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Ottawa International Animation Festival 2009: Day 3: Only at OIAF

Coraline director Henry Selick and the annual Animator Picnic / Pumpkin Carving Contest highlight Day 3 at the Ottawa Animation Festival.

The Simpsons' David Silverman.

Only at OIAF can you get a chance to talk about the crazy Balloon Boy escapade with veteran Simpsons director David Silverman, and get to compare that incident with a Simpsons episode where prankster Bart pretends to be little Timmy, a boy who has fallen down a well. Happily, like Bart/Timmy, Balloon Boy was safe and sound the whole time.

Silverman talks about his work on The Simpsons – both he TV series and movie – with great affection and enthusiasm. “The Simpsons challenges the intellect and stimulates the intellect,” he says. This, despite the fact that the show relies on what he calls a “double act” routine – with one big idiot leading a lesser idiot.

When asked if another Simpsons feature is in the offing, Silverman replies, “I’m sure in future there will be. Right now, we’re too busy on the show.”

Silverman advises that The Simpsons series is being adjusted for HD format. “Backgrounds had to be redesigned and updated, and that involves a lot of fine line work,” Silverman says.

In 2000, Silverman departed Simpsons territory and co-directed Dreamworks’ The Road to El Dorado and in 2001, he co-directed Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. “I had been working on The Simpsons for 10 years, and I thought, ‘This can’t last forever’,” Silverman recalls. As it turned out, after those gigs, Silverman returned to The Simpsons’ comfortable couch for another extended run.

Silverman’ newest project is directing a live-action family comedy called The Pet for Disney. The movie is about an everyday guy who becomes the pet of a group of aliens.

Silverman notes that this is not the first time an animation director has directed live-action. He points to Warner Bros. shorts director Frank Tashlin, who wrote and directed Son of Paleface with Bob Hope and Jane Russell, as well as Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam, whose new film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is due out this December.

Henry Selick with his Coraline puppet creations.

Henry Selick with his Coraline puppet creations.

Puppet Master Only at OIAF do you get an opportunity to chat with stop-motion puppet master, writer and director Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, A Nightmare Before Christmas) about a project like Coraline, which is the first stop-motion feature to be conceived and photographed in stereoscopic 3D.

“Neil [Gaiman] sent me the book before it was published,” Selick says. “I was familiar with his work in comics, on Sandman,” he says, adding, “I was hooked right away. To me, it’s Alice in Wonderland meets Hansel and Gretel… fairy tale darkness in a contemporary setting.”

Interestingly enough, Selick says that one of Gaiman’s favorite scenes in Coraline is the glorious “garden scene” – which does not even appear in the book.

And while it now seems obvious that Coraline was ideally suited for animation, Selick says that his script was first being shopped as a live-action feature.

Pumpkin carving at the famed Animator's Picnic.

Once it was settled that Coraline would be stop-motion animation (“It was always in the back of my mind,” Selick says) the animator put his seasoned skills to good use. “What you see in Coraline is 95% real stuff, with everything adjusted by hand,” Selick remarks. Computer animation was used only where needed – for duplicating mice in the jumping mouse circus scene, the Van Gough starry night sky, and character mouth shapes.

With regard to the 3D element of Coraline, Selick comments that he used 3D in a rock video 20 years ago for the Viewmaster Corporation. The problem was, there was no way to show it! Over the years that followed, he kept in constant contact with Lenny Lipton, recognized as the father of the electronic stereoscopic display industry.

Once today’s technology caught up to the vision, 3D could be brought to Coraline, which pleased Selick greatly. “We used the 3D like the black-and-white segments vs. the color segments in The Wizard of Oz,” Selick says. “Coraline moves from a more oppressive world with less dimension to an amazing, breathtaking world.”

As for the future, Selick plans to work again with Neil Gaiman, with two projects already in discussion.

Carving a Niche

Only at OIAF can you catch a shuttle from the Arts Court to the Festival’s famous Animators’ Picnic – held this year at Strathcona Park – and sit down and chat with Jamie Gallant, the lead animator at Ottawa’s Fuel Industries, where he works on on-line games and “branded entertainment” for such companies as EA, McDonald’s and 20th Century Fox Interactive.

Only at OIAF can you see talented animators consume vast quantities of shepherd’s pie, pasta and beer, and then display their artistic skills by carving original and outrageous pumpkins at the Animators’ Picnic.

Only at OIAF can you catch a shuttle back to the Arts Court and end up talking to Clive Harrison, a music composer from Australia, who is working with Toronto’s Nelvana Studios on the animated TV series Pearlie (Network 10 Australia), about a bubbly fairy in charge of Jubilee Park.

Only at OIAF – a typically magical day.

Janet Hetherington is a writer and cartoonist who shares a studio on Ottawa with artist Ronn Sutton and a ginger cat, Heidi.