2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival -Day Three

Competition 3 from Thursday was an anomaly.

Today featured competitions 4 and 5. Number 4 was solid all of the way through, and 5 had some valleys but equivalent peaks. Both very good selections.

Our film, “The Honor Code”, screened at the 10 am competition 4. It’s a nice little piece, Kelsey Stark did her typically phenomenal job with the design and layout. It feels so long ago since we did it that I don’t even see the mistakes and short cuts that bothered me at completion.

My favorite film of the festival was in the same screening, “Strange Wonderful” by Stephanie Swart from RISD.


An initially off-putting character design works into a pretty, beautiful little film. Remarkable, the spacial dynamic within frame by use of contrasting scale between scenic elements. I hope to see it again.

Also surprising is Alexis Beaumont & Rémy Godin’s music video for Stuck in the Sound “Let’s Go”. More of a narrative film than music video it takes four or five surprising (but not unbelievable) turns in three and a half minutes.

The evening screening kicked off with Theo Ushev’s “Gloria Victoria”. It’s in line with Drux Flux and Tower Bawher, similar graphic approach. Great Shostakovich. Maybe a minute or two too long, but a beautiful piece.

There was also a new film by Rosto. This was as comically sophomoric as his other films, even adding a non-sequitur Christ on Cross allusion for the full high school rebel appeal. It’s Ayn Rand-level pomposity but, unlike the jumbled scrawlings of that mid-century sociopath, a film that’s hilarious and completely enjoyable in it’s high-budget indulgence. May the filmmaker never grow up.

I also caught some of the feature, “The Boy and The World”. It’s a non-verbal film in a simple design style. It makes for difficult viewing in a festival situation where personal endurance is as much a factor as the film’s quality. It demands a repeat viewing and I hope it gets distribution.

The picnic happened today too.

Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day Two

Chris Robinson conducted a “Meet the Filmmakers” for the first shorts screening first thing in the morning.


The session was snappy and well conducted (until the dreadful audience questions), Chris has seen the films numerous times and clearly put a lot of thought into them. As an interviewer his interest in them is apparent and made for an exceptional session.

Competition screening #2 contained a few highly anticipated films -Chris Landreth’s “Subconscious Password” which the National Film Board is heavily promoting, new work from Koji Yamamura and a new film from Jérémy Clapin whose previous film “Skhizein” was mini-masterpiece. Yamamura’s piece appears to be work-for-hire segments for Japanese television. As always, the drawing is exquisite. Clapin’s “Palmipédarium” is so far the biggest disappointment of the festival. Good work creates unfair expectations.

Screening highlights include Yoriko Mizushiri “Futon”. Sensuous and sinewy:


Also a nice music video by Lucas Borras for Quantic & Alice Russell’s “Magdalena” which relied principally on clever use of photographs within the frame and drawn animation within them. That’s a poor description:

QUANTIC & ALICE RUSSELL – MAGDALENA from Lucas Borrás on Vimeo.

There were a handful of other nice shorts worth seeking out from a well balanced program.

Amongst the events later was a signing of “Animation Sketchbooks” by several of the artists involved. Hokey idea, but a very nice book. I’ll be sure to have additional artists add their John Hancock when they pass through the studio.

A work schedule pulled me from attending a few promising events: interview with Chris Sullivan, some interesting looking panels at TAC (on YouTube and the always informative “Pitch This!” session).

The Competition Shorts #3 is possibly the worst program I’ve seen at any Ottawa Festival. The few appealing were marred by proximity. Worst of all, the selection was anchored by a TV comedy that may be funny in the continuum of the series but had all the appeal of a sexed-up Clutch Cargo in the context of the rest of the Festival. Looking back at the program I see several films of merit on the list -films I’ve seen elsewhere and gotten something from, the overall feeling from the show was an hour and of “please end”.

Tomorrow, “The Honor Code” runs in Competition 4. I expect bloggers to trash it with fervor.

2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day One

An overriding excuse -I’ve been busy lately.  In bed at 3 am, out a 7 am (or later and earlier) kind of busy.  This, of course, is my own fault.  Trying to accommodate the world.

Multi-week sleep deprivation is a similar sensation to attending a film festival.  A soft cloud develops around your head, sunlight grows a sharpened edge, a long red light seems like a good time for a little nap.  Rollercoaster programming of a good festival, though, will make you angry and elated and raise you out of the even-keeled funk of the working world.

The festival in Ottawa unfurls so that it’s possible to be slowly drawn into the movie-haze unaware, in my current state I hit it in full fog.  The Television Animation Conference precedes the film programming by a day.  This is mostly dull stuff about animation as a product.  Movie making as money making, producing art as though it were manufacturing widgets.  But still, there is always something interesting.  Yesterday that was a panel that included Titmouse impresario Chris Prynowski.  His work as an animator is impressive and his studio produces work that exceeds the quality of any other making series for American television.  As a speaker he’s engaging and articulate.  He’s honest about the process and clearly know what he’s talking about.  A lot of people hide behind abstractions and broad figures when discussing work -it hints at a mere surface understanding of what it takes to make something.  Prynowski’s self-effacing discussion of the top to bottom details of his operation is possibly the most engaging thing I’ve seen at any TAC.


This year the event is being held at the Museum of Nature.  It’s a nice venue.  Cocktail parties surrounded by dinosaurs.

Two screenings in the evening: the French/Belgian feature “Approved for Adoption” and the competition shorts #1.

Approved for Adoption

It might be a new “thing” in European animation, and it’s not a good thing, to “toon shade” CGI models so they look like something from Xtranormal.com.  There was a short in competition that did the same thing.  It’s made even worse by the drawn sequences in the film that are generally pretty attractive (same is true for the short).

For me, the highlight film of the short program was Edmunds Jansons’ “Choir Tour.”  The story is no great shakes but the design and animation are both terrific.



The look utilizes contemporary drawing tools -likely Illustrator or Photoshop or some such thing in a pleasing and expressive fashion.  The animation is idiosyncratic and exploits the design.

Julia Pott’s “The Event” also ran.  There’s a lot to like about this film, and I’ve seen it several times.  It holds up (and in some ways improves) with repeat viewings.  I wish I could pinpoint why it leaves me a little cold.  It’s a good piece, though.  Strange to say, it felt a little out-of-place in the program.  Usually an apocalypse like this would be one of many in a competition selection- last night it felt like the only one.

Joanna Priestley’s “Split Ends” is attractive.  It feels like some of the graphics within it could form the basis of an interesting film.  She’s working in shape and abstraction to the point where they near representation.  Maybe this experiment will get pushed further in a future work.


We’ve been having some server issues which seem like they’re finally resolved.  So everything should be back online (the site migrated to another server leaving the blog behind, but now it’s all straight).

The intervening month has been berry busy.

We made a series of music videos for Grouplove totaling around 12 minutes of original animation.

Kelsey Stark directed a bunch of animators including Casey Drogin, Taisiya Zaretskaya, Liesje Kraai, Christine Wu and Leah Shore.  Now she’s off to Iceland to make a film, while not gracing her with her presence she is gracing us with a blog of her adventures:  http://thorgeirsboli.tumblr.com/  Don’t be surprised to find beautiful things therein.

Here’s the full video:

It’s an explanation of these little films: www.grouplovemusic.com/toonlove

I recommend taking twenty minutes or so to watch them in progression. It’s nice that Kelsey was able to inject some real emotional moments into these character studies.

Next week we’re heading to Ottawa for the animation festival. “The Honor Code” is screening in competition. Internet-willing we’ll have daily accounts.

Permanent Chill

Some time in the early 80s, my preteen years, when my father subscribed to the over-air cable alternative WHT, I must have seen a weekend or late night broadcast of “Harold & Maude”.

I don’t actually remember seeing the film.  A decade later, Alex Reshanov and I watched it. Though I had no recollection of previously sitting through the film I knew the whole thing.  Not only had I known the film, it had made clear impressions on my still forming mind.  Like the atheist seeds planted by “Jason & the Argonauts” (which I clearly remember watching over and over), “Harold & Maude” provided a vocabulary for my constant thoughts on death.  In another way it voiced legitimacy to my habit of forming close friendships with older woman.

Gail Levin with Roz Chast at WNET recording for "Need to Know"
Gail Levin with Roz Chast at WNET recording for “Need to Know”

The first of these matron pals was my Great Aunt Betty who took me to every Phillies game for years and taught me to wear a seat belt.  Aunt Betty was the second person I knew to die.  Her passing brought me more shame than sorrow.  Shame that I wasn’t there, shame that I didn’t really know her at all.  What could a 12 year old boy know of septuagenerian spinster anyway?  We know so little about ourselves, how can we know about others?

My latest Ruth Gordon -and the best since Aunt Betty -died yesterday after a long spell with cancer.

Gail Levin was a great friend.  For at least a half-decade we spoke nearly every day.  Though she was effusive with affection, Gail was not a particularly “open” person (with me, at least) and I liked that a lot.  Her story came together piecemeal over edit sessions, movie screenings, art shows or shoots.  I once presented her with a painting that abstractly depicts two men setting sail on a trans-Atlantic journey.  “You know I crossed the ocean in a sailing ship…”

Gail behind camera at our studio with Dewald Aukema shooting Steve Brodner for "Cab Calloway: Sketches"
Gail behind camera at our studio with Dewald Aukema shooting Steve Brodner for “Cab Calloway: Sketches”

A few people have asked how old she was.  I have to laugh and say “I have no idea!”  She interviewed Hal Ashby, I know that.  She interviewed hundreds of interesting people and was really, really good at it.  When her sickness made it impossible to travel, a colleague went in her stead to conduct an interview.  Watching the footage together, the subject was stumbling for a name -an old Hollywood agent -the interviewer didn’t know (neither did I).  Gail immediately shouted it out to me.  The interview subject, an old guy himself, deflated with his failing memory.  That moment I learned that a good interviewer needs more than good questions.   She was able to get people to speak deeply and honestly.

I’m having trouble speaking deeply, but I can honestly say that I loved her a great deal, and will miss her even more.

Just as she could produce the right fact at the right moment, she also had a way to find commonality with people- everyone’s kindred spirit.  Maybe it was Frank Loesser or basketball or just a kind word at the right moment, Gail was a person who immediately made life a shared experience.

Gail and I worked together for only six or seven years.  In that time, both her parents died, my father died, the Phillies won the world series (her Boston days left her a Red Sox/Celtics/Patriots fan- though she also like goofy Eli Manning too and took up for the Phillies with me). We worked on 16 contracts and developed a bunch more -many productions, like The Naked Campaign, involved multiple films.  Whether she asked for titling of a work-for-hire film like “Two World, One Planet” (please note we had nothing to do with titling in this trailer -Gail would have been appalled) or more intricate design, animation, and effects sequences in “Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides” or “Cab Calloway: Sketches” she approached our work together holistically.   People were not making parts of a film or doing a “job”, everyone provided a voice and the results -when successful -would be a rafter shaking choir.

Sneak Preview

Had a few screenings of excerpts from Elliot Cowan’s feature film “The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead” yesterday.



We ran the twenty or so minutes 5 times throughout the day, for audiences of around 6 at a time on the big 10 foot 4k projection screen at the studio.


We had a mix of producers, directors, writers, animators, actors and activists show up throughout the day.  Pictured here was an animator-dominated screening, with a producer/writer thrown in for good measure (though most of these animators can add a few “/” slash titles too).

You’ll see Elliot fielding questions and filling the gaps between the set pieces shown.  Turns out everybody hated it and he’ll have to start over from the beginning.



Close To You




Saturday night in Easton, PA, Maciek Albrecht had a rare screening of his 1995 film “Close To You”.


Maciek may be the greatest  confluence of talent and hard work I’ve ever met.  “Close To You” is a 40 minute film which tells a tale that all young city dwellers can understand -falling for a face in the crowd you may never meet.

It’s good to see an animator address real human circumstances, but the greater achievement here is the graphic stylization.  (These still are cel phone snaps, so the quality of image is pretty poor)



The film is primarily produced in the most painstaking production methodology possible.  Animated on paper, then cleaned up in with color pencil (multiple lines per drawing), rendered with several passes of airbrush and then mounted on cel.   Maybe the technique was slightly different, but not too far off.

More animators should heed their artistic inclinations and create work with such graphic ambitions.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with Maciek on several films and he has never let the parameters of project prevent him from developing new ideas.  He’s never said, “Oh, the budget on this so low we have to do it with symbols  in Flash”.  Sometimes the approach might become a little cumbersome for the confines of a contract, but those things can always be figured out.



The screening also served as a fundraiser for a new project.

He’s got a crowd-funding campaign going.

His studio doubles as a gallery (and it’s a great studio, with a soundstage, shop, edit room, and held up by, in part, by the column to his old Oxberry), and after the screening they had art from Close To You on sale.closetoyou04

Most of these set up were $75 or less.  Each is a perfect example of the craftmanship and precision that goes into animation production.

I got as many as I could afford.  Not only are they beautiful, but this is an artist who should be supported by anyone who cares about animation, who cares about film and art.

closetoyou05(above: greater-than-life-size painted cut outs of the film’s characters)


The Fantagraphics website looks like it crashed -or slowed to a slug’s pace, at best -around 4:15 Eastern Time on June 19.  People across the globe checking to see if it was true, and it’s undoubtably true, that the founder and frontman for the great publisher has passed.

I didn’t know Kim Thompson, never even spoke with him.  I’ve had dealings, both passing and substantial with other members of the Fantagraphics team over the years, but never the boss.  Here’s a link to the press release announcing his death.

Even so, Mr. Thompson’s work, more accurately, the work that he published (work that no one else would have put in print, let alone printed so beautifully, 25 years ago) had an impact on me equal to Superman’s fist on Lex Luthor’s face or some other hack metaphor from the spandex cartoon lexicon.

I never read comics as a child.  I actively disliked them.  The first comic I saw was a Richie Rich comic in which the eponymous hero lorded his wealth over his neighbors.  The second I saw was Scrooge McDuck.  It’s hardly worth explaining how the latent Marxian in my seven year old body responded to this corporatist propaganda.

eightballDeep in the recesses of my mind I thought: “this is a format to celebrate the wealthy.” Even R. Crumb comics which I first saw late in high school were too hippie-bourgeois for me.  Then I saw Dan Clowes’ “Eightball”.  This was something that spoke to me -pissed off, mysterious, poetic, irreverent.  Right next to it was “Love & Rockets”.  I may have been a little late to the game on that -the saga was entering its second decade by the time I first read it -but that only cemented my growing interest in the artform.

Fantagraphics books were my introduction to comics, and I truly doubt I would have ever cracked one open if not for Clowes’ Lloyd Llewellyn.  And I probably would have never met very many great people and dear friends if not for Fantagraphics.

A few years back they even began reprinting Carl Barks’ Disney comics, so I’ve now come to terms with the despicable Scrooge McDuck.

So thanks, Mr. Thompson.


A few weeks backs we finished up this advocacy film with Pendragwn Productions.

The YouTube compression is pretty harsh here, but it should give you the gist.

They liked our work on “The Honor Code” and wanted have a similar emotion and style to this piece.  It seemed appropriate, so we didn’t try too hard to push in another direction.

A bit of evolution from “The Honor Code” to here, the design and animation are tighter in this piece.  That’s part process, part schedule.  Here we produced in a traditional cartoon fashion.  Layouts, extremes, inbetweens.  Clean up.  Digital paint.  Much of the earlier production was animated straight ahead in ink and all the painting was rendered by hand, on paper, creating a much looser, rough dynamic.

This film was textbook production process.  From storyboard:


To layout:


Kelsey Stark created the designs and layouts.

To animation:


Doug Compton handled the animation, Kelsey, Casey Drogin and Liesje Kraai came in on  the inbetweens and clean up.

The inbetweening was done digitally, drawing in Photoshop with the Cintiq.  It’s a bit of a cumbersome process, but Photoshop was the best option we had to get the line quality we want.  It also offered decent options for coloring.  There is probably some software that’s better suited to handling this style (I think of Paul Fierlinger’s beautiful work with TV Paint) but the Adobe suite is something we already have and everyone knows how to use.  We needed to clean up Doug’s drawings to match the line style of the inbetweens.  His pencil work was very tight and very close to the digital replication.  Not close enough,   just based on the nature of pencils and scanners.  If we inbetweened on paper, we would have painted over his originals without clean up.

To color:

c04paintMarina Dominis joined the team to help with clean up and painting.

The animation was produced in around four weeks.