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Still I Rise

An impressionistic view of the Elephant Man By Frank Moldstad
It caused a sensation in mid-Nineteenth Century Paris when the Impressionists burst forth with paintings that rejected strict lines and forms. The critical reaction was largely negative -- literal depictions of seascapes and historical paintings were the order of the day.

It’s a sign of how far we have come that artists today can find acceptance with many styles. But ironically, strict realism in the art world now is considered gauche … except in animation. While animation is a diverse art, with many talented stylists, much of the focus is on advancements in realism.

This is partly because photorealistic animation is so technically difficult to produce. A great deal of the R&D is devoted to producing more realistic textures, and more accurate human facial gestures and movements. It’s a necessary and important phase in the development of animation tools, one that will continue until someday real and virtual images may be truly indistinguishable.

But that’s why it is refreshing to encounter an animator such as Umesh Shukla, who thinks more like an artist than a technician. Not that he’s against technology...

“As we know, computers have been used in the feature animation industry for a long time,” he says. “The point is, they are either used to help simplify the process used in creating traditional animation imagery without actually changing the look, or they have been used to create 3D worlds like Toy Story and Antz. I have been trying to explore a different use of computers to create the kind of imagery we have not yet seen in various animated worlds. I am sure that with the new technology at hand, we could create worlds which go to ‘infinity and beyond.’ “

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With these ideas in mind, Shukla created an animated short film., Still I Rise. It is full of lush collages of dreamlike impressionistic imagery, where the lines and colors move in and out of the characters yet define them fully. Still I Rise was inspired by the tortured lives of John Merrick (aka the Elephant Man), and the Impressionist master Vincent Van Gogh. They passed away within months of each other in 1890, the Elephant Man by lying flat on his bed, suffocating in the effort to sleep like a normal person, and Van Gogh by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

”The thought that these two unique individuals lived at the same time and embraced their own deaths became the basis of inspiration for the film. The film depicts Joseph's last dream, as he breathes his last, and is visualized as an impressionist canvas,” says Shukla.

A supervisor with DreamWorks Feature animation, Shukla was also a CG Supervisor working on the first Disney 3D movie, Wildlife, and a CG Supervisor on Titanic. We talked with him recently after he completed the film and was looking forward to theatrical screenings at the Laemmle Theatres in Los Angeles starting October 2.

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Related Keywords:animation, artist, 3D, impressionist, short film

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