A Year in Shorts Day 170: "Canhead"
In case it isn’t abundantly clear by now, I really love stop motion animation. Hell, I love animation in general, but stop motion holds a special place in my heart. There’s something about the level of hard work and ingenuity you can feel in every frame that just elevates it to a new level. Which isn’t to imply that other forms of animation lack that; hand drawn and computer animation are often impressive in their own right, and even the “cheapest” looking animated films often represent hours upon hours of hard work. But with stop motion, it just feels different. You can’t cut really cut corners with stop motion; there’s a reason that low budget knockoff studios never attempt it. Even the worst piece of stop motion is a labor of love, and the handiwork of its creators is always clear on screen. (Sometimes literally, as in the case of claymation films where you can often see the thumbprints on the puppets.) All of this to say that while Canhead might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s still a remarkable technical achievement in its own right.
Directed by Timothy Hittle, Canhead tells the story of Jay Clay and Blue, a claymation man and a dog, as they travel across a vast landscape made from various household objects atop a work table. Canhead is another fairly obscure short, so there's very little information available. It appears to be the second part of a trilogy, although only Canhead was nominated by the Academy. Hittle is primarily known for his work on other films, doing the special effects for Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic and even working as an animator at Pixar for a spell. In any case, Canhead makes a compelling case for Hittle as a director as well, showcasing a great deal of skill as both an animator and a storyteller. I'll embed the short below, although if you can I recommend watching the higher quality version here on Vimeo instead. Canhead is another of those shorts where the best way to explain why it's so good is to simply have you watch it, so you should definitely check it out!
While Canhead might not be the most complex short we've covered here, it's a damn impressive one nevertheless. This is due in large part to Hittle's animation, which is remarkably smooth and expressive, especially for a stop motion film made outside of a large studio. I can not imagine he had a large budget for this film, but that's one of the wonderful things about animation- your only true limit is your creativity, skill and the amount of time you're able to put into your work. And Hittle certainly shows himself to be very resourceful with this film, especially in regards to its titular character. Canhead has a delightfully "home made" feel to it without ever feeling cheap.
But in addition to the technical wizardry on display, Canhead works remarkably well on a story level. Again, it's not the most complex of tales, but as a simple adventure yarn it's funny, gripping and satisfying. This is no small feat considering it's told entirely without dialogue. But thanks to Hittle's skill as an animator (and helped along by Grey Laren's jazzy and expressive score), the whole thing is fun and easy to follow. There's nothing wrong with a simple story told well, after all. If you're a fan of adventure stories, stop motion animation or good movies in general, I highly recommend giving Canhead a watch.
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