The festival’s last day begins with Red Stick’s now-annual Pitch Contest. It might not as well attended as KidScreen’s similar event, but the presenters are every bit as passionate about their projects and after several days of tutoring from industry pros they’re ready to rock: Tim Raglan wants to turn his beautifully illustrated kids’ book Uncle Mugsy (featuring a stuffy bulldog and his mischievous niece and nephew in a Victorian canine universe) into a movie, followed by “many episodes or sequels depending on your personal preference;” Greg Farren and Jeremy Melton merge hot rodders (only their characters race spaceships, not cars), 1950’s-style sci-fi and rockabilly music into an inspired mixture called Crazy Eights; Digital Tap’s Martin Grebing presents Zap Squad, a team of adolescent superheroes (“they’re not your average kids next door”) on time travelling adventures; Patrick, a local cartoonist whose last name I missed offers Guns McMenanin, “the most bad-ass repo man in LA,” and Chris – again last name missing – does as much stand-up as pitching (“this is the most attractive crowd I’ve ever seen at an AA meeting”) while presenting two projects – Spells, a gross-out effort starring a trio of macabre witches (“mean-spirited fun for everyone”) and El Mucho Grande, Wrestler for Hire. (“He’s so big it took two women to give him birth.”)
Although Raglan’s project and pitch are charming (and his characters would definitely shine in animation), Crazy Eights deservedly takes home the Red Baton award. Beyond its fresh/retro look, the complex interrelationships (and conflicting agendas) of the show’s main and supporting characters promise plenty of juice beyond their week-to-week adventuring; if I ran Comedy Central I’d sign Farren and Melton up tomorrow.
The festival is in wind-down mode as producer Max Howard intros a screening of the independently-financed Igor. Afterwards Howard does a q&a, describing its labor-of-love creation headed up by former staffers of Disney’s shut-down Paris studio and the challenges – and freedom – of producing animation without major studio backing.
Howard outlines his career move from the London stage to American animation, beginning with allocating animation resources on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (“it was an 18-month job versus uncertain theater gigs”) and eventually heading up Disney’s Paris operation and exec-producing DreamWorks’ animated Spirit feature. According to Howard, Steve Buscemi signing on as Igor’s suicidal rabbit Scamper attracted other actors from the independent animation community, including Igor voice John Cusack and Molly Shannon as his monstrous (but charming) creation Eva.
All that’s left are screenings of Comet’s Around the World for Free and Nina Paley’s one-woman animated feature Sita Sings the Blues – before the evening’s Lifetime Career Achievement dinner in honor of Disney’s Mark Henn. It’s more than appropriate, considering the Disney/Princess and the Frog-centric tone of this year’s Red Stick: Henn is the animator of P&F’s Tiana, not to mention Ariel and Belle from you-know-which movies.
The event’s waiters are whisking our plates away before we have a chance to finish our meal when Max Howard intros Mark by calling him “the engine of the film” with the personal career goal of “having more personal footage onscreen” than anyone else. Howard adds that Henn’s way with Disney heroines has earned him the nickname of “the leading lady of animation.” Stacy Simmons presents the award, warning him that when Andreas Deja took home last year’s trophy it was mistaken for a bomb at airport security – “be careful how you wrap it.”
Henn comes to the podium, praising Red Stick as “up there with the world-class animation festivals…I thought you had to be 80” before receiving a lifetime award, then adds “I’m glad it didn’t take that long.” He acknowledges his debt to Frank and Ollie and calls himself “the tip of the iceberg” compared to the animators working on the film under him. He looks down at angled top of the trophy: “Andreas said it was sharp and pointy.”