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Filmmaker:  Thomas Hinke
Country: Germany
Year made: 2005
Length: 4′ 58″
Technique: hand drawn animation


The title is introduced with a burst of lively jazz music. A forest glade appears, and birdsong can be heard. Three sparrows fly down to a tree stump and start to cheep in a brisk syncopated rhythm. Suddenly something zooms overhead: they all stop and duck. They start cheeping again, accompanied by the sound of drum and bass from the jazz band. Once again something zooms past and this time in long shot a smoke trail can be seen in the background.

Before the sparrows can resume their song, the zooming comes back. A large bird with a propeller on its back flies up to them and hovers nearby. Suddenly it honks loudly and they all fall off the stump in fright. The Propellerbird looks puzzled and zooms a little closer. The sparrows fly off to another stump and start singing again. The Propellerbird reappears and hovers nearby as before. They chitter angrily at it. The Propellerbird turns and zooms away, enveloping them in a cloud of smoke. They prepare to start singing again but they hear the Propellerbird coming back.

A chase ensues: the Propellerbird is much faster than the sparrows and they soon fall one after the other through the propeller blades. Ruffled and shaken, they huddle together and plan what to do. They fly away; the Propellerbird returns and follows them as they fly into the foliage of a big tree. They come out the other side unscathed, but the Propellerbird can be heard stuck in the tree as its engine sputters to a halt. The sparrows land smugly on a branch and prepare to resume their song, but are indignant to hear a sudden ‘Honk!’

The Propellerbird is dangling from the tree, its propeller caught in the branches. The sparrows chitter angrily again while the Propellerbird honks back. Suddenly the Propellerbird falls to the ground, but without its propeller, it can’t fly. The sparrows fly around its head in a triumphant dance: the Propellerbird tries

to fly up to them but fails. As it lands, the propeller drops out of the tree and lands beside the Propellerbird. Through an iris-in, we glimpse the Propellerbird fetching the propeller and zooming off again.

Filmmaker’s comments

I’m fascinated by seeing something moving and becoming alive that only existed before in my mind. It could become anything, but it becomes what you make of it. If you can see people laughing or even crying when they watch your movie it is the most wonderful feeling in the world!

Everything started with a sketch of a bird with a propeller on his back. So the difficulty was to find the right story around him. The story came by giving him the three little sparrows and thinking of a lot of different ideas. We then drew the 5 key pictures that told the whole story. After that we did the animatic and Carsten [Raabe] the composer worked on the music at the same time, because we had to have the final music before we did the animation. We split the animation: one of us did the Propellerbird and the other did the little sparrows. Jan [Locker] and I worked very hard, usually from 2 or 3 in the afternoon until 5 or 6 in the morning. It took about 4 or 5 months altogether.

Things you might notice

Everything takes place in a single 2D plane (ie there are no reverse shots or changes of angle) and there are only basic indications of the setting. This is common in animation (see also the early drawn animation sequences in Animatou).

The way the action is coordinated with the music, with the percussion coming in softly at first to establish the rhythm.

Themes to explore

Character: Establishing and differentiating characters through simple features such as expressions and movement as well as body shape is important in animation. The plump sparrows’ laboured flight contrasts with the stretchy body and wild acceleration of the Propellerbird. Close- ups show facial expressions reacting to events.
Moral judgments: Is the Propellerbird a bully or just an awkward person looking for others to play with? Do the sparrows exact a cruel revenge or are they just defending their right to sing in peace? Opinions may differ on this and you will need to re-view the film a few times to enable children to argue the case either way.

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