Saturday, August 22, 2015

Animations: Shake It Off + Moving On + Shaun the Sheep

So I knew the name Taylor Swift as a result of constant inundation and incessant exposure via the contemporary celebrity vomitorium, but had not actually heard any of her music, nor particularly cared to.

And then this video was unleashed, which was not only so addictive I lost track of how many times I replayed it – even to the point of downloading it to watch in high-def (a serious commitment on dial-up). I even watched the original video to compare & contrast between the two versions, and am just flabbergasted there would ever even be a single second of doubt as to which is by far and away the better. Been a long time since I had so much aural and visual fun watching + listening to something, and there are many brief seconds of hilarity and wonder woven throughout the piece that make rewatching a pure joy. Let this be yet another lesson in resisting the "get off my lawn" syndrome and always staying open to new art. Swift has some serious cred to her name, and has chalked up a long line of legit accomplishments (with caveats).

Forty-nine “Animation 1” students at the University of Newcastle, Australia, were each given 52 frames (about 3 seconds each) of Taylor Swift’s video for “Shake It Off" to rotoscope — an animation technique where you trace over footage to draw and animate. In total, they produced 2,767 frames of hand-drawn rotoscoped footage to recreate the entire video, which apparently took about a month to complete. (Buzzfeed)
This compared to a complete opposite end of the spectrum of style + taste, and also a consummate example of balancing image & sound that bookends with Taylor’s video…

In the summer of 1987, my cousin Colin (brother from another mother) and next-door neighbor at the time, turned me on to an album that one of his friends had brought back from a visit to the UK. It was “Stutter,” the debut release from a Manchester, England band called James. The energy of the songs, which ran the gamut from dark, ambient angst to punchy powerful pop, and dovetailed with my own teenaged obsession with Split Enz (the only fan club I ever joined in my life was called "Frenz of the Enz"): I was hooked.

The wonderful wailing from vocalist Tim Booth meshed perfectly with clean, tight and driving rhythms that progressively built up to frenetic fulminations, outbreaks of mountainous sound mixed with lush, ethereal crooning and hypnotic hymnals. I followed them throughout the nineties, capped by the release of “Laid,” with seminal producer and another personal, lifelong muse of mine, Brian Eno, before flatlining in interest and losing track of them. I still regularly listen to an iTunes mix that samples classics and nostalgic favorites whenever I need a kick in the studio, or in the heart.

Recommended playlist: (#1) Fairground, (#2) Stripmining, Johnny Yen, So Many Ways, Black Hole, SometimesAre You Ready?, (#3) I Wanna Go Home, Dust Motes, Sound, Seven, One Of The Three, Gold Mother, Dream Thrum.

Fast-forward to 2014 and this video pinged on my animation radar, which is an enchanting and sublime marriage between both artist + band. Rarely is there such an aesthetic harmony from two mediums, as the MTV-style videos are for the most part are vacuous preening and are as devoid of meaning as they are musical skill. Not to put too fine of a felted tip on it, I cried my ass off after watching for the first time. Just a beautiful juxtaposition, interwoven with rich, textural details and poignant personality.

Moving On is the latest stop-motion video from BAFTA-nominated animator, writer, and director Ainslie Henderson. The clip was created as a music video for British rock band James and tells a story of life and death through characters depicted with yellow yarn. Sad, but wonderfully done. – This Is Colossal 
On his Tumblr page, Henderson describes his process: "What I do love about the unfolding of a stop motion project is going from the beginning - where all you can see is a forest of impossible, unquantifiable problems that you have to whittle away at, clinging to the little faith you can muster that it will work. Until, gradually, you find yourself at this stage, nearing the end, where all that remains is a last few problems, manageable ones that you feel pretty sure you can solve. Making a molehill out of a mountain." – Hotbox Studios  

“I'm on my way,
Soon be moving on my way,
Leave a little light on,
Leave a little light on.

One last little animation-related note: A wonderful but woefully under-appreciated release, "Shaun The Sheep," came to our local theater by Aadrman Animation studios. These are the same folks who brought to life the endearing characters of Wallace & Gromit, and also the seminal short "Creature Comforts" that was a huge influence on me personally when it originally first appeared in 1989. The new feature-length film is based off of a British television show, and one subtle but significant aesthetic component of it is that it is entirely without dialog. This may be one factor as to why it's received little to no critical reception - the other being the unending influx of hypercommercialized big studio releases that flood the market. The Significant Otter and I checked it out and were pleasantly surprised: paradoxically refreshing and really unusual since I normally can’t stand the “famous actor overdub” that effectively ruins most animated films with either over- or under-emoting. Well worth a viewing.

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