Sunday, October 8, 2017

Showreel and Video Essays

A few weeks ago I have finally come around to compile a new animation showreel. These are mostly scenes from films I have been working on. The music is by Christian Wallner and performed by his band Piri Piri:

Animation Showreel 2017 from
Oswald Iten.

Video Essays
If someone asked me a few weeks ago, I told them that I would never do a video essay on Christopher Nolan's films because there are already so many out there and his films get a disproportionate amount of attention compared to many filmmakers I wish would be household names by now.

Besides, I think that formally (how he structures plot/narrative) his films are much more interesting than stylistically (blocking, framing, editing). But when I studied the temporal structure of all his feature films for a lecture on DUNKIRK (2017), I just found too many interesting aspects that I have never seen somebody analyze in detail. So whenever I have some time at my hands, I am trying to shape these observations into video essays.

In the meantime, here is a silent video essay about a prop from DUMBO (1941) that hasn't found its way to this blog so for:
Inanimate Objects #1: The Versatile Bathtub from Oswald Iten.

Apart from the really obvious ones like the bicycle in LADRI DI BICICLETTE or some McGuffins, props as storytelling devices have been neglected in comparison to many other aspects of film making for too long a time.
This video essay is an attempt to highlight what I have thought to be a perfectly economical use of a visual element and a prop in DUMBO.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Locarno Film Festival #movieofmylife

On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Locarno (Film) Festival launched a competition called #movieofmylife:
Tell us about the movie that changed your life, the one that got under your skin the most, to the point where nothing’s ever been the same since. We all have at least one film, one scene, one shot, that we still can’t get out of our minds. We want you to recall the big screen moments which left such a lasting impression on your life.
The rules are: no more than 70 seconds and don't reveal the title of the movie until the end of the video. In the meantime, people have participated in many different ways with videos ranging from cellphone selfies to re-staged classic scenes. Since I don't like to see my face on video and I am invited to join a round table about video essays, I have opted for animation with voice over narration.

You can see my video here:
Unfortunately, I can't embed it because you can only vote on the competition website.

If you go there make sure to check out some of the other videos, there are really great examples of capturing films without a single word! Sometimes, you recognize the film right from the beginning, sometimes the whole video only makes sense when the title of the portrayed film is revealed (like in one of my favorite videos (so far) about a neorealist classic).

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Introduction to SUNSET SONG and Terence Davies

Terence Davies is one of those masters of cinema who is still struggling to find the audience he deserves. Even such a beautiful literary adaptation like SUNSET SONG (2015) did not make it to cinemas or even blu ray around here (Switzerland, Germany...).

However, it is available with English (for those who are put off by the Scottish accents) or French subtitles. Since SUNSET SONG is relatively conventional compared to Davies's autobiographical masterpieces DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (1988) and THE LONG DAY CLOSES (1992), this more easily accessible narrative serves as an ideal introduction to the cinematic universe of a highly idiosyncratic film maker every cinephile has to know.
This video essay was originally made for where you can find a version with German voice over narration.

An Introduction to Terence Davies's SUNSET SONG from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.

Note: Last year, for the first time (ever?) Terence Davies was able to release two feature films within two consecutive years which means that A QUIET PASSION (2016), his highly acclaimed portrait of poet Emily Dickinson is already available in some territories. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances described above, I have not seen it yet.

Planimetric Shots
If you have ever seen a Terence Davies film you might probably remember his "planimetric" compositions (which is a term that David Bordwell had originally borrowed from Heinrich Wölfflin), i.e. the more or less flat staging of characters in parallel layers with the camera often perpendicular to the back wall of a room. Although this type of shot has become much more common in mainstream movies and especially period pieces, most people associate it with Wes Anderson who has been excessively using it ever since THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001).

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Wes Anderson, 2001)

You couldn't mistake Davies's compositions for Anderon's, however. While Anderson's candy color fantasies often look as if they were freshly painted or arranged by a doll house manufacturer, Davies's rooms and costumes are carefully selected to look lived-in and well-worn.

Green Scottish Life
Although he seems to prefer washed out colors (not the digitally desaturated DC kind, of course) in SUNSET SONG his director of photography Michael McDonough captured with his 65mm (exteriors) and large format digital (interiors) cameras a wide range of subtle shades of green...

...that in the second half are often balanced with red garments:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Annecy 2017 Impressions

Annecy always reminds me how thriving the animation community is and this year's edition was no exception. In the end, I may not have seen as many films as I would have liked but the combination of wonderful people, sunshine and two pedalo rides more than outweighed that, especially looking back eight days later.

As always, I also discovered bandes dessinées I have never heard of and was introduced to the works of inventive animation directors that had previously slipped under my radar. For example, I wouldn't have chosen to go to a screening of Crystal winner LU OVER THE WALL (Yoake tsugeru Rû no uta) if my friends had not already had tickets and knew what they were in for with Masaaki Yuasa.
Overwhelming water animation in LU OVER THE WALL.

Some 2017 Favorites

My favorite film was certainly MIN BÖRDA (Niki Landroth von Bahr, 2017) from Sweden in which a couple of lonely animals "sing" about their isolation. If you're not sold after seeing the singing fish in the trailer below (how could anyone not be), then surely the prospect of an animated Roy Andersson short film will get you interested.

The Burden (Min Börda) - trailer from Niki Lindroth von Bahr on Vimeo.

MIN BÖRDA was one of several stop motion films that included a long shot showing the whole set from an outside perspective. In contrast to the more meta-level versions (akin to Fellini's E LA NAVE VA, 1983) in several other puppet films, in MIN BÖRDA it actually was a diegetic shot, though.

NEGATIVE SPACE (Ru Kuwahata/Max Porter), another stop motion short, stood out to me not only because the tone of the storytelling was just perfect but also because I really admired the careful animation, especially the make-believe wave on the beach.

Negative Space - Trailer from Tiny Inventions on Vimeo.

With the advent of digital cinema, the once extravagant cinemascope aspect ratio (1:2.39) is available to even the most underfunded film maker and therefore increasingly popular. What does not automatically come with a wider frame are the skills it takes to make such compositions work (as has been already proven during the 1950s in live-action cinema). Thankfully, Michelle and Uri Kranot mastered the format in NOTHING HAPPENS, a film "about watching and being watched". And as I have learned on vimeo, the film that with all its fixed camera setups looked so non-digital on the big screen is also a virtual reality experience:

Nothing happens- an animated virtual reality experience from Michelle & Uri Kranot on Vimeo.

Being always alert to color trends, I noticed how many of the films I liked made heavy use of blue either in conventional terms of cold v warm, orange - teal or more boldly like in MATERIAL WORLD (Anna Ginsburg) that won the Annecy Crystal for best commissioned film.
The beauty of instructional videos: MATERIAL WORLD
In that light, it certainly fitted perfectly well that in the very same commissioned film program a CNN explainer addressed the very color:

Blue - CNN from Moth on Vimeo.

The commissioned films program was a real delight because it provides a nice usually give you a nice overview of current styles popular in the more inventive sections of advertising. And for me, getting an overview is one of the things that also draws me to internationally renowned annual short film competitions like Annecy.

Some concerns about short film compilations

The programming of this section, however, is highly problematic. If you saw only one or two screenings instead of all six, you would come to an extremely distorted conclusion about current trends in animation. Because:
A) not only are many of the more experimental films lumped together into one single "off-limits" program (which both makes it harder to process them all and turns away many a viewer who normally would not mind a challenging experiment in between more easily accessible films), but also
B) the films in the five "normal" competition compilations seem to be increasingly segregated as well by style/technique and even content (I wasn't alone with the impression that I saw a program full of meta-stop motion films and one full of either handpainted or pixilation/live-action-animation combinations). It may make sense from a critic's point of view to compare three similarly themed stop motion films that feature invisible imaginary walls, but to the audience the effect is more like "oh, another one of those" which does not do the individual films justice.

Brush strokes and the power of voice acting

But to close on a more positive note: a packed Bonlieu, Grande Salle is still the most exciting place to see a film on the big screen simply because it produces the most enthusiastic audience I have ever seen. And this, of course, was the case on my first day, when I thoroughly enjoyed the first "public" screening of LOVING VINCENT and contributed to a ten minute standing ovation that made it into Variety.

Writer-director Dorota Kobiela had the crowd on her side right from the beginning when she emotionally dedicated it to her grandmother. What most surprised me - and ultimately convinced me despite the film's many flaws - was the fact that the concocted mystery plot worked so smoothly. Maybe a bit too smoothly and certainly too rushed at times when everything that vaguely resembled a reflective moment was plastered with Clint Mansell's far too obtrusive score before I had time to catch a breath.

But - and that is a much more serious problem - the film, well-acted as it is by the likes of Chris O'Dowd and Soairse Ronan, would easily work as an Irish radio play which literally means that apart from a few imaginative scene transitions the filmmakers failed to make use of the visual potential of a feature film consisting exclusively of oil paintings and simply illustrate talking heads. For sure, the paintings are expertly executed, the flow is a lot better than in almost any rotoscoped feature I have seen and the colors alone are a fantastic treat. But narratively, there is nothing gained from the brush strokes, no new insight into the characters that is not already in the dialogue. Stylistically, despite the unifying rotoscoping, the well-proportioned actors walking through off-perspective backdrops often reminded me of the Dali dream sequence in Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND where Gregory Peck stumbles through deliberately unbalancing expressionist/surrealist sets.
LOVING VINCENT: live-action v rotoscoped in oil.
But still I enjoyed it and I warmly recommend seeing it. Even if mostly for pulling this feat off and hopefully making people all around the world re-discover an artist who is so popular today that we take him for granted. And if that comes through a combination of eye candy and tv style murder mystery, so be it. I'd rather see that one again over yet another superhero origin story.

Speaking of origin stories: the basic parent - child relationship inherent to any origin story seems to have replaced the love story as the primary emotional trajectory of mainstream films from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Condon, 2017) to LOGAN (Mangold, 2017) or ROGUE ONE (Edwards, 2016). Thus, it came as no surprise that many films in the shorts competition dealt with remembering a recently deceased parent. A special treat was PÉPÉ LE MORSE (Lucrèce Andreae): a prime example of fluid, atmospheric storytelling - at 15 minutes it never dragged - and strong voice acting which I am very partial to yet which is not so easily found in animated short films.

Pépé le morse - Teaser from Lucrece Andreae on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


It has been quite some time since I posted some of my own work on this blog. But in the last few months, there have been a few illustration assignments that I really enjoyed doing.

Recently, a good friend commissioned a large format (digital) painting from one of his holiday photographs. At first, I was not sure if that was a good idea and if I was able to make it look good at a size of about 2.7m wide, but then I really enjoyed to slightly tweak the composition of the well-known Lofoten vista. Since I knew where it would eventually be displayed, I even managed to change the lighting situation so that now the light comes from where the window (and the lamp at night) is located in the room.
Lofoten in summer - Click on the image to see a slightly larger version.

Besides, I always like to paint mountains as can be seen in this color/lighting study below.

Mount Hahnen - Click on the image to see a slightly larger version.

I have also had the opportunity to illustrate Robert Jakob's well written children's book "Max, die Kletterschildkröte" about a Hermann's tortoise who travels to Kasachstan. It was probably the first children's book where I had complete freedom with the color scheme which meant that I could narrow it down to basically two colors (plus earthly grays and browns). The publisher's only input was that they did not want another green tortoise character (we agreed upon the warm orange skin tone shortly before I saw the first image of Michael Dudok de Wit's THE RED TURTLE).

Click on the image to see a slightly larger version.