Wednesday, March 26, 2008

OK, this was definitely Oscar-worthy...

One of my favorite animators of all time was Fred Stuhr. Fred was this jumpy adrenaline junkie of a guy, a former competitive skateboarder, who liked fast cars and fast drugs and fast life. Yet somehow or another his attention was held by the infinitely slow process of doing dimensional animation: manipulating puppets in infinitely small increments, frame by frame by frame. His favorite part of the whole process was building things: the puppets, the sets, the vehicles, the props. He literally lived in his studio, surrounded by a miniature back lot of sets for projects he had finished, and projects yet to be finished.

Somehow or another he would blow through these projects fast. He primarily did music videos...Adam from Tool still claims that he directed those two breakthrough videos, Sober and Prison Sex, but a few of us knew better. Alas, this genius wasn't here to last. Fred died way too young in a car crash, before he got a chance to do anything long-form. I showed him a video of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the mid-'90s being a time when animated features had to be musicals, and that was a musical that might be in sync with his dark visions. He never made it to that or any other feature. I can't complain about Tim Burton's take on the musical, with Johnny Depp as the perfect live-action choice for the haunted, revenge-obsessed barber. But I wonder what Fred would have done with it had he got the backing and the go-ahead.

But this is not an article about my friend Fred, who met his demise a little more than 10 years ago. It's about another masterful group of dimensional animators, and their creation: Peter and the Wolf, which won for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards this year. The fact that this was passed up for the Annies is beyond me. As much as I enjoyed Your Friend, The Rat and How To Hook Up Your Home Theatre, I think that this is indeed the finest short I have seen of all screened in 2007.

Unlike Fred's gonzo approach to dimensional animation, the artisans at Se-Ma-For Pictures in Poland and British dimensional animator Suzie Templeton took 5 years to complete the short. Most of the film was done the old fashioned way: hands manipulating handmade puppets. However, CGI was used to create effects that were hard to create by hand in stop-motion time, like fog and floating balloons.

I suspect that this will be re-run on PBS Great Performances. Perhaps, maybe, it could be run as a yearly tradition? It's certainly gorgeous enough and strong enough to stand up to re-running.

One other thing before I wrap this post up: Cartoon Geeks favorite Persepolis will be coming back into theatres in April. This time you will have a choice of languages: the original French and a new English dub where original French voice actors Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni will be joined by Iggy Pop, Gena Rowlands, and Sean Penn. It will be initially going into 100 theatres...not a huge release, but 50 times bigger than its initial release in Los Angeles and New York City. Hopefully it will go wider as people get drawn into the little animated movie that could. The DVD will have both versions on it when it is released. When it comes out, people: GO SEE IT. You won't be disappointed.

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