Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club - My Life as a Zucchini

The third and final summer animation screening at the Detroit Institute of Arts' "DFT Animation Club" will be the Oscar Nominated film My Life as a Zucchini.

From the DIA's website:

"Saturday, August 12, 2017: 2:00 PM
Sunday, August 13, 2017: 2:00 PM
(Switzerland/France/2016—directed by Claude Barras)

After his mother’s sudden death, Zucchini is befriended by police officer Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home, where he meets other orphans his age. At first he struggles to find his place in this strange new environment, but with Raymond’s help and his newfound friends, Zucchini eventually learns to trust and to love as he searches for a new family of his own. Showcased at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for Best Animated Feature at both the Academy Awards® and the Golden Globe Awards®, Zucchini is brought to vivid life through its memorable characters and expressive stop-motion animation – a story that soars with laughter, sorrow, and joy, an enchanting testament to the resilience of the human heart.

This English-language version stars Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page and Amy Sedaris. Recommended for ages 12 to adult. (66 min.)"

Tickets for this event can be purchased at the following link: http://www.dia.org/auxiliaries/event.aspx?id=6441&iid=7765&aux_id=14&cid=100.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Animated People: Erik Timmerman, pt. 2 - "Roadworks"

R.I.T.'s Frank E. Gannett Hall,
home of the School for Film and Animation

In October 2016, I made the last-minute decision to attend "Brick City", R.I.T.'s annual homecoming. I had been back to R.I.T. several times in the past -- passing through on the way to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, speaking there as a guest lecturer, even doing research at the Wallace Library. But this was the first time I had attended homecoming as an alumni and I used the opportunity to get a side-project back on track.

Some background is necessary.

During one of my classes in Grad School, Erik mentioned Roadworks, the only experimental film he made during his tenure at R.I.T. Don't know if it registered with my fellow students, but I thought the premise was interesting and decided to check it out at the Wallace Library. Roadworks was this short film with an experimental/jazz soundtrack where the viewer was presented with a top-down view of a road and the soundtrack was timed such that nuances of the 'music' were matched with changes in the road markings -- dashed lines, parallel solid lines, etc.

So, I watched it. It was amusing enough, even moreso because of Erik's animated tale of how he had students cranking this roll of transparent plastic (with the road marks painted on it) in step with the music while the camera recorded the production on film. Afterwards, I returned the tape to the archives and filed that memory under another interesting experience during graduate school, among so many others.

As part of my greater collection, I actually maintain a library of films produced by my professors or films that they worked on: single DVDs like Skip Battaglia's Car Crash Opera or Stephanie Maxwell's tzzzz! as well as DVD collections that they've produced professionally--like Stephanie's compilation: Animated Works 1984-2007, which she released through IotaCenter. Eh, I may not be in school anymore, but that doesn't mean that my profs don't still have lots to teach me.

About a decade after Erik's untimely passing, it dawned on me that as time marched on, nobody would remember his film because fewer of us were around to tell people about it. Professors would retire and new ones would be hired. Students would come through the program, graduate, and move on to their careers. And unless the students were told about Erik and his contributions to R.I.T.1, both he and his film would be forgotten. So, I set about making Roadworks a part of my collection.

Well, fortunately some of us are bound and determined not to let Erik be forgotten. Case in point: Bill Landers. Bill is the Chief Engineer who keeps all the equipment running at R.I.T.'s School of Film and Animation. Though their relationship was sometimes contentious, Erik and Bill had a respect for each other--so much so that after Erik died, Bill had a plaque to commemorate Erik installed in one of the halls where the SoFA's animation labs are located.

Another example is my friend Leah. Both she and I donated commemorative bricks in Erik's name which were installed on R.I.T.'s Philanthropy Way (the Legacy Walk) -- a sidewalk between the dorms and the campus proper.

Back to Erik's film.

My 'little sisters' got a special screening
at the High Falls Film Festival that year.

In April 2013, I was visiting R.I.T. for the High Falls Film Festival in addition to doing research for my history of Women Animators project. Since I was in the library anyways, I took the opportunity to track down Roadworks and watch it again. Unfortunately, as everything was moving to digital, many of the VHS tapes were being archived and thrown away. The School of Film and Animation's copy had been rescued from a bin by Stephanie Maxwell and mailed to Erik's daughter, Erica, ensuring that at least one of Erik's children had a copy of his film.

The other copy was in the Wallace Library archives. I had done my homework ahead of time and walked into the archives with a printout of the Library's database index entry for Erik's film.

I spoke to the lead Archivist, Ms. Becky Simmons, and told her who Erik was and why I was trying to locate a copy of his film. As it turns out, Becky had never seen the numbering system for Erik's film entry in the database as it hadn’t been used for years. And, even after several phone calls to colleagues, she was unable to locate his film--if a copy even still existed at the Wallace Library. So, she apologized, we exchanged business cards, and she said she’d see what she could do. This was Friday at around 3:00 p.m. I thanked her for her time, and then walked across the library to do my research.

Around 4 p.m., I was elbow deep in the animation section when I received a call from Becky stating that she had found the library’s copy. His film had been located--sitting on a lonely shelf in a box with a couple other VHS tapes. Fifteen minutes later, I was watching Erik’s film downstairs on one of the few remaining VCRs that the library still had hooked up.

As there were only three VHS viewing stations left in the library and they were going to be retired in the not too distant future, I hurriedly ran downstairs, popped in the tape, plugged in my headphones, and watched Erik's film--hoping against hope that the almost fifteen years of sitting in a box hadn't caused the tape to deteriorate too much. Thankfully, it was in excellent condition and I watched Roadworks several times, each time bringing back a new memory of Erik and our time together at R.I.T. I was able to verify that it could be digitized with only minor clean-up needed for the soundtrack.

Afterwards, I returned the tape to Becky and asked about the procedures for preserving Roadworks. We agreed that before any digital copies were made, I first needed to contact one of Erik's children and obtain permission. It took me a couple years to track one of them down, but when I finally did, Erica quickly responded to my e-mail and gave me her permission to move this project forward.

Which brings us to R.I.T.'s 2016 Brick City Homecoming.

I invite you back in August to read part three: "Brick City".

* Erik was the man who started the Graduate Computer Animation program at R.I.T.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club - Sita Sings the Blues

It's July, and the animated film for this month's' "DFT Animation Club" screening at the Detroit Institute of Arts will be Nina Paley's masterpiece: Sita Sings the Blues.

This film will be screened twice over the weekend of July 15th and 16th. Details below are from the DIA's website:

"Sita Sings the Blues

Saturday, July 15, 2017 - 2:00 PM
Sunday, July 16, 2017 - 2:00 PM
(USA/2008—directed by Nina Paley)

Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved husband; Nina is a modern-day animator separated from her husband when he moves to India. Bickering shadow puppets act as comic narrators as these old and new stories are interwoven in a post-modern retelling of the ancient Indian epic, Ramayana, animated in a dazzling mix of traditional and collage animation style, and backed by a soundtrack from legendary 1920's jazz singer Annette Hanshaw. The result is a wryly comic, highly sophisticated work of animation that is as enjoyable for young audiences as it is for adults. To experience Sita’s visual charms on anything less than the big screen would be to miss something truly special!

Recommended for ages 9 to adult. (82 min.)"

Tickets for this event can be found at the following link: http://www.dia.org/auxiliaries/event.aspx?id=6440&iid=7763&aux_id=14&cid=100.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Animated People: Erik Timmerman, pt. 1

As longtime readers know, on June 30th I like to write about my friend and mentor Erik Timmerman who passed away on this date back in 2000. Well this year, I'm going to do something different. Instead of sharing a fond memory of Erik or a life lesson he taught me, over the next two months I'm going to write about a personal project involving Erik's filmmaking.

The Roadworks project that I'll be discussing was borne out of a two-fold desire to continue reinforcing many of my memories of Erik in my own mind as well as creating a greater remembrance of my friend such that his contribution to his students' lives, in addition to the animation program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, will be known by the students who come afterwards and never forgotten by those of us who knew him personally.

In order to do this, I'm going to ramble a bit about the steps that brought me and this multi-year project to it's current phase of development--and hopefully, it'll be completed sooner rather than later so I can share it in greater detail.

So tune in next month for part two of this blog post, titled "Roadworks", as I talk about the only experimental film Erik produced during his time at R.I.T. and my attempts to rescue it from obscurity.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club - My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

It's Summer and the Detroit Institute's "DFT Animation Club" will be showing three animated films over the next three months. The first is My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, scheduled for June 18th.

From the DIA Website:

"Sunday, June 18, 2017: 2:00 PM
Sunday, June 18, 2017: 4:00 PM
(USA/2016—directed by Dash Shaw)

From acclaimed graphic novelist Dash Shaw (New School) comes an audacious debut that is equal parts disaster cinema, high school comedy and blockbuster satire, told through a dream-like mixed media animation style. Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) are preparing for another year of working on their widely-distributed but little-read school newspaper, when Dash learns of a cover-up by the school administration’s that puts all the students in danger. Hailed as “the most original animated film of the year” (IndieWire), it reminds us how the high school experience continues to shape who we become, even in the most unusual of circumstances."

Recommended for ages 13 to adult. (77 minutes)"

Tickets for this event can be found at the following link: http://www.dia.org/auxiliaries/event.aspx?id=6439&iid=7762&aux_id=14&cid=100.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Animated Thoughts: Burnout... and remedies thereof

I have to admit that I've been struggling with burnout lately.

Longtime readers may have noticed that I skipped my yearly International Women's Day animator interviews this year. That was no accident. Part of it was me being tired after all the effort that it took to prepare and teach my History of Women Animators class. And part of it was me being disgusted with the current state of affairs in our American political scene. Last year, I let my membership lapse in an animation group that I had been a member of for years; reason being: they used to be an organization that was focused on promoting the art of animation. However, over the past few years, they've become a vehicle for partisan politics that has given many within their membership a license to be abusive and intolerant.

Personally, I have little interest in politics and don't want politics to seep in and dilute or overshadow the reason why I started doing the interviews in the first place: namely that I want to see women animators learn their history, find their voice, and tell their story. And while I'm currently working on transcribing an interview with a pair of woman animators that I recorded last month, sometimes you just have to step back and let the world rush right on by you towards the edge of that cliff while you keep working towards your goals.

Even my usual outlet: animation festivals have left me with overwhelming feelings of dread. This month, I skipped the second annual Detroit Animation Festival and the single animation screening at the Capital City Film Festival simply because I didn't want to risk spending two hours sitting through political rants played out on the screen. I've been trying to play it safe this year.

Although, in order to recharge my batteries, I have been doing a couple things:

Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion by Tom Gasek
Fluid Frames by Corrie Francis Parks
1. With the new version of DragonFrame being released, I'm dusting off my DSLR camera stand and dedicating time to solve that annoying image flicker problem so I can do some more under-the-camera work before I upgrade to version 4. Tom Gasek and Corrie Francis Parks have written excellent books on under-the-camera animation techniques, so I'm looking forward to finish reading those two books and doing a little experimenting. After all, I still owe my Auntie Martine a paint-on-glass film.

2. I am still working on the Women Animator interviews, albeit at a much slower pace which incorporates much of my prior research into asking the ladies much better questions. This refocusing, I think is going to show in my upcoming interview with Chicago-based animators Catherine and Sarah Satrun. Look for it and others on my Women of Animated Film website next month. I also had the opportunity to promote two Kickstarter campaigns for prior interviewees, so when the time comes, I'm hoping to re-interview Signe Baumane and Monica Brujenes about their experiences with crowdfunding their latest projects.

3. I've been taking time out to watch a fair number of animated features lately.

Back around February/March, I tried to see all the Academy Award nominated animated feature films around the time of the awards ceremony. Having already watched Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings, it was time to track down some of the lesser known features that were nominated this year. I started with the Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini, two amazing foreign-made animated films.

The Red Turtle was a co-production between Michaël Dudok du Wit and Japan's Studio Ghibli--home studio for Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki.

It's not often you see a film where there's no dialogue. And more to the point, a film where there's no need for dialogue. The Red Turtle is the story of a man who has been shipwrecked on an island and his attempts to escape his prison keep being stymied by forces beyond his control.

As a long-time fan of Dudok du Wit (the Monk and the Fish is one of my all time favorite short animations) and the works of Studio Ghibli, I went into his film with high expectations and they were met on every front. Definitely worth watching. I won't spoil the ending, but this film seamlessly blends real life with the surreal in a way that only a master like Dudok du Wit can.

My Life as a Zucchini was a very touching French/Swiss co-production animated using traditional stop-motion animation techniques.The story is about a little boy, nicknamed Zucchini by his mother, who ends up in an orphanage with other children around his age. After his introduction to the other children, the film then centers around Zucchini, the budding friendship with a new girl at the orphanage, and a police officer who befriends them both.

It's a great movie to see with kids (I'd say around 8 years and above, though you might have to explain some concepts to kids), but definitely have a box of tissues with you when you watch this film. It's a very emotional film that keeps you guessing how it's going to end. My Life as a Zucchini is being released on DVD on May 23rd. Don't know if it'll get an English dub, but it's worth a watch even if you're not into subtitled films.

I ended up skipping Moana. My heart just wasn't in it. It's a $5 rental on iTunes so I may still watch it sometime in the future, but after Zootopia beat out three vastly superior films: Kubo, Turtle, and Zuchinni, I just don't feel up to sitting through another formulaic Disney princess musical. Moana may be spectacular. It may not. I don't know. I just know that I'm tired of watching the Disney/Pixar behemoth win time and again over films that are far superior in story and structure and that dare to take risks with their storytelling and visual style. Over the past seventeen years, eleven of the films that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature were produced by either Disney or Pixar. And some deservedly so, like Big Hero Six, Wall-E, and the Incredibles, credit where credit is due. But you'll never convince me that there weren't any better films released during the years when Frozen or Inside/Out won. Anyways, I'm starting to rant and on principle, I don't like dogging other animators because I know how hard it is to produce an animated film, much less a good one. So I'll stop now and pin a five-dollar bill to my corkboard for when I get around to renting Moana.

Well, after binge-watching the last eight episodes of Sword Art Online season 2, I drove to Flint in order to watch SAO the Movie: Ordinal Scale. Amazing film. So good in fact that I drove to Bloomfield Hills a month later just to see the English dub version. I can deal with subtitles, but sometimes you just want to take in the lush visuals and subtle character animation without having to split your visual attention between reading dialog and watching the movie.

SAO: Ordinal Scale takes the characters we know and love from two seasons of the SAO anime series and thrusts them into a new conflict around augmented reality gaming in the real world instead of the full-dive virtual reality gaming that they are used to. It sounds simple, but the conflict between Kirito, Asuna and the villains builds in complexity until the final resolution in the last fifteen minutes of the film. The final battle was worth the price of admission and the $30 in gasoline alone! But if you haven't watched both seasons of Sword Art Online, definitely watch them before you watch the movie. Technically, it's not required, but the story will make a lot more sense if you do and you'll catch a lot of the subtleties to the characters' actions as well as a lot of Easter Eggs that the animators threw in from the first two seasons of the anime.

There's supposed to be a third season of Sword Art Online, but if they ended the series here, I'd be happy. It's a nice wrap-up to the SAO franchise.

The last feature I watched was Makoto Shinkai's masterwork 'Your Name.' Breathtaking. Simply breathtaking. Now one could argue that you could have made the entire film live action, but animation has such a unique charm to it that live-action simply can't match. On the surface, this film starts out as one of those 'body switching' stories that we've seen Disney produce here in the States ad nauseum using a flavor-of-the-month teenage actor or actress. But before the fish-out-of-water charm wears off, the story takes a much more serious turn. I won't spoil it other than to say that the film is well worth 90 minutes of your time when it comes out on DVD. I haven't seen any announcements yet, but Funimation did the English Dub, so I expect that it'll be released through them later this year.

Shinkai's earlier film 5 Centimeters Per Second has been sitting on my shelf for the better part of a couple years, patiently waiting until I worked my way through the stack of giant robot anime DVDs ahead of it. And I'm honestly not sure if I was better off going in to Your Name. cold or not. I had no expectations other than the fact that it was the highest grossing animated film in Japan last year and the film blew me away. So much so that 5 Centimeters Per Second is now at the top of the queue. Back when I watched some of the works of the late great Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers) there were many recurring visual themes--including one that played out in both climaxes of Paranoia Agent and Paprika which kind of detracted from them both. So, I'm hoping that 5 Centimeters Per Second doesn't share any thematic elements with Your Name. But even if they do, I'm happy to have been able to appreciate Your Name. completely on it's own merits.

Regardless, I can see why people are saying that Shinkai is the next Hayao Miyazaki.

4. Lastly, I've been looking for other venues where I can learn and sharpen my craft--funny how many of these include a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Now most times, my trips to the DIA are to see animated films at the Detroit Film Theater or rare exhibits, like the time they brought in a Monet painting from the Musee d'Orsay. This time was a little different. This time, they had a lecture on how multispectral imaging and x-rays are used to expand their research on works of art. And since Tricia over at Thistle Threads uses x-rays to help deconstruct 17th Century English goldwork embroidery, it seemed like attending this lecture was a good idea to gain a better understanding on what and how she does what she does. DIA Photographer and Imaging Specialist Aaron Steele gave a very informative and visually exciting presentation that ran from the basics of multispectral imaging applied to paintings all the way to recent discoveries made when taking x-rays of African religious statues. He even spent time talking about the process of taking high-resolution images of the DIA's art collection for researchers and novices alike. After packing in a ton of information in two twenty minute lectures, Aaron stuck around and answered questions (and got in a little shop talk) from the crowd. Needless to say, I picked up some tips and tricks of the trade that will be applicable to both my forensic animation work as well as my work on Tricia's English embroidery projects.

The moral is: creative burnout can be managed, if you're willing to stay active and search for those opportunities to recharge. :)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Animated Events: Your Name.

Coming up in two weeks is the perfect opportunity to show theaters in the Lansing area (and Michigan) that there is a demand for Japanese animation!

The Celebration Cinema theater here in Lansing will be showing "Your Name.", Makoto Shinkai's sleeper hit from Japan. And additionally, it'll be showing at the Celebration Cinema Grand Rapids North, and the Celebration! Cinema Crossroads in Portage, and the Rave Ann Arbor 20.

Here in Lansing, it'll be opening on Friday April 7th through Sunday April 9th and the website denotes that they're showing both the English dub and the Engish subtitled version.

Regarding the film, from the website listing: "From director Makoto Shinkai comes a beautiful masterpiece about time, the thread of fate, and the hearts of two young souls. The day the stars fell, two lives changed forever. High schoolers Mitsuha and Taki are complete strangers living separate lives. But one night, they suddenly switch places. Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body, and he in hers. This bizarre occurrence continues to happen randomly, and the two must adjust their lives around each other. Yet, somehow, it works. They build a connection and communicate by leaving notes, messages, and more importantly, an imprint. When a dazzling comet lights up the night’s sky, something shifts, and they seek each other out wanting something more—a chance to finally meet. But try as they might, something more daunting than distance prevents them. Is the string of fate between Mitsuha and Taki strong enough to bring them together, or will forces outside their control leave them forever separated?"

Distributed by Funimation, the English dub trailer for "Your Name." is in the video above and you can check times and purchase tickets for the Lansing screenings at the following link: https://celebrationcinema.com/location/Lansing/4-7-2017

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club: Ocean Waves

From the DIA/DFT Website:

DFT Animation Club: Ocean Waves
Saturday, March 11, 2017 - 2:00 p.m.
Sunday, March 12, 2017 - 2:00 p.m.
(Japan/1993—directed by Tomomi Mochizuki)

Rarely seen outside of Japan, Ocean Waves is a poignant, wonderfully detailed story of adolescence and the onset of adulthood. Taku and his best friend are headed back to school, but find their friendship tested by the arrival of Rikako, a beautiful new transfer student. When Taku joins her on a trip to Tokyo, the school erupts with rumors and the three friends are forced to come to terms with their changing relationships. The only Studio Ghibli feature not to have received American release until now, Ocean Waves is a touching teenage drama and a true discovery. Suggested for audiences 12 and up. Plus: Ghiblies Episode 2 – a rare Ghibli short never before seen in the US! In Japanese with English subtitles. (96 minutes total)

The Detroit Film Theatre is supported by your millage investment in the DIA.

General admission tickets for films in the DFT Animation Club series are $5. Admission is free to DIA members. Please show your member card at the door, no tickets are needed. General admission online and phone orders incur a $1.50 per ticket convenience fee.

See more and buy tickets online at the DFT website.

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 the 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!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Animated Events: 2017 Academy Awards Nominees

Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the nominations for the 89th Annual Academy Awards.

A lot of feelings regarding this year's nominees. On the one hand, I'm very happy to see that Kubo and the Two Strings was nominated in not one, but two categories. 'Kubo' was a beautiful film that deserved to do far, far better than it did in the box office. Travis Knight and the talented folks at Laika continue to impress with how they push the boundaries of stop-motion animation with every film they release.

And I'm very excited to see that Studio Ghibli was nominated for The Red Turtle. While a joint production between Ghibli and director Michaël Dudok de Wit, having followed the films of both for years, I'm really excited to see this film.

One sad note regarding the selections this year, there was only on female director nominated and it was for a co-directed film: Cara Speller for Pear Cider and Cigarettes. I'm not going to go off on a rant about the number of women creators in animation, however, I find it a little incredulous that there weren't enough women filmmakers making Oscar-worthy films in 2016 to garner more than one nomination, and for a co-directing position at that.

So, if you follow my sister-site 'The Women of Animated Film', this year is a little bittersweet. I was hoping to see more, especially after watching the trailer for the film Once Upon a Line, directed by Alicja Jasnia, which was in the running but didn't make the shortlist.

ONCE UPON A LINE by Alicja Jasina - Trailer from Alicja Jasina on Vimeo.

The following are the films nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short Film.

Best Animated Feature:
Kubo and the Two Strings - Laika
Moana - Disney
My Life as a Zucchini - GKids
The Red Turtle - Studio Ghibli
Zootopia - Disney

Best Animated Short:
Blind Vaysha - Theodore Ushev
Borrowed Time - Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Pear Cider and Cigarettes - Robert Valley and Cara Speller
Pearl - Patrick Osborne
Piper -Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

Also worthy of note are the additional nominations in separate, non-animated categories:

Best Documentary:
Life Animated - Roger Ross Williams

Best Song:
"Can't Stop the Feeling" - Trolls - Dreamworks
"How Far I'll Go" - Moana - Disney

Best Visual Effects:
Kubo and the Two Strings - Laika

As always, for those who would like to see these short films before the awards ceremony, they will be playing at the Detroit Institute of Arts' Detroit Film Theater in January and February.

The schedule from the DIA's website is as follows:
  • Friday, February 10, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 11, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 12, 2017 - 1:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 12, 2017 - 6:00 PM
  • Friday, February 17, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 18, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 19, 2017 - 1:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 19, 2017 - 6:00 PM
  • Friday, February 24, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, February 25, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 26, 2017 - 1:00 PM
  • Sunday, February 26, 2017 - 6:00 PM
  • Friday, March 03, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Saturday, March 04, 2017 - 7:00 PM
  • Sunday, March 05, 2017 - 1:00 PM
  • Sunday, March 05, 2017 - 6:00 PM

The Academy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, February 26, 2017.

Congratulations to all the nominees and to all the filmmakers who submitted their films for consideration.

* The Academy Awards and the Oscar are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Animated Events: Women of Animated Film - the College Class!

Huntington University... 'Go Foresters!'
Well, after a several month break from blogging, I'm finally back behind the keyboard. In truth, I never left, but my late-Summer, Fall, and Winter seasons were taken up by copious amounts of research into and writing about women working in the field of animation.

Some background is necessary:

Two years ago, a friend and fellow ASIFA/Central member who teaches at Indiana's Huntington University asked me if I'd be interested in teaching a J-Term course about women animators. Well, we didn't get the paperwork submitted on time for me to teach during January 2016, but we were right on track for 2017. And it worked out for the best as that extra year of research and prep-time helped me create a better course than I had originally planned. I wrote the course as a three credit-hour class (though we billed it as a two-credit hour class to make it more affordable for the students) and taught it in three hour blocks for eight days (working out as eight, six hour days).

The class content was a mixture of historical information, films, film analysis, and discussion of current events. Though it's hard to pick a favorite aspect of the class, one near the top of the list was an afternoon workshop where I instructed the students in the basics of sand, paint-on-glass, and silhouette/cut-out animation--techniques used by Lotte Reiniger, Caroline Leaf, Martine Chartrand, and Lynn Smith.

This being the first class I've taught in a collegiate setting, it was mercifully free from problems. Other than a DVD that went bad during a screening and the ever present 'volume control' on the sound system, the class was free from technical glitches or other issues that would detract from the learning environment. And when the class was over after that second week, I found myself wishing for just one more day to share one more animator with the class--as my research would prove: there's no shortage of women out there who are creating wonderful animated films. It was extremely heartwarming to read the students' daily journals and have them come up to me after class and state how much they enjoyed learning about these women animators and how the class inspired them to seek out their films on their own time.

The best surprise was that at the end of the two weeks, several students chose to make films for their final projects. All were very good, but one sand animation was excellent. I've encouraged Jemimah to send it out to the festivals, so hopefully you'll all get to see it soon.

The folks at Huntington University were very friendly and went out of their way to ensure that my class was a success for me and their students. The other professors and staff were a real joy to work with.

All-in-all, while I've already pinpointed things that I'd do differently and modifications I'd like to make to the class, I would definitely run this class again!