Animation Sans Frontieres Part Two: MOME. Budapest, Hungary

I travelled down to Hungary with Marie-Louise Højer Jensen who was just finishing a stint at Aardman working on Shaun the Sheep. She showed me some books by German illustrator Anke Feuchtenberger whose website can be found here.  There were a lot of qualities in here work that I liked; the use of colour, the expression of line and the play of light, light as definition, as sculpture.Anke Feuchtenberger
Anke Feuchtenberger

driving to the hotel at nightWe arrived in Budapest in the evening, supposedly to be met at  the airport by a chauffeur holding a sign on which our names would be printed. As it happened he was nowhere to be seen and it was only sometime later that we saw him from behind somewhat spoiling the illusion. We drove from the airport through the illuminated city to the North West where are hotel was situated. And what a hotel; complete with epic breakfast, pool, sauna, hot tub, and views of the mountains. Our rooms were more like apartments with kitchens, lounge etc. So there was no question of space like there was in Ludwigsburg although ironically we spent far little time in the hotel as there was far more going on in Budapest.

After a tour around Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design we  had the first of a series of lectures about animation in Eastern Europe. These were MOMEparticularly interesting for me because I’ve always had a love for the films from this part of the world and the rich culture they evolved from and were a part of. In Hungary we looked at some early experiments mixing animation and live action and the all important George Pal who later moved to Hollywood with his Puppetoons – a technique he developed involving replacements. The lecturer Ferenc Fischer kindly copied me some of Pal’s shorts and commercials which is useful as they, like much work from this area are incredibly difficult to come by.

Michael Carrington from the Zlin animation school just outside Prague gave us a talk about the history of Czech animation which was particularly interesting because he really focused on some favourite filmmakers of mine. Out of all the films to come out of Easter Europe in the communist era some of my personal favourites are from former Czechoslovakia. Carrington talked about Hermína Týrlová, Karel Zamen and Yiří Trnka, bypassing the more obvious Švankmajer and Barta. He showed some really old works and talked about how the style developed, the specifics of the puppet animation, the hand-crafted quality and the desire to solve problems in camera. What was also brilliant was that he came right up to present day practice and talked about a director I really admire; Aurel Klimt and the fabulous Fimfarum series of films. There are two Fimfarum films and the third, we were told by Carrington, is in the process of being made. Based on the stories by Jan Lenika, they are feature film format but are made up of about 3 or 4 shorts. Brilliant for research and fascinating to get some in depth information about the development of a scene and a place I’m so passionate about.

FIMFARUM2. Image: Maurfilm
Sessions on the Eastern European market helped us to understand how and where things are being made and with what money. Chello Media of Central Europe talked about acquisition and programming and producer András Erkel took us through the production of animation in Hungary and beyond and how this has been affected politically over the years.
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One of the brilliant things about the MOME module was that we were introduced to a bunch of new softwares just out of development. Tools to change the way you present information, pitch and think through ideas, to programs like SourceBinder, a tool for ‘prototyping and real-time tuning of flash based visual applications’. It doesn’t mean I’m going to suddenly start making films in a new way but to be exposed to these methods, ways of working and perhaps more importantly, ways of thinking is really valuable for my practice.

Arguably the most valuable of all these software-related discoveries was from Flavio Perez, another ASF participant. Flavio invited me to use GoogleWave, a new application from everyone’s favourite inventors the Google team. GoogleWave, still in a slightly fragile Beta stage is like a cross between Sykpe, email, and a flow chart. It can be used to map out projects, collaborate in real time, post and share anything from videos to sounds, draw attention to certain items, re-edit posts and texts and boasts a playback mode where you can watch the project grow and develop and see exactly where and when items and posts have been added. I promise I’m not secretly working for Google, I’m just excited about it. I’ve started appropriating it straight away with Chris Gylee and Adam Peck as a platform to further develop The Cutting Room from wherever we might be.

There was an emphasis in Budapest on style and technique. Many of the student films they screened from the film were really unique in their approach and aesthetic. Rastko Ciric, a professor from Serbia shared some slightly dubious work from his school and discussed individual style and the voice of a director in animated filmmaking. Tamás Waliczky, veritable pioneer of CG animation gave a riveting lecture about the development of the form, its possibilities and the balance between art and technology.

Rastko CiricTamás Waliczky
A special screening of Panique au Village held for us in an art cinema thanks to
Falvai Györgyi from MOME who also works for the company who distributed this movie.

We had a couple of ideas development sessions with script editor and dramaturge Rita Domonyi who took us through a bunch of writing exercises, drawing on inspiration from photographs and text for adaptation. There were several pitches involved in this workshop which was really useful, I’m finding I’m getting a lot more confident with presenting in this format and also being able to discuss protect and stand up for the projects pitched. Should come in handy soon…
pitching timePitching time. Photo: Laetitia Grandjean
Case studies by filmmakers gave us an insight into the minds of creators from places such as Poland, Switzerland and Russia. Tomasz Bagiński of Platige Image, Poland talked through his successes as a filmmaker and talked about the process he adopts when making films from getting the design right to finalizing an edit.

buapest 553The first of the two highlights of the MOME module has to be Jonas Raeber of SWAMP in Switzerland. Jonas’s talk was entitled: ‘Relations and Dependencies: Conceptual Aspects of Animation’ and covered everything from what makes a successful film and the consideration of audiences to ‘budgeting made easy’ and a breakdown of production. The second highlight was Russian born Alexei Alexeev, creator of the well-known Log Jam. He came to discuss his experiences creating the first short KJFG No5 and the development of an idea from start to finish. Alexeev now works for Studio Baestarts in Budapest, strangely directed the Mr Bean cartoon and is as funny and as entertaining as his films.buapest 488 Studio Visits
Cinemon work mostly in traditional hand drawn animation as well as digital cut out for some of their work for children. They produce various content from series to feature films. The driving force behind the studio is producer Réka Temple whose working philosophy was sound and inspiring. The studio was based in an old house with a wooden conservatory used as a meeting room and was situated within a large, sprawling garden. Temple spoke to us about her experiences of working with directors, getting projects off the ground and co-productions in Europe.
Cinemon 1 Cinemon 2
The second studio was Lichthof Productions, based in a very cool ‘up-and-coming’ part of the city surrounded by fashionable eateries and bars where instead of a roaring fire, central heating and a carefully placed plasma TV displaying a roaring fire are slightly more chic. Lichthof is the home of Hungary’s no1 animator Áron Gauder who directed the gritty urban animated  feature The District for those who caught that on the festival buapest 211circuit a couple of years back. He’s now hard at work on his new feature Egil: The Last Pagan, a vicious tale of Viking warfare. Gauder usually works in digital cut out and CG but the part I found interesting about this project came from a connection with the Polish company Se-ma-for.
The biggest studio in Poland, Se-ma-for were responsible for, under Suzie Templeton’s inspired vision, creating the 2006 hit Peter and the Wolf. After a lack of work for the stop motion animators Gauder invited them to Budapest to animate armatures which had tiny motion capture rigs attached to them, feeding directly into a computer. The movements that the animators gave the puppets then created a skeleton movement which a CG character could then be laid over. This technique apparently saves time on a lengthy rigging process and also gives the CG a certain stop-mo quality, to which I have to quote Mette Ilene Holmriis from the animation workshop, who called it so elegantly “staccato”.
Se-ma-for animator at work mo-cap armatures

You can read more about the technique and watch a video of the process on their website here.

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We joined the illuminati of the Hungarian animation industry (mostly made up of our lecturers) at the opening ceremony of Anilogue, an annual animated film festival for a screening of Adam Elliot’s masterful Mary and Max. There was much excitement for those who hadn’t seen it. It was my second viewing and it astounded me once again. It's not just a brilliant animation but it's a genuinely brilliant film. The use of stop motion makes the whole thing seem completely living and grounded; the light the textures, the economy of the movement. Elliot has a real talent for making us engage and empathize with lumps of plasticine. Simply genius cinematic storytelling.
Mary and MaxMary and Max (2009) Dir. Adam Elliot. © Melodrama Pictures