originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/735720...

Hiii everyone! Animation night is back. And I’ve a treat for you tonight…

Gif source: @gebo4482

So. One of the best things about running Animation Night is that doing this (almost) every week gives me a motivation to go roving out looking for stuff I’d probably never watch otherwise. And sometimes the stuff you discover ends up being just insanely good.

This was the case way back on Animation Night 25, the very first Halloween Animation Night. On that night, we took a chance on a film by Spanish director Alberto Vasquez called Psiconautas, los niños olvidados - known in English as Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. I’ll tell you a little about that movie in a minute, but it completely blew us all away: emotionally overwhelming, deft in its handling of the heavy shit, and gorgeously animated. (4C were involved).

Gif source: @xesoteric-extraterrestrialx

So. Psiconautas is set on an island inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. It is a land in a state of general decline - its industry collapsed, the land choked with gigantic rubbish dumps, and the people in spirals of futility. Birdboy is a kind of spirit of the land; his father, Birdman, was shot down by police on suspicion of drug trafficking and he now struggles to keep a monster contained inside him and protect the one tiny shred of nature and life. His friends, who steal the pills he needs to keep it in check, are dealing variously with intrusive violent thoughts, uncaring fundamentalist parents, and a parent’s addiction manifesting physically in the form of a huge spider. They want out of this hellish island - and they have a plan: with a bit of money, they might be able to buy passage to the city.

But it isn’t that easy. Their money goes only so far as a tiny inflatable raft. And in the vast rubbish dump they encounter the Forgotten Children, abandoned by this society and left feral. Birdboy is forced to let his rage manifest. I won’t spoil how it ends but - it’s not an easy one.

Born 1980, Vázquez got his start in book and magazine illustration, with a style of distorted proportions and watercolours, or murky black, textured shapes as in these illustrations of Lovecraft. He turned to comics in the mid 2000s - which is where Psiconautas was born, along with other works like El evangelio de Judas (Judas the Catholic Squirrel) (2007) and Alter Ego (2008). In comics his style is very heavy, with big blocks of dark hatching. Within a few years he got the animation bug, working together with Pedro Rivero.

At the time, my knowledge of Vázquez’s style was limited to short films such as Decorado, which should give you a pretty strong sense of his style.

At first it seems like a series of brief joke vignettes - but soon of course the threads start weaving together, characters from one skit come back in another, the threads of causality start to break down as the main character goes to pieces. It’s clever and striking, but of course the deliberate artificiality which is the point means it is all wrapped in a layer of irony, which blunts the impact a bit.

The short films were made with a tiny team, with Vázquez hmself filling in just about every role from writing through layout to cleanup, with only a few other people on board. His later works became much larger projects, pulling in artists from as far afield as the great Studio 4°C in Japan, though I believe the bulk of the animation is still done in Spain.

The result is something great. Psiconautas has its share of black humour, but it’s more willing to go for real drama, taking the vibe from ‘unsettling’ to full on 'fooooof’. I’m so excited to see it again.

But the main reason to return to Vázquez tonight is… he’s gone and made another movie!

Just as with Birdboy, Unicorn Wars takes a short film and expands it. This is actually one of Vázquez’s earliest animated works, Unicorn Blood (2013) - a work with a rougher cutout animation style, depicting teddy bears who hunt unicorns to try to fuel their cuteness. In the short we see a condescending teddy bear Moffy lecturing and fatshaming his brother Gregorio, as they hunt a unicorn, with abruptly segues into montages of violent religious imagery as a voice sermonises on the necessity of slaughtering the unicorns. They encounter a unicorn, but Gregorio can’t shoot before the unicorn throws itself off a cliff - and as Moffy rounds on him, he gets motivation to, well, do a murder. It’s a highly stylish work as with anything Vázquez touches, with gorgeous music textures and great use of watercolour.

Unicorn Wars returns to these themes about a decade later. Now the teddy bears are fully in a Vietnam-style war against the unicorns. A troop of teddy bairs are recruited to the war, and we are introduced to the conflicts between brothers Gordi and Azulín and top recruit Coco. Naturally the deployment goes south fast, and these three bears are the only ones left alive. Things get very violent and occult very quickly. There’s more than a little cannibalism.

Gif source: @remorsi

I’ve been excited to watch this movie for like three years now. It dropped last year, and became available on BD this year, so I’ve finally been able to get my hands on a copy. Together with that, we’ll revisit some of Vázquez’s older works. I’m really excited, I’ve been wanting to run this one for aaaaaages. Now’s our chance!

Now, I need to get some food before the shops shut, so the plan is to start in about an hour, at 10pm UK time - in the usual place, https://twitch.tv/canmom. Hope to see you there!

Hey everyone! Real brief blurb tonight because I talked about Alberto Vázquez last week - tonight I’m going to be re-running Unicorn Wars since last week it was way too late for people to attend!

Gif source: @gebo4482

Unicorn Wars could be roughly described as Apocalypse Now with teddy bears. We encounter a world in which a militaristic country of teddies is locked in a revanchist forever-war against the unicorns who now occupy the Magic Forest. It is a conflict in part religious in nature: the bears are convinced that whoever drinks the blood of the last unicorn will enter into a transcendant state of being.

Our story concerns a fresh batch of recruits, sent on a mission that none of them know is sacrificial. Led by a sergeant who has no idea what he’s in for and a reserved priest, they set out with grenades and bows and arrows to find out what became of a lost unit.

Our main characters are a pair of brothers, Azulín and Gordi, or Bluey and Tubby as the English sub renders it. Both of them are deeply screwed up by their parents separation and their mothers’ death; Azulín in particular, who took more after their father, has a determination to prove himself at whatever cost, and a contemptuous, bullying relationship to his brother.

Gif source: @gebo4482

But we also encountere the rest of the doomed bears and there are some real characters. The bear culture is a fascinating blend of cute fluffy signifiers and militaristic ones, joined into one nihilistically eugenic competition for status. There’s a real fascination in the animation with the physicality of the bears’ bodies, the way they squish around, messy scenes of eating, and of course a great deal of gore. You see quite a bit of teddybear pp.

Naturally the mission goes south fast. A lurid trip on colourful bugs brings the first casualties - a fantastic blast of psychedelia - but the teddies are also completely unprepared for fighting the unicorns. Or their willingness to murder each other. In the end, Azulín and Gordi are the only survivors, surviving off the land - and then things really take a turn.

Of the unicorns, we learn much less. One unicorn, María, is something of a deuteragonist - desperately searching for her missing sibling, she finds an old church, where the apes of the forest worship a strange, morphing fleshy entity. We do not immediately see what becomes of this - but María ends up falling afoul of the two surviving bears. Azulín attacks Maria while Gordi can only watch; Azulín hits María multiple times but is ultimately pierced by a young unicorn and cast into the river, leaving María alone with Gordi. (In contrast, in the original short, the Gordi analogue kills the Azulín analogue after they kill a unicorn.)

Azulín, horribly injured, washes up back at the main teddybear base, where the military higherups attempt to make a figurehead of him - completely failing to anticipate his capacity to turn their own forces against them and stage a coup. Where the previous command was simply using the war as a way to stay in power, vengeful Azulín is a true zealot and mobilises the full teddybear army against the unicorns. Meanwhile, Gordi has managed to forge an unlikely friendship with the unicorn María who he has nursed back to health after Bluey’s attack.

Gif source: @gebo4482

Vázquez is no stranger to blending cute imagery and extremely dark themes. In contrast to Psiconautas, which felt like a story of the forlorn hope of escape against the bleakness of the world, Unicorn Wars seems more bleak and nihilistic. You know none of this is going to end well; the ending pushes it into a direction of alchemical synthesis, and we’ll talk about it when we get there in the film.

Unicorn Wars generally looks amazing, vividly coloured and elegantly blending 2D and 3D animation. And well, there’s a reason for that: like I Lost My Body, which shared many of the same animators, this is an all-Blender production, using Grease Pencil for 2D animation, and a very inventive process for the unicorns where the 3D render is converted to a 2D grease pencil drawing which can be further edited by the anmiators. The result is that the unicorns get the sense of life that comes from the slightly imperfections 2D animation, and yet the precise perspective of 3D animation. It’s a fantastic showcase of what Blender’s 2D-in-3D can enable, and it honestly just makes me really happy to see from a tech-art perspective.

In short, Unicorn Wars is an intense, bleak and also very funny film, I loved it. If you have a reasonable threshold for gore, I hope you’ll come to see it with me!

Also check out this cool pixel art of Azulín I found in the gif picker, by @none-dc. (He’s such a little shit and this captures it so well.)

Gif source: @none-dc

Animation Night 179 will be going live now at twitch.tv/canmom, going live now with the film to start in about half an hour (21:50 UK time) - hope to see you there!


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