The long dark tea-time of the cel

Friday, 1 February 2008 — 2:32am | Animation, Film

If your exposure to animation is limited to feature-length releases from the major studios, then I feel especially obligated to point you to The Pearce Sisters, a ten-minute short directed by Luis Cook and imbued with a unique aesthetic that it can truly call its own. Although it’s an Aardman production, it isn’t anything like the house style you might have come to expect from Wallace & Gromit or Creature Comforts, with those wide-mouthed Claymation caricatures that speak in the most wonderfully exaggerated vowels. No, this is something special: on the 2D plane the film progresses from one frame to the next with the gentle pace and meticulous composition that works so well in Samurai Jack (to grasp at a very approximate comparison), but it also draws on the sense of depth that you only get when you think in 3D space.

How did they do it? The director explains his technique in a video on the film’s website. Once you’re there, be sure to read the Production Notes for more. I can’t explain it as well as the website does, but what they effectively did was draw a 2D film over a 3D sketch. I’m always glad to see films actually explore the possibilities that CG provides; one of the reasons I’ve been fascinated with Glen Keane’s Rapunzel from the moment it was announced is its promise to bring a fresh, painterly 3D aesthetic to mainstream audiences. Hopefully that pans out.

Naturally, the technical side of animation only goes as far as what it produces in terms of story. In that respect, The Pearce Sisters is full of the same darkly comical grotesquerie as Terry Gilliam’s Tideland (for the none of you who saw it), only much shorter and without the really freaky bits. Think William Faulkner—lonely old women rotting among corpses in a quasi-Gothic dustbowl, and so on. But perhaps I’ve said too much. Watch the film.

As always, I thank Cartoon Brew for the recommendation.

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