Some of the most intriguing nonfiction film work being done today isn’t coming out in any theater or on a dedicated VOD platform, but on video sharing websites. The latest installment in our ongoing biweekly column on the best recent web documentaries is heavy on shorts about video games, reflecting the close relationship between YouTube and gaming. But I made sure to also highlight films about subjects as wide-ranging as watercolor restoration, sushi, and cultural perceptions of beauty.
“How Master Sushi Chef Seiji Kumagawa Uses Modern Technology to Upgrade his Hawai’i Omakase” by Eater
Sushi-making is steeped heavily in tradition, with a proper way to perform even the most minor tasks. This is a fascinating look at how one chef finds ways to accomplish the same steps in the process in a drastically shortened time with the help of household gadgets. This video’s best moment: using a handheld massager to knead octopus.
“Telltale: The Human Stories Behind The Games” by Noclip
Telltale Games revitalized the point-and-click adventure game genre in the 21st century, and found success with titles like its adaptation of The Walking Dead. But last year the studio abruptly fired 90% of its employees, and then later closed. Through interviews with several former Telltale workers, Noclip dissects the developer’s design and business models, and how it ultimately fell apart.
“The Internet is a Dangerous Place and Survival is Very Important and Difficult and I believe in you” by GoldVision
The channel GoldVision has been streaming video games in a steadfastly pacifist mode, even in violent titles like Grand Theft Auto. This compilation video presents clips from his adventures in various games, all set to meditative music. The result turns the landscapes of these games into something entrancingly, almost inexplicably, beautiful and peaceful.
“Conserving Gilliéron’s Watercolors” by The Met
In less than four minutes, this video captures the process through which restorers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art prepared three pieces by Émile Gilliéron for display in the new exhibition Watercolors of the Acropolis. Using unobtrusive subtitles in lieu of explanatory narration, the video tracks the watercolors (kept in storage for over 70 years) as they are brought back into pristine condition.
“TIMING — The 12 Principles of Animation” by New Frame Plus
There are multiple tutorials and explanatory videos out there about the storied 12 principles of animation. (Here’s a good introductory piece from last year.) This one focuses on a single principle: timing, specifically as it relates to character animation in video games. Since games are based heavily on feedback with players, this concept is particularly important for them. This video demonstrates not just the practical effects of different timing styles, but also how the speed of animation can help set the tone or theme of a game.
“How Aladdin Changed Animation (by Screwing Over Robin Williams)” by Lindsay Ellis
The release of the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin makes for a good excuse to look back at a major point of contention around the 1992 original. Aladdin was the first animated film to make a celebrity star a major point of its marketing — today a widespread practice for studio cartoons. At the time, however, building the movie’s advertising around Robin Williams’s Genie character went against the contract Disney had signed with Williams. Ellis goes into the story behind Williams’s involvement in the film, and looks at it as a case study in how the bottom line usually trumps ethical conduct in the movie business.
“How Localizing Return of the Obra Dinn Nearly Sunk the Game” by Ars Technica
Return of the Obra Dinn is a mystery game built around ascertaining what happened to the deceased crew of a ghost ship. For example, you can figure out that one character was knifed by another. But what happens when you have to translate the game into another language which doesn’t have a verb like “knifed”? In this video, designer Lucas Pope explains the process through which he ensured his game would make sense in every language.
“Beauty” by ContraPoints
Natalie Wynn makes some of the most well-produced and humorous videos of any indie YouTube creator, concentrating on various political and cultural subjects. Here, in the wake of undergoing facial feminization surgery, she reflects on standards of beauty and her relationship to them. Wynn approaches this specifically from the point of view of a trans woman, but expands the idea to the point where anyone can consider their own perception of themselves and others within this realm.
If you have a recommendation for a video to feature in this series, or want to submit your own video for consideration, please don’t hesitate to reach out to email@example.com.