Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Animated Thoughts: TAIS 2013 AniJam or "what I did on my pre-summer vacation..."

After submitting a short on the subject of "UFO's" to the annual TAIS AniJam, it was finally time for the drive to Toronto to see if the ten-second gag would get a laugh or not. A couple chuckles is really the most I can hope for. Every year, the TAIS ten-second film topic is announced and every year I wrack my brain until I figure out one good idea--which usually morphs into at least three or four really funny ideas--before I procrastinate, set aside the project in favor of billable work, or simply pass out due to exhaustion. And yet, a day or two before the film is due, something goes off in my brain telling me that I have to create a silly little gag film that reflects my off-kilter sense of humor, all so I can represent as the only American member of TAIS by driving to Toronto for the weekend. The ten-second shorts that I produce never live up to the raucous, gut-busting films that I see in my imagination as I invariably accept ten-seconds of animation that is far, far less then it could be since I'm only spending a few hours working on them the night before they're due. On the one hand, I'm reminded that this is why I did so poorly in undergrad, but on the other hand, I fool myself into thinking that I'm prioritizing my projects since the paying gigs are what helps me pay off the student loans with a little left over for that monthly Adobe Creative Cloud membership. However, these little ten-second gag films are what allows me to maintain whatever artistic sensibilities I have, so if ten-seconds every Spring is all it takes, who am I to complain? Especially since it means a weekend trip to Toronto where I can be a part of the most vibrant animation community in the Great Lakes region.

Friday began as it usually did, with me leaving home around 7 a.m. and making the five hour drive to Canada's largest city with a list of stuff to do over the weekend. After arrival and check-in at my hotel (and receiving yet more proof at the border that my purchase of a NEXUS pass was an extremely wise one when I was waived right through security), I braved the construction in downtown Toronto to arrive at the St. Lawrence Market for lunch. A jar of gourmet mustard purchased for my brother and a pea-bacon sandwich later, I reviewed my list of used books and bookstores and then started walking through the underground city. This year, the plan was to continue the research started at the MSU and R.I.T. libraries and save myself overdue library book fines by hunting down my own copies.

The first find of the day was at 'BMV Books' just north of the Eaton Centre: the 2004 printing of "Animation Now". I have the hardback 2007 reprint, unfortunately, that printing removed sections on CalArts, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, La Poudrière, and Supinfocom nor did it come with the sample DVD of animators' films. While I like the smaller footprint of the hardback 2007 copy, still I wanted the earlier printing to fill in the gaps left from the later printing. I also discovered a near-mint copy of the "Nelvana Story" and the hardback "Animation Magazine: the 20-Year Collection".

The good thing was that they were very reasonably priced--only one or two dollars more than what I could get online and all were in excellent condition. The bad thing is that two were hardback copies, all three books were a combined eight pounds, and together were the size of a large dictionary. Still elated from my discoveries, I made the admittedly poor decision to not go back to the hotel and drop the books off before continuing my search through all the used bookstores in Downtown Toronto that I could find. My visits to 'Silver Snail', 'ABC Books', 'She Said Boom Books and Records', and a couple others not on my list were fruitless--some good finds, but nothing I didn't already have. Had hoped to find something good at 'She Said Boom' since that was where I found Karen Mazurkewich's "Cartoon Capers" a couple years back, but there wasn't anything there and the girl working the counter was pretty rude, so I went on my way.

The Bloor Street location of 'BMV Books' was much more rewarding as it was there that I found a slightly-used copy of Giannalberto Bendazzi's "Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation". Knowing that Bendazzi is going to be releasing an updated copy of this book later this year, I didn't want to encounter the same issue as I did with "Animation Now". I'm confident that the additional information that Bendazzi is going to add in the updated version will be worth it, however, just in case he has to remove existing pages to make it all fit within a reasonable page count, I'd rather have my own copy now.

Satisfied with the day's deals, I returned to the hotel for a change of clothes. Needless to say, sitting in front of the computer for over ten hours a day over the past four years isn't a very good workout to prepare yourself for a day of walking all around downtown Toronto in close to 80 degree weather!

After a shower and nursing some blisters, I discovered that it had started raining. Even with an umbrella, I was going to get all wet again. So I stopped by the local Anime store (no love there, but admittedly the DVDs I'm looking for are pretty hard to find) then trudged through the rain to dinner at Hero Burger, and finally returned to the Grange Hotel. I spent the rest of the evening watching the last four episodes of "BTOOOM!" before doing some work in my production journal on the paint-on-glass film that I 'owe my Auntie Martine'. The Grange Hotel may be spartan, but their rooms have wireless routers. Makes for easy, uninterrupted streaming of anime over my iPad. "BTOOOM!" is another example of how far ahead of the game the Japanese are when compared to my American bretheren when it comes to breaking out of the animation age ghetto. The story may be slightly recycled from "Battle Royale", but it's still filled with solid storytelling geared for a more mature audience. Afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was able to solve a couple problems with my storyboards. I guess sometimes all you need is a change of scenery to jar your creativity and allow the ideas to flow through your pencil.

Saturday was research day for new material for my sister blog "Animated Women" (no pun intended). After breakfast, I went to the Toronto Reference Library to scour their film and animation section, much like I did at R.I.T. and MSU. Having been warned ahead of time by Patrick Jenkins that the Toronto Comic Arts Festival was in full swing, I tried to arrive as early as possible. But even then, there were hundreds of people mulling around, buying product and getting autographs from independent (and some not-so-independent) artists in the comic book scene, like the Hernandez brothers and J. Scott Campbell.

Was kind of unimpressed with all the crowds of people at the TCAF tables set up on the Library's main floor, so I went up to the fifth floor, which was much quieter and far less crowded! Still, it was five flights of stairs after being sore from all the previous day's walking. Again, not one of my more well thought out plans, but that's where the film and animation section was. There wasn't a whole lot there that I hadn't seen before, but I was able to review a couple books that are on my short-list: "British Animation: The Channel 4 Factor" by Clare Kitson, "French Animation History", by Richard Newpert and "The World History of Animation" by Stephen Cavalier. It was in Cavalier's book that I discovered a reference to the only book on cut-out animation that Terry Gilliam wrote: "Animations of Mortality". Gilliam, while still working with Monty Python, wrote this surreal little book in the United Kingdom back in 1978 and it only had one print run. It was also a book that I had seen on Friday as I searched through used bookstores--but I couldn't remember which one. Nightmares of running around Toronto a second time swam through my head and the clock was ticking as I was meeting Lynn Dana Wilton for dinner at 4:30 p.m.

As the cosplayers and furries were starting to increase in number, I needed no greater reason to leave the throngs of TCAF attendees behind. So, I hastily exited the library and retraced my previous day's path in nearly reverse order starting with 'She Said Boom'. The book was not there, however, a different yet equally rude employee was. After deciding never to darken their doorstep again, I went back to' BMV Books' on Bloor Street. And sure enough, there it was. Turns out I had passed it over when I saw the slightly-used copy of Bendazzi's "Cartoons" on the shelf below. The copy purchased, I returned to the hotel for another shower. After two candy bars, some serious hydration, and watching a guilty pleasure, the latest simulcasted episode of "My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute" (season two) streamed via CrunchyRoll's iPad app, I went to meet up with Lynn for dinner at the Kit Kat before we attended the TAIS AniJam screening.

Time flew by as we talked about our films, the motivations behind our projects, the state of the industry, and traveling to festivals. It was only through dumb luck that I checked the time on my phone during one of the very few lapses in conversation. We had talked through dinner and were left with only ten minutes to walk to the Cinecycle before the TAIS program began! Not more than once on the brisk walk up Spadina did I wish that I had more opportunities to break bread with colleagues--if for no other reason than the conversation.

There were some great films during the screening, and I loved how there was a wide variety of media and technique, but my favorites had to be the following:

"Hula Hoop" by Tess Martin was ninety seconds of visual wow! The story is a metaphor for the age old 'circle of life' tale animated with sand. But, in several places, the fluidity of the animation and precision with which the characters stayed on model left both Lynn and I wondering if some parts of this film were rotoscoped or if she had snuck in some computer animation. It's really refreshing to see some of the older, non-digital media used, but even more so when it's executed as well as this.
Hula Hoop from Tess Martin on Vimeo.

"The McIntosh Apple" by Janice Schulman was only a minute long, but this cute little mini-documentary about a "Great Canadian Invention" told the origin story of the McIntosh apple using a palette of bold lines and colored pencil textures.

Directed by Astra Burka and animated by Pasquale La Montagna, "My Titanic Uncle" was a wonderful "drawn on glass" documentary that told the tragic story of Burka's great-great-uncle Adolphe Saalfeld--a man who survived the sinking of the Titanic but was never able to overcome the stigma of being a survivor.

The screening ended on a high note with "Like Rabbits", the sequel to Osman Cerfon's delightfully twisted "Sticky Ends". A trailer for the continuing tale of the 'fish headed man' can be seen on Vimeo.

Madi Piller and Chuck Wilson
Special notice must be made for TAIS President Madi Piller's film "Animated Self-Portraits" where she contacted a plethora of Canadian animators with the instruction of creating an animated self-portrait using a cycle of only twelve drawings. While the film has not been released online, Acme Art and Works has posted the DVD packaging artwork on their website.

Afterwards, it was time to have a drink at the Cinecycle's bar and chat with fellow animators before dropping Lynn off at her home, driving back to my hotel, and falling asleep before my head hit the pillow. As nice as it was to see everyone again, the highlight of the meet-and-greet after the screening had to be bumping into Graydon Liang of the Canadian Animation Blog who has been advising me as I make the transition to shooting traditional animation with a DSLR camera. Walking away with another two pieces of the image-flicker puzzle, hopefully, I'll get to start filming my paint-on-glass film sooner rather than later.

Sunday arrived way too soon and immediately became a mixed bag for me. My plan to visit the Toronto Zoo was almost thwarted by a marathon that shut down nearly every entrance to the Gardiner expressway around Spadina Avenue. But, after finally making it to the Zoo, an hour behind schedule, the beautiful weather broke and it started to hail as I walked up to the admissions booth. The rest of the trip to the zoo consisted of me leaning into my umbrella against the rain and wind as I rushed from one enclosed display to the next. But, the critters inside the displays seemed to be a lot more active than the ones outside, and the weather kept most of the people away, so I had some time to collect photo and video references for animals that I usually only get to see in passing. My main reason for visiting the zoo was thwarted when I discovered that the newly renovated Asia section had been shut down to finish preparations for the giant panda display which would be opening in six days. Doom on me.

One of the more interesting things that happened there was when I encountered a girl who was drawing a peacock. A short chat revealed that she was a student who wanted to go to CalArts. So, at her request, I looked at her portfolio and gave her encouragement on her drawings--which displayed an excellent grasp of perspective, proportion and gesture. But as I walked away, I was angry at myself for not having a card that I could hand her to promote the interviews on my AnimatedWomen.info blog--the interviews being far more encouraging and informative than anything I could muster in a five minute conversation.

So, slightly crestfallen, I drove back to the hotel figuring that I'd walk around Kensington Market and maybe visit the chocolatier before going to dinner.

Patrick Jenkins
However, as fate would have it, when I returned to the Grange and checked my e-mail it turned out that Patrick Jenkins had sent me an invitation to come up and see his studio if I was still in town. A short jaunt on Toronto's public transportation later, and I got to spend the better part of the afternoon visiting with Patrick as he showed me his animation setup and provided me some first-hand advice on how he solved the flicker issue with his DSLR camera setup. Afterwards, he showed me the preliminary storyboards and test shots for his third NoirLand film. Not more than once during the afternoon, I was kicking myself for not bringing my digital audio recorder from home and continuing last February's interview.

After dinner, I was tired from yet another day of walking, so I picked up a drink on the way back to the Grange and watched the latest simulcasted episode of "A Certain Scientific Railgun S" on Funimation's iPad app. Again, sleep came easy that night as I reflected on the main advantage of being wired in to the net: 24/7 access to animation, be it through Crunchyroll, Funimation, the NFB's iOS app, or a plethora of other services more than willing to take my money in exchange for sending me animated film wherever I am in North America.

Monday morning rolled around sooner than expected and it was time to go, though I probably could've used another day or two in Toronto. There were still several used bookstores that I hadn't visited, but they would have to wait until this Fall when I stop through on my way to the Ottawa International Animation Festival. I bade farewell to the Grange for another few months and took the streetcars to breakfast at Marche Movenpik--one of the few landmarks still remaining from the days back in the '70's when my parents would bring me and my sister here for vacation. On the way back, I walked past the former location of 'Ginsburg & Wong', a Jewish deli/Chinese restaurant that was one of the three restaurants that my family would always visit on our vacations. With TAIS moving their offices away from the waterfront, the NFB Mediatheque closing their center on John Street, and the Silver Snail moving their store to Yonge Street, I drove home wondering how many places in Toronto that make it feel like a home away from home will soon only live in my memories?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Animated Inspiration: Ottawa International Animation Festival 2010

One of the things that I look forward to at every Ottawa Festival is the signal films. Sometimes they're artistic, sometimes they're funny, sometimes they're just way out there! But, they're always entertaining. Here's the four signal films from the 2010 Ottawa International Animation Festival that I really enjoyed. They were produced by Nathan Love and J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc.

You can watch more of the festival's signal films over the years, some as old as 1976, on their YouTube channel: OIAF Signal Films.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Animated Inspiration: "A Boy And His Atom"

Well, there's another one for the record books. Scientists at IBM have just made the world's smallest movie: "A Boy And His Atom"--shot frame-by-frame by moving actual atoms!

You can view the movie below, but once you're done, definitely take a look at their how-we-did-it film: "Moving Atoms: Making the World's Smallest Movie". I guess "IBM" really does stand for "Itty-Bitty-Machine" after all!

Animated Quotes: Brad Bird

“the point is, animation is not a genre. It is a method of storytelling. People are constantly analyzing it and misanalysing it as if it is a genre. It isn’t a genre. It can do horror films, it can do adult comedies if it wanted to, it could do fairy tales, it could do science fiction, it could do musicals, it could mystery, it can do anything.”
~ Brad Bird, 1997