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: Signs

07-Jun-09 12:00 PM by
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Today's short is the final in our seven-day series, and you'll see that I saved the best for last. Unlike World Builder and Unloved, which build upon existing relationships, in Signs, we're there to see one blossom:

Many of this week's shorts have lacked dialogue, but none have thrived within that limitation as eloquently as Signs. It's a similar language barrier to what we saw in Lost in Translation, which I like for many of the same reasons as Signs: the main character, disconnected from everyone, is adrift in an unfamiliar environment, resigned to his endless existence… until he connects with someone who can empathize, changing (and inspiring) everything. It's a palpable and relatable loneliness that comes with an enviously happy ending.

Like everyone else, each of us is different, and I think we've all sometimes felt that our uniqueness separate us from the rest of humanity. Our differences may even seem like bad things, and we think the answer can be found in conformity and uniformity. As Signs demonstrates, it is not in denying, but in expressing, ourselves that we can be most comfortable in our world. Sometimes, that means finding someone to be different with — someone who shows faith and confidence in who you are, before you can find those things in yourself. Regardless, I hope this is the beginning of a radical change for our young office worker, wherever or with whomever he finds himself in the future.

Signs was made as a candidate for the Schweppes Short Film Festival by @Radical.Media, the company that was also responsible for the Superman and Seinfeld commercials for American Express. As amusing as those advertisements were, they lacked the innocence of Signs, as well as its moral:

It is better to have a regret of action than a regret of inaction.

Summer Shorts: The Black Hole

03-Jun-09 12:00 PM by
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Today's short is the shortest short of the shorts I'll be posting here shortly. After the frenetic nature of What's in the Box?, I thought it'd be a nice change of pace to enjoy the contemplative and solitary nature of The Black Hole:

Given this film's dimly-lit environment, I was pleasantly surprised to find the overall tone of the film to be less dark. I'd worried that the hole itself would prove to have a nefarious or accursed purpose, similar to the extremely disturbing "Girl With Pencil" short. Fortunately, the director did not borrow Stephen King's style of horribly punishing his main character, resulting instead in a mildly amusing variation on the greed and regret of Office Space.

The Black Hole was produced for the fifth annual National Film Board of Canada Online Short Film Competition, as were three other films, each of them equally dialogue-free. Two are entirely computer-generated, while the third and longest of the set is special effects-free. Like The Black Hole, it's amazing how much can be said with so few words and embellishments.

Summer Shorts: World Builder

01-Jun-09 12:00 PM by
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Today's video is a wordless film that leaves you guessing as to its nature right up until — and even beyond — the end:

World Builder was created by Bruce Branit, the same artist who nine years earlier created the popular comedy short The 405. Sometimes, professionals such as Mr. Branit produce independent films to realize a vision that no professional studio would support; other times, it's to experiment with new techniques or to acquire experience for a resume. For example, the latter was Victor Navone's motivation ten years ago when he created the "Alien Song" short, and it worked: that demo earned him a permanent job at Pixar. Similarly, Mr. Branit went on from "The 405" to work on Pushing Daisies and Lost.

The extent of special effects in World Builder is apparent. The World Builder Facebook page has a video looking at one scene in four stages of development, from animatic to green screen to final. It's a fascinating reminder of how much of modern entertainment is fabricated, as also evidenced by the Pink Five effects breakdown.

Storywise, World Builder is a touching gesture of love — one that doubtless many people wish they could offer to those who are trapped within themselves. Why this couple had to remain apart even in the virtual space, I'm unsure… but it's comforting to know that, even if he could not be with her, he could still do something for her. The therapy was likely as helpful for the victim as for those left behind.