This is the second part of an interview that was originally published on Autodesk.jp on September 16th, 2016. Click here for part 1. Thanks to @frog_kun for providing the translation. © 2017 On The Ones
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.
Yes, after a long hiatus caused by the departure of chief editor Tamerlane, On the Ones is officially active as a collaborative animation analysis/research blog again. And as a means of furthering discourse, so are the Capsule Reviews, which I hope will become a monthly feature showcasing not only OTO staff reviews of animated films, but the reviews of readers, too. As with last time, each monthly post will be updated as new reviews trickle in; for my part, I will write two reviews to start off each post,
and contribute two more over the course of the month. (EDIT: Under current circumstances, I am now unable to do this.)
In that regard, once again, anyone can contribute to the Capsule Reviews. If you’d like to contribute a short, paragraph-or-two-long write-up of any animated film, please don’t hesitate to contact me through Twitter or through the comments section of this post—I encourage audience participation! (more…)
Pinscreen animation is not well-known among most animation fans, understandably: not very many films have been made using the painstaking medium to begin with, and even then they are far removed from standard mediums of animation aesthetically and thematically. But anyone who seeks the best of them out will be rewarded with surreal, often impressionistic gems that open up new possibilities for animated expression.
The pinscreen is a device consisting of several (as in, up to over a million) small pins in holes; with some effort, the pins can be pushed into and out of their holes. The screen is then lit from an angle such that the pins create varying shadows, depending on how much they protrude from the screen; taken together, the shadows can create images that resemble engravings, complete with chiaroscuro (striking use of light and dark shadings). As the images are viewed directly at the front of the screen, the pins themselves do not affect any one given image more than they do another, no matter how far out they stick.
There is one big problem, though: it is difficult and time-consuming to manipulate the pinscreen in order to create the desired images, let alone animate them. The device was created by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker in the early 1930s, and they would create a number of interesting films over a span of several decades, two of the most notable being Night on Bald Mountain (set to Mussorgsky’s famous piece as arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov) and The Nose (from the Gogol short story of the same name). In 1972, the National Film Board of Canada acquired a pinscreen, and Alexeieff and Parker were invited to demonstrate the device to the animators there.
However, only UCLA-returned newcomer Jacques Drouin, who had been acquainted with pinscreen animation since seeing The Nose at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 60s, would use the pinscreen regularly and explore its capabilities. Carrying on Alexeieff’s legacy, between 1974 and 2004 Drouin made six films at the NFBC using the pinscreen (one, Nightangel, in collaboration with Czech stop-motion animator Břetislav Pojar), as well as a segment for Kihachiro Kawamoto’s collaborative film Winter Days.
Perhaps his most well-known film, if not his masterpiece, is Mindscape, released in 1976.
Anyone who is even slightly familiar with American animation history has probably heard the name of Chuck Jones. One of the most distinctive and recognizable filmmakers to arise during the Golden Age of American animation, during the 1940s and 50s Jones put out a slew of often truly great shorts at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio, including several of the most well-known WB shorts (The Dover Boys, Haredevil Hare, Rabbit Hood, Long-Haired Hare, Barber of Seville, Rabbit Seasoning, Bully for Bugs, Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century, One Froggy Evening, What’s Opera, Doc?, and the Road Runner cartoons, to name just a few). What makes Jones’s best films stand out are their impeccably-drawn-and-animated characters, the characters’ own animated humanity as sharply expressed in their poses and facial expressions, the cinematic layouts (most likely inherited from fellow WB director Frank Tashlin), a willingness to experiment with any element of a film, and a subtle sense of both sophistication and cynicism.
In addition to working with (and often tweaking) established characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Jones and his collaborator, writer Mike Maltese, came up with several of their own memorable characters, some more well-known than others (the aforementioned Road Runner and his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote, being two of the most well-known). These characters generally starred in their own cartoons, or co-starred with the more established characters, or (in the case of Jones’s dysfunctional Three Bears) even both. At times, these “lesser” characters could even co-star with each other.
Chuck Jones’s 1954 classic, Feline Frame-Up, is not only a great example of the latter, but also a great example of Jones’s 1950s films in general.
Tadanari Okamoto was one of the greatest Japanese independent animators, although he remains largely unknown outside Japan. Through his production company Echo Inc., he and his dedicated staff made several films in which he, though mostly known as a stop-motion animator, constantly experimented with the capabilities of animation, changing the medium or type of animation he used in each film. What made his films particularly special, however, was that they were not purely experimental; he sought to make animated films, making sure that all the elements, like the animation type, the story, and the music, cohered to make something greater than the sum of its parts.
Okamoto made a fair number of masterpieces, most notably The Monkey and the Crab, Praise Be To Small Ills, The Water Seed, Towards the Rainbow, The Soba Flower of Mt. Oni, The Magic Ballad, and The Restaurant of Many Orders (completed posthumously by his colleague Kihachiro Kawamoto, a famed stop-motion animator in his own right), though practically all his films are worth watching for the artistry and stories. In the latter regard, several of his films, including all the films listed above, were based on folktales or stories written by others; a number of his films do have original stories by himself, however.
An original story is just one of the many unique elements that comprise The Forgotten Doll, an offbeat film that Okamoto produced in 1980. (more…)