The minute you press play and the initial images of La Noria wash over your eyeballs, one’s immediate reaction is a simple “wow”. Maybe you’re more jaded than me, and the sheer insanity of modern CG animation fails to move you, but speaking for myself, despite 10,000 hours of short film watching under my belt, a life-long love of animation, and the existence of recent photo-real short films like Garden Party, the level of design polish in great, commercially-minded 3D animations can still take my breath away. Fortunately La Noria has a couple of minutes of setup in the beginning, because shortly thereafter my breath taken away again for altogether different reasons.
The annals of CG horror shorts in this sort of mainstream style is rather limited—9, by Shane Acker, certainly played in this space, and Alma is a creepy holiday classic. Both films are over a decade old though, and neither can really match La Noria for sheer terror. From the monster design which feels ripped out of some the most twisted corners of the Resident Evil game franchise, to the tense horror-chase mechanics, this film is, in spite of its seemingly kid-friendly design, truly adrenaline-producing.
The story itself is a touch less impressive, but ultimately satisfying. It has elements of heart-string pulling, as it focuses on a ferris wheel-loving child who is torn up over the loss of his father. Gathering photos and other mementos together into a sort of shrine, the child’s heart-ache seems to birth the darkness that soon threatens him. Details from the photos hint at a back-story—the military uniform his father wears for example—and naturally create associations in one’s mind to the work of Guillermo Del Toro and his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. While this setup is nicely pulled together into a cathartic and feel-good ending, it is mainly table-setting for the action, which is intense, and in comprising the bulk of the 11min runtime, quite long by short animation standards.
One can’t question the exquisiteness of this action—a spooky old mansion, replete with string lights and stained glass windows, provides a splendid backdrop for scrambling chases and doors frantically being shut in the face of grasping monsters. More so than even the design quality, it is in these sequences that the experience and skill of director Carlos Baena seems to show.
Baena has over 20 years of experience in animation with tenures at Industrial Light & Magic, and Pixar on his resume, and credits that include work on massive franchises such Star Wars, Toy Story, and Jurassic Park. Produced under the banner of his own production company, NightWheel Pictures, Baena took advantage of his status as co-founder of Artella, an animation platform that allows for virtual collaboration, in the creation of the film. Baena used the platform to source a diverse crew of independent artists to work on La Noria, with over 100 contributors ultimately joining the project, hailing from all over the world.
The result paid off—not only is La Noria a stunning showpiece for Baena and Artella, it has received widespread acclaim, winning dozens of awards, including Best Short at Tokyo’s prestigious Short Shorts Asia. Dropping online this week with an exclusive post on Variety, the celebration from worldwide audiences is sure to spread. As for Baena’s next steps, he is currently set up at Paramount Pictures. Details on his projects there are under wraps for now, but with luck, we’ll be seeing a feature film from Baena on the big screen in the near future.