“..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 Films DVD.
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 of Stash:
"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
Trailer 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 deeper.
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 collection:
“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 about 50/50."
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 them locally.
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.
Please note: If you find the color of the text hard to read, please click on "Printer-friendly" and black text will appear on a white background.