Samorost 3 (2016)


Amanita Design is the Jiří Trnka Studio (Studio Jiřího Trnky) of video gaming. The surreal characters are similar to Czech puppet films and all storytelling and interaction are mutely told in pictures.

What Amanita Design really does, is combine very special cultural elements into beautifully crafted entities: Traditional adventure games, Czech animation aesthetics and magical sound- and naturescapes.

I always gorge myself with adventure games. I want to complete them in one sitting, like it was a long interactive animation film. Within few days now, I’ve done it with Samorost 3 as well as I’ve done it with Day of the Tentacle Remastered and the new chapters of King’s Quest.

Machinarium being the game changer for me, and still the only 2000’s game to penetrate into my top 10 adventure games of all time, I doubt I’ll get the same feeling of awe and happiness with a new game very easily. It still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy all new Amanita Design games quite as much, or consider them just as good.


While Machinarium was a bit more traditional kind of an adventure game, Botanicula was dreamy stream of consciousness, a microscopic nature toy and an ode to flora and fauna.

Even though Machinarium and it’s steam punk looks became so personal for me, I always loved Samorost-world the most. The shaping of nature is hugely inspirational, and it’s the main reason for my own nature photographing hobby.

I’ve photographed tens of thousands shots all around Europe within my latest years, always imaging a scene, interaction and it’s inhabitants in them, mostly thanks to Samorost 1 and 2. Samorost actually let me see the nature differently, and it’s quite an effect for a video game.




So, I waited this new long Samorost game quite anxiously. Teasers were simple and beautiful, and I would watch them over and over.

The protagonist gnome is very lovable and cute, musically skilled little white riding hood, in a slightly surreal and unexplained world. Gnome’s childish interest in the world sometimes resemble the most classic Czech animation character – Krtek, the little mole.

The emphasis of story is always on the existing moment, but there’s also the big picture, the story, that is told in various kind of pictures. Some of them you can find by listening to the nature, or luring it with your flute, and some you can follow at picture books.

There are many themed orbs for the gnome to enter, but the game starts with a little puzzle of how to build a spacecraft with junk from your backyard.


Puzzles of Samorost 3 follow pretty much the path of elder Amanita Design pieces. There are few scenes where you see the solution from afar, and there are few where you couldn’t possibly come up with anything without exploring and playing with the environment a bit. Most puzzles are somewhere in between, always fun, distinctive and clever.

Amanita Design have designed actual interactive toys in the past, so it is still one part of the experience. You should just forget about progressing and solving anything, and simply play around. The Steam-achievements are mostly Easter eggs and stuff you find only by doing so.



It is hard to actually evaluate this games difficulty. There are classic adventure gaming gags and tricks, and for anyone who have previously completed an Amanita Design adventure, will probably succeed with this one too.

Not all puzzles are exactly easy, but like in most contemporary adventure games, you cannot actually die or get stuck, so you’ll make it eventually.

Music puzzles are a bit more rare for adventure games, so some may find them baffling or challenging. For me, it took seven hours to complete the game, with peacefully exploring pace, and only one puzzle would take more than half an hour.


In a way, Samorost 3 is a very safe product, as it’s so similar to old classics, Samorost 1 and 2, but longer. It’s more like there’s a lot of new puzzles and raves in a familiar kind of imaginary world you always loved.

The (múm-esque) soundtrack by Floex is as amazing as in all Amanita Design games, and the musical scenes in the game are as fun as ever, and I can’t wait for the vinyl OST. Machinarium vinyl has been one of my most listened ones ever since it was published, and Samorost 3 would be on heavy rotation, just as it is now on digital format.

All in all, Samorost 3 fits perfectly in the high quality catalog of Amanita Design games, just like all Jiří Trnka films fit in the high quality Trnka-catalog.

Articles, reviews

A Journey Through Spanish Animation (2015)

Minotauromaquia Pablo en el laberinto (Pablo in the Labyrinth, 2004)

Minotauromaquia Pablo en el laberinto (Pablo in the Labyrinth, 2004)

Spanish animation lurks in the hazy parts of (even the European) animation field. Few pioneers and modern film makers may ring the bell outside of Spain, but most that ever happened in between the early days and today has never been so well documented. Not before this brand new collection of well selected gems through Spanish animation history. Here’s a fix for the problem: del trazo al píxel 3DVD “journey”.

Watching the history of Spanish animation is much like watching the Spanish version of classic Dracula with Bela Lugosi. Not being the polished mainstream- or even underground icons of animation, Spanish history of animated films is like a crude, surreal version of better known history of animated films.

As a counter version to Méliès, there’s Segundo de Chomón, for all the Mickey Mouses, there’s a Spanish styled variant, for Zagreb and Bozzetto there’s equals in the sixties and seventies, just as for Švankmajer, Pixar etc.

Not exactly better or worse, just different. What’s common in these pieces, is the deep black humor, darkness, pessimism and lack of moral or happy endings. Even the soft porn has a morbid end. Uneasy and high quality in general, this collection is very much worth the investment.

The booklet has great liner notes and three discs of short animated films catalog the unknown, yet fine works in roughly three different eras; The black and white era of the pioneers, the outstanding, surreal, psychedelic and bold critics of the sixties onward, until the third type, contemporary greats.

Radio RCA, (circa 1935)

Radio RCA, (circa 1935)

Apart from short films, the collection also offers a full length adult animation and pack of early commercials (like Radio RCA commercial with female nudity just few years before Franco.)

Here’s a few picks from the pack. A lot more would deserve getting an introduction right here, right now. But then again, that’s why there’s the wonderful collection to order anyway, so you could witness it all by yourself eventually. With English subtitles to all shorts and introductions.

Garabatos Valeriano León (1944)

Garabatos Valeriano León (1944)

Garabatos Valeriano León (1944) dir. Jaume Baguñà

An animated version of a comic magazine from that era. Short jokes are dark and funny even today, although some may feel a bit tacky. Fun is made out of everyday life as well as the end of life, i.e. from social stumbles to execution.

El gallito presumido (Cocky Cock, 1949) dir. Jaume Baguñà

Like titled, cock at the yard is a truly cocky one, enjoying admiration of all the hens. Yet, when too admired, like spoiling the breakfast by serving an egg with a tweet, hen is fired. So, everyday life is kind of paradoxical dance on wire. Cartoon teaches no morals and ends up in no other conclusion but injustice. Oddly enough, the story might stick to the viewer’s mind better just because of that.

El gallito presumido (Cocky Cock, 1949)

El gallito presumido (Cocky Cock, 1949)

El Sombrero (The Hat, 1964)

El Sombrero (The Hat, 1964)

El Sombrero (The Hat, 1964) dir. Robert Balser

Surrealism in Spanish cartoon is properly introduced as late as the mid sixties. Although the title, el Sombrero, somewhat sounds like a very Spanish story, the overall style reminds more of Zagreb and Italian masters of animation.

Troubled by a hat, symbolically, a man has a burden he needs to get rid of in order to carry on with his life. He cannot do it himself, and needs faith to drive him back on the course.

The style of animation is strangely rough and smooth at the same time. Robert Palser later directed animation of Yellow Submarine (the well known surreal graphic style of the cult classic is indeed seen already in this one.)

Íncubo Rose (1974)

Íncubo Rose (1974)

Íncubo Rose (1974) dir. Miquel Esparbé

Again, we’re closer to Zagreb and Bozzatto in graphic style, but the critic of this erotic odyssey of devil goes straight into Spanish politics and history.

Rather simple drawings and amateurish animation perfectly fulfills it’s purpose. After the “’70s horror film titles” the film seems to be a comedic take on one’s journey into losing virginity, but the downsides of the attempts are quite cruel and sad in the end.

Probably the little devil deserves it’s punishment, as he does after all seem to try raping an angel to begin with. Effective and nerving from the first seconds.

La doncella guerrera (Warrior Princess, 1974)

La doncella guerrera (Warrior Princess, 1974)

La doncella guerrera (The Warrior Maiden, 1975) dir. Julio Taltavull

A ballad with notably Spanish feel to it. Told in Goyan narration, illustrated in vein of Gothic period plates, with amazing graphic style and restrained animation direction by Robert Balser of Yellow Submarine and The Hat fame, that will guarantee the viewer captivation.

The story is an ancient ballad. One of those with a girl dressed as a man to be able to fight as a soldier. For an artsy film, this is an easy, feel good one in comparison to the heavy themes of the era.

Día a día (1977)

Día a día (1977)

Día a día (1977) dir. Pablo Núñez

Another Zagreb-esque film, with imaginative twist. Dull everyday life is spiced with footage from black and white war-, nature-, entertainment- and sports docs. It’s a method of caricaturing the feelings of a boss yelling at you when you’re late for work, or when you get off of work. Lions roaring and birds fleeing.

Basically rather traditional “day of an unlucky everyday soldier” type of story, but very well crafted with mixed media. Funny and identifiable.

La edad del silencio (Age of Silence, 1978)

La edad del silencio (Age of Silence, 1978)

La edad del silencio (Age of Silence, 1978) dir. Gabriel Blanco

Nasty and irritating to watch, not to say listen to. An ultimate portray of sustained freedom of speech. Ultimate political work of a protester who would not be silenced no matter how much he’s tortured and literally shut up. Based on Ops’ (El Rote) drawings.

Gastropens II. Mutación tóxica (Toxic Mutation II, 1994)

Gastropens II. Mutación tóxica (Toxic Mutation II, 1994)

Gastropens II. Mutación tóxica (Toxic Mutation II, 1994) dir. Pablo Llorens

A plasticine animation of it’s time, from the funny digital editing tools to the awake of awereness in toxication of “E numbered” food. A grotesque work that might make the next b-day buffet a bit uneasy.

Additives give birth to a mutant alien in man’s stomach, bite by bite, giving the hero of the day an appear closer to the day of the tentacle. Story wise flawless little gem.

Las partes de mí que te aman son seres vacíos (The Parts of Me that Love You are Empty Beings, 1995) dir. Mercedes Gaspar

Grotesque, sadistically erotic pixallation of a man and a woman having a loose dinner with various body parts being cut off and replaced with something else. Also serves some so-so surrealism and awkward 90s editing. Still somehow captivating.

How to cope with Death (2002) dir. Ignacio Ferreras

Dance macabre. A winged grim reaper comes to take what he thinks is his – the life of an old lady, passed out in front of television. The old lady doesn’t think she’s ready for it yet. One of the early Ferreras’ films with the exact graphic beauty that can be found from his feature length film too.

Encarna (2003) dir. Sam

A housewife has it with all the assholery around her, and starts a brutal revenge campaign. Plasticine turns red and holey. Even TV-Shop-Jesus.

Pablo in the Labyrinth (2004) dir. Juan Pablo Etcheverry

Picasso is lost in a grey rock maze, being hunted by a minotaur. His works are being recreated in plasticine amazingly well, that itself is worth watching, but there’s not really much additional storyline to it.

Cirurgía (Surgeon, 2006) dir. Alberto González Vázquez

A date. Lies to be told in order to get to the woman’s heart. At the same time simple and layered, funny and frank portray of the difficulties in being honest at the first date. Sometimes straightforward simplicity in animation just works.

Alma (2009)

Alma (2009)

Alma (2009) dir. Rodrigo Blaas

A little wintertime gothic, horror story of a closed doll shop. Ideal 3D CGI. A semi-classic in it’s genre.

Birdboy (2010) dir. Pedro Rivero, Alberto Vázquez

The dark life in a small town after industrial catastrophe has an outcast Birdboy taking care of a girl who lost her father in the factory explosion. Dark story hints of better, while everything easily seems hopeless. Based on a comic book by the author, this animation adds to the parts mainly left out of the comic.

El ruido del mundo (Noise of the World, 2013)

El ruido del mundo (Noise of the World, 2013)

El ruido del mundo (Noise of the World, 2013) dir. Coke Riobóo

A composer suffers from a condition of hearing all the cruelties and cries of the world, that soon distracts him to compose anything else that the despair of the world. Animated with backlit plasticine on glass, giving it outstanding graphic output.

Canis (2013)

Canis (2013)

Canis (2013) dir. Anna Solanas, Marc Riba

The dystopian bestiality of Canis may be heavy to watch. The black and white puppet stop-motion introduces desolate human beings surrounded by death and starvation of mad dogs. Even the only bit of hope is topped with pessimism and injustice, making Canis the ultimate feelbad film of the collection.

World not too far from Eraserhead’s, Le Dernier Combat’s or Suzie Templeton’s Dog etc. makes it absolutely beautiful. The film is riveting on all ends. It’s among the most powerful films made in Spain.

From doodles to pixels – one hundred years of Spanish animation:


Interview with Signe Baumane

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

Signe Baumane is a Latvia-born animated film maker and illustrator, who deals with themes such as sex and depression. Very funny, bold and poignant erotic short films like Teat Beat of Sex or Five Fucking Fables have probably both delighted and shocked the marginal audience of indie animation.

Just recently she completed her first feature length animated film and is now touring through the festival screenings around the world, giving introductions, Q&A’s and promoting the film. She also visited Finnish Animatricks film festival just recently. I too had a word with her. Here’s some of her very interesting thoughts about animation and cinema.

What kind of films you grew up with, and where did you see them?

Signe Baumane

Signe Baumane

I grew up in a small town in Latvia (about 16,000 residents at that time, now probably 25,000) in a big private house on the outskirts of the town. Across the street from the house was a bus stop and there was a board for movie posters that was updated each Friday.

The posters intrigued me, they depicted mature, sophisticated men and and women of the kind one doesn’t see in small towns in Latvia. Starting when I was about 10 one or two nights a week I would walk 3 km to the town’s movie theater to see a movie.

The movie theater was built on Soviet money, a boring white brick building on outside, it seated 400 people inside. Because the small town was more interested in their gardens, children and houses most of the nights I was the only person watching a movie in that theater.

Except, when an Indian movie screened.

Then the first 2 rows filled with local young gypsies who sung along and shouted at the characters in the movie when they did something upsetting.

I felt a huge affinity for gypsies – I had always wanted to be one and I used to have Gypsy friends when I was 8, but a friendship with a gypsy was hard to sustain – they got engaged at 10, married at 12 and moved a lot.

In any case, the seats in the first 2 rows were the cheapest – 5 kopeks. The gypsies were there because 5 kopeks for a movie was a good deal. After the movie they’d hide in the toilet and come back to watch the same movie for the 295th time.

The last row (20) which I preferred and was able to afford was the most expensive – 70 kopeks. I was there because the wall behind me allowed me to think I was part of the wall, barely visible. Between me and the gypsies were 18 empty rows, filled with their noise and my envy for their freedom.

The movies I saw there were mostly from USSR allies – Czech, Polish, Indian. France and Italy had strong Communist parties at that time, so I saw a lot of French and Italian movies. And YES – an occasional American movie that seemed to trash CIA and US government, like Three Days of the Condor. Most of the movies I saw were mainstream, or near mainstream, foreign films.

I was not interested in Russian movies or any other Soviet movies – they all were propaganda to me. And one got enough of those Soviet propaganda war movies
at home on TV.

Last Year At Marienbad

Alain Resnais: Last Year At Marienbad (1961)

Then I went to study in Moscow and there I discovered Ingmar Bergam movies. And French New Wave which blew me away.

Last Year at Marienbad was my favorite film for a LONG time (until 5 years ago when I saw it again). It influenced my own 20 min The Gold of The Tigers.

Towards the end of Soviet Union and my studies in Moscow, in the fall of 1988 I went to screenings of an alternative film festival that had started in Riga – Arsenals.

It truly changed my life.

During the Arsenals’ week I saw 4 – 5 films a day, each of them revealing a Universe not known to me before. I dont remember names of specific directors, nor movie titles. Just images and shock and awe I experienced. They represented the dare and freedom that I have always longed for. Now I was grown enough to try it myself.

What does classic European animation culture and it’s animation legends mean to you?

Yuri Norstein: Hedgehog in the Fog (1975)

Yuri Norstein: Hedgehog in the Fog (1975)

I like European animation culture, but I feel I dont know enough about it. One of my biggest influences is Jan Svankmajer, but, again, I don’t know if I know enough about him or his work to be able to deliver a valid opinion.

Yuri Norstein is certainly a big legend in the parts were I grew up (I think his Hedgehog in the Fog is an undying masterpiece). But I dont know what it means to me.

Well. Now that I mentioned Yuri Norstein, I actually do know what it means to me. The legends sometimes grow so big that the shadow they cast impedes growth of something fresh and new.

The legends grow inflexible and intolerant of differences and since they exercise so much influence, they can really block one’s path to discovering something new.

Beware legends, I’d say.

What are the biggest differences between European and US animation culture?

Rocks in my Pockets

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

Well, the basic and the most obvious difference is where the money comes from. That determines what stories are being told and how.

In Europe (at least up until recently) and Canada there was a deep seated tradition of comprehensive government support for the arts (and animation).

Artists/ animators had to apply for the grants and in the application had to indicate why their project was so good and meaningful for the taxpaying public etc.

Usually applicants stress the value of their Art as part of the country’s culture that could be represented (and boasted about) abroad. This kind of funding process creates a lot of ‘artsy’ projects that have little concern for audience engagement or entertainment value. In US the government support (for many reasons) is barely there and so artists and animators are left on their own.

A lot of independent animators I know in US invest their own money in their projects. But how do you justify investing $6,000 – $10,000 of your own money in a short that you cannot sell (shorts dont make a lot of money)? So an animator make a film in hopes to get a commercial or a TV show.

And populates the film with characters and designs that are borrowed from TV, while investing great care in connecting the story withe the audience by making it funny.

Of course, this is oversimplified version of the differences, but this is how I see it. In Europe the stress is on Art. In US the stress is on Entertainment. The most successful animated shorts from Europe and US are the films that do well both – Art and Entertainment.

What kind of arts and animation (film makers and films) were you influenced by when you started out animating?

There was a Czech TV show called Stremyanka and Makaronka about 2 dogs that I watched a lot growing up.

There was also Cheburashka, he was my imaginary friend when I was 5 – 8.

I’ve seen Hedgehog in the Fog about 4858 times. I love Svankmajer. Bill Plympton’s MTV signal films made an impact on me. I am in awe of Miyazaki, but he is out of my league to be even influenced by him. Inspired, yes. I love Mind Game by Masaaki Yuasa. Persepolis. Waltz With Bashir.

Mind Game

Masaaki Yuasa: Mind Game (2004)


Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis (2007)

But my influences don’t really come from animation world. The way how I think visually comes from Eastern European tradition of illustration and poster art. Stasys Eidrigevicius was the greatest influence.

Then – the French New Wave films. Alain Resnais in particular.

Jorge Luis Borges (although – I am trying to read him now and find him incredible sexist and pretentious.) Kurt Vonnegut (his work hasn’t aged for me a bit.) Carl Gustav Young (i know his work is now kind of discredited, but it greatly influenced my life and brain.)

Although animation (especially short) is generally outside of popular awards and culture, there’s a lot of film festivals fully or partly dedicated to animation. How important is it for animated film maker that there are those, and how much being awarded makes a difference?

Waltz with Bashir

Ari Folman: Waltz with Bashir (2009)

It is an interesting question, about animation festivals vs film festivals, I have been pondering about it myself.

Is it a good thing to have your film put into the class of animation or is it better to keep it open in the broader class of filmmaking? Is it mutually exclusive?

And what does it mean if your film does well in a festival where it competes with live action films but can’t get accepted in animation festivals? or viceversa – animation festivals love your film but all the others shrug their shoulders.

A good film is a good film, no matter if it’s screened at a film festival or animation festival or on TV. Take as an example Persepolis and Waltz With Bashir.

They erase the line between animation and live action film. Which is how it should be with a good film. They also entered consciousness of mainstream audiences – a good place to start changing how animation is perceived.

I find it tragic that the term ‘animation’ was highjacked by big commercial studios that use the term to sell their films for children.

If you ask any random person on the street what is animation, they’d say it’s a film for children. I complained about it to John Canemaker once and suggested we invent another word for animated films that are not for children, something like anifilm or animovie.

We need a new category, because the old one was stolen from us. He agreed about the theft, but disagreed about making up a new name. “It would be giving in to the thieves,” – he said. “Lets fight for the term instead of giving up”.

And he might be right.

As to awards – of course, awards are nice. It ads to the honor and increases the profile of the film.
But I am not sure if the world starts and ends with awards. Awards can be accidental (I have sat on enough juries to see how the winners are decided, it’s a process not unlike lottery).

Again, a good film is a good film and even without any awards it is still a good film.

Youtube? Made short animation that seldom gets screen time on tv or many screenings at cinemas accessible to non-festival goers and all the people around the globe. A blessing or a media that kills atmosphere of animated film?

Tales of Mere Existence

Lev Yilmaz: Tales of Mere Existence (2002)

As a consumer I love YouTube. I am frightened of it as a filmmaker – we have to take down 3 – 5 illegal uploads of Rocks In My Pockets a day.

Also, as a filmmaker who makes maybe not difficult but not easily accessible films I see that YouTube is almost like a high school popularity contest.

I could never win such a contest in a high school and I cannot win it on YouTube. What does YouTube like? Talking cats and dogs, fail videos, celebrities and already popular filmmakers.

Outside that it likes something that is realistic and easy to understand, like Tales of Mere Existence by Lev. Or something extraordinary and weird that is overlaid on ordinary, realistic/real things, like Blu’s Muto or PES’ Western Spaghetti.

I feel sad when I see great work neglected by the thrills seeking short attention span that rules YouTube.

But YouTube is still a great tool for filmmakers. The way to deal with it might be to have curated content – have channels that show good work and build an audience for unusual films. Like film festivals, only online.

What about digitality in all it’s forms?

I love it. Digital made me a much better filmmaker!

There’s a very good percent of talented female film makers in the history of animation anyway, but I simply cannot think of dividing film makers in female and male animated film makers. Do you often have to think yourself especially as a female film maker or have you ever been treated as such?

Rocks in my Pockets

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)


It would be a perfect world where we didn’t have to categorize filmmakers by their gender. We do that because one gender has dominated the film industry for a very long time and because we are not even able to see the walls women bang against unless we make a temporary gender distinction and ask: what is happening here – why men are able to proceed to great success and women stay behind? Read this.

And maybe the gender division doesn’t quite make sense to you because you are looking at the field of animation where we are all marginalized, women animators and men animators, all alike. But even on our margins there is a deep seated bias against women and women stories.

Male festival programmers naturally relate more to male stories, and I dont blame them. But it makes their selection biased.

By artificially marking the gender line between film makers we are able to confront the bias. Annecy this year is celebrating women animators and you may laugh about it, but I find it exciting. It brings attention to and celebrates the difference.

As to me – since I started out in animation in Latvia in 1989 I was told that I would not succeed as a director unless I found the right man to join my team as a producer, animator and husband. But it didnt work out.

When I moved to New York, and started making films independently I felt that as a woman I had a lot of advantages – no one expected me to make a lot of money, no one expected me to pay for the dinners. I actually saved a lot of money by having men pay for the dinners. A male indie animator would not be able to pull it off.

But after 10 years of making independent films I was still in the same place. I couldn’t understand why I was not making more money and not getting higher level offers. I started to pay attention and realized that partly it was my own thinking – I didnt care so much for money. But I also realized that there is hidden sexism in the industry – TV and film are all oriented towards the mythical ‘young male audience” (age 21). With the work I do and the way I think I could not possible cater to that audience. As a consequence, I do not get high paying, high profile projects. I have to carve out my own audience.

As Rocks in my Pockets is so personal piece, what were the biggest doubts, fears or challenges making it to reality and shown to whole world?

Rocks in my Pockets

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

I really didnt have any fears about making such a personal film because when I started to work on it I was an ignorant fool. I didn’t know what will happen, where the film is going to be screened and what my reaction to the audience reactions will be.

When the first screenings were secured I realized that the film will be also shown in Latvia and I got really scared – it is one thing to reveal your own personal secrets but it’s another to reveal the secrets of your extended family. What if they outcast me? I still don’t know if they’ll forgive me.

Every time when after the film’s screening I go on stage to do Q&A, I feel frightened. Exposed. Vulnerable. I didnt know 5 years ago when I started working on the film I’d feel that way.

As to ” my biggest doubts, fears or challenges making it to reality ” – preparing the voiceover was pretty stressful – I am not an actress and a theater director Sturgis Warner rehearsed with me for 7 weeks 5 hours every day (on weekends, too) but nevertheless just before we did a test reading for a small audience of 20 I had a fit of hysteria which of course, was coming from performance anxiety.

Now I know what actors feel before going on stage!

Did the project even after crowd finding leave you with debts? I’ve heard this.

Rocks in my Pockets

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

Making of the Rocks In My Pockets (before distribution and marketing expenses) was around $280,000. I had raised around $150,000 in donations via non profit organization Women Make Movies.

The project received around $25,000 in grants from New York State Council on the Arts and private Jerome Foundation.

We raised $52,000 through a Kickstarter campaign – but after shelling out 5% to Kickstarter, 5% to Amazon and shipping expenses (rewards had to be sent to over 500 backers) we got $42,000 for the project.

Our Latvian co-producer Locomotive Productions received around $22,000 support from Latvia’s Kino Center. It just was not enough, so I found an investor and now the investment is looming over my head.

It’s not a debt. It’s an investment. I probably see it in a more negative light that I should (I am a depressive after all). But it is a huge responsibility.

Future plans? With what techniques and forms you plan to express yourself? Any projects at the moment?

Rocks in my Pockets

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

I am still busy with promoting Rocks In My Pockets. Traveling to festivals for Q&A takes time. Writing email responses to fans and inquiries takes time. I don’t have a staff doing stuff for me.

But I do have a new project in mind. After making many short films on sex and one animated feature on depression I have decided to combine the two topics – sex and depression – in one film. So am making a film about marriage.

Ten films that I have always loved. Hmm… Spirited Away, Mind Game, Breathless, Some Like it Hot, Modern Times, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, La Dolce Vita, Southern Comfort, American Hollow, Picnic at Hanging Rock.


Animatricks 2015: Kalevala (1975) & Rocks in my Pockets (2014)


Reino Niiniranta: Kalevala (1975)

Animation is an artificial method to create moving pictures, but there are other external fields too where this method reflects. The music, soundscapes and voices in animated films are not like in live-action films, although nowadays the live-action-like animated films are trending too.

Traditionally the audio side of animation is anyway different, more expressive, more experimental and often more interesting. The closest relative to animation in general film history is the silent film. So much is expressed with the images, gestures, caricaturized characters and designs, that the film does not even necessarily need speech at all.

Partly so that children globally understand the same film no matter what language they talk. Partly it’s the artistic tradition of especially short animated film. Tradition is based on illustrations’ ability to express things better than live-action.

The only Finnish film festival dedicated strictly to the animated films was held in 24.4.-26.4. One of this year’s themes in Animatricks, was animated film music. The other was crowd funding. Here’s a highlight from each.


Reino Niiniranta: Kalevala (1975) and Stringpurée Band

Kalevala (1975)

Reino Niiniranta’s animated series of the Finnish National epic was made in the era of cut-out animation. Aesthetically silhouette-like cut-out animation looks easily a bit cheap today, but the series is full of nice illustrations and compositions, rough males and delicate maidens in the glorious tales of Kalevala.

Animatricks offered the audience a very special treat, a screening with live progressive folk band Stingpurée Band, playing a 29-string electric kantele, viola, bass and drums. The world is filled with beautiful music and artists, but I dare say hardly any would’ve been more fitting to this occasion. Simply a perfect combination, that sadly was witnessed by way too few (surely this was one of my favorites alongside with Cleaning Women playing live on Méliès’ Trip to the Moon a few years ago.)

If someday there was a traditionally animated Kalevala adaption based on Akseli Gallén-Kallela’s Kalevala-themes, I might be more interested, but this far this was the greatest cinematic Kalevala-experience there ever was. Without the band the animated series is still worthwhile screening, but certainly not as magical.


Reino Niiniranta: Kalevala (1975)

The festival also offered live dubbed screenings and a lecture about composing music to animated films by Mark Thomas. Animated film music is a timeless subject, but the other theme, crowd funding is something very present. Soon enough crowd funding will be essential part of independent art animated films.

The main movie of the festival was crowd funded Rocks in my Pockets. A series of crowd funded shorts was shown, including Academy Award winner Daniel Greaves’ wonderful Mr. Plastimime.


Daniel Greaves: Mr. Plastimime (2014)

Crowd funding is the perfect counter-movement against greedy entertainment industry. It brings up projects from film lovers, to film lovers. It may just be composing the music and mixing the sounds for the otherwise completed film that the author needs money for, or the whole big picture.

Anyway, as a return to all the financiers around the globe, they not only get the film done and seen, but also get additional rewards for trusting and helping the project. It may be a digital copy of the film, the soundtrack, a sketch, stickers, dvd or whatever the author wants to offer depending on the amount of the pledge. Everyone wins. Especially the art animation.

rocks in my pockets

Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

Probably not all think Signe Baumane’s Rocks in my Pockets is a graphically beautiful animated film, but the way Latvian-born author uses the medium is fascinating, striking and funny. Hand-drawn characters are combined with papier-mache sets and stop-motion quite skillfully.

Fun film about depression strikes with the way characters and settings are moved and used to tell a story, in a way similar to an educational film at times. Based on her own experiences and family history, the author can have a special therapy session with the play.

Ghosts of the mind and trauma processing have been recounted in animated films a lot, especially by female authors. From the deep end you can find likes of Karen Watson’s Daddy’s Little Bit of Dresden China, Monique Renault’s Hands off! or Marjut Rimminen’s The Stain or Blind Justice/Some Protection etc.


Signe Baumane: Rocks in my Pockets (2014)

Baumane enters the world of family suicides, tragedies and self-esteem problems in a form of sinister comedy without hesitation.

Hand-drawn animation is really over-the-top personal way to tell a story. Every line in every frame is touched and created by ones own hand, so the presence is there by force. And when the story is about own mind, life story and family chronicles, plus narration is by Baumane herself, the intensity is very high at all times.

After all, the film is still hopeful. It might actually help people who are struggling with themselves. It also helps other people understand unwanted mind games, self-destructiveness and pain of someone close to them. Impressive, valuable, yet very funny film narrated in charming Latvian accent.


Matt Reynolds: Bottom Feeders (2015)

In addition to Baumane giving introduction to her film, she was together with Mark Thomas and Rovio entertainment’s sound designer Salla Hiltunen, part of the jury to award best foreign and domestic animated short films.

Matt Reynold’s Bottom Feeders won the prize in foreign category, and a student film Valvoja (The Guardian) by Pietari Bagge, Christer Hongisto, Elisa Ikonen and Inka Matilainen was awarded the prize of best domestic animated short.


Pietari Bagge, Christer Hongisto, Elisa Ikonen and Inka Matilainen: Valvoja (2014)

The honorable mention went also to a student film, Balcony at the end of the World by Marika Laine, Markus Lepistö, Leo Liesvirta and Tommi Mustaniemi.

All in all, Animatricks remains a small intimate weekend festival with a good mood. It runs mostly with volunteer help, it’s located in one movie theater at the heart of Helsinki and the screenings usually gather just a few dozen viewers. Even at best roughly sixty or so. Hopefully it still keeps standing tall for a long time. Maybe it too could get stronger with crowd funding?


Marika Laine, Markus Lepistö, Leo Liesvirta and Tommi Mustaniemi: Balcony at the end of the World (2014)


Moomins on the Riviera (Muumit Rivieralla, 2014)


Moomins on the Riviera © 2012 Handle Productions Oy, Pictak Cie © Moomin Characters™

Moomins on the Riviera (2014, FIN/FR, dir. Xavier Picard)

Before Moomins on the Riviera was even premiered, the yellow press of Finland was eager to slander the whole film as inappropriate, due to it’s topics like gambling, drinking and dueling.

These papers together with large segment of present day parents have the image of Moomins based solely on the nineties’ anime. Therefor this film is important for the whole Moomin-franchise; to remind people about the origins of Tove Jansson’s beloved creation.

The story is from Jansson’s early comic strips, first published in 1955. It has become a bit unknown story, so it’s about the time to give it a reboot. It may be unknown for it’s strange milieu, as it’s set far away from Moominvalley.

The Moomins, Snorkmaiden and Little My sail to Riviera beach, filled with movie stars and glimmering. Snorkmaiden gambles to buy bikinis for a pool party with handsome men and glamorous women, leaving Moomintroll and others endure the odd conditions.

Moomins on the Riviera. © 2012 Handle Productions Oy, Pictak Cie © Moomin Characters™

Moomins on the Riviera. © 2012 Handle Productions Oy, Pictak Cie © Moomin Characters™

Moomins on the Riviera. © 2012 Handle Productions Oy, Pictak Cie © Moomin Characters™

Moomins on the Riviera. © 2012 Handle Productions Oy, Pictak Cie © Moomin Characters™

Style and story of the film is very faithful to Jansson’s comic strip, with only few details added from other stories, or order of the scenes slightly changed. The cotton candy colors of the anime are long gone and a new palette of vivid color tones and gold are introduced.

The artistic style reminds a lot of the modern cartoon films of the fifties and early sixties. In those days this style was very popular internationally, from Zagreb and Soyuzmultfilm to Disney films.

Film’s wonderful design will hopefully live on with the possible television series, that has already been discussed about with heirs of Tove Jansson.

If the series had the same quality of social criticism and satire the film has, it should definitely be executed to enlighten the little ones as well as the grown ups.

Moomins on the Riviera deals with themes like art conception and social masks in a way audiences of all ages will understand and enjoy.


Moomins on the Riviera. © 2012 Handle Productions Oy, Pictak Cie © Moomin Characters™

Moomins on the Riviera

Moomins on the Riviera. © 2012 Handle Productions Oy, Pictak Cie © Moomin Characters™


Moomin stories aren’t all alike, and this time all the suspension-, oddity- and wintertime lovers are left nearly empty handed. Also, those who have a crush with Snufkin, have to settle seeing him only briefly as he stays fishing in Moominvalley.

So, this is kind of a rare treat for now, but all in all a high quality children’s film with a lot of potential to satisfy adult audiences. Especially if Jansson’s witty satire is understood and graphic style appreciated.

For a moomin fan this is an absolute must-see, no doubt.  A general animation buff would hardly be disappointed and a general viewer should give it a serious try.

After all, this is easily one of the finest pieces of animated feature films from last year, yet movies like The Tale of The Princess Kaguya and The Lego Movie may be more unforgettable.

There are not too many feature films like this any more. Every bought ticket to a 2D hand drawn film is a vote to traditional animated film having a future at cinemas too.

Moomins on the Riviera have done very well this far and it is clearly determined to find it’s way throughout the world.


Animated Horror Films

Halloween is a great time for short horror stories. Here’s a few picks from my favorite haunting short films, that deserve to be watched with full attention. Dim the lights, adjust the volume, watch the films. Headphones recommended when without company.

Animation and horror have always been bonded to each other. As a technique to special effects, it has been one of the most important elements of horror films. From the first stop trick -films by Georges Méliès to various stop-motion monsters and digital monstrosities have been animated.

Most often animation and horror run into each other in video games. At least if we do not go into the world of hentai. Anime and especially hentai are a bit far from the genre, as are the cosmetically horror romantic big money animations at the cinema.

Horror is all but fictive live-action film only. Horrors and terrors can be experienced strongly in the mediums of animation, documentary, video games, and why not theater, circus and music. Most of the traditional live-action horror has actually became a bit dull, yet animated horror has also degenerated because of the digital coldness.

Live-action films are sometimes troubled with bad and unnatural acting. While watching a documentary film, one is touched by true human emotions, instead of acting. In case of animated film, characters are just as credible as their creator crafted them to be. The settings of animated films are special. Perfect setting for a vivid nightmarish place one can immerse in.

The brooding old school synthetic sounds. The edgy and beautiful techniques to tell a story and move a character. The film editing. The greatest legend of horror animation, Jan Švankmajer, left behind the puppet theaters just because he understood what one could do with film editing.

I. Zofia Oraczewska: Vulture (1987)


As a short intro we shall set the mood with this Polish cut-out animation by Zofia Oraczewska. She served Polish animation culture nearly 40 years and was known for a style similar to classic Polish poster art. The film starts with a vulture finishing a feast on a desert full of corpses. It spreads it’s wings and flies to a nearby cave just to reveal something far more shocking.

The ending is all about timing and boldness of animation. A frank, thought provoking allegory to appetite the paranoia for the rest of this matinee. Oraczewska had approached grotesque dinner parties before. Another great watch would be Bankiet from 1976, a classic short film about a very unpredictable menu at the restaurant.

II. Raoul Servais: Harpya (1979)


A man interrupts a beating on a street. He attacks whom he think is the bad guy, and thus sets free a harpya, that will from this moment oppress the man night and day. Servais’ uneasy topics and atmospheres have been very captivating from early on. His earlier film, Sirene (1968) had giant reptile-like cranes on a construction site kill an innocent mermaid blatantly in the middle of beautiful backgrounds, colors and composition.

 Harpya is visually every bit as stunning, although animating technique is very different from the more traditionally drawn Sirene. The nightmarish feeling of Harpya comes strongly from it’s technique, pixallation, that means animating humans. The film not only has animated human actors, but there’s live-action going on simultaneously.

As it’s made without assistance of computers, Sevais’ time consuming pattern may actually be unique in film. Since the viewers are used to see people act and move the way the do in real life, it’s creepier to see such unpredictability. Shocking images, demonic harpya and constant grasp on the viewers nerve.

III. Jan Švankmajer: Down to the Cellar (1983)


Many would say Jan Švankmajer is one of the all-time greatest animated film makers, and I wouldn’t blame them. He’s known for the most beautifully grotesque Eastern-European stop-motion films, of which Little Otik and Alice are the greatest feature lengths. Many of his finest are still short films, and one them have had a bit too little attention; Down to the Cellar has next to none of actual animation in it, but maybe just because of that, it’s one of the key titles.

A little girl with a basket steps deeper into a dungeon-like cellar to get some potatoes. All kind of odd, harrowing things are happening in each storage. Girl keeps going forward, although she’s as wary as any kid would be alone in the cellar, even without seeing a set of leather shoes having a breakfast, or a man burying himself under the coal. Very little animation is seen, and maybe that’s the reason why it’s all the more effective. For more animated masterpieces, see Dimensions of Dialogue, Meat Love and Flora.

IV. Georges Schwizgebel: Ravissement de Frank N Stein (1982)


There’s a story in Arabian Nights, where a person who should pass a rocky mountain road to achieve something. Besides the path there are stone figures, statues, that will curse and blaspheme anyone who tries climbing the path. If the person takes a look at them, or turns around, he or she will turn to stone. This film has the same thrilling sensation.

Schwizgebel’s film has a very simple concept, but it works extremely well. There’s an endless dungeon of rooms that first all look alike, but start slowly altering just a bit at a time. The most important feature is the graphic angle. The experience is shown in a first person view, like in the video games, but without the ability to control the movement.

The faceless figures start appearing and standing up, and the viewer can’t see what they’re doing or where they going next. The “first-person view” is something that is, sadly, very little used in this medium. The soundtrack, a free roaming synthetic chaos, is also essential to this thrilling experience.

V. Jacques Drouin, Bretislav Pojar: Nightangel (1986)


Canadian Jacques Drouin is practically the only man in the world still surviving the tradition of European pin screen technique. When his craft was combined with the stop-motion puppetry of great Czech animated film maker, Bretislav Pojar, one of the most beautiful cooperations were born. A film with chilling atmosphere, amazing images, haunting sounds and ghostly music.

A lonely man, who whilst watching outside the window, thinks he sees an angel in the snowy park. As he quickly runs out, he gets hit by a car and gets blind-folded for a long time. Everything around him, the puppet, is animated in foggy black and white pin screen, to create the feel of blindness for the viewer. The amazing craftsmanship and mixing of techniques in a romantic, ghastly and beautiful tale makes it thus unequaled in many ways.

VI. The Quay Brothers: Street of Crocodiles (1987)


American duo who was so greatly inspired by the Eastern-European way to mess with the medium of animation, they decided to move working and later teaching in Europe. Mostly inspired from Czech stop-motion animation, Jan Švankmajer and the greatest pioneer of stop-motion film, Ladislav Starewicz. They almost became authors of pastiches.

They took what was already there and finished it. Perfected it in many ways. Maybe because of that, their work never surpassed the Slavic animations, since authentically it always needed to be even cruder. Still, works like Street of Crocodiles stand up as a great European dark animation. Relatively slow at tempo, but rewarding film, with very impressive and creepy doll figures.

VII. Paul Berry: The Sandman (1992)


This gothic horror film influenced with German expressionism has slightly more crooked Sandman the people are used to. A little boy is on his way to bed, and the walk feels lasting an eternity as he constantly fears that somethings always there.

The Sandman is actually rather rude take on the subject, and it opened the doors to the league of Burton and Selick. Berry did actually animate in Nightmare Before Christmas and Jack and the Giant Peach, but unfortunately died only in 40 years of age. Otherwise he might have been out there making films like Coraline today.

VIII. Alexandre Bubnov: Clinic (1993)


One of the latest greatest Ukrainian masterpieces, Clinic, borrows a lot from Nikolai Gogol. Especially his work Viy. A man is tormented by nightmares throughout a night. He keeps waking up in cold sweat. No wonder, as the terrors of his nightmares are so graphically violent.
The changes in Europe circa 1990 had maybe a bit unexpected and certainly unwanted effect on the future of European animation culture. Ukrainian studios had just started to blossom, but it kind of ended to Clinic. Kievnauchfilm and Borisfen-S-studio films worth checking out include; Michael Titov’s The Meeting (1984) and The Battleground (1986), Nazim Tulyakhodzayev’s There Will come Soft Rains (1984) and Sergei Kushnerov’s 9½ Minutes (1993). Why not Bubnov’s Blue Beard’s Wife (1996) too.

IX. Suzie Templeton: Dog


This puppet film certainly is no fun and games. The film approaches the fear and terror of a child in a very striking way. And the fear and terror of a grown up too. A dad is saying good nights to his son, and adds to it, that his mother did not suffer. Lights turn out, and the child is left with a splattered blood stain at the wall just next to his head.

Dog may be a bit too heavy for some viewers and would leave a very uneasy feeling, as the film is about giving up and having neurotic illness that affects the others in terrible ways. It’s not a very hopeful scenario, but the film is a masterpiece nevertheless, and a good film to end up this matinee.

Safe and restful Halloween!


Lotte Reiniger and the silhouette animation

achmed2teaser-big_905There’s a lot of different techniques that will alone make a great visual experience. One of them goes back almost one hundred years, silhouette animation, pioneered most importantly by a young German girl.

Lotte Reiniger made silhouette animation, because she was good at it. Cutting silhouettes from paper was a common interest of young females in the dawn of last century. Lotte’s skills with scissors was considered above others and with all that enthusiasm this wannabe actress had, it was only a matter of time when she was picked up.

She cut silhouettes of other actors and actresses when she wasn’t on stage herself, and by the stage side she was found by film director Paul Wegener, who asked her to craft title screens for his new film. At that time, title screens were still a noticeable area of work. Alfred Hitchcock for example began his career creating a dozen of titles from 1920 to 1922, before making any films. Though, all of them are lost.

At the time of Wegener’s next film, Der Rattenfänger von Hameln, faith entered the picture. The intended rats did not act like they were hoped, and Lotte cut the rats from paper and animated them on screen. Her first animation work can be thus found on that picture.

Reininger became familiar with other German experimental film makers, and was soon an insider. Pioneers of abstract film helped Lotte start up her professional career by convincing the financiers and helping with the special effects. Carl Koch ended up being not only a collaborator for life, but also marrying Lotte.

After the first short film was made, Lotte had some reference to show and she was hired to do a commercial for Nivea. Faithful to her style, but in reverse method the film had one colored figures on black background, not vice versa like usually.

The commercial helped her finance more short films and after a few fairy tale films she started a project now known as the first existing feature length animated film ever made. It is true, there may have been an Argentinian film made already in 1917, but there’s a little evidence on that. The film is anyway lost and no images are found.


Lotte Reiniger: Prince Achmed (1926)

Lotte Reiniger: Prince Achmed (1926)

Lotte Reiniger: Prince Achmed (1926)

Lotte Reiniger: Prince Achmed (1926)


Prince Achmed of course is Lotte’s most famous piece, because it’s a feature length. A longer film is always a process of it’s own, but in this case, greatest technical abilities, musical visualization, fairy tale and humor can be found from her short films.

Especially a sort of sub-plot from Prince Achmed, Seemingly Dead Chinese, shows Lotte’s ability to do black comedy. A drunken Chinese man is thrown from man to man, as they all think he’s dead.

The boldest and most intense film is Carmen, classical opera about a gypsy woman dancing and singing in the crowds, amazingly conducted. In some sense, it’s the very finest piece Lotte ever made. It is fast paced and the animation and rhythm meets in perfect harmony all the time.

Lotte had a long break from animation during the WWII, and moved to England. It was a land of all new oppurtunities for her. BBC ordered a series of classic fairy tales, and in mid-fifties she did dozens of silhouette animations based on Brothers Grimm, H.C. Andersen and other standards.

Many of the most charming fairy tale adaptations can be found there. Among the most beautiful ones are definitely Thumbelina and Snow-White and Rose-Red. Her ability to tell a story and make it beautifully graphic was at it’s best during her most active era.


Lotte Reiniger: Thumbelina (1954)

Lotte Reiniger: Thumbelina (1954)

Lotte Reiniger: Snow-White and Rose-Red (1954)

Lotte Reiniger: Snow-White and Rose-Red (1954)


In those films, all compositions of nature, human and animals is flawless, each frame is like it was taken from a picture book, animation is smooth, and all is represented in glorious black and white, just like Lotte always though was best for this style.

Lotte also tried vaguely different approach after that. A cut-out animation. Technique of animating wasn’t necessarily all that different, but the looks was. Instead of being just black figures, the characters had actually faces and colorful clothes et cetera.

The fact, that Lotte experimented with cut-out animation is very unknown, but not because those films would’ve been weaker. The cut-out films are actually among the best of her latter works.

Basically, Lotte’s active career ended in the late fifties, but she did come back for two, quarter of an hour long, ambitious and showy pieces for Natioanl Film Board of Canada.

Canada has the most Europe-friendly approach for animated films outside the continent, and therefor it’s no wonder it was NFB that gave Lotte the oppurtunity to show yet one more side of her.

These films parody and satirize romantic epics and fantasy literature. First beinig Aucassin and Nicolette (1975), based on medieval parody of the same name. It was adapted to shadow puppetry for the first time in 1909 by French Paul Le Flem. Last film adaptation Lotte did was based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring from 1854.

Lotte is often said to be the only film maker using silhouettes as the most common technique of professional film making, but the style was popular in Germany for long, even after Lotte left her birth country. All the way from the late fifties to the dismantling of the Wall.


Manfred Henke: Ali und Der Hexenmeister (1986)

Manfred Henke: Ali und Der Hexenmeister (1986)

Michel Ocelot: Icare (1989)

Michel Ocelot: Icare (1989)


The film studio owned by DDR, called DEFA, actually produced loads of silhouette films for many decades. The most important film makers of this style were Bruno J. Böttge and Manfred Henke. All followers, including them, were true to Lotte Reiniger’s style. Especially the films from the fifties was seeking to be almost exactly the same.

Bruno J. Böttge’s films are equally good from every decade. He never strayed from the path too much, he settled for making Reiniger-pastiches. Some of DEFA directors went too far with the experimenting with the effects and overall image of the films and ruined the whole concept.

Silhouette film became mainly an aesthetic style, not technical. The black shadow figures were soon filled with colorful clothes and pieces of jewellery.

Manfred Henke made a lot of uninteresting basic works, but he also made something great. Ali und Der Hexenmeister from 1986 is one of the greatest hidden silhouette gems. It is practically unknown, yet very nicely crafted, adventurous tale with powerful music and sound effects, a lot of tension, good tempo and great images filled at times with surrealism and psychedelia. It has also a lot of tracking shots, that are not usually seen at all in silhouette films.

Still, the greatest contemporary silhouette animation film maker is French. Michel Ocelot had the idea on a workshop, and flatly copied Reiniger’s style too, but he could bring the whole aesthetic style to this date, with rich details and ornament-like nature design. From the eighties, all the way to this day, silhouette animation stands as his biggest trademark alongside with Kirikou the character.


Playdead: Limbo (2010)

Playdead: Limbo (2010)

Buzea: Eroul fara nume (2014)

Buzea: Eroul fara nume (2014)


As a style, silhouettes are again a small trend, but the contemporary silhouette animation is being made entirely without scissors. In the world of video gaming and mainstream film titles, the CGI silhouettes have become darker and darker, even more gothic in general. Part of it’s of course amazingly good, but it’s always a pity when a handmade art form disappears.

Silhouette animation cut with scissors is pretty much dead.