Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tidy Seconds

So my first animation with the bouncing ball went over well, so I'm trying to carry that on to my second assignment. Here it is, just as it's getting submitted on Monday morning.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ottawa Animation Festival Part 4

And so it ends, today was the last day of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and the closing party is presumably going on as I type this. However, I've got school in the morning and while it was a great week, it's time to get back to work.

I only ended up going to four screenings instead of five, since the last was just going to be the Best of the Fest, and honestly with the way the buses are on Sundays at this end of town it was better to come back early. So here's what I actually did see:

Short Competition 3 Unfortunately, my day started off with a disappointment in the form of All The Time, a blurry, smudgy mess to the tune of the Tom Waits song by the same name. Now I recognize that it was the hard work of a high school student, but when I can't even see what's going on most of the time, I wouldn't consider it a success, and messing with one of my favourite artists just isn't on. Fortunately this was followed up with the much more interesting (and comprehensible) video for U2's I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. The other letdown for this screening was the sophomoric and just plain stupid Mak the Horny Mac Daddy. Seriously, this wasn't even a funny gag, how did it get into the festival list? Most of this screening was pretty laclustre really, although if I were to pick a best of the bunch it'd be Please Say Something, about the relationship between an abusive mouse and emotional cat, with occasional rewriting of history along the way. Other decent showings were The Bellows March, Son of Dino-Orange and Shot in the Dark. I dunno. On reflection, there actually were good pieces, but maybe the presence of the two disappointments brought my mood down for the showing.

Short Competition 4 This was a very good competition, from the adorable Did U See that!? and Inukshuk to the mysterious drama of The Drawer and the Crow and the stylish Lebensader. Also worth noting was the presence of Pete Candleland's wonderful Monkey King goes to the Olympics promotion for BBC. Altogether a lovely experience.

Short Competition 5 This was by far the most heavily attended screening I went to all week, which made me a bit nervous since it was the one must-see of the whole festival for me. And why was I so desperate? Was it for the new Wallace and Grommit short? No way! It was for the premiere for Cordell Barker's newest film, Runaway, of course! I've loved Barker and the other Winnipeg studio crew for ages, so this was an incredible treat and totally worth the wait. Hopefully the NFB will have it up on the site once it's finished the film festival rounds and I can see it couple more times. Loads of fun. Oh, and the Wallace and Grommit short was also good. Aside from that, there was a really interesting surreal piece named Kitchen Dimensions, which was really well put together, but I thought it went a bit overlong. After two long surreal sequences, I wasn't really in the mood for a third after that, but what are you gonna do? Also worthy of note in the sheer hard work category was Postalolio, which was entirely animated using postcards which had been sent through the mail back to the studio. Great animation, great concept, and a whole lotta postage.

Canadian Film Showcase This was the last screening I attended, and what a lovely way to wrap up the festival. These films were excellent, from beginning to end, and went a long way to showing why Canada is unquestionably on the map in international animation. I'll let the films speak for themselves: The Vegetation of Zig 5, The Spine, Hazed and The Man Who Slept. There were others I couldn't find video links for, such as Peggy Baker: Four Phrases from the NFB, and Nanu and Animal from Sheridan, but those are enough to give you a good idea of the level of quality.

All told, this year's festival was a fantastic experience. Next year of course my focus will be less on watching the films, and more on making contacts, networking, learning more of the business side of things and trying to attend workshops, so I'll be seeing less new animation. But as a first year student, I still have the luxury of relaxing a bit and just soaking in the creativity.

As a side note, the winners of this year's festival have been announced! And among them, a good number of films I've seen and liked. Good show!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ottawa Animation Festival Part 3

Gonna be brief with tonight's update, since I'm a bit on the tired side. But here we go in any case.

Mary and Max Good heavens. Before I say anything else, I just want to say that this was the only thing I've seen so far in the entire festival that made me cry. Seriously, it grabs you that much, and makes you care about the characters. Nevermind the seriously bittersweet ending, the waterworks were on even before that happened. An Australian stop-motion film, Mary and Max is the story of a 21-year long relationship by mail between a lonely little girl, and later a confident woman, in Australia, and a middle-aged man with severe Asperger's Syndrome in New York City. By times ridiculous and deeply moving, this is a film not only worth seeking out, but worth hunting down. Go well out of your way for this one, especially if character-driven movies are your thing.

Short Competition 2 Another mixed bag, as are all compilations of short films. There weren't any show-stoppers in this batch but the clear favourite was Madagascar, A Journey Diary, with its variety of animation styles that showed the beauty of the land and creatures, as well as vivacity and complexity of the people during a Famadihana festival. The other one that caught my eye was a more experimental piece called Twist of Fate, a trio of stories about lying named, appropriately enough, Lies and a charming little Chinese short about the secret world inside a cotton candy machine named The Universe Cotton. The big disappointment for me was Nick Cross & Dave Cooper's music video for Danko Jones' King of Magazines. After all the buzz on the animation blogs, I was expecting something special, but what did I get? Unappealing drawing, action that had no connection to the lyrics or the beat of the song, and characters whose motivations didn't make sense. Personal opinion of course, but a poor showing overall.

20 Years of Studio Film Bilder This was a treat from beginning to end. Film Bilder is the major animation producer in Germany, and has produced a stunning body of work over the past two decades, including surprisingly enough the animated stairs sequences from Run, Lola, Run. Great fun, and sometimes unflinchingly dramatic, it was a joy to watch.

Seven Reasons to Love Animation This was unexpected, really. I went in with the expectation of getting some old NFB shorts, and what I got was a selection of unusual and outstanding films going back to 1957 Denmark. I had to laugh though, since earlier I've mentioned the names Norman McLaren and The Brothers Quay here, and what comes up but Begone Dull Care and The Comb. In fact I'd already seen four of the seven films in the program, which I guess means I'm cultured or something. Aside from the two I mentioned, I've also seen 78 Tours and Balance, both of which I recommend.

Can't Draw Straight: Queer Perspectives in Animation This was an extremely odd program, not the least because several of the selections didn't seem to have anything at all to do with queer perspectives. The most puzzling choice was PES' Roof Sex, which clearly shows a heterosexual tryst. Similarly, Tango Finlandia was a great little film, but I'm at a loss to tell you what was queer about it. There were some nice bits though, particularly the noir animation Beloved Murderer, about a pair of lesbian assassins intended to destroy each other, although it doesn't end up like that. Overall, not the most impressive screening I've gone to this week, but not without its charms.

That's it for tonight. Tomorrow is the last day of the festival, and I intend to fill it with most of the remaining short competitions and the Canadian compilation. Hopefully my luck will hold and none will sell out.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ottawa Animation Festival Part 2

Another day, another crop of AniFest reviews! Got to see four screenings today, which is one more than I'd planned, so that's a bonus. Here's the rundown:

$9.99 The first feature I've seen during the festival (out of three planned), $9.99 is an Isreali film about a group of characters all inhabiting the same apartment with interrelated lives to one degree or another, although sometimes the relationship is coincidental at best. An entertaining film, certainly, and the characters have a lot of honesty to them, but I have to question the fantastic elements of the film. The worthless angel that appears to the old, lonely man is good, but what happens to the repo guy is totally jarring, and the hallucinatory drinking buddies of the guy whose fiancee dumped him really doesn't work as well as it should. But despite that, the character development of most of the characters works well, and there's some sense of cohesion. Worth a look, but probably not going too far out of your way for.

International Competition 2 One of the festival's competition screenings, this was a crop of short films from a number of countries, primarily European. There was a very slick French film named French Roast which was quite clever, and a new Pixar short, but honestly what stole the show was L'homme à la Gordini, a wickedly funny short about a society where everyone is pantless and wears only orange tops (enforced by law!), subverted by a man and wife team wearing blue, and a mysterious caped man waging his own subversive war against the customs. So 70's in style it HURTS!, the film is infectious and funny. This one is definitely worth going out of your way to find.

A Stan VanDerBeek Retrospective This was probably the most jarring moment of the festival for me, going from the slick, polished and professional entries in the International Competition to a collection of extremely experimental short films made by the man who later went on to create the vids for Paul Simon's "Boy In the Bubble" and Michael Jackson's "Leave Me Alone". Dissonant, chaotic and confusing, but full of energy and not without humour, VanDerBeek pushed the envelope of collage filmmaking, and even worked with the early pioneers of CG. Not an easy screening to sit through though, and a number of the audience left partway through. I'd say it was worth it, but I grew up watching Norman McLaren stuff, so it's not so new to me. But seriously, what's with all experimental films using this ear-wrenching avant garde dissonant crap for a soundtrack? What, it's not experimental enough if you don't have clashing noise where music should be? I don't get it. At least McLaren had the decency to use jazz.

Edison and Leo This was fun, and a good antidote for the heavy experimentation and dissonant soundtrack of the last screening. The first Canadian stop-motion feature, this is an iconoclastic and unquestionably Canadian story about an amoral inventor, his two sons, and the giant metal effigy of his late wife (his fault). Oh, and his son is charged with electicity (also his fault), and a tribe of female warriors have laid seige to his lab (his fault, yet again...there's a pattern forming here). The story is surprisingly unflinching at sex, violence, and emotion, which helps bring the very obvious models alive as characters. The writing is sharp and witty, the motivations of the characters is clear, and everything comes together in a nice, tidy, but not neat package. The real shame is the deaths of some characters who really don't deserve it, but omlettes and eggs, you know. Honestly, thinking about it after it would have come off as too much of a sell-out if they hadn't, so it's just as well. Another one to look for, I recommend it.

That's it for tonight. I've got five screenings scheduled for tomorrow, hopefully I can get in to all of them. I'll report back after with my impressions.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ottawa Animation Festival Part 1

So this week is the Ottawa Animation Festival, and it's a pretty big deal in the animation world as one of the big festivals of it's kind. And as an animation student, I'm tremendously lucky to have this literally on my doorstep. So I've been volunteering like crazy (I've done 14 hours already, and another three tomorrow) in return for a coveted volunteer pass, which gets me into most screenings and workshops. Well worth the effort, although I'm doing twice what's actually required. Next year, I plan to concentrate mostly on the Television Animation Conference, which runs parallel to the festival, and make contacts there.

So over the next few days, instead of presenting art, I'll be giving my impressions of the showings I've seen that day. I'll provide links to as much as I can along the way.

So here's what I went to see today:

The Stereolab at the NFB: Exploring Three Dimensions This was an interesting collection of independent films done using current 3-d processes, funded by the NFB (save for one). As you'd expect, a lot of it was pretty artsy and experimental, although a surprising amount of it was just plain gimmicky, so instead of well crafted visuals, you just got a lot of poorly drawn crap getting thrown at your face. So for at least a third of the program I wasn't impressed. However, there was a 3-d treatment of Bashnie Tatlina Tower Bawher, which was pretty stirring, and the real star of the show was Facing Champlain, which is a wonderful animation/live action hybrid that uses the 3-d format in service of the plot, rather than just a gee-whiz gimmick. Strangely, the other good moment was a non-NFB film out of Winnipeg that went whole-hog with the gimmick, but with such quirky humour that it worked. Goes to show you can salvage just about anything if you got heart.

In the evening, I had the good luck to get a spot in Stevie Vallance's voice acting for animation workshop, and let me tell you that was a serious stroke of good luck. I met Stevie the day before during a shift at the TAC conference, and I was impressed with her then, and I am certainly no less impressed now. She's a brilliant performer, and a great teacher for aspiring voice actors. It's a shame I can't manage to make her all-day workshop on Sunday, but she's been talking about coming back to town to do more in a few months, so there's hope.

Lastly, I managed to catch Québec My Love: Contemporary Indies from Québec. I was initially hesitant, since I don't really speak the language, but it turns out I didn't need to worry. What wasn't subtitled was generally either wordless or non-narrative anyhow, so no big deal. Unlike the largely gimmicky Stereolab presentation, this showing veered sharply into the pure art and experiment realm, with films that in some cases even defied the concept of animation itself. Very edgy, sometimes as far as inaccessable, it was still a fascinating program. Although there were a couple of more orthodox animations, like Pierre M. Trudeau's professional-looking CG short Garbage Angels, the surreal and ligne claire-esque Astronomer's Dream, and the very personal but told with simple linework The Occupant, the one that really made me sit up was a seriously surreal take on relationships, Chromosome X-Y-Z. Compelling and disturbing, full of dark and surreal but sometimes hopeful and beautiful imagery, and owing more than just a little debt to the Brothers Quay with their almost-mechanical, insectlike vibrating elements that never fail to unnerve me, this is the short that really grabbed me. I don't pretend to understand it all, but I doubt that matters.

It's late and time for bed. More tomorrow!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Starting down that road

Well, I got it done and submitted, my very first animation. Pretty simple, it's the classic bouncing ball that goes all the way back to the early Disney days, and just about every animation student does it at some point. It's a good way to start though, since it boils everything down to basics, and I think mine turned out pretty well.

Background is mine, too. Not my most inspired work, but I like it.

In other news, I just watched the Spanish animated feature Nocturna. Seriously, why does this film not have a North American distributor? It's well drawn, well animated, full of appeal, the story is engaging and doesn't talk down to the audience, full of action and spectacle. All in all, what an exceptional bit of animation should be. There's a musical interlude at one point, midway through that really struck me in its sheer subtlety. The comparison to American features' need to shoehorn songs into every animated feature (I'm looking at you, Disney!), to say nothing of dialogue into every single moment is striking. If you can find a copy, and unfortunately it'll either have to be a download or an import, I highly recommend it. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Haven't posted in a bit, been busy with course work. Hopefully I'll be getting more in the habit of drawing more and more as I learn better practices.

School's been good so far. Loads of new information right off the bat that we're now learning to apply. All fascinating stuff of course, and it's getting me more interested in animation itself than I used to be. Up to now my focus has been more on comics, but honestly I'm getting really into this whole animation concept.

But then, maybe I'm seduced by the fact that several of my classes revolve around watching cartoons and drawing stuff like what I've got below. Although it'll be a long time before I'm animating anything nearly that complex. For now it's the classic bouncing ball, and working our way up to doing the flour sack exercise developed by the early Disney guys by the end of the term.

Today's art is a couple of studies from Jean-David Morvan and Jose-Luis Munuera's fantastic adventure series, Navis. The characters and poses aren't mine, but rather they're exercises in learning how to do solid drawing with underlying construction, and a careful look should reveal a lot of the latter. Our Animation Drawing instructor really stresses this stuff, so it's to my best interest to practice it a lot.