I’m a big fan of short films, and specifically animated shorts.
This blog in itself was founded on the concept of making animated shorts and documenting the process, so you can assume it’s something I’m passionate about.
Making shorts, however, is not an easy task – and I’m not talking about the technical process. Yes, the technical process is hard and complicated, but the real challenge is coming up with a good story. Building a good story is hard with any kind of film, but with shorts – since you have such a time limit – figuring out your story can be a grueling process.
I’ve attended a screening of the Oscar nominated animated shorts (of 2015) and decided to write down my impressions of the selection. You will notice that a major part of my critique is about the story, and that is because I believe a short film is worth nothing if the story is not amazing.
This is NOT a film review, or anything like what film critics might do. This is my own personal impression based on my aesthetics, taste and style. Please take it as what it is.
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts
The Bigger Picture / Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
This film was definitely the most artistically unique in the screening.
The film was, to my understanding, filmed in a stop-motion fashion, by painting the walls of a house interior to look as if characters are standing there. The artists then redrew the characters frame by frame to create the animation illusion. The walls and furniture, however, were real.
I was happy to see a new style of animation, which was nothing like anything I’ve seen so far. I’m guessing that this is the main reason this film was nominated for an Oscar, because the art itself was, objectively, unrefined and crass. The animation itself was unimpressive and minimal.
My main problem with this film is a problem I have with many animated shorts; There was no reason for it to be an animated film. The story is about two brothers dealing with their dying mother, and there’s nothing magical or unrealistic about anything in the story. Not to say that all animated films should be Toy Story, but I do believe that animation needs to have some level of justification, and I witnessed non of it in this film.
The Dam Keeper / Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Another visually unique film, The Dam Keeper uses a paint brush texture and feel through the whole film, combining 2D look with 3D elements.
The story is about a young pig who’s job is the operate a huge windmill to “keep the darkness away.” That’s pretty much all the information you are given, because the main emphasis of the story is the pig’s struggle with his friends in class.
Yes, he goes to middle school. While part-timing as a windmill operator and by that saves the whole village on a daily basis. And no one knows about it. And he has a voice of a 50-year-old man.
I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the basic premiss feels a bit unresolved at times. I don’t mind when things are mysterious, but when they don’t make sense it could take away from the film.
HOWEVER – and that’s a big ‘however’ – this film is amazing. The artistic style and emotional connection the directors achieved is noteworthy, and perhaps enough to win them an Oscar.
The journey we go through as the little pig maneuver his way in a class full of cruel kids is heartbreaking. I won’t say more to not spoil, but this tale will keep you mesmerized both for the stunning visuals and emotional turmoil. You’re welcome to use that as a quote for the poster (:
One last thing that bothered me about this film (and I’m only being this hard on it because I cared about it that much) is that it felt like a few more months of work could have made it much better. Now that might be true to any film, but there were a few shots where it was noticeable that they didn’t animate it all the way through and kept it on 4’s or 8’s, which sometimes looked like a pretty animatic. Those few extra months could have given them some time to work out some story details and refine it to the full potential.
Feast / Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
What can I say about Feast?
Seriously, go see Big Hero 6 just for that. You won’t regret it.
All kidding aside, Feast was probably my favorite animated short in years. Some people say that it’s easy to make an amazing animated film when you got Disney backing you up, but I’ve seen many Pixar/Disney shorts, and they are not all equally good.
Sure, they are probably better than many indie ones out there, and that is to be expected. They have a ton of experience, the best hardware money can buy, and the greatest animators/artists/technical artists in the world.
However, it all boils down to the IDEA. The story. In this case, the story and execution are both outstanding. And it’s a lot deeper than what it looks like from the trailer.
Feast is not just about a dog who likes to eat. It’s about love, believe it or not. I won’t say more about the plot so I don’t spoil it for you, but the ending has put me to tears, both times I watched it.
Should we talk about the execution? It’s all pretty much perfect. The dog is animated flawlessly (anyone who has a dog would go nuts watching this animation) and the art style is extremely compelling. It is directed and edited fast and to the point, having zero unnecessary moments. I’m sorry to sound like a fan boy, but this is really one of the most perfect examples I’ve seen of what a short film should be.
Just… Just watch it.
Me and My Moulton / Torill Kove
Another one of those “didn’t need to be animated” shorts. This film features three sisters and their parents, and depicts their day-to-day life living in Norway. The story here isn’t too exciting. They ask the parent for a new bicycle and… well, stuff happens.
This is a “small” film, as many indie films tend to be. Visually it is not very interesting, looking like a slightly better flash video. There is nothing to spectacular about either the story, the characters or the visual language. I wish I had more to say, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
It’s not a bad film, it kept me interested for most of it, but there’s just nothing amazing in it, which makes me wonder why it was nominated for the highest prize a film could get.
A Single Life / Joris Oprins
Ok, this is a cool one.
This is what I call a perfect short; It’s actually short (less than 3 minuets if I remember correctly), it has a very strong story, it uses animation in to its potential and it delivers a satisfying experience the whole way through.
The film is about a young girl who receives a record to her door step, and when she plays it she discovers it controls time. From that point on funny things happen in a blaze of time traveling goodness.
I really liked the artistic style they went with, It almost feels like stop motion puppets, though it is fully CGI. It’s very cartoony and charming.
I’m really impressed they were able to achieve such a great honor with such a short film. It goes to show that an awesome idea can go a long way.
What’s going on with Pixar? Did they forget how to make great animated shorts?
Pixar have set the standard to what an amazing animated short is with numerous Oscar wins over the years, but it seems like Disney took its place lately.
The last nomination they had was in 2012 with “La Luna” which didn’t win, and also is not a very strong short in my opinion. Disney has been kicking ass though with Feast for this year, Get A Horse last year and Paperman the year before that. All amazing shorts. Pixar’s last awesome short was Night And Day, but that was in 2010.
Duet / Glen Keane
Before reading, please first watch this amazing short. Thank you.
Duet is one of the best animated short I’ve seen. It’s completely hand animated by one of Disney’s greatest animators of all time, Glen Keane (The Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, Tangled, Paperman and many many others.)
It tells the life story of a girl, a boy and his dog, all through one long shot full of choreographed movement animated with craftsmanship like nothing else.
So my question is WHY was it not nominated? It might be because it was publicly released online and thus disqualified from the competition? I’m not really sure, maybe if you guys have a clue you can write it in the comments.
Who should win?
I’ll be honest, Feast was my favorite of this list, but Disney have plenty of Oscars and I really think smaller studios who have made great accomplishments with a small staff should get the proper recognition.
That is why I really think The Dam Keeper should win.
Who do I think will win?