Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Filmmaker draws on innovation for fresh take on animation

Artist selected animated short films for UT exhibit

Pierre Bertrand

Chances are, if you've seen a film by Austin independent filmmaker Geoff Marslett, you have not seen anything like it before. And if you've never seen any of his films, you are in for a surprise.

Marslett, 37, has a unique style of animation. It's fresh, and if you're not ready for it, it's a bit inventively unsettling. In his most recent works, Marslett uses a homemade filming technique that places rotoscoped actors in an entirely virtual world. The contrast is striking, and unlike other rotoscoped films such as Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly," there is no dizzying effect caused by shifting images and multiple color layers. The result is animation that hovers somewhere between live action and a traditionally hand-drawn cartoon.

"It's kind of a hybrid; it's sort of halfway between image processing and rotoscoping," Marslett said. "I wanted to create something that was simultaneously like a graphic novel. So I wanted the artwork to look a lot like the graphic novels that are made to look very realistic, and I wanted the character's expression to remain. I wanted you to still feel as if they were people, but I wanted them to be slightly distanced from us."

Marslett splashed into the Austin film scene in 1999 when he was in grad school. There he animated and produced a lo-fi short film, "Monkey vs. Robot," which would give the aspiring filmmaker his first rush of success.

"That was really my first piece of animation," Marslett said.

The 21/2-minute short went viral. It was shown on HBO, Univision and PBS and in film festivals around the world. Since then, Marslett has started to make a name for himself in animation.

Since he released his first short in 1999, the University of Texas lecturer has released 14 other films. In 2009, he was listed as one of the top 25 emerging faces of independent film by Filmmaker magazine. Last year, he screened his first feature live-action rotoscoped film, "Mars," during the South by Southwest Film Festival.

And on Jan. 28, UT's Visual Arts Center started showing a collection of short animated movies Marslett curated as part of the center's "Fade In" exhibit.

In curating the exhibit, Marslett gathered works from former students and professional acquaintances, from Portugal to Austin.

Xochi Solis, the center's director of events and public programming, said the exhibit is the first time the UT art and film departments have collaborated for an installation. It features 42 short animated films from various artists and animators. The shorts are projected from inside the art center onto three screens visible from the outside and will run on a continuous loop from dusk to dawn through March 12.

Marslett's work is also featured in the exhibit, including his most recent short, "Bubble Craft," originally a music video for the band Pilotdrift. For the filmmaker, however, the exhibit is more about presenting film as an art form. Pieces were included in the exhibit if they could stand alone and still be understood if decontextualized. In that way, passersby will not be unsure of the films' overall message or story. Because the films are projected for an outside audience, the entire installation is a collection of silent films.

Marslett had to put the exhibit together quickly. He started the project in December.

"I wish I had a year to find things," Marslett says. "But I think in a few months we have a gold mine of good things."

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

If you go ...

Austin Film Society will screen Geoff Marslett's ‘Mars' at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Alamo Village as part of its Best of the Fests series. 2700 W. Anderson Lane. $5 & $8.