Ars Electronica 2007
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Ars Electronica Animation Festival 2007

A scene we’re familiar with from the movies: a bus stopped on a dusty, God-forsaken road somewhere way out west. Cut. A lone cowboy gets out.We see him from behind. First, only a close-up of his boots; then a full-length shot: Stetson hat, the tails of his outrider coat flapping in the breeze, a small, beat-up satchel in his hand, he ambles towards the saloon.

Countless westerns have begun with a variation on this theme. Or have they? After all, there’s something strikingly different about the look of this seven-minute film: the broken-up, pastel colors, much closer to black-and-white than the usually so sumptuous and nevertheless seemingly artificial tones and textures of computer graphics; the deliberately puzzling way it switches back and forth between 2D and 3D, between drawing and spatial design; the dynamic, hightempo camera pans. And then there's the plot, which begins in accordance with a familiar formula of the Western genre but quickly morphs into an action-packed science-fiction story in which the powers of evil are trying to corner the gold market of the future—data monopoly vs. open source—and, in doing so, delivers everything a moviegoer’s heart could possibly desire. Codehunters, the work that won the 2007 Golden Nica in Computer Animation for Swiss filmmaker Ben Hibon (Blinkink Productions for MTV Asia), is a masterpiece of design as well as storytelling, and takes honors as a proxy for other outstanding examples of what is now a major trend in computer animation. It represents a new form of short film and narrative filmmaking that has been emerging in recent years not only in computer animation and digital films, but also in high-end cartooning and character animation, as well as in experimental abstract films, that have steadfastly resisted the onslaught of commercial productions over the years. The digital short film can by no means be simply equated with the efforts of student filmmakers among whom such works are extraordinarily popular; rather, this form of expression’s great suitability to what many leading-edge filmmakers are trying to say today has made it a real contender to become a genre in its own right. An apt analogy might be to the short story vs. the novel in the field of literature, although such a juxtaposition goes only so far in its applicability to computer animation.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, the mode of expression in the world of digital imagery was first and foremost technologically driven and only to a lesser extent notable for its cinematic representational vocabulary, but there's been a massive change of direction in the meantime—probably due to manifest stagnation on the software side though there are other reasons to be sure. What has been most decisive in the development of the greater and greater independence of digital short filmmaking is the fact that this genre has increasingly taken leave of any form of representation of the real world and its inhabitants. On one hand, there are fantastic stories in imagined scenarios, withdrawal into an interior world, into the private sphere; on the other, there are portrayals of off-the-charts violence-battles and chase scenes far beyond the realm of reality (to single out only two scenarios for special mention). The digital short film doesn’t depict one of numerous possible realities; rather, it generates itself out of the medium itself, and the only limit is that of conceivability, as it were; the sole boundary is the one set by the imagination!

Nevertheless, I shouldn’t fail to mention a very pragmatic possible reason for this short-film boom. The advent of Web 2.0 and the swap sites and download portals that have been made possible by it have gotten the film business moving again. While the Internet has taken over as Hollywood’s Public Enemy Number 1,makers of short films have been taking advantage of their works’ brevity as a sort of home-field advantage in these portals—in line with the principle “Check it out and tell me what you think”—and thereby quickly gaining fame. This may well be a not insignificant marginal factor explaining this phenomenon.

The works submitted to the 2007 Prix Ars Electronica came from 63 countries. Films were entered by industry pros as well as artists and students from around the world. These are films that tell their stories in very individualized ways that are well-suited to the medium being used; works that reflect the state of things, cast a spotlight on our society, or entertain us in an intelligent way and thereby demonstrate the power of illusion of motion pictures. From almost 1,500 films by professionals in all branches of the industry as well as up-and-coming talents, curators of the 2007 Ars Electronica Animation Festival have put together ten programs that, for the first time, will be screened simultaneously to interested, curious and open audiences at Ars Electronica in Linz, at the Museumsquartier in Vienna and in our partner city, Kiev.

Translated from German by Mel Greenwald

Ars Electronica Animation Festival curated by: Ivan Tsupka, Christine Schöpf

Prix Selection: Stretched Worlds
What is the world around us—reality or illusion? This question is much older than computer animation, but it is precisely computer animation that is trying to give an answer.

Prix Selection: Bestiarium Digitalis
The word “animation” means “to add soul” (from the Latin word anima—soul). Non-existent creatures are the best objects for such alchemical experiments.

Prix Selection: Narrative
An interesting story constitutes the heart of any film. Computer animation is no exception.

Prix Selection: Drama
An interesting story constitutes the heart of any film. But not all stories intend fun.

Prix Selection: Fight and Chase
A good fight and a good chase provide a sound basis for any entertaining movie and many independent animators constantly dream about a good scuffle. Not long ago combat animation was a real technical challenge, but the tools have become better and better … so iiiiit's tiiiiimeeeeee to fiiiiiightttttt!!!!!!

Prix Selection: Visual Effects
Every year new technology appears that makes the border between illusion and reality in cinema more and more narrow. Try to find this border …

Prix Selection: Abstract, space, movement
When abstract painting appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, the main idea behind it was to create an absolute beauty free of any meaning. No one could envisage the new dimension that computer animation would add to pure art one hundred years on.

Prix Selection: Late Night
There are no such movies during the daytime.

u19 – freestyle animation
Funny, off-beat, subtle, tragic and serious works of animation produced by young people age 19 and under-every year, up-and-coming directorial talents submit their short films to Prix Ars Electronica for prize consideration in the u19 – freestyle computing category. A selection of the best will be presented at the Young Animation Festival that, for the first time this year, will feature works by youngsters from other countries: Switzerland (bugnplay—the young people’s competition held in conjunction with Migros/Kulturprozent), Germany (MB21), Taiwan (Unison – u19) and Japan (Digital Stadium).

Japanese Animation
Visual imaginativeness and unconventional narrative forms characterize animation made in Japan. This program curated by the Japan Media Arts Festival showcases a cross-section of artistic productions from recent years.