Judge Bill Gibron offers a ray-traced review of this CG animation and music mash-up.
3-D computer animation at its best!
Back when Tron was kicking the ass of every sci-fi geek (yours truly, included) with its combination of live action and computer-generated visuals, who would have thought that the ability to render imaginary objects in three dimensions would ever become so popular? Or easy to duplicate at home? For a while, it seemed the limits of the PC would prevent your average artists from expressing their passion on more than two axis planes. Big-time CGI was left to Hollywood and its easy, financially feasible access to supercomputers with which to formulate its morphing magic. And, with examples like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park on its side, who could argue with leaving the digital interpretation to the experts?
But quietly, behind the scenes, a revolution was brewing. Processing chips became more powerful. CPUs got faster and more sophisticated. Memory became more cost-effective and animation programs tested the limits of all these new developments. Suddenly, desktop effects jockeys were making their own realistic renditions of real life and creating equally captivating short film features. In 2001 ANIMUSIC, one of the most inventive and ingenious architects of the synchronicity between the mother/sounding board, released a DVD of its work. Reconfigured and updated for 2004, ANIMUSIC: A Computer Animation Video Album: Special Edition dramatically showcases this sensational amalgamation of art forms.
ANIMUSIC: A Computer Animation Video Album: Special Edition (phew! that's a mouthful) is the brainchild of animator/musician Wayne Lytle. In 1996, Lytle created his first combination cartoon, the silly symphony in space Beyond The Walls. Using a visual style influenced by designs as divergent as Metropolis and Japanese anime, the organic mechanical quality of Lytle's imaginative melodic machines matched the spry, spunky New Age bop crafted to suggest both an acoustic as well as scientific form of music making.
The way this visual and sonic artistry is prepared is truly amazing. First, a construct of instrumental groups is conceived. Then a tune is created to utilize this melodic menagerie (though not always—sometimes the song comes first). After that, a computer MIDI file (a harmonic program that triggers tones and tempos in computers and adaptable devices) is created and an animation program implemented. The images are rendered and given a range of appropriate motion. With a lot of skill and some manner of karmic convergence, the MIDI file directs the computer to animate the instruments in the manner in which they've been programmed to perform. The resulting solo-cam cartoon is then lit, accented, set within a scenic backdrop, and filmed by constantly moving virtual cameras to create the mesmerizing music videos featured here. All this effort creates something truly special—a combination of technology and natural elements that coalesce into a miraculous, always amazing visual and audio treat. The short films offered represent a wide range of ideas and references. Individually, these mini-movies characterize the following feelings and thoughts:
• "Future Retro": Lasers and science fiction-inspired
instruments, including a strange triple-necked guitar, play an ethereal anthem
to the days of future past.
This is fabulous stuff, evocative and ethereal while also being playful and fun. Many of the incredibly innovative ideas floating around in this computer-generated world are mind-bending. Especially magical is the metal ball-triggered stringed conduit instrument at the center of "Pipe Dream." It combines the fanciful with the realistic in such a way that you half expect someone could actually build such a device. Equally suggestive of something pragmatic—if only in a far-off distant world—the laser light theremin of "Harmonic Voltage" proposes a perfect combination of design with implementation. Both "Acoustic Curves" and "Stick Figures" find the right notes, both sonically and scientifically, to evoke their combination of old and new world whimsy. "Aqua Harp" is simple and seductive. Actually, there is only one really redundant piece here, and it's the solo excuse for chaos called "Drum Machine." Sure, from a purely technical standpoint, the machinery machinations are incredibly involving. But the drone-like beat of the synth-pad pounding quickly overstays its welcome. Thankfully, everything else resembles the tireless efforts of the opening track, "Future Retro." It exemplifies everything exceptional about this DVD presentation: good music, fantastic visuals and a real flair for the anatomy of gadgetry. For a homemade project, the CGI here puts many Hollywood hokums to shame.
Originally released as a now out-of-print title in 2001, this example of digital creation really challenges any distributor assigned to capturing its carnival of creativity onto DVD. Fortunately, Goldhil Home Media steps up and delivers a delicious, detailed disc filled with gorgeous visuals, amazing aural aspects, and an unrealistic amount of bonus features. Each individual segment here has a commentary track, a chance to walk through the production process (with dozens of sketches and stills), multi-angle Solo-cams—allowing you to look at the apparatus at play from any vantage point offered—and a nice bit of time-lapse rendering where the entire "instrument" is created and shaded before your eyes. There is also a 16x9 presentation of "Pipe Dream" that really expands the understanding of the animation art. The widescreen images show all the components in motion at one time, indicating the intricacy and complexity of some of this work. Lytle goes into a lot of this detail during his alternate narrative tracks. Heavy on the technical side and effusively detailed, Lytle has a tendency to talk over the heads of the average audience, hoping to mind meld with the techno-geek in the group. Still, he makes enough sacrifices to science-speak so that anyone can get the gist of his explanations.
Beyond the Walls, the short that started it all, is also offered here. It's amazing how far Lytle and ANIMUSIC had come in just five years (the original DVD release date was 2001, remember). Walls is weak in some of its animation elements, and the song is not as instantly memorable as the other material here. But the basics of what would make ANIMUSIC celebrated are here in all their primitive components. A preview of the new ANIMUSIC-2 DVD is offered and the sneak is spellbinding. Using a portion of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition for inspiration, the cathedral-set snippet is grand. But perhaps the most amazing aspects of this DVD are the format basics of audio and video. Both are absolutely reference quality. The Dolby Digital Stereo is good, but the 5.1 Surround is so immersive and ambient you'll instantly get lost in the sonic sensation. Visually, the transfer is technically perfect, pushing the very limits of the digital compression and space to provide a platform for the stunning visuals. Images are crisp, colorful, and missing the obvious edge enhancement one would expect from a computerized pen and ink title. The only drawback is the 1.33:1 full screen framing. While widescreen would have been brilliant (the "Pipe Dream" bonus proves that), this is about as good as it gets.
As technology seems to increase exponentially on a daily basis, it's important to note that it's not the medium at the artist's disposal, but rather how well he or she takes advantage of it that will accentuate its viability as a partner in the creative process. ANIMUSIC: A Computer Animation Video Album: Special Edition shows what skill and vision can do with mere megabites and hard drive space. As visually stunning as it is sonically sound, this spectacle is brilliant, and breathtakingly beautiful.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Goldhil Home Media
• ANIMUSIC's First Animation: Beyond the Walls (1996)
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