Witold Giersz: Poland’s Animator-Painter (Part 1)

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Among the most prolific Polish animators of the past century, and certainly one of the most accessible, is Witold Giersz. His defining trait, in several of his more ambitious films, is his painterly, visuals-focused approach to animation: his characters are unabashedly the medium with which they were created, whether paint or crayon or even tissue, brought to vivid life. He moreover instills a gentle, biting humanism into several of his films: he depicts how people can be idiotic, imprudent, and spiteful, if not downright malicious, but does so with such warmth and humor that it’s clear he does not think humans as a whole are irredeemable so much as they are well-meaning, if ultimately flawed in a variety of ways and often prone to being doomed by their own vanities and those of others. (more…)

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Tadanari Okamoto in 1971: Moving into 2D with “Chikotan, My Bride” and Two Other Melancholy Musicals

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For the first few years of his independent career, Tadanari Okamoto largely stuck with stop-motion; even during this early period, however, he already had a penchant for experimenting with different materials and designs. In his first three films alone, based on stories by science fiction writer Shinichi Hoshi, the rather pedestrian puppets of his Noburō Ōfuji Award-winning A Wonderful Medicine, which nevertheless featured delightfully sloppy-looking, mostly hand-drawn FX animation, gave way to the plastic toy-like puppets of its follow-up Welcome, Aliens and then the low-relief wooden puppets of Operation Woodpecker. His desire to try different forms of animation and subject matter became more apparent in the three animated music videos he created for the Song Series from 1968 to 1970, as evidenced by the rugged, wooden aesthetic of Back When Grandpa Was a Pirate and the unabashedly paper-constructed (and also Ōfuji Award-winning) Home, My Home, and said videos reflected the increasing importance of music in his films; his sleek Ōfuji Award-winning 1970 film The Flower and the Mole, meanwhile, featured brief sequences of 2D hand-drawn animation, indicating a willingness to extend into different animated mediums.

1971 would be a landmark for Okamoto in that regard. All three of his works that yearChikotan, My Bride and two more music videoswere his first to be produced entirely in drawn animation, and Chikotan would be the first of his extended films in which the music was truly on an equal footing with the animation. Moreover, these musical works were the first in which a pronounced melancholic tone was prominent, with Chikotan, in particular, becoming outright tragic at its climax, in contrast to the relative lightheartedness of his earlier films. These works remain among the most unappreciated of Okamoto’s early career, with memorable scores, a heartfelt atmosphere, and beautifully-crafted art design and animation that, over 45 years later, continue to impress in their vitality. (more…)

Kōji Nanke (南家こうじ): Anime’s Eclectic Musical Poet

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Animation and music, when crafted and combined well, make for an exhilarating duo. Innumerable cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation, in particular, relied on the visuals working in tandem with the music. Animation itself is a wide-ranging medium, capable of several different modes of expression, and a particularly intrepid filmmaker can spend an entire career experimenting with a variety of forms and styles.

Perhaps the greatest living representative of both these ideas is the Japanese independent animator Kōji Nanke. Almost all of his work has been music videos, particularly for NHK’s Minna no Uta, and within these confines he has often created beautiful gems that not only try out different animated mediums and artistic styles with utmost craftsmanship, but do so with the relationship between the visuals and the music in mind. In Nanke’s best work, the animation and the music are inseparable from each other even as the former is recognizable as his vision, to riveting effect. (more…)

Břetislav Pojar: Multi-Talent of Czech Animation (Part 1)

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The late Břetislav Pojar was one of the finest animators of the past several decades, and certainly one of the greatest names in Czech animation. He animated for the legendary stop-motion filmmaker Jiří Trnka starting in the late 1940s, serving as one of his most important collaborators (Trnka could not animate himself); in the early 50s, he became a full-fledged director (while still animating for Trnka), and would create many distinctive films that varied in their artistic style, narrative, and medium, including some for the National Film Board of Canada. What sets Pojar’s films apart is a charming, playful sense of humor, at times spilling into satire, as well as a focus on the expressiveness of movement and an insight into the virtues, vices, and foibles of humanity; all these elements, along with the variety in approaches and the lyricism seen even in his more didactic films, make his filmography refreshing and well worth exploring.

In that regard, I thought I would discuss several of his films as a starting point for animation fans to get into his work. By no means is it intended to be comprehensive or even a “best picks” selection, but any degree of exposure is good exposure, especially for an animator of Pojar’s caliber. I hope to write more articles like this for other great international animators in the future, but that depends on how much time I have.

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