4mations Launches

Erika Russel's Feet of Song

Wow! There’s getting to be a delightful glut of films posted online these days. Following the National Film Board of Canada recent launch of their beta site. The Guardian now reports that Britain’s Channel 4, a public-service broadcaster funded by advertising, has launched  4mations, which “it hopes will be an online home for the UK’s animation community, rolling out an advertising-supported, YouTube-style site that will pay animators for their work.”

Channel 4, especially under the guidance of Claire Kitson (who is no longer there), nurtured a Golden Age of British animated short films. (Check out my brief profile of Kitson in this 1999  Animation World Magazine story.) The site is still in the process of posting its films, which seems to be adding almost by the minute. Among those already online include such familiar titles as Alison Snowden and David Fine’s hilarious Oscar-winning short , Bob’s Birthday, which acted as the pilot for their Bob and Margaret TV series, and two wonderfully theatrical efforts by  Barry Purves, his Oscar-nominated Screen Play and Achilles, plus less familiar classics such as Erika Russell’s sensuous Feet of Song (pictured above).

The Guardian notes,

The project is a collaboration with Aardman, the Bristol-based independent producer behind Wallace and Gromit, and the animation specialists Lupus Films.

4mations includes comedy, adult, sci-fi and 3D work along with games and specialist groups. Users can vote on clips, upload their own work and embed their favourite clips on their own websites and social networks.

Channel 4’s new media commissioner for factual, Adam Gee, said the site would provide a new focus for the broadcaster’s animation output.

The broadcaster has a strong tradition in animation going back to its launch in 1982. Channel 4 animations have included Raymond Briggs’ classic The Snowman in 1982, Suzie Templeton’s Peter & the Wolf, and Taking a Line for a Walk, based on the work of artist Paul Klee.

… The full version [of the site] launches on September 15 and will include Thinks, a simple editing tool that will let users create their own animation in less than an hour.

The quality of the films looks better than YouTube, though I encountered technical problems trying to embed films using WordPress, a glitch which I trust they will work out. In the meantime, enjoy.

September 2nd Update: Technical problems solved. Here is Feet of Song.

Dental Tales

Glenn Martin DDSOn July 28th,  Daily Variety reported that,

Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite has given a 20-episode order to “Glenn Martin DDS,” a stop-motion animated comedy series from former Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner.

Series reps the first to come out of Tornante Animation, a newly formed part of Eisner’s investment firm, the Tornante Co. Eisner has partnered with “Celebrity Deathmatch” creator Eric Fogel to design “Glenn Martin,” which Nick at Nite plans to launch next summer.

“Glenn Martin” revolves around a dentist who persuades his family to embark on a cross-country road trip — in their toothbrush-topped “dental mobile.”

Eisner brought “Glenn Martin” to Nick at Nite after reading how Nickelodeon was readjusting the evening programming service to target young families ….

The story caught my attention not so much because of the involvement of Eisner and Vogel, but because of the series has a dentist as its central character. I’m not sure if it is my imagination, but it seems to me that dentists are more common in animation than physicians, especially in comparison to live-action films and TV shows.

Alison Snowden and David Fine's Bob and MargaretDavid Fine and Alison Snowden’s TV series Bob and Margaret (1998-2001) and Michael Sporn’s Oscar-nominated short Doctor De Soto (1984) (pictured below) come immediately to mind. After bit of searching, I also found Earl Hurd’s Bobby Bumps at the Dentist (1918), Ben Hardaway’s Buddy the Dentist (1934), and Signe Baumane’s Five Infomercials for Dentists (2005).

Doctor Desoto While films featuring doctors and even nurses abound, the amount of live-action fare featuring dentists seems sparse; e.g., while there was a Carry on Doctor and a Carry on Nurse, there was never, to my knowledge, a Carry on Dentist. The popular Bob Hope comedy, The Paleface (1948), featured him as Painless Potter, though it was co-written by Frank Tashlin, who had recently graduated from directing cartoons for Leon Schlesinger.

Perhaps the scarcity of doctors in animation is due, in part, to the fact that animated characters are virtually indestructible. Thus, one paper presented at the recent Society for Animation Studies conference by Van Norris (University of Portsmouth), “‘Taking an Appropriate Line’ – Assessing Representations of Disability Within the Popular,” which basically pointed out the obvious, that animated characters are not supposed to have disabilities; there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. (Norris used some Aardman public service announcements as examples, though one might also add the Nelvana TV series Quads! [2001] and the character of John Silver in Treasure Planet [2002].)

Anyway, the comic potential of dentistry seems too much to resist even for a bunch of indestructible toons, drawn or otherwise.

Azur et Asmar

Azur et Asmar 04Azur et Asmar poster As I noted in my previous post, I had the chance to see Michel Ocelot’s latest film, Azur et Asmar (France, 2006), in the British release version, Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest, at the Society for Animation Studies conference in England, with the director present. Unfortunately, a lack of 35mm facilities meant a DVD copy was shown, which did not really do justice to the film’s rich imagery. As the film’s American distributor (the Weinstein Company) has bowed out, those in the United States and Canada  will have to bide their time. (Those who have region-free DVD players can get copies from Amazon UK and elsewhere. Hopefully, Korean NTSC DVDs, with English subtitles, may find their way here as well.)

Ocelot, whose short films were a fixture on the international festival circuit, had considerable success with Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), which has also has been made into a successful stage musical in France.  It was this success which enabled him to have a bigger budget and more freedom in making Azur et Asmar; thus,  instead of having the film outsourced to five different countries, production could all be done in Paris.

There is a lot to like in Kirikou, but I felt that it did not sustain the charm and decorative beauty of its early scenes; nevertheless, I enjoy showing a clip from it in my Survey of Animation class, and students inevitably want to see more. (Several always happily buy it on DVD.)

With Kirikou, Ocelot was telling a tale based on West African folklore, something he was familiar with, since he spent much of his childhood in Guinea, the former French colony. This time, reflecting his concern about the problems of North African immigrants in France, he tells a tale of two boys set in the Middle Ages — the fair haired Azur, the son of European nobility, and Asmar, the dark skinned son of Azur’s Muslim nurse; though the nurse raises them as brothers, Azur’s father banishes the nurse and her son; years later, the two are reunited when Azur journeys to Asmar’s homeland, where they both undertake a quest for a Djinn fairy.

The story is really rather thin and the early part of the film seems rather weak. Ocelot, whose silhouette-style favors flat imagery, opted to render his characters with computers, who play out against often lavish hand drawn backgrounds. However, the early scenes in Europe lack the visual interest of the rest of the film, and the early going is somewhat tedious. However, once Azur sets out on his quest, Ocelot’s lavish pictorialism kicks in and it becomes considerably more appealing;  and it is this pictorialism, which is something like a series of Persian miniatures come to life, that carries the film.

(Interestingly, pictorialism of a different sort is also a feature of Kung Fu Panda and WALL-E. In Kung Fu, it certainly enriched a well-executed story, and in WALL-E, it was one of the film’s few saving graces. )

Kirikou‘s international success was not duplicated in the US, probably due to its rather matter-of-fact nudity. This is not a problem with Azur, but according to Ocelot, the Weinstein Company felt no one in America wanted to see the film. Perhaps this was due to its subject matter and the fact that much of the dialog is in Arabic, with no subtitles.  Ocelot was visibly upset about the Weinstein Company’s actions and hoped someone else would pick it up for US distribution. Let’s hope so, but given the large number of European animated movies which fail to get a theatrical airing here, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, here’s the British trailer for the film.