One of the few problems with Manipulate is that, unlike many of Edinburgh’s better known festivals, it still draws in an industry-heavy crowd. A shame, as the breadth of 21st century animation and puppetry is only seen by a small, self-selecting group. And one thing that these three public screenings of the nominees for the 2016 British Animation Awards proves is that, when it comes to current trends in animation, the sky is seemingly limitless.
Unlike short live-action films (however beautifully shot or conceived), nothing is off-hand here – no concessions to location access, the limits of the human body etc. If you can think it and realise it – in chalk or clay, pencil or plasticine, digitally or otherwise – you can do it. A pair of thirsty blueberries discover their place in the desert food chain; the Microsoft Paperclip exacts a furious revenge on a world which has long forgotten how annoying he was; stick figures engage in monotonous and graphic war games; a woman’s brain jumps out of her head on a crowded train. It’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon, with no firm idea of where you’ll be taken next. And if you don’t care for the current film on-screen? A mere 10 minutes at most, and something else will be along.
In this vein and, given the fact that a public audience vote is taken throughout, the films are an excellent education in the subjectivity of art. Once a few shorts have been screened and the pencils have begun to scratch out their scores, it becomes impossible not to subtly incline the head, to see what those sitting in front or behind thought. At times, the audience reaction feels unified; Mr Madiba and Mr Plastimime both reverberate strongly, for their stunning originality and heartfelt narrative respectively. At others, you wonder if the people sat in front have just watched the same piece of work. Rattle That Lock, the music video to one of David Gilmour’s solo singles, is a fantastically evocative and grotesque setting of Satan’s fall, corruption and rebirth as the ultimate figure of evil. It therefore takes a fair amount of control not to reach forward and hiss ‘A 2? Out of 5? Are you mad??’
But ultimately, the voting neither adds to or detracts. In the end, the dazzling variety of drawing styles, and gloriously bonkers ways of seeing the world – it stands alone. I pity the committee forced to make the final cut.