Flash Frames

"Even the most terrible, amateurish animation is time-consuming and mind-numbingly tedious," cartoonist Walt Holcombe states on the web site for his engaging cartoon short "The Courtship Of Sniffy LaPants." Presumably he's talking about making animation, not watching it, though the quote works either way. But he may be forgetting that only a few decades ago, that tedious process would also have been mind-bogglingly expensive and virtually impossible outside of a well-equipped professional studio. Holcombe's fluid, beautifully colored cartoon owes its existence to Macromedia's Flash, among other increasingly popular software, and it proves that amateur animation has an increasingly sophisticated future. "Sniffy" stands out as one of the best and most accomplished segments of God Hates Cartoons, a compilation of short (in some cases, almost microscopically short) animated bits by underground and independent cartoonists. In keeping with the source material, many of the pieces are unsettling and even disgusting: Ivan Brunetti's "Diaper Dyke And Captain Boyfuck" series channels all the stomach-turning vitriol of Brunetti's Schizo without gaining much in the minimal animation process, while Lance Myers' "Gutsman" is mostly an excuse for a bloody-corpse montage. Some of the roster's best-known names contribute pieces that are mostly proof-of-concept experiments: Seeing Tony Millionaire's elaborately drawn, morbidly whimsical Maakies in color and motion is a pleasant novelty, but the animation is jumpy and simple, and the jarring endings seem more abrupt in animation than they do on the printed page. Similarly, the two vignettes from Kaz's Underworld are fluid and hypnotic, but conclude almost before they can register. Only "Sniffy LaPants" and "Whimgrinder"—a surreal, black-and-white snippet from Jim Woodring's Frank which strongly recalls old Betty Boop and Felix The Cat shorts—stand out as cartoons in their own right, rather than experimental echoes of established work. Another recent compilation DVD follows a similar pattern: The material on Flash Frames, a showreel-style collection of Flash animation snippets from a diverse range of sources and companies, tends to be similarly short and experimental. But Flash Frames contains more than twice as much material as God Hates Cartoons, as if to compensate for the lack of familiar names. Some of Flash Frames' bits are amateur web-toons, while others double as professional ads or music videos for artists from DJ Spooky to Todd Rundgren. The art styles and quality run the gamut; again, many of the pieces are brief experiments, while others tell stories with a mordant underground vibe. Surrealism and abstract artiness abound, as do profanity and sick humor. But by collecting more than two hours of brief, stylized pieces in one neatly organized package, the DVD all but ensures that no one piece will stand out. Instead, the lasting impression is of Flash's usefulness to amateur animators, and its versatility, which seems limited only by the speed at which its users run out of time or give in to the "mind-numbing tedium" and start cutting corners.

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