On Tuesday September 23, 2008, ASIFA-East held a panel discussion on the state of NY indie animated features at the School of Visual Arts. On the panel were Emily Hubley, Dan Kanemoto, Bill Plympton, Michael Sporn, and Tatia Rosenthal. Author and historian, Amid Amidi, moderated the panel. Never before in New York’s history has there been such a plethora of independent animated features. ASIFA-East was excited and honored to learn more about how these features were produced. It was our first event of the season and the house was overflowing with attendees.
A little background on our panel artists:
Emily Hubley has a thirty-year history of making animated films, among them Pigeon Within, Delivery Man, The Tower (a collaboration with Georgia Hubley), Her Grandmother’s Gift (a collaboration with Faith Hubley), and her latest, Octave. Her first feature film, The Toe Tactic is a combination of live action and animation, and premiered at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival, and will have its theatrical premiere in January 2009 at the MOMA. She is the daughter of pioneer animators Faith and John Hubley and worked on her mother’s films at The Hubley Studio from 1977 to 2001.
Daniel M. Kanemoto is a writer/director whose 1999 debut, A Letter From The Western Front, won the Gold Medal for Best Animated Film at the Student Academy Awards. Dan’s work has been featured on Nickelodeon, MTV, the Discovery Channel, and film festivals around the world. He is a recipient of the Richard Vague Film Production Fund from his alma mater, New York University – Tisch School of the Arts.
Bill Plympton has a long history in NYC independent animation, producing many shorts and features. His work has appeared on MTV and various commercial outlets, and he was nominated for an Oscar for his shorts Your Face and Guard Dog. He has 9 feature films to his credit, among them 6 animated features: The Tune, Mondo Plympton, I Married A Strange Person, Mutant Aliens, Hair High, and Idiots and Angels.
Michael Sporn has animated professionally since 1972 and worked closely with John and Faith Hubley and Richard Williams. He formed his own company in 1980 and has produced many shorts, including Abel’s Island (Emmy Nominee), The Country Mouse & The City Mouse (CableACE Nominee), The Marzipan Pig, Good Night Moon (Emmy Winner), and The Man Who Walked Between The Towers. He is currently in production is a feature length film derived from the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe.
Tatia Rosenthal is the director and co-writer of $9.99, her first stop motion animated feature. She is a fellow of the Sundance Writers and Dirctors Labs and won 2005 official selection for her short A Buck’s Worth. Her work has also appeared in Blue’s Clues and The Wonder Pets. She is also a recipient of the Richard Vague Film Production Fund from her alma mater, New York University – Tisch School of the Arts.
Amid Amidi is an author, historian, and an entrepreneur. Among his books are Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation and The Art of Robots. He is responsible for launching the site Animation and Cartoon Heaven, which eventually became Animation Blast. He later partnered with Jerry Beck to author the popular animation site Cartoon Brew.
Amid started off by noting that each feature from the panel artists was not only different from the mainstream features currently out there, but that each film was very different from the other. It is a celebration of the diversity of independent features being made today. Here are a few snippets from the discussion.
Michael was heavily influenced by John and Faith Hubley and felt that after a long history of shorts, if others could make a feature he could too. The film is in the very early stages of development and long-time friend Tissa David is animating as well. The best part of making his films is the creative process behind them. He really enjoys working with all the artists and the collaborating of ideas.
Dan and Tatia cited John Canemaker as their mentor, providing guidance and encouragement early in their animation careers. Tatia spoke on how she had no idea how hard it would be to make a film, but that made it easy to start one. It took 10 years of finance and made the film with a 3 million dollar budget, with production done mainly in Australia. Dan originally proposed his film as an animated documentary. Trouble with getting rights to the soldier’s original letters changed his plans, and he wrote fictional letters. He painted all the backgrounds and composited the film in After Effects, bringing on a storyboard artist and an editor as well.
Bill told of how the making of films is a drug addiction that can’t be stopped. All his time, effort, and money go into the making of the films and sales both national and international. He often funds his new features with the sale of short films, commercials, and merchandise. He even uses an Internet cam to promote his films. You can watch the drawings come alive.
Emily most enjoys the collaborative process behind filmmaking and the live action aspect particularly thrilled her. She got a grant early on to get the ball rolling. Her advice to others is to never give up “You only lose when you give up”. If you keep making your films available, people will find you.
The conversation took an interesting turn early on and ended up becoming more about the finances behind the films rather than the art of making them. Considering the large amount of students in the audience, the lack of questions on the creative process was quite curious. Perhaps it is a reflection of the economic times of today and what is on everyone’s minds. A part 2 to the panel focusing on the creativity and techniques would be a great addition. Panel artists could also include Nina Paley and Dean Lennert.
As usual, a bunch of us went out afterwards.