Animated plasticine. Talking chickens. Dancing Cossacks. Plus old favourites bro'Town, Hairy Maclary and Footrot Flats. From Len Lye to Gollum, feast on the talents of Kiwi animators. In his backgrounder to the Animation Collection, NZ On Screen's Ian Pryor provides handy pathways through the frogs, dogs and stop motion shenanigans.
Armed with his trusty ray gun and protected by his pith helmet Lord Broadforce's exotic species search on an alien planet is going swimmingly — until the dame gets colonial angst. The short is based on the sci-fi world of Dr Grordbort created by Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore (designer on District 9), in which Victorian steampunk meets alien trophy hunting. The live action-CGI film was created over 22 weeks by 11 students of the Media Design School's 3D animation programme, under the direction of James Cunningham. Broadmore followed with a Grordbort video game in 2018.
In James Cunningham’s award-winning short a mutant three-fingered hand attempts a brash virtual heist, seeking to wipe a student loan debt in a government databank. The “digital action thriller” was a third collaboration between Cunningham and producer Paul Swadel. Infection’s fast-paced action, humour, and (then) state-of-the-art 3D CGI rendering (punctured eyeballs, hypodermic needles) was in confident contrast to the realist Kiwi short film tradition. Infection won selection in competition at Cannes, Sundance, and numerous other international festivals.
This CGI animated short stars the Easter Bunny and Santa, but its take on festive spirit is far from cuddly. 'Tis the season to be addled in writer Wayne Ching’s twisted tale of an embittered bunny (voiced by English comedian Harry Enfield) whose remorse for Santa’s presents is “fuelled by vodka and anti-depressants.” A tattooed Santa channels Withnail and I’s Uncle Monty, and the rhyming couplets are more AO Grinch than child friendly. Directed by Alan Dickson and made by Kiwi animation house Yukfoo, the black comedy screened at Tribeca and SXSW film festivals.
New Zealand’s first CGI short film gives “eyes on the road” a new meaning as a pair of eyeballs drive to a mind-bending purgatory. A collaboration between visual effects man John Sheils and his brother Michael, Scream was shot in early 1991; finally 25 minutes of footage was “brutally” edited down to three, and fulsomely scored by John Gibson. The sly ‘based on true events’ title-card nods to the makers’ ambitions to “treat animation like live action.” In 1994 it screened in NZ cinemas as opener to the ILM wizardry of Jim Carrey hit The Mask, followed by a number of overseas festivals.
Eric the Goldfish was the star of a campaign used to promote awareness of the role of broadcasting funding agency NZ On Air (formed in 1989), and to encourage people to pay the broadcasting fee. The campaign used humour and CGI to spread the message, taking the point of view of a pet goldfish watching a family, who are watching TV. Although it attracted attention for its cost, the campaign was rated an "outstanding success" by its funders, and Eric entered popular culture. In 2017 Eric was reincarnated as the name of NZ On Air’s online funding application system.
A helmet cam records the claustrophobic reactions of a rookie mercenary (Elliot Travers) as an interplanetary combat raid goes wrong in Ferand Peek's debut short. Peek produced the one-shot DIY Gravity in Wellington over five years. Audio was recorded first, then Travers (shot in a special rig), then CGI effects were forged with the help of Miramar/Weta filmmaking crew. The result was touted by io9 doyen Annalee Newitz: “All we see of the world around him are reflections in his helmet, and yet the suspense is incredible. Plus, the story [is] surprisingly moving.”
In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.
Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic world where cities roam the landscape, devouring everything in their path. Tom (Robert Sheehan, from TV's Misfits) lives in London, a 'predator' city built on digger-like tracks. After encountering a mysterious fugitive with murder in mind, he finds himself touching bare earth for the first time. Showcasing the eye-opening imagery of Weta Digital, Mortal Engines is based on a book by Brit Philip Reeve. It marks the first feature directed by Christian Rivers (short film Feeder). The Weta veteran began as a storyboard artist for Peter Jackson.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and the film won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. The box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on New Zealand tourism.