Premier Automne is a brilliantly animated short film directed by Carlos De Carvalho and Aude Danset, produced by Je Regarde. It is stunningly beautiful, and explores nature both visually and thematically. But I don’t want to summarize the story if you haven’t seen it yet, because the discovery and mystery of each moment is what makes it so compelling.
Watch for yourself, and then I will share some thoughts below. (Watch on Vimeo for a larger picture, it’s worth it.)
There are so many ways to look at this film. As a simple human drama, it’s the story of two people eternally set apart from each other by the laws of nature. And yet they are both lonely, are both drawn to one other. Both inhabit a world completely foreign to the other, and frightening as well, even as it seems perfectly natural to them.
There is an overtone of death throughout the film, echoed in the darkness that surrounds their world, and yet there is also life below the surface, waiting to spring forth. In most stories, the protagonists manage to overcome their problem in the end, but this film is much more open-ended.
Life and death, summer and winter, boy and girl. There is a lot to think about here. How do you interpret this film?
Winter is just about here, with snow already falling in colder climates. Winter can be harsh and brutal but also peaceful and stunningly beautiful. It’s a season that inspires artists, writers and filmmakers. For the next couple months here at The Untended Garden, I will be focusing on art and storytelling that deals with snow and winter, starting with a modern classic.
The Snowman is a wordless picture book written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs. It tells the tale of a boy who builds a snowman who comes to life one night. The snowman explores the boy’s house with him and later takes the boy flying through the air. The magic of the book lies not only in the story, but the wordless images, arranged in a sequential, comic book style that lets you experience each scene moment by moment.
It’s this visual storytelling that makes the book perfectly suited for animation, and in 1982 the book was turned into a film by British director Diane Jackson. This is that rare case where a film adaptation enhances the original story without losing the intent or charm of the original. In particular, the journey through the air is much more elaborate in the film, flying over cities and oceans to the polar regions and back, and the gorgeous music by Howard Blake perfectly sets the mood.
I’d like to call your attention to the animation itself, which is all drawn by hand. This film was made thirteen years before Toy Story revolutionized the animation industry. Today, 3D computer animation is king, and everyone marvels at the amazing feats it can accomplish. But computer animation is limited by computer models and logic, it has to obey certain rules. Hand-drawn animation is limited only by the artist’s imagination. Notice in the film how the mountains shift perspective and seem to melt into each other – this is purely an artistic vision of a landscape in motion, and wouldn’t work in a computer-animated film, yet it perfectly fits the magical impossibility of the story, and evokes a world where anything can happen.
It just goes to show, whether in books or films, a pencil is still often the most expressive tool of all.
Many animated films have used the ocean as a setting. It’s a colorful place that appeals to all ages, and has a mystery that lends itself to the imaginings of a creative animator. Crabs can sing, clown fish can converse with sharks, sponges can live in pineapples. Rarely do animated ocean films stick to realistic portrayals, though ironically there are many real things under the sea that are more strange and bizarre than anything Disney ever came up with.
Here are several animated films that take place under the sea. It’s interesting to see how many different ways the ocean can be seen through the eyes of an animator.
Fantasia – Disney, 1940
This film is a classic in the world of animation, and one of the few feature-length films that focus entirely on the artistry of its subject, not on a traditional narrative. The beauty of the animation speaks for itself, and it recalls a time when animation was more unique in the film world, and appreciated for its own sake.
The Little Mermaid – Disney, 1989
See how much Disney has changed in fifty years. This film has been criticized for draining all of the magic out of Andersen’s original story, and replacing it with trite Disney formula. But it does have some creative portrayals of the ocean, and some of the best songs ever written for the movies (by Menken and Ashman) which lift it to emotional heights that the scriptwriters don’t deserve.
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie – Nickelodeon, 2004
This movie is just plain silly, and a great example of how creatively you can portray the ocean in animation. Although the focus is on the characters and the sight gags, the ocean is ever-present, and the film mixes live action and animation in unique ways.
Finding Nemo – Pixar, 2003
This film has some amazing ocean animation, covering the bright coral reefs down to the murky depths, and featuring whales, sharks, jellyfish, turtles, and hundreds of other sea creatures. Besides being a great story, brilliantly written, it is like a virtual tour of the ocean and a feast for the eyes. It even sprinkles in some real facts about the ocean.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea – 2008, Ghibli/Disney
This film is quite realistic in its portrayal of people and setting, but also the most fantastical of all the films here in its use of mythology and imagination. Ponyo is a magical goldfish who can turn into a human but in doing so offsets the balance of — oh never mind, the story is too complicated, and in a way, beside the point. This is really a visual poem about the human world and the ocean world coming together and making peace. It contains beautiful, breathtaking, awe-inspiring animation of the ocean by one of the world’s greatest animators. (You can read more of my thoughts on Ponyo here.)
So, there are just a few animated films that feature the ocean as a major theme. Out of all of these, I think Fantasia and Ponyo are the ones which provoke the deepest thoughts about the ocean. What are your favorite animated ocean films or scenes? How well do you think animators have done in portraying the ocean, and what new depths are there to be explored? As the ocean becomes more and more of a focus in our shrinking world, I hope more artists choose to explore it through animation.
There are many reasons to love the new animated film The Secret of Kells, and not least is the way it portrays nature. More than just a picturesque backdrop, nature plays an integral part in the story, and is practically a character in itself, personified by the forest sprite Aisling. She is a vibrant presence in the film, both childish and wise, who protects the forest and yet is vulnerable to the dark forces that lurk there. She teaches Brendan, the cloistered hero of the film, about the beauty of her forest as well as the dangers.
The visual portrayals of the trees and plants are spectacular, and the stylized lines and animation make you feel the growing, thriving life that dwells within. In one scene, Brendan scales an impossibly tall and twisted growth of trees to find the small berries that grow at the top, and the symbolism of life and rebirth is subtle but powerful. The film is filled with such small moments, that add up to a collective tapestry of the natural world as a vital force all around us. The book that Brendan helps to create not only contains images inspired by the forest, but the inks are made from ingredients found there. Nature inspires art, in more ways than one.
Below are some more images from this magical film. If you want to read more about The Secret of Kells, I wrote about it over at the Creative Juices blog. Better yet, go see it!
Continuing our snowy theme this month, we turn to animation. Come Again in Spring is a short animated film about an old man who has a mysterious visitor one day who threatens his peaceful existence. This gentle film contains gorgeous imagery of the snowy landscape, and also the birds who are ever-present throughout the tale.
In addition to the beautiful animation, it’s also a great story, and I urge you to watch it through to the end. It is a film about life, about nature, and about the human spirit.
The film is based on a story by Richard Kennedy. It was produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and was directed and animated by Belinda Oldford.