The star of "Persistent Visions: Recent Animation From the UCLA Animation Workshop," a program of student films screening tonight at 8 in Melnitz Hall, is a dancer drawn in a thin layer of sand on a sheet of underlit glass.
The sand character performs a cool, sassy jazz routine reminiscent of a Bob Fosse musical number, to the accompaniment of Duke Ellington's "The Mooch," in Richard Quade's "Sand Dance." This delightful little film stands out as an example of how animation can communicate with an audience through pure movement.
"Sand Dance" and the other films in "Persistent Visions" reveal the differences in the approach to teaching animation at UCLA and rival CalArts. The CalArts program stresses draftsmanship and Disney-style character animation, while UCLA encourages the exploration of diverse styles and media to make films that are personal statements. CalArts' studies seem geared to preparing studio animators, UCLA's to producing independent film makers.
The freedom of the UCLA program allows talented students to produce unusual and often impressive work. Scott Albers evokes the peace of a walk through a forest in "Twilight." Although the animation itself is weak in a few places, the gentle, rhyming narration and handsome visuals create a mood and tell a story very effectively. Y. Tom Yasumi animates photographs to explore the sensation of motion in "The Line," a striking study in visual rhythms.
A stronger emphasis on the basics of animation would improve several of these films. Emily Schwappach's "Sweet Revenge," in which a box of chocolates attacks an obese woman, would be funnier if the characters were drawn better.
"In the Neighborhood Supermarket" by Mike Palacio is more interesting as a series of still images than as a film, while Dominic Polcino explores so many graphic styles that he loses the thread of the narrative in "Mezmo." Belinda Starkie tries to copy Norman McLaren's "Pas De Deux" in "Isadora's Dress," but the step printing and slow-motion effects really don't add anything to a work that's basically a performance piece.
"Four Enchantments" by Lee Walczuk, which features live narration, and "Alter Ego" by Paul Bouille were unavailable for previewing.
Admission is free. Information: (213) 825-5829.