Pistachio Gianduja Easter Eggs
Russell Degnan

Continuing the gianduja theme* I recently put together a pistachio slice, layered with a chocolate/caramelised pistachio top, and a pistachio paste/white chocolate gianduja. It went over very well - some people really like pistachios - but I thought I'd try something more complex for Easter.

Pistachio Gianduja Easter Eggs

Pistachio Paste

200g Pistachios (peeled, toasted)
50g Sugar

1. Put still warm ingredients in a food processor and grind until oil is released and paste is smooth.

Gianduja eggs

250g Nut paste
150g Sugar
200g White chocolate

1. Add sugar to paste and continue grinding until smooth
2. Melt chocolate and add to food processor, grinding only until mixed so as not to burn chocolate
3. Pour onto marble board and agitate until cooled/tempered
4. Pour onto plastic wrap and put aside to cool
5. When set, pinch off pieces, working together into small round balls, then press into oval shape and set aside.
6. Drive a toothpick into the base of each egg.

Caramelised pistachio bits

100g Pistachios
50g Sugar
5ml Lemon juice

1. Put ingredients in saucepan and heat, stirring, until sugar is partially caramelised.
2. Press flat marble board until cooled.
3. Crush with mortar and pestle into small pieces.

Coating

As needed Tempered dark chocolate

1. Working quickly, dip two thirds of each egg in the melted chocolate
2. ... then in the nut mix
3. .. then press toothpick into a cork mat, leaving each egg upright.

I had originally thought I could roll the eggs in a bowl, adding dark chocolate bit by bit until they were all coated. But I had no bowl big enough to get them to roll, nor did I trust that they would neither disintegrate nor coalesce into a single (tasty) pistachio chocolate ball. But nor did I wish to have flat bottomed sides as with a truffle. The upright toothpicks allow the chocolate to drip off the eggs, keeping a rounded shape. Though very little did, and the bigger aesthetic issue was the large-ish pieces of pistachio that made them uneven. I could have dipped the eggs completely in chocolate too, but I thought I'd keep that flash of green.

There are quite a few steps here, and some take some time, but if you are a fan of pistachios they are definitely worth it. The slice mentioned earlier is essentially the same recipe, but with the chocolate and bits used as a base, and the pistachio gianduja slabbed onto the top. It is much faster - no rolling, picking, or dipping - if you aren't looking to create egg shaped objects.

* I also made Grand Marnier flavoured truffles, rolled in cocoa, nuts and candy bits, simple, and not worth posting about.

Finer Things 22nd April, 2014 00:06:38   [#] [0 comments] 

Easter Chocolates: Hot Cross Gianduja
Russell Degnan

I wanted to largely avoid dipping chocolate this easter, though that won't be the case entirely. I've been recently experimenting with gianduja - the mix of nut paste, sugar and chocolate - and wanted to try and create something hot cross bun like. Many, many things went wrong. But the smell is divine, they look cute, and taste not so bad either.

Hot Cross Gianduja

Nut Paste

180g Hazelnuts (peeled, toasted)
40g Pecans (peeled, toasted)
40g Pistachio (peeled, toasted)
40g Almonds (peeled, toasted)
75g Sugar

1. Put still warm ingredients in a food processor and grind until oil is released and paste is smooth.

Gianduja

375g Nut Paste
225g Sugar
300g Milk Chocolate
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
100g currants
As needed White Chocolate

1. Add sugar and spices to paste and continue grinding until smooth
2. Melt chocolate and add to food processor, grinding only until mixed so as not to burn chocolate
3. Add currants to mixture.
4. Pour onto marble board and agitate until cooled/tempered
5. Line pan with baking paper and pour into slab.
6. When set, cut into inch squares.
7. Melt white chocolate and using a small nozzle create crosses across each piece of chocolate (or, as is easier, in rows).

Peeling hazelnuts... isn't ideal (almonds are slightly easier). I tried several methods. The method by Alice Medrich is clearly the best: boil for a few minutes in water with a few able-spoons of baking soda. The toasting needs to be a little longer than normal to compensate for the increased moisture, as the paste needs to be dry before the oils will be released. With regard to the nut mix, do as you see fit. I didn't want a purely hazelnut taste, but the key to the taste are the spices.

Processing the nuts always causes me enormous trouble - in this case a cut finger and a burnt out mixer motor. This is probably the fault of my food processor that habitually leaves a hollow cavern of half grinded paste, spinning pointlessly. The use of both a whisk (?) attachment and the cutting blade - and eventually just the former - managed to keep the mixture circulating better, but it took a long time (> 90 minutes) to break down.

The rest of the process is straight-forward, even simple. Gianduja doesn't need to be enrobed (although a base layer might be preferable) so the pieces can keep the colour and texture. It would be nice to create a more rounded top - perhaps by pressing the mixture while partially set, but who has that kind of time?

Finer Things 20th April, 2014 23:28:18   [#] [0 comments] 

Christmas Chocolates
Russell Degnan

Bereft of present ideas for certain family members I went on a minor chocolate spree just before Christmas, generously gifted a string of 20 degree days by the Melbourne weather, Those curious about temperature and chocolate should watch the video below, where it is magnificently explained from the 50th minute (the entire series of lectures is brilliant, if you have a spare 80 hours or so).

Five flavours were chosen. Because they are basically the same I'll run through them quickly.

Pistachio, Cranberry and Brandy Truffles
Pecan, Ginger and Rum Truffles

450g Dark chocolate
60g Glucose syrup
180g Cream
20g Butter (softened)

Sufficient dry Ingredients and 30ml liqueur

1. Combine cream and glucose syrup and bring to boil.
2. Pour over chocolate in heat proof bowl, let sit for a few minutes then stir from inside out to create ganache.
3. Split into two parts, adding dry ingredients, butter and liqueur to each and mix in without over-agitating.
4. Pour mixtures onto plastic wrap enclose and leave for several hours.
5. When cool, disgorge from wrap and agitate (briefly) until firm enough to roll.
6. Using hands, roll into small balls and leave overnight.
7. Dip in dark chocolate (for the pistachio and cranberry truffles, grate some nutmeg onto top.

Simple, fast. Truffles aren't complicated nor terribly time consuming, and it is nice to be able to do several flavours more or less simultaneously.

White Chocolate Coffee Truffles

250g White chocolate
20g Glucose syrup
15g Cocoa Butter
50g Cream
5g Butter (softened)
10ml Black coffee, reduced to syrup.
20ml Kahlua

Follow recipe as above, cocoa butter combined with white chocolate, dipping in milk chocolate.

The hard part of this recipe is that white chocolate is hard to work with, melts at different temperatures, ends up thicker, and the ganache needs a lot more agitation before it can be rolled. The thicker the coffee is the better because it needs to overcome the otherwise sickly sweetness of the white chocolate. Feedback was positive though.

Tomato Chocolates

As here, without the mulberry molasses.

The lack of molasses changed the flavour but not to its detriment. It still doesn't have a strong tomato flavour, for good or ill (probably good), with most people likening it to a very odd turkish delight.

Banana and Mango Fondant Chocolates

For the fondant
500g Sugar
100g Glucose syrup
100g Water

1. Combine the ingredients in saucepan and bring to boil, stirring. Continue cooking to 117 degrees.
2. Pour onto marble slab (lightly splashed with cold water), sprinkle more water on the top, then leave to cool to 50 degrees.
3. Agitate until it turns into a short-textured mass. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave.

For the jam

1/2 Banana (large)
1/2 Mango
250g Sugar
50ml Water
20ml Kirsch
10ml Lemon juice
Pinch Cinnamon

1. Put banana, mango, water and sugar in saucepan and cook to 106 degrees, stirring occasionally. Lower heat and reduce water as much as possible.
2. Add Kirsch, lemon juice and cinnamon and put aside.

For the chocolates

1. Melt fondant in heat-proof bowl over water bath to 70 degrees.
2. Mix in jam thoroughly, and set in moulds.
3. Set in fridge - several hours.
4. Dislodge fondant centres, cut to size and dip in dark chocolate.

Far and away the most complex, not least because I was: a) making it up somewhat, though the basics for the fondant and jam were taken from Chocolate and Confections and Mes Confitures; and b) because I'd not made a fondant before, and the sugar kept creeping down the uneven slope of my benchtop and off my under-sized marble board. The fruit puree is added later, because the acid can prevent crystalisation, but I had no issue getting thick centres, and might have easily used the fondant immediately rather than leaving overnight to ripen. The taste was good, without being anything special. But several hours of dipping - nay tempering for dipping - and having a house smell like the 4kg of chocolate I went through for a week might have jaded me to the taste somewhat.

The main trouble for me remains the process of dipping, which takes forever and requires constant concerns over tempering and thickness. If I could fashion a faster and more consistent method of dipping in large quantities it would halve the time to make them. Something to ponder in the new year.

Finer Things 1st January, 2014 22:42:29   [#] [0 comments] 

Coffee Chocolate Nut Slice
Russell Degnan

The good thing about slices is that provided you have time to wait for each layer to set, they are generally very quick, and very forgiving. This particular recipe was made up in order to try a particular technique - namely, boiling cream with coffee in order to make a coffee ganache. Everything else is just there to work around the coffee taste which is great, but pretty strong.


Nut and Berry Biscuit Layer

100g Almonds, chopped
100g Walnuts, chopped
100g Blueberries, chopped
150g Basic biscuits, crushed
200g Condensed milk
80g Butter, melted
1tsp Cinnamon, ground

1. Combine ingredients, adjust liquid amounts to create something that holds together but no more.
2. Line pan with baking paper, press into pan. Bake for 10min to lightly brown.

Easy. Using biscuits (Marie in this case) is the cheats way of making a slice, but it is fast, and it didn't matter really. Those quantities are completely made-up; they'll work; they are just made-up if you want it to look like the picture. When you aren't baking it doesn't really matter, as long as it holds together, and as long as the nuts aren't too big, and you have enough liquid, it will. While this is baking...


Coffee Chocolate Ganache Layer

400g Chocolate, dark
100ml Cream
200g Condensed Milk
1 Coffee bag (about a teaspoon)
40ml Kahlua
20g butter, softened

1. Put Coffee Bag into Cream and bring to boil, remove from heat and let steep for a few minutes.
2. Remove bag and squeeze liquid from bag gently over chocolate. (If you don't have a bag, you need to strain the cream with a muslin cloth, replacing lost mass).
3. Add condensed milk to cream and bring to boil again, boil for a few minutes, stirring constantly.
4. Pour over chocolate, and emulsify by stirring centre then outwards.
5. Add Kahlua and melted butter, stir edges until no liquid remains on edge of bowl.
6. Pour over biscuit layer. And leave at least 1 hour to set.

Not quite as easy. This is more fudgy than a typical ganache, but the condensed milk will thicken and caramelise a little, which is why it goes in after the coffee is removed. Coffee bags are a new thing, but they make this task a lot easier because you don't need to strain it; the light squeezing will capture a lot of flavour because the aim is to make this layer quite strong - almost inedibly strong, as it is offset by the sweetness and chewiness of the other parts.


Vanilla White Chocolate Layer

150g Chocolate, white, melted
20ml Cream
5ml Vanilla paste (or equivalent essence)

1. Melt the white chocolate to 40degrees and stir in the cream and vanilla.
2. Quickly, with as few light strokes as possible, smooth over surface of the ganache layer.
3. Leave to set (1 hour).

I hate white chocolate. Too thick. Too easy to over-cook. Too quick to set when worked. If you look carefully you can see speckles of unmelted white chocolate because this was a disaster. But no matter; that's the beauty of a slice. In short, the cream makes it easier to cut, because it is no longer pure chocolate but a really hard ganache, and therefore won't crack easily.

Surprisingly, this worked amazingly well. Each layer is, by itself, extremely strong. The biscuit layer is almost pure nuts and berries; the coffee ganache layer is bitter and harsh; and the vanilla white chocolate is ludicrously sweet. But in combination they really came together. It could probably use slightly less biscuit, and slightly more dark chocolate (or just be thinner), but I'm quite happy with it.

Not that you can really go wrong with a slice.

Finer Things 2nd December, 2013 22:40:56   [#] [0 comments] 

Earthy Lasagne
Russell Degnan

Procrastination and a lack of other options saw a little baking tear on the weekend. An attempt at nougat, which may have been acceptable - is it possible to make sugar and honey inedible? - but is probably over-handled and flat; and a lasagne which came out much better than expected, given it was mostly made up of ingredients I needed to use.

I like traditional bolognese and bechamel lasagne, but it can come out very starchy. In the wonderful Snowflakes and Schnapps there is a lasagne recipe with veal and spinach that uses no tomatoes. This is a variation, heavy on mushrooms and earthy flavours. Quantities are pure guesses, but that's par for the course around here.


Meaty Part

1 Large brown onion, chopped
100g Mince - beef, but optionally veal
2 tsps Vegetable stock powder
200g Brown mushrooms, sliced
200g Baby spinach, washed
1 handful fresh sage
White wine

1. In a little oil, fry the brown onion until starting to caramelise
2. Add the mince and vegetable stock, fry until brown, then the mushrooms with a little butter, frying until soft.
3. Add the spinach, sage and enough white wine to de-glaze pan. Cook until spinach wilted and no liquid remains in pan.

Cheesy Part

40g butter
20g flour
200g Button mushrooms, sliced
200ml cream or sour cream (or both)
100g Blue cheese, in chunks
White wine
tsp Ground nutmeg
pinch Ground cayenne

1. Add 20g butter and mushrooms to saucepan, fry, stirring constantly until soft. Add white wine to deglaze pan, allow to evaporate then put aside
2. Add remaining butter and flour, whisking until light brown, then while stirring, pour in cream slowly.
3. Add cooked mushrooms, blue cheese and spices, then cook until thickened, stirring often.

Lasagne Part

100g Gruyere cheese, sliced
Dried lasagne sheets, one box.
Truffle Oil

1. Prepare a lasagne dish with a few small knobs of butter, then the first layer of lasagne, breaking as required to fit
2. Alternate meaty part with a little truffle oil drizzled on, and cheesy parts with layers of lasagne in between, trying to get all the mushrooms from the cheesy part into the middle, and leaving just enough cheese sauce to coat the top sheet.
3. Coat top sheet with remaining cheese and Gruyere cheese, bake for 30min.

If I was completely honest, it is a little oily, even by my very unconcerned standards, you do have to wonder about a thick pool of butter at the bottom of the dish. But the combination of multiple mushrooms and cheeses is such a rich meld of different earthy flavours is well worth it, and in any case, if it stays in the dish or on the plate, you've not eaten it. Variations to reduce the fat content are naturally available. Or you could run it off. I recommend the latter.

Finer Things 10th November, 2013 23:17:21   [#] [0 comments] 

Tomato Chocolates
Russell Degnan

One of my favourite little cooking references is the Flavour Thesaurus which makes the point that tomatoes and strawberries are very similar (albeit with the former having little to no sugar), and even interchangeable. That led to a discussion, and then a challenge to make tomato flavoured chocolates, and hence the recipe below. The inverse - a strawberry pasta sauce will be tried shortly.

The basic method and theme is the same as in this recipe. create a jelly, set it, coat it. You can do a lot more with the coating than I do, but I was somewhat rushed.


Tomato jelly

400g Tin of diced tomatoes
150g Glucose syrup
500g Sugar

100g Water (washed through tomato tin)
20g Powdered gelatin

2 tsp Vanilla paste
2 tsp Mulberry molasses
1/2 tsp Cinnamon (ground)
1/2 tsp Nutmeg (ground)

50ml Galliano

1. Prepare a slice-tin (approximately 25cm x 20cm) by lining with baking paper.
2. Hydrate the gelatin with the water, and melt in a water bath.
3. Combine the tomatoes, glucose syrup, sugar, vanilla paste, mulberry molasses, connamon and nutmeg in a saucepan and cook to 120degC, stirring constantly.
4. Pour mixture into another bowl, allowing mixture to cool slightly then add gelatin mixture and Galliano.
5. Pour into slice-tin and refridgerate until set.

A standard jam recipe, and subject to change. I wanted to take the edge off the tomatoes because they have no sugar. This might have been overkill though, particularly the molasses, which had the side-effect of almost caramelising the jelly. Nevertheless, you can still taste the tomato if you know what you are looking for, and it turned out very tasty, but still slightly unusual, so the recipe is presented as done. Or at least, as I think it was done. I have no idea exactly how much spices and alcohol was poured in, but this is roughly right.


Slabbing and coating

As needed Dark Chocolate

1. Melt and temper a large amount of dark chocolate.
2. Coat the jelly side of the slab with chocolate. Let set.
3. Turn slab onto board, jelly side up, and cut into 1x2cm rectangles
4. Dip each piece in chocolate and allow to set

As before, easy but tedious, notwithstanding keeping the temperature at the right level on which I am still working out the best method for repeated flash heating and remelting.


Were I to do this recipe again I'd probably leave out the molasses, and maybe cut back on the vanilla. In general, when noone can guess the flavour, you've gone too far, and that is the case here. Just about every non-citric fruit in the spectrum was suggested before we got to tomato; so I'd like to retry with a slightly harder edge. It is possible the sugar is more than sufficient to make up for the lack of natural sugar, and the extra flavour isn't needed at all. On the other hand, the jelly is really nice, and offsets the dark chocolate perfectly, so it may not be an improvement if the next batch tastes more like a super-sweet chutney.

Finer Things 30th August, 2013 01:48:49   [#] [0 comments] 

Notes from the Animation Festival 2013
Russell Degnan

Another year, another Melbourne International Animation Festival. Hopefully Malcolm will hold to his statement of not making it 11 days next year, although it is invariably the last Saturday that almost kills me - going to bed at 2am and waking up for a 7am podcast probably didn't help. The extra time meant I saw more of this festival than I had in previous years. Indeed, the only bits I'd have liked to see were the CG Symposium - passed on in favour of the Canadian Indie programs, and the Australian program, that is inexplicably the only competition program not repeated, but that was a fault in my scheduling.

I might be getting old and jaded, but until the International Program #5 I hadn't found many of this year's competition programs memorable. But there were a couple of brilliant films in that screening, which rounded it out well. As is traditional - albeit in a sloppily ignored traditional kind-of-way - here are a few of the films I liked, by category (sans links, surprisingly, in this age of YouTube, far fewer films are available online than perhaps they ought, but you, my absent reader, can find them):

The Entertainers

Wind Int. 2 - Wore thin after several viewings, but the interaction of animation and wind always works.

Cleo's Boogie Int. 4 - Good song, good mix of techniques, but mostly the song.

Stewpot Rhapsodie Int. 5 - A mother cooking with loads of movement, charming aesthetic, and a fantastic soundtrack.

A La Francaise Kids 2 - Chickens in 18th century Versailles. Hilarious film.

The Technically Superb

Bydlo Int. 1 - An oxen comes to life out of the clay. Didn't like the plot, but beautifully constructed.

MacPherson Int. 5 - One of those languid oil painted films that always look superb.

Here and the Great Elsewhere Int. 5 - Ditto pinscreen animation, although this pushed a rare technique along too. An amazing film.

Jailbreak Abstract - Really well constructed abstract set to a syncopated rhythm.

Illogical Imaginings Next. Aust. - Characters rolling into each other is old hat, but this was well constructed.

The Well Plotted

Linear Int. 1 - Simple concept, a 2-inch man painting a road, but executed well.

Marcel, King of Tervuren Int. 4 - The sort of personal story that animation produces very well. Lovely depth of visuals too.

Junkyard Long - Live diverge then meet. This took a while to get to an obvious conclusion, but it was worth it.

Edmond was A Donkey Long - Long features have an advantage when it comes to plot, but this still kept me interested. An odd little story with a silent title character, much put upon.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mister Lawrence Lessmore Kids 2 - A genuinely touching film, simply and beautifully animated.

The Bizarre But Brilliant

Tram Int. 3 - Was tempted not to mention it, but it is very well paced and funny.

Oh Willy Long - Might have gone under the technical category too, for the texture and light, but the sheer oddity is its most endearing feature.

The Brick Bizarre - The sort of film that should be in Late Night Bizarre instead of the crude poorly animated rubbish. Completely odd-ball.

A final shout-out to the Kevin Schrek documentary The Persistence of Vision. The three decade long failure to produce a feature film of epic proportions, largely because it seemed to be epic mostly for the sake of being epic, was fascinating through-out. That the animators involved also meant that Richard William's film bridged from the golden age of animation to today somehow made it important and valuable in spite of itself.

Finer Things 2nd July, 2013 01:17:19   [#] [0 comments] 

Lamington Chocolates
Russell Degnan

After distributing some truffles to work a couple of months ago, a colleague suggested they'd like some lamingtons for their birthday. I don't bake cakes though - I can, I just don't - but the concept intrigued me, so after some hunting around in Greweling's masterpiece Chocolates and Confections I endeavoured to bundle together a few recipes and create the closest thing: Lamington Chocolates.


Strawberry Jelly

300g Strawberries (chopped)
150g Glucose syrup
250g Sugar

100g Water
20g Powdered gelatin

5g Lemon Juice

1. Hydrate the gelatin with the water, and melt in a water bath.
2. Combine the strawberries, glucose syrup and sugar in a saucepan and cook to 135degC.
3. Pour mixture into another bowl, allowing mixture to cool to 120degC then add gelatin and lemon juice.
4 Put aside.

This is the jam part, obviously. It is a bit of a mismatch, and might do with some kirsch or similar. The general rules seems to be to have 1/3 water and 2/3 sugars and to cook to 106 to 135 degrees. Any jam recipe with the gelatin added will work as well.

I decided on a jelly instead of plain jam for two reasons. Firstly, the last time I made jellied chocolates I got significant moisture bloom. Although I suspect that was a tempering issue, I didn't want to risk it with a runny jam. Secondly, although I'd have liked to encase the jelly as in a lamington, I wasn't sure if that would be feasible - I am still not - so I included enough gelatin to not only set the jelly, but ensure it could support the weight of the nougat.


Soft Chocolate Nougat

60g White chocolate (melted)
50g Milk powder
20g Sugar

20g Fresh egg white (1 egg's worth)
20g Glucose syrup

240g Sugar
60g Water
270g Glucose Syrup

10g Vanilla paste

1. Melt chocolate and sift together milk powder and sugar.
2. Combine egg white and 20g glucose syrup in mixer with whip attachment. Do not begin mixing.
3. Combine sugar, water and 270g glucose syrup in a saucepan. Cook to 110degC.
4. Start mixer whipping on high. Continue cooking to 118degC.
5. Stream the hot syrup into the whipping whites. Continue whipping for approximately 8 minutes until mixture is cooled to 50degC or machine slows.
6. Add the vanilla. Remove the mixture from the machine and mix in melted chocolate, followed by sifted dry ingredients by hand.

Who knew nougat was so simple? This literally took 20 minutes. Nougat was the closest I could come up with for a cake-like centre. Soft chocolate nougat is normally brown (like in a Mars bar) but the white chocolate and milk powder kept it a white colour. A few of my pieces had slight leakage, which means it either needed less whipping, or more dry ingredients. It could probably have used more white chocolate too, as the flavour is delicate, and it came out very marshmallow like, rather than the slightly denser chocolate nougat I expected. There was nothing wrong with the flavour.


Slabbing and coating

As needed Dark Chocolate
As needed Shredded Coconut

1. Prepare a slice-tin (approximately 25cm x 20cm) by lining with baking paper.
2. Empty nougat into tin, press into corners and flatten.
3. Pour partially set strawberry jelly onto nougat and refridgerate.

4. Melt and temper a large amount of dark chocolate.
5. Coat the jelly side of the slab with chocolate. Let set.
6. Turn slab onto board, nougat side up, and cut into 1.5-2cm squares
7. Dip each square in chocolate, and immediately sprinkle a pinch of coconut on top.

This was the easy if tedious, part. Keeping the chocolate tempered is the difficult bit, but with practice I am starting to recognise when it needs a little heat, or re-tempering. I would have liked to put the jelly in the centre, as in an actual lamington. I think it is possible, but the nougat will need to be divided and rolled into shape, then layered on gently. I don't know if it is worth it. The book always indicates hundreds of pieces from this weight of ingredients, but I only got 88, and found it difficult to cut without a guitar. Alternative methods being considered. Still 88 pieces of chocolate is a lot, even when you give a lot away.

My jelly didn't turn out perfectly because the strawberries weren't cut sufficiently, and therefore weren't distributed very well. I have adjusted the recipe to include more fruit as the pieces with a large amount of fruit perfectly offset the nougat. The jelly only bits tasted a little fake, over-powered the nougat taste and the layers separated (sometimes during dipping). Nevertheless, these came out really well.

Finer Things 22nd November, 2012 07:07:47   [#] [0 comments] 

Notes from MIAF #2
Russell Degnan

Day 4

The panorama sessions are often good value entertainment, less likely to be memorable, but generally entertaining, and a far cry from the technical abstract session that can't help but lull me into sleep. That said, a lack of memorability makes it hard to identify standout films.

The well plotted

Blown AwayAust. panorama A clever combination of mundane encounters and out-there comedy with a feel-good ending unusual in animating.

The entertainers

MillhavenPoland #2 The Nick Cave song makes the film, but the gradual movement into insanity of the character is impressive in its use of colour and movement as well.


Day 5

Animation has big sunk costs, in scripts, drawings, models and backgrounds that might only be used for a few seconds. The longer the short, the more worthwhile it is to invest in those elements. The long short session is almost always the best for that reason, fleshing out a story, and elevating the form to art.

The entertainers

Rubikale lab de'images Great idea, didn't really run with it as far as it could, or build characters.

The technically superb

Babellong shorts Merges layers of live action seemlessly to reflect on development and the different paths of men and women in urbanising China.

The well plotted

Zbigniev's Cupboardlong shorts Eastern european amimations do't often deal with communism. This is a touching and sad reflection.

The bizarre but brilliant

Muzoramale lab de'images Completely odd, but amusing with a unique animating style.

The External Worldlong shorts So random it is almost abstract, but with moments of sharp humour, only ruined when it broke the 4th wall.

Love Patatelong shorts I love the subtle mix of styles in this film, from 2D to live action. The premise is a little odd.


Day 6

Seeing the Supinfocom logo tends to be somewhere between excitement and a relief. They aren't necessarily incredible, but they usually bring colour, fun and music into programs that can otherwise drift into artistic corners. As 3D animation has developed, their style has become more complex and diverse, which has limited their pure entertainment value this year, but strengthened the films. Having them all in one session ruins their value as fun interludes, but is an interesting experience given their general style.


The entertainers

8 Bitssupinfocom Questionable plot, but love the use of gaming techniques and variable graphics quality of old platforms.

Hezarfansupinfocom Typical Supinfocom, lots of movement, colour and fast paced, comedic action.

The technically superb

D'Une Rare Cruditesupinfocom Simple idea: plants with heads, and therefore personalities. But wonderfully put together through the seasons.


Day 7

A day now traditionally book-ended by kids and late-night bizarre, with the bulk of international programs in between. The latter can be trying when it is something other than uncensored amusement, though the uncensored, technically awful and not funny are the ones I'd really like to see cut. Still a better program than last year though.


The entertainers

Mobilekids Charming, funny. Variable physics is the great friend of animators.

Memeeint #4 Whimsical take on a nursing home resident and her neighbour that, without being special, worked.

Mr Choco In Lovebizarre So many chickens had their head cut off this week.

The technically superb

Pixelsint #2 Plotless, but another making great use of live footage, computer graphics, and old school computer games.

Love & Theftint #4 These type of morphing musical films are brilliant when they work, and this one does - or I was going crazy by this point of the day.

The well plotted

Bike Raceint #2 Not as funny as the very similar bicycle from a decade ago, but the ebb and flow of narrative is mesmeric.

The bizarre but brilliant

Wisdom Teethint #2 Don Hertzfeldt, an awful lot of blood, what more needs to be said?


Day 8

The more animation I watch, the more I start to agree with the judges over the popular choice. I don't know if that is a good or bad thing. Nevertheless, I still see some films way more than I want to, and some never enough. This year's winner, Love and Theft was good, not the best, but it was a year with no standout film. I won't choose, because I don't have to. The list of worthwhile films serves its purpose for jogging my memory.

The technically superb

Big Bang Big Boomint #3 In typical outdoor style for Blu, but more ambitious in use of external objects and the scope of its reach.

The bizarre but brilliant

Polo's RobotAust. Still not entirely sure what to make of this film, but it looks brilliant.

Finer Things 28th June, 2011 13:47:47   [#] [0 comments] 

Notes from MIAF #1
Russell Degnan

Day 1

The problem with student films is they have to be made. In the absence of a better idea they tend to fit three categories: animation that displays technical mastery but has no plot/point; a basic and unsatisfying cliched plot with no character development to speak of; more ambitious storylines that with rare exceptions distract from the film through sheer awkwardness.

Advice for student animators: writers write these things called short stories.

On the plus side, the preponderance of quick and dirty 3D animation seems to be a thing of the past, with a great mix of animation styles coming through the programs - some far too derivative for my liking, but you have to start somewhere. Partly this is a programming decision, but it is undoubtedly a positive development. Now if only tv productions would change.

The entertainers

Mad Dogs And EnglishmenRCA grad Clever, but went nowhere.

A Tire D'Ailegrad #2 The better of two films with the same plot: second bird escapes death to wreck revenge.

Zhengrad #2 Very pretty. Travel orientated

The technically superb

Lose This Childgrad #2 Gorgeous 3D sand animation about turtles that got very depressing for unknown reasons.

The well plotted

Correspondencegrad #3 Timing a joke like this is everything. This was perfecy and it looks great too.

The bizarre but brilliant

LovermanAust. grad By Sacha Bryning. A touch of Bill Plympton; but in a fast-paced technically brilliant way. Far and away the best film in the program.


Day 2

I love walking home from the animation festival late at night.

Very few people have the time or energy to immerse themselves in a film festival but it has its own rewards, particularly animation, which draws you into its own world.

Objects in an animation have stunted lives; unlike film, until the animators moves them, they don't move, until the animator colours them, they remain grey, until the animator inserts a sound, the film remains silent.

That dearth of extraneous life has its good and bad points. Animation tends towards dystopian realities, because they are easier: robots, faceless creatures, empty landscapes, particularly deserts, space or dark streets. Lifeless environments and lifeless objects haunt the industry but they also make the truly exquisite scenes that much better.

It also heightens the senses. If an animator provides life in such limited quantities, then the viewer must be alert to every movement, action, colour or change. That is animation's strength. It can emphasise the miniscule detail by making it the only detail.

Merging back into the real world, late at night, when the streets really are quiet, every detail of the mundane becomes something: the single light in a hotel window, the lonely cab, the play of shadows from the trees or the shaking of a street sign.

I need a particular mindset to see the charm of mundane life, but the festival is a fail-safe method of achieving it.


Day 3

Polish animation is technically brilliant, but obsessed with death and destruction. Perhaps that is not limited to Poland. If animators want to write a tragedy, write a tragedy. But anarchic distopia for the sake of funky technical effects displays a certain misanthropy. That said: the technical quality makes up for the disconnected space the plots leave the audience in much of the program; and the less horrific films have great charm.

The technically superb

Paths Of HatePoland #1 Utterly mesmerising plane battle that goes mental at the end. A studio in need of a writer: Cathedral was the same.

Gallery / GaleriaPoland #1 A poster-child for making art from simple lines.

The bizarre but brilliant

Danny BoyPoland #1 Quirky, very funny, and charming (for once). Worth watching for the suppressed mirth of half-offended audience members at the finish alone.

Missed the New York session to play basketball... shot well, won by 1.

Finer Things 22nd June, 2011 02:39:26   [#] [0 comments] 

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