MOSTLY FILM: All The Blobs
Simian Substitute Site For March 2014: The Serco Prize for Illustration

British Animation Awards 2014 (part 3)

Not to mention these spare balls that seem to be growing on my chin for some reason or other.It's possible that there may be some sort of law of diminishing returns at work here. As you surely must be aware by now, every bi-year the British Animation Awards holds a ceremony to mark the best work being done in the UK. One high-profile component of this is the Public Choice Award, in which three programmes of short films are toured around the UK, and punters get to vote on the ones they like the best. This year I've already covered programmes one and two, so inevitably this is the point where I talk about programme three.

Bottom line: this isn't as good a selection as the first two. But the curious thing is, I felt exactly the same way about programme three of the 2012 shortlist. It's possible this may just be down to an accident of perception rather than a deliberate arrangement by the BAA. Maybe I'll try watching the programmes out of order in 2016 to see what happens. But maybe we should concentrate on wrapping up 2014 first.

If we divide the shorts into pure and applied animation (like they used to do with maths at school), then the applied categories of adverts and music videos come off particularly poorly in this collection. The best advert - Qualcomm Snapdragon: Coming Soon (Butler & Mellor), a big enough production to get a run in cinemas - was shown in a curiously truncated form at the BFI Southbank screening, missing the first 40 seconds of high-speed morphing that counts as its technical highlight. Three: The Big Fish (Diarmid Harrison-Murray) has a nice visual metaphor for its all-you-can-eat-data message, but the animation isn't quite sparky enough to survive the inevitable Finding Nemo comparisons. As for Andrex: Hakle (Mike McGee), just because you can render the Andrex puppies in 95% credible CG, that doesn't mean you should. Still, at least we were spared a nomination for Three's desperate attempt at creating a viral with its Dancing Pony: it's the Fucking Meercats de nos jours, and an advert that loses a lot of its charm once you start thinking of it as a dry run for photorealistic bestiality porn.

The music videos aren't much better. Laish: Carry Me (Mark Nute) suffers from a slavish visual interpretation of the lyric, always a temptation when you namecheck both a penguin and a horse in the opening line. The Staves: Winter Trees (Karni + Saul) has a nice song attached, but you find yourself virtually forgetting the images as you're watching them. Probably the best of a mediocre bunch is Savages: Marshal Dear (Gergely Wootsch), the second appearance by Wootsch this year after The Hungry Corpse in programme two. The apocalyptic imagery is impressively rendered, presumably by someone who wasn't even alive at the time of the Cold War and didn't go through a phase of expecting things to kick off exactly as depicted here.

We're on surer ground with the pure animations, although as ever I'd expect the non-narrative, more serious pieces to go down less well with audiences than the gaggy ones. Apodemy (Katerina Athanasopoulou) is a case in point: its images of birds swarming over a deserted cityscape look mightily impressive in purely abstract terms, though I can't quite make the final leap she does in the accompanying programme note when she says this is her comment on the current state of Athens. I Am Tom Moody (Ainslie Henderson) has a clever story about a performer's stage fright, and some visual tricks to match (not to mention a smart two-layer voiceover from Mackenzie Crook and his son Jude).

Elsewhere in the programme, the narrative shorts that take bigger risks with form tend to pay off better. Hart's Desire (Gavin Robinson) has a neat variation on the funny animal format (with the inclusion of a flask of tea for added whimsy), enlivened by an ingenious narrative structure - one, coincidentally, that's shared by Wildebeest (Ant Blades), another exquisite one-minute gag short from the maker of programme two's Carpark. Meanwhile, In The Air Is Christopher Gray (Felix Massie) takes a different approach, the pretty pictures and deadpan narration contrasting effectively with the understated horror of its story of teenage bravado gone tragically wrong.

The three best shorts in this collection take even bigger risks with their storytelling. The Shirley Temple (Daniela Sherer) uses a fluid, constantly changing style to tell a fascinating story of a young boy's experiences at a grown-up party. My reaction to it may be directly coloured by The Belated Birthday Girl and I having literally just travelled from a one-year-old's birthday party to get to this screening, but I think Sherer does a great job at showing the inevitable barrier between the generations at these sorts of events, and how porous it can be at times of stress. I Love You So Hard (Ross Butter) is notable for a rare appearance in the civilised world from one of the B3TA crew, with Joel Veitch's frantic monologue of romantic obsession getting the crazed illustrations it needs. There were actual noises of disgust coming from the audience at one or two points, and I'm afraid they encouraged me to ramp up my votes for it by a couple of notches.

The final film in this programme doesn't really need any of BAA's piddling recognition: Head over Heels (Tim Reckart) received an Oscar nomination this time last year, when I reviewed it for Mostly Film. (I would have done the same thing this year, but for some reason they've made the nominated shorts impossible to view in the UK, either by legitimate means or otherwise.) When I first saw Head Over Heels, I liked the visual idea at its centre but found the resulting shots themselves a little too cluttered for comfort. It looks a lot better second time round, especially since in between the two screenings I've also watched the trailer for Upside Down, a hilariously ham-fisted attempt at using the same metaphorical device in live action. Compared against that, this short is a pinnacle of artistic excellence: compared against the other films in this programme, it doesn't look too shabby either.

Nevertheless, if I've got to make a final call in each of the three main Public Choice categories, I wouldn't go with anything from this collection. Instead, I'll plump for Sandy as best film, The Lion as best music video, and We Don't Farm Like This as best advert. Mind you, I'm usually wrong. When they announce the final results on March 7th, I guess we'll see how wrong I am.



Here are the winners, announced on March 7th. A couple of interesting tied results in the Public Choice categories, but nothing I could really argue with.

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