The great animation master Hayao Miyazaki writes in his first English-language book, "Starting Point," that
“..talking about doing something with animation that can't be done with manga magazines,
children's literature, or even live-action films. I'm talking about building a truly unique imaginary
world, tossing in characters I like, and then creating a complete drama using them. Simply put, this is
what animation is to me.”
Miyazaki wrote these words in 1979 for a Japanese animation magazine just before he started work on
his first feature film, Castle of Cagliostro. He went on to create his own Studio Ghibli and released
some of the greatest animation films ever made, including the recent Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. And
this simple formula for making animated films, that is, the idea of creating a “unique imaginary world,”
would be the goal for every single film he made.
I was thinking of Miyazaki after watching the newest Stash DVD Short Films collection, because all 30
of the cutting edge films included on the DVD fit exactly into his idea of what an animated film should
be. Every single filmmaker presented on this beautifully produced DVD has created a unique world
filled with fascinating characters, strange, beautiful, and at times, extremely funny drama. Each film also
has incredibly high production values that fit the stories/ideas the director is trying to communicate like
a glove. The level of imagination in these films is almost off the charts.
Take “Bendito Machine” by Jossie Malis, a young Peruvian artist who directed and animated this
seriously original short film entirely by himself. It's the first of a projected 10 film series (3 have been
released to date; be sure to check out his imaginative website), each one created as animated silhouettes
against bold background colors. Dubbed by the director “a modern tale about power, money, sex and
religion,” the first film of the series (featured on the Stash DVD) is not only beautiful, it takes place in
a world that is a combination of Peruvian art, Fractured Fairy Tale characters and hieroglyphics come
to life. Even though the style seems familiar, I've never seen anything like it. Add to that a satiric sense
of humanity's essential selfishness, but done in a comic Kafka-like style, and you have exactly what
Miyazaki was talking about: a completely unique world. And it was created by a lone animator working
in Flash, for the most part, after his regular job. A brilliant choice to include on this first Stash Short
But before I go off on yet another wonderful film included on this Short Films DVD (among many), let
me tell you a little about Stash and how they got started. Here's their editor, Stephen Price on the origin
"The idea for Stash was born in late 2003 when I was writing articles on animation and VFX for
an advertising magazine. The frustration was two-fold: first, animation and VFX people and
their projects never got anywhere near the attention given to live action productions; and
second, the little space that was devoted to animation/VFX was filled with tiny screen-shots and
written descriptions of what happened in the clips. I knew the industry deserved much better.
And I knew we should be watching the clips, not just reading about them."
So, in July of 2004, Stash DVD 1 was released with approximately 35 short animated films,
commercials, broadcast designs, title sequences and music videos. The company hit the ground running
with their idea of a monthly DVD featuring excellent editing choices, solid DVD production and, most
importantly, a hip sense of who is “world making” out there in the forest of new media. At present,
Stash has just published their 59th monthly Stash DVD which features over 2 and a half hours of cutting
edge content, including several “Behind the Scenes” shorts, and even music mp3's, all in a beautifully
encoded region-free (yes!) NTSC video on a dual-layer disc at a high data rate (6.48 mbs per second by
my bit rate viewer).
Short Films 1 is their first collection of short films. They've released 2 music video compilations and
some “Best of Stash” already. The Short Films DVD is devoted entirely to films drawn from previous
Stash DVDs, covering almost their entire run (the earliest is Stash 4). Thirty memorable short films,
mostly animation, in an amazing array of styles. The journey from the mad/brilliant first film,
“Postman Returns” by Dutch designer/director Mischa Rozema (very interesting 'making of” segment
on the DVD), to the more traditional (but no less creative) “A Gentleman's Duel” by Francisco Ruiz and Sean McNally, is like being a child and walking through the state fair for the first time. After each
amazing film (most are under 7 minutes), you wonder how the next film could possibly be better. But,
of course, it is equally as strange and beautiful, if not more so, than the previous film. Check out the
trailer and you'll see what I mean.
Stash Short Films 1
in the Renderosity Video Center
Credit Stephen Price, the editor of the Stash Short Films DVD, and his crew for finding and selecting such
a crazy/weird/brilliant combination of films. And for placing them in an order that allows the films to
build on each other. He and his managing editor, Heather Grieve, have provided excellent introductions
and notes in the booklet that comes with the DVD. Some notes feature short interviews, others a
statement by the artist about their film; all have the essential information you need, plus online links to
learn more. The booklet (and the DVD package) are beautifully produced on glossy paper with full
color pix from the films. Tucked neatly into the front of the DVD box, it's a witty and informative
guidebook for the entire DVD collection. Kudos to Stash for releasing a quality DVD package.
Again, Stephen Price on how Stash produces the DVDs:
"The Stash issue booklets are designed in Adobe InDesign with Photoshop for the pix work. The
disk is authored in-house using Adobe Encore. The montage and podcasts are edited in-house
using Final Cut Pro. Printing of the book and disk replication/assembly are done through
exceptional suppliers in Toronto.
"Considering there are only three of us on the editorial/production crew, yes, the schedule is
beyond tight. 60 issues later we have most of the bumps smoothed out but then there are those
months when we have to squeeze in a new collection like SHORT FILMS 1 – when we pull that
off without missing a deadline I know I am lucky to have Heather and Abbey on my side."
While the DVD design is simple, it is well done and reflects the Stash website design as well (nice
touch). The DVD has two menu screens, each with a thumbnail from the film that fills with color when
you click it. You can choose to play all of the films in order, or select films you want to view. Once you
click the thumbnail image, you are taken to a single screen with basic info on the film, plus the familiar
menu choices at the bottom of the screen (next, previous, etc.). The Stash dual-layer DVD plays well
on my older, region-free DVD player, with a crisp image and good stereo sound. On my PC with a
large Dell LCD monitor, the resolution is fine when played at original video size, but image is a bit soft
when expanded to full screen resolution. Be sure to pick a good resolution (1024x728 works well)
when watching on a large LCD monitor. Not a problem with the DVD, but with monitor resolutions. I
hope at some point Stash will seriously consider releasing Blu-Ray discs (I know they are mulling it
over). Watching these films at 1020p would be the closest thing to an acid trip I can imagine, since
the color palette for almost all of the films included is vivid and mind-blowing.
Quickly, some of the other films I strongly recommend from the Short Films 1 collection are Run
Wrake's “Rabbit”, “Moloch” by Marcin Pazera and “Dix” by the film collective BIF. “Dix” won the
jury prize at SIGGRAPH 2009 a few weeks ago (deservedly so). “Dix” in particular, represents a new
kind of horror film with its use of a Poe-like character suffering from an obsessive-compulsive
disorder. High quality visual effects allow the viewer to see the characters subjectivity, so that when he
steps on a crack (instead of on the square), he's literally torn to shreds. But unlike so many main-stream
Hollywood films who have no idea how to balance VFX and their characters story, “Dix” gets it
perfectly. Shocking to see for the first time, but on subsequent viewings the film just gets deeper and
All in all there are 30 great films to watch on the Stash Short Films 1 DVD. Approximately 2 and a half
hours of thoughtful and beautifully weird films. As Mr. Price puts it in the Stash DVD booklet intro to the
“Intriguing, hilarious, weird, thoughtful ideas made all the more awesome by the series
of headaches, excuses, glitches, hurdles, burning hoops and absolute impossibilities that
once stood in their (the filmmakers) way.”
Stash DVD Monthly
The monthly Stash DVDs are a bit different from the Short Films collection as they also include live action
VFX commercials, title sequences, trailers and game cinematics (and more). In addition to the
informative booklet that comes with each DVD, there are “behind the scenes' shorts for some of the
films and occasional collections of music mp3s by interesting contemporary bands. I picked up the
Stash 58 DVD just before I headed off to SIGGRAPH 2009, and after watching them all late into the night,
I found myself thinking about the films while I was walking around the SIGGRAPH convention center.
Filled with the same kind of carefully chosen films that I found on the Short Films 1 collection, Stash
58 is equally as impressive and inspiring, both in content and in the production of the DVD itself. As I
own about a dozen Stash monthly DVDs and Stash Collections already, I can honestly say that the
DVDs are consistently well done.
One film from Stash 58 is a huge stand-out for me and I've just got to describe it here. NASA's “A
Volta,” a music video inspired by the Mexican-American artists, the Date Farmers. Talk about creating
a unique world, Mr. Miyazaki. Imagine a Mickey Spillane/Scarface-fueled drug noir with stop action
robots living out violent urban fantasies in an Ed Wood inspired model set. And my description doesn't
do it justice. Boingboing.net calls the film “Narco-Cholo Game UltraViolence” (right on!). “A Volta” is
one of the strangest and most unique short films I've ever seen. Voiced in “text to speech”
Spanish/German (with subtitles), the sound effects and action are hyper-realistic which lends the crude,
stop-motion robot figures a realism that is very much like contemporary Czech/Polish puppetry (Jan
Svankmajer comes to mind). The contrast is striking, especially when one of these “toy” robots
commits an act of horrific violence. You don't know whether to laugh or gape in horror at the action.
The hip-hop music track clues you in though and is perfect for the film's frenetic style. The director of
this mad film is Logan's Alexei Tylevich, who brings a kind of Fritz Lang & Fritz the Cat sensibility to
the film. Can't praise it enough. Well worth the price of the disc by itself as far as I'm concerned.
There are many other excellent films on Stash 58...too many to name. Some of the standouts in my
memory include the short film “Yim,” “Birdy Nam Nam (The Parachute Ending), and the witty stopmotion
film “Sorry I'm Late.” Marc Crast's film “Varmints” is included as a kind of special addition, as
it's a full 24 minutes. Beautifully crafted, it lacks some of the strange beauty of his earlier “Jo Jo in the
Stars,” but is still miles above most animated films.
Stash DVDs are available as a monthly subscription or as a single purchase. The earliest Stash DVDs
are available as special Stash Six Packs where you get the full content of 6 monthly DVDs, plus PDFs
of all of the booklets and all of the bonus films and music tracks. There are 6 of the Stash Six Packs
which cover all of the monthly DVDs up to issue number 36. Basically, a history of high quality
animation weirdness for their first 3 years. I own the first three and plan on getting the others soon.
If you are interested in keeping up with the best animation, motion graphics and VFX work on the
planet, a monthly Stash DVD is the perfect place to start. These films are exactly what Miyazaki
describes in his book as being “truly unique imaginary worlds.” The variety and quality of each handpicked
film is truly inspiring. I guess I'm hoping that the more I am exposed to the truly great films
included on the Stash DVDs, maybe some of it will rub off on my own work.
I recommend Stash DVDs most highly.
Stash accepts submissions at their site. If you feel you have a high quality film, commercial, film title,
broadcast graphic or, as they put it, “those jobs that just up and died,” contact them. Stash editor
Stephen Price tells me that:
"Stash is a prestigious place to have your work seen, so we receive hundreds of submissions
every month. But many smaller studios do not have the time, resources or even the inclination
to do PR or promotion of any kind – so we also need to constantly track what is going on all
over the planet. In the end, the ratio of submitted work to found work on each issue of Stash is
Special eCoupon for Renderosity members
Renderosity has teamed up with Stash to offer a special discount for subscriptions and individual Stash
DVDs. Simply click the eCoupon image on the right and follow the link. This is a great way to get started collecting
these incredible DVDs. If you want to see what cutting edge effects companies like Blur and The Mill,
plus the most unique individual filmmakers are up to, Stash DVD is your ticket to ride. And be sure to
check out their excellent website as there are well done podcasts and trailers for practically every Stash
DVD released. You can pour over the archive and see what each DVD contains along with a smartly
done pdf of the accompanying booklet. Although you can buy Stash DVDs through their website, they
also provide a good list of retailers around the world that carry Stash DVDs in case you want to find
My thanks to Jason Kennedy at Renderosity and Pauline Thompson at Stash for helping to set this up.
Particular thanks to Stephen Price for his patience in answering my questions. Sure glad I decided to
stop by the Stash booth at SIGGRAPH and have a chat.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.