Nate Milton + This American Life tackle fossil fuels

Drawing of a hand holding a lump of coal between its thumb and index finger in front of a clear sky and glowing sun

Animator Nate Milton’s Eli was a highlight of 2019, a personal and highly ambitious dive into the worlds of manic delusion, magical thinking and high strangeness. Although he’s released a few odds and ends since then, he held off until yesterday to share another ambitious project: a trio of short films on fossil fuels and climate change, created in collaboration with This American Life and broadcaster Robert Krulwich.

Krulwich’s folksy narration and Milton’s loose, hand-drawn animation complement each other marvellously, each of them alternating between gravitas and whimsy, though not always at the same time. The science Krulwich shares here is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s presented clearly and creatively, outlining the scale of human consumption and not mincing words about the potential consequences. Milton’s love of science and reverence for the natural world come through in spades, his knack for distilling complex emotions into singular images serving him well in the world of science communication.

The trilogy premiered on CBS Sunday Morning in June, and all three together take less than 20 minutes to watch. Not a bad way to add some educational content to your media diet.

Monday Short: Dreamland

Monday Shorts is a blog series I write for the Quickdraw Animation Society, spotlighting an independent animated short each week.

Festivals and film critics are prone to splitting films into binaries to make them easier to talk about. Films are fiction or non-fiction, comedy or drama, animated or live action. Within animation, films are 2D or 3D, CG or hand-drawn, narrative or non-narrative. As useful as those terms can be in quickly conveying something about a film, they all share the same issue: none of those pairs are as binary as we like to think. The best art thrives on ambiguity, pushing back against easy definition in ways that challenge our need to categorize everything.

Mirai Mizue’s 2018 short Dreamland is a perfect example. The whole film is a rapidly-cut assemblage of rigid geometric shapes and patterns, with nothing resembling a representational drawing, let alone a character. If you were to judge it based on the looped GIFs that Mizue shares on his Twitter feed, it’d be hard to see it as anything but non-narrative. It epitomizes the “abstract shape” stream of animation that dates back to Oskar Fischinger’s optical poems from the 1930s—a stream that has a “love it or hate it” reputation among even the most dedicated cinephiles.

Abstract as it is, though, Dreamland has a real emotional arc…

[Read the full post on the Quickdraw Animation Society’s Monday Shorts blog]