The Final Straw by Ricky Renna, 2013
Top-notch 3D animation! Thanks Darren!
Micro Mayhem! by Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, 2013
I thrilling stop-motion chase with amazing camera work and ‘splosions by the Robot Chicken guys.
Elia by Matthieu Gaillard, 2011
This little girl will win your heart even if you can’t speak French. Great designs, strong motion, touching story.
Kairos by Studio la Cachette, 2013
Some former Gobelins students got together and did a two-minute trailer for a comic book. So good, I will overlook the fact it’s an ad.
Everything I Can See From Here by Sam Taylor, 2013
Some jaw-dropping motion and lovely, simple designs.
Caldera by Evan Viera, 2012
A lovely, slow-moving surreal piece with especially impressive character animation.
Premier Automne by Carlos De Carvalho & Aude Danset, 2013
Every shot of this is a lovely natural illustration. Such a strong mood and sense of place. And a look I haven’t seen in motion yet. Must watch HD so you can see all the specks and spots. The character animation could be stronger, but I thought the design was so special that I had to post.
Thought of You by Ryan Woodward, 2010
Did I miss this one? Studied, near-perfect figure animation with some magical effects touches. Very inspirational and hypnotic to watch. Thanks Tony Blinco, for reminding me.
ETA: no, I did not miss it. Oh well, bears repeating.
Jojo in the Stars by Studio AKA, 2004
I’ve waited quite a while for this to be available. Grotesque and beautiful at the same time. Haunting visuals and a heart-wrenching story.
Masks by Patrick Smith, 2011
Some classical-style hand-drawn. One animator! Impressive.
Fight for Everyone directed by Persistent Peril, 2013
Cute, animated miniature mayhem. Damned catchy tune too.
The Longest Daycare directed by David Silverman, 2012
Maggie Simpson’s Oscar-nominated short.
About half my facebook friends have replaced their profile pictures with a swatch of chroma-key-green today. The facebook protest and the real one that took place outside the Oscars yesterday are supposed to remind us how important visual effects (VFX) are to the industry of movie-making. The swatches represent what most Hollywood blockbusters these days would look like without hard-working VFX artists: a whole lotta green-screen!
These artists create the stunning visuals we pay to see on the big screen. They are responsible for so much of the magic which compels viewers into theaters these days. For many non-industry friends of mine, the CG spectacle is the only reason to buy a movie ticket anymore. Judging by the list of highest-grossing movies ever, it is a popular sentiment: 48 of the 50 movies on the list (from Terminator 2 to Titanic to Transformers) would be next to nothing without visual effects. Much as I despise this state of affairs, effects have the power to make a terrible movie into a blockbuster. And yet, despite the huge boon to box-office they have created, visual effects studios and the artists who work there are struggling to survive financially. The movie studios reap all the rewards while the effects studios are left to underbid ruinously on the next job in order to just barely keep the lights on. And sometimes; in this globalized, outsourced, over-subsidized, job-creators-first economic climate; they fail in that.
A perfect storm of events culminated on Oscar night and set off a twitter-storm of indignation from VFX artists and sympathizers everywhere.
1) Rhythm & Hues, a twenty-year-old multiple-Oscar-winning studio, announced on Feb 15th that it was bankrupt and laying off a third of its employees. The Oscar “kiss of death” was already a well-established phenomenon, having already done for Digital Domain (Titanic) and Pixomondo (Hugo).
2) 400 VFX protesters gather outside the Oscars to bring attention to their plight: working long hours for no extra pay on ruinously underbid contracts and being compelled to uproot and move families whenever the studios wish to take advantage of a new state government’s subsidies.
3) The nominees for best Visual Effects are announced by the male cast of The Avengers (a movie, of course, heavily dependent on VFX and CG characters), who condescend their way through an awkward comedy bit about giving the artists their “due respect”. No respect was given. Was that the joke?
4) Life of Pi, a gorgeous movie featuring a CG tiger as a main character, among other effects marvels, wins the Best Visual Effects Oscar. The producers of the award show let Bill Westenhofer speak for about 30 seconds about his accomplishment before starting the Jaws theme to get him offstage. In a case of unfortunate timing, they cut his mic right as he starts to mention the financial strife Rhythm & Hues (the studio that just went bankrupt, remember?) has suffered in creating this award-winning spectacle.
5) Ang Lee wins Best Director for Life of Pi. He sees fit to thank the “movie gods”, his live actors, and the guys who built a pool for him on a sound stage, but doesn’t mention the magicians at Rhythm & Hues who took the raw footage of a stuffed doll on a toy-boat in a pool and spun it into a photo-real, sympathetic CG tiger in a vast ocean.
The series of events was too much for already-incensed VFX artists all over the blogosphere. The anger erupted in pithy tweets from long-suffering VFX legends and the facebook protest. I feel as though something snapped in me too. Our entire craft was shoved off into a corner and told to keep quiet while the actors and directors hogged all the artistic glory and the movie studios reaped all the financial benefits.
Now that we’ve had this airing of grievances, the talk is turning to solutions. Studios should quit making ruinous concessions in order to underbid other studios. State governments should quit giving subsidies to effects work, forcing studios (and their unfortunate employees) to pick up and move in an attempt to gain an edge in the bidding war. Studios should not be allowed to use free student labor. Studios should not use cheap Indian, Korean, and Chinese labor. VFX artists should finally unionize.
The industry need not be a cut-throat, runaway arms race to the absolute bottom of the market. Red in tooth and claw may be the natural, free-market order of things; but there is no law of the universe that says we have to accept the natural order. We control the environment that evolved these blights. If a governing body can agree on rules of economic engagement among studios and a VFX union can enforce the rules of employment among artists, it would be a better place for us all. The studios would not have to choose between stagnation and bankruptcy. The artists would not have to choose between working the job they were born to do or having a stable family life with health insurance.
A union would be nice. But I also feel like a philosophical change among the artists is necessary. Here I will speak just about my own corner of the industry: animation. If you want to be treated like an artist you need to start acting like an artist. Respect your work enough to ask for a fair recompense. If the recompense is not forthcoming, you don’t work those extra hours and weekends. Go home and enjoy your life. Or go home and do more work, but do it for yourself. Animators are actors, every bit as responsible for the creation of a convincing performance as the live cast of The Avengers. Every bit as deserving of the title “artist.” Don’t let anyone treat you like a button pusher. Don’t work on shitty projects. If the new Chipmunks movie looks like a turd, ask to see a script before you commit 2 years of your life to polishing it, and turn it down if you don’t like it. That’s what an artist would do.
I still believe we are extremely lucky to make money doing what we love. I just wish we didn’t have to feel like suckers for loving it. After today, I hope we don’t go back to silently wishing.
Adam and Dog by Minkyu Lee, 2011
Just gorgeous. So sensitively and sympathetically animated. Almost makes me want a dog :) This is an Oscar-nominated (2012) and Annie-winning (2011) short. I don’t know how long it will be up… see it!