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Animated Shorts: Small Bites of Art and Storytelling

Interested in animation and films? But tired of having to bear hours of watching a screen? Then animated short films are for you. Whether you like animation or not, animated shorts offer eye-opening experiences to a world of creativity. Their compactness or short lengths do not put too much strain on the eyes, compressing stories into succinct packs. This allows them to be enjoyed quickly and in number. Watching animated shorts is a great way to pass the time; many can be watched in a short period. These are especially recommended for those interested in art, animation, and/or film as the shorts offer potential inspiration and tips. Writers can also learn something from the storytelling; shorter lengths require well-thought plots and twists. 

Animated shorts employ a variety of animation techniques that range from CGI to stop motion. Even within a single category such as traditional animation, it further branches out to different methods such as hand-drawn and paint-on-glass, where the paint is directly applied to panes of glass for making each frame. They tend to showcase immense diversity in terms of story and style, making the medium an excellent outlet for creativity. Due to the aforesaid compactness of the films, much can be succinctly fit into a short period of time.

While being aesthetically pleasing, they are also platforms for addressing social issues by visual and creative means. The non-verbal, Korean short “Vending Machine” (2019), explores the hardships workers often endure at their jobs. Using vending machines as a metaphor for the mechanical, inhumane treatment of laborers, the film portrays the various forms of harassment a female laborer experiences as she offers her services. In addition to social problems, animated shorts depict universal morals or teachings. In the Mexican stop motion film Hasta los huesos (Down to the Bone)” (2002), a dead man comes to realize his death as he falls to the afterlife. With vivid colors and imagery of Mexico’s culture surrounding death, especially the Day of the Dead, the tale tells the inevitability of death – one day we must move on to the next life. 

Below is a selection of works and YouTube channels that offer distinctive stories and styles:

“Hen, His Wife” (1990) by Igor Kovalyov – Traditional

Set in a small apartment, the relationship between a man and his wife, a hen, deteriorates as a masked stranger enters their home. This grim short is significant for its surreal nature and hazy boundary between reality and the imagined; many interpretations can be made of what is happening. Disturbing at some times, the short is entrancing with its cryptic expressions.

“Hasta los huesos (Down to the Bone)” (2002) by René Castillo​ – Stop motion

In this Mexican stop motion film, a dead man refuses to accept his fate as he undergoes his burial. Much to his shock, he discovers that he has fallen to the afterlife, where the dead, as skeletons, celebrate as if they are living. As he gradually overcomes his surprise, he comes to understand that while death is inevitable, there are still joys waiting ahead. 

“Destino” (2003) by Walt Disney Feature Animation (dir. Dominique Monféry) – Traditional/Computer animation

A dreamlike collaboration between Disney and surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, the film captures the ill-fated love between Chronos and his love Dahlia as they attempt to unite in a mystical landscape. The scenery heavily features Dalí’s works, many of which may be recognizable. With its soothing music and fanciful imagery, “Destino” invites the audience to make their own interpretations of the story.

“Vending Machine” (2019) by the CK Animation School – Digital

In a world where retail workers are confined to and treated as vending machines, a woman experiences different forms of harassment from her customers. A witty but painfully realistic film, the short captures the daily hardships that laborers often undergo at jobs. The clever metaphors visualize the painful and at times horrific treatment workers such as the protagonist endure in their working environment, who are made to conceal their suffering.

Gobelins (channel)

Arguably one of the best places for finding animated shorts, Gobelins is an amazing treasure trove of masterpieces. Boasting a rich, ever-growing collection of works diverse in content and style, the channel is a must-see. Gobelins is a French school of visual creation, encompassing animated filmmaking, photography, video games, etc. The channel offers student-produced films that are not only high in animation quality but also in aesthetic value. 

NFB (National Film Board of Canada) (channel)

NFB provides a menagerie of works that are not limited to animation, but also documentaries and short films as well. The animated shorts, particularly old ones, tend to emanate a warm, cozy feeling, which is sometimes offset by darker aspects. Works such as “When the Day Breaks” (1999) appear innocent for its picture book-like style and anthropomorphic cast, but later delve into grim themes. 

Filmbilder (channel)

Provided from a German studio that deals with animation for different purposes, the Filmbilder channel is a powerhouse of dark humor, madness, and action. While some films are aimed at children, works such as “Ring of Fire” (2000) are for mature audiences, and for good reason. In a style reminiscent of woodcut or lino print, the tale explores toxic masculinity in a surreal mixture of sex and violence. Take note that many shorts such as this one feature content and imagery that may be unsettling to some viewers.

Cartoon Saloon (channel)

The shorts produced by the Irish studio Cartoon Saloon exhibit a menagerie of works that are unique in style, theme, and medium. Coming from a studio that has produced the award-winning films of “The Secret of Kells” (2009) and “Song of the Sea” (2014), it is no surprise that their shorts are fantastical and emanate an air similar to that of a picture book. Sometimes painful and sweet, the shorts offer a glimpse into Cartoon Saloon’s distinct world.

Anna Kono

Waseda '20

Anna is a graduate from Waseda University in the SILS department. Likes art, animals, anything that is dandy and stylish. Needs to go to the sea every now and then to recharge.
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