Saturday, February 11, 2017

Animated Thoughts: Signe Baumane's Love Affair with Marriage

Signe Baumane - TAIS lecture, Toronto, 2012
If you've been following either of my Facebook pages, you know that after a successful theater run and world tour with 2014's Rocks in my Pockets, Signe Baumane is back in Brooklyn, New York and hard at work on another feature-length animated film!
Signe's first animated feature, Rocks in my Pockets, explored the history of depression and suicide in her family's history set against the backdrop of World War II and the Soviet invasion of Latvia. Well this time around, Signe has returned to the goldmine of her personal history and is using it to animate a story about love and marriage. In the appropriately titled My Love Affair With Marriage, Signe delves into her past relationships and asks herself why her two marriages failed.

But rather than explain it myself, here's Signe in her own words:


Exclusive Sample Footage for Kickstarter from Signe Baumane on Vimeo.

Currently halfway through her Kickstarter campaign, Signe has raised roughly one-third of the money needed for the pre-production work on her film. Once the necessary funds have been raised, she'll cast and record 26 voice actors, hire a composer to create twenty-two songs, and hire a musical director to cast the film's 'four singing Mythology Sirens.' If this sounds like a lot of music compared to Rocks in My Pockets, well that's because My Love Affair with Marriage will have several musical numbers.

On Signe's Vimeo page (at the following link: https://vimeo.com/202927349), you can see a some test footage of the bride with the sirens singing a classic tune.

Signe's "bride and the sirens".
Image copyright Signe Baumane
Something worth noting from the clip is how Signe is bringing back the technique of using three-dimensional paper-mâché backgrounds and digitally compositing her 2d animated characters over them like she used in 'Rocks'. For you animation history buffs out there, Signe is using a modern-day "Stereoptical Process" similar to that which was developed by fellow New Yorker Max Fleischer back in the 1930's and seen in Fleischer Studios films like 1936's Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor and the title sequence of 1941's Mr. Bug Goes to Town. As Max was stuck using the analog technology of his time, he used 3d cardboard and paper-mâché sets with the 2d animation cels suspended on a plane between the camera and the sets (see pp. 119-121 of 'The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer' by Ray Pointer for more information). Well fortunately for Signe, we're now living in the digital world of DSLR cameras and computer compositing. But it's really heartwarming to see some of these old techniques revived and updated for modern filmmaking. Whether knowingly or not, Signe has taken a technique from the 1930's and made it her own.

Well, enough geek-speak. In my opinion, here are the top three reasons why you should support Signe's Kickstarter campaign and help bring My Love Affair with Marriage to life:

1. Signe is a known quantity. Having already produced a large body of work, which includes short animated films and a feature-length animated film, you're investing in someone who has a proven track record of delivering on her promises--both in terms of producing her films and her Kickstarter rewards.

The 'Water Spirit' cel from Rocks in my Pockets
2. According to Wikipedia, last year there were twenty-four animated features either produced or co-produced in the United States. Only three had women directors--and they were all co-directors with men at that (Kung Fu Panda 3 - Jennifer Yuh Nelson, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Legend of Everfree - Katrina Hadley, and Ratchet & Clank - Jericca Cleland).

Signe is the writer, animator, director, and co-producer of her film. Once completed, 'Marriage' would add to the number of animated features directed by women.

Out of those remaining twenty-one films, all the others were directed by men. Now I don't have a problem with men directing animated films (obviously). But the fact that we don't have more women at the helm of feature length animated films says something about our industry and that is: we're missing out on one-half of the human experience with all it's unique visions, nuances, and experiences. Which brings us to point number three.

3. One of the things I've noticed over the years about the established studio system is that they aren't very willing to tell stories from a woman's perspective. While I understand that when one is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to make an animated film, this would tend to make even the most jaded exec rather skittish. As a result, they want to film to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and this lends itself to repeating certain styles of storytelling over and over. However, the financial success of films like Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and Disney's Frozen have proven that there is a market for films that tell stories that are relevant to women and are told from a woman's perspective. Sadly, all too often, women have to leave the studio system in order to tell these stories--those that are deeply personal to them and that resonate with a female audience (and a portion of the male audience who values good storytelling that exists outside of our own experience). And we, the filmgoing public are the ones who suffer since these films usually don't get as wide a reception in theaters as they would if they had the backing of a major studio.

So if, like me, you're chafing under the restrictions that we see in the selection of animated films out there, now is your chance to help breathe life into a project created and directed by a woman who wants to tell a story from her unique perspective.

You can be a part of the Kickstarter campaign right now. Just click on the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1055277857/my-love-affair-with-marriage/, and make your pledge.

The world of animation will be better because of it.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Animated Thoughts: the Annie Awards


Some random thoughts from the 44th Annie Awards:

  • The sloth joke from Zootopia was played out after the first time we saw it in the Zootopia trailer. In the words of another Disney character: Let. It. Go.

  • Really happy to see Kubo and the Two Strings get some recognition. Wish it had been in the box office, but glad to see it happen nonetheless. It's well deserved.

  • The portrait of class: the director of Life Animated called up the subject of his documentary and three of the animators on the stage to share in the award.

  • Good to see Bill and Sue Kroyer get an award for all their hard work and contributions to the field of animation. Technological Threat remains one of my favorite shorts of all time.

  • Made a mental note to track down the Abyss, a student film by China's Liying Huang and Wu Zheng and Deer Flower by Studio ZAZAC.

  • Funniest moment of the evening: the envelope mishap during the presentation of the Outstanding Achievement, Animated Effects in an Animated Production award.

  • The mirror dimension sequence for Dr. Strange won the award for Outstanding Achievement, Animated Effects in a Live Action Production. Very cool! Course, it reminds me that I'm gonna need to buy a bigger television when that DVD is released...

  • Zootopia is doing well during the awards ceremony. And congrats to them, it's deserved, but I'm still hoping that Kubo and the Two Strings gets some more love before the night is over.

  • I'm not a sports fan, but the Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant bit was pretty amusing.

  • And Laika animator Jan Maas wins the award for Outstanding Achievement, Character Animation in a Feature Production for his work on Kubo and the Two Strings! :)

  • Aaaannd, Kubo snags another award, this time for Outstanding Achievement, Production Design in an Animated Feature Production!

  • Am not getting the 'dog' joke that keeps popping up.

  • Was worth staying up just to see Caroline Leaf and Mamoru Oshii get the Winsor McCay Award for their career contributions to the art of animation. Lovely speech by Ms. Leaf--glad to see the NFB get a shout-out and well deserved praise. What a great surprise to see that Mamoru Oshii made the trip to California to receive his award.

  • James Hong is turning 88 years old this month... wow. He still looks like he's in his fifties! And still has that great sense of humor. :)

  • Hm. Nothing puts a damper on the festivities like partisan politics.

  • The Adventure Time "Bad Jubies" episode wins an Annie for Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production For Children. Congratulations to Kirsten Lepore! Wish she'd won 'Best Director for an Animated TV/Broadcast Production', but nice to see her get some recognition. :)

  • The Red Turtle wins the Best Animated Feature - Independent. I can't wait to see this film, though will have to wait until the end of the month to see it at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak. Time to schedule in a side-trip to the DIA.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Animated Events: the 44th Annie Awards


This Saturday, February 4th at 7 p.m. PST (10 p.m. EST), ASIFA Hollywood will be streaming the annual Annie Awards, a celebration of the best our industry has to offer.

Both the Production and Individual Achievement categories are listed on the Nominees page, however some highlights are below:

Best Animated Feature
  • Finding Dory - Pixar Animation Studios
  • Kubo and the Two Strings - LAIKA
  • Kung Fu Panda 3 - DreamWorks Animation
  • Moana - Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Zootopia - Walt Disney Animation Studios
Best Animated Feature - Independent
  • Long Way North - Produced by Sacrebleu Productions, Maybe Movies, Norlum Studios, France 3 Cinéma and 2 Minutes
  • Miss Hokusai - Production I.G
  • My Life As A Zucchini - Rita Productions, Blue Spirit Productions, Gebeka Films, KNM
  • The Red Turtle - Studio Ghibli – Wild Bunch – Why Not Productions
  • Your Name. - CoMix Wave Films
Best Animated Short Subject
  • Blind Vaysha - National Film Board of Canada
  • Deer Flower - Studio ZAZAC
  • Path Title Sequence - Acme Filmworks
  • Pearl - Google Spotlight Stories/Evil Eye Pictures
  • Piper - Pixar Animation Studios
Best Student Film
  • Citipati - Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg
  • FISHWITCH - Adrienne Dowling
  • The Abyss - Liying Huang
  • The Wrong End of the Stick - Terri Matthews
  • Twiddly Things - Adara Todd
In addition to the Production and Individual Acheivement awards, they'll also be presenting the Juried Awards for the following:
  • the Winsor McCay Award - 'for their career contributions to the art of animation',
  • the Ub Iwerks Award - 'for technical advancement in the art of animation',
  • the Special Achievement Award,
  • the June Foray Award - 'for their significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation', and
  • the Certificate of Merit.
You can watch the 44th Annie Awards ceremony live right 'here' on the Annie Awards website.

Congratulations to all the nominees!