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The beautiful mountain town of Monodendri, Ioannina, Greece was the perfect setting for the 2nd annual Animart. From July 13 through the 20th, 54 college-age students and 6 professionals from the world of animation gathered in the picturesque village for workshops ranging from clay animation, hand-drawn cartoon animation and Maya to sound design and composing music for animation. Vassilis Boutos, director of the European Animation Center, is the organizer and energy behind Animart.

Students from three different South Eastern European countries completed very creative films. Participants were not required to have any prior animation experiences, but with a combination of excellent instructors and some hard work by the students, everyone had a sense of accomplishment at the end of the week.

Israeli animation professor Rony Oren inspired his students so much that each day they worked in their classroom for hours after their formal clay animation class was over. Oren’s first project for his students was to create two self-portraits with different facial expressions that were filmed. For their second project, they created their own plasticine character that was later used in a short animated film. Every time I visited this workshop the room buzzed with activity and laughter. Oren’s clay animation book for beginners includes step-by-step instructions about creating cleaver plasticine characters using basic shapes. Unfortunately, his book, SECRETS OF CLAY, which is an invaluable teaching aid for anyone beginning clay animation studies, is not yet available in English but is available in French, Danish, Greek, German and Israeli. Since each step is fully illustrated it is still an invaluable teaching aid for anyone who works with beginning students even if they are English speakers.

It can be ordered through the publisher Daniella De-Nur Publishers Ltd.

Rony Oren and his book

A minor drawback of ANIMART was that not all of the equipment instructors requested for their workshops was provided, so a lot of creative improvisation was called for. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the drawn animation room where Serbian master Rastko Ciric had to improvise makeshift light tables. Once they were constructed they were constantly in use.

I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to become friends with Mohamed Ghazala, animation professor at Minia University in Minia, Egypt. My knowledge of Egyptian and African animation is quite limited, so I found his film presentation very interesting. I also learned a great deal from him in our long talks at the popular outdoor café in the center of the town square. Mohamed had trouble finding a room for his Toon Boom workshop, but in the end, he and his students turned out a very clever film titled Nik and the Snake. In it my husband Nik charms a snake with his clarinet.

Nik, of course, provided the soundtrack for the film, which you can see at:
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Nik and I presented a program about the history of animation music, beginning with the Fleisher Brothers and continuing to the present with Alex Budowsky’s Bathtime in Clerkenwell. Nik was kept busy giving a daily workshop on scoring music for film and working with the students to create soundtracks for their films. By the end of the week, he had created 12 soundtracks for student films, most of them in the final two days, which is some sort of record, even for Nik. Panagiotis Velianitis, a renowned sound engineer, came from Athens to conduct classes in electronic sound editing and sound design. His workshop lacked adequate equipment, but Panagiotis managed to use a rather antiquated pc and a shaky sound system to demonstrate and teach sophisticated sound design processes. Special programs were offered each evening. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed on Sunday, so we missed vocalist Maria Aristopoulou, who presented a program of modern classic popular songs in the charming courtyard of the Rizarios Exhibition Center. Monday evening we gathered in the new town amphitheater for a screening of Birthday Party or a Silent Balkan Story (1995), a documentary film paying homage to the silent era of Balkan cinema. Using film footage from 1900 to the 1930s, director Fotos Lambrinos interwove stories set in Bucharest, Athens and Istanbul to bring to life the cultural elements that unite the people of the Balkan states today.

Tuesday night’s screening of animation from South Eastern European countries took us from the past to the present, once again stressing the bygone ties and common future of the Balkan States. Wednesday evening produced a beautiful full moon right on cue for Rastko and Nik’s "Moonlight Concert". The lovely museum courtyard provided the perfect location for the guitar and clarinet duo to serenade us with a program of songs that all had moon in the title.

Rastko Ciric and Nik Phelps at the Moon Concert

The next evening the courtyard was again full for the screening of the 1929 Greek film Astero. The film, an adaptation of the well-known story Ramona, was accompanied by the ARC Duo. They wrote an original score and performed it using traditional and modern motives and instruments. On Friday evening tango filled into the courtyard with dancers performing to the music of the Nuevo Tango Orchestra.A visit to the Rizarios Exhibition Center gave me a look back in time to Greece in the 1950s and ‘60s through the eyes of the photographer Robert A. McCabe in his exhibit "On the Road with a Rollei in the ‘50s." Chicago-born McCabe toured the Aegean area extensively documenting what was rapidly becoming a vanishing lifestyle and today his pictures serve as a reminder of an almost forgotten way of life. The Ioanninan countryside is very dramatic with deep canyons, high mountains and magnificent vistas. On Saturday afternoon we were treated to a bus trip through the beautiful mountains with stops at a village church to see magnificent, historic religious art works, a beautiful arched stone bridge and to have drinks under a massive shade tree at a small village bar. Unfortunately, many students had to stay back in Monodendri since workshop films had to be completed in time for the 21h30 screening that evening. Several of the students on the bus were feeling the guilty about being on an excursion with more work waiting back in town for them to finish. Instructors were not immune either. Nik was most anxious about the scores that he still had to compose and put on the students’ films. Presentation time for the students’ works arrived with strong, blustery winds that caused the screening to be moved from the outdoor amphitheater to the town hall building. The plasticine workshop was very prolific, showing a series of short pieces, each of which was designed to exhibit movement and a basic mastery of technique. Some students completed 2 or 3 three short films.

The computer class presented a completed piece to show us, Rastko’s cartoon animation students combined their various pieces of work to make one film and Mohamed’s students presented their film, Nik and the Snake.

The instructors showed films to round out the evening. Rony Oren, head of the animation department at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, showed works created by his Israeli students. Rony, an inspiring teacher, is a leading animator in Israel who has won multiple international awards. His presentation was followed by R astko Ciric’s Fantasmagoria 2008; anamazing 3D tribute to the hundredth anniversary of Emile Cohl’s first animated film. Mohamed Ghazala presented Animation from Africa, an overview of the 100 year tradition of animation in Africa. Most people, if they are aware of African animation at all, think of South Africa and perhaps Egypt, but thanks to a UNESCO projects, training and resources are being provided to help with the production of professional children’s animation films in several other African nations. It was a delightful surprise to see Nina Paley’s name on the credits of a Kenyan project because I had forgotten that she had spent a few months there as a teacher.

Students stayed in the local youth hostel. Their 250.00 Euro tuition fee covered housing, three delicious meals a day, and transportation to and from Athens as well as their choice of classes. The faculty members were accommodated in a lovely hotel where our sumptuous breakfasts were eaten on a patio with a view of the surrounding mountains. The hotel proprietor, Vassilis Kontogiorgos, treated us to his homemade cherry preserves and marmalade along with crispy toasted bread topped with olive oil, salt and fresh oregano. The Greek mountain tea, picked fresh from the hillside every morning by our host was the perfect way to begin the day. The rural roads were ideal for walks with astonishing views of the mountains and small villages on the other side of the valley.

The European Animation Center is a non-profit organization that aims to bring animation to the younger generation with screenings, Internet information, and education. This includes taking animation into schools, Christmas film projections and a special animation and ecology program. The Center features all styles and techniques of European animation to demonstrate the common cultural heritage of the peoples of Europe. Along with workshops such as ANIMART, and expositions the European Animation Center hosts the ATHENS ANIMAFEST animation festival in Athens, Greece. I am very pleased and honored to have been invited to be a juror at the 2009 festival.

During my week in Monodendri I spent a great deal of time talking to the students. Despite the lack of some pieces of necessary equipment, they all felt that ANIMART was a valuable and rewarding experience and that they had learned a great deal. Anyone who is seriously considering entering the world of independent animation needs to learn how to make do with what they have and to improvise new methods to achieve their desired goals. This week definitely taught the students how to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

Characters created in the Clay Animation class

ANIMART 2009 will take place next July in Monodendri, Greece, and I urge students from all over the world to apply. I sincerely hope that Nik and I will also be invited back to take part in this unique experience. You can get more information at the web site: or contact The European Animation Center at: