Watch 66 Oscar-Nominated-and-Award-Winning Animated Shorts Online, Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada

I recently heard someone quip that proposals to cut the Academy Awards are tantamount to suggesting that the NFL trim down the Super Bowl. Certainly for many who would rather watch the former any day of the week, even the play-by-play of technical categories repays attention. Yet people who think of the Oscars as a major sporting event with big stars and blockbusters going head-to-head can still appreciate the show as more than spectacle. How else, for example, would most of us learn about brilliant animated short films like the National Film Board of Canada’s Animal Behaviour, made by husband and wife team Alison Snowden and David Fine and nominated in this year’s Oscars? (See the trailer above.)

Snowden and Fine previously won an Oscar in 1995 for Bob’s Birthday, a hilarious short about an unhappy British dentist. Their latest film takes a charming, anthropomorphic route to the question Fine poses as, “Should what comes naturally to you be something that you seek to change to please others, or should others accept you as you are?”

Group therapy participants seeking acceptance include Lorraine, a leech with separation anxiety, Victor, an ape with anger issues, and Cheryl, a praying mantis, writes the National Film Board, “who can’t seem to keep a man.”

The NFB informs us that Animal Behaviour is their 75th Oscar-nomination in the category of Animated Short Film, and whether you’re inclined to watch this part of the awards or not, you can get caught up with their extensive playlist of 66 Oscar-winning and nominated films on YouTube. (Bob’s Birthday is not available, at least in the U.S., but you can watch it here.) See Snowden and Fine's first film, George and Rosemary, a story in which "two golden agers prove that passion isn't reserved for the very young."

Watch the very impressive stop-motion animation of 2007’s Madame Tutli-Putli, an “exhilarating existential journey” directed by Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski. See Chris Landreth’s 2013 Oscar-winning computer-animated short, Ryanabout a character “living every artist’s worst nightmare.”

And see the 2007 Oscar-winning existential animated short The Danish Poet, directed by Torill Kove and featuring narration by Liv Ullmann. The offerings are vast and varied, displaying the very best of Canadian animation, a national art that usually goes unseen and unacknowledged by audiences outside its borders. But after watching several of these films you might agree that NFB animation deserves its long history of recognition at the Oscars. See the complete playlist of films here.

Many of these films can be found in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A History of the Entire World in Less Than 20 Minutes

Thanks for watching history. I hope I mentioned everything. - Bill Wurtz

Here at Open Culture, we happily acknowledge that learning is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

The internet may be doing a number on our attention spans, but as the world has grown smaller, the educational buffet has grown richer, more varied, and vastly more affordable.

Take for example the History of the World.

Geography fans can approach the subject via Ollie Bye's year-by-year animated map.

John Green’s playful Crash Course series offers a wonderful respite for any kid grinding their way through AP World History.

Those of a more traditional mindset, who prefer a statelier pace can lose themselves in 46 lectures by Richard Bulliet, professor of history at Columbia University.

And then there’s world history according Bill Wurtz, above, a creator of short, anachronistic-looking videos, whose YouTube fame was kindled by Vine, a now defunct app for sharing short-form videos.

Chafing at Vine’s 7-second time constraints, Wurtz undertook a more ambitious project, a condensed History of Japan that would employ the same techniques he brought to bear in his shorter works: graphic text, clip art, and Microsoft Paint drawings. He zeroed in on the subject because he knew precious little about Japan, and looked forward to doing some virgin research.

Wurtz followed up the 9-minute History of Japan, above, with History of the Entire World, I guess.

The nonchalance of the title is reflected in Wurtz’s offhanded narration. Any word or phrase over two syllables runs a risk of being transformed into an infomercial-worthy musical jingle: space dust, the moon, Egypt…

You may bridle at first, but stick it out. Its charms sneak up on you.

Time is not particularly relative in Wurtz’s compressed universe. Whether it’s 10 minutes passing before some major development or 500 million years, their passage is accorded equal heft.

Humans show up around the four minute mark, grabbing stuff, banging rocks, figuring out agriculture…

(Mesopotamia’s characterization as a "sweet dank valley" between the Tigris and Euphrates is a particular highlight.)

This is the rare history video where science plays a major role. It takes time out for weather updates—the floor is no longer lava, the entire world is now an ocean… it’s sobering to remember that ozone is what made it safe for multi-celled life forms to venture forth on land.

Empires rise and fall, unconquerable rulers are unseated and forgotten.

(That's the Tamil Kings. Nobody conquers the Tamil Kings. Who are the Tamil Kings? Merchants probably and they’ve got spices…)

Of course the problem with a great overview such as this is the back end’s shelf life can prove rather short. It’s been a little over a year and a half since Wurtz posted the video, and thus far, his parting shots still feel pretty relevant: armed drones, 3d printing, plastic-choked oceans, and a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the desire to save the world and an actual plan for doing so.

Fried by 11 months of intensive research and labor on History of the Entire World, I guess, Wurtz is currently taking a leave of absence from history. These days, he’s pouring his energies into original music videos like "At the Airport Terminal." He also devotes a bit of every day to  answering fans’ questions, routinely turning in upwards of a dozen succinct humble, all-lowercase replies:

1.18.19  7:00 pm   what inspired you to make "the entire world, i guess"? was it a project you already had in mind from before or did you start it when you saw you could do more than just japan

it's always a nice idea to try to explain the whole world in one video. it's surely something i've always wanted to do, but wasn't confident/experienced/stupid enough to believe i could do it until after i had done japan which worked so well

1.18.19  12:53 am   are you ever going to make anything else as in depth as history of japan or the world?

that would take so much time that by the time it was done you probably wouldn't care anymore, but someone else will so i still might do it

Unsurprisingly, he’s the subject of a lively sub-reddit. One fan, reddit user n44m, was inspired to plot the timeline of History of the Entire World, I Guess, below.

To learn more about some of the civilizations, events and persons featured in History of the Entire World, I Guess, check out another fan’s annotated transcription here.

And rather than nitpick about certain critical bits of history that were left on the cutting room floor, try writing a script for your own history based animation:

The more you learn, the more you find out how much you’re gonna have to leave out. It’s like 99%. That was painful. - Bill Wurtz

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? A New TED-Ed Animation Explains

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 envisions a future where "firemen" are sent out not to put out fires, but to burn up any books they find with flamethrowers. To students assigned to read the novel today, the idea of an America that has outlawed books entirely might seem like an intriguing if far-fetched notion, perhaps more suited to the reality of the 1950s than the reality of today. Even if we've never read Fahrenheit 451, nearly all of us know the basic outline of its story by now, so why should we still read it? In less than five minutes, the animated TED-Ed video above by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Iseult Gillespie offers an answer to that question.

"Fahrenheit 451 depicts a world governed by surveillance, robotics, and virtual reality, a vision that proved remarkably prescient, but also spoke to concerns of the time," says Gillespie. "The novel was published in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.  The era kindled widespread paranoia and fear throughout Bradbury's home country of the United States, amplified by the suppression of information and brutal government investigations. In particular, this witch hunt mentality targeted artists and writers who were suspected of communist sympathies. Bradbury was alarmed at this cultural crackdown. He believed it set a dangerous precedent for further censorship, and was reminded of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the book-burning of fascist regimes."

These concerns, though relevant to the era in which Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, are essentially timeless. As with all dystopian fiction, the novel "amplifies troubling features of the world around us and imagines the consequences of taking them to an extreme." Some of the troubling features of the world 65 years ago have diminished, but some have greatly increased, and we would do well to bear in mind that in Fahrenheit 45"it was the apathy of the masses that gave rise to the current regime. The government merely capitalized on short attention spans and the appetite for mindless entertainment, reducing the circulation of ideas to ash. As culture disappears, imagination and self-expression follow." Culture may take many more forms now than it did in the 1950s, but without our constant vigilance, all of them could still be extinguished, just as easily as paper goes up in flame.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Complex Math Made Simple With Engaging Animations: Fourier Transform, Calculus, Linear Algebra, Neural Networks & More

In many an audio engineering course, I’ve come across the Fourier Transform, an idea so fundamental in sound production that it seems essential for everyone to know it. My limited understanding was, you might say, functional. It’s some kind of mathematical reverse engineering machine that turns waveforms into frequencies, right? Yes, but it’s much more than that. The idea can seem overwhelming to the non-mathematically-inclined among us.

The Fourier Transform, named for French mathematician and physicist Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, “decomposes” any wave form into frequencies, and “virtually everything in the world can be described via a waveform,” writes one introduction to the theory. That includes not only sounds but “electromagnetic fields, the elevation of a hill versus location… the price of  your favorite stock versus time,” the signals of an MRI scanner.

The concept “extends well beyond sound and frequency into many disparate areas of math and even physics. It is crazy just how ubiquitous this idea is," notes the 3Blue1Brown video above, one of dozens of animated explorations of mathematical concepts. I know far more than I did yesterday thanks to this comprehensive animated lecture. Even if it all seems old hat to you, “there is something fun and enriching,” the video assures us, “about seeing what all of its components look like.”

Things get complicated rather quickly when we get into the dense equations, but the video illustrates every formula with graphs that transform the numbers into meaningful moving images.

3Blue1Brown, a project of former Khan Academy fellow Grant Sanderson, has done the same for dozens of STEM concepts, including such subjects as higher dimensions, cryptocurrencies, machine learning, and neural networks and essentials of calculus and linear algebra like the derivative paradox and “Vectors, what even are they?”

In shorter lessons, you can learn to count to 1000 on two hands, or, just below, learn what it feels like to invent math. (It feels weird at first.)

Sanderson's short courses “tend to fall into one of two categories,” he writes: topics “people might be seeking out,” like many of those mentioned above, and “problems in math which many people may not have heard of, and which seem really hard at first, but where some shift in perspective makes it both doable and beautiful.” These puzzles with elegantly clever solutions can be found here. Whether you’re a hardcore math-head or not, you’ll find Sanderson’s series of 3Blue1Brown animations illuminating. Find them all here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

Dogs sees us as their masters while cats sees us as their slaves. - Anonymous

The next time your friend’s pet cat sinks its fangs into your wrist, bear in mind that the beast is probably still laboring under the impression that it’s guarding the granaries.

Anthropologist Eva-Maria Geigl’s animated Ted-Ed Lesson, The History of the World According to Cats, above, awards special recognition to Unsinkable Sam, a black-and-white ship’s cat who survived three WWII shipwrecks (on both Axis and Allied sides).

It’s a cute story, but as far as directing the course of history, Felis silvestris lybica, a subspecies of wildcat that can be traced to the Fertile Crescent some 12,000 years ago, emerges as the true star.

In a Neolithic spin of "The Farmer in the Dell," the troughs and urns in which ancient farmers stored surplus grain attracted mice and rats, who in turn attracted these muscular, predatory cats.

They got the job done.

Human and cats’ mutually beneficial relationship spelled bad news for the rodent population, but survival for today’s 600-million-some domestic cats, whose DNA is shockingly similar to that of its prehistoric ancestors.

Having proved their value to the human population in terms of pest control, cats quickly found themselves elevated to welcome companions of soldiers and sailors, celebrated for their ability to knock out rope-destroying vermin, as well as dangerous animals on the order of snakes and scorpions.

Thusly did cats’ influence spread.

Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of domesticity, women's secrets, fertility, and childbirth is unmistakably feline.

Cats draw the chariot of Freya, the Norse goddess of love.

Their popularity dipped briefly in the Late Middle Ages, when humankind mistakenly credited cats as the source of the plague. In truth, that scourge was spread by rodents, who ran unchecked after men rounded up their feline predators for a gruesome slaughter.

Nowadays, a quick glimpse at Instagram is proof enough that cats are back on top.

(Yes, you can haz cheezburger with that.)

Dogs may see our service to them as proof that we are gods, buts cats surely interpret the feeding and upkeep they receive at human hands as evidence they are the ones to be worshipped.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City January 14 as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The King and the Mockingbird: The Surreal French Animated Film That Took 30 Years to Complete, and Profoundly Influenced Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata

Animation, as anyone who has ever tried their hand at it knows, takes a great deal of time. The King and the Mockingbird (Le Roi et l'Oiseau), for example, required more than thirty years, a journey lengthened by much more than just the laboriousness of bringing hand-drawn images to life. But it does that gloriously, with a style and sensibility quite unlike any animated film made before or since — a signature of its creators, animator Paul Grimault and poet/screenwriter Jacques Prévert. Having already worked together on 1947's Hans Christian Andersen adaptation The Little Soldier (Le Petit soldat, not to be confused with the Godard picture), they chose for their next collaboration to animate Andersen's story "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep."

"The pompous King Charles, who hates his subjects and is equally hated in return, rules over the amusingly named land of Takicardia," writes critic Christy Lemire. The most prized item in his art collection is "his portrait of a beautiful and innocent shepherdess with whom he’s desperately in love. What he doesn’t know is that when he’s asleep, the shepherdess and the chimney sweep in the adjacent canvas have been carrying on a sweet and tender affair." Still King Charles keeps trying to win her, or steal her, for himself, "but the couple gets help thwarting him at every turn from the one character in the kingdom who does not worship the monarchy: the brash and trash-talking Mr. Bird, a brightly-feathered raconteur." The film's mood "shifts seamlessly from impish, silly adventures to grotesque and nightmarish suffering. And then the giant robot arrives."

This may sound ambitious, even for the only animated feature in production in Europe at the time. Alas, the company took Grimault and Prévert's increasingly expensive project out of their hands after just a couple of years, and in 1952 its producer André Sarrut simply released it unfinished. (You can watch the now-public-domain American version of the film, dubbed by a cast headed by Peter Ustinov and titled The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, just above.) But Grimault and Prévert held fast to their vision, the latter revising the script until his death in 1977 and the former, having won back the rights to the film, assembling a team of animators to produce new scenes and cut out some of the old ones. This complete version of The King and the Mockingbird had its French premiere in 1979, though it wouldn't reach America until just a few years ago.

"I'm sure this all sounds familiar," says Youtube animation video essayist Stevem in his analysis of The King and the Mockingbird as a surrealist film. "The production was too ambitious, the company steps in and pulls it back, and in spite of its issues it's remembered as a cult classic, and inspired some of the big names along the way." Those names include Studio Ghibli founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. "We were formed by the films and filmmakers of the 1950s," Miyazaki once said. "It was through watching Le Roi et l'Oiseau by Paul Grimault that I understood how it was necessary to use space in a vertical manner." Takahata saw Grimault as having "achieved better than anyone else a union between literature and animation."

Though Studio Ghibli's filmography may offer plenty of memorably surreal moments, The King and the Mockingbird occupies a plane of animated surrealism all its own. Drawing comparisons to Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet (previously featured here on Open Culture), Stevem quotes the line from Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifesto about "the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought." That's the sort of experience Grimault and Prévert's film, in its finished state, offers, while also, in the words of Vulture's Bilge Ebiri, drawing on "Fritz Lang and perhaps the style of Walt Disney from the great era of Snow White. There are interesting anticipatory echoes, not just of anime, but Roald Dahl and the Vulgaria of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Just the sort of mixture only possible — only even imaginable — in animation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

See Classic Japanese Woodblocks Brought Surreally to Life as Animated GIFs

Much of the image we have of life in Japan in the 17th through the 19th century, we have because of woodblock prints, or specifically ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world," which vividly capture a great variety of scenes and the people who inhabited them. The once-closed-off Japan has changed a great deal since that era, on most levels even more so than other countries, and the artistic portrayals of Japanese life have also multiplied enormously. Yet even in the 21st century, ukiyo-e continue to provide a compelling image of Japan in its essence.

But that doesn't mean that ukiyo-e prints can't be updated to reflect the present day. Filmmaker and animator Atsuki Segawa, writes Spoon & Tamago's Johnny Waldman, "takes traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and sets them into motion through digital animation. He began his collection of 'moving ukiyo-e' in 2015 and has been slowly adding to his collection." At those two linked Spoon & Tamago posts you can see a selection of ten of Segawa's creations, which hybridize not just art forms but eras.

Here you can see Segawa's take on, from top to bottom, Kiyochika Kobayashi's Firework Show at Ryogoku, Katsushika Hokusai's Yoshida at Tōkaidō, Toshusai Sharaku's Nakamura Konozo and Nakajima Wadayemon ("If anyone has ever eaten oden you’ll know how this man feels," adds Waldman), Hokusai’s Ejiri in Suruga Province, Hokusai’s Great Wave, and Utagawa Hiroshige's Fujikawa. Keep your eye on that last and you'll notice Doc Brown and Marty McFly cruising through the scene, only the most obvious of the anachronistic touches (though as time travelers, what really counts as anachronism?) Segawa has added to these classic ukiyo-e and set into motion.

Segawa's other "moving ukiyo" introduce flying drones into an Osaka marketplace, the multicolored lights of speeding cars down a quiet seaside road, a Shinkansen bullet train passing a resting place full of weary foot travelers, and violent motion to the waves and boats in Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanazawa, quite possibly the most famous ukiyo-e print of them all.

Sheer incongruity — incongruity between the times of the elements depicted and referenced, between the aesthetics of the past and the aesthetics of the present, and between the technologies used to create and display the originals and these light-hearted revisions — has much to do with the appeal of these images, but somehow it all makes them feel much more, not less, like Japan itself.

via Spoon and Tamago

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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