MARTY RUSSELL: New animated short proves story matters

By Marty Russell

Anyone who has ever dabbled, to borrow a term from Christine “I-Am-Not-A-Witch” O’Donnell, in computer animation knows how frustrating and time – and computer – consuming it can be. I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years now with very little to show for it unless you count a 30-second shot of a classic Godzilla-like creature chasing a woman down a street only to give up and yell after the woman, “Jeez, lady, I just wanted to give you a Watchtower!”
We’ve all become jaded to the technology and what it can do. Huge spaceships in orbit, gigantic explosions, big green ogres, been there, done that. Yawn. But occasionally something comes along that literally takes your breath away. That happened to me this week when I stumbled on a just-released animated short film made with free software that’s been gathering dust on my computer’s hard drive for years. The film is called “Sintel” and although it’s only 15 minutes long, I dare anyone to watch it and not be moved.
The film was produced by the Blender Institute in Amsterdam with partial funding coming from users of the free animation and modeling software known as Blender, which is available as a free download on the Internet. It was designed to showcase what can be accomplished with the software but it goes way beyond just a collection of pretty, computer-generated images. The producers wanted to do a Cinderella-type story (cinder in Dutch is sintel) but what they wound up with instead was a heartbreaking story of a lonely girl in a fantasy world who nurses and befriends an injured baby dragon only to have it snatched away from her by an adult dragon. She sets out to rescue the young dragon she names Scales but, well, let’s just say that if your eyes aren’t tearing up by the ending you need to check your pulse.
While the animation is absolutely beautiful and flawless, which is what the Blender folks wanted to showcase, they also succeeded in producing a wonderfully powerful story, which just goes to show you that you can have the best actors, the best directors and the best special effects but, without a story that is going to touch people, it’s just a bunch of pretty pictures. It certainly opened my eyes as to why, after all this time, I’ve never been able to produce anything satisfying. I’ve been so focused on the technical aspects of computer animation that I forgot about the story.
“Sintel” made its debut Sept. 27 at the Netherlands Film Festival and is now available for viewing for free on You Tube. I highly recommend it although it may be too intense for younger viewers. But before I dust off my version of Blender, I’m going back to the drawing board on the story.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.