Matthew Building, Level 5
20 – 28 May, DJCAD
The animation showcase of DJCAD’s Degree Show can be found on level five of the Matthew Building. The six films on display this year: Starcrossing; Kitchen Madness; Phantasmagoria; A Pangolin’s Tale; Fridge and Chaos are some of the most varied I personally can remember seeing at the Degree Show. No two are alike in style or tone, spanning a refreshing mix of genres from the comedic to the mystical to the horrific. What they do have in common is the fact that they all successfully continue to uphold the high bar of quality that can be expected from the showcase.
As in previous years, students and staff have transformed the space. Posters on the walls proudly exhibit the work of individual students, and visitors are invited to explore physical workbooks along with the digital showreels displayed on Mac computers. The large size of the exhibition space did make it feel slightly empty, compared to previous years, but once the Degree Show opens to the public I’m confident visitors will be grateful for the open space at what is often a tightly packed event. The general set-up for the animation exhibition is similar every year, but the joy is in seeing the rich variety of styles and processes displayed on each poster, and also in the unique touches made each year to enliven the exhibition space. This year, these include a cardboard photo cut-out for Phantasmagoria and plush dolls of the animal characters from Starcrossing. A blackboard with film listings is a simple but effective touch, building anticipation before visitors enter the lecture theatre-turned-cinema.
The films play on a continuous twenty-minute loop, and audiences may enter at any time, but it is clear careful consideration has still been put into the running order. Longer films are interspersed by shorter ones; 2-D alternates with 3-D. This permits the unique strengths of each film to stand out even more.
We open particularly strong with Starcrossing, a fantastic and whimsical queer romance with a charming 2-D art style that breaks up longer sequences with clever use of comic panels. Most impressive of all, it is fully voice-acted and lip-synced, and the expressive character designs fit perfectly with the professional-sounding performances. Kitchen Madness is next, a frenetic 3-D animation that takes a simple, relatable conflict – an overworked chef inundated with orders – and gleefully exploits its slapstick potential to explosive extremes. Phantasmagoria slows the pace, giving the audience breathing room with a short piece about a mime performing in a circus. The expressionist art style fits the surreal plot, and the use of a mime as the main character creates many opportunities to emphasise fluid bodily movement.
Next is another 3-D film, A Pangolin’s Tale. The film opens following a firefly, showing off the impressive lighting. A heartbeat in the soundtrack and sinister red lighting build tension throughout. This tension heightens the film’s pertinent conservation message – capped with the bold choice to not end on a happy ending. Fridge is another short piece, but an impactful one. The soft colour palette and hand-drawn style lure the audience into a false sense of security, before the film reveals itself to be a sci-fi horror, reflecting on themes of patriarchy, technology, consumption and control. The metaphor is simple and effective, and the climax left this reviewer genuinely unsettled. Last but by no means least is Chaos. The mystical plot is evocative of various creation myths, and the film boasts a bold and glorious array of colours befitting this sublime scale.
The animation showcase remains my personal favourite part of the Degree Show. This year’s films struck me as particularly unique, being distinct not only from each other but from previous years’ entries. Each boasted a wholly original plot, captivating visuals and expressive, engaging characters. Together they make for a stylish and highly accomplished collection. Congratulations to this year’s students on a stellar instalment!