The overnight sensation that vogue media pundits call “storytelling” was actually heralded as an art form long before it became a tool of persuasion adopted by marketers waxing romantic over the wonders of an Oreo. While the interweb has provided the platform and tools to empower great telling of tales, we find simple stories that touch the heart, provide subtle layers of complexity, and leave the audience pondering its varied nuances in short supply. I point to “Heavyweight,” by British animator/illustrator Joe Sparkes, as several cuts above the pedestrian Film School 101 clips that overpopulate the web channel universe.
The film school analogy refers to the fact that Sparkes, 26, created this two-minute, 40 second clip as his recent graduation project from London’s Kingston College’s School of Animation and Illustration. This filmmaker is no newcomer to the art world, previously making his mark as a book illustrator for Random House. In “Heavyweight,” we see the story of a fighter unfold, from locker room to the ring and back again, blurring the enigmatic boundaries between expectations and reality, as well as the muted contrasts between rage and simple acts of kindness. To go into greater detail would spoil the beauty of the marvelous work — a colorless, voiceless animation whose complex narrative requires repeat views to understand its elegance.
The boxing ring is perhaps only a metaphor for anyone entering an overwhelming challenge armed with talent, but unsure of his or her footing, letting self-doubt overrule confidence and experience. A trip to this young animator’s personal web page provides a look into his process as it evolves from sketch to completed video. As an added bonus, proving the accuracy of the “birds of a feather” adage, it’s worth checking out the work of Sparkes’ colleague and sometime collaborator, Jonah Ainslie. Both have become Vimeo darlings, giving hope for the future of real storytelling.