Toby Auberg — Toberg (2021)

Water then food. Agriculture then industry. Old then new. Critical then extra. Simple to complex. Concrete to abstract. Dirt to clouds. Real to unreal.

If you don’t watch a lot of short films, you might be forgiven for assuming there’s not much depth or complexity you can fit into a three-minute duration. A comedy sketch or a music video, maybe? But a thought-provoking deconstruction of the evolution of society, that’s not possible, right? With grand aims of putting human constructs in order, Toby Auberg’s (aka Toberg) Pile attempts just that.

When you picture animations about evolution, your mind will probably (just like mine) immediately go to the image of simple creatures, dragging their basic bodies from the sea, before developing legs and scuttling around on land. Auberg’s short isn’t so interested with our biological progression however, much like Hertzfeldt’s 2005 short The Meaning of Life, it’s more focused on our societal progression and how we’ve moved from bare survival to the unhinged dystopia of late capitalism.

Beginning at the bottom of his titular pile, Auberg introduces us to his world as we witness humankind just struggling to survive – living in scrappy tents or ramshackle huts, eating only what they catch or grow – before moving his camera upwards and revealing the true intentions of his short. As we travel upwards, the different stages of societal progression literally stacked on top of each other, we experience these rapid developments in living conditions, before entering a crazed finale that paints a provocative picture of the future.

Discussing Pile with Short of the Week, Auberg admits he has difficulty “identifying a clear source for the film’s inspiration”, instead pointing to how his mind often thinks in terms of “muddled visual metaphors” as a major motivator for his premise. Originally coming up with the idea back in 2018, when pre-pandemic politics filled our headspace, the filmmaker (like most of us) was very anxious about the world and so decided to make “a piece that visualised the big ‘house-of-cards’ that we rest our lives on”.

Thematically ambitious, Auberg backs up his grand concept with some impressive craft, telling his story in one continual shot, his virtual camera rising through his incredibly detailed tower of humanity. Like the environments he portrays, his animation style develops as we progress. “The beginning of the film uses more traditional character rigs and ‘realistic’ environments”, the filmmaker reveals as I quiz him about his distinct aesthetic. “As the film progresses the style becomes more distorted and surreal, disconnecting elements and using simulation (dynamics) to animate the world in a more broken and chaotic way”, he adds.

Selected to play at Annecy (where it won the 2020 Jury award for a graduation short film), BFI London and Cannes, while Auberg admits he’d “love it if the film hit a nerve with someone out there”, he’s also just happy to have this complicated vision out of his head.

– S/W Curator Rob Munday

Sound design: Ben Goodall

Additional assets: Leto Meade, Jim Cheetham, Matt Taylor, Anita Gill, Linyou Xie, Michelle Brand

GAN animation: Erik Lintunen

Don Hertzfeldt (2012)

Independent animator and two-time Academy Award nominee Don Hertzfeldt has seamlessly combined his three short films about a man named Bill (“Everything will be OK” (2006), “I Am So Proud of You” (2008), and “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” (2011)), into a darkly comedic, beautiful new feature film.

Blending traditional animation, experimental optical effects, trick photography, and new digital hybrids printed out one frame at a time, all three chapters of the story were captured entirely on a 1940s-era 35mm animation stand, one of the last surviving cameras of its kind still operating in the world.

Upon their original releases, the short film trilogy received 90 awards, including the Grand Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking from the Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Award from the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

“It’s Such a Beautiful Day” finally brings Bill’s entire story together, presented here for the first time in HD.

“It’s Such a Beautiful Day” was listed by many film critics as one of the best films of 2012. After a limited UK release in 2013, the film was ranked #3 on Time Out London’s list of the “10 Best Films of 2013” and #4 on The London Film Review’s list of the same.

In 2014, Time Out New York ranked “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” #16 on its list of the “100 Best Animated Movies Ever Made,” and in 2016, The Film Stage critics ranked the film #1 on their list of the “The 50 Best Animated Films of the 21st Century Thus Far.”

In 2019, The Wrap named “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” the #1 “Best Animated Film of the 2010s.” The same year, the Vulture film critics ranked it #12 on their overall list of the “Best Movies of the Decade.”

To view this animated film in it’s entirety go to: https://vimeo.com/60784253

Don Hertzfeldt (2008)

This is the second chapter of a three-part story about a man named Bill from the It’s a Beautiful Day trilogy.

A series of dark and troubling events forces Bill to reckon with the meaning of his life —

or lack thereof.

“A masterpiece. I can’t even begin to articulate my thoughts about the film but it just gave me shivers and I wasn’t able to attend the party after the screening. Just had to be alone. It had this effect on a number of other people here too. Stunning, beautiful, tragic, absurd work.”

– Chris Robinson (Ottawa International Animation Festival)

I Am So Proud Of You is, I think, as good a pick as any for film of the year. Certainly as good as Synecdoche, NY, and just as full of grand and complex thoughts about life and death and bodily fluids and years rapidly advancing, coming to ends and beginnings, back and forth, over and over, until one slips indistinguishably into the next.”

– David Lowery (Filmmaker)

Don Hertzfeldt (2006)

EVERYTHING WILL BE OK was originally released in 2006. The following year it received the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Award in Short Filmmaking.

Everything Will Be OK is a 2006 animated short film by Don Hertzfeldt. It is the first chapter of a three-part story about a man named Bill. Hertzfeldt released the second film in the series, titled I Am So Proud of You, in 2008. The final chapter, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, was released in 2011. The entire three-part story was then edited together and released as a seamless feature film in 2012, also titled It’s Such a Beautiful Day.