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Friday, November 09, 2007

Girls Rule at Film Fest

2D OR NOT 2D festival 2007

This year’s theme of the 2D or not 2D festival was GIRLS NIGHT IN: WOMEN IN ANIMATION. It was appropriate that many of the top festival awards were won by female animators this year.

I was one of the opening night speakers along with Microsoft producer Kathie Flood and Pixar animator Kureha Yokoo. My presentation consisted of character design and storyboard sketches I drew when at Disney’s that had never been publicly shown, together with some clips from HERCULES and TREASURE PLANET. I had particular fun describing why some designs were not used, including a rare ‘censored’ scene I did in one film.

In my opening remarks I made sure to mention those who had gone before us: Lillian Friedman Astor, Retta Scott, LaVerne Harding, Selby Kelly, and Tissa David—you would know them better by their performances as Betty Boop, Bambi’s hunting dogs, Woody Woodpecker, Pogo Possum, and Raggedy Ann. Tissa David is still with us and still working. The others never received recognition in their lifetimes, and frequently did not receive credit (Harding being an exception to the rule—she was often credited as Verne Harding to make her sound more masculine, but she was always credited. Thank you, Walter Lantz!)

The difference between the hand drawn and computer animation presentation was interesting to note: a computer animator has the scene’s acting blocked and timed by the layout artist before they receive the shot. The performance is still theirs, but the staging is pretty set—there’s no tweaking, as frequently occurs in hand drawn films.

Ms. Yokoo’s shots from RATATOUILLE showed her to be an excellent actress. She also showed a hilarious and telling juxtaposition of two photos: the “Nine Old Men” of Disney and the “Nine Young Ladies” of Pixar’s animation staff. There are 92 animators at Pixar, but it’s a start.

Ms. Flood ran some interesting X box footage from Microsoft games that she produced. The scenery in the racing games featured actual cityscapes (Race you to St. Petersburg, Russia, anyone?) and was extremely realistic. Ms. Flood took many questions from the audience.

This year’s entries were from a wider range of animation schools than the first year’s show; Tony White thought that it might be a good idea to emphasize the student films more than ‘professional’ ones in future shows. Two schools, Tony’s own Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington and the Van Arts college in Vancouver, B. C., gave presentations to local students the day before the festival opened. The two schools also were co-sponsors of the program.

The opening night films were all by female animators. Most were student films produced in a wide variety of media. THE CHESTNUT TREE by Hyun-Min Lee (Cal Arts) was the outstanding film of the evening, and of the festival. Producers Bert Klein and Don Hahn were present on the following evening, along with the filmmaker. THE CHESTNUT TREE, a lyrical tribute to the spirit of a girl’s deceased mother, has won many awards and will be a strong contender for this year’s Oscar. Since it was a student film that was finished professionally, it is not competing in the Student category.

Other opening night films that I enjoyed were ART’S DESIRE from NYU’s Sarah Wickliffe, an amusing story about the Guernica painting’s subjects attempting to get into a less violent painting; GEIRALD THE 5 LEGGED SPIDER by Sheridan College’s Sam(antha) Rusztyn, a cautionary tale about love in the world of arachnids; and Tristyn Pease’s INVADERS FROM INNER SPACE from RIT, featuring space tourists that ruin an alien’s life.

Kathy Rose’s THE INN OF FLOATING IMAGERY was intended to be part of a performance piece; I wish Kathy had been there to act along with the film.

A screening of THE SNOWMAN, directed by the late Dianne Jackson, was the ‘late night surprise’ after the screenings and presentations. Jackson was a brilliant talent who left us much too soon. THE SNOWMAN is a classic film that beautifully captures the style of cartoonist Raymond Briggs.

Saturday morning’s surprise film was lost somewhere in the mail, so they re-ran the previous year’s winners, including many films from RIT students who are all are currently working in animation. The lovely THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS was also screened; much of the animation for this Michael Sporn production was done by Tissa David, affording her a virtual presence at the ‘women’s festival.’

The second round of competition films had a lot of films about dogs and aliens, though not together. I enjoyed MY HAPPY END from Milen Vitanov (Hamburg Film School) a stunning, imaginative, and very funny combination of hand drawn and cutout animation about very unusual dog/dogs. A DOG’S LIFE from Adam Comiskey was a hilarious depiction of a dog’s daily routine after his foolish master leaves the house for work. I particularly liked THE LIBRARIAN FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by Galen Fott, which is based on a successful children’s book, and ALIEN FOR CHRISTMAS by Dave Pryor, which featured a catchy song that I still can’t get out of my head.

Presentations by Michel Gagne, Tony White, and Don Hahn followed the screenings. Gagne has a wide range of talents; his latest project is a series of short films that update Len Lye and Oskar Fischinger’s ‘visual music’, called SENSOLOGY. He had a fine range of his books and sculptures of ‘twisted rabbits’ on display in the theatre’s foyer.

Tony White’s presentation included the premiere of the excellent FIRE GODS animated documentary, produced with the aid of student animators at the Digipen Institute of Technology. The film is a combination of hand drawn, computer, and Flash animation and tells the story of the invention and production of glass from Roman times to the present day. Tony is now head of the animation department at Digipen and the school should have some fine films in the next year’s show.

Don Hahn gave a very enjoyable talk about creativity and development of stories. The visuals included some preproduction art from classic Disney films that had not been seen for sixty years. He was one of the producers of THE CHESTNUT TREE, which closed his presentation. Hahn was awarded the second Roy E. Disney Award for his outstanding work as a producer and assistant director at the Walt Disney Studio.

Here is a list of the films that won Merit Awards and “Golden Pencils” this year: (I list the colleges when I know them—many of the top films were, as I mentioned earlier, made by students.)

Merit awards certificates were awarded to:

“Fish” by HyunJeen Lee. (Student film, SVA)
“Alien for Christmas” by Dave Pryor.
“The Chestnut Tree” by Hyun-min Lee. (Student film, Cal Arts)
“The Librarian from the Black Lagoon” by Galen Fott.
“Geirald The 5 Legged Spider” by Sam Rusztyn. (Student Film, Sheridan College)
“2” by Kim Anderson.
“The Intruder” by Alessandro Ceglia.
“Lost Utopia” by Mirai Mizue.
“My Happy End” by Milen Vitano. (Student Film, Hamburg Film School)
“For the Love of God” by Joe Tucker.
“The Space Burger” by Sookyoung Choi. (Student Film, SVA)
“I Am PillowCat” by Elaine Lee. (Student Film, RISD)
“t.o.m.” by Tom Brown.
“Bai Ri Meng (Daydream)” by Jennifer Tippins. (Student film, NYU)
“The Tree With The Lights In It” by Jason Harrington.
“Movement and Stillness” by Yi-Hsuan Kent Chiu.
“everything will be ok” by Don Hertzfeldt.

The “Golden Pencils” were awarded to:

2D Animation/Best Film: “Lost Utopia.” By Miral Mizue (this was a really stunning After Effects production, with over 1500 drawings manipulated into a series of interlocking patterns)
2D Animation/Best Animation in a Film: “The Chestnut Tree.”
Student Film/ Best Film: “Geirald the 5-Legged Spider.”
Student Film/ Best Animation in a Film: “I am Pillow Cat” by Elaine Lee (hand drawn pillow has a fight with dustbunnies)
Digital Media/Best Film: “Fish.” By HyunJean Lee (a boy has a CGI animated fish for a roommate in a typical apartment)
Digital Media/ Best Animation in a Film: “Movement and Stillness.” By Yi-Hsuan Kent Chu (Chinese brush painting, animated)
All-style Animation/ Best Film: “Alien for Christmas.”
All-style Animation/ Best Animation in a Film: “My Happy End.”

We ended the festival with a get together upstairs at the New Everett Theatre. All were delighted with the increased participation of many fine animation schools. Next year’s show should be equally impressive.
Congratulations to the Animaticus Foundation for another splendid display of animation (not all ‘2D’ but all different.)
You can read Tony White’s comprehensive write-up of the festival here:


David said...

Thanks for the report Nancy.

"Harding being an exception to the rule—she was often credited as Verne Harding to make her sound more masculine, but she was always credited. "

This has often puzzled me . I've seen her credited variously as "Laverne Harding"
"La Verne Harding" and "Verne Harding" over the years, but not with any consistency ; seems to have been no rhyme or reason to the variations on the names. Does anyone know if "Verne" was a nickname she used more often instead of the formal Laverne ? Like you sometimes see women named Kathy called Kat or Elizabeth's are Liz or Beth .

Nancy said...

Very little is known about LaVerne Harding and there is only one picture of her that I could find. Selby Kelly knew her and said she was promoted on the day the Lantz studio went on strike. Walter Lantz came into the animation room to find a new employee sitting in the empty studio (since she did not know what else to do;) he asked her what she was, she said she was an assistant; and Lantz answered, "No you're not; you're an animator!"
Selby insisted that this story was 'all over the industry' but since she is now gone, I have no way of substantiating this story.
Harding would have masculinized her name just as "Dale" Messick (Delia) did, at the same time, while drawing Brenda Starr. The forties was not a time for women's liberation, war work notwithstanding.