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

Frédéric Back (1981)

Crac! traces the rapid transformation of Quebec society through the story of a rocking chair. In this charming tale tinged with nostalgia, Frédéric Back takes us back to rich traditions swept aside by the relentless forces of progress and urbanization.

“Beaucoup de gens parlent bien, écrivent bien, chantent bien, moi j’ai la chance d’avoir pu dessiner et exprimer mes préoccupations autrement qu’en parole. Les films que j’ai faits continuent, encore maintenant, à ma grande surprise, d’être très populaires, utilisés, un peu partout et même de plus en plus puisqu’ils sont maintenant rendus en Chine. ”

Frédéric Back

“Many people speak well, write well, sing well, I am lucky to have been able to draw and express my concerns other than in words. The films I made continue, even now, to my surprise, to be very popular, used, everywhere and even more and more since they are now made in China. “

Frédéric Back

Wilfred Jackson (1952)

As progress brings the city directly around a little house, she grows more and more depressed.

Walt Disney’s adaptation of The Little House is based on a 1942 book written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton who is quoted as saying, “The Little House was based on our own little house which we moved from the street into a field of daisies with apple trees growing around.”

Burton denied it was a critique of urban sprawl, but instead wished to convey the passage of time to younger readers. Being a very visually driven book, many times Burton changed the amount of text to fit the illustration:

“If the page is well drawn and finely designed, the child reader will acquire a sense of good design which will lead to an appreciation of beauty and the development of good taste. Primitive man thought in pictures, not in words, and this visual conception is far more fundamental than its sophisticated translation into verbal modes of thought.”