such as Power Rangers and Voltron.
A few weeks ago, I was snarky about stock imagery on the internet.
I was looking for photos of “people coding,” and the options were decidedly bad — think word clouds and whiteboards. But how would I go about translating such an ephemeral idea into visual form? Honestly, I had no idea.
Stock imagery has played a significant role in developing the visual language of technology. If you imagine all hackers wear black and hunch over green screens in dark rooms, that’s thanks to film and television to be sure, but also because of the creative images that accompany stories on websites like this one. Read more…
Adult Swim made April Fools Day great again on Saturday when they pulled a reverse Rick Roll—call it a Sanchez roll—releasing the aggressively anticipated season premiere of hit show Rick and Morty online out of nowhere.
Fans thought creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon were taunting them when official Rick and Morty social media channels tweeted and Instagrammed the message, “Come watch TV.” It would have been an appropriate punishment for the incessant barrage of nerds constantly asking about Season 3’s premiere date if Adult Swim linked to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Instead they provided an adrenaline-pumping three-hour block of the Season 3 premiere on repeat, revealing the long-awaited mystery of how Rick would escape from galactic prison.
While there was a veritable crap-ton of goodness, including a bunch of puppet-based, 8-bit, and stop-motion goodies on Adult Swim’s YouTube channel, we’re not going to waste time analyzing it in-depth—you can go to the Rick and Morty subreddit for that.
The biggest takeaway from the episode has been a grassroots movement to bring back an obscure Szechuan chicken nugget sauce McDonald’s offered to promote the release of Disney’s Mulan in 1998. Not only is a renewed desire to eat the Szechuan sauce oozing all over Twitter, but McDonald’s has actually responded to tweets asking them to bring back the sauce.
McDonald’s probably recognizes a lucrative social media stunt when they see it. If pure self-interest isn’t enough motivation, a Change.org petition has already cracked 15,000 supporters attempting to light a fire under the food industry giant’s ass.
The new episode of Rick and Morty is airing on Adult Swim every night this week, and the rest are coming this summer, according to a graphic at the end of the episode. But who even knows what that means anymore? Maybe they’ll do another one on 4/20.
A humbling celestial reflection on what enlarges the minuteness of human life with meaning against the vast backdrop of the universe.
At the end of the nineteenth century, well before women could vote, a team of female astronomers at the Harvard College Observatory known as the Harvard Computers made calculations and discoveries that became the basis for Edwin Hubble’s eponymous law demonstrating that the universe is expanding — one of the most revolutionary scientific breakthroughs in human history.
But this begot the inevitable questions of what the universe is expanding into, how big it really is, and whether it is infinite or finite.
More than half a century after Hubble formulated his law, NASA named an enormous, ambitious telescope after him and launched it into space to probe these mysteries of the cosmos. What the Hubble Space Telescope found, and how it illuminates the size of the universe relative to us, is what Alex Hofeldt explores in this wonderful animation from TED-Ed and animator Tom Matuszewski:
Complement with these five visualizations to grasp the scale of the cosmos, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg on the unity of the universe, and physicist Sean Carroll on what gives our lives meaning against our seeming smallness, then revisit other terrific TED-Ed animated inquiries into how you know you exist, what makes you you, how melancholy enhances creativity, why some people are left-handed, what depression actually feels like, and why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.
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