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The Animation Pimp: Like Everyone, I’m Not Like Everybody Else

The Pimp bemuses charlatans and Ottawas funding fiasco in this months edition.

Insignificant and occasionally interesting contributions to the cognition of reality

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris J. Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris J. Robinson.

A colleague sent me a media release from a Toronto-based company. Now almost every PR release is full of fluff, pomp and equivocation, but this one was pretty over the top. They said that they did something related to the software development which was used for some big feature film. What it amounted to was, oh yeah, I know insert celebrity name here. Hes a friend of my sisters cousins husbands uncles brothers mothers daughters step-cousins friend of a friends friend who went to the uncles brothers mothers daughters step-cousins old high school one year and sort of knew the step-cousin through his sisters boyfriends brothers aunt who was sleeping with a teacher who knew the math teacher at the step-cousins high school.

Another person I know was fond of telling everyone about all her wonderful splendiscious experiences in the wonderful splendiscious world of animation, and that all they wanted to do, all they REALLY WANTED TO DO, was just share this wealth of knowledge that they had mined, working with some great masters (are there piss-poor masters?). Of course it turned out that this woman had only worked with one of these masters vicariously while they were teaching together at some school. (Sort of like me saying that Im a radio/TV personality based on the fact that Ive done TV/radio interviews.)

Its not just the small timers; even the big fish stretch the truth. Virtually every Disney feature film has been re-marketed for home video/DVD as a masterpiece. OK, sure, I can accept Bambi, Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty, but umm yeah the rest of dem? I dunno. Granted, they have toned the masterpiece stuff down on DVD. Anyway, equivocation is the nature of advertising. You only sell the bright side of life.

Initially, this piece was gonna be about these grifters, the people and companies in the animation world (and every other industry/community) who exist through smoke and mirrors but then the Ottawa Festival had its funding cut. All of a sudden I didnt care about illusionists. Instead, I wondered what the fug I was going to do. Id spent the last 12 years involved in animation and, BAM, just like that, it was potentially gone. My entire adult life has been spent working in animation. Its, in part, defined who I am to myself, but mostly to other people.

David Ehrlich (American animator) once interviewed me and we started talking about how we came into the animation scene. We both admitted that it was the people. It was an environment that made us feel less alone. I was even more of an outsider because I didnt give a tinker for cartoons really. I came from an academic background and for me technique always came second, third and fourth to concept. When I say concept, I dont necessarily mean message, smarts or learnin, I simply mean IDEA. That can be a series of Tex Avery gags or some high falutin Norman McLaren musing.

Dont listen to those wanks who sputter about non-figurative, non-representational, abstract material, conceptual art. That whole high-brow definition of conceptual art is the biggest snow job this side of democratic elections. Post-Sec. academia is just another gap filler, tenured ad men using new words to sell used ideas to the next generation of something seekers.

Ah yeah, so as I was saying, I was really an outsider when I came into this scene, and, despite the many things that the OIAF and the animation world have given me materially and intellectually, Ive pretty much remained near the border hey the phone just rang! Friend of mine from a big studio. We started talking about this whole identity thing and maybe the big difference would be that no one will talk to you anymore because they dont need you anymore. We agreed that thats not a bad thing anyway sorry I mean for the last few years, Ive worked my way more towards the umm literary world, I guess. Lets face it, most of my animation writing these days, for example, uses animation as a bridge, beard, guise and cloak to get to the bigger issues in my life and yours (e.g., finding good porn to stroke or finger to). And, slowly but surely, Ive been writing more outside the animation world, so Ive been slowly preparing myself for that day when I bid adieu to the animation scene. But still, its tough, like a death or divorce, and maybe thats the final step I needed. After two-plus boozeless years, a sharper healthier mind/body, maybe this was the last step toward shedding off some dead skin.

Maybe. Maybe not. The same week we got the funding cut news, I was watching this incredible boxing match between Micky Ward and Canadian Arturo Gatti. These two beat the shit out of each other in three separate matches. In this second fight, Gatti smashed Wards eardrum with a hard right. Ward lost all balance, stumbled, turned and fell toward the corner of the ring. He managed to keep standing, but with two minutes to go in the round, and his equilibrium absent, there was no way hed be standing much longer. Gatti came at him with more jabs, hooks and rights, but Ward did not go down. Crazy Irish Micky not only came out of the round, he went the whole 10 rounds. During that fight, I decided that I was not going to let the Ottawa festival die that no matter how much I wanted to get out of the festival biz, I was NOT going to let it get TKOd on my watch.

Then came the bizarre and tragic news that the festivals co-founder, Kelly OBrien died. She died alone in her home. No one is quite sure how, just yet. How weird is it, that the news that the festivals founder comes out the very week the festivals existence is threatened? Im not much for voodoo and assorted magic, but THAT was too strange. Kelly was a really positive person. I only met her during Ottawa 96 when we had invited all the old directors to come for the 20th anniversary. I had a few phone chats with her, and she was just so damn enthusiastic (and I dont mean in a retarded way). Anyway, I read some old catalogs, checked the old files, talked to Frank Taylor (another former director) and realized that this festival has always had these sorts of battles. Its entire history has been a bloody Ward-Gatti fight. So her death sort of re-charged me a bit, made me want to say thanks to her, made me want to let her know that she didnt really die alone, that her work (with Frederick Manter) and ours meant something, that it touched thousands upon thousands of lives from John Lasseter and Nick Park to lesser known students, animators, teachers and industry folk. What else is there to live or die for?

Identity. Ive talked about it before and, specifically, how we create identities for others and even define those around us. Who are we? How do we define who we are? I remember studying a bit of that French head-studying guy, Jacques Lacan. I always liked the things I managed to understand in his writing. Let me try and shrinkwrap it. As babies, early on we see everything around us as one, We are linked to it. Everything is whole. Then comes the mirror stage when the baby recognizes itself in the mirror, when he/she sees for the first time that they are not connected with all those other images around them. They immediately sense that there is a gap, that they are incomplete, a fragment.

This lack is the backbone of human nature and it creates desire. We desire to fill this lack. BUT its a lack that is just an illusion. We spend our entire lives desiring and craving something that doesnt exist to begin with. (Advertising fucks have clearly read some of Lacan because they are continually and I mean CONTINUALLY telling us that were missing something, that were incomplete people, and that if we buy their TV, radio, stereo, CDs, books, hand lotion, toilet paper, coffee, liquor, car, house, frying pan, cups, plates, forks, shirts, shoes, hats, tampons, vaginal itch cream, anti-aging, anti-depressant, cottage cheese, low-fat, low-carb, gut-buster condoms, we WILL fill that lack.)

Our mistake, which comes from Freud I think, is that we assume there is some stable, coherent, unchanging superego some perfect form of identity. Its a very Christian idea (superego as God). What Lacan suggests, is that, there is no such ideal or God that we are all (and this comes back to ol Heraclitus yet again) in a constant state of motion and uncertainty, a constant clash of harmony and disorder. I dunno bout you but that sort of makes me feel better.

Work didnt define me, I defined the work. What you know or think of me is the result of the choices Ive made as a writer, programmer, etc., not the other way around. Ya know what Im saying? And this comes back to the grifters they are seeking to define themselves through their jobs and I dont mean their work at these jobs, but through labels and assorted name dropping references (like my friend above).

These people are racing around, spending all their time trying so hard to find what THEY think that OTHER people IMAGINE to be an IDEAL identity, that they end up achieving nothing in the end. When the job goes (and it will because they aint done nothing) so, too, will that identity. All thats left is nothing. Its hard though, and I dont pretend to have some mastery over it. I get lost in emulation and parasitical behavior as much as you, but until you realize that YOU define the world around you (and no, I dont mean that in some Machiavellian way), not the other way around, ya aint ever gonna find any real satisfaction from the world or yourself.

(My apologies if I bungled Lacan and Freud, but hey, at least I gave it the ol college try).

Just got word that our funding was re-instated (Im writing this on July 10, 2003). Not sure if the call to arms did it. When we got the word, I was angry. I might have been angrier than when we received the initial cut letter. It felt like the last two weeks had been so unnecessary. All this time and energy devoted to stress, fear, worry and confusion, all that time spent appealing and blabbering away to the media about why anyone should care. But maybe it wasnt so bad, perhaps we (I) needed this, a wakeup call of sorts. A time to decide if Ottawa needs to step it up and, if so, figure out if I really want to be part of that new road.

Is this scare gonna make me a better person? Is it going to mean conventional opening night speeches at Ottawa 04? Is this gonna mean that the job will now define me?

Yeah, right.

Hottie Animator of the Month

Every person who wrote a letter of support and kudos to Bill Plympton and Mike Belzer for going on national radio to fight our cause. And, hey, Judith, I know you didnt do it for me, but thanks all the same.

AND I want to say a belated farewell to Heather Kenyon. Shes moved on from AWN to the Cartoon Network and Im really gonna miss blondie. She gave the Pimp the go-ahead and (along with Dan Sarto and Ron Diamond) has always defended and encouraged these columns even when she probably didnt know what the hell I was talking about.

Along those lines (or these lines below): PEOPLE, please, if youre going to post comments (negative or positive) USE your real name OR at least leave an e-mail. Have some courage.

Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at http://asifa.net/robinson.

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