Category Archives: Motion Graphics & Flash

Didier Graffet

Didier Graffet, fantasy and steampunk illustration
Didier Graffet is a French illustrator, recognized in particular for his fantasy and steampunk themed work. Well known in his native France, Graffet is undeservedly less familiar here in the U.S.

Graffet uses a keen sense of value relationships, a muted palette and a good amount of intricate, textural detail to create arresting images that demand the viewer slow down and linger over them, rather then scanning through them quickly. This, I think, is one of the best uses of detail in illustration — to encourage the reader to pause and reflect on the story while lingering over eye-pleasing interpretations of the text.

Though he does beautifully evocative fantasy themed work, I particularly enjoy his Victorian science fiction images, notably his illustrations for classic Jules Verne novels, and his steampunk versions of alternate times.

Unfortunately, I found the galleries in his website somewhat awkward to navigate, and not as conducive to browsing as one might hope. It’s not a language barrier, the site is nicely available in both French and English, just the arrangement.

The galleries have a drill-down structure, and the obvious path back to the top — the “Galleries” tab in the main navigation — is disabled when in the Galleries section (there is a non-obvious link on the work “Galleries” within the display area that can be used instead).

The thumbnails are small, and it’s easy to miss the links on many sets of thumbnails to subsequent pages, accessed from a small linked row of numbers at the bottom.

The effort to dig around is worthwhile, though, and you will find lots of interesting stuff tucked away. You’ll find most of the steampunk goodies in the Jules Verne section, and in the “Personal” section under “Other Worlds“.

The Fantasy section also contains some personal work and some wonderful dragons.

Most books containing Graffet’s work available in the U.S. are in French editions, a few of which are available through Amazon new, the others available used. There is also a new A Song of Ice and Fire 2017 Calendar, based on George R.R. Martin’s work, with illustrations by Graffet.

 
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Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley)

Sita Sings the Blues - Nina PaleySita Sings the Blues is an award winning independent feature length animation by Nina Paley.

The film combines an adaptation of the epic Indian story of Ramayana with a personal story from Paley herself. The film won the Best Feature award at the 32nd Annecy Animated Film Festival (see my post on student films at Annecy 2008, and Cartoon Brew on Annecy 2008), and has been receiving rave word of mouth around the net.

Sita Sings the Blues gets its TV debut tonight on WNET (Channel 13, New York), and may be on other PBS stations as well (though not here in Philadelphia).

After struggling with copyright issues which prohibited release of the film for a time, in which there was an unexpected claim to copyright on 1920’s jazz vocals by Annete Hanshaw, Paley has generously released the film through a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license; so for those of us who can’t catch it on TV or in a theater, it is available in its entirety online.

You can view it on the WNET site, or on the Internet Archive, where you can also download it in a variety of formats and sizes ( and where I watched it and will eventually download a high resolution copy), or through other mirrors or BitTorrent Downloads (see the SitaSites page on the Sita Sings the Blues site).

If you like it, and want to show your support, you can donate to the artist in the kind of voluntary purchase that the internet makes possible.

The film, which Paley made primarily in Flash, with help for a specialized fight scene from Jake Friedman, is a triumph of imagination and writing over fancy technology.

It is a visual delight, with a variety of animation and drawing approaches, from direct sketchy drawing to vector patterns to shadow puppets to scanned and composited photographs, like a combination of Yellow Submarine, Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python “cartoons” and the kind of wiggly line sketchiness (“Squigglevision”) often associated with hand drawn independent animated films.

Sita Sings the Blues is awash with colors, both visual and emotional, and bursting with clever ideas and entertaining notions about how to present various subjects, but always in the service of the story, not for the gratuitous display of technique.

Unlike so many of the formulaic, manufactured CGI films that the big studios crank out to meet their accounting schedules, Paley actually has a story to tell, two of them in fact.

 
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Animated TV Titles

Animated TV Titles, Anatomy of a Murder, The Wild Wild West, Bewitched, Monty Python's Flying CircusIn the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s, a number of non-animated television shows had animated titles, something that was also common in movies of the time.

Undoubtedly influenced by the film title mini-masterpieces of Saul Bass, the TV titles were usually much cruder and less imaginative, but still amusing nonetheless.

Some of them were in fact pretty good, notably:

the clever opening titles for The Wild Wild West (image at left, second down), a terrific 60’s television show (not to be confused with the tragic mess that was the 90’s remake movie with Will Smith), I love the way in this title the seemingly separate scenes in the panels progressively interact with the main character in the center panel;

Bewitched, the titles for which were more fully animated than most (third down);

and, of course, Terry Gilliam’s wonderfully loony animated collage titles for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, of which there were several versions (bottom).

Fanboy.com has posted a nice article with some examples of these and others, titled The Golden Age of Animated TV Opening Titles.

Some of them are a little over-compressed and you may be able to find better copies by cruising YouTube and the other video aggregation sites, I don’t know.

While you’re thinking about animated titles, it’s always worth a stop by the Submarine Channel’s Forget the Film, Watch the Titles, to see what delights have been added to their selection of movie titles (see my posts on Forget the Film, Watch the Titles).

[Via Digg]

 
 
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Evelien Lohbeck

Evelien Lohbeck
Noteboek, an animation by Evelien Lohbeck that recently won the prize for best NOFF-film 2008 a the Netherlands Film Festival, is one of the cleverest and most amusing animations I’ve seen in a while.

Taking off from the notion of a sketchbook in which a computer keyboard and screen have been drawn, it goes on to self-referentially show a hand-drawn YouTube interface on which a series of Lohbeck’s other short animations, also very clever and amusing in themselves, are shown. Several of them feature the sketchbook in other whimsical roles.

Lohbeck studied animation at the Academy of Arts, St. Joost in the Netherlands (Breda), and also studied interactive design and 3D design.

Her web site, which, in keeping with her award winning film, is designed as a hand-drawn computer interface, features her short films as well as other work. She also has a blog on which she discusses her projects and other topics of interest.

Unfortunately, the films aren’t available on her site at the moment, but you can see many of them on YouTube, including an earlier version of Noteboek.

[Via Articles & Texticles]

 
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ZuneJourney.net

ZuneJourney.net animationI have never been a fan of Microsoft, their approach to software, their “squash the little guy” business practices or their design and interface choices.

Just a personal point of view, of course, but I think their years of market dominance in computer operating systems and their huge corporate bureaucracy have made them complacent and arrogant, leading to the “you’ll use it this way because we said so” approach to design; (and the joke: “Q: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: None; they just declare darkness the standard.”)

Granted, I have yet to check out Expression, their new graphics and design production suite, which is based on Creature House Expression, a vector based “Natural Media” drawing tool originally form Creature House and Fractal Design that I liked very much; but the fact that Microsoft’s Expression promotional page doesn’t even display correctly in Firefox for Mac doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm.

I do try to keep my eye out, though, and once in a while interesting things do come out of Redmond (Microsoft Surface, for example), and occasionally, they pull out a cool piece of design or animation.

ZuneJourney.net is an interactive promotional site for Microsoft’s Zune media player, which has received less than overwhelming acceptance in the market dominated by Apple’s iPod. The site is largely composed of a fun Flash based animation that you drill into by holding your mouse down in the center of the scene.

You thus appear to move through a tunnel-effect tour of a series of animated scenes, in a way quite reminiscent of The Zoomquilt (originality doesn’t seem to be one of Microsoft’s strong points either).

Original or not, the result is a fun visual amusement, lots of colorful screens and a nice bit of interaction. Moving your mouse away from the center of the screen reverses the process and you appear to move backward, with the images receding instead of advancing toward you.

This is the kind of animation that Flash does well, and points out one of the advantages of the scalability of vector graphics, an image format that still doesn’t have native support in the major browsers (they let the Flash plug-in handle it).

Unfortunately (for Microsoft), the informational component of the site, presumably its purpose, is minimal and not easily accessible; pointing out once again that good design is less about how things look than how they work.

 
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Thugs on Film

Thugs on Film
Thugs on Film is one of my favorites of the crop of independent Flash animation short series that have come and gone over the past few years.

Distributed by Mondo Mini Shows, Thugs on Film is lamentably no longer being produced. Mondo’s awkward an inelegant distribution and promotion model always confused me, and evidently, other potential viewers as well. They now seem intent on putting most of their efforts into Happy Tree Friends, a series whose appeal is lost on me.

No so with Thugs on Film, a wonderfully snarky setup in which a couple of British thieves, er, independent small businessmen, sit around in a warehouse full of loot merchandise and review movies, awarding the reviewed feature a rating at the end based on the number of pilfered recently acquired Rolexes up their sleeves. Thugs on Film is just up my alley, irreverent, funny and drawn with a style that has a nice springy feeling of rough line work and is designed with the requirements of inexpensive limited animation for Flash in mind.

The designers and animators take advantage of color and simple shapes to create mood and settings, and the limited animation is used to best advantage to compliment the writing. The characters, Stubby and Cecil, are well designed, both visually and conceptually, and play well off of each other.

For a while, you couldn’t even find these animations. Mondo’s misguided attempts to keep them monetized instead kept them out of reach, and confused even devoted fans trying to search out the episodes.

Some of them (though certainly not all) are now available again on the Thugs on Film section of the Mondo Mini Shows site, even if it’s in a less than wonderful interface. Wait for a short eSurance spot and the episode plays. You can choose more from the scrolling menu below the main screen.

The older ones ended with an interactive quiz, with a different short snippet shown in response to your answer, but these seem to be short circuited now into ads for Happy Tree Friends and eSurance.

Some of the older episodes are also better and more elaborate, they apparently got a little tired of the formula after a while.

You can also look through the other Mondo cartoons, though except for an occasional episode of Like, News, none of them has particularly grabbed my attention.

Created by Dan Todd, Thugs on Film was a group effort. I’m not sure how consistent the team was throughout its run, but here are some of the credits from a middle period episode (in which they reviewed The Mummy Returns): Directed by W Kamu Bell, Design by Rhode Montijo, Storyboards by David Donar, Backgrounds by Jenny Hansen and animation by John Cimino, Mark Giambruno and Mark West.

I give Thugs on Film five Rolexes.

 
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