originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/699294...
thrice and once the hedge-pig whined,
harpier cries; ‘tis time! ‘tis time!
It is once again halloween! Or as close as we can get to it on a Thursday this year. Which means it’s time to once again celebrate horror, in the field of animation…
In previous years, we’ve enjoyed the prog rock album cover spectacle of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, the devastating ruined-world masterpiece Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, the hilarious creepypasta jankiness of Yamishibai in one year…
…and the next, the exquisite Katsuya Terada design and impossibly slick animation of Blood: The Last Vampire, the tense Korean zombie film Seoul Station, the sublime ero-guro festival of Suehiro Maruo paraphilias in Shōjo Tsubaki, the viscerally upsetting abstract dive into a Chilean Nazi cult in The Wolf House… and of course plenty more Yamishibai.
Halloween animation nights are some of my absolute favourites, you guys.
This year, we’ve got our hands on the long-awaited Mad God, the thirty year(!) project of stop motion animator Phil Tippett to take all the techniques he learned doing movie special effects and put it towards a fully stop motion film…
Who’s that? Tippett started his career at the animation studio Cascade Pictures, inspired by the legendary stop motion of Ray Harryhausen. His break into in special effects cane in 1976, when he and Jon Berg were hired to create the miniature holographic chess sequence in the original Star Wars.
Working at Industrial Light and Magic, Tippett was on almost all the big 70s-80s special effects movies - e.g. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Robocop - earning industry renown. One of his major achievements was a set of techniques termed “go motion” to simulate motion blur when photographing stop motion animations, by moving the camera or smearing a glass plate with petroleum jelly. He was also heavily involved in creating the creature props, so he and his team are behind all those inescapably replicated Star Wars aliens. It’s wild to think of how an idea created at a studio one time is now replicated so widely: how many people have spent time creating 3D models or illustrations of a ‘Rancor monster’?
Yet despite all that success in stop motion, Tippett also oversaw the transition to CG special effects, starting on Jurassic Park (where he’s credited as ‘dinosaur supervisor’) and then Starship Troopers (1977) - Verhoeven deemed him effectively a co-director of the elaborate battle scenes.
And that brings us to Mad God…
The way Tippett described it, Mad God is a form of ‘therapy’ in contrast to his increasingly constrained day job. It’s widely described as an exceptionally bleak film, depicting a figure known as the ‘Assassin’ descending into an increasingly grotesque body horror world. Tippett started it while working on Robocop in 1987, but shelved it for decades on the feeling that nobody was interested in stop motion anymore; he came back to it in the early 2010s, running a kickstarter which raised $124k, three times its goal; with this money Tippett brought on other people to assist him in finishing the film.
In an interview with Variety, he describes what went into it:
I had to archive it because it was just too big for me, the scope was too big, I didn’t have enough people, so I kind of canned it, but never forgot about it. Over the next 20 years, I studied a number of things like art history and literature, there’s a lot of Dante and Milton in the film, and then I really got into Freud and particularly “The Red Book” by Carl Jung. He wrote it over a period of 16 years, and it drove him insane. A similar thing happened to me. I went down this psychological path that took me into this bizarre world that ended up in the psych ward. It was that kind of experience where I guess I became a method filmmaker, I got lost in this unconscious vision.
As he alludes, in the last year Tippett suffered a mental breakdown - I can only imagine what it must feel like to reach the end of a thirty year project and just kick that 80 minute film out the door. I can’t wait to see what monsters emerge from Tippett’s subconscious from his almost improvisational process of animation.
Next on the docket is… do you remember ‘Ujicha’, the ingenious ‘gekimation’ animator whose The Burning Buddha Man we watched back on Animation Night 108?
Ujicha’s technique is termed ‘gekimation’, a portmanteau of animation with 劇画, the darker, more adult comics movement which once contrasted itself to 漫画. Gekiga, published in magazines like GARO, was eventually reabsorbed back into mainstream manga - its influence is a big part of the reason why manga doesn’t look like an early Osamu Tezuka or Go Nagai drawing anymore. However, Ujicha’s method draws even more on kamishibai street theatre; it’s a process of limited animation with complex painted cels, moved like puppets. To this he brings a fantastic eye for body horror imagery and some really fascinatingly strange stories.
So! Five years after The Burning Buddha Man (2013), which saw a girl investigating her parents’ deaths only to stumble into a bizarre conspiracy involving merging bodies with carved buddhas to gain superpowers, Ujicha came back with a film titled Violence Voyager. This one follows two young boys who stumble into a weird theme park where they participate in a ‘macabre game’. I can only imagine where it’s gonna go from that vague description.
Ujicha is something of a mystery to me - last time I could only find a scant couple of paragraphs, and searching today I only find similar information echoed on other sites. The Guardian article there mentions that he has the backing of production house Yoshimoto Kogyo, although I’m not sure when that began. Ujicha’s own words about his work are pretty brief, saying that they draw on his childhood:
It’s a mashup of all the things he enjoyed in his childhood, says the director, from trips to Universal Studios Japan to horror movies by Lucio Fulci, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, to the gory zombie violence of the Resident Evil video game. The amusement-park-gone-awry scenario is a perfect fit for the strange world of gekimation. “It’s like I’m making an attraction myself,” Ujicha says. “Using my own supplies, and my childhood experiences.”
To me it’s just extremely cool to have someone pulling off something so distinctly different from just about all contemporary animation as well as plain fun, almost entirely alone, and getting rewarded for it! I am really hype for this one, and whatever Ujicha does next.
Now, it wouldn’t be an Animation Night Halloween if we didn’t have an anime about vampires. We’ve done (one take on) Vampire Hunter D, and we’ve done Blood The Last Vampire… so this time let’s take a look at Hellsing, specifically the 2006-2008 OVA series Hellsing Ultimate, a joint production of Satelight (who animated the first half) and Madhouse (who animated the second). What’s it about? It’s about Alucard, a vampire in the service of a British aristocrat, who hunts Nazi vampires with a great deal of gleeful violence.
This one is memorable to me because I actually ended up with a DVD of it when I was a kid, and watched the dub, which is hilarious because it’s packed with British accents or absurd movie German in a really hammy way.
The full Hellsing Ultimate is very long, consisting of ten episodes that are each almost an hour, so there’s no way I can pack it into this format. (We still never got round to the second half of Alexander Senki!) Nevertheless, I think it would be really fun to give everyone a little sampling of it.
Meanwhile, continuing the stop motion theme, I have this fascinating little oddity courtesy of @mogsk: The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993) directed by a British guy, Dave Borthwick, at his studio bolexbrothers in Bristol - the city where I was born funnily enough, and basically the home of UK animation. It’s a surreal story of a tiny guy who escapes from a lab and into a weird swamp.
Dave Borthwick sadly died in 2013, and so a lot of the information about his life comes from his obituary. From there, we know that he was - like me! - born in Bristol, and graduated the West of English College of Art (now UWE) in 1969, spending many years working in experimental theatre, where he used traditional animation techniques in light shows, and then as a cameraman in the film industry. He founded bolexbrothers in the mid 80s, at first creating mostly short films, ads and music videos such as Feel Free (1984), I Can Hear the Grass Grow (1986), Vikings Go Pumping (1987) and Igors Horn (1988).
The studio was known for their experimental animation, using not just the familiar claymation of studios like Aardman but also pixilation (stop motion animation using living human actors). Their short films tend to involve a lot of industrial settings and favour mood (set particularly by music) over a lot of dialogue or plot.
Tom Thumb is an evolution of that to a longer format, and I’m really curious to see how it plays out. Honestly I had no idea anyone was doing anything cool like this in the UK! It would have been really cool to have met Borthman. Alas…
Besides these main features? We have our usual sampling of shorter stuff - Yamishibai in particular! If you have any cool bits of horror animation, please throw em my way!
To finish up, let me point at some exciting incoming stuff! Alberto Vasquez, the director of the incredible Birdboy: The Forgotten Children and Decorado, has put a release date on his latest film, Unicorn Wars. The film is notable for being animated entirely in Blender Grease Pencil, with much of the same team as J’ai Perdu mon Corps (Animation Night 32). Much as with Birdboy, it’s an expansion of one of Vasquez’s earlier short films into a full length movie. Here’s the trailer…
We can look forward to that in December this year! So if I’m still running Animation Night in a year, maybe it will be our next halloween pick. If I can wait that long.
The other one I have my eye on with decidedly more mixed feelings is… Shintaro Kago, the legendary ero-guro mangaka and one of my favourite illustrators, is directing an anime film, putting his unique spin on Christian mythology. Fantastic, I should be over the moon right? Only, the thing is, to fund this anime film, Kago has been selling NFTs. Apparently very successful NFTs. From a purely mercenary perspective, it’s not a bad move to exploit the vast amount of money flowing through the NFT bubble - but proof-of-work cryptocurrency is massive gaping environmental wound, and it fucking sucks to see an artist I admire like Kago lending the weight of his reputation to this exhausting ponzi scheme.
Course, I’m still gonna watch a Shintaro Kago anime. No idea who’ll be hired to animate it or whether Kago’s style - one of incredibly precise finicky detail - will translate well to animation.
Which brings me to the adaptation of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki to anime by Drive, a young studio that also made Mamoru Oshii’s comedy series VladLove, for Adult Swim and Production I.G. USA (did you know they had a US branch? I didn’t!). The animation they’ve been able to accomplish is nothing short of extraordinary, using designs straight from the manga that are anything but animation-friendly, with subtle, slow motions and drawing counts that would be at home in an expensive film. You have to see this…
The project’s release has been moved back several times, and is currently indefinitely delayed, in part due to the pandemic - something which is frankly a much better state of affairs than animators and production staff working themselves to death trying to get this done on a deadline. I’m sure, whenever it arrives, it will be worth the wait.
And that’s what’s going on - at least to my knowledge - in horror animation at the moment. Hopefully a worthy introduction to these four films. So, without further ado…
Round about the cauldron go,
In the poisoned entrails throw…
Animation Night 129 will be starting in about half an hour at https://twitch.tv/canmom - that’s about 9pm UK time!