It's that time of the bi-year again. Every two years, the British Animation Awards celebrate the best of what's been happening in the medium, covering the gamut from expensive studio features to tiny student films. And in the middle of it all are the Public Choice Awards, in which 50 or so shorts are toured around the country for a general audience to vote on which ones are best.
In previous years - 2006, 2008 and 2010 - I've written one big piece reviewing all the films up for the Awards, splitting them into the categories of narrative shorts, music videos and commercials. But for reasons which should become apparent shortly, this year I'm going to write three separate review articles, one for each of the programmes which went on tour earlier this month. Don't worry, you'll still get more links than anyone can reasonably handle, with every short accompanied by at least two websites with animator information, clips, or even the whole damn film in several cases. We start, inevitably, with Programme 1.
The Squirrel and the Penguin (Jens Blank & Anna Benner) again takes us into Funny Animal territory, but makes it clear that it knows that's exactly what it's doing: experimenting with zany CGI creatures to see if they can somehow give us a way into understanding the Israel/Palestine situation. The visuals are amusing enough, but they don't seem to be saying anything other than "we don't know quite what to say," and I don't think that's good enough no matter how many layers of post-modern irony you throw on top.
From there, we move into two shorts which appeared in last year's LFF programmes, and therefore have already been reviewed here. Both of them still hold up, I think. Tchaikovsky - an elegy (Barry JC Purves) is a detailed character study based around the composer's life and work, with a spectacular 'performance' by Tchaikovsky at its heart. (This brief making-of shows how much effort Purves puts into his character animation.) And Slow Derek (Daniel Ojari) is another one of those shorts designed to delight physics graduates, finding clever ways to depict the way the human mind could collapse if we realised what was really going on around us. By comparison, Get Well Soon: Zoe (Kim Alexander) is a jolly little piece, part of a series commissioned by 12foot6 where conversations about injuries are illustrated in a variety of styles. (More of these will follow.) And Unorganised Crime (Dane Winn, Charlie Miller, Constantinos Mavromichalis, Daisy Hynes & Sophie Grimwood) is a student film from UWE Bristol, its wonky-edged CG the perfect match for the silliness of its story about a narcoleptic bank robber.
From there, it's on to the music videos, although this programme's selection is a slightly feeble one. Which is a surprising thing to say when it kicks off with Gorillaz: Stylo (Pete Candeland & Jamie Hewlett), but it has to be admitted that this promo isn't up to the band's usual standard. The balance between live-action and animation is skewed far too heavily towards the former, particularly when it's surrounded by all this animation: and that live-action is sluggishly directed, somehow turning the idea of 'Bruce Willis in a car chase' into something a little bit dull. Big Scary: Mix Tape (Alice Dupre) has a nice idea at its core - using complex computer animation to recreate the effects of old-fashioned zoetropes - but then completely fails to develop it. And TV on the Radio: Second Song (Mikey Please) is an ambitious piece of mixed-media world building, but it's not done any favours by the frankly unmemorable song it's made to accompany.
Back to the narrative films with Spin (Max Hattler), a neat little bit of satire that starts off with a simple idea - a Busby Berkeley-style dance number for toy soldiers - and then gives it a smart twist just as you think you've worked it out. Then there's Bertie Crisp (Francesca Adams), a student film with a surprisingly heavyweight voice cast. Mark Benton and Kathy Burke play a childless couple who covet the offspring of next-door neighbour Tamsin Greig, in what's to all intents and purposes a funny-animal remake of Raising Arizona, but with slightly less OTT ambition than the original when it comes to the visual gags. It's amusing enough, though.
Surprisingly, the point where this programme really takes off is in the closing collection of commercials. Toyota: Auto Biography (Julia Pott) is a lovely example of how much imaginatively drawn visuals can add to a straightforward interview with a car owner, particularly when that car owner comes across as a bit of a dick if you're just listening to him. Kia Soul: This or That (Antoine Bardou-Jacquet) uses jaw-droppingly photorealistic hip-hop hamsters and a barrage of glorious sight gags to ensure that your first response on seeing the ad is to want to hit the rewind button - that's most of the advertisers' work done for them right there. It's the same response generated by Intel: The Chase (Smith & Foulkes), which takes all the things that we use computers for and bundles them into a genuinely exciting chase narrative. (Take note, Gorillaz.)