Saturday, June 25, 2011

Anthony Lucas

What a joy it was to discover Anthony Lucas, an Australian animator who utilizes my favorite style of animation to perfection! His films are ghastly and wondrous. Think the video game, Limbo meets Lotte Reiniger, meets Tim Burton, meets Steampunk. Oooh.

At first you might think his technique was inspired by Lotte Reiniger's 1926 The Adventures of Prince Achmed, but in fact Lucas stumbled upon his signature style by accident. One day while working on a stop-motion set one of the front lights went out, "...I had the models on there and what happened is they went to silhouette. It was all very serendipitous."

Lotte Reiniger

Anthony Lucas

Lucas' approach uses intricately cut silhouettes of cogged machines and gadgets set against beautifully layered backdrops of light and color that move and fade into the distance.

His original vision was too grand for plain 2D cutouts, so most of his films incorporate a mixture of 2D cutouts, 2.5D texturing, and 3D CGI effects for rotating objects and atmospheric clouds. The three mediums combined have created a new method free from the confines of a flat plane and static edge inherent in most cutout animations.

Lucas' crowning achievement which best illustrates this new style is the 1st in a series of 3 films, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2005. It is an original tale of survival, adventure, horror, and true love.

Jasper Morello is a Navigator from the city of Gothia, a post-industrial metropolis with buildings that stretch far into the sky spewing forth pollution and steam. In this world exist floating islands and massive steamships that fly in the air like sail boats on the ocean.

Please enjoy the film for yourself:

Oooh. What will happen to Jasper next? To his wife? To the creature and the plague? I can hardly wait for the two sequels to come out. Hopefully they will since this won dozens of awards.

I'm grateful that dreadful Dr. Belgon is dead (his large skull and spectacles remind me of the Professor from The Nightmare Before Christmas). He seems to represent the worst in a psychopathic genius. Self-Satisfied. Heartless. Calculating. And with a most chilling disregard for human life.

The Professor
The Nightmare Before Christmas

"As with the ant, every man has a purpose. He must serve that purpose no matter the cost." The most disturbing thing about this phrase is not what it says, rather the way Dr. Belgon has taken it upon himself to decide every man's "purpose" according to his own mad design.

Lucas' realization of the monster that lures its prey in with a lovely song, and then transforms into a hideous creature with mangled tentacles is akin to the deceptive Venus Flytrap.

The creature kind of reminds me of the massive spiders in Limbo, times ten, with even more tentacles and teeth.


They grow in cacoons, and their transluscent stomachs glow red as they feed upon living creatures. In our case, on humans.

Anthony Lucas is very good at conjuring primal emotions within his audience. Even with seemingly "inanimate" objects and voided silhouettes, Lucas still manages to make us feel dread, loathing, fear, remorse, and hope for his characters.

The hope we feel for Jasper in the end is strong, even if it is tinged with revulsion and irony.

One of Lucas's earlier animations that best illustrates his ability to make us feel deeply for his characters is called, Slim Pickings (1999). The style is completely different from his silhouette style (claymation vs. cutout), but the raw emotion and potent story telling is still there.

Agh! My heart just breaks for the poor, selfless tomato plant! Why did the creature not look down before he committed the deadly act? Probably because Lucas likes to play with bitter irony. And now the creature must forever live with the guilt of having killed a generous friend who could have sustained him through the times of starvation. So tragic.

Here Lucas took a very different route, but from a rare 1988 version of his film Shadowland, we can see where the first inklings of Jasper Morello were emerging.

Interesting how he utilized organic materials such as leaves, twigs, and insects to achieve his visual effects. Very beautiful and unique.

In his 2002 animated short, Holding Your Breath, his style continued to develop.

Again, so beautiful and dreamlike...

It's hard to find any basic biographical information on Mr. Lucas, but he is from Australia, is a self-proclaimed sci-fi geek, is married to his producer, and has made an award winning animated short with his children about his son Henry's rabbit entitled, My Rabit Hoppy (2008).

Since winning the Grand Prix at the Annecy Int’l Animation Festival and getting his Oscar nomination, Lucas has been receiving a number of live-action scripts to consider directing. He also served as a third-unit director on the live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.

Right now, his passion is still finishing the story of Jasper Morello. Either way, I'm eager to see what talented project this filmmaker has planned for the future.


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