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The 7th China International Computer Animation and Digital Arts Festival

Most of the juries I have served on have been in the States or Western Europe. Needless to say, there is a fairly regular overlap in content submitted to these geographic locations. I often found myself wondering how to get more Asian countries to submit their films to SIGGRAPH North America, (as it’s being called now that we have SIGGRAPH Asia and our 2011 Conference is being held in Vancouver, Canada.) So when I was at ANIMA this past winter and a very nice festival organizer from China asked if I would be able to sit on the jury of the 7th China International Computer Animation and Digital Art Festival (CICADAF 2010), how could I say no?

2009 Computer Animation Festival icon by Meats Meier.

Once you produce a SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival (CAF), your life is never quite the same. There is the con side: long hours, no pay and very little in the way immediate or delayed gratification in the form of kudos from your colleagues, because they are also working long hours for no pay. The people you’ve shared the volunteer experience are too tired to remember anything but their home address and how to get there as quickly as possible once the festival is over, and those not involved in the project haven’t seen you for 10-12 months and they think you’ve been ignoring them.  If you are lucky, you too can remember your home address and how to get there as quickly as possible once the event is over.

The pros far outweigh the cons, for me at least. In 2007, I had the honor of being Paul Debevec’s assistant producer; in 2008, I had the pleasure of producing the show for Director, Jill Smolin. Finally in 2009, I was able to take all of my “if I were running the show” thoughts and see how well they worked out. Over this 3-year period I learned more about post-production, film formats, politics and manners than I ever had before. Each festival was different and had its issues: 2007 was a bit of a post production near disaster; 2008 saw the end of the Electronic Theater and the expansion of the Festival into a mini-conference of its own. And 2009 saw a decrease in attendees and budget due to many reasons, the biggest of which was the economy. In the end, all three of these shows had their merits. Paul Debevec's year had some scary post issues, but in the end he created one of the most beautifully projected shows to watch as well as one of the all time fun opening shows with the giant real time laser Atari games. 

In 2008, Jill Smolin had an experimental idea to shake up the festival and while everyone missed the traditional Electronic Theater, she did present three nights of special events, including the Stan Winston tribute, that are very memorable. Sony Electronics, which had been donating its amazing projectors to the festival since 2005, also learned how to configure their 2 giant 4K projectors so they could light up the 70-foot screen of the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles.  Additionally, her plan expanded the festival into a mini conference of its own by bringing in panels, special sessions and talks that lived under the Computer Animation Festival umbrella, a practice that has continued with great success.

The SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival is still an experimental undertaking. Each year, the CAF chair plans to make a show for 17-25 thousand people under a big tent, usually known as a Convention Center.  None of the teams, content or equipment is in the same room until three days before the event. It’s such an adventure to put this show together, and such an honor.

One of my favorite pros of having produced the Computer Animation Festival is that I am sometimes asked to sit on an animation jury. I usually say yes, even though I have been witness to some exhausting jury sessions, I still love watching and discussing animation with others in a jury forum. I like there to be something at stake. Not just prizes for the animators who have probably suffered in one way or another to produce their films, but as a jury member you can feel the weight your decisions have in defining the style and structure of the animation pieces shown at that particular festival.

Most of the juries I have served on have been in the States or Western Europe. Needless to say, there is a fairly regular overlap in content submitted to these geographic locations.  I often found myself wondering how to get more Asian countries to submit their films to SIGGRAPH North America, (as it’s being called now that we have SIGGRAPH Asia and our 2011 Conference is being held in Vancouver, Canada.) So when I was at ANIMA this past winter and a very nice festival organizer from China asked if I would be able to sit on the jury of The 7th China International Animation and Digital Art Festival (CICDADF 2010), how could I say no?

So flash forward to August 22nd 2010 and I am packed and going through security at Los Angeles International Airport headed to Beijing, China for the first leg of my trip as a juror for hire. I arrive in China, 12 hours later, but having crossed the international-date line, and it’s still August 22nd, 2010. Let the jet lag begin. Upon landing in China, I said good-bye to Facebook, my smart phone (roaming charges!) and any control I thought I had over my own schedule.

Driving through Bejing to the hotel, you can see how much the city benefited by a the infrastructure renovation the city completed for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Beijing airport is a grand design, both beautiful in its geometric complexity and its aesthetic simplicity. The freeways and highways were pristine, and all of the major roadways have had massive green belts of trees, bushes and flowering plants built into their design, as did most of the city I could see.

After being delivered to the hotel, we ate an amazing meal, and passed out. The next day we learned our schedule would include: One day of touring around Beijing, then two days in Changzhou, in a dark room watching films, voting and discussing award winners; a day of running around the exhibit hall, a day of presenting our lectures; and then a final road trip from Changzhou to Shanghai and finally the long flight back into our home time zone. In between everything the Lazy Susan of food spun relentlessly around every four or so hours. Even with my vegetarian limitations, there were enough varieties of mushrooms, vegetables and tofu that I was never at a loss for a full stomach.

My fellow jurors were Olivier Catherin (France); Deng Youli (China Taiwan); Li Yifan (China); Katrina Lillqvist (Finland); and Georges Schwizgebel (Switzerland).

Jurors visiting the Great Wall of Chin

Jurors visiting the Great Wall of Chin

While I won’t go into the jury process in detail, I will say it was one of the friendlier juries I’ve participated in. Language, as usual, was an issue, but in a strange game of translation telephone the juror who spoke French and English interpreted for the juror who spoke Swedish, French and Chinese, and so on, until we all understood what was happening.

The original submission to the CICDAF was over 600 films. Luckily a pre-jury selection had been made leaving us with about 60 films to watch. A third of the films were from China and two-thirds were from other countries.

Mid-day break.

Our goal was to award 24 prizes in five categories: Internet/Mobile Films; TV Programs; Student Film; Short Film; and Long Feature.  Each category received a Grand Prix award and a Jury Special Distinction Award. The remaining Special Distinction awards were to be given according to their vote ranking.

Juror reception with the leaders of the Communist Party in Changzhou

Juror reception with the leaders of the Communist Party in Changzhou

The Internet/Mobile Film category was fun. The small format allowed a lot of experimentation, but in the end COLORFUL EU took the Grand Prix. The TV program category was a little difficult to judge, but in the end BIG RED COCK won. Even as I type this sentence I am aware of how awkward cultural differences in the naming of things can be. While the title may give one pause, the piece itself was a colorful, vibrant telling of a Chinese folk tale created using the traditional animation arts of cutouts and shadow puppets.

The Student Film category, for me, held the most interesting pieces. The Gran Prix selection, BENIGNI, was created by three students in the animation department of the Arts Academy, Turku University of Applied Sciences in Finland. This story of a lonely xylophone player who finds a friend in a most unlikely place has all the marks of a successful animated short film: engaging story, sympathetic characters and a clearly defined animation style. Even though it is made in Finland and about a male, claymation, xylophone player, in the end it’s a universal story about the elation of connection and the almost unbearable pain of loss.

Still from BENIGINI, Best Student Film from Finland.

The professional short film category was taken by RUNAWAY, from Cordell Barker, two time Academy Award nominee in the Short Film category. I had seen the film at a previous jury and was delighted to see it again. In this short a runaway train serves as a humorous metaphor for the traditional class divides where the sacrifice of the many is often made in the service of the few and credit for accomplishments rarely goes to the correct person. Plus it had a great cameo by a cow.

Still from RUNAWAY, Best Short Film.

The feature film prize was given to Russian director Steblyanko Ludmila. Her film, THE TALE OF SOLDER FEDOT, THE DARING FELLOW, uses the text of a Russian fairy tale poem and brings it to the screen using a unique visual style which I found to be very beautiful. Ludmila graduated from the Saint-Petersberg Art School of Rerich and currently works at the Melnitsa Animation Studios. I wish her good luck with future ventures and hope to see more of her work.

Our award show hosts.

The awards show, which the jury only learned about a day before the awards were given, was quite the spectacle: dancers in furry animation characters, a section of drummers, a huge screen, loud music, and some very bewildered jurors giving out awards. Afterward, we were treated to the premiere of the musical play entitled Brave New World, a Peking Opera extravaganza.

Overall, I was disappointed with the entries from the United States and hope that more schools and filmmakers from the U.S. will submit their work to the 8th China International Animation and Digital Festival for 2011.

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