Molar Cold: Another Failed Attempt to Make a Clever Short Film

The clever short film I wanted to make in the summer of 2015 was about various body parts traveling through hostile dangerous environment to a reunion. Of course, I didn't have time to make it, just like I don't have time to write the clever novel I conceived in Spring of 2015 about several giant hogweed plants communicating with their roots under the ground plotting a conspiracy to take over a small country. 

However, I started my efforts with the best intentions to finish the film, but was distracted with having to raise money for my new feature film (raising money for an animated feature film that's not for children is like trying to squeeze milk from a granite rock).

Here's the crumb of that great short film that didn't quite exit my mind:

Only The Dumbest Sh!t I Ever Saw Film Festival appreciated the 25 seconds of this failure.

But I dare you to imagine the film I wanted to make: An eye on a fragile row-boat is traveling through a cold ocean filled with molars that like icebergs are trying to sink its flimsy boat. The eye is afraid that the molars will chew on it. Despite the fear and cold, the eye continues on, because it has to reunite with the other eye that is probably lost in the land of lusty starving tongues. When the two eyes finally meet, the teeth join them, finding their seats set in a jaw. Tongue finds its place in a throat, nose arrives to hug a forehead, thousands of hair strands like thousands of snakes creep up and set their roots on top of the head.  Bones, liver, kidneys, intestines - all find their place. And then the skin arrives.

- We are all different, - the skin says. - But from now on we have the same purpose.

And the skin wraps the organs into one wholesome awesome body.


Comprehending Metaphors of “THE RED TURTLE”

Please watch the film's trailer:

I watch most animated films, shorts or features, from the point of view of an animator who works with 2-D images and deeply roots for the revival of the mainstream public’s respect and love for drawn animation. The question that has been asked since around 2000 – “Is 2-D animation dead?” irritates me. Children will always draw because the act of drawing is an active act of comprehending the world and they will always want to see their drawings move. As an adult one draws because it is an immediate, direct translation of a thought. To put those drawings in an animated movement is to share with other people the inner life of one's mind. To make a 3D image, on the other hand, one has to plan and plot ahead, so it is not as direct and immediate as drawing, but it is satisfying for an audience as it realistically represents an imaginary world.

SPOILER ALERT!  See “The Red Turtle” before continuing to read!

It was hard for me to not view “The Red Turtle” in the context of 2-D animators' struggles, as it brought to the surface this pressing question – “What is 2-D animation the most effective at doing?”  The film simultaneously fails and succeeds at making a case for why 2-D animation is great.

Let’s start with its premise.  In a storm, a man gets thrown on the beach of a faraway island.  He tries to get away from the island on a flimsy raft, but each time, the raft is destroyed by some unseen living force from below. On his third try, he sees that it’s a huge red turtle.

Back on the island, he is still seething when he sees the turtle climb on the beach. In a fury, the man grabs a bamboo stick and bangs the turtle on its head, turns it over on its back and lets it die. Once the turtle is dead, it turns into a beautiful sleeping woman, who eventually wakes up to have sex with the man and bears him a child. 

At this point in the film, you understand that this semi-realistic depiction of the man and the island is actually an aspiring metaphor for coupledom. One thing you should know about me – I love metaphors.  They are short-cuts to a deeper meaning of life events, and they can be understood on the intuitive level, bypassing the rationale of a logical mind.

The director’s (Michael Dudok de Wit) Oscar-winning short, “Father and Daughter” is one of the finest examples of such an approach – the story about a daughter's life-long waiting for her father touched my deepest emotions without me understanding how it got there. “The Red Turtle”, on the other hand, left me emotionally uninvolved. Maybe because putting most of the story weight on a metaphor doesn't work in a feature length format?  A 90 minute film requires some connection between its audience and the film's characters. Watching "The Red Turtle" I was given no slightest idea about the psychology or motivations of the main character. I couldn’t feel for the man, because I didn’t know who he was, nor where he was coming from, so I was unsympathetic to his attempts to get away from the island. Him hitting the turtle turned me off completely. When the metaphor finally revealed itself I was cold to its charms. 

On the other hand I noted a tension between the film being a fairy-tale metaphor with surreal elements (a dead turtle turns into a woman) and its aspirations be realistic. The tension became obvious to me when the man and the turtle-woman started to live together and had only one child. One would realistically expect that a man and a woman living on a deserted island without contraceptives would have at least 12 - 16 offspring. "Did they have sex only once? - I couldn't help but ponder. "Or he is pulling out?" But that thought was a distraction, caused by the film's desire to ground the metaphor in physical reality. 

It was obvious that the artists did a thorough visual research on plants and animals, but I wished for more surreal images, characters and environments. The attempts to realistically translate the beauty of an exotic island into 2D images fell flat on me. 2-D animation will never be as good as amazing National Geographic documentary footage, or the animated 3-D depiction of the Amazon rain forest in “Rio”.  To try to achieve that in 2-D is, in my opinion, futile and ridiculous. It also distracted from what the film really was - a metaphor. 2D is better are something else. Early in the film, the man had three short dreams – each of them surreal, imaginative, symbolic, moody and powerful. It charged me with the hope of what the film could be, but the man always woke up and we were back on the island that was trying to imitate 3-D. 

Effectively, "The Red Turtle" uses no dialogue, it is one of the film's strengths. I love when ideas can be communicated without language. I also found using shadows very effective.

After the man couples up with the turtle-woman, the film slides into a cliche. They get a child. The child grow up. He wants to discover the world and leaves the island. His parents drift into old age and eventually the man peacefully dies from being too old to live. Now we get a twist in this coupledom metaphor: after the man dies the old woman turns into a red turtle and goes back into the water of the Ocean. This is a comment on womanhood: womanhood is eternal, mysterious force that outlives men. 

The film seems to say: Women are mythical creatures - animals that are able to briefly become human. I am sorry to say that in 2016 such views/metaphors don't do any good to us, women trying to achieve equal place in society. Women are human 24 hours every day of our lives, and, just like men, we feel pain and can die and be killed. Idolizing womanhood is just as belittling as judging women on their looks.

The more fitting metaphor of 2016 is a female protagonist who, after navigating challenges in a maze, finds herself herself facing the blood thirsty Minotaur

The Making of a Man: Failure to Make a Film

Here's the second of the 4 videos I made for The Dumbest Sh!t I Ever Saw Festival. This is a half-baked thought of being a half person. The thought flew into my mind on an airplane when I landed in LAX, going from Melbourne back to New York. I thought of developing it into a nice finished short film about body parts floating apart in a an endless cold sea of loneliness when suddenly they are bestowed with a sense of purpose and come together forming one whole body.

Unfortunately, the moment I landed in New York I was pressed to continue to promote the feature film I made a year before ("Rocks In My Pockets"), write a script for a new film ("The Marriage Project") and make living so that starvation doesn't cause me falling apart in separate body parts floating in a cold sea of Death and Destruction.

So I did't have time to make the short film. It stalled at a stage of various unfinished parts.

Thankfully, the Dumbest Sh!t I Ever Saw Festival was willing to accept anything as shitty as an unfinished body parts of an unfinished film, so I send them this. I hope you don't judge it too harshly. It's only 21 seconds.

Synopsis: A man is only a blind half before he accidentally comes across another half. The greatest of the accidents.


How to Close the Gap Between Animator and Audience

Have you been at an animation screening where afterwards audience members walk towards the exit whispering to each other: - That was the dumbest shit I ever saw?

I've always wondered why there is such a disconnect between the animators making their films and the audiences who deem their work stupid. Yes, we, animators, mostly live in our heads where anything is possible and we mostly mingle with other animators who get our strange sense of humor and even encourage it. But why can't 'normal' people get it, too? Why is so difficult for them to open their minds to stuff that is bizarre and surprising in an abnormal way?

Thankfully, there is now a film festival that is working on closing this abyss of misunderstanding between animators and audiences. To make sure no one missed the point of the festival it calls itself The Dumbest Sh!t I Ever Saw , priding to be the animation anti-festival. It is organized by two super talented animators Joy Buran and Noelle Melody who are not averse to strange and bizarre on top of having an excellent sense of humor.

I made several very short films for the festival, because it is fun to make something without feeling the scorching breath of an audience on your neck: - Is this good enough? Is this funny in the 'normal' way? Is the story 'clear' enough? Does this have a purpose? etc

Fuck it. Sometimes I just want to be free and make shit without any concern for comprehension of others.

So, here it is, one of my shorts: "The Origin of the Words". If you don't get it, it's OK. It's only 22 seconds short and you can move on towards the rest of your life. But if you'd like to know what this film means, ask in the comments, I'll be happy to explain. Thank you!

Enigma of Models: What Are They Thinking?

Have you ever wondered what a model is thinking while standing bare in front of you so you can draw their human body in various poses? From the moment when for the first time I pulled out my sharpened pencils and roll of newsprint, and the model took her robe off and stood still in the spotlight of the small stage with her face focussed, a mysterious gleam of a saint in her eyes, I have been wondering about that. 

This enigma of models had to be probed. Being an obnoxiously curious creature , a few years into life drawing I dared to ask models about it. What you are thinking when standing there? 

Most of them smiled and shook their heads. Some of them said:

- Nothing of importance.

Of course, they meant: Nothing of importance to YOU. The last resort when your body is exposed in all its glory and misery ( just thinking how my personal history can be read and misinterpreted from the scars on my body makes me shudder with unease) is the privacy of thoughts .

Then, in the last week's New Yorker, there is was a short story by Tom McCarthy, who as a poor, young, aspiring writer had a modeling gig in Prague. I was thrilled to read this passage:

" Standing still for forty minutes—absolutely still, without moving a finger or shifting your line of sight—is something few of us have ever been called on to do. Even fewer have done it naked while circled by twenty people whose gazes are intently focussed on each bend and angle of your body. What I can report of it is this: nothing I’ve ever done, before or since, has afforded me such a state of concentration—intense, extended, charged. I would run whole passages of text—Baudelaire, Rilke, Ponge, whomever I’d been reading, even my own small works in progress—through my head, forward, backward, taking apart each image, amplifying each metre and sub-rhythm in the loaded silence. I probably learned more about literature in the six months I spent on the podium than in the three previous years of study. I also learned about space, in an immediate, almost visceral way."

Finally, an answer to my inquiry! This explains the saintly gleam in the models' eyes!

To read the whole story "The Best, If Worst-Paid, Job I Ever Had" by Tom McCarthy  CLICK HERE.

But regarding the people who draw models - they keep seeing things that aren't there. Drawing a human body can be a difficult mountain to climb. A life drawing from yesterday:

Finding Hidden Life in Life Drawing

Life drawing is like an exercise - when you don't do it, you lose it. To be in a decent shape, you have to do it regularly. But, like any exercise or obligatory task, it can become tedious. 

This week we had an excellent model, with a beautiful body and inspiring poses. All of us were scribbling feverishly on our papers, trying to put down the lines and capture the exquisite, fleeting beauty in front of us in less than 2 minutes. Then the model took a 10 minute pose that I drew in 2 minutes and I got restless. Of course, it was not a good drawing but instead of trying to get better at it I got bored. As an animator, I am mainly interested in a gesture, not in making pretty pictures. I also don't have a lot of patience. So I stopped at this:

- What else is there for me to draw? - I thought. I had 8 more minutes to look at this pose until change to another. Suddenly, I saw the object the model'd body was resting on. It was alive! With renewed vigor I started to sketch this:

Then of course, I started seeing things every time the model took a pose:

The moral of this story: a little boredom can spur something new into existence. 

Lets Celebrate World's Mental Health Day!

One day when I was about 12 I had a panic attack that I might be losing my mind. Before that moment I had perceived my mind as a reliable source of somewhat clear thoughts in accord with what other people like my Mom, Dad and a history teacher I respected thought of reality outside my mind. But suddenly I became aware that the clarity of my thoughts was only a thin veneer covering up the other side of my Mind that was dark, sinister and capable to spin out of control.

- I will go mad if I don't watch out, - I thought. The only way I knew to watch out was to watch my mind. So I started to scrutinize my mind and it's products. Between pretty keen observations (the neighbor's jacket is thorn, he must had a fight with his other neighbor again) and rational learning (the Thirty Years War took place from 1618 to 1648) it managed to mix in some thoughts that were a bit off and needed an additional attention:

- How valid is this thought about running away from home and living in a forest eating moss?

- How about this thought to continue swimming away from the beech until I reach Sweden? 

- Should I follow this thought of jumping from the roof of a building to see if I can fly?

Somehow in the light of my examination the thought of swimming 150 km from Kurzeme to Swedish Island Gotland (150 km) lost it's appeal. Of course, swimming in cold water made me feel invigorated and powerful, and Sweden had always emitted irresistible glow of a forbidden fruit, but the rational part of my mind reminded me that the Baltic Sea was filled with Soviet military boats looking for potential defectors swimming to the West. Any defector would be shot, then fished out, identified, and then whole family plus the dead defector would be shipped to Siberia to be eaten by swarms of mosquitoes and bears. The thought of harming my family sent me back to the sandy beach of Kurzeme.

Turning lights on to my mind has been my strategy of staying sane. Talking to other people about my thoughts and feelings has been very helpful, too, to identify the ones that are perceived as scary and irrational by other people.

I am happy that we are celebrating World's Mental Health Day on October 10th! It helps us all to understand better mental illness and helps to erase stigma attached to it. If we were not afraid to be stigmatized for speaking about our condition we would be more open about it and seek help before it is too late.

Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival is screening my feature film "Rocks In My Pockets" as part of their Mental Health Day program on Monday, October 10th at 2 PM, at AK Bell Library Theatre in Perth.

MK Gallery is also screening "Rocks In My Pockets" on October 10th, at 7 PM in Milton Kaynes, UK, to celebrate the Mental Health Day and to incite a conversation around genetics, stigma and hope in the face of mental illness. 

If you are curious about the film, please take a look at the trailer:

Happy Mental Health Day!


Peep in on My Animated Work at San Francisco International Airport!

Press release from San Francisco Arts Commission:

New Peephole Cinema Delights Travelers at San Francisco International Airport

Posted on September 29th, 2016

San Francisco Arts Commission brings Laurie O’Brien’s celebrated Peephole Cinema to SFO’s Interim Boarding Area B

Signe Baumane's "ABC of Travel": several same-letter families travel to a reunion.

Signe Baumane's "ABC of Travel": several same-letter families travel to a reunion.

SAN FRANCISCO: September 29 – Travelers passing through San Francisco International Airport’s Interim Boarding Area B can view a series of silent film shorts inspired by travel and the writings of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) through dime-sized peepholes. The installation, commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, is the latest iteration of Laurie O’Brien’s Peephole Cinema, which includes satellite projects in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. SFO Peephole Cinema: To Travel is to Live includes six silent shorts by Signe Baumane, Kota Ezawa and Ms. O’Brien that will be on view for the next year and a half at which point a new iteration will be installed.

“We are thrilled to bring Laurie O’Brien’s Peephole Cinema to San Francisco International Airport,” said Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny, “This is the first temporary multi-media installation the Arts Commission has presented at SFO and we are confident that travelers will enjoy discovering these wonderfully creative short films as they pass through the terminal.”

“The temporary Boarding Area B is an important step in our transformation of Terminal 1, and we are excited to feature this installation in the interim facility,” said Airport Director Ivar C. Satero. “Public art is an integral part of our airport’s identity; it elevates the travel experience and provides a sense of place to our facilities. We thank the San Francisco Arts Commission for this inspiring work.”

In 1891, Thomas Edison with the help of William Dickson created the kinetoscope, a large wooden box that when peered into through an eye-sized hole revealed a short motion picture. With the invention of the film projector, movie viewing evolved from a solitary activity into a social experience that gave rise to modern-day movie theaters.  O’Brien’s playful SFO Peephole Cinema: To Travel is to Live explores how, with the advent of the personal digital device, our collective experience of technology and entertainment has reverted back to a solo experience.

According to O’Brien, “Peephole Cinema invites elements of both the old and the new, the shared and the solitary experience.”

Signe Baumane: ABC of Travel (2016) and The Purpose of Travel (2016)
Kota Ezawa:  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocous (2016) and Moonwalk (2016)
Laurie O’Brien:  Emilia the Typist (2016) and Jack’s City (2016)

Oakland-based Kota Ezawa often reworks images from popular culture, film and art history, stripping them down to their core elements. His simplified versions remain easily recognizable and potent, the result of a process that illuminates the hold certain images have on their viewers. Working in a range of mediums such as digital animation, slide projections, light boxes, paper cut-outs, collage, print, and wood sculptures, Ezawa maintains a keen awareness of how images shape our experience and memory of events.

His work has been displayed in museum solo exhibitions including at Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA (2015), Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York (2013), the Vancouver Art Gallery’s outdoor exhibition space Offsite (2012) and the Hayward Gallery Project Space in London (2007). His work has been included in group exhibitions such as, Out of the Ordinary at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC (2013), After Photoshop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (2012), and The More Things Change at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (2011 Ezawa’s work has earned a number of awards, including the SECA Art Award of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006), a Eureka Fellowship from the Fleishhacker Foundation (2010) and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award (2003). His work is included in renowned collections such as: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; MOMA, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, among others.

Laurie O’Brien is an artist working in video, installation, animation, and performance.   Her interdisciplinary media work is collaborative, interactive, sociopolitical, hand-made and digital.    She is interested in hybrid forms of expression that combine and defy definitions and categories.  Her animations, performances and video installations have been exhibited in numerous galleries nationally and internationally.  Her work often focuses on the blurring of fact and fiction.  A metaphor that continues to influence her work, the puppet, finds expression in unexpected forms with links to technology, identity, duplicity and deception.  She is an Assistant Professor of Visual Media in the Photography Department at RIT.  She lives in both Brooklyn and Rochester.

At the age of 14, Signe Baumane began publishing short stories in Latvia. She received a BA in Philosophy from Moscow State University, then started to work at Riga’s Animated Film Studio as a cel painter. With support of government grants, Signe made 3 animated shorts in Latvia, then moved to New York and spent four years working for independent animator Bill Plympton as an art director and production manager. In 1998, Signe received her US green card as ‘extraordinary ability alien’ and began making films at her own studio. In 2005 she became a NYFA Fellow in Film. She received two grants from the Jerome Foundation – one for her animated short “Birth”, the other for her animated feature “Rocks In My Pockets”. She also received 3 grants from NYSCA. Signe has written, directed and animated 15 shorts and one feature film, which collectively have been accepted in over 300 film festivals around the world and received many awards.

The San Francisco Arts Commission is the City agency that champions the arts as essential to daily life by investing in a vibrant arts community, enlivening the urban environment and shaping innovative cultural policy. Our programs include: Civic Art Collection, Civic Design Review, Community Investments, Public Art, SFAC Galleries and Street Artist Licensing. To learn more visit,

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series Speech (2015)

University of Michigan Penny Stamps School of Arts and Design invited me to give a speech at their Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series on October 25th, 2015 (almost a year ago!).

My speech was called "Sex, Madness and Dentists" but when I got there I saw how many young women were in the audience and felt compelled to talk about my sex in a male dominated industry and my madness in the face of triple difficulty of being an independent artist, being a woman and being bi-polar. Dentists didn't fit in those 60 minutes.

Here's the video of the speech: