Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Annecy, third and final chapter.

I did several signings of A Sketchy Past in and around the Festival and met some really enthusiastic young animators. It was a pleasure to be so warmly greeted so far from home. I believe I must have drawn the Scrat about a thousand times. At one point during an interview, I made a mock complaint of how many requests were made for Scrat, while all the other Ice Age characters were virtually ignored. At the signing that followed, a young woman came up and declared proudly," I would like a Sid, please!" but then sheepishly added, "could you put the Scrat next to him?"

Andrew Ruheman of Passion Pictures, soon after receiving the Cristal Award for best animated short film, The Lost Thing. This strange and beautiful film was designed and written by Shaun Tan and captures his unique sensibility perfectly.

Nick, Juan Pablo and I were regularly beset by young animators eager for a sketch, but it’s safe to say that Nick out did us both with the volume of quick portraits of his famous duo.
Like many of us artist types, he seems to live in his head and the swirl of motion that is Annecy can swallow you whole if you aren’t prepared. Luckily, he was more than prepared in the person of his assistant, Angie Last. Unflappable, English and rye, I took to her immediately and instantly became dependent on her navigational skills and utter grasp of our schedule. She was the sanest one among us and during any given situation, all I needed was to glance her way for a secret flash of a grin or an eye-roll. Meeting her was one of the high points of the festival for me.

Snails are so cute.
And delicious.

Above is Serge Bromberg, the jovial and unassuming president of the festival and it’s master of ceremonies, in Odd Couple mode with David Silverman, a great guy who I am learning has had his hand in everything- from The Simpsons to Co-Directing Monsters Inc.

It is no wonder that Mr. Bromberg is the president of a festival celebrating the cartoon.

My ubiquitous pal , Bill Plympton and his friend, Sandrine.

Some French copies of The Duchess also appeared, but mysteriously, the publisher himself seems to have disappeared.

David Silverman and me.

A soiree at Hotel Menthon.

Drawing Scrat for the Mayor of Annecy. That’s right, the mayor. To my left is Ron Clements (co director of The Princess Frog among other things) and screen right is David Silverman.

The animators from Argentina were the special guests of the festival and a party was held in their honor, complete with bowling and tango. Above clockwise is Juan Pablo (the latino Harpo Marx) me, Gwen _____ (our jury’s guardian angel), and frighteningly talented Igor Alban Chevalier, aka Le Grenouille Noir (The Black Frog). Not pictured from our group is Maggie Stagnaro from Expotoons, a fairly new animation festival in Buenos Aires.

My pal, Michael Defeo, sculpteur formidable and me, enjoying beers at the Argentina thingy.

Annecy, 4am

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Annecy, part deux

I had every intention of updating the blog as the week went by, but that, along with exercising and breathing, fell by the wayside- all victims of the frenetic schedule of films and feasts, that is the sad lot of the Annecy judge.
Each day was packed with more delicious food than you can imagine and every meal was served in the most absurdly picturesque spot, each one more beautiful than the last. I'll ask you to forgive the postcard pictures peppering my commentary in these posts. Annecy is as much about the films as the setting in which they are shown.
There are three judges assigned to each of the four categories and friendships were quickly forming as the days flew by. I for one, am coming away delighted to have been able to share the whole thing with two genuinely nice human beings who happen to be incredibly talented as well. I mentioned them earlier, but now, many screenings, many meals, and many glasses of wine later, I feel in a much better position to introduce them.

I confess to not having been aware of the work of Juan Pablo Zaramella, before meeting him at the beginning of the festival, but since then I’ve been introduced to his many talents, but probably not all of them. He is famous for his short films, most recent among them, Journey to Mars, a sweet and atmospheric stop-motion fantasy about a rural farmers’ promise to drive his young grandson to the Red Planet in his pickup truck. This warm and charming tale is a perfect reflection of Juan Pablo. He has a rock solid artistic sensibility, which is coupled with a kind and gentle demeanor. As the week unspooled I was also to discover that he is a masterful illustrator as well, with a truly inventive graphic sense and a surprising sense of humor. As I mentioned before, Juan Pablo, Nick and I were responsible for judging the work of students graduating from animation schools around the world and Juan Pablo was selected by the festival to represent us on stage in the closing ceremony. After revealing the fruits of our labors, he surprised us all with a hilarious film he created in the space of four hours on his iphone with help from his pal, whose name I will add when I find it.
I couldn’t find time this week to finish a sentence and he somehow found time to make a movie.

If you met Nick Park without knowing anything about him, you would probably say, “he reminds me of that animated guy who loves cheese”. He is of course, the creator of the classic series of stop motion films starring Wallace and Gromit and the connection is impossible to miss . He has the habit of saying “cheese” whenever a photo is taken of him and his voice comes straight from that universe. Trust me, when hearing it for the first time, it is almost surreal. No one can say the word "cheese", like the guy who made a catch phrase of "Wensleydale".

After viewing over forty films and debating the merits of each and every one, here are our results:

The Lighthouse Keeper (Best Graduation Film)
is the wordless story of a lighthouse’s lone inhabitant, dozing to the tapping of insects against the windows of his beacon. Things take an unusual turn when one of the bugs that appears from out of the fog is gigantic.
The color, lighting and mix of traditional and cg animation is a wonder. And from my perspective, the character design is top notch. I love this piece and after having watched it several times still find new things to appreciate in it. For example, that moment when the keeper decides he’s had enough of his unwelcome guest and flips his broom to become a weapon. A quick tap of it’s handle on the ground signals his resolve.
The conflict, the climax, and an unexpected act of grace, create a satisfying story, all in the space of a few minutes.
David François, Rony Hotin, Jérémie Moreau, Baptiste Rogron, Gaëlle Thierry, Maïlys Vallade

Sauvage (Special Jury Award)
This darkly comic film begins with a man running through the streets, naked and howling. Les gendarmes stop him and demand to know what he is up to. He explains that he wants to live in the woods and finally become a wolf. The cops haul him off and to our surprise, drop him off in the woods. From this point, I was hooked. In the forest, he meets a veteran wolfman who obliges our hero by biting him in the arm. From there we witness his transformation, all in his mind, and weirdly played out upon a stage. Quirkily drawn and loosely colored, the film surprises at every turn-from the aspiring lycanthropes' delivery to the woods to his eventual deliverance as a wolfman.
Paul Cabon

Once again we chose a hand drawn piece. It might be easy to conclude that our choices as a jury reflected each of our penchant for the hand made and hand-drawn, which may very well be so. But my main criterion was that the film should affect me, which of course is in itself a subjective requirement. How could it not be? What else can one use, but his gut? There were fewer full-on digitally animated films than I expected. This one was hand drawn in the truest sense of the term. Clearly influenced by Inuit and other aboriginal art, Lebensader, depicts a child showing the wonders of Nature to her father, all in a single leaf. Fluidly morphing birds feed their young and transform into fish, into bugs, into larger mammals; a celebration of life and renewal. I know, it sounds precariously sweet, but it’s balanced by the father’s response. Grim faced, he turns from her to reveal the scars on his back ,which tell the other side of the story. Predatory birds clutch victims, and transform into huffing demons who bare their fangs in equally fluid, but more sinister imagery. Lebensader is moving, both visually and thematically. I related deeply to the father’s sad task of doling out the painful truth of this world to his child. Life is not all fairies and unicorns and the task of revealing that, however piecemeal, is a heartbreaking one.
Angela Steffen

The biggest surprise in the whole jury process was when the winners came up to the stage to receive their awards. My God, they looked so young to me. Apart from feeling my age, it made me realize how tremendously talented the competitors are.

Congratulations to all of you!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Annecy! (part one)

I am here at the 50th anniversary of the fantastic Annecy Animation Film Festival where, as of this morning, I began my duties as one of three jurors for student films. Do not let the title of the category fool you. These are not just kids with flipbooks.These are the animation geniuses of the near future and the task of choosing favorites is a daunting one. Luckily, I am sharing the burden with two animation geniuses of the present- Juan Pablo Zaramella, director of the multi-award winning film, A Journey to Mars and a certain Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame. Two of the nicest fellows you could possibly talk about cartoons with in a medieval town perched on the edge of a glacial lake.

to be continued...

Juan Pablo Zaramella and Nick Park

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oil, Oil, Everywhere

The gulf spill continues unabated and with that will be a flood of images from illustrators commenting on this heartbreaking catastrophe. My effort above did not make the cut, but Barry Blitt managed to score this weeks New Yorker cover with a great piece on the same subject. For many months now, Greg Manchess, with the help of Tara Jacoby and Kate Fiertag, has been feverishly curating an exhibit at the Society of Illustrators entitled, Earth: Fragile Planet, work by artists concerning the environment. The timing of the show could not be better. The show opens tomorrow to the public, with a reception to be held this Friday evening. I'm certain this is going to be an outstanding exhibition.