A second take on the Festival’s latest animation programme. By MELODY NIXON.

I HAVE a long-running fondness for Animation Now!. This series of collated animation shorts, brought together for the New Zealand International Film Festivals each year, showcases the latest in animation technology and brings whimsical, sinister and sometimes deeply creepy stories to life in the most vibrant of ways.

The 2008 Festival contribution focuses heavily on the craft of the art, featuring paint-on-glass and watercolour works, as well as hand drawn pieces, puppetry and scratched films. Elizabeth Hobbs’ The Old, Old, Very Old Man renders a swirling blue and white paint brush to a textile matt, tracing the story of England’s oldest old man. The tale is narrated with the kind of British accent reminiscent of Sunday evenings around the wireless, and the combination of fluid, dripping paint, slightly murky drawings and old English story-telling is enchanting.

The odd, odd, very odd piece Sailor Dogs (Joana Toste) inverts the typical human-dog relationship amidst careful hand drawn lines that are painfully haunting. This Portuguese short manages to create a strong sentiment of pity for the most unlikely of subjects. In the US and UK contributions of Procrastination (Johnny Kelly) and A Painful Glimpse into My Writing Process (Chel White) the creators perhaps get too absorbed in their subject matter (i.e. themselves), although A Painful Glimpse heads off boredom with a nice dose of self-deprecating irony.

If you’ve ever wanted to see the kind of animated sexual imagery that makes you grimace and grit your teeth then Hezurbeltzak, a Common Grave might be for you. This disturbingly surrealist, orifice-obsessed piece combines Mickey Mouse with a strangely contorting torso to bizarre, leg-crossing effect.

Stand out not only for its political commentary but also its starkly beautiful imagery is Beton, by Israeli artists Michael Faust and Ariel Belinco. Its minimalist, matt-painted khaki and grey colours synthesize well with an alternately bleak and hopeful soundtrack. Time is Running Out (Marc Reisbig) has a similar level of tense atmosphere. This UK work begins sinister, works its way through sepia-tones and one long panning shot to a clever and dark finale, and ends suspenseful. Its highly stimulating imagery is a tad too overwhelming at times, but its concept makes up for any potential loss of interest.

But the shorts that made the 80 minutes of squinting at the Paramount’s tiny screen truly worthwhile for me came from the National Film Board of Canada. Sleeping Betty (Claude Cloutier) and Madame Tutli-Putli (Chris Lavis, Maciel Szczerbowski) present a level of technical skill and richness, combined with convincing story telling, not readily available in the other shorts. Sleeping Betty is wonderfully pop-culture filled romp through moose territory, mixing pop references, animals and strange royal creatures. Madame Tutli-Putli must be the closest thing to a horror movie that puppetry animation can get. Very spooky and exceptionally well done, Tutli-Putli could easily be made into a feature length piece and remain highly engrossing.

This year’s Animation Now! contains some somber topics and includes pieces with dark, dense and sinister, and even apocalyptic imagery. There are a couple of less interesting pieces in the mix but thankfully the moose and horror of the Canadian pen redeem the overall assembly.