Monday, May 15, 2006

Anna and Bella

If you haven't seen this film by Borge Ring, please watch it before you read what's below. I'd hate to spoil it for anybody.

This is one of my favorite animated films. I'm going to end up writing about it in somewhat technical terms, but what makes the film great are the feelings that it evokes.

The design hits the sweet spot between realism and caricature. The designs are realistic enough to support the emotions and events in the story, but still caricatured enough to allow for cartoonyness in the acting and the timing.

One of the things that make shapes appealing in animation is their pliability. Flesh yields. We hug things whose surfaces are pliable, whether it's other humans, pets or stuffed toys. We don't hug rocks. There's a softness to how these characters are drawn and move that's enormously appealing.

I'm especially impressed by this film's use of visual metaphor. You've got blooming flowers tied to puberty and boys as bees flying towards the flowers as a way of communicating sexual attraction. You've got floating and flying to the moon as metaphors for romance. One sister shatters like glass as an expression of shock and pain. The jealous sister transforms into an ape, a jackal, a pterodactyl and a shark to show the animal rage she feels towards her sibling.

We've all seen cartoons where a character's spirit separates from its body and somebody stuffs it back in. Usually it's played for comedy, but here it's played for desperation. This and the shattering glass take could easily fit into a Tex Avery cartoon with very different results, which shows how flexible the idea of visual metaphor can be and how powerful animation really is as a medium. We've got tools, but we tend to do the same things with them over and over again. This film shows us that the tools are more versatile than we know.

Which leads me to what I admire most about this film: its emotional range. Animated shorts have a tendency to be all one thing. They're humorous or satirical or political or tragic. Often, an entire short is a build-up to a single ending gag. This film manages to encompass many moods and emotions in less than 8 minutes. Furthermore, they're emotions that are universally understood. This film talks to everyone, not just animation fans.

The time and effort required to make a cartoon forces independent animators to be miniaturists. They're stuck putting their stories on a small canvas. Anna and Bella shows how much is possible to fit on that canvas and I wonder why we so often settle for less.


Emily How said...

Thanks for sharing this, and your very insightful comments.

Anonymous said...

I love this cartoons as well.Good characters design and concept art.

S. Stephani Soejono said...

Wow Mark,
That's also one of my favorite shorts! So where'd you get to see it? (I myself got it from my friend, as a going away gift)

Anonymous said...

Börge Ring! I love their animations, they are so well narrated!

It's inspiring how far can one go with a good understanding of character appeal and story telling.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark!

Gee, I haven't seen this in years. I forgot how great it is. I had the pleasure of meeting Borge at an animation festival in '86. He was going around handing out original cels from the film - he didn't want them taking up closet space :) I have one - autographed even!

Hans Perk said...

Now everyone seems to think that Børge won the Oscar with this film, as well he should have. But it is on the mantlepiece of our pretty much useless producer. Børge never got it, as she apparently did not ask for a 'duplicate oscar' but for 'one more', which the Academy thought was a strange request.

The actual daily staff on this film were Børge and his assistant (me) for three years inbetween other jobs. As I had invited Frank and Ollie to lecture in the Dutch town of Haarlem in August 1984, and the film was finished just days before this, we premiered the film in the intermission.

To give you a clue as to why I am still a bit irritated with our dear producer: she ordered cels without the protective tissue. She got a painter who wanted to be an artist, so he painted the cels too thinly, making it look like a thunderstorm. Then she got the same guy to be cameraman, and he didn't want to use my field guides: 'How can you be so arrogant giving me those stupid squares ('lullige vierkantjes') - I'm an artist, and I decide where the camera looks!'--well, we used half the budget to get a brilliant painter/cameraman (Rem Laan) - so I worked for free (inbetweened, animated a bit, cleaned up on cel, edited, assistant-directed, painted heaps of cels, made mixing lists, etc)--and the producer has the Oscar.
I seem to recall that this incident changed the Oscar from a being a producer's to a director's award. Too late for Børge, though.

Anna & Bella was released on a DVD called 'The World's Greatest Animation' quite some time ago...

Lee-Roy said...

Thanks for sharing the video and for the insights and thanks rdms for your additions (and for your work), as well.

The Ravenswoodjones said...

I recall seeing this wonderful film in Los Angeles in the 1980's, as a young girl, fiddling about at home on a Saturday afternoon, on the old Z channel. What a lovely programme director must have been at Z channel, they also introduced me to the film Crac! ... and so many others ... the one from Canada with the nuclear family playing scrabble, the chap stuck with a shelf full of " e's ", his wife squeaking, and his hysterical line " you're always shaking your eyes " .... when I was at CalArts, my professor William Moritz stunned me one day when I said, "Say sir, do you recall that Italian short, two sisters, a wheel spinning, ning a ning a ning ning.... " ( I thought AnnaBella was made by Italians then, I suppose because it is so Fellini-esque and rich ) and he said " hmm...yes, by Borge Ring, wait, I'll go get it .... ". Lovely memory. Professor Moritz is also the authority on another fabulous film by a German artist, Lotte Reiniger. His article about The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a worthy read. Thanks to people like Bill Moritz, and Lotte and Borge and Frederic Back, and you for posting !! all the best !!

Linda Ravenswood

Jorjinas said...

Linda Ravenswood, the animation you are referring to, with the guy playing scrabble while his wife shakes her eyes and bombs explode everywhere, is called "TheBig Snit" by Richard CONDIE? (years of release 1986)