By Greta Chiocchetti
Students from the School of Animation and Visual Effects (ANM) headlined the Gojo Short Animation Gallery’s summer show in Kyoto, Japan, which opened on July 24.
The gallery, which is the first dedicated to short animations in western Japan, exhibits work from students and professionals across the globe, located beside the Kamogawa River. Curated in partnership with ANM Stop Motion Lead Aaron Guadamuz, who is a longtime colleague and friend of the gallery’s co-founder, Chihiro Tanikawa, the gallery is currently featuring two award-winning films created by Academy students: Jasmine Vahidsafa’s “Sharp As Stone” and Kaifu Liu’s “The Metamorphosis,” along with School of Visual Development and 2-D ANM Director Nicolas Villarreal’s film, “Nieta,” and a forthcoming animated music video, “Lay Waste Child,” for Seattle-based metal band Helms Alee by Guadamuz.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students because what this gallery does is really unique,” said Guadamuz. “They exhibit the films of more well-known animators, but also all these other great films that might not be featured in other places.”
Villarreal’s film “Nieta,” the winner of the 2015 Best Short Film award at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival in Toronto, explores the concept of visual perception through its contrasting use of vibrant color and black and white.
“The inspiration for the film actually came from looking at an old black-and-white photograph of my mother when she was about six or seven with my grandfather,” said Villarreal. “The fact that it was black and white was really pleasing to me, and I had also really wanted to make something about people who are not able to see because I feel that [they are] courageous.”
Vahidsafa and Liu, both M.F.A. students, won first and second place in the 2-D animation category of the 2020 Animation Spring Awards, respectively. Vahidsafa’s short film, which took about a year and a half to complete, was inspired by classic cartoons like the Looney Tunes and the Asterix comics, which she grew up with.
“Part of the reason why I just love and respect Chuck Jones’ work so much is that on the surface, it’s like ‘ha-ha’ funny, but there’s a layer of sophistication with the messaging that you wouldn’t expect from a kid’s cartoon,” said Vahidsafa. “He said once that Daffy [Duck] is the person we are and Bugs [Bunny] is the person we want to be. Daffy’s kind of conniving, he tries to cheat the system to get what he wants, but it doesn’t always work out. Bugs goes with the flow, he stays composed, and things tend to go a lot better for him. I think that’s a great lesson.”
Vahidsafa’s film follows a Daffy-esque protagonist as he struggles to pull the famed sword out of the stone, making use of plenty of slapstick humor along the way.
On the other side of the spectrum, Kaifu Liu’s film, “The Metamorphosis,” was inspired by Franz Kafka’s novella by the same name. The resulting piece is a gripping, surreal exploration of the feeling of alienation, illustrated through abstract black and white sketches.
“Egon Schiele’s sketch works inspired me,” said Liu. “Black and white could establish a more powerful emotional connection, and the lines could enhance the contrast of the picture and emotion.”
Liu, a fan of the classic rock band Pink Floyd, originally used parts of “Comfortably Numb” and “Breathe” in the film, but collaborated with Guadamuz over the summer, who created an original score for the film. Despite the piece’s abstract nature, Guadamuz was able to pinpoint and convey the message through the music.
“What was interesting was that I got this sense of isolation and loneliness,” said Guadamuz. “I really felt that—and that’s not something he told me—but when I gave him the first draft of the score, he actually said, ‘Hey, I think you’re really connected to the feeling of loneliness and isolation.’”
The result, Liu said, brought the piece to the next level.
“I am very grateful for his hard work on this film, and I think we achieved the best results,” said Liu. “His scoring enhances the emotional tone of the entire work.”