From a Certain Point of View – The Ottawa International Animation Festival

The Bytowne Theatre – Arrugas Screening.

            This is my first visit to the Ottawa International Animation Festival.  It’s been a long hard year, and I was going to thrust myself into the scene.  Many of my ASIFA-East friends have talked about going in the past, and it sounded like a fun, slightly exclusive, adventure that only certain people were bold enough to pursue.  I figured I deserved the trip, dammit, and stepped off the plane from San Francisco into Ottawa.  Immediately I saw some lovely volunteers waiting to welcome us to the festival.  Sure, they were probably there for animators who actually had films in the show, but they still offered me a shuttle to my hotel.  On the ride through town, the friendly driver gave us a run down of the place, and Ken Fields’ friend grilled him about which bar had the most local personality. On that shuttle ride, we were introduced to Ottawa (the city of construction).

Chris Robinson and Mo (PS – This stuff happens to me all the time. – trist)

I’d like to thank Chris Robinson (the festival director) for all of his work, particularly his opening statements during the screenings.  The Ottawa International Animation Festival was a blast, and I saw a ton of radical animation there.  He highlighted errors in the programs and maps, and corrected them in a way that seemed trivial to the audience, but made you feel some pity for the staff.  He screened a personal pixilation about prostrate cancer (I think) with little comment.  And when the audience hissed at him for trying to spoil the latest episode of Breaking Bad (I’ve never watched it) he walked off mid sentence.  People like to brush off his comments as ‘weird’ or ‘jerk’ or ‘very-interesting,’ but I couldn’t bring myself to criticize without understanding.  So I bought his book “The Animation Pimp.”   I have almost finished it, and I have already learned more about how people perceive ASIFA than the last two years combined.  I admire his blog for having the brash attitude of dealing with his personal life, while also relaying important information about animators and their work.  .point a prove to just conventions writing break to afraid not He’s  Robinson has also written a chapter about film-festival reviews themselves.  Normally I try to write with out caring about other people, but this time I hope I can get him to laugh or curse.  You can follow Robinson’s column HERE at the Animation World Network.

Ani-boutique sketch by Pilar Newton-Katz

Back to the actual experience. I stumbled into town (just like a sacred cow) and dropped off my bags and went to find my festival pass. There were practically no sidewalks in this city. I was a little worried I would slip into solitude again, but when I signed in at the Art’s Court, I immediately saw my friends from New York. Pilar Netwon-Katz can really pull a room together (and now she’s gone and DRAWN IT, that sh!t is “cray cray”). She invited me to brunch, and I went with the flow.

Barry Purves – Tchaikovsky timelapse

BAM!  I was eating poutine and ice cream floats with Barry Purves.  To be honest, I did not know who this was.  I discovered that he is British, and lives in a castle turret, and “A Bit of Fry & Laurie” once shot a scene at his house.  His stop motion films are said to be Romanticism in stop-motion, and about Tchaikovsky.  When I found out later that he was one of the feature film judges I thought: “Yes, this person’s presence can definitely add to the festival…”

The Pumpkin of Nix

The festival is not just all screenings and premiers.  There’s always a party going on.  I kept it low-key on the opening night, and happily ran into my freshman-roommate Andrew (another animator) from college.  I was tempted to see Pilar sing karaoke, but I decided to save energy for the big dance party on Saturday.  Which was a good idea, because it turned out to be much more difficult to see everything I wanted to after all and I had to miss Purves’ talk.  I asked a few stop-motion animators about it at the Animator’s Picnic, and discovered that many people were moved by his desire to keep creating, and find more efficient ways to animate in less time.

The one day it rained was the day of the Picnic, but we had a giant tent and free beer, and some people even ran around playing with a tiny soccer-ball.  I went to find my friend Mo, and discovered she was about to eat a giant mushroom Chris Robinson had found.  I asked him how the festival was going and he said that ‘all those films are terrible, the last twenty years were such a waste and the fuckin’ industry is tanking.’  “Touché,” I thought, and I went to get another beer.  

Arrugas (Wrinkles)

Directed by Ignacio Ferreras, Spain GRAND PRIZE for Best Animated Feature

ARRUGAS is adapted from a comic book, and is dedicated to ‘today’s old and tomorrow’s old.’ Two men befriend each other, and try to adapt to life in a nursing home.  The animation is clean and soft like it was printed on magazine paper.  Reading their lives in this way, you see their struggles with family and reality. It is the last frontier, a crushing reminder of our physical bodies.  (Hey, youth is bitter too, I drew the anatomy of my hand just to remind myself everyday.)  Unfortunately, judging by how many people had the same ‘special bond’ to Arrugas as I did, it was a clear that Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, which affects more people than we realize.  Definitely a tearjerker, I would bring a friend to this movie.

Short Films 1

Thomas Renoldner (Sunny Afternoon), Delphine Burrus (Le Soleil Chante), Skip Battaglia (Car Crash Opera), Regina Pessoa (Kali the Little Vampire), Ainslie Henderson (I am Tom Moody), Carlo Vogele (Una Furtiva Lagrima), Einar Baldvin (Baboon)

LE VIANDE + L’AMOUR (Johanna Rubin, Sweden) is a close up of two people made of meat, making out hardcore.  They are really good kissers, but I feel like it was a psych test.  Immediately following was LAY BARE (Paul Bushm, UK), which tracked skin and flesh and tissues across a wide range of bodies, and re-introduced me to our species.  Imagine the meeting of those two filmmakers.  I AM TOM MOODY (Ainslie Henderson, UK, Walt Disney GRAND PRIZE for Best Student Animation) was a clay-mation film about a musician facing the stage.  Stage presence is an illusion and it is always fascinating to see how other’s deal with it.  Catharsis looks very cute on Henderson.  NIGHT OF THE LOVING DEAD (Anna Humphries, UK) was gross gross gross, and I don’t get why everyone loves zombies, but I do love dirty jokes. Not a lot was said about PERSOL ‘A YEAR OF SUN’ (Kevin Dart, UK) but the color palettes are well orchestrated.  Einar Baldvin made his film BABOON (USA) on five drawings a night…CAL Arts must be a crazy school.  Thomas Renoldner synchronized photos of him sitting into a chair with musical tones and remixed them in SUNNY AFTERNOON (Austria).  Aardman’s Animations brought us PYTHAGASAURUS (Peter Peake, UK), which is hilarious and might have actually snuck in a math lesson.  And someone get this fish to Lincoln Center – I’ve never heard so beautiful opera! (UNA FURTIVA LAGRIMA(Carlo Vogele, USA).  Vogele went to the fish market almost every day to get a new fish.  He stuck it in the freezer till it was half-solid and then animated in 20 minutes sessions.

“Woah!  What!?  Experimental Influence in the Commercial Realm”

Woah! What!? Experimental Influence in the Commercial Realm: host, Michale Langan, Malcom Sutherland, and Nick Fox-Grieg

MICHAEL LANGAN loves photography in animation.  His latest film VAN GOGH TO ROTHKO IN 30 SECONDS, is a commercial, but it explores the overlapping photo-technique he uses in his own art.  Langan was part of a panel of animators who talked about how they balanced the transaction of art and money in their lives. A car tangos with a man in an indy film, but dances with a sexy woman in the advertising-version. This is business art, as defined by making several versions of the same thing.  And after all that, Langan goes and makes something like MONOLITH.  These guys know how to take advantage of commercial work to practice other ideas.  But, you only get the work if the client trusts you have experience working with a large crew.  MALCOLM SUTHERLAND schooled us on how to combine a green-screen, a record player, and toy blocks properly.  Well in his animation he did, but I can’t find a link to it anywhere.  NICK FOX-GRIEG was a last minute replacement to the panel.  Together with VICTORIA NECE, he created an AfterEffects plugin.  It applies mo-cap data from a Kinect camera to puppet character in AE. Overall, the panel confirmed my fears about commercial art.  You have to kowtow to the client. But it isn’t so bad if they sincerely want your artistic input.  So what if it says Absolut Vodka when you’re done?


wild animation combined with careful silhouettes in “Hotel Transylvania”

Genndy Tartovsky directs THIS slap-stick about being a monster and a single-parent at the same time.  He has a master-class man’s grasp of the animation.  Taking a closer look at that “Tree Monster Runs to the Hotel” gag, you see the framing of the background forms around the key poses of the monster, but still remains in 3d perspective.   (There seems to be lots of love at the festival for LOTTE REINIGER.)  I imagine Tartovsky’s gag-pitching sessions must be strongly reminiscent of Tex Avery’s productions.  He also was very hands-on with his animators.  Tartovsky demanded, against all those rigid newbies, that yes, you do have to POP to this pose and that pose.  “Don’t you see?” he would say, and then he would draw all over your Cintiq.

There was a lot of love for Tartovsky, with many fans from Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Lab, and Clone Wars on hand to ask him questions. When you are working in television, it is just one RUBIX CUBE twist away from working in feature films, but since Tartovsky was still on a high from just releasing his film, he answered them all with a hearty smile.  Tartovsky said that the Sony Pictures Animation had educational classes on directing for 3d-glasses.  He loves the test screening process, and was anxious to see what parts lagged, or if any gags had to be removed.  He talked about learning to re-evaluate himself, in order to successfully deal with Adam Sandler, and learn how to animate other people’s humor.

Tartovsky took a lot of questions about his TV shows.  I don’t know much about “Samurai Jack,” but everyone seemed excited when he mentioned they have begun development on a film version.  Someone asked about his experience with Clone Wars, and I felt like I was the only one who didn’t boo at the new 3d Clone Wars.  I love both versions, but I felt like he was brushing off some more subtle issues when he said he stopped work because ‘he didn’t want Star Wars to become his whole life.’  Finally, Tartovsky really wanted to just pass on some advice to younger artists: keep drawing, keep confidence in your work, and keep your own point of view.


I was intrigued by the question of memes/youtube videos impacting the last ten years, so I watched YOUTUBULAR.  You will probably flash back to those early days of how you, personally, shared videos.  SALADFINGERS brought severe flashbacks.  And the GI Joe re-dubs were hilarious.

International Showcase



When it comes to animation, I think we have more in common with France than we care to admit. The three French films were all wildly different, but they were familiar to my American senses.   BIGSHOT (Maurice Huvelin, France) is a single, extreme wide shot of a snowy plain, and you track tiny hunters moving upon it.  It seemed to be machima of an early Flash computer game.  SUUR MAJA (BIG HOUSE) (Kristjan Holm, Estonia), turns repetitive activities in an apartment complex into musical mayhem .  GALIM SUSITIKTI, GALIM NESUSITIKTI (WE MAY MEET, WE MAY NOT) (Skirma Jakaite, Lithuania) is a highly symbolic narrative about a mother bird protecting her baby from corrupt pigs.  I think the bird failed.  PAPERMAN is Disney’s latest short, a strangely 2D/3D rom-com.  The chemistry between the guy and girl was so modern, and the animation so bubbly that I felt happy for them.  BORDERLINE (Dustin Rees, Switzerland) is a shocking story about a depressed border guard. The layout strongly reminded me of playing Sim City, but the compact characters still warmed my heart.


[Canadian Film Institute Award for BEST Canadian Animation “Nightingales in December”, directed by Theodore Ushev, Canada]

Dustin Grella (Animation Hotline), Unknown, Unknown, Mirai Mizue (Modern No.2) & translator, unknown, in fact, any tips would be great…

THE MONSTER OF NIX (Rosto Rosto, France) should have been an acceptable movie.  Its design was heavily influenced by “Labyrinth” and the story had some twists in the finale reminiscent of Neil Gaiman.  It tried to be like “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” but it failed miserably in producing songs that were easy to understand or listen too.  An otherwise beautiful film, at half hour you should probably just mute it.   Fortunately there is a KICK ASS pumpkin version.  INTERNATIONAL FATHER’S DAY (Edmunds Jansons, Latvia) was rambling narrative about a daddy bird getting food for his kids, but with destructive consequences.  TRAM (Michaela Pavlatova, Czech Republic) explicitly answered the question I had at the bar the night before, when I asked my friends if women sharked for guys as men do for girls.  THE PUB (Joseph Pierce, UK) combined graphic hallucinations with live action footage of a woman bartender, and MODERN NO.2 (Mirai Mizue, Japan) was a visual trick on your sense of geometry.  And at some point in the future, I will find a talking point and call ANIMATION HOTLINE (Dustin Grell, USA).


Technology will always be exciting for artists, no matter what the latest gadget is.  We still marvel at the paintbrush.  And that was invented thousands of years ago.  LE TABLEAU (The painting) is Jean-François Laguionie’s vision of your first “unobtainable world.”  In this case, it’s a French world, and the aristocracy are playing with the lives of the:  wait for it: the literally inferior/unpainted people.  Some are just plain sketches.  Three of them are thrown together by fate, and they journey into the jungle to see if they can find a way to equalize everyone.  Thank goodness that someone figured out you can just paint yourself and you’ll be a ‘fully-painted person.’

In one scene, a little drummer boy and a Sketchy walk across a piano (they are about 6 inches high).  The Sketchy looks real nice, but hey, he’s not a finished drawing so our attention moves elsewhere.  The little drummer boy is an “Alldun” and therefore is rewarded with an epic wide shot of him skipping over the piano keys.  The Sketchy comes in after and tells him to shush.  This whole movie is 3D, and he looks like a sketch.  Go see it.

{The film screened at the National Arts Centre.  If you were looking for an expression of the elegance and the power of Canada, this would be it.  I contemplated my visit as I sat in my hotel room.  Actually I just consulted my giant bed, some Noir Chat wine (?) and Star Trek.  The Patrick Stewart one, where they fight with holo-decks. But arriving at the theatre was tricky, for there is a car-moat, an actual moat, … oh wait I just figured out the “Monster of Nix”!}


[Nelvana GRAND PRIZE for Best Independent Short Animation – “Junkyard“ directed by Hisko Hulsing, Netherlands]

[GRAND PRIZE for Best Commissioned Animation – Primus “Lee Van Cleef” – by Chris Smith, USA]

[BEST Canadian Student Animation Award – “Gum” By Noam Sussman, Sheridan College, Canada]

“Crazy for It” KUBO Yutaro

THE FIRST TIME CEECEE DID ACID looks a lot more tangible than the last time I’ve watched it.  Even after the 5th viewing it’s still surprising (Noelle Melody & Joy Vaccese, USA).  THE BEAN (Hae Jin Jung, South Korea, Adobe Prize for BEST High School Animation) was very KAWAII.  It played out in paper cut outs, several cute scenes of a girl learning to love eating beans.  Extreme/typical Japanese anime-acting style.  But I’m glad to see high-school kids expanding anime into new media.  The rest of the screening had a very dark sense of humor, you could just sense the whole audience becoming uncomfortable.  I could not watch CHEAP JOKE (Ian Miller, USA) even though it was only a minute long.  SUPERJAIL! ‘STINGSTRESS’ (Titmouse, USA) is ***ing violent, no surprise there.  And OLD MAN (Leah Shore, USA) turned out to be ‘controversial’ to some audience members. There is an audience prize, so for this round I voted for CRAZY FOR IT(Yutaro Kubo, Japan).  It stood out in my mind for the wildly frenetic run cycles expressed in paint and surrounded by splatters.


VIEWPOINT (Sae-Byul Hwangbo)

[BEST Music Video – The First Time I Ran Away – by Joel Trussell, USA] [BEST Narrative Short – A Morning Stroll – by Grant Orchard, STUDIO AKA, USA] – What happens when you see a chicken enter an apartment building?  This film investigates the hilariously tragic consequences through the ages.  From rubber hose, to 3d renders, and back.

[BEST Television Animation for Adults – Portlandia: Zero Rats – by Rob Shaw, USA] – Some rat friends learn about self-control in Portland.  The TV show is hilarious, and the smooth and bristling fur of the rats in the stop motion animation really captured the spirit, but in an ironic way.

[BEST Promotional Animation – Red Bull ‘Music Academy World Tour’ – by Pete Candeland, Passion Pictures, UK]

[The National Film Board of Canada PUBLIC PRIZE – It’s Such a Beautiful Day – directed by Don Hertzfeldt, USA]

VIEWPOINT (Sae-Byul Hwangbo) was a surrealist Korean film about a wounded girl.  As her grievances pile up, her hair mutates into a fearsome mass.  The strings shoot out with tension in this experimental film.  FRESH GUACAMOLE  (PES Productions) received a lot of laughter, although I don’t understand why people find it so clever and funny at the same time.  At the end of the night, I picked out KILO ‘TINAMV1 (Adnan Popvpic) from Austria.  A fixed camera gazed down a long white corridor.  Soon it was filled with lights, ribbons, balloons, fans, and shadows, each one redefining space in a new way.  Techno and animation is a beautiful thing.

We found a rainbow driving back through Canada to New York. Good times.

For a complete list of events and winners, please visit  I could not stay till the end, because it’s a 10-hour drive to Color-Land and someone’s gotta work in the morning. ~ Tristian Goik

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