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:

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:, 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:, 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!