When I Grow Up I Want To Be René Jodoin
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After Spheres, Jodoin moved to Toronto where he freelanced for various production houses (like Audio Pictures and for a time he even worked out of Graphic Visuals, owned by former NFB colleagues, George Dunning and Jim McKay) before finding a permanent job as the art director for Current Publications, a publishing firm that put out medicine and health journals. In 1954, as fate would have it, Jodoin, bored by his work at Current Publications, accepted an invitation to return to the NFB, this time as a director in the NFB sponsored film division.

Jodoin's first works were a series of training films for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Taken as a whole these films, with such lively titles as Introduction to Jet Engines and Antenna Fundamentals, are quite dull. Nevertheless, there are some striking scenes that seem more tailored for an abstract film than an industrial film. In Jet Engines, for example, a scene demonstrating the interaction between gases and blades resembles a bizarre Busby Berkeley sequence as interpreted by Oskar Fischinger. In Antenna Fundamentals, radiation wave patterns are demonstrated through a dance of blue and red circles that expand and interact. In both films, the use of colour, shape and movement is quite extraordinary and at once lays the groundwork for Jodoin's more detailed explorations of geometrical figures in his personal films.

Dance Squared directed by René Jodoin. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

His Own Voice
In 1961, Jodoin finally had the chance to make his own film. "I wanted to make a film about something that doesn't have pictures. I jumped onto it. I needed sound and square dance music was ideal. I asked Maurice Blackburn if he would find me something. He found some old square dance music that was recorded at a party in Ottawa with all sorts of noise. He cut all of that out and restructured it for the film. I had to do this in a basement with a kind of Rube Goldberg arrangement. I couldn't move the camera for any changes. I had to cut huge copies of the square. This was in the same room where Universe was being done." The result was Dance Squared, an intriguing, albeit primitive, film that explores the geometrical possibilities of a square. The film is at times too slow and deliberate. Nevertheless, Dance Squared is unique in its attempt to integrate the pedagogical into an abstract field of expression.

Dance Squared directed by René Jodoin. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

Notes on A Triangle is considered by many to be Jodoin's masterpiece. An extension of Dance Squared, Notes examines the geometrical possibilities of a triangle. A single triangle splits and rotates into a variety of different shapes and colours. As with Dance Squared, the music plays a pivotal role in extending Jodoin's work beyond the pedagogical. The waltz-inspired fiddle music of Maurice Blackburn adds a lightness to the film that lures the viewer far from the very precise and logical constructs and into a world of seemingly random bursts of colour and shapes. It is this ability to displace delicate morsels of complexity under the guise of visual and aural candy that makes Jodoin's work so magnificent.

One of the lauded moments of Notes on A Triangle is a brief zoom that occurs midway through the film. During this zoom, the shapes continue to expand and move about. "With computers today that would be trivial," notes animator, Pierre Hébert, "but doing this with cut-outs on an old camera is really an accomplishment." Says Jodoin, "There was a notion of something going on forever. There were maybe ten zooms, but you are conscious of one. The whole thing was designed exponentially, so that you compensate for that fact that you are approaching a flat thing, you are actually moving in space."

The French Animation Unit
After the Film Board moved to Montreal in 1956 and set up a French production division, there was pressure to establish a French animation unit. "A few years after the move to Montreal," says Jodoin, "there was an influx of young people who wanted to do animation. I wasn't particularly keen on it, but you had to put yourself in the position of all these younger people and that's how we all got together and proposed the idea. The whole of French production were enthusiastic about it, so when I presented it to the director of production he said, 'Yes, on one condition, that you do it.'" So, in 1965, Jodoin became the director of the French animation unit.

"It was primitive to begin with. There was very little money and no locale. Everyone [many of the new animators were already working at the Board in other departments] stayed where they were and we rented a bus for people to work out of." In getting both respect and money, Jodoin turned to his very roots as an NFB animator and proposed Contemporary Songs of French-Canada, a series based on contemporary Montreal songs. The roots of the idea evolved out of McLaren's initial Let's All Sing Together series, and it was a brilliant stroke. At once, the series enabled Jodoin to get more money for the department and, like Let's All Sing Together, provided an ideal training exercise for a number of young animators. "[The series] made it easier to get to the next step which was getting a room to work in."

"He knew," says Pierre Hébert, "that he had to prove something and make something. He delivered the films with a limited budget and it allowed the studio to have more money." There is no denying Norman McLaren's immense role in establishing the Film Board's international reputation, however it is foolish to underestimate the impact of Jodoin. While the English studio languished in producing narrative driven, cel animation, the French studio, in part because of a low budget, explored diverse avenues of expression. Under Jodoin's lead, the French unit attracted the likes of Co Hoedeman, Ishu Patel, Paul Driessen, Caroline Leaf and Pierre Hébert, Francine Desbiens, Andre Léduc and Jacques Drouin. The result was some of the most strikingly original films that the Board had ever produced.

In achieving this, Jodoin consciously avoided hiring experienced animators. Instead, Jodoin eagerly encouraged young artists who were not yet formed as artists, let alone as animators. It was Jodoin's goal to train them on the job. Even more remarkable was Jodoin's openness to women artists. It is a well-known fact that animation, especially cel animation, has traditionally been a male dominated medium. It is little known that Francine Desbiens was the first French-Canadian woman to direct an animation film. "At one time," says Desbiens, "there were more women than men. After he left the department, there was ten years where not one woman was employed as a freelancer or as a permanent. The person who was there [Robert Forget] will tell you that there were no women directors. There were some, but none were chosen. [Jodoin] was way out in front of everybody."


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