Over the weekend of February 8-9, 2020, I attended the third iteration of Animation First at the French Institute Alliance Française. It was also the third time I’ve attended the event, but looks like the first time I’ve written about it. As with the previous two events, I enjoyed myself and the animations.
Here are a few of my highlights and a few photos at the end.
Louise by the Shore
The feature-length film I watched was Louise by the Shore (2016), by Jean-François Laguionie, the guest of honor. It was a movie about remembering the past and living simply.
Animated Shorts, by Jean-François Laguionie
I also watched a series of Jean-François Laguionie‘s early animated films, which had been recently restored and digitized. His works were both hand-drawn and stop-motion, such as the example below.
The animation style was relatively rudimentary, compared to today, but the stories were really good. I saw some student works and I’d say one of the key differences came down to telling a good story over technical ability.
The video below needs no translation.
Lorenzo Mattotti: Panel Discussion and Illustrations
I also attended a panel discussion with Lorenzo Mattotti, who recently directed The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily. He has also been an illustrator for New Yorker magazine for many years and examples of his magazine covers were on display.
After the talk, he signed books. Those lucky people got a sketch from him, right there on the spot. Amazing.
I wanted see the The Swallows of Kabul but it came on right after Louise by the Shore. I didn’t want to sit for back to back films and I wasn’t in the mood for something super heavy. Hopefully it will be released in the US, soon.
A few weeks ago, I attended a few screenings at FIAF, the French Institute-Alliance Francaise. I go to many of their events and I was really excited to attend this one because I love animation. I have been watching French films for years, and I find them refreshingly diverse and smart.
The weekend was a collection of film screenings, including feature-length animations and shorts, as well as talks, an AR gallery, a VR gallery, events for kids, and an opening night party. And the event planners at FIAF ended up adding additional screenings and events.
When I heard about the weekend event, I wrote down a whole list of films I wanted to see. Unfortunately, I only ended up going to a presentation of 3-D short films, followed by a short talk, a feature-length animation, another talk, and I viewed the AR gallery. I also got a free poster.
My initial list of films included: Miniscule, The Red Turtle plus a talk, a few 3-D short films, Last Man, Renaissance, Day of the Crows, more short films, and probably another talk. I ended up only seeing Day of the Crows, as well as the 3-D films I mentioned above.
It may be possible to see some of these films above, but Day of the Crows did not seem to be currently available in the US, which is why I wanted to see it. Here is a French trailer with German subtitles.
I spent time looking for some of the names for short films, so I could try and watch them later. Here are some I found. I cannot remember which list they came from, so they might be a little disjointed.
René Laloux in 1987 | Comment Wang-Fo fut Sauve / How Wang-Fo was saved
René Laloux |Les Dents du Singe (The Teeth of the Monkey), 1960
I was inspired by this post after someone sent a funny video about how a dev team solved a problem and the only woman was the “mean” project manager. Like a few other women who got the link to the video, I thought it was a little stereotypical. That is because as I’ve learned more about CSS and creative uses of CSS and web animations, I’ve come to notice that a few experts and thought leaders in creative CSS and SVG animation are female. There are obviously more than I’m going to list here, but this post is based on my personal experiences with what they’ve put out.
In the order of whose work I last interacted with:
I just finished Sarah’s course on Lynda, Advanced SVG Animations. It was originally produced by Frontend Masters, not Lynda. It’s more of an edited live course (with students in the room) than an online course, so the educational style is very different from Lynda. (I personally did not like this format for Lynda, but I think it would be much better as an in-person course.)
Sarah also made an appearance on The Coding Train, on YouTube. Here she is giving a tutorial on web animations and Mo.js.
I came across Val’s course, also on Lynda, where she teaches a course on CSS Animations.
Val was also a guest instructor on the Coding Train.
Val also teaches an in-person web animation course with…Sarah Drasner! Web Animation Workshops. These are one- and two-day courses, in multiple cities around North America and Europe (and possibly even further than that). Given that it’s now October, there aren’t many left this year. But, check out the website now so you can ask your boss for some funding for next year. They also have scholarships for underrepresented groups, if you happen to belong to one. You can sign up for announcements on new classes on the website.
Val also curates the UI Animation newsletter. The newsletter is how I found out about and joined, the Creative Coding Club. I feel terrible saying that I haven’t read many of Val’s UI Animation articles in a while. (Let’s be honest: I haven’t had much time to keep up with Creative Coding Club either. And let’s be even more honest and say I haven’t had time to keep up with much of my personal email, in general!) I might need to resubscribe with a different email address, because the links she shares are very inspirational and educational. And I want to keep up with what’s going on.
I am not quite sure when or where I came across Leah Verou’s work, but it was obviously while I was trying to figure out CSS gradients because I’ve had her wonderful site, CSS Patterns Gallery, bookmarked for a year or two. You can look at my own project sites to see that I’ve used her CSS background patterns multiple times on my own projects. I probably also came across her Cubic Bezier site, as well, most likely during a CSS animation tutorial. You can find more of her projects on her website, http://lea.verou.me/projects/.
As I’m writing this, I cannot remember all the things that made me think of Leah, except for the bookmarks to her CSS gradients page. I think that at one point in the semi-recent past, it seemed that every time I looked for some building block for some cool CSS thing-a-ma-jig, turned out she’d already built it. I really hope she teaches a class somewhere, someday, because she really seems to know her stuff!
To be fair, I have not signed up for any course with Rachel Nabors. Nor have I had much experience with her work. But, she does run a web animation Slack channel, called Animation at Work. Many of the discussions there seem a little over my head right now, but I want to keep involved and stay learning. She also offers a few online courses and has a book published by A Book Apart, called Animation at Work. She also runs a web animation newsletter, Web Animation Weekly. Check out the Archive if you’re interested in learning more. (As you’ve guessed, I am not really reading this newsletter either.)
Rachel is also an amazing Illustrator, and her animations look really good! You can find examples of her work, and get a sense of what I mean about her animation/cartooning skills, by checking out her website(s):
Many of her courses seem to cover a lot of topics as Val Head. But, if you’re interested in CSS animation, motion, and transitions, my experience has been that the best results come from learning from as many sources as possible. Sign up for both!
Shoutouts and More Ladies to Look Up:
Sarah Drasner mentioned Sara Soueidan (pronounced Sweden) a couple of times in her course. I looked her up and she seems like a pretty amazing front-end developer. She is on Twitter @SaraSoueidan. Sarah also mentioned Joni Trythall and Amelia Bellamy-Royds in her credits at the end of her course. I will have to look them up later…
Nat Cooper is the founder of the Creative Coding Club. Like Rachel Nabors, she has amazing graphics skills and comes up with some pretty sweet animations and keeps the group motivated every month. Find her on Twitter @natacoops and the Creative Coding Club (@artcodeclub).
I was very interested in learning more about the artist after seeing that he uses a combination of video installations, animation, and live action. As seen in clips in the article, he’s also not afraid to explore the difficult history of his country. As MoMA puts it, “Dealing with subjects as sobering as apartheid, colonialism, and totalitarianism, his work is often imbued with dreamy, lyrical undertones or comedic bits of self-deprecation that render his powerful messages both alluring and ambivalent.”
This can be seen in the following video, which is embedded in the text of the article. It’s like a New Orleans marching band, set in a lyrically dystopian world.
When I looked up more about the artist, I was surprised to find that he was not ethnically African, because as the video shows he is using black subjects in the artwork. In my experience, it’s not that common to find an artist using the experience of another ethnicity in their artwork, although it does occur in decorative arts, photography, and performing arts.
I suppose performing artists do this because music, dance, and theater are somewhat universally accessible for all people. Photography is a little different, in that the photographer has to take a documentarian or voyeuristic point of view, as opposed to being part of the art. Wikipedia explains that Kentridge is Jewish, with attorney parents that fought against apartheid. Perhaps he felt like both an outsider, voyeur-documentarian and part of the struggle in South Africa.
What I find revealing is how well Kentridge’s use of African subjects shows his strong empathy and understanding of apartheid and this difficult period of South African history. He says, in Pain & Suffering, shown on art:21, that artists use the pain and suffering of others for their work.
Wikipedia explains one of his animation methods: “in all of his animated works do the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme. He conveys it through his erasure technique, which contrasts with conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. This he implements by drawing a key frame, erasing certain areas of it, re-drawing them and thus creating the next frame. He is able in this way to create as many frames as he wants based on the original key frame simply by erasing small sections. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer; as the films unfold, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed.”
The video above doesn’t show one of this animation style very well, but his style can be seen in other clips. He also uses stop-motion.
Aside from animation, he uses live video and different masking and editing effects in his work. Here’s a video of him, from the Danish museum, the Louisiana, interviewing himself:
I won’t be in Copenhagen anytime soon. But if you’re interested in learning more about William Kentridge, there are examples of his work online.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Of course, there is the Louisiana Museum that is currently holding a William Kentridge exhibition. It looks like an interesting exhibit. The site is in Danish, but Google should be able to translate.
Wikipedia also has plenty of information about Kentridge, from his bio, to listing his films and many exhibitions around the world. There are also external links, if you’re interested even more information about this artist.
In August 2017, Artsy.net reached out to me to inform me of their web page on William Kentridge.
Our WilliamKentridge page provides visitors with Kentridge‘s bio, over 350 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Kentridge exhibition listings. The page also includes related artists and categories, allowing viewers to discover art beyond our Kentridge page.
I took a look and it does have a lot of great information about this artist, including many images. So if you are looking for additional info, take a look!
After watching a few, I did a little research. It turns out that Kawamoto was a well-known animator in Japan and internationally. One of his signature animation styles is stop-motion animation, especially his use of puppets. As Wikipedia points out, Kawamoto was well known for his puppet making skills and design.
I wanted to share these films as another example of storytelling. Japan has so many traditional methods of storytelling, which these films are a part of. As far as World and Character go, many Japanese stories are set in the samurai/Edo period. Most of the films below are the same. I suppose that frees up the storyteller to focus on the subtleties of how the story is told, rather than convincing the audience that the world and characters are believable. For instance, in Dojoji, there’s a scene where the woman chases after the priest. I love that Kawamoto takes the time to animate her breathing.
All the Kawamoto films were good, but there were a few that stood out to me. Here they are below:
Dojoji is a well-known Japanese play and one of the few that involves a large prop. The play tells the story of the installation of a new bell in Dojo-ji Temple. After the monks have been hypnotized by a mysterious dancer, the abbot tells the story of what happened to the first bell. The story is a woman falls in love with a priest who stays in her father’s inn every year. When the woman admits her love, the priest rejected her. She pursues him anyway, across a river to Dojoji Temple. In her passion, she transforms into a demon that kills him and destroys the bell. Kawamoto’s version of Dojoji is the story of the woman and the traveling priest. It is very tragic.
Going into the story of Dojoji more, I’d heard of this story after watching a Japanology episode on Kabuki and Noh. Dojoji was one of the examples of Kabuki, which is more elaborate than Noh and features a female dancer.
I was very impressed with the beautiful watercolor backgrounds serving as the backdrop for Dojoji and House of Flame (below). The sets are also well done.
The Demon (or Oni)
The Demon is also based on an old story, but I did not come across any versions of it as a play. The story is that an old woman, who has had a hard life, now lives as an invalid with her 2 sons. One day they go out to hunt and come home to a shocking discovery.
The postscript of the story is: “It is said that parents in their old age become demons who will consume their children.” Maybe this is the origin of the practice explored in Ballad of Narayama?
House of Flame
House of Flame is another stop-motion puppet animation that caught my interest. This one animates a horse, very realistically. I was quite impressed. This is also the only story with a narrator for the puppets. The story is about a woman who cannot decide between two suitors and lives in guilt forever more.
As I mentioned above, this one is another example of beautiful backdrops and sets.
A Poet’s Life
I chose this story for the interesting story about a worker who is fighting for worker’s rights after losing his job. The details of this story are too unusual to give away, but it is a very unique story.
This animation is a drawn style, though it still could be stop motion using paper cutouts. It reminded me more of The Snowman, by Diane Jackson, because of the way the pencil markings jump around frame by frame.
It seems like every few weeks I see a tweet, essay, or article mention about storytelling. Many of these articles seem to be written with the idea of using the concept of a story to convincing others to trust your business idea.
Storytelling is a very old art form that serves that has also served as a cultural communication tool. I find it somewhat disappointing that “storytelling” has been co-opted for the purpose of selling a business plan. As a kid who got lost in stories but gave verbal book reports that started off strong, but finished off weak, I could actually use some tips at telling a good story. One thing I don’t see from these posts is info about how to tell good stories, or what the components of a good story are. I am cynical that these storytelling articles are really about storytelling.
How to tell a good story
To learn how to able to tell a good story, I should learn from the best, right? Enter Pixar in a Box, The Art of Storytelling, a lesson series by Khan Academy. Can you believe it? One of the best contemporary storytelling companies on the planet is giving free lessons on how to tell a good story.
Available right now is Lesson 1: We are all storytellers. This lesson is broken down into 6 videos and 4 activities. The first few videos explain what story telling is, and then a few people from Pixar talk about their own inspirations and how they got started.
Here’s a breakdown of the videos and activities/exercises:
Intro to Storytelling
Your Unique Perspective
Exercise 1: Expressing memories
Your Favorite Stories
Exercise 2: Your three favorite films
Exercise 3: What if?
World and Character
Exercise 4: Characters & worlds
Yes, but will studying how to tell a story actually make me better at storytelling for business?
That is a good question. I don’t know about putting video clips from Finding Nemo into presentations, but I am going to participate in this course. I mean…who doesn’t want to learn from Pixar? This is going to be fun!
Hold on, here we go! Next stop, knowledge!
Activity 1: Expressing memories
The first activity is about using written words, drawings, or telling a story to someone to describe a vivid memory. This activity follows a video in which Pixar artists talk about their own experiences as storytellers. They’ve obviously been doing this for a long time.
I chose to draw an emotion.The instructions say to use only lines and shapes to draw the memory. Here is a link to examples of shapes that describe emotions. As you can see, it’s OK to be abstract.
The overall emotion to the memory I chose is sadness. It’s a strong emotion. I chose a very simple sketch. Hopefully the isolation of sadness comes across.
You may think that the Pixar folks, being animators, stuck with sketches and expanded on this initial start into memory and emotion….
But no! They went on to explore inspiration!
Activity 2: Desert Island stories
Part A: Identify the three films that you would take to a deserted island….
Part B: Why do you think you connected with these stories? Come up with at least one reason for each.
Part C: What, if anything, do these three films have in common? How are they different?
Gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh!
This was the question after a video with Pixar storytellers talking about stories that made an impression on them as children. What would I pick? Why did I connect with them? Here are some movies that came to my mind and why I think I connected with them:
I used to watch this over and over. Given the unique drawing style, I came to realize later that this was the start of my appreciation for anime. It also has great songs by the band America.
Why I connected: I loved the animation and the fantasy setting – and the songs! I like that it’s a story about innocence…or, rather, the loss of innocence. It is a movie about about growing up. The price of knowledge is the loss of joyful ignorance. I like that it rewarded the goodness in the characters, and the creatures, even scary monsters, get justice. In this movie, almost everyone gets what they deserve.
I’m not sure any girl of the 1980s survived without crossing paths with Anne of Green Gables. This was a great story about imagination and youthful spirit. Sometimes when I watched this, I would get so lost in this story that I didn’t notice when my friends actually showed up…and left.
Why I connected: It’s a movie about growing up, about using your imagination and being creative. A big part of the story focuses on Anne trying to fit in, even though she’s different. And, I especially liked that friendship and goodness were so important in this story. (Who can forget Matthew?)
As an adult, I watch this often. I think it’s a funny story about how the king loses his mind, yet instead of treating him like a true patient, the pressures of court life still require everyone to behave like nothing’s wrong.
Why I connected: This is a movie I return to again and again, when work gets overly hectic. I use it to find the humor in what can be the absurdity of everyday life. It helps me laugh when trying to do what’s expected doesn’t seem to be working, because what’s expected is wrong or absurd. As a fan of history, I appreciate the historical context of this movie, and as an Anglophile, all the great English actors.
Also based on a true story, I really enjoyed the historical context in the movie. The change of the emperor over time in embracing new ideas and people is both entertaining and tragic.
Why I connected: I again love the historical context, and this movie introduced me to Asia. It came out in 1987. My father took me to a “Son of Heaven” museum exhibit at COSI in Columbus, Ohio, that was all about imperial China. We looked at real artifacts, such as the yellow robes the emperor wore, as well as bells, and other artifacts from China. I even got to buy music – a cassette tape! I also appreciated that so much of the story was about growing up and losing innocence.
…Wait! There’s something missing!
I got so caught up in thinking about my childhood that I forgot to write what I thought was the connection between these films. So:
2 of these films were books before they were movies
2 of these films are based on historical events
3 are about growing up
All four have a thread about losing innocence
They all focus on the importance of friendship and companionship – something that’s so easy to forget.
Having written all that, and having reminisced about my childhood, this gives me something to think about for a while. So this is a good place to pause until jumping back on the story wagon.
The next part of Lesson One on Storytelling is called: “What if?”