Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ottawa Animation Festival 2006: A Report

I have returned from the far away lands of the North! After three long days of animation, animators, recruiters, friends, professors, and pumpkins I can finally sit down at the computer and report on the experience. Complete with pictures.

Hooray Ottawa!! (This is by one of those Pratt guys...pretty sweet!)

I began my Ottawa experience this year by leaving Rochester at 5 AM and making it all the way up the city by 10:30 or so. After getting a little lost I finally found a place to park (note to self: parking the National Arts Center is mucho expensivo.) Once there I wandered over to the Jonathan Hodgson workshop. Hodgson is an animator that I had never heard of by name, but I immediately recognized his style when he showed his commercial work. His website has a lot of his work, go check it out. He mostly talked about how he developed as an artist and even showed a chronological slideshow of his work starting at age 6. Hodgson explained that he is very easily influenced by other artists and always had a hard time finding his own style. I think most of us can relate to that. Now I find myself being influenced by him...some of his work reminds me a lot of Dave McKean, but in a less eerie way.


After Hodgson's workshop I waited an hour for the bus to take me and a whole bunch of other animators over to Mooney's Bay for the annual Ottawa Picnic. Though it was my third year at Ottawa, it was my first at the picnic. It was a little awkward and overwhelming, but the food was great (annnnnd free booze) and I ended up meeting a lot of interesting people. I caught up with Lorelei Pepi, a friend and former professor from RIT. I'm still working on her new short, Happy & Gay, which will hopefully be seen at Ottawa next year. She introduced me to some great indie animators, including George Griffin, Karen Aqua, and Fran Krause among others. While at the picnic I spotted Ward, of Ward-o-Matic fame, and John (Robotjohnny) who were both at the fest under the guise of MEDIA for Drawn!. I also got to meet Amid Amidi and Jerry Beck of Cartoonbrew and some cool kids from Pratt who are interning at Frederator.

Part of the Ottawa picnic tradition is a pumpkin carving contest, with lots of interesting entries...though I'm not sure who won.

Might be my favorite.

After the picnic I was able to check in to my hotel, which was oddly named "ARC The Hotel" but had a great location just a block away from the NAC, the main screening location for the fest. The hotel was pretty fancy (they offered me a glass of champagne and Belgian chocolate when I checked in) and was able to hold all 5 of us kids staying there. Speaking of which, I was staying with some friends from RIT, Sean Keeton and Bob Rutan, as well as their respective lady friends, Pana and Gina. (I ended up on an air mattress in the corner.) Unfortunately Sean had some car trouble and ended up making it to Ottawa a bit after midnight. In the meantime I was taking in the "ToonTown" retrospective of animation made in Ottawa over the last 65 years. There was some amazing work, including Norman McClaren (there's that new DVD box set out if you're looking to buy me a present) and the world premiere of Nick Cross's Waif of Persephone. Cross's film was beautifully designed and animated (verrry Spumco of course) and had a quirky storytelling sense.

Those NAC chairs are actually not too uncomfortable.

After the Ottawa retrospective I stayed for Short Competition 3, which featured a film by my old RIT professor Skip Battaglia. Skip's film, Crossing the Stream, is described in the fest guide as "A poem in the shape of a stream," which is very well said. It was one of the very few experimental films that I could not only sit through, but appreciate on an artistic and cinematic level. Other shorts that stood out to me were Tyger from Brazil, and Run Wrake's Rabbit. Rabbit's style was a mix of 1950's Dick & Jane illustrations and Adult Swim-ish After Effects animation. It work surprisingly well together and had a crazy story to go along with it. After the screening I found another RIT prof and stop-motion animator extraordinaire, Tom Gasek, and a bunch of us headed over to Chez Ani for a drink.

Saturday brought a lot of stress early in the morning. This was the day of Ottawa's new feature, "Animators for Hire." It was arranged around six different companies (Disney, Blue Sky, Nerd Corps, Mainframe, Studio B, and Longtail). There were six tables and each table had 6 or 7 people at it with portfolio and reel in hand. We were given 14 minutes at each table and then the entire group would shift down to the next table. (Clean cup clean cup! That's how it felt, really.) The people from each company were pretty friendly, but I have to say that Disney was surprisingly the most helpful and genuinely interested in giving feedback and taking note of the different people who came by. When I have seen Disney at past fests, as well as at Siggraph the past couple years, they came across as very corporate and scary. They would not look at people's portfolios (legal reasons), and this year they would not accept reels at Siggraph. (There is a new online submission thing, which really works best in the long run.) Anyway, I was happy to talk to them as well as all the other companies there. I also met a lot of interesting animators from Canada (as well as Dubai and Brazil) along the way. Mainframe has a feature coming up and Studio B looks like they are almost overflowing with 2D work for you flash guys and gals.

After a couple hours of selling myself I gladly settled in for the Bruno Bozzetto Short Films screening. Though I had seen many of the films before they were just as funny, if not funnier, than I remembered. Bozzetto himself was there to answer questions afterwards which was a real treat. I wish I had been there for the screening of Allegro Non Tropo earlier in the week.

I grabbed a quick lunch at the conveniently located mall cafeteria and headed down to the Arts Court for the "LAIKA: How We Do It" workshop. I found a seat next to Ward and the place quickly filled up and spilled out into the hallway next door. There were a couple directors from LAIKA's commercial division and the moderator was Tom Knott, an animation veteran and LAIKA recruiter guy of sorts. We saw some interesting glimpses into the process of creating a TV spot, and they left us wanting more. Though we did get some innapropriate t-shirts:

The back says, "Animated for the very first time." HAR HAR HAR!

(I dunno if I'll be wearing that any time soon...) When I got back to the NAC I tried to get into the Bob Clampett thing that John K. was doing but it was full. I did make it to the main Bob Clampett retrospective. Seeing those films in beautiful 35 mm prints was so great. They played most of my favorites, including Gruesome Twosome, Baby Bottleneck, Book Review, and Great Piggybank Robbery, as well as Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, which I was surprised and pleased to see got a public screening after all these years. (Regardless of content it is an amazing piece of work!)

After Bob Clampett was Short Competition 5, which had some great films in it. Mr. Scwartz, Mr. Hazen & Mr. Horlocker was very entertaining and picked up a big award later on. It was a non-linear story involving three different guys in an apartment building. We first see one story happen, then the film stops and rewinds itself and we see the same story from a different perspective, which explains things and is very funny. This screening also featured Le Building, which is always a good watch, as well as Carival of the Animals which received an Honorable Mention at the fest. (Though it was very sexual it was also very playful...but a bit too long for my taste.) Then there was an anti-smoking ad with two cute dolls that are about to kiss, when suddenly their cat pukes on the floor. The guy doll stops and picks up the puke and eats it, then leans in to kiss the girl. I guess kissing a smoker is just like that? I wouldn't know, none of my girlfriends have been smokers. (Though some might have eaten cat vomit?)

The Saturday night party at Barrymore's was a ruhl good time. I met John K! As well as got a fantastic picture of Mr. Horse with a rubber nipple on his head:

I have also learned that animators like to dance and drink. A lot.

Ward and John are saying, "Oh man this wierdo is gonna take our picture and put it on his blog!" (Don't worry...I won't.)

Here's Sean (not me) and John K. I didn't want to interrupt John K's time with the ladies that were hanging all around him. (Animation celebrities are a wierd idea.)

Sunday was a bit more laid back. I hiked down to the Bytowne for Short Competition 4...which felt very long. Backyard Shadow was a short that featured time lapse photography of shadows of treebranches moving across a house. It was edited very well to some intense music. Fertilizer Soup, a short from Gobelins was beautiful and fun as I have come to expect from that school. Taste of Life featured a very promising concept (a masseuse who tenderized people and then baked them in the sauna and ate them for dinner) but was very repetitive and waaaay too long. (11 minutes) And then there was Conte de Quartier, which was animated mostly in oil amazing feat but you can only watch that style for so long. And 15 minutes is too long. Wayyyyy too long when you're at the end of a 2 hour block.

After a decent lunch at the Elephant and Castle (don't order the Curry, it's not what you expect) we saw our last screening, which was the International Showcase. I was happy to finally see Dreamworks' First Flight, which was one of the best pieces of animation I have seen come out of that studio. It was a cliche and almost obnoxious story (about a hyper-cute baby bluebird who needs to learn how to fly and a stuffy businessman who teaches him how and learns about himself at the same time, etc etc) BUT, it had a lot of heart. And I cared about the characters and it kept my attention. (Which is more than I can say for 75% of the films I saw at the fest.) Next was Disney's Little Match Girl. I just don't know. It was beautifully animated...but something went wrong here. I saw Hans Bacher's designs for this short and they were amazing. The short kinda sputters and dies. (Like the matchgirl herself, haha. I'm awful.) It's an okay film but I feel like Disney could have been a little more adventurous. It was so driven by the music that I imagined it as part of Fantasia or something...and it would have been the low point of a film like that. But the worst was yet to come. There was this film from Austria called Salome in Low Land. It was an 8-bit opera of sorts...a very heady and complicated story told in song and displayed in video-game style graphics. That sounds kinda cool doesn't it? It wasn't. It was a whopping 10:24 and I pretty much wanted to die throughout the whole thing. Someone actually stood up in the middle of it and shouted, "THIS FILM IS SHIT!" and then stormed out of the theatre. Okay, so by someone I mean me. (Just kidding. But that really did happen.)

This is a Beavertail. It looks really disgusting here, but it's probably the most delicious thing ever. Basically it's friend dough with maple butter all over it. I could eat ten right now.

And then I drove the six hours back to Buffalo! Overall it was a great break from work and I mostly enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Though I have my doubts about the taste of the screening committee (ie Chris Robinson's taste) I still look forward to next year's fest. (Boy this post took forever to type. And I use parentheses too often.) I leave you with some pics:

It was so tempting.

Sean & Pana and Gina & Bob!

I love this picture because we look pretty cracked out. And when did Gina become an amputee?

See all my pics from the fest up on Flickr.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ottawa Here I Come!

The pic you see above was my entry for the Ottawa Animation Festival contest that Cartoon Brew held a few weeks ago. It won me a free pass to the fest! Huzzah! As you can tell I am pumped for the Bob Clampett retrospective. I think I will try to see it on Friday morning if I can make it into town early enough. Last year I was a little dissapointed with the overall quality of films I saw compared to the year before that...but this year looks to be chock full of entertaining stuff! Cartoonbrew has a whole lot more info, as well as the official site for the fest. So get 'yo butt to Canada this weekend!