Well, the Ottawa International Animation Festival has come and gone in a blur of light, color, and motion. While the following is my recollection of events and films, afterwards I encourage readers to hop on over to my sister site "Animated Women
" and read about some of my favorite short films, produced by women, that were screened at Ottawa 2013.
Monday, September 16th
Received a pleasant surprise from my parents. Since I gave up my Labor Day holiday weekend to take care of their house, cats, and business while they went out of town, they were nice enough to use their credit card points and rent me a car for the trip to Ottawa. Hello, direct connection between my iPod and the car's internal stereo system. Wow what a difference that made for the trip! I love my '03 Impala, but there's something to be said for listening to an audiobook without external radio interference bleeding over the speakers.
After picking up the car, I left for Toronto. While driving, I felt this odd sensation like there were chains holding me back to Michigan--chains called 'work to do', 'bills to pay', 'house to winterize' and 'flooded basement to finish cleaning out'. But this was the first vacation I've had since last year, so I soldiered on hoping that I made the right decision to leave town and 'try' to relax. Got to Toronto and pulled out the list of books I'm looking for. Walked to BMV over on Bloor Street and found a hardback copy of Bill Plympton's "Independently Animated" which he published with David Levy a couple years back. Mint condition in hardback for $14 CDN: "Score!!" This one has been on my shortlist for a while.
On the way there, I bumped into this girl on the street who was promoting the "Because I'm a girl" campaign. She gave me her pitch and said I should check out the campaign website as it promotes 'girl issues'. I told her that she should check out my website "Animated Women" as it encourages girls who want to become animators through interviews with current women animators. Was interesting to have a response to her cause--countering her with my cause.
Felt tired and a little sick that afternoon so after visiting Anime XTreme in Chinatown, I walked to the Dairy Queen in the Dragon City Mall to rehydrate with a cherry Arctic Rush (a Toronto tradition). Decided to take a nap back at the hotel and forgo any other shopping excursions (probably better for the wallet anyways). Woke up feeling a little better so walked to Hero Burger for dinner. I feel very unwelcome at restaurants when I eat there alone. Sometimes it's the waitstaff, other times its the host who seats me. This isn't just a Canadian thing, I get it back in the States all the time as well. No one did anything untoward at Hero Burger and the food was worth the walk, as always, but as I sat at a table for four people in a restaurant that was only one-third full of people (and had no available seats for single people), I felt uncomfortable nonetheless. Reminded me of a couple years back when the Thai restaurant down on Spadina wouldn't serve me just because I'm not Asian.
Went back to the hotel, crawled into bed, and watched Sleepy Hollow. Hoped that I could kick this quickly otherwise Ottawa was going to be miserable. Looked up the "Because I'm a girl" website. Some interesting stuff there. Like the idea behind it but am curious to know where they're getting their statistics from. See far too many examples of 'correlation does not prove causation' to take any stats at face value nowadays.
Tuesday, September 17th
What a difference a day makes! Felt about 95% to 98% when I woke up. Had a granola bar and some orange juice before going to the Toronto Zoo to see the Pandas. Ended up shooting some great footage at the zoo--of the Pandas as well as some other critters that I don't normally get to see. I don't know why, but I find the jellyfish oddly hypnotic. Every time I see them, more pieces of a 3d animation idea that I had years ago at the Lynn Smith TAIS workshop fall into place.
The drive to Ottawa was very relaxing. The weather was beautiful and there wasn't much traffic. Checked into the hotel and discovered that Barry had been there but was out and about. So I got unpacked and Esteban showed up before long. Had a wonderful dinner and conversation with him. The words flowed for the most part. Tried not to dominate the conversation but he is a very easy person to talk with and a really interesting person to listen to. It's always fascinating to hear about what he's working on as well as how his company, Echo Bridge
, is growing.
Afterwards, we met up with Barry, then Ben joined in for drinks and conversation. One of the rather unique events of the evening was when Barry introduced us to the owner and the executive producer of Nelvana. Asked Barry if she was someone who wouldn't mind being interviewed for my Animated Women blog. He said she probably wouldn't mind but is extremely busy so she might not have time in the near future for anything extensive. He also gave me some great advice about organizing a "Women of Animation" screening followed by an enthusiastic "DO IT" when I mentioned giving presentations at ShutoCon next year. Said that the screening might be something that other festivals might be interested in. Filed that under 'subject for future thought.'*
Wednesday, September 18th
Walked to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Left a message for the curator with my question about 2011's "Japan - Style, Innovation, Tradition" exhibit. Was drenched with sweat by the walk there and back to the Arts Court to pick up my festival pass. Once again, I made a resolution to exercise more before the next festival. Bought Tom Sito's book on the history of computer animation and Madi Piller's 'Canadian animated portraits' DVD when I picked up my festival pass. This year, the festival reader looks like a magazine format. There are no scholarly articles like there were in the past. I don't like that. The fact that additional copies were free doesn't really help. One of the things that has led me to hold onto every copy of the festival reader since 1994 has been the articles that Chris and Co. have included. It wasn't the only reason, I kept them, but it did make them more valuable in my eyes.
Was going to walk to a couple used bookstores but decided a 30 minute walk (one way) just wasn't worth it. Am grateful that the suite has a washer/dryer. Toweled off, changed shirts, then it was off to used bookstore just down the street from Dunn's Restaurant. Nothing there, but I did note how much more friendly Canadians are when you pass them on the street than Americans are. Lots of people smiling and saying 'hi' instead of trying not to make eye contact and rushing on to their next location. Went back to the hotel after lunch at Dunn's and did a load of laundry. Took a nap. Woke up feeling very poor, but the first film was in an hour so I went to the Bytowne Theater anyway. It was early so checked out the used bookstore right next door. No animation section, unfortunately, but shelves and stacks of graphic novels. Persistence paid off as I found a near-mint copy of Bruce Timm's sketchbook "Naughty & Nice". Check another book off of my wishlist. While Bruce Timm has been on my radar since the early Batman and Superman series, it wasn't until he was involved in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series before I really started studying his character design style. I love the simplicity in his designs but I find it a lot harder to emulate his style since you're taking the human figure and boiling it down to it's essence via minimal line usage and bold brush strokes. It's definitely something to strive for in my artwork. I just love how it incorporates the simplicity of design found in Sumi-e or the more modern works of Ty Wilson
--particularly in his 'romance' series of illustrations.
I met up with Glenn Ehlers at the first screening and had a great conversation with him about teaching animation to students who don't realize how much work is involved in producing a film... and how we animators can ofttimes use our pre-production 'to-do lists' to promote a false sense of progress in our projects when, in reality, we are using said lists to keep us from putting pencil to paper and actually 'producing' our films! Was interested in pursuing that train of thought further, but the lights dimmed as the first movie of the festival beckoned.
"Approved for Adoption" was a very touching film. The movie provided a lot of insights into the whole mixed-race family adoption scenario as he discussed what it was like being Korean and growing up in a predominantly 'white' European country. It was very thought provoking to hear the director's feelings of how he never felt like he belonged to either European or Korean society along with his lifelong struggles to understand why his mother had abandoned him on a city street. Would really like to see this film again.
Well, since there was a very bad bus versus train crash in Ottawa that morning, Chris apparently threw out his usual opening speech and instead told bad puns about animation to lighten the mood. Probably the funniest opening speech I've ever heard him deliver. With delightful groaners like "what's a Japanese animator's favorite tie?" -- "Hentai", Chris's deadpan delivery really turned those bad puns into crowd pleasers. My favorite one came later in the week: "Did you hear about the rich animator?" -- "Neither have I."
なにぬねのの Na Ni Nu Ne No No
from Manabu Himeda
The shorts screening opened solid with some real standout performances. My favorite was "Na Ni Nu Ne No No", a light and fluffy Japanese short that showcased a real playful wit while teaching kanji--I assume to kids. Hoped to see it again the next day at the Japanese school show-reel screening. Other favorites were "Wind
" by Robert Loebel and "Azul
" by Remy Busson, Francis Canitrot, Aurelien Duhayon, Sebastien Iglesias, Maxence Martin and Paul Monge--all three were student graduation animations.
Later, I only stayed at the opening night party at the Mansion Nightclub for the span of a fifteen-minute conversation with Glenn. The venue was cool, but as always, the music was too loud and I couldn't hear what anyone was saying. What can I say: I like being able to hear what people are saying when they talk to me. It's a curse.
The day ended with a shawarma and a soda from Three Brothers Shawarma downstairs from the Mansion--another Ottawa Festival tradition started by my brother and I many, many festivals ago.
Thursday, September 19th
Felt isolated all day. Didn't talk to anyone. Adam Elliot's short films, Japanese school competitions, short film competitions, Spanish animation retrospective, I just went from screening to screening. Standout films that really grabbed me were a little sparse. But, Chris was consistently funny with his bad 'animator jokes'. All in all though there were some good films and some that weren't to my tastes, but even the ones I didn't like had interesting techniques. Often, I'd find myself disengaging from the films I wasn't enjoying and try to figure out how I would achieve the same visual style using the tools I am familiar with. At least the new seats in the Bytowne Theater were comfortable--thus removing my only complaint about the Bytowne as a festival venue.
One highlight was that they strung together all four of the shorts in the "Rollin' Safari
" series and played them one after another. Was also happy to see "Crow's Nest" again.
Crow's Nest HD
from Robert Milne
The other film that I really enjoyed today was "Not Over" by Toru Hayai.
from Toru Hayai
And I was completely stoked to see "Kick Heart
", Production I.G.'s short film produced by former Lansing, Michigan resident Justin Leach and directed by Masaaki Yuasa.
Before the evening gala shorts screening, Chris admitted that the festival awards ceremony and after-party was moved to Saturday because of the first of two 'Breaking Bad' show finale episodes which screened on Sunday nights. I felt sick to my stomach.
My 'big thought' for the evening's screening was to wonder how many schools out there are still teaching drawing skills in their animation programs. I concluded from my unscientific sample of films during the day was either 'not many' or at least there aren't a lot who are trying to master the mark-one pencil. Probably just a trend though... a momentary dip in the technique that people are using as newer tools get to be the flavor of the month. Don't remember who told me this during the festival, but apparently Leonard Maltin said "the only thing we need for a 2d animation Renaissance is another Lion King." Might've been Eric Goldberg. I tend to agree--despite the fact that the longest running television animation show produced using 2d cel techniques just switched to being entirely digital
(it's a Japanese animation called "Sazae-san". Has been on air continuously for the past 45 years. Take THAT Simpsons!). Made a mental note to spend more time drawing. After the screening, I saw Esteban back at the suite. He had landed a job for his company at the TAC conference. Paid for his trip and justified his being here. I'm envious on so many levels--or at least I was until I got back home and started working on the next three online classes for Thistle Threads. Nice to be busy with billable work.
Ended up the day with having some ideas for my paint-on-glass animation. Felt the creative logjam in my head shuddering a little as I began to feel a little energized. Not much, but would see by next Monday. Was going to have lots of stuff to think about on the ten-hour drive home.
Friday, September 20th
Spent the morning hanging out with Esteban. I reiterate: he's a real easy person to talk with. We went to the morning shorts screening then hooked up with Barry for the annual Cartoon Network-sponsored animators picnic. Met two nice kids from Pratt on the bus ride there--Spencer and Morgan. Morgan reminded me of Brianne. Would've been a Freshman when Brianne was a Senior--said she thought she'd heard Bri's name spoken of back at Pratt. Sweet kid. She was happy to hear that Bri was working in California--proof that there is job after graduation.
Was very happy to see Skip at the picnic. Got to chat with him about Pacific Rim--which he finally saw. Met a fair amount of Canadian animators (Vancouver, NFB, etc) and got to touch base with Brooke Kessling. She loved the idea of a "Women of Animation" screening at next year's ShutoCon and said I could show her film "Boobie Girl". Saw Lynn Smith, Michael Fukushima and Steve Stanchfield at the picnic but didn't say 'hi'. They were all pretty busy and I didn't want to intrude. So went back to the hotel and bumped to Gary Schwartz as he was on his way to the picnic.
Another change of clothes at the hotel--this time due to a minor spilled chili accident at the picnic--and then I was off to the Canadian Animation screening. While there, was pleasantly surprised to see Lynn Smith in the front row. Afterwards, I talked to Lynn and got to meet her husband. She said she appreciated what I'd written about her on my blog. Would've liked to talk to her longer (and set up a proper interview rather than just my recollections of her workshop and my appreciation for her willingness to share her animation techniques), but time was short and I had to bolt to get to the World Exchange Center for the Disney presentation of "Get A Horse". Once the screening/presentation was over, I got to meet Lauren MacMullan (Disney's first solo woman director). She said she loved the idea of my Animated Women blog and agreed to an interview. So I chatted with her publicist and started the process to interview her in a couple months. Also got to meet Eric Goldberg. He was genuinely interested in my forensic/historical animation work. Said I was the first forensic animator he'd ever met. I told him how much I loved his book on character animation.
|Eric Goldberg and Lauren MacMullan|
Course, because of waiting in line to meet Ms. MacMullan and Mr. Goldberg, I didn't get to see the Monty Python movie "A Liar's Autobiography" but it's available for rent on iTunes. So, like "Mary and Max", I'll see it when I get home.
The two films from today's screenings I enjoyed the most had to be an abstract animated piece called "Virtuoso Virtual" by Thomas Stellmach and Maja Oschmann...
and a narrative animation called "But Milk is Important" by Elrik Bjornsen and Anna Mantzaris.
Gull Visuelt 2013 - Animasjonsfilm “But Milk Is Important”
Saturday, September 21st
Went to the Professional Development workshops at St. Brigid's that morning. Got lost on the way there--thank you Google Maps. Was cold and wet from a downpour when I finally found the location. But received an unexpected blessing as Steve Stanchfield from Thunderbean Animation
was sitting there by himself. We chatted for a while and then I asked him about film lifespans for films made back in the late 1800's to the early 1900's. He told me about the Library of Congress's short film archive then asked me what I was looking for. When I mentioned the 'lost films' of clay animator Helena Smith Dayton, he said that he had copies of four of her films--with one digitized on DVD even! After the workshop, he left. And that was the last time I saw him that weekend. My sister said that her career has been marked by the fact that she is always at the right place at the right time to meet the right person. After this week, I'm starting to know what that feels like. Every time something 'bad' or a minor inconvenience occurred, it was always right after I soldiered on that I was rewarded by being in the right place at exactly the right time to meet the right person and have an exciting experience that I wouldn't have had otherwise--more on that later.
The next workshop was from PIXAR about how they developed their short film 'Blue Umbrella'. Really nice stuff. Got a couple notes and some ideas. Afterwards was the Nickelodeon talk, pretty much the same. A lot of good information and insights into the creative process. I took some more notes. Then it was back to the hotel for lunch and to dry off. It had to have been during this time that I dropped my business card case with all my cards in them--more on 'that' later.
After drying off, I went back and hung out at the Disney talk with Glenn. Even though it was only forty-five minutes, I still learned a lot from Mr. Goldberg. But trying to follow Mr. Goldberg's presentation was like trying to take a sip of water from a firehose! I really need to go back and review the lessons in his book on character animation. There was just too much information for me to take in so I focused on what I could and made notes that will hopefully point me back to sections in his book for further study.
Snuck downstairs and talked to Tom Sito. He was surprised when I handed him a copy of 'Drawing the Line' for him to autograph. I was the first person to talk to him and the room was pretty empty. After our short chat about why he wrote the book and the importance of what the union was fighting for during the strikes, I shook his hand and turned away to walk upstairs. There was a line that stretched from one end of the room to the other. Good timing on my part! Went back upstairs and sat behind Glenn and a blond woman. He introduced her as Sarah Hansen. Turns out she's also an RIT Grad, from Glenn's class. We had a fair amount in common, or at least some common experiences at festivals with students. All three of us had a good laugh when we recollected getting snubbed by students as soon as they discovered that we didn't work in the Hollywood industry and couldn't give them a job.
The "Regular Show" presentation was pretty forgettable. I like what I've seen of the show, but the presentation was only 20 minutes long before the show's creator opened for questions. The guy seemed really unprepared. But, there was some interesting info in the Q&A session and he was really good with working the crowd. I particularly appreciated how he admitted to liking the writing process more than animating his show. Afterwards I took a nap in the hotel and then went to the Garret Van Dijk screening. My last communication with Garret was a little terse, so I really wanted to be there and support his posthumous screening. His widow was there in attendance to answer questions. Having never seen any of his work before, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had some films in his library that were to my tastes. You could see the same visual influence in some of his work in '60's and '70's that influenced the style of 'Yellow Submarine' or Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations. Mr. Van Dijk appeared to use lots of rotoscoping in his films. The guy also seemed obsessed with sex, based upon the content of the films the festival screened during his program. Wanted to say hello to Mrs. Van Dijk and thank her for screening her late-husband's films, but she was busy talking to people and time was of the essence, so I walked to the Arts Court for my next screening. Was devouring the novelization of 'Pacific Rim' when Barry walked in. I sat with him during the International Showcase screening and met his friend Scott. Barry sure knows a lot of people. The screening over, I grabbed another shawarma dinner at the hotel while Barry and Scott went to the party.
Noted that I hadn't had any epiphanies other than receiving some assurances that the Women of Animation stuff is a good direction for me to focus my energies on. Also that I need to make more films--at least one short per year, just like Bill Plympton does. At this point, I was finally starting to relax. But would be leaving the day after next and was almost at the stage where I was ready to go home and get back to work. Was really looking forward to the drive back with everything that I had to think about. Definitely made the right call on skipping the features this week as I can rent both "Mary & Max" and "the Liar's Autobiography" on iTunes and had experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise had I gone to these screenings. The day closed with a discussion with Scott about my Women of Animation project as he told me about the woman animators that he knew--more people to interview! It was then that I discovered that I had lost my business card case.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Sunday was a great end to the festival. I got up and said goodbye to Scott. Afterwards, I decided to retrace my steps and ask at the Arts Court if they had a lost and found, but not until after I went to the World Exchange Plaza to see the feature film "Cycle". Sadly, "Cycle" was forgettable. I had high hopes as I'm a sci-fi buff and the premise sounded interesting, but the director never gave the audience enough clues to understand what was going on. There were no groundbreaking visuals and the animation looked like it was just motion captured from a video game. If this movie is shown at WFAC, I'll skip it. Once was enough.
Walked up to the Arts Court. Was told that there was no lost and found at the festival per se, just at the individual locations. So as I walk out, who walks in but Stephanie Maxwell! We had a nice talk and she put me in touch with a couple of people at R.I.T. who might know how to get ahold of Erik's kids. She loved the idea of digitizing and posting Erik's experimental film. And that was the only time I saw Stephanie that weekend--another experience I wouldn't have had if I hadn't lost my business cards.
Next it was off to Tom Sito's talk on the history of computer animation at St. Brigid's. Sure enough, Kelly Neall said the card holder was turned in the other day. The cards were wet and ruined but the case was still good. It was on her desk at the OIAF Arts Court office--the festival's defacto 'lost and found'. Before Tom's talk (and getting his book autographed), Barry told me to be at the Bytowne Theater by 6:20 p.m. and we'd have a group animator's dinner together to close out the festival.
Then it was off to the National Arts Center for the Canadian Student film screening. There were some really good films shown during that presentation. And if that was the last screening I went to, I would've left the festival a very happy man. The selection was really uplifting with some great work produced by those kids, like "Fists of Finance", by Melissa Allen, "Unfortunately" by Camille Bertrand, and "Wind & Tree" by Konstantin Steshenko.
WIND & TREE Trailer
from Konstantin Steshenko
Then it was back to the Arts Court where I picked up my business card holder and wet cards. With lots of time, I packed up a bit of the hotel and went out for a beaver tail--another Ottawa tradition. The pastry was consumed with a black cherry soda and I continued to read Pacific Rim while defending my soda from yellowjackets. I did a little wandering through the farmer's market before going to the theater. Since I was about an hour early, I talked to Gary and Brooke while I waited. Bumped into David Chai afterwards--another guy I really need to make more of an effort to keep in touch with. Afterwards, Barry & Co. arrived and he, me, Pabla, Jo, Nick, Jeff, Alan & Corrie had dinner and great conversation at Dunn's. I drank up the community atmosphere. After dinner, we went our separate ways and a handful of us us went to the OIAF closing night party. One step inside the doors and I was done. The music was so loud, I couldn't hear anyone talking. Instead, I went to the 9:30p "Best of the Festival" screening.
It truly was the best of the fest. All my favorite films from the past week were shown (and only one that I didn't like). Contented that this was the perfect way to end the festival, I walked back to the hotel, packed, and got ready to go, secure in the knowledge that traveling to Ottawa was the right decision to make--if for no other reason than to be a part of the community that comprises the second-largest animation festival in the world.
* the 'thoughts' came in handy a week later when I discovered that the new MSU Art Museum has a public screening area where they show films. Barry's advice was very timely.