Getting really animated

Apart from multi-million dollar blockbusters like "Finding Nemo," and episodic series on television, the only animated films most of us hear about are the finalists in the short- and long- animated categories during the annual Academy Awards broadcast.

But the economics of computerized production has created a boom in independent animation similar to that in desktop publishing, and online and DVD distribution has made this form of entertainment available to the largest market in its history. If you'd like a sample of what you've been missing recently, AnimWatch stands ready to introduce you to "...the best in independent animation" - and also offers some good long looks behind the imaginary scenes.

Launched in August of 2003 to help publicize the works of these grass roots film makers, AnimWatch currently lists more than three dozen titles in its index in addition to featuring information useful to both fans of the art form and those interested in the creative end of the process.

Ironically enough, the site lacks an opening animation - surprising, given the nature of the content, but welcome, given the time saved at getting to the content. The overall appearance of the design reveals a very basic layout, but an unusual choice of earth toned colors behind the quality graphics - AnimWatch simply looks good, and the execution makes navigating the site easy both visually and mentally.

Access to individual film content is available through indexes illustrated with stills from each title - a method which immediately conveys the exceptional variety of film styles being created by today's animators. (Examples range from 3-D looks reminiscent of "Toy Story" and "Wallace and Gromit," to the 60s comic book appearance of "Daring Planet," and the etherial beauty of "The Firefly Man.")

A Spotlight index presents "ten arbitrary editor-selected films," while the full catalog is available through an alphabetical - but still illustrated - index. Each title is given its own page, with detailed information on the film, comments from the creators, and even brief reviews of some movies' websites. Links to external sites open into their own windows.

For the most part, these external producers' sites are where surfers will find whatever animations they'll be able to view. It's an element which does vary widely from film to film, but even the least animated home pages can be worth the trip. An example is "The Firefly Man," which, while it doesn't offer a downloadable version of the film or even a trailer, does hold an impressive collection of concept art, test film clips, and illustrated descriptions of the digital, physical and animatronic elements used in the production. These "making of"' highlights offer fascinating, and surprisingly open, looks at the creation of these films, in some cases even as they're being created, while other sites include forums and/or tutorials to welcome interested newcomers into the animation community.

Of course, if you simply want to watch cartoons, some of the listed titles do have access to full finished animations (from the dark parable of "More" to the broad slapstick of "Gary's Fall"), while others offer trailers, sample episodes, or links to third-party hosts for the complete productions.

Back at home base, AnimWatch also offers monthly feature-length interviews with the makers of favorite films, a collection of animation-related Resources and a News page, which tracks films in production, broadcast announcements and award news, and industry developments.

Ideally, every referenced site would have a free, full-length, and downloadable version of its feature animation - but these people are trying to make a living, and you wouldn't expect full-length freebies from any Hollywood movie site. What these sites and AnimWatch do offer is the knowledge that these films exist (would you have known otherwise?), information about how and where to see them, and enough background and teasers to make you want to see them. In so doing, AnimWatch provides a valuable service to both animators and their audience.

AnimWatch can be found at http://www.animwatch.com/.

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