Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ottawa Festival Report

My visit to the Ottawa International Animation Festival got off to a bad start. I usually walk from the bus station to the hotel, but it was pouring rain when I arrived. As the walk would have been a half hour, I would have been thoroughly soaked, so I was forced to take a cab.

The wireless at my hotel was not working when I arrived, which was frustrating. The first program I attended was the International Student Showcase, which was a unrelieved depression and boredom. It may be the choice of films or maybe students are actually this depressed, pretentious and boring, but I was contemplating never coming back to the festival during this screening.

Fortunately, this was the low point and things rapidly improved. The next thing I attended was Amid Amidi's presentation on Ward Kimball, a teaser for his forthcoming book Full Steam Ahead: The Life and Art of Ward Kimball.  Amidi covered things I didn't know about Kimball's childhood and his artistic evolution.  Kimball's father had repeated business failures and seemingly moved the family to a new location after every one.  It prevented Kimball from forming long-term friendships and made drawing more attractive as it was one of the few areas of his life that Kimball could control.  Amidi talked about the influence of T. Hee on Kimball, moving Kimball's art more towards simplified design.  The talk was illustrated by unpublished paintings, drawings and home movies.  Amidi has the cooperation of the Kimball family, including access to the journals that Kimball kept during his time at Disney, so he had access to a rich source of material not common in other Disney books.   I pre-ordered the book as soon as Amazon listed it, and I am even more anxious to read it after seeing this presentation.

I started Saturday seeing part of an interview with Elliot Cowan conducted by Richard O'Connor.  Cowan is at work on an independent animated feature starring his characters Boxhead and Roundhead, the star of several shorts.  It's great that so many animators are tackling the challenge of a feature either solo or with small crews.  It's more likely we'll see artistic and thematic growth in these films than in mainstream animated features.

That was followed by a panel discussion of professional etiquette for job seekers and people pitching in animation.  I've attended several of these panels and they all hit the same notes: research who you're talking to and make sure you're a good fit, be brief, get to the point, and network like crazy.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi's talk was easily a highlight.  Unfortunately, it was not well-attended and people missed a tremendous opportunity to hear an important figure.  Bakshi readily confessed to the shortcomings of his films, but stressed the conditions they were made under.  He couldn't afford pencil tests and there was no room for retakes.  He talked about the incessant battles over money, ratings, distribution, etc.  His attitude has always been that it's better to say something in a flawed way than to say nothing new in a slick package.  By coincidence, I was re-reading Sam Fuller's autobiography A Third Face during the festival and I realized that Bakshi is animation's Fuller.  Fuller stuck with low budgets in order to have creative freedom (though I suppose that Bakshi didn't do that by choice), and Fuller's style was always blunt and direct.  There are similarities between Fuller's films Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss and Bakshi's films set in New York.

Bakshi is currently doing shorts for YouTube.  Here is Trickle Dickle Down.  The animation is repurposed from Coonskin, which caused Jerry Beck to reject running it on Cartoon Brew.  Bakshi was very vocal in his disagreement over this, stating that the message was more important than the re-use.

Following Bakshi's talk, I caught up with Paranorman, which I had missed in theatres.  Made by Laika, the company behind Coraline, I actually liked it better than their first feature.  While I felt the designs could have been more attractive and that the second act seemed padded, the film worked and had strong themes.  The fear of those who are different and the mob descent into violence are themes that are as relevant to the film's supernatural world as they are to international politics.

I only saw one shorts competition this year.  These programs are always a mixed bag and all you can hope for are enough films you like to make the program worthwhile.  Films I enjoyed in this program included I Am Tom Moody by Ainslie Henderson, Melissa by Cesar Cabral, Pythagasaurus by Peter Peake of Aardman, Night of the Loving Dead by Anna Humphries, Una Fortiva Lagrima by Carlo Vogele (using a 1904 recording by Enrico Caruso), and The People Who Never Stop by Florien Piento.

Due to arriving on Friday and various schedule conflicts, I only got to see one feature in competition, Le Tableau, directed by Jean-Francois Laguionie.  It is set inside an unfinished painting, where the figures form a class system based on their level of completion.  While this film also had a meandering second act, it dealt with fascism, ethnic cleansing, the search for God and God's responsibility toward his creations.  The film combines cel-shaded 3D with painterly 2.5D backgrounds and while I could think of ways that characters could have been more developed, I was still highly impressed with the look and the thoughtfulness of the film.  See it if you get the chance.

I regret missing Arrugas, directed by Ignacio Ferreras, a feature set in a retirement home and which won the grand prize at the festival.  If anyone has seen it, please comment below.

Barry Purves

Sunday, I started with the Barry Purves retrospective.  Purves, a brilliant stop motion animator, introduced his work and then returned to answer questions at the end.  Besides running clips from his TV work, he ran Next, Screen Play, Riggoletto, Achilles and Gilbert and Sullivan.  Purves is clearly in love with opera and operatic voices.  Riggoletto and Gilbert and Sullivan are built entirely around them.  However, I wonder if the music and singing are too broad for the intimacy of film.  On stage, the audience is a distance from the action and there is no cutting or close-ups possible.  When the audience is only inches from a character's face, the operatic delivery often overpowers the visuals.  Purves would be horrified at the idea of redubbing his films, I'm sure, but I wonder how they would play with more intimate arrangements and singing.  None of this takes away from his mastery of performance, though.

I ended my festival with the screening of children's films.  Every year I look forward to this, as the films are the antithesis of most of the shorts in the festival.  They are bright, funny, well-paced and are clearly concerned with how the audience will receive them.  While all the films were worth watching, my favourites were Stick Up For Your Friends by Anthony Dusko, My Strange Grandfather by Dina Velikovskaya, From Point A to Point Z by Karl Staven, Why Do We Put Up With Them? by David Chai and Thank You by Pendleton Ward and Thomas Herpich.  I was pleased to see that two excellent films were from Toronto: The Fox and the Chickadee by Evan DeRushie and Beethoven's Wig by Alex Hawley and Denny Silverthorne of Smiley Guy Studios.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ottawa International Animation Fest Winners

OTTAWA (September 23, 2012) – The Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) came to an end Sunday, with closing ceremonies held at the National Arts Centre. Organizers announced the winners of the official competition during the ceremonies.

This year’s event, held September 19th-23rd, was a tremendous success with packed screenings, sold out workshops, high profile networking events such at the Television Animation Conference (TAC) and a strong weekend of professional development.

The OIAF is a major international film event that attracts 1500 industry pass holders from across Canada and around the world with a total attendance of close to 30,000. Although the final numbers are not officially in, there are strong indications that this year’s Festival reached its highest attendance to date.

The 2012 international jury for Short Program, Student and Commissioned Films included: Mike Fallows (USA), J.J. Sedelmaier (USA) and Sarah Muller(UK). The international jury for Feature Film Competition and School Showreels included: Barry Purves (UK), Hisko Hulsing (Netherlands) and Izabela Rieben (Switzerland).

The Festival also featured a special jury made up of local kids to select the Best Short Animation Made for Children and the Best Television Animation Made for Children. This year’s kids jury included: Jordan Quayle, Evelyn Abacra, Lucas Kelly, Jakob Boose, Zoe Monogian, Conall Sloan, Eleanor Simonetta, Jacob Cooper, Chantalyne Leonhardt and Lauralee Leonhardt.

List of WinnersNelvana GRAND PRIZE for Best Independent Short AnimationJunkyard– directed by Hisko Hulsing, Netherlands

GRAND PRIZE for Best Animated FeatureArrugas (Wrinkles), directed by Ignacio Ferreras, Spain

Walt Disney GRAND PRIZE for Best Student AnimationI Am Tom Moody– directed by Ainslie Henderson, Edinburgh College of Art, UK

GRAND PRIZE for Best Commissioned AnimationPrimus "Lee Van Cleef" - by Chris Smith, USA

Best Animation School ShowreelSupinfocom (France)

BEST Narrative ShortA Morning Stroll - by Grant Orchard, STUDIO AKA, USA

BEST Experimental/Abstract AnimationRivière au Tonnerre – directed by Pierre Hébert, Canada

Adobe Prize for BEST High School AnimationThe Bean – by Hae Jin Jung, Gyeonggi Art High School, South Korea

Honourable Mention:La Soif Du Monde (Thirsty Frog) – by a Collective: 12 Children, Camera-etc, Belgium

BEST Undergraduate AnimationReizwäsche - by Jelena Walf & Viktor Stickel, Germany

BEST Graduate AnimationBallpit – directed by Kyle Mowat, Sheridan College, Canada

BEST Promotional AnimationRed Bull 'Music Academy World Tour' – by Pete Candeland, Passion Pictures, UK

BEST Music VideoThe First Time I Ran Away - by Joel Trussell, USA

BEST Television Animation for AdultsPortlandia: Zero Rats – by Rob Shaw, USA

BEST Short Animation Made for ChildrenBeethoven’s Wig, directed by Alex Hawley & Denny Silverthorne, Canada

Honourable Mentions:Au Coeur de L’Hiver - directed by Isabelle Favez, Switzerland
Why do we Put up with Them? - directed by David Chai, USA

BEST Television Animation Made for ChildrenRegular Show: Eggscellent - by JC Quintel, Cartoon Network

Honourable Mention:Adventure Time: Jake vs. Me-Mow - by Pendleton Ward, Cartoon Network, USA

The National Film Board of Canada PUBLIC PRIZEIt's Such a Beautiful Day - directed by Don Hertzfeldt, USA

Canadian Film Institute Award for BEST Canadian AnimationNightingales in December, directed by Theodore Ushev, Canada

Honourable MentionsBallpit – directed by Kyle Mowat, Sheridan College, Canada
MacPherson - directed by Martine Chartrand, National Film Board of Canada, Canada

BEST Canadian Student Animation AwardGum - By Noam Sussman, Sheridan College, Canadaa

Honourable MentionsBallpit - By Kyle Mowat, Sheridan College, Canada
Tengri - By Alisi Telengut, Concordia University, Canada

The Ottawa Media Jury AwardFor the best short competition film, as deemed by the local Ottawa Media, consisting of:

-Peter Simpson (Ottawa Citizen)
-Sandra Abma (CBC)
-Fateema Sayani (Ottawa Magazine)
-Denis Armstrong (Ottawa Sun)

I Am Tom Moody– By Ainslie Henderson, Edinburgh College of Art, UK

About the OIAFOIAF 2012 was held September 19-23rd, 2012 in Ottawa. Events at the OIAF included screenings, panels, workshops, parties and the Television Animation Conference. The OIAF is a leading competitive animation film festival, featuring cutting edge programming, catering to industry executives, trend setting artists, students and animation fans. For more information about the OIAF, please visit www.animationfestival.ca.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

100 Years of Chuck Jones

September 21, 2012 is the 100th birthday of Charles Martin Jones, arguably the greatest director of animated shorts in history.  While there will be justifiable celebrations of his life and work this day, his career strikes me as a very curious thing.  There was a period of brilliance, but there was also a period of decline which lasted much longer.

I've wrote about Jones' career back in the '90s and while my knowledge of Jones has been augmented by many interviews with his co-workers (see Michael Barrier's site for many of these), my opinion has remained constant.

Whatever your opinion of Jones, there are worse ways to spend the day than to watch some of his films.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shifting Distribution Patterns

The world of film distribution is changing.  What we take for granted, and have for years, may soon no longer be the case.  Movies open in theatres.  Three months later, they're on DVD.  Then they move to pay TV and finally free TV.

Theatre audiences in the U.S. and Canada are shrinking.  Hollywood has compensated for this by raising prices, so that the overall theatrical grosses go up while the number of people buying tickets goes down.  Last summer was a disappointment in that everything went down.  Deadline Hollywood reports that the summer movie season ended with grosses in the U.S. and Canada down 2.8% over last summer and the number of tickets sold dropped 4.3%.  And that was with a rise in ticket prices of 1.5%.

Just like studios have gone to digital projection as a way to cut their distribution costs, they're now shifting to downloads to cut their costs on DVD manufacture and distribution.  DVD sales have gone down in recent years, so the move to downloads is a way to increase the profit when people pay to see the movie at home.  Variety reports (and the article is behind a paywall):
In a first for the studio, 20th Century Fox is making Ridley Scott's sci-fi thriller "Prometheus" available for HD download Sept. 18, three weeks before the release of the physical discs.
Pic marks the inaugural film in Fox's strategy of carving out a new digital window for homevid releases. Studio will make all of its films available for HD download about two weeks before the titles hit store shelves. The three-week jump for "Prometheus" window is an exception. The next few pics in Fox's queue are "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "Ice Age: Continental Drift" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days."

And the digital versions will be cheaper: Retailers will offer the digital version of "Prometheus" for less than $15, rather than the $20 they usually offer films through the electronic-sell-through category.

On the day of "Prometheus'" launch, the studio will also make 600 of its library titles available through the new service. Those include mainstream movies like "Avatar" and "Rio," but also less readily available DVD fare like the original 1968 version of "Planet of the Apes" and "French Connection." The price point for the studio's library titles may vary slightly from its upcoming releases but will hover around the $15 mark.
We're reaching a tipping point.  As theatrical revenues decrease (even with rising ticket prices) and DVD sales go down, the studios are hungry for cash.  By making downloads available before DVDs go on sale, Hollywood is saying "screw you" to retailers like Wallmart.  They're throwing retailers under the bus, not caring if they reduce the retailer's take so long as they increase their own.

It's only a matter of time before some studio decides to do the same to the theatres.  We are quickly reaching a point where a studio will make a download available the same day a film opens theatrically.  There may be some pushback.  Perhaps a major retailer like Wallmart will tell Fox that they'll no longer carry their DVDs or a theatre chain will boycott movies from a particular studio.  However, that may simply drive more business directly to the studios.  If you want to see a Fox film and can't find the DVD, why not download it?

Just like record stores have mostly disappeared and physical bookstores are suffering, movie theatres may be next.  While they won't vanish entirely, we could be looking at a drastic reduction in the number of theatres.

The theatres are not blameless in this.  While multiplexes are the standard, their selection of films is limited to mainstream releases.  That has narrowed the audience that goes to the movies.  Theatres have done nothing to police their patrons with regard to talking during films and because audiences have been shrinking, theatres have inflated the cost of tickets and their concessions in order to bolster their own bottom lines.  Combine all that with a soft economy, and audience has many reasons to stay home.

It would be ironic after theatres have invested heavily in digital projection at the request of the studios if the studios walked away from them, but it wouldn't surprise me.  I don't doubt that Hollywood bean counters are staring at the numbers right now, deciding at exactly what point the revenue from downloads will be comparable to the revenue from theatres.  Once they reach that point, it's the end of movie theatres as we know them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Toronto Urban Film Festival

If you're riding the Toronto subway between Sept. 7 and 17, check out the electronic message boards for the Toronto Urban Film Festival.  Films are screened in the subways, so while waiting for your train, you have the chance to see one or more short films.

Three of this year's films are by Sheridan students.  Yeti by Eva Zhou, Amare by Katarina Antonic and Bygone Bounce by Shen Ramu.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Facundo the Great

Here's another Storycorps short animated by the Rauch Brothers. Storycorps is raising money through Kickstarter to do a half hour special.  The goal is only $25,000, so I don't know if the money is to simply top up a budget or if they're going to do a slight amount of new animation to wrap around the work they've already done.

In any case, I'm a fan of their work and look forward to them doing more.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Persistence of Vision Preview

I've written previously about Kevin Schreck's documentary on the making of The Cobbler and the Thief, Dick Williams' ill-fated feature.  Above is more preview footage of the finished documentary that is making the rounds at festivals.  If you're interested in finding out where it will show, you can check the film's Facebook page.

(I really wish that Schreck would identify the people on screen in these clips.  I'm sure that they'll be identified in the final product, but I'm frustrated not knowing who I'm looking at.  That's Greg Duffell at the 25 second mark, but I have no idea who else is on screen.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

R. Crumb on Ward Kimball

Amid Amidi recently posted this picture of (L to R) Robert Armstrong, Ward Kimball and R. Crumb on the blog 365 Days of Ward Kimball.  If you're interested in Crumb's thoughts on Kimball, you can go here and scroll down.  Crumb also comments on Matt Groening and Ralph Bakshi on the same page.  You'll have to scroll down to find them, but he also talks about Winsor McCay and Walt Disney, among many other people of note outside animation.