8 of the best animated shorts

Garden Party is one of eight stunning examples of top animated shorts

Animated shorts are a booming category of animated 3D films, with a wealth of inspiring videos appearing regularly. DreamWorks' head of international outreach and international talent consultant, Shelley Page, is so passionate about animation that she founded Eye Candy to showcase the genre.

"The origin of the Eye Candy Show was a series of regular screenings of the latest animation shorts, graduation films and TV commercials, collected during my travels around the world to present to my colleagues at DreamWorks Animation," says Page.

"At first these were only shown at our studios in the USA but later, as the studio expanded to more distant locations, I also took these screenings to our animators in Bangalore, India and, more recently, Shanghai. 

"Some years ago, I was invited to make a special Eye Candy presentation at the FMX festival in Germany [now an annual part of this event] and since then I have presented my favourite films of each year to festival audiences and schools around the world."

Page talks about the story of the making of each film before screening it, particularly when addressing student groups, as she admits she is is "always curious about the process behind the creation of these amazing works." 

About to set off for the latest series of graduation juries and screenings in the UK, Europe and further afield, Page says she is "excited about the great new films I know I will discover for my next Eye Candy selection!"

From student projects to films voiced by Oscar-nominated actors, Page reveals eight of her favourite shorts. She also finds out how they were made, and shares advice for budding animators. So let's see her first choice.

01. Sur Sa Trace

  • Director: Axel De Lafforest

This charming student film, inspired by Robin Joseph's A Seagull on Mud illustration, was a challenge for then student film-maker Axel De Lafforest, and took six months to put together. "I had created another short film before, but this was my first film in 3D so it was technically very difficult," he says. "I had to create everything for this film, the hardest part was managing my time," he recalls. 

De Lafforest used 3ds Max to create the 3D characters and 2D background and is refreshingly modest about the film, despite it being one of Page's picks. "I don't think the animation is very good in my film… There's nothing technically impressive about it," he says. However, De Lafforest is proud of his work, "I'm very glad my film was shown in festivals like Très Court, Tournez Court and soon the Filmets Badalona Film Festival."

Now working at Mikros Animation, he still sees the student project Sur Sa Trace as one of his most satisfying to work on as a director "because I was alone to make the decisions, and it was very clear in my head". His advice for budding 3D filmmakers? "Be daring, then work and work again."

02. Some Thing

  • Director: Elena Walf
  • Comp Lead: Matthias Bäuerle

Some Thing's director, Elena Walf, wrote and animated the film, and although she didn't have much experience of making short films, her illustration background helped her with the design.

Originally, Walf conceived Some Thing – about a mountain with a strange object – as a fairy tale-like children's book. "I guess that's why the compositions resemble the style of children's books. It was very important for me that everything looks kind of hand-drawn," she says.

Matthias Bäuerle, who worked as comp lead on the film, was determined to help Walf achieve her vision. "It was very important to understand the level of detail Elena wanted to achieve. She was very specific about when and how a texture should move... 

"We used TVPaint as our backbone for animation and the colouring process. Then we exported the colour mattes and all the outline layers and used Nuke as our weapon for applying and animating the textures and final compositing."

Bäuerle also offers some tips on making your way in the industry. "Listen carefully to the stories that are growing inside your head. Keep experimenting and check out lots of different tools."

03. Citipati

  • Director: Andreas Felix

Citipati, a tale about life and death from a prehistoric perspective, won the award for outstanding visual effects in a student project at the VES Awards 2016.

Director Andreas Felix considers the film's most impressive technical achievement to be the secondary details added into the rig of the main character, on top of the base skeleton. "This was built using CAT, a crude muscular system that was attached based on a custom-developed setup using bones and springs. As a result, not only did it facilitate geometric deformations on the character's surface, but also produced jiggling tissue in real time, and the ease of access allowed for any oddities to be fixed on a per shot basis," he explains.

The creature's tail movement was animated procedurally using a set of noise controllers and springs. "This saved a lot of time in animation as well, which was crucial, as the schedule dictated having all shots animated at a rate of 20-25 seconds per week," explains Felix.

Felix points to Phoenix FD plugin and 3ds Max's Particle Flow when asked about his most useful tools. "As the film contains over 300 FX simulations, about 85 per cent were evenly split between fluid simulations and rigid body dynamics. Especially for doing a lot of secondary events and details, Phoenix FD proved to be easy to set up and recycle to create a large body of sims in a short amount of time… 

"The procedural toolset of Particle Flow allowed for easily creating small events like dynamic gravel and debris and to add detailed interactions with ease, which in turn could be fed into Phoenix FD to add more control and detail to the simulations."

Felix is not one to shy away from unconventional solutions. "If you can offer a different solution out of the box, you may surprise your superiors and colleagues for good. It's never wrong to be a little bit rebellious, at the right time, of course," he says.

Next page: 5 more great animated shorts