5 evocative examples of handcrafted animation

Despite the rise of digital, many animators are sticking to hand-crafted techniques. Here are some of the most beautiful and evocative examples.

When it comes to animation, we may be living in the age of digital, with its clean lines and smooth curves, but hand crafted animation is still loved around the world and across the generations. When executed with love and care, it can strike the kind of emotional chord that plain pixels can struggle to reach.

If you love illustration, then no doubt you will love storytelling and narrative, and a move into hand-crafted animation will seem a natural one. Of course, few are under the illusion that discipline is straightforward. While traditional illustration can created relatively quickly, a good animation requires weeks (if not months and years) of planning, thinking and technical know how. Plus hand-rendered animation is also a quite niche activity, the main market being within children’s television and TV commercials.

Yet despite this, the rewards in terms of artistic fulfillment are great, and there are many highly talented illustrator/animators out there producing some astonishing, innovative and original work. Here are five shorts that are guaranteed to inspire you...

01. Bottle

Kirsten Lepore is a graduate in animation from CalArts and is now working as a director and animator in LA. This charming and funny animation follows two characters, one made from snow and the other made from sand, as they communicate via the use of objects in a bottle that they pass to each other through the ocean.

The story is animated using the materials from two landscapes, combining stop-motion with a simple soundtrack of wind and waves. Quirky and wry, this a beautifully simple idea, superbly executed - a great example of the endless possibilities for creativity offered by handcrafted animation.

02. Father and Daughter

A powerful and emotional animation by the Dutch illustrator and animator Micheal Dudok de Wit, 'Father and Daughter' won the Academy Award for Best Short Film in 2000.

As the title suggests, it tells the story of the relationship between a father and a daughter, spanning the latter's life, with a bicycle journey serving as the main narrative thread. There are no spoken words, the classical music soundtrack becoming the 'voice' of the story.

The pair journey together but ultimately go their separate ways when the father dies. The metaphor of the bicycle journey continues to mark moments in the daughter life until the very end... and that’s when it gets emotional.

03. The Eagleman Stag

'The Eagleman Stag' was created by Mikey Pease for his Royal College of Art thesis in 2011 and won a Bafta Award in the same year.

Following an obsessional, eccentric ornithologist who's devoted his life to the Eagleman Stag beetle, what's striking about this film is the obsessional attention to detail and innovation. Not to mention the fact that it was animated using a material "found on the back of a cushion".

The visuals are exceptional; so is the characterization. But most of all it's the beautifully observed insights and quirks of this fascinating character that what make this animation completely compelling.

04. Bare

Helen Dallet is a recent graduate in animation from the University of Wales, Newport, and is now working as a freelance animator and Illustrator. ‘Bare’ is her graduation film.

Animated in an intriguing style that involves painterly brush marks and simple drawn lines, it tells the story of a bear who moves into a new house and starts to clean.

This moving and clever tale adopts the bear as a metaphor for our human desire to impose our own order on the chaos of nature and our immediate and extended environment.

05. I Am Fine Thanks

Winner of Best Graduate Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2011, 'I’m Fine Thanks' is a short film Eamonn O Neil made while studying at The Royal College of Art in London.

Graphically beautiful, with undercurrents of the 1920s, the story traced a damaged character's life, from disappointments in love to bullying and harassment, and ultimately extreme and violent action.

With the animation style added an emotional poignancy to the unpleasant undercurrents, this unsettling and disturbing tale is handled brilliantly: the short really needs to be seen.

Words: Anna Wray

Anna Wray is an illustrator/author and a visiting lecturer on the Ba(Hons) Illustration at Cambridge School of Art.

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