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The Animation Pimp: A Salty Tribute

Warning: The upbeat tone of this article might come as a shock to some readers potentially rendering them speechless, teary eyed and moderately aroused.

The Animation Pimp artwork provided courtesy of Andreas Hykade.

Warning: The upbeat tone of this article might come as a shock to some readers potentially rendering them speechless, teary eyed and moderately aroused.

Okay…this first part isn’t so upbeat:

You can keep your so-called Golden Age of Animation. You know the one. It apparently happened in and around the mid 20th Century. Disney, Fleischer, Warner are usually tossed around the vanguard of this so-called golden time. Lazy scribes have used this moniker over and over again to the point where it’s just accepted as truth. But was it really the greatest period of animation? Not even close. Sure, it seems like it was a good time for American white guys in and around Hollywood who made gag orientated cartoons or poignant fairy tales, but to deem that period as a universal golden age of animation is ignorant, jingoistic and just plain false.

This is where things get all peachy and inspirational.

If you want to see a true Golden Age of Animation, just take a look around you right now. Never before has there been so much inspiring animation (short and to a lesser degree, features) being produced by so many generations, cultures and genders (although that needs some fine tuning still).

Think about it. We’ve got the masters like Joanna Quinn, Priit Pärn, Piotr Dumala, Jerzy Kucia, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, Michele Cournoyer, Igor Kovalyov Suzan Pitt, Skip Bittaglia, Paul Bush, Peter Lord, Nick Park, Bill Plympton, Joan Gratz, Koji Yamamura, Mati Kütt, Konstantin Bronzit, Jonas Odell, Cordell Barker etc… all still producing world class stuff.

Then there’s another generation of established stars like Hisko Hulsing, Theodore Ushev, Chris Landreth, Adam Elliot, Torill Kove, Bruce Alcock, Mirai Mizue, Atsushi Wada, Kei Oyama, Priit Tender, Robert Morgan, Anna Solanas & Marc Riba, Signe Baumane, Ulo Pikkov, Andreas Hykade, Don Hertzfeldt, Stephen Woloshen, Elizabeth Hobbs, Michael Langan, Uri and Michelle Kranot, Rosto, Mikey Please, Christy Karacas, Stephen Irwin, David OReilly, Tom Schroeder and on and on

And that’s not all. There’s a bevy of emerging talent like Einar Baldwin (The Pride of Strathmoor) Ross Hogg (Spectators), Ainslie Henderson (Moving On), Will Anderson (Monkey Love Experiments co-directed with Henderson)), Caleb Wood, (Yield, Bird Shit) Peter Millard (Boogodobiegodongo) Sean Buckelew (Another), Yoriko Mizushiri (Futon), Elise Simard (Breakfast), Lei Lei (This Is Not A Time To Lie) Jeannette Bonds (Trusts and Estates), Leah Shore (Old Man) and many more.

Those are three impressive lists and they’re nowhere near complete nor do they touch on current students or industry types.

It’s taken some time to get there and the journey has not always been pleasant. For many years after the digital era came along (late 90s?) and cut costs while also (somewhat) simplifying the animation process, there was an explosion of animation films. To give you some context, in 1992, the biennial Ottawa International Animation Festival received approximately 750 entries. By 2000, the festival received 1500-2000 submissions over a two-year period. When the festival went annual in 2004, it still received over 2000 submissions!

Many of these films, though, were tripe.

The reasons are multifold: many animators were so busy mastering their new tools, that concept took a backseat; the industry also underwent a massive expansion around this time and desperately needed talent. No need to fret though as many countries were happy to capitalize on this need by creating animation schools and departments. Unfortunately, a chunk of these ‘educational’ institutions were exploitive money (and soul) suckers. The teaching was questionable – not surprising given that many were inexperienced (others were just incompetent). Being a great animator doesn’t necessary qualify you to teach; some schools and courses were (and still are) dictated by industry needs. Kids were being taught how to become cogs in the industry machine of the moment instead of being given a well-rounded artistic education. The result was a lot of shallow copycat work aimed more at pleasing teachers, parents and recruiters than having anything of interest or relevance to say to the world

Fortunately, there were/are also great schools like, say, the Rhode Island School of Design that have never strayed from nurturing and encouraging experimentation and personal expression.  The school has produced some of animation’s brightest stars including the aforementioned Caleb Wood, Leah Shore, Michael Langan along with two others you might know: Christy Karacas, creator of the TV series, Superjail and some other guy named Seth MacFarlane.

Sidenote: One lesson that no one seems to have learned is almost all of the most successful and original industry animation voices (e.g. MacFarlane, Karacas, Kricfalusi, Hillenburg, Judge) all came from independent backgrounds. It was their unique, experimental styles and voices that made them stand out.

When you consider those factors, it’s no surprise that animation stumbled around in the early parts of the 21st century. There’s also a lot of pressure on animation.  “Animation is the sum and the summit of all the arts,” someone whispered to me one recent Sunday morning. Animation uses all the great arts: music, cinema, art, choreography, and writing. Add in all this new software and assorted technologies and that’s a lot of shit to master. Sure, it’s more affordable to make animation and there’s no longer the need to choose whether you want to be the starving artists or industry cog. Many have found ways to straddle both and create personal and commissioned work.

We can keep finding reasons all day but in the end what elevates this current golden age of animation is spirit and soul. Passion, inspiration and determination are driving the most acclaimed animators today. Theodore Ushev made a film using his own blood and Stephen Woloshen made a film in his car. Those are extremes perhaps but isn’t that what love and life are all about? You get one ride. Are you gonna drive like a half-blind granny or take the road like Steve fucking McQueen?

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.

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