The Austin Chronicle

Short and Sweet With Other Worlds Austin

By Richard Whittaker, December 3, 2016, 1:00pm, Picture in Picture

Just because a story is short, that doesn't mean it's short on story. This weekend's Other Worlds Austin festival is brimming with short films that build a whole world in a few minutes.

Small children know there's something under the bed. In "Quenottes" ("Pearlies"), it's there with a surprising purpose.

Animation director Mickael Coedel had already worked with director Pascal Thiebaux and producer Laurent Witz on the Oscar-winning, steampunk-influenced "Mr Hublot." That's when Thiebaux started the initial research that would become "Quenottes," based on a short story by Christian Simon called "Un, Deux, Ne Ferme Pas Les Yeux …" ("One, Two, Don't Close Your Eyes …"). Its antagonist was la petit souris, a mouse that serves as the French cousin of the Tooth Fairy. Coedel said, "I ended up seeing some of the research Pascal had done. And like with 'Mr Hublot,' I knew as soon as I saw it that it was something I wanted to be part of. It was unique. A great creepy and twisted take on a beloved character."

The production was truly intercontinental. While Coedel is French, he moved to San Francisco in 1999, and is currently a lead animator and visual effects artist at Industrial Light & Magic. He's worked on tentpole projects such as Captain America: Civil War and Pacific Rim, which he called "a child's dream." However, through the magic of Skype and FTP, he was able to work on these shorts on nights and weekends. "The tools to create projects with people from all over the world are now getting better and better. So distance is not so much an issue anymore."

A tiny little tooth-stealing rodent may seem a long way from his latest task, helping bring life to the mighty giant ape in Kong: Skull Island, but there's a kinship between his creations. He said, "I love giving life to all kinds of characters. On 'Mr Hublot' it was a cute mechanical dog disrupting the well-ordered life of a little man with OCD in a steampunk kind of world. In 'Quenottes,' it is an obsessive and psychotic little mouse.

"Mice move fast and always seem to be on caffeine. They are always moving their heads and sniffing. They stretch a lot and also can look so small and round. So the real challenge was to keep all those specificities and use them to also emote.

"Plus Pascal had storyboarded the whole short. So he already had great drawings of the mouse with very specific attitudes and postures. Like the tail often making some kind of spiral shape, making her [the mouse is a she back home] look more mischievous, and also a reference to Tim Burton's spiral.

"Pascal and I, like a lot of people right now, are missing those scary creature movies and TV shows from our childhood. Gremlins, Critters, Tales From the Crypt, The Twilight Zone, Dolls, The Gate, etc. They were simple, twisted, and somewhat funny. 'Quenottes' is in that vein. I hope we succeeded."

"Quenottes" ("Pearlies") screens in the Alpha Theater, Saturday, 11:30am, as part of the Under World Shorts block.

Some heroes are born, some have heroism thrust upon them, and some just work menial office jobs, heating up coffee with their thermal powers. In "Special Forces," director Phil Bucci creates a world where it takes a lot more than amazing abilities to fight crime. He describes it as "an action comedy with the superpowers acting as icing on the cake. … I wanted to have fun with the idea that just because you have a superpower, that does not make you super.

"Keeping superpowered films fresh was a big concern. Most of the films we are seeing today are origin stories or the brooding superhero trying to right a wrong. I wasn't really trying to avoid any superhero tropes because I see our main characters as cops who happen to have super powers and not superheroes who happen to be cops.

"There is definitely a bigger world I hope we get to create one day. I had the idea of where I wanted this story to go and what I want this world to be before shooting the short. After working with great actors like Tania Gunadi, Mort Burke, and Mircea Monroe, and seeing them bring the characters to life, the short definitely helps to influence the bigger world."

"Special Forces" screens in the Alpha Theater, Sunday, 4:50pm, before Dark Star.

Who doesn't love a bad guy? Benjamin Capps, writer/director/star of "It Grows Dark," said, "Villains as protagonists are rare in film, and I wish to explore them as empathetic characters."

Launching from his own experience in low-ranking corporate jobs, his dark and menacing story takes place in a near-present where business backstabbing and arcane magic collide. He first chronicled this retro-futurist vision in "File 13," and here further finesses an aesthetic drawing heavily on Eighties iconography: monochrome computer terminals, infinity mirrors (Spock had one in his quarters in The Wrath of Khan), and backlit Plexiglas arcades. However, he also injects creepy and disturbing stop-motion monsters into the equation. He said, "Occult practice is the ideal transition into the realm in which my stop-motion entities exist.

"Having always loved the tangible surrealism of stop-motion, from watching Pee-wee's Playhouse as a kid, to my discovering Jan Švankmajer's films in college, I also felt it all beyond my abilities as a mere theatre major. After revisiting the film Blood Tea and Red String in 2013, I had a revelation and decided to attempt a stop-motion of my own. It worked out and I invested in a Canon Rebel T5i camera and Dragonframe software.

"The construction of the puppets for 'It Grows Dark' took a couple of months, inventing as I went, and the animation itself took over three months to produce 1½ minutes of footage. The Cantonese voiceovers also had to be done first, so I could do lip-sync with the Wight puppet. In trial and error I had to reshoot a few things, and burn through a dozen roses for a 10-second effect."

"It Grows Dark" screens in the Beta Theater, Sunday, 5:20pm, before Be My Cat: A Film for Anne.

Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival runs Dec. 1-4 at Flix Brewhouse, 2200 N. I-35, Round Rock. Visit for more info.

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