Despite the fact that the five extremely individual films which were exhibited at this year’s Degree Show are the result of collaborative efforts between many of the same artists, they showcase a remarkable variety of artistic vision and style. Working in both 2D and 3D in contributory roles of varying sizes, 2014’s animation graduates were able to display a range of skills, from character modelling to background work; a comprehensive collection of production drawings was also on show in the studio space.
The first of the films in the showreel, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Crossword, is a 3D piece with a deceptive aesthetic; the models are textured in such a way as to appear almost cel-shaded, a method of rendering which lends 3D animation a hand-drawn look reminiscent of comic book illustrations. The premise, in which the lighthouse’s bulb needs replacing before the keeper can complete his crossword, creates a pithy enough narrative, but is ultimately overshadowed by the rather striking visuals.
Similarly striking was Baumhaus, a 2D film which stood out for its lush colour palette and sweeping pans through a luxuriously detailed rainforest setting. Centred on the protagonist’s discovery of a magical trinket in an abandoned tree house and his subsequent flight from a malevolent creature, Baumhaus is both kinetic and fast-paced, elements which emphasises its short length. However while this makes for a satisfyingly exciting chase sequence, Baumhaus forgoes the opportunity to showcase the picturesque set-pieces which are thankfully displayed in the adjacent gallery space.
The longest and arguably most polished of the films shown was The Divided, a 3D piece following a limping robot through a post-apocalyptic landscape to an encounter with his nemesis. Slower and moodier than the two films preceding it, The Divided is an impressive centrepiece. Skilfully modelled and fluidly animated, it is notable not just for its professional appearance, but also the opportunity it offers to the animators who worked primarily on 2D films to show that they are also proficient in 3D.
In contrast to the bleak futuristic setting of The Divide was another 3D offering, The Sandman, a charming and colourful take on a European children’s story in which two umbrellas compete over a sleeping child’s dreams. Exhibiting some eye-catching illustration work in its opening moments, the appeal of The Sandman lies largely in the depth of personality encapsulated by the umbrellas’ distinctive movements; the malevolent character is spiderlike and threatening, while its portly counterpart moves with an endearing crawl more akin to a caterpillar.
Lastly came a return to 2D with Sparrow’s House, a humorous short predicated on the conflict between gluttony and etiquette as two friends share dinner. The strength of this film lies largely in its combination of physical comedy and the universality of its situation. Its climax, in which the two characters repeatedly offer the last sparrow to one another, despite their own burgeoning desire to devour it, sees much amusing arm flailing and over-earnest expressions.
While the finished films themselves were the main attraction, the still work which is displayed in the adjacent studio drew just as much of a crowd. A mixture of life drawings, concept art, production stills and comic book illustrations allows the graduates to showcase their abilities as artists as well as animators, both with traditional materials and graphics software. With framed background art, production catalogues and entire walls dedicated to storyboards, a great deal of skill and work which has gone into this year’s Degree Show was readily demonstrated.