All-in-all, not bad. Good use of metaphoric imagery and a juxtaposition of two stories in order to make the metaplot more interesting. The film was a very appropriate use of animation to tell a story that might've been better told in live-action. 'Princess' wasn't the hardcore sci-fi thriller I was expecting--after all, it "was" written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, a longtime Production I.G. writer/director/artist whose credits include Ghost in the Shell: SAC, Patlabor, and Blood: the Last Vampire--but it was a fun story with interesting, engaging characters nonetheless.
For interested readers, a concise summary of the plot to this Production I.G. film is on Wikipedia. But suffice it to say, this is one of those fun movies that you can safely watch with your kids, especially if they're used to seeing most of the films in the Studio Ghibli library.
Well, a frustrating detour to the John Ball Zoo after the movie found myself standing outside the new red panda display, patiently waiting for the little critter to come out of his hut so I could take pictures of him and then use them to tease a friend who moved out to California. "Wyatt" never showed his fuzzy little face. And while there, I received the call from work that none of us ever wants to get. Turns out that the night before, the daughter of a colleague and close friend of our forensics company was involved in a car accident. Apparently she was driving home when a deer ran into the road. Course, at this point, none of us knew exactly what had happened. So, my boss rallied the troops and on Sunday we converged on an auto salvage yard and gleaned whatever we could from the wreckage of her car. Fortunately, she survived the crash and a week or so later had recovered enough to tell her father what had happened. She's got months of physical therapy ahead of her, but thankfully, she's alive and on the road to recovery. Somber thoughts, I know, but sometimes life decides to remind you how good you have it. I left Michigan the next day, ever vigilant for the deer I loathe so much, and ever more thankful for my health and for something so simple as being able to walk.
The drive to Toronto was pleasant, as always. I left early in the morning after a good night's sleep, made good time, and the weather was beautiful the entire way. Halfway there though, I realized that I'd forgotten my fans at home.
Given that I've always been out-of-shape and slightly overweight, I sweat profusely on these trips to Ontario since they fit a year's worth of walking into one week. But, the older I get the less I care about how people perceive me, so I've taken to carrying around one of those collapsible paper fans with ornate screenprinting on one side that you can get for two-bucks in Chinatown. Yep. I look like a big, fat, sweaty dork standing there fanning myself, but I don't care. It dramatically cuts down on the time it takes my body temperature to readjust right after I've walked a couple miles in the humid, late-Summer/early-Fall weather that I encounter every September in Ontario. Eh, they're inexpensive and I can find them at the store down by the Dragon City Mall where I bought the previous two back in 2014.
After checking into the hotel, and a quick lunch at the Asian food court over by the Ontario College of Art and Design, I worked my way over to Chinatown to pick up my yearly cherry Arctic Rush from the DQ at the Dragon City Mall then off to find a replacement fan (or two).
|Or maybe just "Made in Taiwan".|
This year, I eschewed all my other haunts in Chinatown in favor of a little exploring. Ended up taking the TTC up to Koreatown and visiting the "Poop Café", a 'feces-themed' dessert café.
I had the Hong Kong waffle with vanilla gelato and strawberries. They even made it with lactose-free gelato! Yeah, I'm coming back. The decor was amusing. Walls were covered with kawaii inspired poop figures spouting cheesy poop themed puns. It was amusing enough, but to be honest, I'd come back just for the food.
|Yup. I'm coming back here...|
Stopped by BMV over on Bloor Street on the way back to the downtown. My goal of finding a copy of Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow's "Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot" in graphic novel format turned out to be far, far easier than I had expected. So with time to spare, I went back to the hotel for a nap. Even got some reading done beforehand. As I'm repairing an old Bell and Howell 8mm/Super8 projector, I'm taking the opportunity to reread Steven Woloshen's book on direct-on-film animation: Scratch, Crackle & Pop!
|Scratch, Crackle & Pop!|
Was still full from last night, so I skipped breakfast and slept an extra hour instead. Then it was off to the Royal Ontario Museum. Found a cold-pressed juice bar on the way. A little pricey, but good stuff. Wish we had something comparable back in Michigan. Would make giving up soda easier and add a little variety to my morning glass of orange juice. Am always a little concerned with getting sick on vacation so went with the 'immune booster': orange juice that had lemon juice, ginger, and cayenne pepper, among other ingredients. For all I know, it's probably just the placebo effect, but hey, every little bit helps.
Had a light lunch at the ROM Café while watching Rick and Morty on my iPhone. You can get smart phone stands on Amazon for under five bucks. VERY useful for those times when you want to grab a bite to eat but not have to hold your phone through the whole meal.
Afterwards, I found a comfortable chair in the gemstone exhibit hall and did a little more reading, then spent the better part of the day wandering the ROM and collecting photo references: gemstones, crystals, jewelry, dinosaur bones, bugs, vases and pottery mostly. Even found a nice spot on the third floor to sit and sketch for a while. Drew a stag beetle and a cats-eye stone that I had taken photos of with my phone. Was struck by the thought that with all the photo references I've taken over the years, I should've been doing this with my tablet computer long ago!
My drawing skills are still there but they have atrophied something fierce. Really need to build them back up, retrain those muscles, especially if I want to do urban sketching when I finally take that bucket list trip to Japan. My epiphany for the day was a reminder about how there are far too many distractions and voluntary obligations at home. Really need to simplify my life and refocus on what I really want when I get back to town.
A return to the hotel, followed by a delightful nap, I stuck with tradition and took the yellow line down to Marche's for dinner. It was a surprisingly tough choice though. There are lots of restaurants in the area I was staying at that look (and smell) so enticing. Maybe it's time to break away from tradition and fond memories a little more... make some new memories. I'm such a creature of habit when it comes to food. Most of that comes from not wanting to get a bad meal or one that isn't to my tastes. I went with the safe choice this time: stir fry, a strawberry crepe, and my yearly take-out bag of macaroons. Food was good as always, pricy, but good and worth the stop. I probably shouldn't focus so much on the past, but the older I get, the more important those good memories are to me. And Marche is one of the few locations in Toronto that is still left from those family vacations from back in the '70's and '80's.
|Y'know, I don't like Mexican food that much, but a restaurant|
this honest in their advertising might be worth trying!
Made great time to the festival. Weather remained beautiful on the drive, as expected. No moose sightings on this trip though, unlike last year. After waiting a year to get back to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, I was absolutely giddy as I walked into the Arts Court to pick up my pass and swag bag. Walked through the lobby. Took a left. Down the hall. Then a right. And onto the elevator. I walked into the room to pick up my pass, and... nothing. The room was empty save for the volunteer manning the check-in station. Kind of disappointing given festivals past where I bumped into friend after friend as soon as I arrived.
Admittedly, I was a touch crestfallen, but such is life. Went back to the hotel and ran a load of laundry while reading another chapter of Steven's book. A short while later, I stepped out to get a shawarma and bumped into Linda Simensky in the elevator on the way back. Just a quick conversation with a professional acquaintance, but I'll take it.
The evening feature screening was a little better. Bumped into Lynn Slater and Carol Beecher while waiting in line. Always a pleasure to talk animation with them. Lynn had spent time teaching animation to her niece earlier in the year and Carol had finished a grueling seven year animated film that was now making it's festival run. Having seen a preview of some shots at last year's Ottawa fest, I couldn't wait to see the finished film at tomorrow's Canadian Panorama!
Masaaki Yuasa's film Night is Short, Walk on Girl was... yeah. It was fun, disjointed, and everything I hoped for given how outrageous his short film Kick-Heart was. I'm not exactly sure what dropping acid is like, but after reading some of Hunter S. Thompson's escapades in the past, I'm pretty sure this film is close to the experience.
Afterwards, I left the theater just in time for another Ottawa tradition: meeting up with Glenn Ehlers for the first short film screening of the festival. This year's visit with Glenn had a serious purpose behind it: I'm planning a trip to Japan in 2019 and the friend who's going with me wants to hike to the top of Mt. Fuji on the third day that we're there. Yep. I've got around two years to make up for a lifetime of bad habits! Fortunately, Glenn and his siblings are accomplished hikers who have hiked the Adirondack Mountains on several occasions. So the twenty or so minutes we stood in line afforded me the opportunity to get educated on what I was in for as well as a critique of my current workout and tips for how I can increase my endurance and lung capacity. 2019 will be here before I know it...
Before we went into the screening, I saw Pilar Newton-Katz and Steven Woloshen, then Carol showed up and told us all about her NFB film Skin for Skin. In a word: Skin for Skin was fifteen minutes of 'Wow!' Carol and her husband Kevin had created a supernatural tale of greed and revenge set in Canada's fur trade from back in the 1800's. Animated in Maya, the visuals were just hauntingly beautiful that matched the eerie soundtrack throughout the production. having watched earlier productions by their company Fifteen Pound Pink, I have to wonder what Kevin and Carol could do with a ten million dollar budget like many European productions have. Take a look at the Skin for Skin trailer below, then follow the link above to their Vimeo page. Pay close attention to Mr. Reaper's Really Bad Morning and the Zig 5 shorts and you'll see what I mean. And if you want a really special treat, on the NFB's Skin for Skin site, there is a short Q & A with Kevin and Carol where they describe a little more about their film and production process. After watching their film, it was a real treat to go back and read about their 2d/3d approach to the filmmaking process.
On the walk back to my hotel after the screening, I was struck how the evening was what I was expecting (hoping for): that 'no matter where I go, I see a friend or two' experience.
Gonna be a good festival.
|The National Art Gallery has a café... who knew?|
Skipped the morning's Folimage retrospective screening at the National Art Gallery in favor of an extra hour of sleep and prep time followed by lunch at the Earl of Sussex pub (a favored place for lunch with my brother in festival's past). Then I walked across the street to the Gallery and continued working my way through Steven's book. And who was there sitting across the room waiting for the theater to show the Canadian Panorama screening? Joan Gratz! As I waited for an appropriate moment to go over and say 'hi', Steven walked up and chatted with her and her guest (he knew both of them). During a break in the conversation, I got to say 'hi' to Steven and thank Joan again for her wonderful interview for my blog. Good to see she's doing well and still coming to the festivals. Steven and I agreed to make time to talk at the picnic.
Well, the "picnic chat" came sooner than I expected as after the screening, Steven and I walked down to the Bytowne with one of his friends -- me asking questions about direct-on-film animation and him giving me gold every step of the way!
As always, the competition films are hit-or-miss for me, but there were some real gems in there.
Kirsten Lepore's film Hi Stranger opened the first competition screening, and got the laugh that I knew it would. She remains on my shortlist of animators I'd love to meet (and interview).
Steven Woloshen brought his latest film Casino, a personal film in which he pays tribute to his father.
Dana Sink had a very clever film called Power that was visually engaging right up until the end where he inserted a very satisfying payoff to the Rube Goldberg-esque devices shown throughout his film.
Power from Dana Sink on Vimeo.
And Spain's Albarto Vazquez screened his film Decorado which has this great feel to the story reminiscent of those Mexican soap operas.
DECORADO Trailer from UNIKO on Vimeo.
One of my favorites from the whole festival though had to be Garden Party. A 3d animated, French student produced film that was all about frogs and their current living environment.
Garden Party - Trailer from Illogic on Vimeo.
Well, after the short film competition screening, I scooted back up to the National Art Gallery for the National Film Board of Canada's retrospective: Eleven Moving Moments with Evelyn Lambart. What a solid production! One part interview/documentary and one part screening of some re-mastered films of hers. You couldn't help but walk away with a greater insight into and appreciation for Evelyn's films and her place in animation history. It was definitely worth going to and once it's released, it will have to be part of my collection! Wish I had had access to that documentary when I was doing research for my Women Animators class last January.
Then after the World Panorama concluded, it was back to the Bytowne for another short film screening. Sure got my exercise on this vacation! Went to the Salon de Refuse party afterwards--pretty much just to say a couple "hellos" and then head back to my hotel room. Two hours later...
Turns out that while waiting in line to get a drink, I bumped into Steven and we continued our discussion from earlier in the day. Then I saw Pilar. Then fellow R.I.T. alum Sarah Hanson and Glenn... Then Barry Sanders... Then Pilar again... As it approached 1 a.m., my energy was starting to flag, so I said my 'goodbyes' and went back to the hotel. Big day of screenings tomorrow.
|Mmmm... Cartoon Network cupcakes....|
Got up and made it to the morning Gala screening in record time. Sat down and a couple minutes later, Glenn sat down with me. Afterwards, we had a nice lunch with conversation at the picnic but I didn't stay long. Said 'hello' to a couple people on the way out, was nice to see that Nick Fox-Gieg made it to the festival, then I hightailed it back to the National Arts Gallery for the Folimage retrospective screening that I skipped the other morning. There was some really decent work in their screening. Granted the first couple films were all themed as 'cave paintings' which got a little repetitive, but halfway through, they switched to different themes and genres. The high quality of their animation skills lasted throughout the whole presentation.
It really surprises me that the French animation scene doesn't seem to get much attention. The work that the French are producing stands up to anything that we're producing here in the States. And in many cases, the French seem willing to take more risks in terms of story and the artistic style of their films than we are. Course, like the Japanese, they're producing high-quality work on a fraction of the budget that we are here in the States, so I suppose they can afford to take chances. When you produce an animated film for 200 million dollars, you have to earn back 200 million dollars just to break even. Things are a lot different when you're only spending 7.5 million dollars (the reported budget for A Cat in Paris).
Watched the Cartoon Network "retrospective" afterwards and was a little disappointed. Billed as "25 years of drawing on creativity" it was just a screening of their current show lineup: Steven Universe, Regular Show, Clarence, etc. Given the mention of the PowerPuff Girls advertised in the lineup, I was expecting a mix of the Cartoon Cartoon shorts from the nineties as well as shows from today. And while the episode of Regular Show was solid, and I liked my first exposure to We Bear Bears, the real gem of the screening was "Infinity Train". Wow!! Just, wow!! Now that's a show I could follow religiously. It's only a pilot but I sure hope it gets a series. Smart female lead. Good sidekick character(s). Quirky jokes throughout. Eerie tone. Clever scenarios. This one is a winner!
Before the screening started, I was honestly concerned by the fact that a bunch of students walked in and sat down right behind me. But as soon as the lights dimmed, they quieted down. Must've wanted to see this screening as much as I did.
Then it was time to hoof it back to the ByTowne (starting to see a theme here?) in order to see the Breadwinner, the latest from Ireland's Cartoon Saloon.
The Breadwinner was impressive. Tough to watch due to the serious, dramatic nature of the story--a young girl struggling with her family to survive amidst the horrors of Taliban rule over Afghanistan--but still good. Loved the visuals throughout the movie, it was classic Tom Moore/Cartoon Saloon and well worth the time spent watching it.
Funny thing about that particular screening was the kids who sat behind me in the Cartoon Network screening walked right in before the movie started and asked if I was saving the seats in my aisle. Shared a laugh about the CN screening with the girl in the plaid skirt who sat right next to me and one of her classmates. Turns out that they were all from Pratt. Earlier in the week, they had taken a bus in from New York just for the festival.
Probably should have chatted them up a little more afterwards, but I skipped the student party that night -- never really felt comfortable crashing it, even though no one seems to mind. Instead, I grabbed a shawarma plate from 3Brothers (the Level One pub was busy hosting their board game night) and ate dinner in my hotel room.
Saturday was a light day for me. Three professional development workshops followed by a screening and the NightOwl party. The weather was still warm and humid and St. Brigid's doesn't have air conditioning so, during the workshops, people were trying to stay cool by fanning themselves with their badges. Personally, I was quite comfortable since I had my large fan with me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a couple people looking at my fan with this pained look of longing in their eyes. Hrm. Guess the crazy fat guy isn't so crazy after all, eh?
After feverishly taking notes at the "Gettin' the Perfect Gig" lecture and watching the Cartoon Network Artist's Program talk with interest, I walked up to the Brig Pub over by the Byward Market. Few places in Ottawa have the significance for me like the Brig does. Only the Blue Cactus, where I shared a meal with my dear, departed mentor Erik Timmerman and both 3Brothers and Darcy McGee's, where I've shared many a meal with my little brother, hold such a special place in my heart like the Brig.
Back in 1996, the Brig was a pub where I was introduced to the joys of shepherd's pie by my fellow R.I.T. classmate John Mammano while we attended OIAF '96 and made the one mile hike from the Albert House Inn to the National Arts Centre every day to catch all the screenings and talks.
|The Brig Pub, still there, but not there...|
Was still in an introspective mood when I walked over to the Arts Court to buy my yearly poster and t-shirt. The woman working the register made a very nasty remark about 'Americans' when I handed her the wrong change due to the 'penny rounding' thing the Canadians are doing. Some people are determined to share their misery no matter what, I suppose. But, I was determined not to let one bigot ruin my festival experience.
So afterwards, I picked up my yearly Beavertail at the Byward Market and made my way down to the Bytowne for the next Maasaka Yuasa film Lu Over the Wall. While the production quality was solid, I really didn't like this feature as much as the first Yuasa film they showed on Wednesday. Lu was way too much like Studio Ghibli's Ponyo (my least favorite Ghibli film) in both style and character design.
After dinner, Serendipity struck at Ottawa when I walked back to the Arts Court to take the shuttle to the Night Owl party and discovered that the "shuttles" for the party were school buses just like the one my family's forensic business investigated a month ago. AND, they were using the visual wheel check devices on their lugnuts to ensure that the lugnuts maintain proper torque. The bus we inspected was a 'wheel off' case--one where the bus was driving down the highway and two of the rear wheels came off.
|If there's a 'teardrop' pointing in a different direction,|
the lugnut is coming loose and the bus needs to be
taken off the road immediately for repairs.
|I call this one: 'Night Owl reclining'|
As always, the Night Owl party was fun. Spent it almost entirely talking to Glenn and Sarah. All the while, friends and colleagues would show up, join the conversation for a while, and then drift off. We all had a good laugh when Pilar donned an owl kigurumi and posed along with the other cosplayers.
At the party, I wanted to participate in the cosplay drawing session, but was having such a good time with Glenn and Sarah, I thought it far more important to be social. After all, I don't get to see them but once a year. Should really do something about that. Throughout this trip, I saw fewer people that I'm friends with, but spent a lot more time talking to them--the conversations have been richer, more in-depth and far more gratifying.
Before I left, I had the opportunity to chat with David Chai and James Murray. Even got to talk to the cute Pratt girl and her friends from yesterday on my way out the door. Don't know what they're doing down there at Pratt, but their students are some of the nicest and friendliest kids I've ever encountered in all my years attending the OIAF. There are some schools that I'd never hire anyone from, and some that I'd think twice before hiring their graduates, and there's even some students that I dread seeing every year at Ottawa because of how rude they've behaved in the past. But based on my experiences with Pratt students over the past decade since I met my first one, if I was a recruiter, I'd hire a Pratt student in a heartbeat.
Mike Rowe has this funny little bit about 'asshole testing' potential employees that goes something like 'sure you went to XYZ school and you've got ABC certifications, but where do you fall on the asshole scale? See, we've already got a couple assholes at the office and we don't need any more.' In my mind, you can always find students with decent art skills, but students with a good attitude and a solid work ethic that could fit right into a company on day one without causing personality conflicts, those are much harder to find.
I'm sure there are some exceptions out there, but I've personally never met a Pratt student at Ottawa who didn't behave like a lady or a gentleman at the festival.
Got up and walked across the street to the Arts Court and there was Glenn, walking away from the building. Turns out, he decided to sleep in after last night's Night Owl party. We chatted a bit about meeting up for R.I.T.'s homecoming in October. It's my 20th anniversary and Glenn lives an hour away in Buffalo so, figured we'd make time to say 'hi' if we were free. Then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
While waiting in line for the World Student Panorama, Festival Artistic Director Chris Robinson walked by, shaking his head and muttering to himself. Yep. It's definitely Sunday!
The World Student Panorama didn't do much for me, but the Canadian Student Competition was good. Very good in fact! There were a lot of solid films from some superb schools: Sheridan, Seneca, and Concordia, mostly. The films this year, both student and pro, have been a lot more on the 'artsy' side of things -- even the narrative short animations, which made it more difficult for me to pick out favorites, strangely enough. But there were some real standouts. Was very happy to see that Decolado won the public prize. And Yuasa's film Night is Short, Walk On Girl deserved the 'best feature' prize.
Made my final walk down to the Bytowne in order to see the last Short Film Competition screening. And as I walked onto the block, there was Andrew Doris and Lynn Scatcherd! After spending the entire festival only being able to see and say 'hi' to them in passing as we ran from screening to screening, I finally was able to have a short chat with them. Really need to make a concerted effort to meet up with the two of them next year. Will have to schedule some free time and invite them to lunch or dinner or something. They're definitely worth the effort to keep in touch with.
I watched the last screening and went to Level One for dinner. Found myself playing games on my phone while they ran Road to El Dorado on the television behind the bar and people all around me played boardgames. Wish we had a place like this back in East Lansing. If we did, I might even become a barfly like my brother... so maybe that's a good thing. Did a load of laundry at the hotel and took a quick nap. Then went to the closing night party. There wasn't anyone I knew there, except for Chris who was dozing on and off on the couch. After finishing my drink, and he sat up, I thanked him (and Azarin Sohrabkhani) for another wonderful festival experience.
And I left. For me at least, the festival had ended.
I spent the next hour or so walking around Ottawa and revisiting landmarks from my twenty-three years of attending the festival: 3Brothers, the Sugar Shack, Byward Market, Chapters, D'Arcy McGee's Pub, the Beavertails, they all hold special significance. I resisted the urge to walk down past Darcy McGee's over to the Lord Elgin hotel where Erik would stay when he attended the festival back when I studied under him in grad school. As I walked back past the National Arts Centre, I could still see him standing there on the sidewalk in his black leather trenchcoat, a smile spreading across his face as we students approached him to say 'hi'. Two decades later, Moustafa is no longer with 3Brothers having been bought out by his partners. The Brig is virtually unrecognizable from the pub that John introduced me to back in 1996. We're now watching screenings at the ByTowne and the National Arts Gallery instead of spending almost the entire festival at the National Arts Centre. And Erik died on June 30, 2000.
Time marches on and places have to change. But after twenty-three years of attending the Ottawa International Animation Festival, there's still enough here to provide me with both pleasant recollections and brand new memories for years to come.
Can't wait until next September.