Sunday , January 21 2018

New tech strikes right chord in SIGGRAPH winner ‘Song’ – Estonia’s ‘Portugal’ wins top First Look prize

LOS ANGELES, Aug 7, (RTRS): After more than three years of work that carried on after he graduated from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg Animationinstitut in Germany, director Kariem Saleh now has a chance for Oscar consideration after his animated short, “Song of a Toad,” was named Best in Show at SIGGRAPH 2017.

The innovative film tells the tale of a troubled man with a toad stuck on his head. He comes to understand the toad’s the significance after recalling lost memories of his childhood.

Saleh and his team developed new technology to help make the film, which has the 3D feel of stop-motion. They designed a glove that helped move the computer-animated characters like puppets.

“We created a mechanical glove that you could put your hand into and you could do glove puppetry with it like on Kermit the Frog, for example,” explains Saleh. “That way you could very quickly create performances like you were seeing on the screen with the character doing the movements you were performing with your hand.”

The process helped the crew quickly create a rough layout of the film before moving on to more traditional animation. “It was a rough version, but it still had a lot of spontaneity in it basically,” says Saleh. “From there we moved on to the traditional animation process and refined those movements and performances.”

Saleh had dabbled with puppetry on an earlier project, “The Hedgehog’s Visit.” “On that film, I also experimented with the puppeteering approach, but it didn’t really work out in time to utilize it, so I dropped it from that project and re-embarked on it with this one.”

Even though “Song of a Toad” took three and a half years to make, the new tech helped streamline the process, Saleh says. “Some of the approaches we took technically sped up the work. They’d give you a more direct mind-to-product connection in a way. A mind-to-medium connection, which is, for creative people, always liberating.”

They also created actual sets that they scanned into the computer, which added to the 3D feel. “It was a team of six or seven people who built miniature sets and then we digitized them,” he says. “We disassembled everything and took every single part and digitized it into the computer using a process called photogrammetry. That way you would get a pure representation of the real object and could reassemble it in the computer.”

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LOS ANGELES: Making good on its buzz coming into Locarno, “Portugal,” the debut film feature of renowned Estonian playwright Lauri Lagle, took the top First Look prize on Sunday at Locarno’s Festival, as Locarno’s three day pix-in-post showcase, focusing this year on Baltic Cinema, came to an end.

“Portugal’s” prize, Euros 65,000 ($76,560) in post-production services sponsored by Cinelab Bucharest, marks further recognition for Estonia’s Allfilm. Launched in 1995, Allfilm was the first Estonian production house to snag foreign-language Academy Award and Globo nominations, both for Zaza Urushadze’s “Tangerines.” The Allfilm-produced “The Fencer” proved also made the Golden Globe foreign-language shortlist.

“Portugal” won for its “originality and look at contemporary life in Estonia,” said a press release. But the malaise it deals with — the evolution of married partners, plus modern woman’s questioning her taken-for-granted family lot — is hardly limited to Estonia.

Playing in competition at Locarno, “Freedom” tackles indeed some of the same issues, but without the comedic beats which lighten “Portugal’s” narrative. In it, Karina, a loving wife, begins to suspect her husband, Martin, of an affair; he hits a mid-life crisis and joins a gym. Karina begins to spruce up the family’s trailer and one day simply ups and leaves on her own without a word of explanation. She doesn’t know what she want; but she does want a new beginning.

“The story touches on different phases of love and dissects the paradox of how to love a person for who they were and for who they’re becoming,” the film’s synopsis reads.

“Portugal” will be ready for delivery in February 2018. In further awards, Vytautas Puidokas’ “El Padre Medico” took two prizes — the Baltic View online platform and the Kaiju — Cinema Diffusion awards coming with international promotion aid and contribution towards key art, respectively.

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