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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Women of SoFA

Last weekend I attended an event at the High Falls Festival in Rochester, New York. The High Falls Festival is unique in that it showcases films created by women. Now, I'm going to sidestep the debate on whether exclusive festivals help or harm the community and leave that discussion to others, like Ottawa International Animation Festival artistic coordinator Chris Robinson. Recently he posed that question to a group of female animators and posted the resulting conversation on Animation World Network. You can read the article "here" on the AWN website. While there are good arguments both for and against exclusive festivals, suffice it to say, I personally am in the camp that thinks it's hard enough for independent filmmakers to get exposure, so you take any opportunity to get your film seen by an audience that you can get.

The particular event I attended at the festival was notable in that it featured live-action and animated films created by women filmmakers from R.I.T.'s School of Film and Animation. So, knowing that there were already several things that I wanted to do in Rochester, I decided to add in 'supporting my little sisters' and made the fourteen hour, round trip drive out to my alma mater. (1)

There were several standouts in this collection of very solid performers, so rather than review them all, here are a couple of my favorites from both the live-action and animated films selection. If you'd like to see what films were in the program, you can read the entire program at the High Falls website

by Jietlin Chen & Junran Mo

This film made me squirm in my seat. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film and really appreciated what Ms. Chen and Ms. Mo were trying to say, but the sexuality in their imagery was... not what I was expecting to see from women filmmakers. This was a classic 'mouse that roared' story where a shy and reserved woman who doesn't fit society's stereotypes of beauty allows herself to shine and revel in her smouldering sexuality. I like this film, not for it's sensual imagery, but because it's one of those moments where you get to see how women see each other and themselves, from their perspective--including all the insecurities, body image issues, and comparisons that they make with themselves and each other--exaggerated though it may be in this animation.

Ms. Chen and Ms. Mo have posted their film on YouTube (which you can watch below) and have also created a website describing how they made their film, which can be viewed at: themakingofaudition.wordpress.com.

by Jen Dexter

"Bummer" was the story of a man who is standing on a bridge and contemplating suicide due to a string of failures in his life when a stranger arrives to offer him some perspective. I don't want to say more about the story because it's something that you really need to watch for yourself. Rather, what struck me was the production quality of the film. Student films can be hit-or-miss, I know that my foray into live-action certainly was. But Ms. Dexter clearly paid attention to a lot of detail in this film. The lighting, camera angles, and sound were spot on. I remember these being some of the hardest things to consistently get right during filming under a controlled environment and here Ms. Dexter makes it look effortless--and does it while filming outdoors!

"Bummer" can be viewed on the CIAS "SoFAtube" website.

by Xin Yin

Soap was just a fun animated film all around. It has this nice National Film Board of Canada feel to it--both in story and in character design and layout. The characters are muddling through their drab, dreary lives but all it takes is something as small and inconsequential as a used-up piece of soap to brighten their day and help them forget all their troubles.

"Soap" can be viewed on the CIAS "SoFAtube" website.

"Remembering the Pythodd"
by Tina Chapman Decosta

Here I am again, dealing with the fact that I don't like Jazz, but completely immersed in a film about Jazz--much like when I saw "Chico and Rita" at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. "Remembering the Pythodd" appealed to my inner history buff not just because it was the story of a nearly forgotten piece of Rochester's history, but just like "Bummer", the production quality was stellar. Ms. Chapman Decosta's twelve minute film was on a par with the documentaries I routinely see on PBS. Even if like me, you're not into Jazz music, "Remembering the Pythodd" is still well worth twelve minutes of your time.

"Remembering the Pythodd" can be viewed on the CIAS "SoFAtube" website.

* * *

1. For those interested in the highlights of that trip, I recommend you navigate to the blog post: 'Animated Thoughts: Serendipity and Research' on my company website, Smudge Animation.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"The Adventures of Prince Achmed"

Just a quick note regarding an upcoming event that was brought to my attention from the folks at the Ottawa International Animation Festival:

On April 30th, the Bytowne Cinema will be showing Lotte Reiniger's film "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" with a live musical score composed by Mike Dubue and Holger Schoorl.

The Bytowne Cinema is located at 325 Rideau Street in Ottawa, Ontario K1N 5Y4 and is the site of many screenings every Fall during the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Directions and additional information regarding this screening can be found on the following facebook event page: "The Adventures of Prince Achmed"

For those who don't know, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" was the first feature length animated film created by a woman--started when Ms. Reiniger was 23 years old (1) and both completed and screened in 1926. (2)

When it was screened for the first time, there was no music on the film itself, but rather an orchestra played the muscial score while the film was projected on the screen. (3) So what the Bytowne is doing is a rather unique tribute to Ms. Reiniger and in the spirit of the original screening at the Volksbühne on Bülowplatz. (4)

Additionally, Lotte Reiniger created the oldest feature length animated film that we still have copies of. (5)As the original negative for this film was destroyed in World War II, we are fortunate that others have taken the time to restore this classic film and preserve an important piece of the history of animation. (6)

Below, you can view a clip from her masterful silhouette animated film.


1. p9, Women & Animation: a compendium, Jayne Pilling, British Film Institute, 1992.

2. p11, Women & Animation: a compendium, Jayne Pilling, British Film Institute, 1992.
(originally from an interview with Lotte Reiniger by Alfio Bastiancich in 1980).

3. the original score was composed and conducted by Wolfgang Zeller.
p11, Women & Animation: a compendium, Jayne Pilling, British Film Institute, 1992.
(originally from an interview with Lotte Reiniger by Alfio Bastiancich in 1980).

4. p11, Women & Animation: a compendium, Jayne Pilling, British Film Institute, 1992.
(originally from an interview with Lotte Reiniger by Alfio Bastiancich in 1980).

5. Wikipedia Entry: "The Adventures of Prince Achmed"

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Prince_Achmed

6. p13, Women & Animation: a compendium, Jayne Pilling, British Film Institute, 1992.
(originally from an interview with Lotte Reiniger by Alfio Bastiancich in 1980).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Women in Animation: Eiko Tanaka & WiA

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 29th, 2011.

I'd like to end this month of profiles on Women in Animation by sharing some information about a great success story in the field of animation: Eiko Tanaka.

Eiko Tanaka founded her own animation studio, Studio 4°C (1), in Tokyo back in 1986 after working "as a line producer on Hayao Miyazaki's MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE" (2). In the past twenty-five years, Studio 4°C has worked on such films as "Spriggan", "the Animatrix", "Batman: Gotham Knight", "First Squad: The Moment of Truth", and two of my personal favorites: "Genius Party" and "Genius Party Beyond". Additionally, Studio 4°C has worked on television series, commercials, video games, public service announcements, and their own animated shorts (3). And if that wasn't enough, she apparently is also "the chief executive office of a producing company called Beyond C" (4).

Having had both Spriggan and the Animatrix in my collection, I hadn't given much thought to their production companies until I went to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema back in 2008. It was there that I saw both Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond. Having been raised on a steady diet of anime (and it's ofttimes uninspired visual style), I was blown away by the wide range of story and visuals projected on the screen. It was fascinating to see such an established a studio break out of the 'big eyes-small mouth' stereotype of Japanese animation and push the boundaries of the artistic medium using the gift for technical precision and quality that is so prevalent in Japanese society. The following is a trailer from WFAC's presentation of Genius Party which clearly illustrates the skill and vision of Eiko Tanaka's company.

My last word for this month is to mention the professional organization "Women in Animation". WIA is a very affordable professional group for pros and students who work in the field of animation (5). WIA currently has chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. If I had a daughter who wanted to know what it was like to work in the field of animation, WIA is probably one of the first places I would suggest she start looking for information--since their membership roster is a who's-who of animation studio creatives, executives, and independents. As networking is one of the best ways to gather intel about a job field (and a pretty good way to find employment and educational opportunities), I view this collection of women (6) as having one of the widest spectrums of job experience in the field of animation. The women of WIA are a resource that should be consulted by any girl wishing to pursue a career in animation at any level.

1. Although one source I found (Crunchyroll.com) lists her as a co founder along with: Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato
2. Source: Studio 4°C website - company hyperlink
3 Source: Wikipedia Entry - Studio 4°C
4. Source: Wikipedia Entry - Eiko Tanaka
5. Annual membership is currently $50 for professionals and $25 for students.
6. And no, you don't have to be a woman to join WIA. As my current membership will attest, 30% of WIA's membership happen to be men.

Women in Animation: Ellen Besen

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 22rd, 2011.

Ellen Besen
I had heard of Ellen Besen, but we didn't meet until 2009 when I was giving a presentation at the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International. Since I hadn't spoken in public for a while, she took me under her wing and helped me focus not on my discomfort but on the importance of the information I was presenting. Since then, Ellen Besen has been the angel sitting on my shoulder who quietly and patiently encourages me to become a better animator than I am. I think that my fondest memory of Ellen so far was when we were sitting at a pub in Toronto and talking about the style and structure of story in animated films. With that one discussion, Ellen made an elegant critique of "The Incredibles" (my favorite Pixar film to date) and showed me where the strengths and flaws of the movie were. Ellen continues to challenge my best ideas and shows me that I can take them further than I had ever dreamed possible. If you have the chance to read it, I cannot recommend her book "Animation Unleashed" highly enough. In it, you'll discover why that evening at the pub in Toronto listening to Ellen challenge my entrenched ideas was so valuable. Ellen tackles difficult abstract concepts with a very approachable style that cuts through the mist and shines a spotlight directly on the heart of the concept itself:

"Animation is particularly effective when it communicates with movement. But this potential can only be tapped when movement is given a meaningful role."

From page 16, Making Movement Matter, Animation Unleashed, Ellen Besen (author).

Two of Ellen's films, "Illuminated Lives: A Brief History of Women's Work in the Middle Ages" and "Sea Dream", are currently on display for viewing at the NFB's Mediatheque in Toronto and their Cinerobotheque in Montreal.
Here is our third interviewee in this year's Women in Animation series, Ellen Besen.

*   *   *

Q: What is your current job description?
A: Hard to pin down these days. I’ve played a lot of different roles in this field over the years and find that I return to all of them from time to time. I am still filmmaking, consulting on other people’s projects, both personal and commercial, teaching (private classes only) and writing about animation storytelling. Most important project right now is the new book- an in depth look at animation and hybrid storytelling techniques which I am co-writing with animation filmmaker/professor Aubry Mintz.

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
A: Began my studies at Sheridan College in 1971 and have been in the field ever since.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
A: Producer, director, animator, filmmaker (doing the whole thing), professor, mentor, event/festival organizer, curator, journalist and author

Q: Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
A: My three favorite film projects are Sea Dream, NFB 1979; Slow Dance World, Independent 1986 and Stroke, commissioned for 11 in Motion 2009.

Also proud of my book, Animation Unleashed, MWP 2008 and the new book, Whole Cloth Storytelling (working title), MWP- work in progress.

Q: How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?
A: A lot in some ways and surprisingly little in others. When I started, there were very few women involved in the field and there was some resistance to their participation. Now they are more accepted and participating in greater numbers but still way less than you’d expect- commercial animation is still a guy’s game in so many ways. Why is this so? Are fewer women applying to the schools or are they applying but not being accepted? If the latter, is this a bias among teachers, a genuine deficit in preparation or an orientation within the field itself which favours one set of skills, one approach to design, story, etc over another?

Worth noting, the substantial female audience for anime which is going to grow up with its leading edge generation may prove to be the true ground breaker for women in this field.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
A: Because of any or all of the above, you need even greater persistence and commitment, I think. It is a hard field by its nature- for anyone, male or female, wanting in, you have to dig in and you have to love the medium in order to be able to make the commitment required. But male or female, if you are talented, persistent, disciplined and comfortable in a team situation (not much room for big egos in the trenches!)- you stand a reasonable chance of advancing.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
A: That depends on her goals. if she wanted to work in the studio system I would suggest that she develop her art skills to a reliable level before tackling the animation curriculum. If she were interested in a more independent approach, developing a personal style to both visuals and story- and jumping right into the filmmaking would offer a real advantage. As would developing enough technical skills to be self sufficient from idea to finished project.

For all young women- be bolder- don’t be afraid to ask for a challenge and to take one on if offered even if you aren’t 100 percent sure that your skills are in place- a lot of learning takes place on the fly.

Q: What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?
A: Try to dig past the hype about the field and form a realistic picture about what it means to work in animation. Look for a genuine affinity with the medium- it’s not a field for dabblers. Encourage them to see a variety of animated works with different techniques, approaches to story and thus widen their frame of reference. Encourage them to observe movement in the real world and to develop their art in whatever technique suits them.

*   *   *

*The image and quote used is copyright Ellen Besen and used with her permission.

Women in Animation: Jessica Bayliss

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 15th, 2011.

Jessica Bayliss
I first met Jessica Bayliss at the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International. At the time, she had been teaching at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and had expanded this into a pair of lectures for KAFI. Jesse started out with a demonstration on Adobe After Effects then followed it up with with a lecture on stop-motion animation where she showcased her thesis film The Furry Revolt (available for viewing on her website). The model of grace under pressure, Jessica handled a room peppered with veteran animators with ease--including my gruff demeanor as well as Gary Schwartz quizzing her on what she learned about stop-motion during production of her thesis film. In the end, Jesse was the one who convinced me to upgrade to Adobe's Production Premium Suite and learn how to use After Effects (a decision that would pay for itself when I used it on the blackwork cap digital restoration project for the MET/BGC). Since then, I've read her blog and enjoyed following her adventures in California.*

So, there I was, sitting in a movie theatre on opening night for Tron Legacy, listening to the Daft Punk soundtrack as the credits rolled by. It was a rare treat to look up and see Jessica's name come up under Post-Production. A quick e-mail later confirmed that she did indeed work on one of my favorite films. While I'm sorry that she's no longer teaching here in Michigan, Jesse has made the most of her time in California. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next at her new job for Toon Zone Studios.

Our second interviewee in this month's "Women In Animation" series is Wisconsin-native turned California girl: Jessica Bayliss.

*   *   *

Q: What is your current job description?
A: I am currently working at Toon Zone Studios. it is a small animation company in LA. I mostly do editing, but being a small studio we all have many jobs.

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
A: I have only been in the entertainment industry for the past 4 years and it is just recently that I made the official switch from live action feature post production or animation. That was the goal all along and it just took a little while to get there.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
A: It is still early in my career so it has all been some form of post production thus far, but we shall see what the future brings.

Q: Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
A: hmmm... ?

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
A: Since I am so early in my career, this is really the only question that really struck me as something I felt I could answer. I am still struggling to get my own career off the ground. It was not that long ago that I packed up everything that would fit in my car and drove out from the midwest to LA with no job, no place to live, and knowing no one. I can tell you that was the best decision I ever made.

The best advice I can give you is to do what I did and just be bold. Be as bold as you possibly can. Take a leap. It is easiest to be bold when you start. When you are young, fresh out of school you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It makes it a lot easier to take chances and bold steps in you life and career when there is so much to gain. Just knock on every door and talk to anyone who will talk with you. It will be worth it. Eventually someone will remember you and give you a chance. It is all about networking. Talent is useful, but networking is what will make your career. It is all about who you know (and what they think of you). It might sound disheartening that it so frequently comes down to knowing the right person and being in the right place at the right time, but I think that is a good thing. It is something you can control and something you can change. It is completely within your power to go places where you will meet the right kind of people and put yourself out there. My dad used to say that its not about being in the right place at the right time, its being in the right place ALL the time. So go out there and meet people. Put yourself and your skills out there for the world to see and it will pay off eventually. Be bold. The more you gain, the more protective you get of it and the harder it becomes to be bold. So do it NOW! Be as bold as possible for as long as you can. You won't regret it.

*   *   *
* Talent apparently runs in the family. If you get the chance, check out Jesse's sister Jamie--a fine-artist and photographer

The image used in this blog entry was taken by Kevin White, is copyright Jessica Bayliss, and used with her permission.

Women In Animation: Jessica Borutski

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 8th, 2011.

Jessica and the Star-nosed mole
My first experience with Jessica's delightfully quirky sense of humor and subversively cute character designs was her film 'I Like Pandas' which she showed on Channel Frederator. Since then, I've kept an eye on her work ranging from All Girl Arcade and Fairies and Dragons to her independent animation with her recently launched website: Foolish Kingdom (yes, I admit, I've spent lots of time playing 'Leaf Rider' and have two of her paper pandas on my desk). Jessica also worked on Dainty Production's trailer for last year's Ottawa International Animation Festival (one of the high points of the festival for me) which can be viewed on YouTube. Despite lots of near misses at the Ottawa Festival, I've never met Jessica in person. I basically 'cold-called' her with my blog request and found that she was happy to help out with lots of advice to future animators. I can't say enough good things about her. :)

So here's our first interviewee in this year's Women in Animation series, the bunny herself: Jessica Borutski.

*   *   *

Q: What is your current job description?
A: Storyboard and Lead Character Designer

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
A: 7 years

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
A: Animator, character designer, storyboard artist and colorist

Q: Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
A: I am very proud of my work at Fuel Industries. All Girl Arcade and Mcdonalds Fairys and Dragons. Also I have redesigned the Looney Tunes which has been an amazing experience.

Q: How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?
A: I don't feel there has been a big change. It is a male dominated industry but I feel it's due to the nature of the job. More men are into cartooning. But I have noticed alot more students at Algonquin are female.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
A: I don't feel there is any obstacles. I feel men and women are treated the same in the industry. It's more about your artistic skill not if you're a man or a women.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
A: Work very hard at becoming a great artist. Study life and film. Take out of your environment and life things that excite you, and draw and make stories about it.

Q: What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?
A: Just keep drawing. If you love it you will get a job. People with a passion for animation will naturally do well because they practice it all the time. Always draw from life. Reference everything you draw. Never copy another artist's style, but be inspired and create your own unique style from your influences.

*   *   *
* The image used in this blog entry is copyright Jessica Borutski and used with her permission.

Women in Animation: 2011

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 1st, 2011.

Since International Women's Day is in March, and last year saw me using my blog posts over the month to profile four prominent female animators who have had an influence on my career, I thought that I would take a different approach for March 2011's blog posts.

I have a sister who has a sister-in-law and a niece. I'm told by Tricia (sister) and Rose (sister's sister-in-law) that Gabrielle (niece) considers me to be one of the 'coolest old dudes that she knows' partially because I work on cartoons and partially because Gabrielle and I watch a lot of the same Anime. Visiting Trish in Boston is usually pretty fun for me because, even though I don't go to as many Anime cons as Gabrielle does--nor do I cosplay like she does*--we do speak the same language that comes from the shared experience of Japanese animated film. Needless to say, when I finally break down and have kids, Gabrielle is who I hope they'll turn out like. Would make things so much easier if they accept Dad's career choice. But, that's neither here nor there.

However, it does highlight the point that I don't have much experience with girls, be they toddler, tween, teenage, or anything in-between. Whenever girls come up to me and say that they want to get into animation (an experience that I have more often as I attend more cons and the influence of Anime extends further and further into the female community), I never know what to say other then to speak in generic advice that would work for both girls and boys.

So. Back to International Women's Day and blog posts in March dedicated to Women in Animation. This month, I came up with four biography questions and four career advice questions, then e-mailed them to prominent women animators who I have met in my travels--some work in the film industry, some are educators, and some are independent animators. My instructions were to answer any of the questions that spoke to their hearts.

Bio Questions:
  • What is your current job description?
  • How long have you worked in the animation industry?
  • What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
  • Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?

Career Advice Questions:
  • How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?
  • What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
  • If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
  • What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?

Therefore, I'd like to dedicate my Tuesday blog posts this month to my sister's niece: Gabrielle and all the girls who see "Smudge Animation" printed on my badge at conventions and ask me about how they can become an animator. I hope that the advice that everyone shares over the next month helps them find their way as they embark on their own unique career path.

I would also like to thank all the women who helped me put together this series of blog posts. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedules to share your career experiences and respond so thoughtfully to my questions. All of your hard work and dedication to our craft continues to inspire me.

Their interviews can be read at the following links:

* Though I'm not into cosplay, I have debated the merits of getting back in shape and shaving my head so I can take Gabrielle to A-Kon dressed like Major Armstrong from Full Metal Alchemist. Not sure if that would make me the coolest old dude she knows or just the strangest! :)

Women Animators: Stephanie Maxwell

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 23rd, 2010.

Stephanie Maxwell was born in California. And it was there that she discovered a passion for marine biology while pursuing an undergraduate degree from U.C.L.A. However, she soon caught the filmmaking bug which moved her from L.A. to the San Francisco Art Institute where she earned her Master of Fine Arts in Film. During her career, she has taught film and animation courses in Washington, Florida, California and Vermont, and as far away as New Zealand, Norway, and France. Stephanie is currently a Professor in the Rochester Institute of Technology's School of Film and Animation where she teaches experimental animation, film history, and film/video/animation production. Along the way, she also took the opportunity to spend some time working for George Lucas on the first animated film he ever produced: "Twice Upon a Time".

Stephanie's films have been shown (and won awards) at festivals all around the world. A DVD of her current films (Stephanie Maxwell, Animated Works, 1984-2007), along with selected clips of her films, can be obtained at the iotaCenter website. Also, clips from her full filmography can be viewed on the "works" section of her website. In addition to her teaching and filmmaking endeavors, Stephanie is also the co-founder and co-director of the ImageMovementSound festival which highlights "collaborative multimedia works" combining multiple art forms between students from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Eastman School of Music.

It was from her early studies in biology that Stephanie developed a unique vision of the microscopic that she carried over to her filmmaking. Stephanie uses a wide range of techniques to produce her films including painting and etching directly on film stock, pixillation, animating objects directly under the camera, and even using copier techniques. In many (if not most) of her films, she calls upon her broad knowledge of the microscopic world in order to accentuate and recreate both the textures and vivid colors found in this tiny realm that we may perceive on some unconscious level, but not perceive directly. This unique vision can be seen in the following two clips.

Clip from Runa's Spell (2007)

Clip from Fragments (2000)

Stephanie was one of my professors at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It was through Stephanie's instruction and films that I developed an appreciation for abstract animations. Before studying under Stephanie,  I had only thought of abstract animations as, at best, screen savers with sound, and at worst, a chance to catch up on sleep at festivals. In her classes, and in subsequent conversations, Stephanie took the time to explain the history, processes, and theories behind abstract animated film. And I think that it was learning that theory coupled with the discovery of how much thought, planning and meticulous execution goes into producing her films that moved me from viewing abstract animation from the realm of 'festival annoyance' to an actual appreciation for a visual art form that melds the kinetic with the auditory into a fusion of form, color, motion and sound. I've highlighted the clips "Runa's Spell" and "Fragments" because, in addition to being two of my favorite films that Stephanie has produced, they're also excellent examples of what I learned about abstract animation from her.

The following two clips are from an interview Stephanie produced for her DVD. On them, she talks about her filmmaking process and collaboration with musical composers.

Interview clip, pt 1

Interview clip, pt 2

Women Animators: Madi Piller

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 16th, 2010.

Madi Piller was born in Lima, Peru. She graduated from the University of Lima with a degree in Communication Sciences before spending several years producing television commercials. She traveled to France and Colombia before finally settling in Toronto in 1998. Madi is the current president of the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS) and divides her time between mentoring budding filmmakers, organizing events for TAIS and producing her own films. Madi produces her films with a wide variety of techniques and subject matter ranging from the traditional stop-motion fare to abstract experimental slices of life.

Vive Le Film (Long Live Film)
Madi does a fair amount of work using digital rotoscoping. The original rotoscope technique had animators capture a scene in live action on film stock then project the film, one frame at a time, on the backside of a light table. The animator would then draw the character on paper, frame by frame, using the action on the film as a guide for the character's motion. Madi has taken this method of filmmaking a step further by combining both digital and analog techniques to create her films. For example: when creating her 2007 film 'Toro Bravo (Brave Bull)', Madi combined charcoal drawings, sand, cut-outs and photocopies with digital rotoscoping and editing techniques to produce the final film.

However, she is no stranger to traditional analog techniques. In her 2006 film "L'Etranger (the Stranger)", Madi printed each frame using a black-and-white printer before hand painting them and optically printing the finished film on 35mm film.

Interview with Madi Piller by Grayden Laing

2008 was the first time I attended the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International and that trip gifted me with several friendships. One of which is Madi Piller. I met Madi at the opening night party and was immediately intrigued with her stories of the Toronto Animated Image Society. Half a year later, I attended my first TAIS workshop (Martine Chartrand's Paint-on-glass).

Since then, Madi has been instrumental in my joining TAIS and learning multiple animation techniques as well as encouraging me to participate in their summer screenings by finishing and submitting short films (sometimes you need some accountability to finish that film when you could be watching t.v. or surfing the web). It was due in no small part to Madi's influence that I joined the Toronto Animated Image Society this year. Having become sort of a fixture at many of their workshops and summer screenings, at my last visit to Toronto, Madi extended the offer that if I ever needed to use their equipment, then I was welcome to submit a proposal and they'd work me into the schedule--even though I wasn't a member at the time or even a resident of Canada. It was that welcoming attitude, which Madi consistently displays, that made the decision for me to join TAIS and make the move from being a supporter who attends their events to an actual member with a vested interest in supporting TAIS's (and Madi's) commitment to the art of animated film.

Women Animators:
 Martine Chartrand

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 9th, 2010.

Martine Chartrand was born in Montreal in 1962. During her college days, she discovered animation while studing fine arts at Concordia University. After working in the television and film industry , she hooked up with the animation co-op "Ciné-clic". At Ciné-clic, Martine worked on animation projects while teaching workshops in creating backgrounds. She later joined the National Film Board of Canada working as a colour artist and collaborating on films. In the early '90's, Martine directed her first film "T.V. Tango". Also in 1990, Martine first saw "La vache" by Alexander Petrov, which inspired her to travel to Russia for four years as she studied paint-on-glass animation under the Russian master animator. From 1993 to 2000, Martine created her paint-on-glass masterwork "Black Soul", the story of an African-Canadian grandmother telling her grandson the history of the African people in North America. "Black Soul" went on to win twenty-two awards worldwide including Berlin's "Golden Bear" award and Indianapolis' "Crystal Heart" award.

Martine animates her films using a modification of Petrov's paint-on-glass style of animation. While Petrov uses a specific brand of bicycle grease that is very difficult to obtain in the west, Martine found an inexpensive, easy to obtain brand of industrial grease that, when mixed with paint, prevents the paint from hardening and doesn't change the color of the paint. The film is then animated, frame-by-painstaking-frame as she manipulates the paint, effectively destroying the contents of the previous frame to create the next frame.

Black Soul

Martine was part of my first experience at a workshop for the Toronto Animated Image Society. I didn't know what to expect so I went with the most humble attitude I could muster and a willingness to learn anything I could. To say that Martine made learning easy is an understatement of epic proportions. Martine is this little bundle of positive energy who spent Saturday night showing us her and Petrov's films and explaining the paint-on-glass technique. And on Sunday, she ran from workstation to workstation, watching what we'd produced thus far, showing us new techniques and providing encouragement as we struggled through a trial-by-fire with learning this new style of animation. By the time the workshop was over, and Martine was heading out for the train, none of us wanted to see her go back to Montreal. That weekend was my first experience with a TAIS/NFB workshop, but as I drove back to Michigan (invigorated from my experience and ready to animate), I knew it wouldn't be my last one.

During the workshop, I was paired up with this sweet young high-schooler who introduced herself as 'Chevron' (which she pronounced shee-vah-roh). During the next eight-plus hours of the workshop, we created this film by alternating back and forth under the light table where one of us would animate while the other would make thumbnail sketches for the next sequence, and vice-versa. The wave and flowers sequence became the inspiration for one of the films that I'm currently storyboarding.

Women Animators: Lynn Smith

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 2nd, 2010.

I first met Lynn Smith last year (2009) at a workshop presented by the Toronto Animated Image Society and the National Film Board of Canada. Lynn's career as an animator started in 1968 when she lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1975, Lynn moved to Montreal to work for the National Film Board of Canada and became, in her terms, a 'resident alien' of Canada. Lynn is currently on the part-time faculty at Concordia University in Montreal teaching animation and cinema.

Lynn was at the workshop to teach us her own brand of paint-on-glass animation. Unlike Petrov's method, which used bicycle grease to prevent the paint from drying, Lynn uses a small amount of glycerine. Lynn also adds a collage element to her films by cutting out objects in magazines (or creating her own) and duplicating them using a color copier. She then laminates the objects (like eyes, mouths, etc) and animates them under the camera frame-by-frame along with the paint and ink.

The following is one of the films she produced for the National Film Board of Canada. It's called "the Sound Collector" and was created in 1982.

This next film is callled "This is Your Museum Speaking" which Lynn created in 1979. It's about a night watchman and his dog who discover the link between the past and the present as he travels through the museum.

During the workshop, Lynn and I had a wonderful time discussing our respective animation backgrounds. As I am a forensic animator and both Lynn's father and mine worked in the legal arena, we had a fair amount of shared history.

Of course, while Lynn and I were chatting, my friend Jon was at the workstation, creating the following animation:

Women in Animation: 2010

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 1st, 2010.

Given that International Women's Day falls in the month of March, I will be starting a regular yearly series of posts dealing with Women animators who I have met or whose work I find inspiring. This year, I'll just be showcasing some animators, however in the future, it is my goal to add interviews with women animators with the purpose of turning people on to their work, providing biographical information, as well as listing out any advice these accomplished animators wish to share with the community.

By starting this series, it is my hope that not only will people have the opportunity to get to know animated films that they might not have discovered otherwise, but also that girls will be encouraged to consider the field of animation for their career. Animation has traditionally been a male-dominated field since its inception, with women playing supporting roles (like the ink and paint girls of Walt Disney Studios). However, with the cost of tools decreasing, the proliferation of schools teaching animation skills and software, and the opportunity to reach a world-wide audience for pennies via the Internet, there's never been a better time for women to create animated films and share with the world their unique voice, stories, and perspectives.

Simply put, the animation community needs more women animators, scriptwriters, and directors in order for it to progress forward and fulfill its potential. Be encouraged by the stories and advice from those who have gone before you.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Welcome to "the Women of Animated Film"

Hi Folks,

Thanks for visiting "the Women of Animated Film".

Back in 2010-2011, I started interviewing women who work in the field of animation about their careers and what advice they would give girls who want to become animators. Rather than have people search through the blog on my company website for these interviews, I decided to collect them all on this website along with resources and reviews of events I attend that are focused on women animators.

The official launch for this website will be Saturday, April 13th, 2013, so please check back then and thanks again for visiting 'the Women of Animated Film.'