Sunday, June 30, 2013

Animated People: Erik Timmerman

Every so often, I'll log on to the internet and look for breadcrumbs... articles that Erik wrote, memories from people who knew him, the very rare photograph, stuff like that. I was pleasantly surprised when, as a member of ASIFA Central, I discovered an article that Erik had written residing on our website critiquing the '94 Ottawa International Animation Festival.

This particular article had special significance to me because this was the first Ottawa International Animation Festival that I attended as a first year Grad Student at R.I.T.'s Computer Animation M.F.A. program.

I can still remember seeing Erik standing there outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa after one of the evening screenings. He was wearing a black leather trenchcoat and sunglasses. Erik smiled when me and the other grad students walked up to him and said 'hi'.

The following article meant so much more with the connection that I had to the films. I remember sitting in the balcony with my fellow students, howling with laughter as we watched Nick Park's film "The Wrong Trousers" or when we marveled at the sublime artistry of Barry Purves' stop-motion film "Rigoletto".

Now that Erik is gone, these memories become more and more valuable because I won't be able to make any new memories with him. However, they also become a treasure map of sorts. When writing the introduction to Erik's article for this entry, I was able to reach back to my memory of him in Ottawa, then reach over to my desk and pull out the 1994 Ottawa festival reader to verify the date of that particular festival (sort of a parity check for my memory), and finally, retrieve a DVD from my collection and play Skip Battaglia's film "Restlessness" in the background as I typed these words.

Later on, I'll go back and re-read Erik's article. And I'll watch Skip's film again. I'll think about Erik's words and analyze Skip's film in order to see what Erik saw and think what he thought. And when it's over, I'll reflect on those days when Erik was alive and I'll let those thoughts be the catalyst to recovering more memories of my days at R.I.T. and the too short years I had with my friend.

Another View of Ottawa by Erik Timmerman

"You want a review of the Ottawa International Animation Festival?" The judges lacked the one quality essential to judges: judgment. There's your review of Ottawa.

Skip Battaglia was robbed. His new film "Restlessness" was, in my book (JR by William Gaddis), the best film of the festival. And I'm not saying this just because he has an office down the hall from mine. Rarely do I see a film which evokes a "yes! that's exactly how it feels" response from me. "Restlessness" was one such film. Combine this with the adventuresome graphics we have come to expect in Skip's movies and you have an obvious winner. One mild criticism: he shoulda called it "Lust." Erica Russell was robbed. Her new film "Triangle" demonstrates significant artistic growth since her earlier, excellent "Feet of Song." "Triangle" is everything an animated movie should be: a good story told through motion and color. Russell's use of picture space to represent three dimensional figures in motion, while, at the same time, presenting us with formal, two dimensional geometrics, is simply exquisite. To quote my pal Morty Avalon, the Hollywood agent: "This [woman] is a gorilla!" High praise indeed. Barry Purves was robbed. His "Rigoletto." a 30 minute, in English, version of Joe Green's (well, how would YOU translate Giuseppe Verdi?) opera is a masterpiece of puppet animation. The sets are magnificent, breathtaking; the puppets imaginative, the puppetry flawless. I guess you can tell I liked this film a lot. Puppets, it is said, are better than actors because actors have to find the character whereas puppets are the character. Certainly true of Purves' film. Nick Park's "The Wrong Trousers" won the Public Prize (le Prix du Publique), and deservedly so. This is a half hour of rousing good fun in which Park tells the Hitchcockian tale of a mysterious roomer, an unscrupulous penguin, who, in dastardly fashion, disguises himself as a rooster. Gromit, a faithful dog, must use all his resources and then some to rescue Wallace, his boob of a master, from the penguin's evil machinations. Phil Mulloy, who shocked, outraged, and entertained the hell out of the Ottawa '92 festivalgoers with "Cowboy Fun," was back and topped himself with "The Sound of Music." I personally know a dozen audience members who are still recovering. "My Favorite Things That I Love" by Janet Perlman poured sweet syrup over the audience until we all were howling with laughter. Special mention must be made of "The Big Story" by Tim Watts and David Stoten. To make a movie in which all the parts are played...ahem, overplayed by Kirk Douglas is a significant (and hilarious) accomplishment. Both "Bob's Birthday" and "The Janitor" both won awards. Both shouldn't have. Both had clever and funny sound tracks. To which animated images added nothing. "Bob's Birthday" quite possibly would have been funnier as a live action short. I don't like bashing any animated film because the simple fact that it is completed and shown is a testament to human courage and endurance, but when I think that these two films won prizes and "Triangle" and "Restless" went away hungry, my mind reels (no pun intended). I can't rest until I comment on the film that opened the Festival: "Trawna Tuh Belvul." Somebody heard a 14 and a half minute monologue describing events on a train journey from Toronto to Bellville, Ontario and thought to himself: "hey, that would make a great movie." He was wrong. Dead wrong.

Where is all the computer animation? There were only two or three computer pieces at the Festival. What are all you people doing with all your magnificent animation machines?

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Photograph from Andrew Davidhazy's Retired Professors and past colleagues from the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT webpage.

Article reprinted in it's entirety from the ASIFA/Central newsletter archive, circa 1994.