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Ottawa Animation Festival 2004: One Animators Perspective

Animator Patrick Smith takes us on his personal journey through the Ottawa Animation Festival.

Ottawa is the widely considered the best animation festival in North America. Courtesy of Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Ottawa is the widely considered the best animation festival in North America. Courtesy of Ottawa International Animation Festival.

To most animators across North America, Ottawa is the greatest animation festival there is. I know many people who will time the release of their short films to coincide with the deadlines of either Ottawa or Sundance. Its always troubled me that a continent so massive and populated has but one major animation festival. Oh well, at least its a good one.

The first Ottawa Animation Festival was held in 1976, the days when Norman Maclaren, as well as the headquarters of the National Film Board, called Ottawa home. I was stoked to learn that many of the events we enjoyed this year were traditions that started with the very first festival. It makes me wonder if Oskar Fischinger stayed at the Chateau Laurier (the hotel to see and be seen in), seems like a man of style. I myself stayed at the Holiday Inn. Maybe next year Ill throw down for some high class digs.

I also wonder what Norman Mclaren, the first honorary president, would think of artistic director Chris Robinson. Ah yes... Before anyone can fully understand the Ottawa experience, one must get to know the reluctant poster-boy for the contemporary Ottawa festival. His introductions to the screenings set a strange tone. Sometimes I dont know when to laugh, I get confused. But then again I always get confused. Chriss dry humor and scabbed fists guarantee no lack of interesting dialogue. As I write this, I just got an email:

  • Patrick-If you slam the festival on

AWN, Im coming to piss all over your friends living office stairs... then Im gonna torch Friends DVDs worldwide. after I watch Quincy. which is now on from 11:00 am-12:00 pm daily. makes life smooth. and dont mention your gayness.

Festivals artistic director Chris Robinson with his son, Garvis. Photo by Karl Staven. Courtesy of Ottawa International Animation Festival. Photo credit: Petr Maur.

Festivals artistic director Chris Robinson with his son, Garvis. Photo by Karl Staven. Courtesy of Ottawa International Animation Festival. Photo credit: Petr Maur.

I could dissect for you all the private jokes that Ive had a privilege to share with Chris, but Ill save it for another time. The fact of the matter is that I have only a few hours to write this before Friends is on, channel 11 here in NYC [New York City]. Score. On that note, lets continue to the 2004 festival. Shall we?

Wednesday September 22, 2004


Americans love Canada. We can fish, we can drink when were 18,and we can hang out with people that are so much more mellow and happier than us. I thought Canada would be cold. Apparently it was un-seasonably warm during the festival. I would not be exaggerating to say its some of the best weather the Earth has ever produced. Sometimes it was painful to sit inside a theater and watch films, but thats why we all came. I was relieved the flight was short, only an hour or so. I have no excuse not to visit more often.

Diving right into it, Shorts Competition 1, was the first screening I attended. Highlights: Lorenzo, directed by Michael Gabriel. This film won at Annecy, and I loved seeing it again. Perhaps the success of this film will spur the Disney studio to produce more original short content. Striking Daughter, directed by Takashi Kimura. Quite possibly the most bizarre animation of all time, love it or hate it, its a must-see. Moodswing, directed by Pieter Coudyzer. This was one of my favorites of the entire festival; Pieter has created a dark, textured, thought-provoking monster! Another must-see.

Wednesday ended with an epic party at a great Irish Bar, The Irish Village. You could tell everyone was stoked to be there and ready to immerse themselves in animation. Chumps like myself were able to mingle with the likes of Chris Hinton and Gary Baseman. As well as two of the esteemed judges, Signe Baumane and Mo Willems. A good time for all. Got back to my deluxe suite around 3:00 am. The pay television would not let me order I, Robot. I still havent seen that damn movie.

A packed house at the Television Animation Conference. Courtesy of Ottawa International Animation Festival.

A packed house at the Television Animation Conference. Courtesy of Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Thursday September 23, 2004

Lots to do

Busy day. Everything from Mo Willems book signing, to competition screenings, to the Fred Crippen retrospective. Running around to all these events, I began to sense something in the air... Its rare to have a genuine Hollywood-style buzz at an animation festival. But youd be hard pressed not to hear a conversation about Ryan, the CGI short by Chris Landreth. Was it because debunked animation legend Ryan Larkin, the subject of the film, was among the festivalgoers?

Highlights of the day: International showcase, Seventeen, by Hisko Hulsing. Holy crap! I wish I could put together a film like that! Hisko nails it, Brutal emotion and energetic storytelling. Why this film was not in the official competition is baffling. Fred Crippen Retrospective, hosted by Amid Amidi, a wonderful collection of rarely seen clips, commercials, and shorts, a total inspiration. Come back to NYC Fred, Ill buy you a drink.

The Thursday night party was at the legendary Chez Ani, an honored tradition started by Co Hoedeman. Its basically an animators café, that is, if your definition of a café is an elementary school auditorium at night, serving alcohol. Despite the drab local, lack of music and bright lights, the night was filled with good conversations, and constant swapping of business cards. Did you know that Linda Simensky has a killer PEZ collection?

Creature Comforts Trixie and Captain Cuddlepuss won over the crowd at Ottawa. © Aardman Animation 2003.

Creature Comforts Trixie and Captain Cuddlepuss won over the crowd at Ottawa. © Aardman Animation 2003.

Friday September 24, 2004

Everyone who has a regular job arrives

The Independent Animation panel was great. Packed house and lots of exchanges of ideas, techniques, and strategies of funding independent films. I was struck by the difference in the way our Canadian neighbors go about funding films. Theres a hell of a lot more support given to artists by the government, yet, it seems to me American animators find ways of making films without any government tampering, and do it more often. It was a good debate, and I think we all left the room ready to explore other ways of funding. We all rushed off after the show to the main event, the pic-nic. Theres been an Ottawa pic-nic since 1976. The pumpkin-carving contest being the big attraction.

Ill level with you. I was outside the tent during the pumpkin-carving contest, too content with my Canadian beer and the righteous conversation about relationships with Rita Street. To my left, Mike Deseve was spewing out fringe political nonsense to an audience of Richard OConner. To my right, Sam Chen was roosting as Alberto Giacomettis PR guy. But I heard the winning pumpkin was quite a sight, of course by the time they announced the winner, I would have seen two.

My inebriation didnt stop me from going to shorts competition three; clearly the programmers loaded this one up with heavy hitters. First off, the audience was treated to Walking (1968) the Academy Award-nominated short that lifted Ryan Larkin to fame and fort well fame anyway. I had never seen the film, let alone in its original format, and I appreciated it, especially leading into the competition short Ryan. I was a bit unsettled with Mr. Larkin being in the audience. A bit like watching Sid and Nancy with Mr. Vicious in the crowd. Lets move on.

Other highlights included Creature Comforts Cats or Dogs by Richard Goleszowski, a television special based on the Nick Park short. It just doesnt get old. I only wish it went on for another three hours. Fast Film by Virgil Widrich, you have to see it to believe it. Wonderful tribute to classic film, whether thats what the director intended or not. How to Cope with Death by Ignacio Ferreras, killer cel animation done by a student who can draw better than most.

The day ended with a party hosted by Electronic Arts at a local Mexican joint, Mexicali Rosas. And without sounding too harsh. That party was beat. Turned in early, didnt want to sleep through the master class with Chris Landreth.

Master classes taught by Oscar nominees such as Nibbles director Chris Hinton are just part of the treats of the event. © Acme Filmworks.

Master classes taught by Oscar nominees such as Nibbles director Chris Hinton are just part of the treats of the event. © Acme Filmworks.

Saturday September 25, 2004


Im sure the master class was great, but sleeping in a hotel room is just too tempting. I did however make it to the feature Winter Days, directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto. This feature is an anthology of shorts based on renku a style of Japanese poetry. Contributing animators include Yuri Norshtein, Raoul Servais, Alexandre Petrov, Furukawa Taku, Co Hoedeman, Jacques Drouin and Yamamura Koji. Possibly the most intriguing segment of the film were the interviews and visits to the animators studios during the second half of the feature. It was fascinating to see the different styles and techniques used. It was a special relief to see so many traditional animators, slaving over their drawings, enough to ease the mind of any masochistic animator. Misery loves company.

There was a panel worth a mention, Your Criticism Sucks, was about as good as a panel can be. The heated discussion of how and why people critique animation was unsettling, spirited and totally useless in terms of understanding criticism, but entertaining as hell. Rita Street played to the corporate victim, unable to express her views on animation in fear of losing advertisers. Mikhail Gurevich played the idealized communist, frustrated at the world for going so commercial. Chris Robinson said nothing, but he drank a bottle of water, that was cool.

I also caught Short Competition Two, which kicked off to the familiar and freekishly catchy Bathtime in Clerkenwell by NYC director Alex Budovsky. Other highlights: A Room Nearby by Paul Fierlinger & Sandra Fierlinger, true stories of loneliness, illustrated perfectly in 2D and narrated with a lot of heart. Ward 13 by Peter Cornwell, This puppet animation action film would make Jackie Chan proud.

I had been looking forward to Meet the Masters Fred Crippen panel since I saw his retrospective on Thursday. Fred spoke for over an hour about his 50-year career in animation, but what blew me away, is that hes still going full steam. Matter of fact, Fred had a new short film in competition this year. Improving Communications is a short about the endlessly flexible F word. Fred stated I figured when Cheney said the word publicly, I could get away with it.

The Saturday night party was hosted by Nelvana. The location was in the same place as Chez Ani. It was a fun time, people got a bit nutty later in the night, bringing out the absinthe. Caught up with Amid Amidi, who had just come from the Robert Breer Retrospective. Lots of talk about the upcoming Drew Careys Green Screen show, which many animators in attendance contributed to. Called it a night around 2:00 am. Got lost on the way back to the hotel. A homeless man frightened me. I wonder if it was Ryan Larkin?

Chris Landreths Ryan to the Grand Prize with La Prophétie des grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs) taking home the top prize for features.

Chris Landreths Ryan to the Grand Prize with La Prophétie des grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs) taking home the top prize for features.

Final day, Sunday September 26, 2004.

Woke up for a very inspirational master class with Chris Hinton and Susan Gourley. Chriss film Nibbles screened in Competition One, which I attended the first day. Although Ive seen that film 10 million times, it still gets the job done, he accomplishes quite a bit with just a few drawings.

Highlights of the day were the ongoing Miyazaki retrospective, Animated Soviet Propaganda (which was great, despite the lack of subtitles) and Bill Plymptons new feature, Hair High. This last day was spent running around, trying to get to the shows youve missed prior. I managed pretty well.

A small disappointment that afternoon was the New Media Competition, one of the few bright spots being This Land by Gregg Spiridellis & Evan Spiridellis (Jib Jab Media Inc.) It may be the only current affairs political short Ive ever enjoyed.

This brings us to the end. Closing ceremonies included giving out the awards and screening the winners. Ive pasted the winning films below, as well as the judges comments that they awkwardly proclaimed on stage. After the ceremony, everyone headed down to Chez Ani for a final celebration. John K presented rare cartoons that were thoroughly appreciated by his fans, giving the final party a nice flavor. Among the goodbyes and last minute introductions, I started to get anxious for home. A little tip to those who dont frequent film festivals: Good film festivals inspire the animator, give you new ideas and refresh depleted energy. I was ready to bring that energy home, and get back to work.

Ottawa 2004 was a smashing success, and Im hooked. Quincy isnt the only thing that makes life smooth; try a bit of the Ottawa Animation Festival. See you around

  • Nelvana Grand Prix for Independent Short Film Ryan/Chris Landreth/Canada for exploring a new visual style of groundbreaking documentary storytelling.

  • Grand Prix for Feature Film La Prophétie des grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs)/Jacques-Rémy Girerd / France Remarkable design, splendid acting, and fully realized characters combine to make La Prophétie Des Grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs) an animated feature infused with charm. For its eccentricity, moral vision, and its French fry munching carnivores, the 2004 jury awards La Prophétie Des Grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs) the festivals best feature.

  • Grand Prix for Commissioned Film A Room Nearby/Paul Fierlinger and Sandra Fierlinger/USA for its simplicity and profound emotion. This film goes directly to the heart of its subject, which is solitude. Its a film that talks about us.

  • Grand Prix for New Media Work This Land/Gregg Spiridellis and Evan Spiridellis/USA Sharp and to the point, the perky satire, design, and performances of This Land combine to create a complete and completely satisfying internet short.
  • Narrative Short Film Under 35 Minutes La Piccola Russia/Gianluigi Toccafondo/France, Italy Inspiring emotional passionate film. Each frame looks like a beautiful painting. Each frame feels so fresh.

  • Special Mention Lorenzo/Michael Gabriel/USA for excellence in style and storytelling.

  • Non-Narrative Film Under 35 Minutes Bathtime in Clerkenwell/Alex Budovsky/USA for the perfection of music with fantastic imagery.

  • National Film Board of Canada Award for Best First/Student Film Son of Satan/JJ Villard / USA A great adaptation of a Charles Bukowski story. Brutal, Fucked up, raw, wonderful. Did I say fucked up?

  • Special Mention Ward 13/Peter Cornwell/Australia

    for amazing timing and extreme imagination in animation.

  • Special Mention Phantom Inventor (Linventaire Fantôme)/Franck Dion France for its cinematic quality and variety of visions.

  • Special Mention How to Cope with Death/Ignacio Ferreras United Kindom for clever use of surprise with dark humor and excellent draftsmanship.

  • Films made for Children A Musical Shop/Sonya Kravtsova/Russia One of the qualities of this film is that it appeals to both children and adults. The filmmakers speaks poetically about her love for music.
  • Animated Short made for the Internet Candy Venery / Sergey Aniskov/Russia, USA Visually innovative, disturbingly violent, surprisingly satiric, and poppy, Candy Venery makes the most of its time and medium.

  • Internet Series The Shining In 30 Seconds, Re-enacted By Bunnies/Jennifer Shiman/USA Funny, entertaining and an excellent use of the medium, The Shining in 30 Seconds is our choice for Internet Series.

  • Special Mention Hotel/Han Hoogerbrugge/The Netherlands We would like to award a special commendation to hotel for its graphic design and unique approach to story telling.

  • Machinima No Award New and inventively weird, machinima straddles the line between visual fan fiction and filmmaking, a genre filled with potential for engaging complete visual expression. While the Jury does not wish to discourage filmmakers, we will not present a prize for this category as we feel the award needs to represent a certain level of excellence of expression. We hope to see more entries in future festivals.
  • Educational, Scientific or Industrial Film Helping Little Kitten/Jennifer Oxley/USA for its simplicity and endearing quality.

  • Advertising Film Caisse D Epargne `Les Triples Jean-Christophe Saurel and Sophie Deiss/France for the tenderness and the humor.

  • Special Mention Guardian `Calf/Simon Henwood/U.K.

  • Station-Program Identification/Title Sequence Catch Me If You Can/Kuntzel & Deygas/USA, U.K. Smart stylish animation that introduces a motion picture with a special graphic flair that we have not seen in years. Inspired by Saul Bass work, it succeeds in its interaction of type and story.

  • Music Video Prudence `À Tort Ou À Raison/Joris Clerte/France for its simplicity and delicacy.

  • Television Special Saddam and Osama/David Wachtenheim and Robert Marianetti/USA Clever. Hilarious. Biting. Extremely well produced piece that throws a rock into the eye of popular culture and the unique times that we live, and hits a bulls eye.

  • Television Series for Adults Creature Comforts `Cats or Dogs?/Richard Goleszowski/U.K.

    because of its natural yet surreal usage of humor.

  • Television Series for Children My Life as a Teenage Robot `Speak No Evil/Rob Renzetti and Tim Walker/USA Impressed with mature stylized look. Inspired by `20-30s animation design and French graphic poster look. They re-create a look that feels fresh and appropriate for today and create characters that are engaging and funny.

  • AKA CARTOON PUBLIC PRIZE (voted by the audience) The Crabs Revolution (La Revolution des Crabes)/Arthur de Pins/France

  • MIKE GRIBBLE PEEL OF LAUGHTER AWARD (Presented to the most hilarious film in competition) Saddam and Osama/David Wachtenheim and Robert Marianetti/USA

  • Special Mention Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law Peanut Puberty/Richard Ferguson-Hull/USA

Patrick Smith wanted to be a professional skateboarder, but hurt himself and became an animator. His films have been featured on MTV, Spike and Mikes Collections, and over a hundred other international film festivals. Hes also the creator of the Zoloft Dot character, in which he conceived under the influence of alcohol, a known depressant.