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A Joybag of Goodies: 'Avoid Eye Contact': Best of New York Independent Animation, Volume 1

Continuing our excerpts from the Inspired 3D series, Tom Capizzi presents an in-depth character construction tutorial.

Finally, a great collection of independent animated shorts on DVD.

Finally, a great collection of independent animated shorts on DVD.

OK, I gotta cop to this. The title was my idea. Yeah, thats right. One bored day I somehow landed on this mass email from Signe Baumane. Seems she and her New York animation pals were trying to come up with a title for a DVD they were putting together. Seeing this as a great opportunity to avoid whatever I was writing that day, I offered up some delicious titles:

Failed IllustratorsBill, etc.A bunch of guys and some Latvian chickFailed PaintersAnother excuse for George not to finish his next filmAvoid Eye ContactAnimation Festival RejectsFilms that Never made it to Ottawa

You know...stuff like that. Just having a bit of fun. No harm etc. Then the table gets turned and they actually USE one of the joke titles I put forward.

Anyhoo jokes aside, this is one nifty collection of work for a couple of reasons. First, how often do we get our mitts on festival animation outside of festivals? Second, and umm more importantly, there aint a slug on this here collection.

So how did a group of indie animators manage to pull this minor miracle off? According to one of the co-creators, Baumane, a lot of NY animators were salivating over Nina Paleys DVD, which was published for free by this Crank DVD company. While at a rooftop party Baumane got to talking with animator Fran Krause about how theyd love to have their own DVDs, but that its just too expensive to produce. We came up with an idea to join the efforts and maybe get a DVD done by two of us, says Baumane. But it was still too expensive, and, like summer, memories fade.


Animator Patrick Smith (left) embellished upon Signe Baumane (right) and Fran Krauses idea for an indie animators DVD.

Its July 2003. New York. Same rooftop, different party. Baumane and Krause start talking DVDs again. Then they spot another animator, Patrick Smith. Baumane asks Smith if he wants to be on their DVD. Sure, says Smith. What Smith didnt know was that Baumane and Krause just intended to create some small time promo DVD to send to festivals and moochy animation observers. Smith suggested producing a REAL to goodness GEN-U-INE DVD that would be GASP!!! sold to people in exchange for currency that can then buy bread, tea and more cartoons. And so it began.

You festivalgoers will know some of these titles, while others will get a very fine introduction into what UN-bad animation tastes like. The DVD brings together established animators like Griffin, John Schnall, John Dilworth and some guy named Plympton with young pups like Alex Budovsky, Smith and a trio of ex-RISD grads. Among the highlights here are: Jesse Schmals Soviet inspired, Sub, about a woman, dog, soccer team, and the crew of a sub. They dont come much funnier my friends.

Also from the ex-RISD contingent are Krause Estonian homage, Mr. Smile and Mike Overbecks sexy stream of consciousness piece, Tongues and Taxis. Among the other newcomers is PES, whose furniture porn, Roof Sex, has been ting-a-ling-ling-linging the festival circuit over the last two years, Budovsky with his toe-tapping, hip-shaking, Reiniger-meets-Flash music videos, Terminally Ambivalent Over You and Bathtime in Clerkenwell, and Patrick Smith WHOSE FILMS (Delivery and Dirdy Birdy about a bird who finds his/her amorous advances violently rejected by a frigid cat. Schnall checks in with something, but since my preview DVD aint working, I cant really tell you much and the DVD co-creator, Baumane is represented by her sinful expressions of female sexuality, Five Fucking Fables (or Five F**king Fables as its called on the DVD jacket. Hmm why? We all KNOW what the word is? And why are the u and c always picked on? Why not *uc*ing or fuc**g or even f*ck*ng or how about fuck***?) and Love Story.

Then come the pre-geezers, Plympton and Griffin. Griffin is represented by two films that are fine, OK, and all that, but they dont do justice to his big smarts. Problem is the earlier stuff is a bit longer I guess. Still, while Im not a big fan of New Fangled (easy target, mate), Little Routine, with echoes of another New York clan, the Hubleys, is a dandy little piece about family (and animation) roots. Plymptons contributions are the old gems, One of Those Days and How to Make Love to a Woman.

But wait, theres more to it than films. The DVD jacket tells me that there are bonus materials. I did manage to see Griffins storyboard/flipbook for Little Routine, and apparently there are pencil tests for Patrick Smiths work, commentary by John Schnall on Goodnight Norma, Goodnight Milton and yippee dickie-doo, Baumanes set of Dirty Cards sadly, I was unable to open that sassy little link.


Now I could beef about the choice of animators. Everyone here deserves the nod, but where is Jane Aaron, Debby Solomon, Buzzco, Savage Steve-o Dovas or Mo Willems? And Krause, Overbeck and Schmals contributions were all made at the Rhode Island School of Design, not New York.

I thought we'd be attacked for that and we are, admits Baumane. But this is only VOLUME 1, We need to save other names and films for Volumes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7, 8, 9, etc. The plan for this volume was to mix the mature names like Bill's and George's and Dilworth's with young animators.

Its also important to mention that each participant had to fork over $500 toward the projects. A few animators were reluctant to do so and dropped out of the project. Youd be surprised, says Smith, how many well known animators didnt express any interest when we were all getting together and making this DVD. Maybe they didnt take us seriously, or maybe they though we were just talking.

About the RISD guys, adds Smith, this DVD is a crosssection of best NYC animators, and the guys from RISD have made the commitment to live and work in NYC, and are very much a part of todays NYC animation scene. Furthermore, their films rock.

Those ex-RISD guys, adds Baumane, live in NYC and are an active part of the community here. Should I have killed them?

Hey, hey OK, OK everybody just calm down. No one needs to get hurt. I was just trying to ask some questions so I didnt appear biased (for the record, I have NOT exchanged saliva with ANYone on this DVD). Jeepers.

For those many folks whove been hungry for meaty festival worthy indie stuff, this is it chums. So get up and buy this juicy little collection thatll show ya just why animation need not be the domain of slobber jockeys, trophy wives and man-boys.

Square Footage Films Presents Avoid Eye Contact: Best of NYC Independent Animation, Volume 1. DVD. Not rated: material intended for a mature audience. $25. Available at

Chris Robinson is the artistic director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival. He is also the editor of the semi-annual ASIFA Magazine. His book Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation was published in May 2003. His writings have appeared in numerous magazines and journals around the world. During the same year, he finished a manuscript called Stole This From a Hockey Card: A Philosophy of Doug Harvey, Hockey, Childhood and Booze. He is currently writing a short history of the Ottawa Senators hockey team for Canada's Altitude Publishing.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.