The Wishgranter

10-Sep-16 10:30 AM by
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Happy birthday to a special someone! May all your wishes come true.

Summer Shorts sellout: My favorite CGI films

19-Jun-13 12:23 PM by
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I spend so much time watching YouTube that, in 2009, I applied that knowledge toward creating a Showbits feature: Summer Shorts. Every weekday for a week, I posted a different short film to this site. In 2010, I revisited the format but over a longer period of time, sharing one video every Friday for 17 weeks.

After a two-year hiatus, I'm pleased to announce Summer Shorts is back, though in a new context. Going with a thematic approach and a commercial outlet, I've compiled my nine favorite CGI shorts into a video gallery. "9 animated shorts that give Pixar a run for its money" is my first freelance feature for ITworld, an affiliate of Computerworld, the magazine where I was an editor for six years.

9 animated shorts that give Pixar a run for its money

Who needs Pixar? Here are my 9 favorite CGI shorts that you can watch for free right on YouTube.


Two of the nine shorts will be familiar to long-time Showbits readers. Pigeon: Impossible and Kiwi, though older, stand as some of the most enjoyable and memorable animated films I have seen online. Five other shorts I'd seen before but had not previously shared, leaving Rosa and The Chase as new to me, the result of extensive research into YouTube's library.

There were enough other candidates that ITworld's gallery could have been nearly double its length: six more videos, including The Passenger and Sebastian's Voodoo, nearly made the cut. As is, the final playlist totals an hour, making for an fun and diverse showcase of the fastest, funniest, most poignant CGI films YouTube has to offer.

Ice Age 4 begins breaking ground

14-Jan-11 11:21 AM by
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Fox's Ice Age trilogy of films will become a quadrilogy on July 13, 2012, with the release of Ice Age: Continental Drift. The films thus far have successfully used CGI animation to present a family-friendly series of tales of slick action, witty dialogue, and heartwarming themes, courtesy the voice acting of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary. But Rotten Tomatoes shows a trend of declining ratings with each release, which isn't surprising when a series reaches so many installments. It seems inevitable that gimmicks that were once original will eventually be worn and tired.

Will the fourth film continue the slide into mediocrity? It's too soon to say, but I found its trailer — in essence, a stand-alone animated short — as cute and quick as ever. Well in advance of the film's release next year, it is now available for free online:

What are your hopes for this series? Did you already stop counting after the first or second film?

Summer Shorts: Kiwi

25-Jun-10 11:00 AM by
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Many animated shorts are either funny (Pigeon: Impossible), dark (Sebastian's Voodoo), or both (The Passenger). Few are what I would describe as poignant, but Kiwi, a four-year-old favorite with currently over 26 million views on YouTube, packs a surprising amount of emotion and subtlety into what at first appears to be yet another cute short:

When I first showed this film to a friend, the meaning of it was completely lost on her — she saw a strange creature nailing trees to a cliff and then jumping. I was sad that she didn't recognize the genius and sadness of the bird's plight. Not everyone is born "normal" and with the full abilities of their peers; even those who do must sometimes come to grips with a sudden loss, as was the case of Daniela García, who Reader's Digest recently profiled. A healthy young woman, she lost all four limbs in a train accident … yet still went on to become a doctor.

Not everyone finds the courage and support they need to deal with such adversity, but they still want to make a difference. I suspect many death wishes arise from a desire to experience a death more meaningful than the preceding life. The titular kiwi knew what it meant to be a bird, but only conceptually; he needed to know it experientially. His dedication to that cause is required an incalculable commitment of time and energy, culminating in his wish at a price even he didn't find too high.

I know it's just an animated short, but I can't help but feel for the kiwi, who died as he didn't live: unconstrained.

Summer Shorts: Pigeon Impossible

18-Jun-10 12:00 PM by
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Toy Story 3 comes out today, but you don't have to patronize the House of Mouse to get an excellent CGI story. Behold Pigeon: Impossible:

This short parody of the spy genre creatively draws on a number of cinematic archetypes. Although it may strain credulity that such an inept agent would be responsible for war-instigating weaponry, such buffoonery is not without precedent — just look at any incarnation of Get Smart. The scene in which the pigeon takes a strafing run at the agent is akin to Hitchcock's North by Northwest, while the enormity of the missile's launch is reminiscent of Fail-Safe and The Iron Giant.

The film is supported by a comprehensive Web site with a blog, podcasts, and merchandise. The first episode of the creator's 19-part behind-the-scenes videos reveals his initial belief that, since Pixar does one 90-minute movie a year, he could produce a six-minute short in a fraction of the time. The reality? Pigeon: Impossible, released on June 25, 2009, took four years to create. (It could be worse; The Passenger took twice that time.)

Whether Lucas Martell created this masterpiece for pleasure or profit, he has an incredible work of art on his hands that will likely lead to a bright future. Such fortune also has precedent: when Victor Navone created "Alien Song" in 1999, it wasn't long before he got snapped up by Pixar to lend his talents to everything from Finding Nemo to WALL•E.

Summer Shorts: Sebastian's Voodoo

28-May-10 11:00 AM by
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With the last two weekly shorts being fairly light-hearted, I thought the third entry in the Summer Shorts series should shake things up a bit. The Black Hole, shown here last summer, toed the line of comedy and tragedy in that live-action short. Accompanying it in the fifth annual National Film Board of Canada Online Short Film Competition was the animated short Sebastian's Voodoo, which goes full-bore to the dark side while still offering a message of hope:

Sebastian's Voodoo takes the well-known concept of voodoo folk magic and gives it nuance. For a doll to represent a living entity, it too must have some connection to a life force. If so, then does it flow both ways? Must a voodoo practitioner have his own doll?

These questions are not just philosophical but have realistic applications and contexts. What gives any one person more right to live than another? It's a moral dilemma that has been examined again and again, from Hitchcock's Lifeboat to Roddenberry's Star Trek. In Sebastian's Voodoo, the hero's decision reminds me of the climax of one of my favorite fantasy films, Dragonheart, but in a visual style similar to the movie 9. The result wasn't inevitable, though; a protagonist in a similar scenario but making different decisions can be found in Black Button. Sebastian's Voodoo is also slated to become a feature-length film — but will it remain a dark morality play, or will Hollywood turn it into something more kid-friendly?

What films have helped you explore life-and-death decisions?

Summer Shorts: The Passenger

14-May-10 12:00 PM by
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Our inaugural entry in the 2010 Summer Shorts premiered in 2006 and was awarded Best Animation at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival. Despite this sterling record, it is not one of the better-known shorts to have circulated the Internet. In my own effort to remedy the situation, I present to you The Passenger:

Many animated shorts eschew dialogue completely while nonetheless making impressive use of audio. The Passenger takes it a step further by incorporating sound as a central plot element. As for the visual inspiration, the titular passenger looks like an inhabitant of Oddworld, a video game published in 1997 by GT Interactive. That company was purchased in 1999 by Infogrames, a company this short's creator worked at until 2000. Coincidence? Probably.

The Passenger is available on DVD with multiple extras for $18.11. Though I believe artists should be rewarded for their work, $18 for a seven-minute film is a tough sell when you can often get a 90-minute production for the same value. But when you consider that, from conception to release, the film took eight years to craft, that's less than five cents a week to watch the film (and considerably more to render it). If you enjoyed spending seven minutes on this blog post, what do you feel is the best way to appreciate the artist?

Reimagining TRON 1.0

21-Apr-10 9:52 AM by
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In the eight months before the release of TRON Legacy, fans are whetting their need for new media by reinterpreting the franchise's origin. TRON, now 28 years old, reflects the era in which it was crafted: crude CGI and evil supercomputers aren't as much en vogue now as they were when both fields were nascent. What if it had been made thirty years later … or earlier?

Trailers have also changed a great deal over the decades, having once been more verbose, lackluster, and narrated, as evidenced by this 1982 preview for TRON:

Now let's take that same source material and recut it into something a bit more exciting:

A drastic improvement, no? The new trailer even runs the same length as the original, showing how much more effectively one can use an equal amount of time. But imagine how disappointed it would be to have been enticed into the theater by such a stunning an action-packed film, only to witness these opening credits:



These credits are designed in the style of Saul Bass, the graphic designer and filmmaker whose credits include North by Northwest, West Side Story, and Love in the Afternoon. As stylistic as TRON itself was, I don't find it's one that meshes well with this colorful intro.

How much of these design aspects can we expect to see in TRON Legacy? Will it be a successor in aesthetic as well as plot? Its first trailer bodes well; it's not long until we'll know conclusively.

(Hat tip to 8 Bit Weapon)