Lines and Colors art blog

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

morelloSilhouette animation is a form of cut-out animation. The latter is familiar as the style used to give that extra-cheezy feeling to South Park. If you were to take South Park style cut-outs and light them from behind, rather than the front, so that surface colors and textures were eliminated leaving only black silhouettes, you would have silhouette animation.

Despite the crude image this analogy conjures up, silhouette animation can be used artfully and effectively, particularly if great attention is given to the detail in the silhouetted shapes. The oldest surviving full-length animation, in fact, is a silhouette animation called The Adventures of Prince Achmed, created by German animator Lotte Reiniger and released in 1926.

Today, it’s almost a lost form except in experimental shorts. An exceptional example of this is The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. This is a series of wonderfully done short animations that have been nominated for an Academy Award and already won awards at Annecy, AFI and various festivals in several countries.

Directed by Anthony Lucas and written by Mark Shirrefs, this “triolgy” (actually 4 episodes) follows the adventures of a Jasper Morello, airship navigator from the city of Gothia. The films are set in a somewhat dystopian world with a decidedly steampunk look and feel. It’s in the graphical representation of that world, full of arcane Victorian machinery, elaborate airships, cranes, gantries, gears and attendant intricate objects that the silhouette format becomes a brilliant choice. Though not strictly limited to silhouettes, the backgrounds can be rich with detail at times, the characters are all simply black cut-out shapes, with the eerie exception of one characters glasses. The detail in the backgrounds is handled with a subdued chromatic range and blended with the silhouetted characters to make a harmonious whole.

There is a site devoted to the films, The Gothia Gazette, done in period style and fun to explore. It includes a trailer and you can order all four stories on DVD. Much better than the trailer, though, in demonstrating how effective these stories are, is the availability now of the entire first short, Jasper Morello and the Lost Airship, on YouTube. You can see all three segments of that short pulled together on the Wired blog Table of Malcontents.

Given that the characters are simply black silhouettes, the piece is remarkably effective, and affecting, even if a bit gruesome. The design, drawing and production values of these shorts have a unique look and feel and enough atmosphere to put many feature movies to shame.

Link via Wired


8 responses to “The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

  1. A similar technique is that of the Lemony Snicket credits and a short the same guy made.

    Also, you can check Jasper out on netflix and blockbuster by getting the 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films.

  2. Looks amazing. But the DVD is only available in Australia / New Zealand, by the looks of things, alas…

  3. “Princes et princesses” from Michel Ocelot (who made the successful “Kirikou” in France) uses the same silhouette animation technique (sorry, impossible to find a link with pictures of it).

  4. Stephen, Thanks. I think the Lemony Snicket closing credits are one of the best pieces of short animation in the last couple of years. I did a post on the director, Jamie Caliri, back in March, who, as you mention, also did those terrific United Airlines animated commercial spots.

  5. Ariel, it appears you’re right. Too bad. Maybe that will change.

  6. Li-An, thanks. I’ll try to look for information on Ocelot. I’m not familiar with his work.

  7. Ariel, you can easily buy/rent this in the US, which has the complete film but no special features:

  8. the michel ocelot film is fantastic. i had to buy it from south korea though lol but i love it- for my hsc i am doin a recreation of the 12 dancing princesses in the style of cut out silhouettes (reiniger style!) its hard and really challenging but hopefully ill get it done by july 19!