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The Animation Pimp: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning…

As he begins the last year of his column, the Animation Pimp asks, Wellhow did I get here?

Jesus said, Have you discovered the beginning, that you search for the end? In the place where that beginning is, there the end will be.

The Gospel of Thomas

And you may ask yourself-Well... How did I get here?

Life During Wartime by Talking Heads

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Well here we are. The Pimp has come to the beginning of the end of a beginning.

Summer 91. Just came back from get this Sheridan College. Media Arts. Dropped out. Too commercial. Wasnt all worthless. Phil Hoffman was a great teacher. D.D. remains one of my bestest friends. And that twin from the animation dept. She was so sexed up she scared me. Just a little boy. Wrote some absurd stories for an Ottawa weekly. One was about a guy who wore pylons on his arms and thought they gave them superpowers. They werent so good. Had fire-colored hair.

Only job I could get was working at a parking lot. They actually griped about my hair color but let it go. Best job I ever had. I can back up a car better than most can drive forward. Took coins from cars as tips. Left there and worked at Greenpeace for two weeks. Went door-to-door trying to convince people that saving whales was a good thing. They only paid you if you got a minimal amount of cash. Scam. I got chased from lawns. Fuck the whale. Best thing about the summer was going to a clothing store to buy a hat and meeting K.N.

Fall 91. Before Sheridan, I had taken a year or two of film studies at university yes, film studies is like political science; you take it when youve no clue what you want to do with your life. Animation is NOWHERE near the map or at least I didnt see it on the map just yet. It never was near me. A sort of friend at school (Nathalie) helps get me a job ripping tickets at a cinema for the Canadian Film Institute (CFI). Working as a class projectionist and skipping film class at university. Living in a claustrophobic downtown shithole on a fold up cot writing bad songs skipping rent drinking nightly (most memorably, a 48 hour bender with this gal from school) and getting stoned to the point where I thought someone was shooting at me. Taking bus rides to Toronto just to get laid. Doing the dishes in the tub. No idea where things are going.

Spring 92. CFI organizes some animation festival. This short-bearded guy appears in the office one day. His name was Not or something. He gives me work typing names and dates and places into the computer. I loved this place. There were maybe five to six people working there. The CFI was near the end of a tailspin that saw it drop from as many as 30 employees to a handful. They had a cinema dept (where I was working under McSorley), non-theatrical division (where this big guy named Brian spent the day getting his furniture fixed), and animation. There was dir. of development (John) really funny and smart guy and, I still cant believe this, a full time accountant. Theres a funny story there. It happened before my time.

During Ottawa 90, they needed someone to run over to the National Arts Centre to deliver some invitations. The only person available was the accountants sister. John asked her to go and she said, will there be big dogs? A startled John said, Big dogs? Yes, big dogs. Big dogs bite. Big dogs bite, she replied with her French accent. John assured the woman that there would unlikely be any big dogs on her route since most of it was through the shopping mall. But she kept mumbling, Big dogs bite. Big dogs, they bite. John quietly turned, walked away and delivered the invites himself. He didnt meet any big dogs. In fact, I dont think any of us ever encountered a big dog along that route. Shes dead now. Its sad really. So I worked part-time taking cinema tickets and once the school year finished, did the festival by day.

During the parking lot job, I watched this cute gal go to work everyday. She was stylish. Wore red rubber boots. She was a waitress at the restaurant next to the lot. I never had the courage to ask her out. Out drinking with some classmates one night. Were getting flooded. Vaguely remember seeing red rubber woman at a nearby table. Next thing I remember is waking up next to her. She asked me if I knew her name. That was awkward. We did nothing but fuck for about a month. Then she dumped me. I got angry. Smashed a guitar and left the pieces on her doorstep. Tried to kill myself. Police busted in that night to make sure I didnt. How embarrassing. I never took rejection well.

Late March. Im a projectionist for a film class. K.N. is taking that class. I ask her out. She gives me her number. I call. Its the wrong number. Finally get it right the next week. Our first date is at this dive. We drink quarts; I talk about how much I hate people. Real charmer. She dumped me a few weeks later too. I was heartbroken again. Couldnt do nothing right. Alone in this shithole pad, feeling sorry for myself.

My big job was entering the submissions into a database. There were hundreds of packages in the middle of the floor they flooded in each day. I struggled to keep up. It was mind-numbing work but I liked reading all the synopses. Usually got a laugh out of how serious they were. Had no idea who any of these people were. Didnt care.

That summer I took over some gals downtown apartment. It was paradise compared to where I was living. One night I was passed out on the couch. I got up to piss and, as I passed by the kitchen, I noticed a glow from the fire escape. I ignored it and pissed. I came back and moved closer to the glow and there was someone attached to it. K.N. was sitting there. She said she missed me. She had climbed the apartments fire escape stairs to see me. We never really parted from that moment on. I forgot about how secure and happy that moment made me feel.

All the entries were in. Now there were five animation people coming to town to watch them. Karen Aqua, Ellen Meske, Chris Cassady, Mark Langer and Joyce Borenstein. The festival had a small budget. Apparently the previous director had crippled the place financially. This left this Not guy with little room to work. So these five would also be the jury. Some animators association didnt like that. Turned out that my job would be to take these people from their hotels to the viewing area every day and sit with them while they watched all the submissions. I had to get them breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some of them thought I was their houseboy. Fuck them. Wonder if its a coincidence that they never got a film in Ottawa after 1996? Heh, heh. Just kidding.

Anyhow I had to put the tapes in and out of the machine and cue the projectionist. There wasnt much video so most days were spent in the cinema. We watched submissions from about 9:00 am till sometimes as late as 9:00 pm. I seem to remember that they pretty much watched everything right the way through. But there were maybe 600-700 entries. They had time. I really didnt know anything about animation films. Like most, Id seen Disney films. On Saturdays, Id watched the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner hour. But beyond that I didnt know nuttin about cartoons. I vaguely remember anything from that selection period. There was Stimpys Invention. I remember that being an early favorite. A bunch of shorts from something called Liquid Television. Really crazy, different-looking stuff.

But the film I remember most of all was this German piece called Crossroads. It was black-and-white and basically had stick figures. The drawing was really simple. It looked like anyone could do it. I remember a character approached a crossroad. There are three other guys all reflections of the same person. And somehow no matter what road the guy traveled down he would end up back at the same place. The way this animator used the space was incredible. Id never seen anything like it. How did he get so much depth out of these black line drawings? It was like a 3D film. It was magic really. But more than that there were these themes. The film was maybe six to seven minutes, but in that time it dealt with this existential crisis in a very smart and funny way. I was big into Bergman and Buster Keaton at the time and this film seemed to have it all. It was one-stop shopping. It fused Bergman, Keaton and Beckett into this short cartoon. I got such a buzz from this film. I just had no idea that cartoons could do this. It was the right film at the right moment.

I didnt like the committee all that much and I dont remember much about the 92 festival except arguing with a French woman who ranted and raved about my lack of French. Most days I sat at a table and went home at 5:00 pm. Maybe I went to a party or two. Cant remember. Only thought about K.N. Just wanted to be with her. I wasnt there yet but that big small German film by some guy named Raimund Krumme had put me on a road that headed toward the door of the tent.

Chris Robinson is little more than a man. In his spare time he cares for the elderly.

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.