By Michael Luo
BY MICHAEL LUO
Picturesque parables told under fifteen minutes.
Parisian theaters are supposed to be known for their atmosphere of voguish panache, so when I had the opportunity to view a film in La Ville-Lumière, I made the decision of selecting an animated one that is rated G. To be honest, I was probably one of two people aged between eighteen and thirty, given that those who paid to see Brave were either children or the owners of those children. This isn’t a film review, so I won’t say much about Brave, but what I do remember from sneaking into this French cinematic screening was the seven-minute animated opening act entitled La Luna.
In animation, tales are told through the lens of moving artwork. Whether that includes comics, puppets, or CGI, animation has a world of styles and techniques all in its own. While the live-action arena has its iconic genre-definers from the explosive Michael Bay to the imaginative Charlie Kaufman, the realm of animation spotlights the formulaic fables of Pixar to the stop motion comedies of Nick Park. Animation is a business and a part of the entertainment industry, but it prides itself in unique, multilayered projects appealing to kids and parents alike.
For La Luna, the story is arranged around a three-generation family. A boy and his father and grandfather sail amidst starlit nights until a dispute about how to wear a hat sends them to the lunar surface, dusting fallen stars so that the moon may regain its luminous sheen. The story is simple but elegant, and the seven minutes are saturated with an aura of misty magic. Though fast to grasp the audience’s attention, the animated short is over quick enough to provide a sampling into the artistic work about to begin.
If you’ve ever seen an animated film in theaters, then you’ve also probably sat through a ten to twenty minute short preceding the feature. For major animation studios, these shorts act in two roles: one to prepare the audience for the full-length film, a sort of animated aperitif if you will, and two, to experiment with ideas both expanding upon previous stories or adapted to stand alone as a separate piece of art. Though they may be dismissed as second thoughts in comparison to the theatrical feature, animated shorts are created from the toils of collaborative artists, complete with ambitious narratives worthy of consideration.
Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stipulates that a short must be less than forty minutes, shorts today rarely break the twenty-minute mark, with most hovering below fifteen. This limitation of length may seem restrictive to the creative process, but effective storytelling can permeate mediums of all shapes and sizes. Just as written short stories have a mystique of their own, so too do animated short stories. Plots and premises can be drawn from the minutiae of daily life to the nonlinear subconscious of bygone desires. Characters can be as real as a struggling salesman or as fictional as a crestfallen wizard. Challenges can be the coming of age or the coming of evil. In any case, the chronicles of animated shorts can take the form of uplifting bedtime stories or subtle social commentaries. While the stories may not be as long, the nature of the shorts to experiment with eclectic narrative forums outside the archetype of big-budget productions allows them to invent tales with just as much depth into the intricacies of humanity.
Yet some animated shorts still often go unnoticed, even if there exists a rich history apart from being the appetizers to animated films. The first Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, known then as “Short Subjects, Cartoons,” was given out in 1932 to Walt Disney’s Flower and Trees, as part of the fifth Academy Awards. Through the twentieth century, Disney dominated this category by winning twelve of his twenty-two total Oscars, specifically taking the first ten out of eleven given in this field. It was not until Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Tom and Jerry came along that Disney finally fizzled out his hegemony of animated shorts. Some eighty years later, Disney’s legacy lives on via Walt Disney Animation Studios; however, animated shorts are now produced across the globe in a sundry of studios.
Within this art form, the prevailing standard has been that of three-dimensional computer animation. With the recent triumph of Frozen surpassing Toy Story 3 as the highest-grossing animated film of all time, animated shorts are trying to follow suit. Nevertheless, the fact that shorts are able to tryout different styles gives them a greater capacity to blend artistic traditions. For example, Pixar combined the two-dimensional with the three-dimensional in its short, Day & Night, that was paired with Toy Story 3. The six-minute animation portrays anthropomorphic representations of day and night in 2D while their bodies act as silhouettes of 3D scenes, presenting a sense of peering into the three-dimensional world. Similarly, the short that was paired with Frozen utilized the hand-drawn nostalgia of 1920s Disney cartoons interwoven with contemporary computer animation. Entitled Get a Horse!, the short follows timeless Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse as they battle with Peg-Leg Pete in a barn setting. The artists behind this production cleverly integrate both animation methods through witty action such as when Peg-Leg Pete “kicks” Mickey Mouse out from the 2D sepia backdrop and “into” the CGI color palettes of today. This ability to mix and match artistic styles is just a glimpse into the versatility of animated shorts. Though Day & Night had a score composed by Michael Giacchino of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up, animated shorts can manipulate sound as well in a multitude of ways. Dialogue can persist between loquacious characters, narration can frame silent but meaningful movements, and music can transform the ambiance of whimsical sceneries. Captivating the senses is one of the mantras of great storytelling, and animated shorts fulfill this through their knack of intermingling diverse artistic techniques to create minutes of scenes worthy of hours of contemplation.
With all this in mind, I suggest you head over to YouTube and type in “animated shorts” for a taste of these charming motion pictures. To diversify your experience, a few I recommend are “The Lost Thing,” “Dark Noir,” “Contre Temps,” and “PostHuman.” Some may attract you to their beautifully enlivened effects, others to its high-octane action and banter. In-between balancing work and play, these pieces are an adorable break for instant gratification. Of course there are those meant for comedic purposes only, but a great animated short focuses on deep central themes emulated through smooth graphics and stimulating characters. We as humans are naturally drawn to stories, and while we as students may not have the time to finish a series or to follow a franchise, animated shorts provide an efficient way to enjoy a complete and complex story within the span of a few minutes. Next time you’re bored or just looking for a quick break without compromising precious time, take a gander at these projects molded through imagination unbound by strict structure. Once you’ve entered the wonders of animated shorts, you’ll be keen to appreciate the many interpretations of life by artists whose creativity engineer illustrations expressive of emotions and dreams we’ve all experienced. This I can guarantee.
Michael Luo ’16 (michaelluo@college) once could draw but later found a new calling in writing about drawings.