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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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The Independent Side of WonderCon

WonderCon isn't just a glorified costume party and geek shopping spree. Anaheim is just 30 minutes away from Los Angeles and its major movie studios. Costume design, animation, makeup and special effects are all an important part of the movie industry. Independently produced features are screened and future artists come to be inspired.

During the festival, animated and short features run almost non-stop. Even at SD Comic-Con, similar sessions are sparsely attended.

At the end of the weekend, the Best of Fest, Vol. 2 screened favorite short films and animation from festivals, including Chris Mais' stop-motion 2009 "Smile," Justin M. Rasch and Shel Rasch's 2009 stop-motion animated short "Gerald's Last Day" and Rod Maxwell's 2005 "The Wishing Well." All have won awards.

"Smile" is a cheery 10-minute tale about a yellow stick figure who befriends a Smiley Face yellow balloon but an evil black pirate threatens to destroy them and then there's that dangerous live-action wired-hair Jack Russell terrier.

In the clay animation "Gerald's Last Day," an overweight brown dog has until 5 p.m. to be adopted. He attempts to be the kind of dog that he imagines the various people who visit that day might want, ever hopeful. This sweet little animation has won several awards (including Best Animated Short at the Maui International Film Festival, Best Animation at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival).

"The Wishing Well" is a short film that uses blackface, yellowface and some gender-bending so that one man—writer, director and actor Rod Maxwell, can play 26 characters. Each character was filmed on a green screen and based on images he found in magazines or online. The main character was based on an unhappy looking accountant in a business magazine that Maxwell happened upon, but the incident itself was based on his friend's attempt to buy happiness in love by throwing coins into a wishing well in Chinatown.

Each character required four hours of makeup and Maxwell estimates the short cost him between $10,000-$15,000 and took about two years in the making.

Maxwell has his fans and they were young. Having seen him on the SyFy cable network reality show, "Face Off," they came to see him in person and asked a few questions. "Face Off" is a show that pits special effects makeup artists against each other, but isn't a cutthroat competition according to Maxwell's experience on the show. Maxwell was a contestant on the third season during the summer of 2012. The show is currently finishing up its sixth season.

Maxwell was at the NYCC and transformed Edwin Contreras into a Strawberry Flavor Monster as part of the reality show competition:

One young boy asked about Maxwell's first project and how old he was. Maxwell recalled that in the third grade he sculpted the  "Clifford the Big Red Dog" from the children's book series. He emphasized that "you can read and learn how to do anything", but a project that is "emotionally rewarding" is best.

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