Craig “Spike” Decker works like one of Santa’s rejected elves year round, gathering the vilest and most cutting edge animated short films to present to the world in one hilariously grotesque package called “Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted Animation Festival.” It’s fitting that one of his newest acquisitions knocks the Christmas tradition on its rear, sometimes literally.
“One of the pieces we’re really proud of this year I recently picked up at the Annecy Animation Festival in France, is called ‘12 Days of Elves,’ ” Decker says on the phone from his office in La Jolla, California. He has run the festival himself since his business partner, Mike Gribble, passed away in 1994. “It’s a Christmas film, if you will (laughs). It’s extremely well done and extremely funny. Perfect timing. I saw it and immediately knew I had to get it for the ‘Sick & Twisted’ show.”
“12 Days of Elves,” like many of the films Decker has taken on the road over the past four decades, is equal parts innovative animation and gross-out humor. Even a general synopsis of the film wouldn’t be fit for print, but rest assured, the often flatulent antics of Santa and his helpers will immediately explain why ‘Sick & Twisted’ screenings feature complimentary barf bags.
Raunchy sense of humor aside, Decker knows real talent when he sees it. He and Gribble created a genre unto themselves in the late ’70s when they started producing and screening animated shorts for adult audiences at a time when animation was widely considered “kid stuff.” Decker and Gribble were key in ushering in several new generations of filmmakers, and the two are credited with producing and screening student films from such renowned directors as Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,”) Pete Docter (“Inside Out,”) and John Lasseter (“Toy Story”).
Decker watches thousands of animated shorts at festivals around the world each year, and he says even though modern technology has made filmmaking technology more widely available, talent is still a rare commodity.
“It’s sort of like an analogy of giving out a thousand guitars. Well, where’s the thousand Jimi Hendrix-es?” Decker says. “We see a lot of really, really bad films. After doing it for so many years, you just know when a Stradivarius walks in your music store in the first chords that are played.”
Though he admits he’s “old school” and prefers traditional cell animation, Decker keeps an open mind when searching for films for his ever-expanding library of shorts.
“We’ve had everything over the years from animation made from pieces of candy to puppets and clay, to traditional cell to computer animation,” he says. “It’s about the content, especially the timing and the humor, or the narrative and the story and how accessible it is, and whether it works or not.”
Decker says this year’s “Sick & Twisted Festival” continues to break new ground as far as talent and humor are concerned, and he assures attendees they won’t find shorts of this quality by simply browsing YouTube.
“It’s a very diverse show that I curate, and it’s films from all over the world. The number one criteria for me is humor. It’s always been a fun show, and it’s about seeing these films on the big screen and creating a special event and an atmosphere out of it that you don’t get at home on a small screen or a computer. People can see some of the best animation from around the world, and truly some of the funniest, all under one roof.”
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer
Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation
9 p.m. Sat.
The Magic Bag
22920 Woodward, Ferndale