Monday, November 16, 2015

Special Holiday Screening: Boy and the World

Over the New Year's holiday next month, the Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit Film Theater will be closing the year on an animated note with a special holiday screening of the Brazilian animated feature film: 'Boy and the World'. This film promises to be an audio-visual feast as it's bereft of dialogue but filled with music from the Brazilian Samba and Hip Hop scene.

The screening schedule is:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015: at 3:00 PM
Tuesday, December 29, 2015: at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, December 30, 2015: at 3:00 PM
Wednesday, December 30, 2015: at 7:00 PM
Thursday, December 31, 2015: at 3:00 PM

And the link to the DFT's page where you can buy tickets is right here.

Up until recently, when they shut the festival down, the only way you could see films like 'Boy and the World' was to make the three hour trek into Canada to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. So be sure to take some time to support local theaters like the DIA's DFT that are bringing us animation. Ticket sales are how they know that there's a demand for anime and that they should bring us more! :)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season part three: ASIFA Central 2015 Animators Retreat

This year's retreat started out really well. Since the ASIFA Central annual retreat didn't start until the evening, Deanna Morse and I had the opportunity to talk about our careers in animation to local students who were there for the Mosaic Festival. Not sure if we had any future animators in the group but everyone seemed to like my car crash animations and Deanna's Sesame Street animations.

ASIFA Retreat at the Wealthy Theater
Later that night, my very own Smudge Animation sponsored the opening night party... with a little shameless promotion of my 'Women of Animated Film' blog.

The official ASIFA Retreat book (and lotsa cards)

The full spread including the annual ASIFA cake!

Animators realizing that the food is real and not 3d modeled!
The opening ceremonies were presided over and presented by our ASIFA Central President: Jim Middleton.

Jim opening the retreat with a reading from the "Book of McCay"

Another reading from the "Book of McCay"
After a welcome to the retreat from Jim, it was time for a screening of the 'Best of the 2015 Ottawa International Animation Festival'. This was the first time we had this screening and based upon feedback from our audience, it won't be our last!

The first night over, we broke for the evening. And like last year, Deanna saved me on gas money and driving time by graciously providing a guest bedroom.

Mints on the pillow and a copy of "Animatoon Magazine"...
only at 'Casa de Deanna'. :)

The next day, we spent the better part of the morning and part of the afternoon holding a hands-on traditional under-the-camera workshop at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center.

Our International Animation Day Coordinator Brad Yarhouse
working with a student on a sand animation.

Visitors from Lansing trying their hands
at some stop-motion animation
The afternoon was going have 'Microtalks on Animation' but we were all having so much fun, we folded them into the evening show-and-tell session. So after lunch, we kept animating for a just a little while longer... Afterwards, it was back to the Wealthy Theater for the ASIFA International Animation Day screening, curated by Brad Yarhouse.

Brad introducing this year's International Animation Day Program
The screening was followed by the annual 'show-and-tell' session at the GRCMC where we all got a chance to talk about the projects we're working on--this time along with our Microtalks session which included Deanna's talk about her artist residency at the Studio of Key West, Jim's animation of his recent brain scan, and my talk on the 'Five Things I Wish they had told me in College.'

Deanna's presentation on the her artist residency
After we broke for dinner, as a group we descended on a local boutique pizza parlor, then it was back to the GRCMC for a quick update on ASIFA Central followed by Jim's updated presentation of Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur titled "Waltz with Me, Gertie".

Jim Middleton recreating and modernizing a live performance of "Gertie."
Next we had Brad's talk on Motion Comics, a presentation that he had given previously to the Society for Animation Studies, where he talked about how technology is enhancing and influencing the way we tell stories using the traditional graphic medium of comic books.

'Motion Comics and the Future of Comic Books'

We ended the evening with "Gary Schwartz' European adventures"--a presentation of his work overseas in Eastern Europe where he runs youth animation workshops, most recently in Armenia.

Gary Schwartz

An animation Gary's students put together during his workshop.

Making the case for us to make the trip to Eastern Europe

Gary returned with many souvenirs, some from the old Soviet Union days.
Sunday, we wrapped up the retreat with what is becoming an annual tradition: Brad Yarhouse opening up his home for the ASIFA Central members brunch. Much like staying at Deanna's home for the weekend, Brad's brunch is one of the things I like most about the retreat: the chance to have some real quality time talking to my fellow animators. Since our membership is pretty spread out across the Midwest, it's really nice to put faces to the names and talk shop at the retreat's events, or over tea at Deanna's when the day is almost done, or over breakfast at Brad's.

As I drove home on Sunday afternoon, I wasn't ready for the weekend to be over so I stopped off at the Meijer Gardens to see their new Japanese garden. It was relatively peaceful and I could see how much effort the designers put into making it serene and contemplative. Took lots of pictures, but as I walked around, there were no real epiphanies other than I should come back here when the flowers are in full bloom.

Testing out the panoramic setting on my smartphone.
click the image for a larger view.
Normally, I'd be looking forward to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema as my last hurrah before the insanity of the holiday season--Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my and several of my relatives' birthdays. But with WFAC still being unofficially on permanent hiatus, the festival season was officially over and I was left walking that path away from 2015 and towards 2016 with all it's hopes and challenges.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season part two: MSMFF 2015

The Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival
So earlier in the year I was contacted by my friend, fellow animator and fellow ASIFA Central member: Steve Leeper. Sifting thru my fragmented memory, I think that the conversation went something like this:

Steve: Chuck, you've been to Montreal, right?
Chuck: Um... nope. Ottawa is as far as I've gone. I mostly hang out around the Waterloo-Toronto-Ottawa corridor.
Steve: Would you be interested in going to Montreal?
Chuck: Well, it "is" only ten hours from my house... same distance as Ottawa... what's on your mind?
Steve: The Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival!
Chuck: ...
Steve: Chuck?
Chuck: You had me at 'Stop Motion'.

And thus began Steve and Chuck's wild ride to Montreal!

Okay, maybe it didn't "exactly" go like that and perhaps it wasn't such a 'wild ride' but it was a fun experience that I'll not soon forget.

For those of you who don't know him, Steve is a professor teaching animation at Huntington University approximately 45 minutes north of Taylor University, where I went to undergrad. Before that, he worked with Phil Vischer on VeggieTales. An accomplished stop-motion animator, when he's not teaching or jetting around the country to work on animated commercials, Steve is working on his passion project: Brother Thomas (

One of his most recent projects was working with Heave-Ho Productions on a stop motion commercial for TownPlace Suites (which can be seen here:

After a mad dash from Michigan--a mere four days after I made it back from the Ottawa International Animation Festival--we made it to Montreal just in time to get our badges and walk into the opening ceremonies. The festival itself was a very solid mixture of competition screenings and presentations by visiting animators. The MSMFF flew PES in to headline the opening night and deliver a talk on his career which spanned his early film 'Roof Sex' all the way to his current commercial work--which included a 'how we did it' for the Honda 'Paper' film in addition to his successful Kickstarter film 'Submarine Sandwich'.

After the PES presentation, Steve and I met up with his mentor, National Film Board of Canada director and animator Co Hoedeman, and attended the opening night party. Having first seen 'Sand Castle' back in the Ontario Science Center waaaay back in the '70's, it had a serious impact on me. Up until that point, my experience with animation had only been Saturday morning cartoons, Charlie Brown specials, one or two anime shows that I vaguely remember, and the occasional Disney animated feature. Mr. Hoedeman was as polite and as gracious as you'd expect--and he didn't seem to mind me quietly geeking out as he and Steve talked shop about their respective stop motion productions.

Day two began the competition screenings. There was a wide range of stop-motion techniques on display ranging from substitution, puppet, clay, even pixilation. But rather than list them all out, here is a selection of some films that really caught my eye and are worth a few minutes of your time:

'BluBlök' produced at Sheridan College by Eustace Ng and Joe Marcy

BluBlök from Eustace Ng on Vimeo.

In the first couple seconds of his demo reel, you can see a clip from 'That One With The Robot' by Erik Blohm-Gagné

Erik Blohm-Gagné April 2015 Demo Reel from Erik Blohm-Gagne on Vimeo.

'The Armadillo and the Earwig' by Ben Cresswell had some really inventive models.

The Armadillo and the Earwig from Ben Cresswell on Vimeo.

'Croque-Monsieur' by Thomas Dallaire-Boudreault was a unique take on our unrealistic expectations of potential paramours as told through pixilation.

Croque-Monsieur from Thomas Dallaire-Boudreault on Vimeo.

'Pretty Crabby' by Charlotte Blacker. Wow! I love the knitted characters and backgrounds in this film set to a catchy tune by Caspar Babypants (check out 'the Stump Hotel' on YouTube).

This clip from "Once upon a Blue Moon" produced by Steve Boot will resonate with anyone who has a cat (or a small child). Keep an eye out for when Steve releases this film online, it's really worth watching the entire film.

"Once upon a Blue Moon" clip from steve boot on Vimeo.

There were two very enjoyable presentations after the day's screenings. The first was by the NFB's Cordell Barker on his hybrid hand-drawn and stop-motion film 'If I Was God...' If you'll recall, Cordell Barker created the Oscar nominated films 'The Cat came Back' and 'Strange Invaders' (both viewable on the NFB's website).

Cordell Barker
Main characters from the Stop-motion scenes

'Young Cordell'

"Augie", Cordell's Grade 7 nemesis in "fly mode"

Something that Cordell spoke about during his presentation was how difficult drawing is for him (which really resonated with me personally). Here's a man with a very impressive independent and commercial career and he struggles with the same issues in animation that many of us do, and rather than rest on his laurels, he's honest and open about it. Really gave me (and I'm sure many others in that crowd) a lot of hope for my own career and in my struggles with my art.

Afterwards, Steve and I met Cordell--another NFB animator who is humble, gracious, and down-to-earth. Seems to be a pretty common set of traits from the group of NFB animators whom I have met so far (Co Hoedeman, Martine Chartrand, Lynn Smith, Jean-François Lévesque). To say that I really liked the guy would be an understatement.

While his film is still making it's way through the festivals and not available for viewing on the NFB site, there's a great interview with him on Skwigly Online Animation Magazine's YouTube channel where he discusses his new film in the greater context of his career.

The second presentation was on the upcoming animated feature film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book 'the Little Prince'.

Had never heard of the book, though it's apparently very popular. However, after seeing the presentation and movie clips, this film made it to the top of my must-see in 2016 list. Check the trailer below and you'll see why.

In order to maintain the storybook look and feel of the original book in the 'story scenes', many of the puppets were made out of specially constructed paper.

Check out the fox's tail in the image below: just a bent wire with the paper wrapped around it and then painted.

The snake in the image below: a thin wire threaded through extra small cylinders (they said that they were rubber, but I forget the technical term the presenter used). That scarf on the boy? Thin wires with paper. His clothes? Yup. Paper.

Many of the characters have the traditional ball and socket skeleton (seen below).

And those were just the models. The background sets were constructed mostly of paper, or made to look like paper. There's a scene where they simulated wind blowing through a field of paper "grass" that I can't wait to see again--just to study the motion that the army of animators created. I'm pretty sure that I'll have to watch the film a couple times because the first few times I'll be lost in the visuals--especially knowing what I do about how they were made. It's times like this that I wish I could rent out a movie theater just so I could have a private viewing and really study the film with no distractions and on a big screen, but I suppose that's what the DVD is for.

Jean-François Lévesque
Sunday saw Steve and I skipping a number of the MSMFF screenings in order to take advantage of one of those rare opportunities: a visit to the National Film Board of Canada! Turns out that some friends of Steve introduced him to Jean-François Lévesque, director/animator for the film 'The Necktie'. Well, Jean-François was working on another film for the NFB and invited a bunch of us for a short tour of his studio!

The NFB's Montreal building

Our group split up into two taxis and mine arrived faster. So while we waited for the others to arrive, sculptor Jim Randall and I sprinted to the front of the complex to capture the moment in digital film.

Trying not to laugh as I recall 'the Simpsons' NFB Spoof!*

Afterwards... while we were still waiting... Jim pulled out a couple stop-motion models that he was building for Jean-François; think the intricately geared puppet heads from Tim Burton's 'Corpse Bride' that allow for a wide range of facial expressions without having to replace the face models, as seen in Laika's 'Coraline.'

Jim and Jean-François discussing one of the puppets.
With just a small allen wrench, Jim had the eyes looking around, the eyebrows arching, and the mouth opening and closing. I'd seen 'the making of' videos where these intricate models were explained, but those are nothing compared to having the actual sculptor holding the model twelve-inches from your eyes and discussing the fabrication process!

A closer look at the puppet.
Jim is active on Facebook and, fortunately for all of us, many of his puppet construction posts, photos and videos are viewable to the public. You can see an animated turn-around of a puppet head that Jim made and Jean-François animated listed under his January 8th entry. Just looking over the photos of his puppet development process is a college education in itself!

And while we're all waiting for his next film to enter the festival circuit, definitely head over to the NFB website and watch Jean-François' animated film 'The Necktie'. It's also available on iTunes and on DVD if you want your own personal copy--the links are on his NFB page.

Though it probably was not their original intention, the whole building had this beautiful 'animation museum' quality to it. Filled with photographs, pictures and signs (and inside jokes that only animators or people who know the history of the NFB would get), the walls have these wonderful displays taken from their rich library of films--like this one from Norman McLaren's 'La Merle'. It's the history of Canadian animation that you rarely get to see. Though if you want to read about it, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of "Cartoon Capers: The History of Canadian Animators" by Karen Mazurkewich.

'La Merle' (the Blackbird) by Norman McLaren
After another taxi ride back to Concordia University--and a quick dinner later--it was on to the final screenings and the presentation I had been waiting for: 'Shaun the Sheep'. My first introduction to Nick Park was 'The Wrong Trousers' back in 1994 at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. And while my interest in Aardman Animations' library has waxed and waned over the years (I'm still trying to wrap my brain around 'Angry Kid'), 'Shaun the Sheep' was one of those delightful films that makes you want to go back and binge-watch the television series. A movie with virtually no speaking roles, it had more heart than most films could pull off with dialog much less without.

Characters and props from the film.
In addition to the usual clips from the film, Lead Animator Laurie Sitzia gave a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the movie's production.

Shaun waving to the crowd.
One of the little tidbits that she shared was how fast production was on this film as compared to others. Since they were coming off of a television series, many of the models and sets were already established, and more importantly, the animators themselves were used to working with the characters so it cut the learning curve down dramatically.

A 'bare bones' Shaun

Props from the film; the sundaes were about an inch high
After the final presentation, Steve and I hung around for the final professional film competition screening and the closing ceremonies. The ceremonies included a screening of selected films from all the competition screenings--Student, Independent, and Professionals. If memory serves, I think that they showed more than just the winners that the jury selected, but at that time, I was just still trying to process everything that I had seen and done over the weekend.

The big question that I pondered on the ten hour drive back to Michigan was: would I go back? And there's no easy answer. I liked a lot of the films mainly because most of them had a solid narrative structure to them. The four presentations (PES, Cordell Barker, the Little Prince, and Laurie Sitzia) were excellent and of a level of quality that I'm used to seeing at TAAFI and the OIAF. In truth, there were only two downsides to the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival:

1. They had extreme difficulties sticking to the schedule and ate up all the break time between events in order to compensate. So the only way we had time to get something to eat during the day or the evening was to skip a presentation or a screening. They really need to work on this!

2. It's the weekend after Ottawa. For me, skipping the Ottawa festival is non-negotiable. It's the one festival to be at. But it's a ten-hour drive there and back for me. Jumping in the car four days later and driving another ten hours to Montreal and ten hours back after a three day festival was brutal!

So, would I go back? Probably. Would I skip Ottawa for Montreal? Nope. Was it an experience worth having? Absolutely! Even if I hadn't be able to visit the NFB, I still would've made the trip out there. It's worth going at least once. And if you're a stop-motion animator, it's worth putting on your list of festivals to be at year after year.

* Watch The Simpsons' Season 17, Episode 8 titled: “The Italian Bob“. Thank me later. :)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season part one: OIAF 2015

It was September and time for my yearly trek to the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Received a nice farewell gift from the parents/bosses: they told me to take off a day early and spend the night in Toronto instead of driving straight thru to Ottawa on Wednesday. Having done both in the past, I can honestly say that decompressing for a day in Toronto with all the museums, shops, and food really makes a difference.

Tuesday was a mixed bag. Lots of good stuff happened, only a couple annoyances. On the way to Toronto, I gave in to my addiction and stopped at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory (second best Conservatory in the Great Lakes--Niagara is the best). Had a great time, even though I got a little turned around on the way there. My timing was pretty good as I got to see some butterflies that I'd never seen at the Conservatory before--and made a couple six-legged friends while I was there.

Lunch at Marche in Downtown Toronto was great as always, but parking downtown was way too expensive, to the tune of $31.50 CDN for an hour and twenty-five minutes! Will have to explore some other avenues if I'm going to do that again--like either find a cheaper place to park and take the subway downtown or find enough to do in that area that makes the price of parking worth it. Think I'll start by calling the bed and breakfast next year and ask them if I can pay a little extra to park there before check-in time. I'd like to say that the crepes are worth it... well... they kinda are, but still, the need to be frugal always weighs on me.
Strawberry crepe at Marche
I'm not much of a foodie, per se, but Marche was someplace that my parents took me and my sister back in the '70's when we'd vacation in Toronto. With Ginsberg and Wong closing up in 1998, places like Marche are in short supply. I still have an old menu from Ginsberg and Wong with all the corny jokes: like the 'Hot Cha Cha Chicken' or 'Dial the Wong number'. What I wouldn't give to have a cookbook with all those Chinese/Jewish-fusion recipes. The corned beef sandwich with shoestring fries was always a delight.

After checking in at the bed and breakfast, it was time to hunt down some books on my list and roam the city. Enjoyed sightseeing and talking to people--met this cool gothic lolita chick at a store in Kensington Market--but it was way too hot out. Was drenched in sweat and chafing when I got back to the hotel. Picked up a pair of cheap hand fans at a shop in Chinatown. Not sure how much they'll help, but better than nothing. Mom & Dad recommended a restaurant that they'd been to earlier in the year. Saw it on "Diner's, Dives, and Drive-thru's" I think. But, I was just too tired to visit the diner. Most times I don't mind being alone and doing things by myself, but some restaurants can get really pissy when you take up a table by yourself. I didn't feel up to risking it, especially in a more upscale place. So, I skipped dinner. Seemed the best course of action was to get some rest as I had slept poorly the night before. Figured I'd hit the 'reset' button and start over fresh in the morning.

Wednesday was another mixed bag. Again, lots of ups and downs--mostly dealing with people (some disinterested, some flat out rude). But, I made it to Ottawa safely and as a bonus, right before rush hour traffic since I skipped my yearly visit to the Toronto Zoo (eh, I'd been to the Butterfly Conservatory the other day).

The Arts Court
Dinner was nice and the people were friendly. I immediately started gathering swag for David and Brianne. Made a mental note to see what the Montreal Stop-Motion Film Festival had in the way of swag before mailing them their yearly 'Canadian festival package'. I'm so proud of them and the work they're doing out in California, but am still holding out hope that I'll see them back in Ottawa some day.

While I do miss some aspects of the old Festival Reader format
(like the interviews), I love the look and feel of the new 'magazine'.

The opening night screening had some really decent films -- especially Paul Bush's "The Five Minute Museum" and Sylvan Chomet's commissioned piece: "Stromai 'Carmen'".

The opening night party was okay. Loud, but okay. On the bright side, it was really nice to catch up with the TAIS crew and Dayna Gonzalez. Am still sweating bullets though. No denying it. Bryce Hallett is right, as usual. Time to get in shape before I come back! Needs to be my goal for next year's OIAF.

Thursday's Estonian filmmaker program was entertaining. The films had a quirky feel to them that really appeals to my sensibilities. I think I'm starting to get what Ted Pratt said all those years ago back at OIAF '96 about the "Klasky-Csupo/Eastern European" feel to visual storytelling. Funny how our tastes change over the years. Now I actually enjoy a lot of the abstract and Eastern European animations whereas I couldn't stand them back then.

Met some nice young ladies at lunch today--students from Massachusetts. Funny, I'm here in Canada and keep stumbling across Americans. Got their cards, gave them my Women of Animated Films card. Hopefully they'll find the interviews inspiring.

The afternoon competition screening was nice. Films didn't thrill me too much--though there were a couple of gems there. No, it was Lynn Wilton tracking me down and sitting with me during the program and talking afterwards. And Gary Schwartz and Brooke Keesling saying 'hi' to me. Feels really nice to reach that point where I can go to the Festival events and almost always see someone I know.

The evening screenings were... somewhat entertaining. I actually liked the earlier "traditional techniques" screening better. Was nice to see R.I.T. get a little recognition with the inclusion of Tom Gasek's film. Am debating the merits of seeing if there's enough interest among us grads (and current students) to organize a little get-together next year--as if I'm not doing enough already! Had another enjoyable time chatting with Bryce and Dayna while we waited for the screening to start.

By far, the high point of the evening competition screening was visiting with Glenn Ehlers beforehand. Sadly though, the competition films were underwhelming. In 20 years of coming to the OIAF, this was the first screening when I didn't see a single film that I wanted to vote for the public prize. Was pretty crestfallen, so I skipped the Salon des Refuse and opted for watching anime while eating a shawarma in my hotel room. There's usually some real gems in the 'Salon', but I just wasn't feeling it.

There's too much text in this post,
so here's another butterfly pic to break up the monotony...

Friday morning's screening was much better. Some really good technique and solid storytelling skills. Got another chance to hang out with Glenn at the picnic--always a high-point of the week for me. Said 'hi' to Chris at the picnic. He looks as frazzled as always. So much to do behind the scenes. I bet he, Kelly, and staff pass out for a week after the fest is over. Saw NFB Director and Academy Award winner Torill Kove. But, she was too fast for me to stop and introduce myself... and hopefully get an interview commitment from her. You'd think that with all the time I spend following around butterflies with a camera, trying to get that perfect shot, I'd be a little faster on the draw, but no...

After the picnic, I made it back to the hotel--just in time to change clothes and towel off... again! I really miss the cold wave we got during the winter of 2012 when it turned Lake Ontario into this big heat sink that kept Toronto and Ottawa nice and temperate during 2013--though I'm willing to bet the entire province of Ontario would be willing to argue the point with me. So, I walked to the National Gallery and made it in plenty of time to find a good seat and get comfortable. The show started... and it wasn't the Michele Cournoyer films! Turns out the website and festival app were wrong and got the location mixed up! So I grudgingly trudged all the way to the Bytowne, all the while wishing that I'd brought more clean shirts than I had--or made better life choices regarding exercise--and caught the last three-quarters of her retrospective. After that, it was back to the hotel for another change of clothes. Despite the unplanned detour, I went to the Ted-Ed session anyways. Met Dayna in line so sat with her. Apparently, Dayna knew Biljana Labovic and the Ted-Ed folks. Was nice to hear little tidbits of insider info to accentuate the interesting presentation that they gave. I'm blown away by the quality of the productions that they can create in such a short amount of time with so few people. Always the portrait of class, Dayna didn't make fun of the little hand fan that I was using in a vain attempt to keep cool despite all the walking I'd done.

Then it was off to the Michele Cournoyer Pimpcast. It was quite refreshing to discover that my thoughts and interpretations about what she was trying to say in a couple of her films were correct--well about "Hat" at least. On the way out, I thought I saw Torill Kove again. Wondered if I was going to have another 'Joan Gratz' moment later on in the festival.

This year's Fest had my scheduling a little tighter than I would have liked. There was just so much that I wanted to do and see. So on a short walk to the Bytowne Theater, I stopped by a Domino's Pizza on the way. Minutes later, I'm standing in line at the Bytowne, finishing dinner while waiting to get into the screening, and I realize that one of the two people I'm standing next to is none other than Steven Woloshen! I wait for a pause in the conversation so I can politely interrupt and say 'hi' when he turns to me, sees my badge and exclaims 'I know you!' A little background info: Steven and I have been FaceBook friends since I promoted one of his excellent direct-on-film productions a year ago and have been chatting back and forth as best you can do on FaceBook. Was nice to finally meet him face-to-face and tell him how much I appreciate his work.

The Bytowne Theater - much better with the new seats! :)
Sat with Glenn at the competition screening and we continued our conversation from the picnic. Saw Brooke afterwards--actually saw her and Gary before the Ted Ed screening earlier today at the Novotel and had fond flashbacks to last year when Brooke, Gary, Steve Stanchfield and I talked shop at the Novotel's bar over bottles of ginger-ale. Funny thing happened during the evening screening regarding the 'Ted Ed' talk though: I'm sitting there and the four Ted Ed Presenters shuffle in and sit next to me. Then one of them turns to me and starts calling me 'Walter'. Apparently there is an F/X animator in New York that looks just like me. Once identities were straightened out, we all found it amusing as both they and I know Dayna so we got to play our own version of 'six degrees of ASIFA'.

Saturday morning was nice. Since I got some sleep the night before, I made it to the recruiter confidential at St. Brigid's for a refresher course. With all the kids I bump into who want to be animators, it's always good to know what the studio recruiters are looking for. Ended up staying through the Pixar presentation. Thought I saw Torill Kove again, but had to run to the International Showcase over at the Bytowne. The International Showcase was solid. As usual, I liked it better than a lot of the competition films. "Zepo" the sand animation created by Cesar Diaz Melendez was stunning! I don't think it's available online yet, but he has posted a trailer/making of video on YouTube.

A brisk walk over to the Arts Court--and a nice conversation with fellow TAIS member Lynne Slater later--I sat through the Bruce Bickford... presentation? Ninety minutes of near silence--just the occasional cough and shuffling of feet! Bruce said what he was going to do: show how he makes his clay films. And that's exactly what he did. It "was" interesting to watch him work--even though he didn't speak... like... at all. Crowd was pretty good though, only a couple people left and some of them came back after using the bathroom (I assume).

The moment of serendipity that I was waiting for all weekend occurred when I walked out of the Arts Court Theater and walked right into the path of Torill Kove! We were both pressed for time so the conversation didn't last long, but she was okay with being interviewed for my Women of Animated Film blog. Can't wait to review her films in preparation for that interview.

Scratch, Crackle & Pop!
THE book on direct-on-film animation

Afterwards I got my copy of 'Scratch, Crackle & Pop!' signed by Steven Woloshen. Made sure to drop a promo photo on the OIAF Facebook group, hoping that they'll sell out of his books while he's here. :) This was one of the books that I wish was available when I was in Grad School at R.I.T.* It's been through following Steven's work over the years, and making a couple direct-on-film animations myself, that I've gained a greater appreciation for a form of animation that I think many miss out on, especially the younger students who aren't exposed to as many traditional animation techniques.

The International Student showcase at the Arts Court Theater was just as enjoyable as the International Showcase. Need to track down some of these films when I get back home--especially 'Waiting for the Boom'  and 'the Moustache'.

"Waiting for the Boom" Trailer from Sheila M. Sofian on Vimeo.

The Moustache -trailer from Anni Oja on Vimeo.

Afterwards, I trudged over to the National Gallery -- doing my best to avoid the silliness that is the Nuit Blanche. Weather is finally gorgeous: cool and windy. First time during the trip I'm actually comfortable.

The Bruce Bickford screening was... um... yeah! He described it as "clayhem". I agree completely. It was one big morphing battle sequence after another sprinkled with nude clay women. There seemed to be a meta-story/plot, but I think that only Bruce knew what it was. It was like when you were a kid, playing with your toys, and making these elaborate, emotional stories in your head, but you were the only person who understood what was going on and the relationships between the characters.

On an unrelated note, it was Saturday night and I finally felt like I was ready to go home.

Sunday morning. The weather is still gorgeous. Nice and chilly, yet the sun is out. Perfect weather for walking to the National Gallery for the Canadian animation and Canadian Student retrospectives. Like last year, I'm waylaid by a marathon... friggin' masochists! I'm looking for a gap where I can put a helpful cop's advice to good use and make a mad dash to the other side of the intersection when Bryce appears behind me. We commiserate over the mutual position we've found ourselves in and joke about a 'Smudge Animation-sponsored' foot bridge over the intersection for next year's festival. A young pink-haired girl ducks across the road and we sprint alongside her, thinking that any runners will hit her first... not my most chivalrous moment. But the three of us made it across unscathed and Bryce & I were shortly in the National Gallery where Steven Woloshen was waiting to go into the theater. A quick chat later and I found a seat. Within minutes, I'm joined by Dayna & Bryce and the show begins. One satisfying screening later, I end up watching the Canadian Student retrospective with Bryce, Dayna and Lynn. I'm amazed at the level of quality and professionalism in these films. THIS is what I remember from my first Ottawa Festival, waaaay back in '94.

The two Canadian screenings were the best I saw throughout the festival. the films were "that" strong. Becoming a trend where I like the International and Canadian screenings better than the films in competition. Eh, that's the best thing about what the festival is becoming, there's something for everyone.

On the way out of the theater, I bumped into Morgan from Pratt. She's a junior now. One more year and she'll be launching into the workforce. Hope she's hooked up with ASIFA East. Should make the transition easier.

After Bryce, Lynn, Dayna and I said our goodbyes, we all scattered to the winds. I walked through the market decided to skip the Hotel Transylvania 2 screening. It's such a lovely day and I can see it back in the States anyways.

I continued through the market, visiting some old haunts from when my brother would attend the fest with me. Bought a juice. Saw the tea shop. The Keg wasn't open yet, so decided to forgo my yearly steak dinner and had a late lunch at the Highlander Pub (another old haunt). Gotta love a restaurant where they serve cottage pie and the dress code requires everyone to wear kilts!

After lunch, it was time for another tradition: my eating a Beavertail at the market. I'll feel bloated for the rest of the night, but who cares, a. I'm on holiday (kinda) and b. I've been walking all friggin' week! Have walked more this week than in the past few months... combined! Feels good in a sweaty, sore, chafing sort of way. Just a little while longer and I'll be on my way home--and then back this way to Montreal...

The great Canadian "Beavertail"... for my fellow 'Mericans, it's basically
an 'elephant ear' just smaller and with maple syrup.

The Karl Zelman documentary was pretty cool. Was surprised to see how influential he was on Terry Gilliam's work--and the similarities with Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. Also seemed to influence some of the practical effects on the Ten Commandments. Bumped into Bryce on the way out. had a nice conversation with him on the way to the Best of the Fest screening--he also made a detour to get a beaver tail before flying back to Toronto.

The Best of the Fest screening was good. I hope that the version we get to screen at the ASIFA Central Retreat will include Hertzfeld's "World of Tomorrow". For those who want to see it, follow this link to Vimeo. You can rent it for 30 days for just $4.00. It's well worth sixteen minutes of your life. :)

Driving back home tomorrow. No big epiphanies. Probably will get them on the ten hour drive back home. After the screening, I found myself in my hotel room, watching Rick and Morty on the internet while eating another shawarma. The only thought going through my head was: 'I love being an animator'

After laughing my way through the episode of Rick and Morty, I chose to break with my normal routine of being a hermit and walked across the street to the end of the festival party--just in time to say goodbye to Brooke, Gary, and Pilar! What a wonderful end to the festival.

Monday morning, I received probably the nicest "farewell" I could have from the OIAF. I was checking out of the Novotel and saw Chris Robinson standing there. Got to say 'goodbye' and 'thank you for an excellent festival'. Can't wait until next year. 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Ottawa International Animation Festival... and my 18th OIAF. It's gonna be big!

* the other is Corrie Francis Parks' upcoming book: Fluid Frames: Experimental Animation with Sand, Clay, Paint, and Pixels.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Animated People: Erik Timmerman

Erik had a quirky sense of humor that I didn't always get at first...

When I started at graduate school, money was tight--like so tight that I couldn't afford to get a hair cut during those first couple weeks of classes. I had saved money over the past few months but it was only enough to get me out to Rochester and cover rent for the first month or two with some left over for gas and food. Until I found a part-time job, things like hair cuts were a luxury that I couldn't afford.

At that time, I had taken to wearing a bandana and a backwards-facing baseball cap with the Apple Computers logo that my sister and brother-in-law had given me--their not-too-subtle way of poking fun at the fact that I owned a PC. But, between the bandana and the cap, it kept my often unruly hair in check while I worked and waited for that first paycheck to come in, thus allowing me to retire the cap and return to my usual part-on-the-side-square-the-back 'Rock Hudson' haircut.

So, one day, Erik walked into our Graduate Seminar class, took one look at me and asked me if I bought my hat that way? Looking back on it, the implication was that the cap was designed and sewn to be worn backwards as opposed to just buying a standard baseball cap and wearing it backwards. At the time, I didn't get it...

A year later, I had gotten used to Erik's sense of humor and even reached the point where I could pull one over on him... not often, mind you, but it did happen from time-to-time. Like when we were walking away from his office and he made a self-deprecating joke about his "middle-aged-Dad's" tummy. Uncomfortable with making a joke at the expense of an authority figure, much less someone I liked and respected, I immediately quipped "Well Erik, all this time I just assumed that you were storing up for the nuclear winter."

He laughed, I laughed, and we continued down the hall.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Animated Reviews: Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"

I saw The Prophet at the Detroit Institute of Arts earlier tonight, and it was time well spent.

While the meta-story that tied all the individual animation "chapter" sequences together didn't break any new ground (and parts of it felt like they were copied from another GKIDS import: A Cat in Paris as well as pulling elements from Disney's Aladdin), it was executed competently and was an entertaining enough way to stitch the chapter sequences together. The voice acting was well performed. And though I did have some difficultly following Liam Neeson's reading of the lead character 'Mustafa' (the DIA showed this film outside on a very windy evening), inside a theater, his rich baritone voice should come through clearly and provide the nuances to Kahlil Gibran's poetry and prose that I was expecting to hear.

However, where this movie really shines is in the individually directed and animated segments that are based on, and in some cases include, the poetry of Gibran. All were very entertaining and you could easily pick out the individual animator's styles (Bill Plympton, Nina Paley, Tomm Moore, etc) as they visually interpreted Gibran's writing. All of the segment directors brought their individual artistic styles to their particular chapters, but they never felt out of place in the greater context of the story. The sequences and the meta-story all felt like they belonged together, so despite the fact that the transitions between chapter and meta-story were not always seamless, it never detracted from the film as a whole or from the visual unity of the film itself.

Now, despite the fact that I'm obviously biased--given my love for French Impressionist painting, paint-on-glass animation and clay painting animation--I still think that Joan C Gratz' sequence was the best. Her work in this film was simply breathtaking... oh, but it was incredibly difficult to choose a "favorite" sequence. I struggled mightily between Joan's chapter and Michal Socha's chapter, aptly titled "Freedom". I can't say enough good things about them: the animation in the chapters is just superb. They are clear examples of the best that both the worldwide and American independent animation scenes have to offer.

I look forward to seeing this film again in a much quieter venue where I can really concentrate on Gibran's poetry while I'm absorbing the lush visual storytelling of segment directors Nina Paley, Joan C. Gratz, Bill Plympton, Tomm Moore, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Joann Sfar, Gaëtan Brizzi and Paul Brizzi. If this film is not nominated for an Academy Award, then it'll be a worse decision than when the Academy snubbed Brazil's Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury (hey GKIDS? There's another film worth bringing to the States!).

Congratulations to producer Salma Hayek for bringing this beautiful project to fruition.

Any of my fellow Michiganders out there who don't want to wait until August (or later) to see this in the theaters? Fortunately for all of us, they'll be showing it in Ann Arbor at the Michigan theater on Saturday, June 13th at 10 a.m. If you can be there, don't miss it! This is a film you really want to see on the big screen.