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Monday, September 22, 2008

Ottawa Animation Festival or part of it anyway.

Well, folks, since I was only at Ottawa for the weekend, I really can't report on the entire festval. I can only report on what, and who, I saw. So here goes. And it's a bit of a stretch since the humungus traffic jam that closed off the entire highway just outside of nowhere, kept us sitting in the traffic for three hours. I got in at 1:30 this morning and taught two classes today without falling asleep once. (snore) But now i'm awake. I have never loved trains more than I did this morning...but if I'd taken my train back, I'd have not been able to attend Eric Goldberg's seminar on characters on Sunday afternoon. And that would have been a bad thing.

So on to the show...
I got to Ottawa by train on Friday the 19th with no trouble, met a nice lady on the way going to a writer's convention in the same city, and chatted for most of the trip. We shared a taxi to our respective hotels, and I had my passport waiting on the dresser, so I dropped the baggage off and attended Skip Battaglia's reception first. There I met Tom Gasek, Jeremy Galante, and a few RIT students who'd made the trip. Nice times.

The reception at the local Ami Cafe later on featured animator chow (heavy on the convenience food) and some good hummus, and better art. There were original drawings by Brian Larkin and some interesting robots made of metal found objects (I love stuff made of found objects.) After a while I wilted and went to bed.
There in the hotel were my roommates Marion Kulyk, an assistant director at Nelvana Studios, and a young animator named Nelson, who is designing a video game. Marion had brought cheese and berries and enough food for a small army, from a trip to nearby Quebec. And they found a balloon that said "Happy Birthday" floating in the parking lot, so they tied it to my bedroom door. Thoughtful and fun, and very pleasant roommates. We hit it off very well at once.

We were in a centrally located hotel that had a small cafe, but for my birthday on the 20th I went over to the Chateau Laurier, a fantastic French confection built in 1912 by Charles M. Hayes, president of the Canadian National Railroad and one of the more prominent victims of the Titanic sinking --he did not live to see this fine hotel open. I ordered French toast for breakfast and the hotel gave me a lovely mess of seasonal berries as a birthday present.
I heard people talking animation nearby and was recognized after a bit by Chuck Gammage, owner of the eponymous studio that turns out a very nice reel (go to the site and view the reel to see what I mean.)
After breakfast I went out to the Teletoons Animation Scholarships to see how the Sheridan reels competed with the other student films from Canadian schools. Well, it was really obvious that the Sheridan animators were doing some wonderful films. I thought some of the ones that did not win, place or show, were worthy of attention, but I don't think the Teletoons people wanted to give all the awards to one school! I was particularly impressed with Vladimir Kooperman's C BLOCK, but I also liked the very nice and understated ROMANCE IN GRAPHITE by Melissa Maduro.
Jeremy Galante, formerly of RIT and now teaching at Edinboro, took me out to lunch for my birthday, and I then went to what Lily Tomlin used to call the 'piece of resistance'- IDIOTS AND ANGELS, by Bill Plympton. Dang, this guy just keeps getting better and better. A subtitle to this film could have been BAD LUCK WHITEY...there's actually a reference to Tex Avery's BAD LUCK BLACKIE short brilliantly woven into this animated noir story about a horrible man who learns to be a mensch, courtesy of a pair of beautiful white wings that inexplicably grow out of his back. Watch the Avery cartoon and then the Plympton and see if you can catch the reference: to me it was loud and clear. Hint: It involves paint.
Charlie Chaplin was working on a film called THE FREAK toward the end of his life. It, too, was a story of a human who grows wings and is not understood by other humans. But the nameless protagonist of IDIOTS AND ANGELS not only isn't understood by others...he doesn't understand his own metamorphosis and is ridiculed by the grubby inhabitants of the sordid, grey and brown bar he seems to spend nearly all his free time in. (The art direction of this film is unlike that of any other Plympton picture: it seems marinated in cigarette smoke and auto exhaust.) Even the pretty butterfly that evolves, significantly, from a worm that lands on the man's head, is only a pale yellow and not a brilliant burst of color. The symbolism is there, but the man is dead to all beauty and finer things, and soon after that, so is the butterfly.
The subject matter is not the stuff of the usual American animated film--a man dueling with his own soul --but Plympton gets his message across with a few dashes of his trademark sexual humor. It's all in full service to the story, which is told entirely without dialogue.
Charlie Chaplin would have loved this.
I went to Barrymore's for the allegedly famous party. Got there after traversing a minefield of a street, to be hailed by Mike Sporn, who was here for a retrospective of his work, and Candy Kugel, up visiting the festival after winning an Emmy for writing PBS's BETWEEN THE LIONS. Congratulations to both!
After a while we realized that we seemed to be the only people in the line who were over the age of twenty (ahem, I was celebrating my twenty-first birthday), and so Candy announced that she was heading back to the hotel. I walked with her, and we had an interesting hike down and up a mess of stairs, past the fortresslike American Embassy that people kept teasing me about all weekend, and eventually I got to the Ami Cafe again (Candy stopping at her hotel.) There I met some of the Sheridan third year students and talked their ears off. But they did not seem to mind.
I got lost getting back to the hotel, which was actually around the corner... and after a one hour walk through the very safe and clean streets I got back to more or less where I started.
On Sunday I had some of the excellent cheese Marion brought, and went to the National Gallery where Eric Goldberg was doing a seminar on Putting Life Into Your Characters.
Eric showed some early tests from ALADDIN and a surprising amount of work on Phil from HERCULES in his very entertaining lecture. The book is very good--I think he's replaced Preston Blair's, and also John Halas' TIMING FOR ANIMATION. Not bad.
There was no time to do any book signings, so all of us left around then. I did meet up with Luc Chamberland, whom I hadn't seen since 1988, and whom I reminded of a famous incident with the story reels for a film called WE'RE BACK. You know what I mean, Luc. It's funny but I won't write it here!

And so now I'm back at Sheridan, with a good presentation today and more tomorrow and the rest of the week.

I had a good time. I'd like to see more but I always believe you should leave your audience 'wanting more'. It was a nice birthday weekend, filled with new and old friends and good films and the pretty city of Ottawa--pretty, until it snows, that is!


Jen said...

You're right, it's pretty until it snows... then it's *beautiful*!

I saw lots of the swag bags for the animation convention kicking around this weekend. Sounds huge.

Nancy said...

I'm sure it is lovely in the snow, but is it true that it is the coldest capitol after Moscow?

Nancy said...

And sadly, this is the last year that it will be 'huge'. Mike Sporn told me that the budget has been cut since government is no longer interested in funding the arts. I hope that this can be reversed; the arts produce eight dollars in revenue for every dollar spent on them. This has been proven in New York and certainly would also apply to Canada.

Ottawa Animation Festival said...

The festival may loose a bit of Money, however we will steam ahead bigger and better