There are no CGI superheroes at MICA's Sweaty Eyeballs animation showcase, nor will Wallace and Gromit be there. Rather, expect an animated line of ink timed to classical music, moving bird shit on the sidewalk, and the like. Towson animation professor Phil Davis and co-curator Max Porter have a taste for what Davis calls "the strange and experimental," and the screening reflects that. Davis and Porter have gathered a blend of styles-stop-motion, 2-D, 3-D CG, hybrid-and formats-character narratives, music videos, and unclassifiable shorts. For little-known, experimental animators, Sweaty Eyeballs is a rare chance to present on the big screen.
talked with Davis about people's ideas on animation as well as what to look forward to at Sweaty Eyeballs.
Can you give me a sort of crash course in animation?
Well, what I'm trying to do with this screening is expose people to a large variety of types of animation. I think a lot of times now, depending on the age of the person, if you ask them "what do you think of when you think of animation?," the first thing people think of is Mickey Mouse or children's cartoons or Pixar-like 3-D CG animation. And those are all animation and they're fine, and I love children's cartoons, but there is this sort of whole side genre or sort of underground movement of independent short animation that's not necessarily for kids. Some of it can be for both.
This screening is more adult animation-not necessarily violent or sexual [laughs]-but trying to expose people to the fact that animation can be a serious art form as well as entertainment. For me, personally, I really like animation that has some human characteristic involved, whether that's character-based animation or whether you can actually see that somebody made the thing. Computer animation is great, but it kind of becomes cold after a while I think. There's something really nice about seeing something that's drawn frame by frame, or puppets that are animated stop-motion frame by frame. All that said, the screening has some CG stuff in it too. We're kind of mixing and matching.
From the Sweaty Eyeballs' website's still images of the shorts that are playing, I could tell there is a lot of variety aesthetically. Can you tell me about the different styles?
Some of the work is more straightforward, but a lot of it is-I wouldn't say challenging-but it's not your standard three-act structured story-based stuff.
For example, we have some 3-D CG animation-so, computer graphics-this one piece called "Palmipédarium" from France. The filmmaker created character-based animation all in computer, and it's an interesting film because he [Jérémy Clapin, the director] used free software to make the whole thing. Most times you think of computer graphics and you think,
OK, this is going to be a big studio, and they're using the most cutting-edge and expensive equipment and software to make the thing
. He had a relatively small team of people working with him on it, so it wasn't just one person, but they made the whole thing using this software called Blender-it's like open-source software. And it's pretty amazing to see. Normally when you think about that, you think,
Oh, it probably looks like crap
. But it's beautiful.
We've got a really, really funny and strange picture called "Boogodobiegodongo," and that's from an animator named Peter Millard from the United Kingdom. It's sort of like an experimental comedy and it's all hand-drawn animation, frame by frame, using pencils and watercolor. I think what most people think of when they think of animation is,
OK, it's a movie, it's a film
, and when we see live-action film, we're always looking for characters and a story for the most part. So animation tends to mimic that or ape that in a lot of ways. And for me, what I find most interesting about animation is that you can do stuff that you can't do in live-action, you can't do in the real world. So I can take a character or an object and distort it or morph it in some way that is completely irrelevant if you thought about the laws of physics and gravity and real-live action. So this piece by Peter Millard is very funny and humorous, but he's also just playing with the medium itself, really playing with this idea of how you can stretch and compress and change what the image looks like over time. A lot of animation is more conservative; I really like stuff that is trying to use the medium for what it's good for, which is not just mimicking live action always.
One thing I can say is I've been traveling to animation festivals for the past year. I had a film that was playing in festivals called "The Living Things." And I got to a bunch of festivals and I started picking and choosing stuff that I really liked. So there's a big range of representation from all different countries. We have a bunch of stuff from the U.S. and then we have a piece from France, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Norway, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Israel too. So it's kind of pooling from all different places.
We have this one that's called "Bird Shit." It's very short, it's by an animator named Caleb Wood who lives out in Minnesota. And he basically animates bird shit on the sidewalk. So he was in this residency in Japan and was taking a walk in the park one day and realized the crow shit looked really beautiful and was like a Jackson Pollock painting on the ground. So he decided to try to photograph it in a way that it would move, and make it animated. And it's really, really quick.
That's sort of the other thing that I'm interested in with this screening, the idea of short films or short animation. In the U.S., we have film festivals and you can show work online, but there isn't as much emphasis on short film as an art form-and specifically short animation. It's all very much geared toward feature films (and that's become kind of the primary format) or like television-length. A lot of these pieces are really short, like one minute long, three minutes long. But they're really, really beautiful. And the thing about animation is that it takes a
long time to do it. So these people spend years making something and they don't have an outlet for it other than to show it online. So I wanted to create this sort of outlet, at least here in the United States or Baltimore specifically. When you go to other countries or Europe, there's tons of support for independent short animation. And there isn't that much support for it here or screening opportunities, so I'd like to make more.
The Sweaty Eyeballs screening costs $5 and is free for MICA students and faculty, as well as Friends of the Maryland Film Festival. For more information, visit