Sunday, October 31, 2010

Other People's Junk - 5

Here's some more cartooniana from flea markets around town.

When last we saw this chair, the King of 20s cartoon sat there.

Now the throne is occupied by a fast food king.

Maybe he's grooving on some cool cat tunes.

Dirty Burt.

Some weird "Marvin the Martian" car.

Goofy hat.

 Burt and Harry Piels, ever popular in Brooklyn.

Speedy Gonzales and Yosemite Sam hand puppets.

Warner Brothers floor tiles.

A box of buttons

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Reports

I generally come back from Ottawa having overspent on a stack of books which will go largely unread.

This year there was seeming dearth of interesting printed material, so I only returned with two books (and I won't reveal how much I "underspent" on them either...).

In the recently stirred ochlocratic rumbling, some folks (at least one of whom's films have been continuously rejected by this -and presumably ever other -festival) bemoaned the Artistic Director's selections and his stage mannerisms.

I may not love all the antics -no worse than many other festivals I've been to or read about, but be that as it is -he lays down a forceful disclaimer in the introduction of "Japanese Animation: Time Out Of Mind" which fairly rebukes the criticism of the rejected.

Chris Robinson writes;
...the interviews  didn't turn out so great.  I was exhausted and sick; the questions bland and generic.  I was also tired of the same ol' approach to these books.  You know what I mean -chapter devoted to a single animator, tell the reader where the artist was born, educated, how they came to animation and then take them through each of their films, providing description and analysis.


This book does not follow that pattern. Instead, I've gutted that structure, removed "facts" about the animators and cut to the point by writing somewhat stream-of-consciousness impressions about the artists and their films.

Some of you will undoubtedly find this approach a tad different, but it's my belief that this method can better capture the essence of the subject than a conventional linear biographical method.
Indeed, some the text misses the mark.  But more often it's funny and alien and gives the same strong impression you might get from watching some of these films.

Take this analysis and  conversation with Mirae Mizui
I am swept along a path before I can choose.  Initially, there are few paths to follow, but soon new roads appear, intersecting, overlapping.  A crush of colors.

A distinctive, recurring image of a rectangular shape with what looks like an eye inside it.  Is the eye a cel, revealing the interior of human and all things?  Creatures and people roam around me beyond naked.  No flesh.  I feel like I'm seeing the world through a kaleidoscopic microscope, seeing deeper than my eyes often show me.  X-rays, showing the essence of our bodies.  See through figures.  Everything flows in and out of each other, ultimately one.  In this randomness rests chaos and order.

A voice: "The after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown, gives birth to death."
The prose is helped by loads of well-produced images from the films.  Side by side with these impressions I find myself getting a great sense of what the films are about.  It's infinitely more appealing than a frame by frame recap of the picture's action.

As a writer he never subjugates himself to that which he writes about, so the book doesn't reach the critical heights of a Robert Warshow or Walter Benjamin or even a Lester Bangs.  Thinking on it, it's a bit like Pauline Kael -someone who puts themself on equal footing with the art they're writing about.   Even so, its an interesting read and a valuable addition to the animation library.  The shortcomings are minor compared to the insights and experiences with these unknown Japanese filmmakers.

The other book I drove back is only the other side of the scale from "Time out of Mind", Steven Woloshen's "Recipes for Reconstruction: The Cookbook for the Frugal Filmmaker".

This book comes with a 9 film DVD containing a piece that relates to each chapter of the book.

He cites Helen Hill's "Recipes for Disaster" as inspiration.  I never had the opportunity to meet her and reading this book makes it sadder still.  CLICK HERE to download the pdf of her book. It's beautiful.

"Recipes for Reconstruction" is like a cookbook, giving you ingredients and directions but letting the reader take action.

It's a fun book and worth it for DVD alone.  Filmmaking workshops (and I know there are half a dozen in Williamsburg, alone, so there must be thousands across the country) and Film/Media schools could all benefit from using a lesson or two from this book -one chapter details how to make a simple contact printer with a shoebox -and those too lazy or uninspired (like me) to take the steps to create something can enjoy the cameraless animation on the DVD.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ottawa Leftovers

I'm not so good with the snap shots, owning a camera is a new experience.  I've only recently learned that you're supposed to take pictures of people.

These are some shots that didn't make any earlier posts.

Advertisers knew animators were coming to town.

 Bustling Lobby After Screening "The Illusionist"

Once and Future Champion, Gary Leib

Smilin' Steven Woloshen

Barry Sanders and The Pumpkins

Unused Upstair of "Picnic" Location

Anne Denmen, Polaroid Moment During Sample Reel Workshop

Dominique Forget Did an Incredible Job This Year

Theo Ushev Re-enacting the Signal Film

 The Chateau Laurier Was Sad To Learn We Stayed Elsewhere 

The Magnificent Helene Tanguay In Her Natural Habitat 

Liesje Showcases The Latest Technology At The NFB With Theo's Help

Bears Just Wanna Have Fun

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Top Cel Vol 1, #9: 5/12/44. Terrytoons Attempts To Split The Union

The Ottawa Festival and side trip to the NFB makes this installment of Top Cel a day late (hopefully not a dollar short).

At the Festival the lovely and talented Jerry Beck went on about how he enjoyed these posts.  So I'm not the only one apparently, but does that make me as Looney as him?

This is an even more interesting issue than the last.  So far they keep getting better every week.


As reported at our last General Membership Meeting, the Regional War Labor Board rejected our demands in the Terrytoon case and sustained almost all of the recommendations made by the Hearing Officer in his report.

The members of the Terrytoon Unit were very upset about the decision and under the leadership of the entire group of animators, new attempts were made to settle the distasteful situation that has been prevailing at the plant.

In their sincere desire to reach an understanding, they went so far as to break the basic union principle of dealing with employers through chosen representatives and offered to meet with the employer without "outsiders."  No one was happy about doing that because we all recognize the importance of the principle, but the step did prove how far the people were willing to go to reach an agreement.  the meeting was set for Tuesday evening, May 9.

At the last minute, however, someone, not the union, thought of a better plan.  Why not split the Union once and for all?  Why not drive a wedge between the employees and their chosen leaders by showing up the Business Agent and Lawyer in front of all the workers?

The attempt was made.  Your Business Agent and Lawyer were portrayed as the evil ones dislike by the employer and causing all the trouble.  The employer had no grudge against the workers.  He loves them all.  Sweetness and honey were thickly spread on our members, but only sarcasm and vindictiveness on our BA and Lawyer.

But it didn't work!

Our members put up with the ham acting insults to our intelligence for only a short time and then, with clarity, firmness and directness the 19 employees who were present expressed their opinions.  In our democratic organization they had known of every step along the way and had made every decision.  They were there to conclude a contract and not to waste time with innuendos and fancy legal language.  They definitely 100% behind every word our lawyer said.  They came to talk turkey and wanted simply to know what the employer had to offer.

Finally Mr. Weiss took over and for once we felt we could talk to someone who spoke our language.  It was a relief to find someone we could work with and reason with.  A tentative agreement was worked out to be taken to Mr. Terry for approval.  When the Union receives their offer, a General Membership meeting will be called to discuss the proposal (Representing the Company were Bill Weiss and Mr. Kerwin).

The group present at the meeting, specially the animators, deserves warm congratulations for their splendid show of strength and unity of action.  The group showed that it pays to be informed of what goes on.  The meeting demonstrated what can be accomplished if we work all together.  In the words of the Business Agent: "The Industry never had, not even in the west coast, a better Negotiation Committee that those 19 people that represented you at the Terry negotiations on the night of May 9th."


The animators at Terry, Famous & Loucks and Norling were very much interested in an ad published the "Times" from the Amalfi Agency soliciting animators.

After the first stampede and in spite of some rugged individuals, the Union handled the requests of about 16 men interested in finding out what it was all about.  Walter Lantz, the studio needing the men, will contact our Business Agent and outside of the salaries, the rest of the conditions shall be negotiated by the Local.


On April 28 the Studio and the Local published the following notice in their bulletin board:
Please take notice that Paragraph 'Third' of the contract entered into between the Union and the Employer on March 13, 1943, provides that: MEMBERSHIP IN GOOD STANDING IN THE UNION SHALL BE CONDITION OF CONTINUED EMPLOYMENT.  In the event that any member of the Union shall not be in good standing, including payment of dues, at any time after May 18, 1944, such employee will automatically be suspended from employment until he or she regains good standing in the Union.
As determined in our By-laws, by May 18 MAY DUES SHOULD BE PAID, as on that day the Union will send a list to Mr. Buckweld with the names of those in arrears  And 15 days later, on June 1st., animator list will go to him with the names of those who have not paid their June dues.

However, it is encouraging to notice that at this writing, most of the May dues have been paid, so it is expected that Famous studios will not have to receive any letter from us.



Debt to Local 852.............260.00
Per capita tax.......................80.40
Pepe Ruiz, salary...............125.70
Withholding Tax & SS.........91.10
Bonding of Officers.............15.00
Mimeographing 'Top Cel'....33.23
Printing of check book..........1.75
Office supplies.....................12.32
Meeting Halls......................10.00
Phone, BA Expenses............34.47
Train fare for Ex. Board.........4.00
Refund of dues.......................7.25 


Stan Green, now in England, want "Top Cel" sent him... it will be a pleasure.... Incidentally, the Local's office still wants the addresses of our members overseas to send them the paper.... At Famous, Rosalie Socolov now a member of Timing Dept.... Vera Skalet now full fledged inbetweener.... that rates her 2/3ds... Sgt George Baker back in New York from Anzio.... Lt. Streech unable to see Walt on his trip to the coast.. Better luck next time.... Elinore Seidman taking a leave of absence to join her husband.... lucky Elinore..... Tom Inada about to leave for the Army.... Marea Bishop with her husband in North Carolina last week end.... Sarah Whitmore, from MGM in town marrying her daughter... Lt. Al Williams awarded the Air Medal with two oak leave clusters for valiant action over the Gilbert and Marshalls.... Zeke de Grasse stationed at Quoddy Village, Maine.... Jack Mendelsohn will soon have a male companion in opaque, Dave Levine.... New at Famous, Shirley Harris, Marilyn Eggert... new at Terrys, Mario Trombetta, Bernard Wexler....


Production of Snafu cartoons for the Army and technical films for the Navy will cause Leon Schlesinger to hold "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes" to 13 each next season as against the usual 39.... All will be in Technicolor.... Walter Lantz, also making Navy subjects, will produce 13 Technicolor Cartunes for Universal 1944-45 distribution.

Construction will start in about three weeks on a new building next to Lant's present studio.  The plant is expanding into a new edifice, where they will produce nothing but subjects for the Navy.  Postwar plans call for them to use the new studio for straight commercial films.

Don't miss "The Negro Soldier', Army Signal Corp documentary featurette produced under supervision of Frank Capra.

Also at the Museum of Modern Art, on May 29 & 30, it will be shown "A Short History of Animation", the cartoon from 1879 to 1933.

Louis B. Mayer, again, as for the last ten years becomes the highest paid executive in the country, this time $1,138,992.00.  Previous year he only made $949,765.84.


The figures published in our latest edition were not correct and it caused certain comments, especially since the assistants at Famous, according to rumors, are making more money, with the Bonuses, than the animators.

Now, with a copy of the proposed contract in front of us, we can give the correct data.

The conditions are the same reported before, 20% of the box office gross from all second run pictures or re-issues; a check system through the industry for the collections of dues; military termination allowance equal to six week's pay; severance pay of two weeks after one year employment, and an additional week's pay for each additional year of employment.

Ban of solicitation of funds; screen credit; grievance and arbitration machinery; accumulative seniority rights; equal distribution of over time; time and one half for work in excess of 8 hours; a bonus for the unit that produces more than eight pictures a year; vacations with pay; sick leave consisting of one day for each month of employment; maternity leave.

For service men returning to their jobs, the man who replaced him shall be entitled to take the next lower classified job and all the way down the line;  Labor Management Committee.  It is proposed as a one year contract.

Salaries (per week)

Story men.......................$125.00
Assts. (Sketch, gags)........106.25
(For 2 months tryouts).......75.00
Story research.....................50.00
Maximum for one storyman, six cartoons per year.  For two story men, six to twelve cartoons.  Minimum purchase price for regular cartoon, eight times weekly salary of storyman.

Layout, Technical films......112.50


Background Man...............$100.00
Apprentice, 1st 3 mos............75.00
                    2nd 3 mos..........80.00
                    3rd 3 mos...........85.00
                    4th  3 mos..........90.00
Background tracer.................43.75
Air Brush (Training, Com-
mercials & Educationals).....87.50
Title Artist.............................95.00


Animators (Character and
Apprentice, one year..............106.25
Apprentice, 1st 2 mos..............35.00
                    2nd 2 mos............37.50
                    3rd 2 mos.............40.00
The number of Asst. employed shall be at least equal to the total number of Animators & Apprentice Animators employed.

Scene Technician....................87.50
Animation Checker.................68.75
Apprentice, 1st 3 mos.............47.50
                    2nd 3 mos............52.50
                    3rd 3 mos.............57.50
                    4th 3 mos.............62.50

Apprentice, 1st 3 mos............35.00
                    2nd 3 mos..........37.50
                    3rd 3 mos...........40.00 
Apprentice, 3 months..............32.50
Shadow, Cut-outs....................43.75
Apprentice, 1st 2 mos.............35.00
                    2nd 2 mos............37.50
                    3rd 2 mos.............40.00 
Dry Brush or Air Brush...........43.75
Color Model Supervisor..........50.00
Color Model............................43.75
Set Up (separate animation)....43.75
Set Up (Tracer)........................37.50
P&I Asst. Supervisor...............56.25
P&I Checkers, Class I,
Mechanics or both P & I.........50.00
Class II, only P & I..................43.75
Apprentice 1st 3 mos...............37.50
                   2nd 3 mos.............40.00
Paint Lab, Mix & Match.........43.75
Apprentice, 1st 3 mos.............37.50
                    2nd 3 mos...........40.00
Paint Technician.....................68.75
Cell Washer & Polisher..........37.50
Comic Strip
Class I, Story man or artist
doing 1 Sunday AND 6 daily....145.00
Class II, Story man or artist
doing 2 Sunday paper or 6
daily per week............................75.00
Class III, Writes or draws
1 Sunday paper per week...........75.00
Inkers, Class I............................75.00
Class II Assitants, simple
inking and clean up....................65.00
Promotion and Publicity
Class I, National Advertising....125.00
Class II, Assistant National
Picture set ups.............................56.25
Assistant, 1st 3 months...............43.75

Experience to be computed as of the

date employee first went to work in the industry.  All salary reductions made prior to January 1st, 1941, shall be restored immediately.

They ask for minimum yearly increases from $2.50 to $5.00 per week for next five years for each one of the above classifications.

The negotiations with George Pal have started already and it is agreed that the contract with that particular producer should be retroactive to April 29.  However the Producers nixed the request of the Local for open negotiations.  They asked that parleys be held at night in a hall large enough for the membership to attend and listen to representatives present their proposals.  The Producers Assn. said no, and asked only a small committee to be named.


Tobin and Whitaker of the Navy Unit at Anacostia boosted to first class and Lou Schmidt made a Chief.  They are so busy that have a night shift.  George Rufle is the newest additino to the Unit and is very happy.... Father Dayton Pattengill has some genuine government red tape on her desk lamp... anyone can touch it upon application... Jim Carmichael, back from somewhere, but still in the Pacific, getting in use to fresh water showers, eating in plates, etc... He says that "about 75% of the old outfit volunteered to go right back again... A healthy prove of how the guys out here feel".... Frank H. Spaulding asking to 'Top Cel'... Lucie Harrison asking for a Withdrawal Card.... Helen de Bruyn left Terry's.... Reg. Massie with two paintings at the Brooklyn Museum.....


There are over 8 million Americans of voting age in the armed services.  About 1 million of them are from NY State, most of them from New York City.

President Roosevelt proposed a simple plan that would have made it possible for every eligible serviceman, servicewomen and all other persons in war services to vote.  The Republicans, combining with a group of reactionary poll-tax southern Democrats, voted down the President's proposal.  The Administration then fought for as liberal a Federal Soldier's Vote Bill as possible.  It succeeded in getting passed a Law which makes it possible for every soldier to vote through a simple and easily available Federal Ballot IF his own State agreed to use the Federal Ballot.

Governor Dewey has to date refused to accept the Federal Ballot.  This means that if a Serviceman or women fails to receive a NY State War Ballot he or she will be disenfranchised.

The New York Law requires that every serviceman makes a signed application for a ballot.  That the application must reach NY "on or before September 1st."  It requires that ballots be mailed to applicants "on or before Sept 7th".  It requires must reach the NY Commission "no later than noon Nov. 3rd".

Make sure that all your friends in the service, whether overseas overseas on in the States, gets one application for a War Ballot.  Explain to your friends at home the need of our soldiers using the right to vote.  If they must give their lives they should be allowed to vote.  Their vote, one way or the other, can decide the 1944 election.

Ask your Steward or Business Agent for several "Serviceman's Application For A War Ballot" card.  Attached to it are careful instructions to the servicemen and his relatives and friends.

Only the utmost effort on the part of the people at home will give them their right to vote.


Screen Publicists Guild in Hollywood is having a referendum of the entire membership on acceptance a charter from the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators like the one we have.  It will require some time since ballots will be sent to 62 members in the service.  Others affiliated with the Brotherhood in the West Coast are the Movie Picture Painters and Scene Artists, Screen Office Employees Guild, Screen Set Designers and Screen Cartoonists.

The Treasure Department in its first public accounting of its control over salary increases, had admitted approving raises for almost 100 corporation officials making more than $50,000 per year.

The figures showed that 95 officials have been making $7,070,060.00 before the increases were allowed , or an average of almost $75,000 each.  Their raises averaged $11,500, bringing them up to an average of more than $86,000 a year. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Me, Me and the NFB

Last year we drove up to Ottawa planning on stopping by The National Film Board of Canada's open house the Monday after the Festival.

Of course, it would happen to be the first time in 25 years they didn't hold the tours.

This year, it was worth the wait.

Maral Mohammedian, Associate Producer of the Hothouse series (and now working with the 3D Stereo Lab initiative) guided us through five artist visits and a screening of the Hothouse 3D Stereoscopic films.

First stop was Torill Kove.  She's the 2007 recipient of the Academy Award for animated short.  No one asked to see the statue.  I wonder if the NFB keeps them in a vault with the mummy of Norman McLaren and the original soundtrack to "The Cat Came Back" on 2 inch.

Torill's in the midst of 12 minute film being co-produced with Norway.  She showed us the real time review system she's using with her three Norwegian animators working in their home country.

The film is being made "paperless" with ToonBoom.

Next stop was Martine Chartrand who is about 75% through an elaborate and beautifully rendered paint on glass film.

Her process is as close to cartoon animation that under camera animation can be.  She's storyboarded the film, will paint model "layouts" and even go so far as to pencil out the animation before doing it under camera.

Most surprising on the visit was Michelle Lemieux.  She's working on the pinscreen -one of two functioning in the world and the only one used for production.

I say "most surprising" because not only is this an obscure and difficult contraption to master -she, a novice animator, has begun to produce movements far more fluid than Alexeieff and may possibly even surpass the master Jacques Drouin.

Next stop was the studio of Patrick Bouchard who is working on an elaborated stop motion film.

They're working at very large scale.

Based on the brief clip they showed, this scale has lent a solid weight to the animation.

After this we screened the stereoscopic Hothouse films.  I haven't seen "Avatar", so I'll say these pieces were the most effective 3D I've seen.  Still, they stirred a piercing pain in the front of my skull after about three or four minutes.  The approach creating this illusion is based on tricking/altering the way we see (by contrast, all previous forms of media have attempted to get closer to our natural ways of seeing).

The last stop was a visit with Paul Driessen.

While his technique wasn't all that "exciting", seeing his animation is very exciting.

I love the loose shape shifting.  Seeing his work fresh after several years, I now see a connection to Koji Yamamura with the shifting perspectives and pinched view of reality.

He's long been an inspiration and a favorite ever since R. O. Blechman introduced me to his work.  Bob would often call him for recommendations, two great animators -Chris Hinton and Kris van Alphen -came through the studio based on these calls.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ottawa Animation Festival 2010 - Day Five

Sunday, the final day, can be slow.

Things wind down -fewer screenings, folks packing up or leaving entirely.

Still, the 9:00 AM "meet the filmmakers" sessions are typically overpopulated with filmmakers after the 5 competition screenings (2 shorts, 2 children films, 1 feature) the day before.

This leads to unfortunately cumbersome sessions.  The NFB, who sponsors these terrific events, should consider breaking these up by screening on the final day of the festival.  As mentioned, there's not too much else happening -schedule it in two parts one from 9 to 10, another from 10 to 11.  This would give the audience an opportunity to discuss the films in a little more depth than fitting two dozen filmmakers into an hour.

We then had a nice brunch with Dan Sarto from before taking a 4 hour break before a screening of films from Winnipeg.  Winnipeg animation has a great punk feel, they also tend to keep them short.  Interesting to see Richard Condie as a musician on many.  The music was uniformly great throughout the show.

Then, on to the awards.

Here's the list.  We twittered them as they were announced.  Earlier in the day Festival Director Chris Robinson approached and said "I know who the grand prize winner is."  I replied, "So do I do.  It's David OReilly."   There was clearly no other choice.  It's a great film.

Actually, it's hard to argue with any of the choices.  I think the jury did a great job with the selections.  While I preferred Brent Green's feature to Phil Mulloy's.  Mulloy's is equally genius and absolutely deserving of the award.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ottawa Animation Festival 2010 - Day Four

Saturday can be a long day.

The first event yesterday was a 9:00 AM workshop I moderated with Anne Denman, Tom Knott, Dawn Haagland and Fran Krause on Sample Reels.

It was geared towards students (most colleges come in for the weekend portion so Saturday morning programming focuses on scholastic presentations).

We had a packed house, I had a lot of fun so I hope everyone else did.  The initial idea was to create a sort of "American Idol" style panel to review people's reels.  That became something a little more ordinary in format.   With this format I hoped to have "recruiters" at studios discuss what they go through when looking for talent, giving artists a better idea of how to position themselves.

Then looked at the demo of software which creates 3D stereoscopic images.  It was pretty much Flash MX in 3D with even fewer capabilities.  If the 3D fad last for another 4 or 5 years, this technology could quickly become a workplace final.

Short nap, then Shorts Competition 4.

A few highlights from this program:  Ruth Lingford's "Little Death" a pretty film with voice over interviews discussing orgasms.  I did feel like the picture could live just as well without the soundtrack and the soundtrack might be a little more interesting without the picture.  Both elements were strong but their marriage didn't necessarily make the other stronger.

"In A Pig's Eye" by Atsushi Wada from Tokyo University of the Arts harkened the pre-anime illustration tradition of Japan.  The look is decidedly modern, but the ancient influence makes it particularly interesting.

In watching these films, I've learned that its best to go in with an open mind, to want to like them.  It makes week more enjoyable if you're not hating seventy percent of what you see.

The one film in program 4 which I didn't like was "The Tannery", a Scottish production.  It was attractive and well made.  The content -the story of a ghost fox and other woodland spectres - manipulates the audience to feel crummy and never gives any redemptive payoff for feeling so rotten.

Caroline Leaf's Masterclass was beyond standing room when we arrived.  Along with several others, we were turned away.

That gave an hour and half or so before the final competition screening.

"Tord and Tord", a very "Fantastic Mr. Fox" like stop motion film from Sweden's Niki Lindroth von Bahr is charming and clever.

Tord och Tord Trailer from Niki Lindroth von Bahr on Vimeo.

"Blockhead", a video for The Music Scene was energetically animated and nicely piece of bravado by Anthony Scheppard.  Folks who love handcrafted animation will get a big kick out of this dynamic film.

It wasn't until the second to last piece when I felt "enough already" and had to close my eyes to make it through.   While there are a couple films that standout as being "good", it hints at a minimum level of quality for the festival set at a reasonably high level.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ottawa Animation Festival 2010 - Day Three

Action packed day.

Friday morning is typically a lull in Festival activities.  This Friday Maral Mohammedian from the NFB interviewed Steven Woloshen about his work and his process.

He's recently published "Recipes for Reconstruction" -a handsome sort of cookbook for making cameraless  films.  Each of the nine chapters gives the "recipe" for how he made a film on the accompanying DVD.

Caroline Leaf examines the scratch device

The 90 minute conversation was captivating for the first hour.  The filmmaker detailed his many techniques, including burying his films to let insects eat into it and decay set in and passed around a homemade box for doing scratch films he used while working as a driver on feature films.

In some ways the Festival centers on the Friday afternoon picnic.  This year, presumably since the dates have slid fairly late on the calendar, it was held indoors.  The location may have been physically warmer but the atmosphere was significantly colder than years passed. The restaurant's architecture dispelled the informal looseness that typically leads to forced socializing.  I did get to catch up with the great Tom Warburton who's excited about working on Fish Hooks for Disney and having a great time there.

I found Brent Green's "Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then" to be extraordinarily moving.  Even stronger than Phil Mulloy's feature from the previous day.  It's pixelated, oddly some students were debating the "animationy-ness" of the technique.

"Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then" hit me hard

A few people (the aforementioned Maral, one) vehemently disliked the picture.  It's kind of the exact opposite of something like Toy Story 3, so I can understand the depth of the dislike.

To me, it was captivating from beginning to end.  A discussion of  humanity and sadness and trying, trying to do whatever you can to save the person you love.  Festival director Chris Robinson credited Suzan Pitt for recommending the film to him.  Yet another thing to be thankful for to her.

While the highlight of the night may have been Chris Robinson's uncensored "discussion" with Amid Amidi about the shorts program (Amid didn't like it), the showcase itself was fairly solid.

There was a music video which I hated and some middling films but the two standouts -David OReilly's "The External World" and Kelsey Stark's "LGFUAD" along with a fun/energetic exquisite corpse high school film from CSSSA would alone make any program special.

If there were laws against genius, David OReilly would be spending a life behind bars

I've already written about "LGFUAD", and as much as I'd like to write about "The External World" I'm afraid I don't have it all together to put words to it.  I do think it's exceedingly unfair to the rest of us that the filmmaker is so preternaturally talented.  I'm looking forward to screening this film several more times, like a deciphering a poem and digesting all its layered meanings.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ottawa Animation Festival 2010 - Day Two

Filed From: The Icy North

Not so icy.  Just chilly.

[for updates throughout the day you can follow:]

The morning started early with an 8:30 TAC keynote by Portfolio Entertainment's Lisa Olfman.  She is an Executive Producer on PBS' new "Cat in the Hat" series.  Her talk gave interesting and insightful detail to the development and sale of that project.  Her company is "production and distribution", it's unclear how much actual production they do.  Everything seems to be subcontracted and resubcontracted.

She's clearly a great salesperson.  By the end of her talk I was eager to see the Dr. Seuss show but was sadly disappointed to find that it's just "symbol" animation in Flash and the non-Giesel characters lack the visual charm of the originals with whom they coexist.

Also at the Television Animation Conference, Ron Diamond interviewed Jan Pinkova, who is now developing a feature film with Laika.  I haven't seen "Ratatouille" but his talk and the clip he showed were enough to put it towards the top of my list.

One reason I haven't the film is that I find the stories generated by Pixar pretty lackluster despite their PR machinations claiming they're "story first" -a phrase Pinkova reiterated.

The final TAC event was "Pitch This!"   A panel of TV execs hear and critique two pitches.  Most remarkable, to me, was how Linda Simensky approached and handled each prospective showrunner and their property.  She was thoughtful and measured, gave solid advice and criticized sharply without being mean (or even sounding negative).   Cool and impressive.

Cooler, though, and more impressive -in fact, if everything else in the Festival is gawddawful it would still have been a great week because of it -was Phil Mulloy's "Goodbye Mister Christie".  It is the opposite of last night's feature, "The Illusionist", in just about every way.

If I were to tell you that 80 minutes of silhouette close ups of ink blot-looking faces speaking with the "human" voices standard in most computers was hilarious, moving, captivating and downright stunning you'd tell me I was a pompous fool who didn't know what he was talking about.  Now, that may be true -but it doesn't change the fact that "Goodbye Mister Christie" is a remarkable achievement, undeniably the fruit from the mind of a brilliant and singular artist.

Most animated films which rely so strongly on spoken words tend to be visualized radio plays (even the good ones like "Mary and Max").  "Goodbye Mister Christie" has no cinematic visuals to speak of, it really is silhouette faces for well over an hour, yet no other medium could convey it so essentially.

Short Animation Program 2 was a bit of a letdown.  Picking a standout is like picking your favorite child -if you've spawned a litter of workaday, mediocre kids.  In a rareity for this festival, the individual films weren't helped by their companions in the lineup.

A universal tint of black and white or monochromes was only punctuated by a film or two with any color to speak of.  Pierre-Emmanuel Lyet's "Parade" led off with a smartly designed color based film that used the visual equivalent of puns to showcase a simple wit.  Coupled with Malcolm Sutherland's beautiful "Light Forms" (a sort of Miro meditation), "Parade" set up a colorful brightness which was paid off with dozen films in dreary palate of 1960s European animation.

Light Forms (HD - 2010) from Malcolm Sutherland on Vimeo.

In looking over the list, I can pick out several pieces which ranged from very nice to very good: Gary Leib's "Midtown Twist", "Sinna Mann (Angry Man)" -albeit overlong -by Anita Killi, Joseph Peirce's "A Family Portrait" which successfully combines rotoscoping with cartoon animation and others.  The program as a whole was a bit unsatisfying.

Then again, I could have just been anxious about the Phillies game and the Lincecum looking hoser with the toque sitting in front was a constant reminder.  Hey, Festival Goers (and Lincecum looking ones at that),  take off you freaking hats in the theater.  Maybe the big point on top was covering his head.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ottawa Animation Festival 2010 - Day One

An unexpected detour kept us from arriving for any of TAC (Television Animation Conference) events.

They seemed to be mostly Canada-centric anyway.  The downside, all of the TAC booklets had been distributed but I've since learned more have become available.

NOTE: as long as my phone has charge I'll be twittering the Festival

One thing you may not have heard about the city of Ottawa is that it's seemingly always under construction in the same places.

On to the shows.

First screening was Sylvain Chomet's much anticipated "The Illusionist".  It's not a stretch to say that it features some of the most articulate, realistic animation of the human to have graced the screen.   Prior to the screening I had heard whisperings from several quarters that the picture was lacking in the story department.  I wouldn't necessarily agree with that -the characters, however, are questionable.

Later in film, we're left to question if that's a rabbit in his pocket

Americans, at least, might think the worst when it comes to old men "adopting" and doting on stray teenaged girls.  This whole set up -and the girl's generally unsympathetic character -make for uncomfortable viewing.

The short film program started with politics.

Award winning "Logorama"

Academy Award winner "Logorama" kicked it off.  There's not much to say for this.   It would be generous to say this was a film about consumerism and not just "too clever by half."

Matching it with Simon Robson's "Coalition of the Willing" gives "Logorama" that political edge which makes it tolerable.  I spent the day with Simon several years back, he's a great guy and terrifically gifted. This film is a bit heavy on words but the visuals carry it.

still from "Coalition of the Willing"

The theme of the program winds up taking from the style "Coalition of the Willing" more than the content.  Much of the rest of the show is comprised of mixed media or 2 1/2D hybrids.

The two following films are the with political overtones.  Dustin Grella's "Prayers for Peace", a student film from SVA, recounts the filmmaker's experience with his brother's death in Iraq and Steve Woloshen's "Playtime" is a direct on film romp.  "Playtime" has some violent imagery amidst the snappy soundtrack and bright visuals and serves as a segueway out of the overtly political films.

Festival Director Chris Robinson giving his opening "speech"

Most notable amongst the rest of the program are "Hand Soap" a student film from Japan by Kei Oyama.  It's a dark (visually), difficult piece that has some striking imagery and interesting draughtsmanship.  

"This is Love" by Lei Lei from China is a goofy piece of fluff with nice design.  As a viewer, it raises some questions about the cultural nature of film.  Is the absurdly simply because it's foreign?  The crude design and loopy storytelling may be perfectly standard in the community in which is created, but to an American it's just shy of bizarre.