Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Animated Events: TAAFI 2024 Film Fest, pt.3

Friday's events were mostly mixers and meet-and-greets. When I heard that there was going to be limited numbers of passholders allowed to these events, I took a pass. Better to let students or animators looking for work in the Toronto area to attend. I've always felt welcome at TAAFI events, but if they have to limit the attendees, I'd rather see the locals get preference.

Instead, I walked around Toronto and saw a couple old sights. Had lunch at Ginger. Bought a game at 401 then it was off to the Royal Ontario Museum. There's always something interesting to see at the ROM but I always stop to see the gemstone exhibits and dinosaur bones while I'm there.

Quartz variety: amethyst, from Bolivia

"Leaf" necklace, gold and diamond

The massive Futalognkosaurus skeleton 

As always, I took a lot of good reference photos while I was there, but was struck by the fact that I really need to get back to sketching when I'm at museums--draw in the moment as it were, instead of hoping that I'll use the photo references to draw later.

Went back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner. But not many of the restaurants that I enjoy were on this side of the city so it was worth trying something new. There was a restaurant called "Pigot's Burger Club" that sounded interesting. Turns out though that they served their food through a local bar. No worries. There was room for one at the bar and they took good care of me. The food was awesome and noone complained about me watching cartoons on my phone. Afterwards, I discovered this little hole-in-the-wall cafe with exquisite crepes!

One chocolate crepe and a strawberry juice later, yeah, I'm definitely coming back to Melt n Dip next time I'm in town.

On the walk back to the hotel, I was reminded that one of the things that makes Toronto so appealing to me is that there is art worth looking at everywhere you go.

Mural at Sansotei Ramen

Saturday was a full day of screenings that would end with a feature. It was the big day at TAAFI, for me anyways. The day was jam packed with animated short film screenings, capped off with the North American premiere of Mars Express. I was on pins and needles all day waiting to see this feature and I have to say that Mars Express exceeded all of my expectations. I was looking for an experience similar to when I watched Love Death and Robots or Technotoise, Edit y ja for the first time and I was not disappointed.

The film was a dystopian look at society's struggle between humans and robots on a colonized Mars--all told through the eyes of a war-weary detective and her partner, a robot who is the backup copy of her fellow soldier, long since killed in battle. This film is coming out on DVD through GKIDS, so I won't spoiler it, but hopefully the trailer below will whet your appetite.

I'll end this post with a couple more stand-out films that I saw over the weekend. As they work their way through the festival circuit, these are the ones that I think are well worth your while to track down, be it in a festival or when they're posted online.

I'm Hip, a short film by John Musker--the writer and director of such Disney classics as the Little Mermaid and Hercules. I'm Hip was a cute musical number that definitely lived up to the hype.

Delete Machine by Charlotte Ledwidge was a hilarious gag film with excellent timing and a great payoff. Would love to show this film in a class that teaches comedy.

Fried by Melina C was another cute film, this time about a raccoon who gets caught in a fast food restaurant. It was filled with decent character and background designs and character animation.

Side Sidemi by Zoe Medcraft was all about ants gathering food told to a jaunty musical score. I really liked the character design and character animation on this one. Also liked the overall design/visual style. There were no arms or legs to any of the characters, just the bodies, hands, and feet going through the motions as you expect they would. Reminded me of Evelyn Lambart's animation style and her film Fine Feathers.

Then there was The 7th Night: MaoMao Visits by Ah Loong. This heartbreaking tale of a boy and his cat explored the Buddhist concept of spirits from the recently deceased visiting their loved ones on the seventh night from their passing in order to provide a measure of closure.

Well, I would've loved to stay in town a little longer, but had to run to Ann Arbor for an impromptu family reunion before everyone drove to Ohio to see the eclipse. But yeah. TAAFI is always worth a visit!

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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Animated Events: TAAFI 2024 Film Fest, pt.2

Thursday morning arrived a little sooner that I expected. I awoke to the sounds of cars, construction, and people--the typical sounds of a big city. Was immediately reminded that I still need to finish watching Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City before the Fall semester. If I'm going to recommend a film (or talk about it) with my students, I like to have watched it myself in its entirety. Only real downside to watching these silent films though is confronting the question: do I stick with the musical score that's on the uploaded video or do I turn the sound off and focus on the visuals? There are so many lessons to be learned from these old movies from the dawn of film. We grow up unconsciously knowing the "rules of film editing" because they are so prevalent in our media today. But back then, Soviet Montage Theory was in its infancy and people were making up the rules as they went along (mostly from what worked with stage productions). One thing I love doing is showing students the films of Georges Méliès with his elaborate sets and trickfilm special effects and then showing them how the same principles were used in portions of Enya's music video Caribbean Blue. Thoughts for another day, I suppose.

My plans for that day were to meet up with Lynn Dana Wilton for lunch and then head out to the evening screening. However, I still had lots of time before that... and I "was" a couple blocks walk from Toronto's Museum of Illusions, so...

Wow was that fun. Now I freely admit, it'd probably be a more fun experience with two people--some of the exhibits are pretty tricky to navigate when you're on your own. But the staff were very helpful so I wouldn't avoid a visit if you have a solitary nature. And there's one in Chicago if you don't want to drive to Canada.

The exhibits were all hands-on and they played with perspective, mirrors, optical illusions, some traditional art tricks and more--see the "hole on the floor" video below.

I'll admit, I went there have a little fun, but one of the things that put the museum on my radar was seeing how some of these illusions have shown up in film over the past century or so. In my lectures, I discuss how we're seeing some of these illusions and techniques in modern day, only enhanced by new technology--like the 3d LED billboards in New York and over by Tokyo's Shinjuku Station, or the Pepper's Ghost "hologram" illusions in the Vocaloid concerts. As I tell my students: somewhere in history may be the solution to a problem you're having in your film, or it might hold the inspiration to your next film.

But speaking of film, I did have to get back to the hotel to meet up with Canadian filmmaker and stop-motion animator Lynn Dana Wilton. Tempus fugit.

Lunch was everything I hoped it would be. Lynn is a fascinating woman with a very storied career. I hadn't talked with her for a couple years due to the lockdowns, and we only had time to exchange 'hellos' last September at the Ottawa fest, so it was such a pleasant experience to sit there and really talk. We quickly got caught up on each other's lives and then launched into discussions about the state of the  animation industry, future trends for animation, and the teaching work we've done. When we finally looked at the clock, we'd been chatting non-stop for four hours. It felt like four minutes had gone by. We could've talked longer, but she had another meeting to get to and TAAFI awaited me at the Hot Docs Theater. The restaurant had been very patient with us so after we left a healthy tip and thanked the management and staff we parted ways.

It was off to the opening ceremonies and the first night's screening for me where I immediately ran into two old friends, artist/animators Pam Rose and Lynne Slater.

The next couple hours were a whirlwind as the film festival started strong with two programs: the Student Film Block followed by the appropriately named "Uplifting Shorts".

The films that really shone that night were Marc Salvatore LaJoie's End of the Line, Jennifer Wo's Mission Popo, ap-sol KANG's Meet Again JAHOE, Christina Woo's Pipe Dreams,  Sonia Furier's Ostinato, and Thomas van Kampen's Mixed Signals.

End of the Line was a touching film about a girl dealing with anxiety issues that come to a head when she loses her favorite fox toy.

Mission Popo. What a fun ride. I saw this in Ottawa last year and it was just as good the second time as it was the first. Hah! Noone messes with Grandma!

Meet Again JAHOE had a really nice visual style, especially in the otherworldly sequence. It definitely had some hints of Miyazaki in the design. I'd really like to watch this film again because I'm sure that I missed a lot of what was going on.

Pipe Dreams, a tale of bugs living in a rundown building told in the form of a reality tv show. Quirky and fun.

Now Ostinato, this was a beautiful and relatable tale of a woman struggling with her creativity as she tried to compose music while also trying to block out the noise that surrounds her.

The last film worthy of note was Mixed Signals, the story of a neurodivergent robot that struggles to fit into society. I had the chance to chat with the director Thomas van Kampen and his girlfriend Ariel afterwards. Turns out they were mutual friends with Pam. I had met them years ago before the lockdowns but it was just in passing. I'd honestly like to sit down with Thomas for a longer chat as he and I had a lot of the same experiences growing up. Even now as I grow older, I find that life is this constant assault on my senses that gets more and more difficult to block out. I saw a lot of myself in the little robot who was constantly getting overstimulated by all the sensory input. A very thought provoking film. After his festival run, I hope Thomas releases his film on Vimeo or YouTube. There's a lot of people who I think would really benefit from the conversation this film inspires.

Afterwards, I grabbed dinner on the way back to my hotel and settled in for the night. Yeh, today was better.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Animated Events: TAAFI 2024 Film Fest, pt.1

I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to Ottawa this year. 2024 is a Presidential election year here in the States and the last one was pretty crazy. Am still not sure if I should leave the country two months before a national election, even if it's only across the border into Canada. But fortunately, the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International was in the Spring and it has been far too long since I've experienced TAAFI in person. So I exercised a couple of vacation days, rented a car, and off I went to the Great White North.

The plan was to pick up a mid-sized car that morning, similar to my own, and head out to Toronto. I'd get there between 4 and 5 o'clock and check-in at the hotel. Yeah, I was overly optimistic. It was a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. But when we went to Enterprise, I discovered that Michigan Avenue had shut down and was torn up, so we had to figure out a backroads route to the rental company. Okay. I could deal with it. Next, the rental place was packed with people picking up rentals to go see the eclipse. Not a bad thing, actually had a pleasant chat with some college students from India who were driving to Niagara Falls to see the sights and stay for the eclipse. When it was my turn, I learned that I had been "upgraded" to a 2023 Ford Explorer. Not a big deal. I do prefer driving cars, but the Explorer is a really nice ride. Then they told me that I couldn't take it out of the country--even though I had been very open about obtaining the rental to go to Canada when I made the reservation. But, spoke to a manager and got the go-ahead to take it to Toronto--I think the fact that I had already purchased the extra 'anything happens to the car, I hand them the steering wheel and walk away' insurance package really worked in my favor. Downside about the Explorer was that the Bluetooth was buggy and when I went to pick up my luggage at the house, I learned that the USB plugs in the car weren't working--neither were the cigarette lighters. I had planned on listening to some audiobooks on the drive and I like to have the option to use the mapping app on my iPhone. Well, half-an-hour's worth of tinkering with the Explorer and I found that the USB-C plug did work, allowing me to play my music through the onboard entertainment system and recharge my smartphone. So I switched cables, gassed up the SUV, and I was on my way... about a half-hour after then I wanted to leave, but okay. Anxiety levels were being managed and I was on the road to Toronto. 

Pro tip: always record the gas tank level when you pick up the rental car!

Only other issue I found with the Explorer is that it needed a new drivers side wiperblade, but I didn't discover that until I was almost at Toronto and it wasn't bad enough for me to replace it myself. One really nice feature on the vehicle was that you could switch the digital speedometer from MPH to KPH with two clicks of a button on the steering wheel. Very nice! All-in-all, the Explorer was a really solid ride. As my car is reaching the end of its lifespan, I might consider buying one in the future.

As I hit the road, the day was looking up. Had no problem with customs at the Blue Water Bridge. And when I approached Toronto, it was raining, but not too bad. I made excellent time, arriving at downtown Toronto around 5 p.m. 

It became very apparent very quickly that I had been overly optimistic. Because of road closures due to repairs, traffic was backed up everywhere. It took me an hour to find an alternate route and make it to my hotel. An hour to make what was usually a 10 minute drive from the Gardnier Expressway exit. Memorizing the map ahead of time had paid off, kind of, but in the end, the construction had beaten me. I begrudgingly fired up the iPhone and burned some data at the international rates (*shudder*) to figure out where I was and how to make it to the hotel. I was pretty stressed out by the time I arrived. Now the Cambridge Suites? Top notch hotel. First class all the way. I'd gladly stay there again. Expedia really did me right. But navigating through Toronto on a rainy day, approaching dusk, with all that construction and the people walking around, yeah, not the driving experience I hope for.

A Toronto landmark no more.

Ah, but, I was there safe and sound. So I changed clothes, grabbed my umbrella, and walked down to the former location of Marche in order to see what had replaced the restaurant from my childhood. Hopefully, it would be a quality restaurant where I could get a bite to eat and forge some good memories. Maybe even become a new haunt for return trips. 

My hopes were dashed when I discovered that the whole section of the building was boarded up. Nothing had taken its place. Sad. Also meant that I had to find another place to eat. Well, I am kind of low-rent and I do enjoy a tasty burger, so I trudged through the rain (fighting the wind with my umbrella) over to Wahlburgers--only to find out that they had been shut down, despite the fact that their Google Maps entry said they were still open. "Will the last person to leave, please update the Google Business account?"

My mood was flagging as I walked back towards the hotel and found a Hero Burger on the way. Not bad. I had good memories of discovering Hero Burger with my brother many years ago. So I sat there and watched some anime on my smartphone while reminiscing about the first time Ted and I ate at the Hero Burger over on Spadina Avenue. But as I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, I still wasn't sure if coming to Toronto was the right choice to make. At the very least, I thought that hopefully tomorrow would be better.

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