By Aaron M. Johnson
OPERA is a nine-minute short by Director Erick Oh, is a beautifully animated spectacle. Visually inspired by the artistic period of the Renaissance, art director Celine Qian You captures the mesmerizing image of a fresco mural, with intricate details of stone and fire. The simple character designs make it easier to navigate the immersive environment created. This unique style leaves you stunned.
The story takes on classism’s effect on society and humanity. Society is represented in a pyramid structure; which is divided into twenty-four sections. The top has an enthralling and spiritual figure that creates the day. As the camera pans down, you see the highs and lows of society. Closer to the bottom, the working class continues to pray to statues until war erupts. Color is a huge factor in this film; with warm brown tones contrasting to cool blue ones. The choice to use blue and red for opposing sides during the war scene also fuels the political tone of the story.
Background settings are not the only area color is utilized for a greater message. A few figures with different colored heads (purple, cyan, green, gold) are meant to reflect diversity. In this room, a guillotine is present and a figure at the top (with a white head) is issuing death sentences. In an article by Variety, Oh states “This stands for diversity: ethnic, ideological, religious or anything. But just because they are different, they are sinners. This was heavily inspired by all the discrimination we have in our society and culture”. Naturally, sound also plays a big factor. Andrew Vernon’s score creates an ominous tone that’s present throughout the entire film. As we move closer to the bottom of the pyramid, the sounds of war grow, with the music staying at a low and sinister quality.
A fun aspect is you can watch the film on a continuous loop. This illustrates the idea of history repeating itself in a constant cycle. The film also toys with the “eye of God” trope in that the viewer is given access to witness everything happening at once. To watch this film is like looking at a mural in a museum. The scope and tone feel like a complimentary short to Walt Disney Studios’ 1940 classic musical epic “Fantasia”; which in itself was a mature approach to the usage of animation. This is what the medium has needed for some time. We are witnessing the shift in adult animation, where it’s less of “adult humor” and more of a nuanced and experimental approach to telling a story. There are no lines of dialogue, and instead, you are forced to interpret and understand what Oh is showing you. You must perceive the action, but you can only look at one section at a time. It’s almost intimidating for a viewer to try to capture into words what they’ve experienced beyond the surface level.
With that said, the 34 animators that joined this talented creative team deserve a round of applause. It’s impossible to ignore the passion and skill that went into this. Nominated for “Best Animated Short” in the 93rd Academy Awards, Opera is a stunning piece of animation.
Opera premiered at SXSW.
Rating 4.5 of 5