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Ottawa International Animation Festival 2009: Day 2: Tooned Up

It’s a good life when your job involves watching cartoons.

David Silverman talks to a packed house at TAC.

It’s a good life when your job involves watching cartoons.

Attendees at the Day 2 Television Animation Conference (TAC) address got to watch some seriously funny cartoons. David Silverman, animation director and producer long associated with The Simpsons, let Homer talk for him through selected clips screened during his speech. And with grainy black-and-white footage showing comedic inspiration as a backdrop, Silverman went on to explain the origin of Homer’s famous “D’oh!”—culled from the exclamations of such comic greats as Oliver Hardy and the Three Stooges.

Silverman also recalled how he got involved with The Simpsons back when it was first created as part of The Tracey Ullman Show. Silverman credits his admiration for the work of Matt Groening (Life in Hell) for his decision to work on the show.

“We didn’t know if The Tracey Ullman Show would get picked up or if The Simpsons would get picked up as part of the show,” Silverman recalls. “We worked hard… all hours of the night. We were trying to please ourselves.”

Years later, that philosophy still holds as Silverman has continued work on The Simpsons show – directing 22 episodes – as well as directing The Simpsons Movie. Other credits include working with DreamWorks on The Road to El Dorado as co-director and with Pixar on Monsters Inc. as co-director.

During his talk, Silverman went on to screen more Simpsons clips, including parodies of animation styles and animated characters. From a Steamboat Willie-style Itchy and Scratchy cartoon to a crazed Japanese “Mr. Sparkle” commercial, these toons are both clever and funny.

And to top if off, Silverman sang the “Spider-Pig” song from The Simpsons Movie.

Yeah, it’s a good life.

Johnny Genre.

Rich Toons

Two young animators – Rich Murray and Martin Young, of Toronto’s Rich Toons – were attentively listening to Silverman’s comments about working on a hugely successful series like The Simpsons. The pair has been pitching their creation, Johnny Genre, at TAC to everyone who would listen – and when they weren’t pitching, they were practicing pitching.

According to the Johnny Genre pitch bible, when the challenges of life have him cornered, 12-year old Johnny finds himself in the world of the movies and actually living the adventures of his favorite ­genres. From Indiana Jones-style adventure to Hitchcockian intrigue, from super heroics to high school musicals, from racetracks to wizard school, Johnny never knows what he’s in for until he’s right in the middle of a crucial scene. The show is aimed at ages 6-12.

Murray and Young have also worked on a series of teen-targeted animated webisodes at for the Upper Canada Mall (north of Toronto). “We have to creatively slip in references to new stores or merchandise or the teens will tune it out,” Murray comments. He says that the mall recently ran a Guitar Hero challenge, and the reward was an animated walk-on role by the winner, with a photo also appearing as the credits roll.

The site makes use of social networking too, with the characters having their own MySpace, Facebook and Flickr pages.


Ian James Cortlett.

Being Ian

Creator, writer and story editor Ian James Cortlett (Being Ian, Yvon of the Yukon) spoke later at the Arts Court Theatre during a workshop for animation writers. He provided nuts-and-bolts information on the writing process and writers’ tools, including examples of what makes a good pitch bible and story bible, and how to approach outlines and scripts. He also advised aspiring animation writers “to watch a lot of cartoons.”

Cortlett notes that writers working in Canada do not have the luxury of participating in writers’ rooms and are often writing scripts on their own to tight deadlines. This can be very hard, especially when writing comedy. He says to take advantage whenever possible to bounce ideas off of others who may be working on the series, and to ask questions of story editors (within limits).

Cortlett screened a new kids’ project called Our Basement TV, which is a series of silly shorts currently available on YouTube.

Cortlett is also working on a new animated TV series called Elliott & Lucy – based on the characters in his children’s book, E is for Ethics: How to Teach Kids About Morals, Values, and What Matters Most – due out December 8 from Atria books/Simon and Schuster.

Corlett is creator and executive producer, and he is teamed with Skywriter Media, Entertainment Group and Atomic Cartoons to develop the property for a major Canadian broadcaster.

“I actually wrote the book to take a break from animated series,” Cortlett told AWN. “Then I realized the characters were perfect for an animated show. I went to Kidscreen in February, and 90 days later, broadcasters wanted it. Suddenly, it was greenlight, greenlight, greenlight!”

Following that greenlight, Elliott & Lucy is slated to air in 2010.

Now it’s time to watch more cartoons.

Janet Hetherington is a writer and cartoonist who shares a studio on Ottawa with artist Ronn Sutton and a ginger cat, Heidi.