UCLA lecturer and animation critic Charles Solomon has seen numerous animated films, and this weekend he will add 12 more to the list.
Solomon will be one of the judges for the Animation Is Film Festival, which will take place Friday to Sunday at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood. The festival will showcase both independent and foreign animations from more than 15 artists, all with different styles and storytelling methods.
The Daily Bruin’s Cameron Vernali spoke with Solomon about new animation trends, what he will look for at the festival and the components of a good animated film.
Daily Bruin: Have you noticed any trends in animation that have been rising in 2017 and could make an appearance at the festival?
Charles Solomon: This festival is largely devoted to the work of independent artists and foreign artists, so you’re seeing smaller films that are more personal, more individual in some ways than the studio releases. They don’t have anywhere near the budget that Disney or Pixar or Dreamworks does, but the artists have a chance to make a statement in terms of content or graphic style, artistic style, etc. It’s the difference between having your birthday cake made at home or getting it from the bakery. Each are good in their own way – they’re just different. Independent films may have more unusual content, they may have original styles. For example, one of the films … “The Breadwinner,” is directed by a woman, which is still unusual in Hollywood as a whole and Hollywood animated films as well.
DB: What are some ways in which independent animated films can personalize their content and style?
CS: Consider a film that came out a couple of years ago, “The Secret of Kells,” which is a very beautiful film. It was a visual style that was very personal to director Tomm Moore and the artists as well. It plays off the look of the great medieval manuscript “The Book of Kells,” one of the treasures of medieval art. That’s probably not something you would do for a Hollywood film because it’s unfamiliar to a lot of Americans, and it’s very different from what they expect. That doesn’t mean a Hollywood film can’t be personal – for example “Up,” a Pixar film directed by Pete Docter, reflects very much his sensibilities. … With independent films, there’s more room to gamble.
DB: What will you be looking for as you’re judging films in the festival?
CS: When you’re judging a festival, you’re looking for something that ideally pushes the art form in a new direction. For the big-name releases from the studios, there’s the Oscars and some of the major industry prizes. In the festivals, you’re seeing work (where) you want to see that personal vision; you want to see new styles and new media. You want to see new kinds of stories and storytelling.
An example is … one from France a couple years ago, “The Triplets of Belleville;” a wonderful film, but very very quirky – you could never sell it to Hollywood. Can you imagine going into a pitch meeting and saying, “Well, we’ve got a mute bicycling champion who has been raised by his Portuguese clubfooted grandmother. He gets kidnapped by the French mafia and she has to go and rescue him and runs into a group of little old ladies who were once vaudeville stars from the silent film era.” Now, this is something that the big studios aren’t going to really leap on, but the film was wonderful and like nothing else you’ve ever seen before. That’s what we look for at the festivals. There’s a long pattern of new techniques, new styles, new technology being created and explored by the avant-garde and independent artists and then they are taken up by commercials … then by the mainstream.
DB: In your opinion, what makes a good animated film?
CS: Well, first and foremost, a good animated film is a good film. Does it have a coherent narrative? Does it present its story well or its characters believably? Are the visuals interesting? Is the filmmaker expressing him or herself (in a way) that communicates itself to the audience so that we understand the experiences of the characters? Things that can be very quirky, strange, but you can recognize – even if you do not share the vision – you recognize the quality of the filmmaking and of the artistry that went into it. … This is the place where the animators can bring us visions that we’ve never seen.