/Accent Film Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 10 mins .
PG . PAL
Following in the footsteps of Adam Elliotís huge Harvie Krumpet would certainly prove daunting. It is a fascinating story, told beautifully, animated gorgeously and marketed furiously! Itís The Shawshank Redemption of short animated films, one that is basically impossible to dislike. It won the Oscar in 2004, and breathed a little patriotism into Australian filmmakers and critics alike.
Snap now to the 2005 Oscarís, where Sejong Park presents his very (very!) different, but equally as compelling Birthday Boy as an Australian contender in the short animated film category. Unfortunately, unlike Elliotís short, it didnít come away victorious. To compare it to the Shawshank illustration mentioned earlier, Birthday Boy would be the Lost in Translation of short animated films; one that thrives on subtlety and implication (and regular readers of mine will know Iím Australiaís biggest Sofia Coppola fan).
Listen to the track.
Birthday Boy follows Manuk, a young adventurous boy living in a desolate town during the Korean War. With an air of poignancy, we watch as he plays among the ruins of his town, watching an invading train fly past, forging new toys and acting out his dreams of becoming a soldier; just like his father. He is young, naÔve and innocent; completely oblivious to the horrible nature of war.
Director/co-writer Sejong Park is clearly very talented in creating a refined piece of artistic animation. He often plays on our emotions, without falling into sentimentality. We view the world through the tiny eyes of Manuk, who is clearly unaware of certain crushing facts and events, that us as the audience are privy to. We realise, but Manuk doesnít, so quickly a scene will change to focus on a childlike reaction to an unspoken discovery. This brilliantly simple concept of portraying the Ďhorrorí of war through the naÔve eyes of a child heightens the profound values Park is pushing through his film. Donít mistake Birthday Boy as a Disney-flavoured message film, as itís certainly not blatant in what it is trying to convey. Rather, Park works on the level of a child to challenge our, more informed, values and ideas.
Considering the size of Birthday Boyís animation team (thatís one, Sejong Park), the quality of the animation is astounding. Using the commercially available ĎMayaí digital animation program, Park has created an amazing character with intricate detail; as well as a vast setting for his film. He is able to manipulate Manukís facial expressions with incredible realism, which the film would have suffered detrimentally without. The great voice acting, original music and sound effects used all serve to heighten this fascinating film.
While itís only ten minutes in length, Birthday Boy is certainly a film worth your time and effort. We only hope to see more from Sejong Park in the future, who has a clear road ahead of him as a professional filmmaker.
Fire in the hole!
The image was clearly mastered from a pure digital source, as the film is digitally animated. This taken into consideration, the main concern would lay in compression artefacts, such as aliasing or shimmering. Luckily for us, the transfer is completely free of any artefacts, appearing brilliant in foreground detail and is an excellent DVD compression. Colours are intentionally muted, but never appear oversaturated or too washed out. Backgrounds can occasionally appear a little underdeveloped, but this is never distracting. Overall, an excellent video transfer.
Two audio tracks, a Dolby Stereo (2.0) and Dolby Digital 5.1 are found on the disc, with the stereo track the default. Both are in the native Korean. The difference between the two is obvious, with clear and defined use of the surrounds and sub featured in the 5.1 track, that is then simply moved to the two fronts in the stereo track. General ambient sounds, as well as sounds of the train and aeroplanes are presented very powerfully through the rear speakers, emphasising the deserted atmosphere of the setting. The stereo track is perfectly adequate, however the surround mix heightens the experience significantly, and will push your rear speakers significantly in the process.
Considering the relatively short feature (of only 10min), a good range of extra features have been complied for Accentís DVD release.
To begin, we have three audio commentaries from various crew members. The first is from editor Adrian Rostirolla, who acted more as a creative editor, rather than director Sejong Park who mechanically edited scenes together. Rostirolla gives insight into the various cuts that were made to film, and why they were not featured in the final cut. He provides some quite good advice in terms of how to maintain fluent direction, keeping everything in line and cohesive. The second, from sound designer Megan Wedge and composer James Lee, obviously concerned with the audio. They discuss how the sound effects and subtle music add to the effect director Sejong Park wanted to convey. This is a film that is not driven by dialogue, so sound effects play a far greater part than they normally would. Itís interesting to hear the different techniques used heighten the atmosphere, as theyíre applicable to any film (so first-time filmmakers listen up!). Finally, the best of the three commentaries, featuring director/writer Sejong Park and producer Andrew Gregory looks into the story and the overall production of the film. Both add great comments into different scenes, often emphasising aspects of the film that were originally overlooked.
A four-part alternate angle storyboard presentation is available simply by changing the angle using your DVD remote. It shows off the three main stages of animation, first the hand-drawn storyboards, then the 3D animatic (rough version of final), and then the final cut. As a fourth angle, all three stages are presented in one screen, giving an overview of the entire process. Budding animators will love this feature, which contrasts the raw beginnings to that of the finally rendered film.
The very brief ĎBringing Manuk to Lifeí featurette highlights how the character of Manuk was digitally created, looking initially at the wireframe model and finally at the fully textured and lit character. Itís very brief, but mildly interesting. ĎPutting the Pieces Togetherí is a second featurette, looking into the layered animation process, post-rendering. Similar to other extra features, interesting to those involved with digital animation. A still gallery of production art showcases some original hand-drawn sketches that since inspired the short film. Finally, a short propaganda piece for about the AFTRS, Australian film, TV and radio school rounds off the disc.
This fantastic little film has been given excellent DVD treatment from Accent, and will surely impress all who venture in for a look.