Monday, November 5, 2007

FESTIVAL: Friday, November 2nd 2007

After much preparation and anticipation (and together with a certain amount of nervousness!) the festival eventually kicked-off at 7.00 pm. Pretty much the whole of the evening was devoted to the theme of ‘women in animation,’ as I felt that the contribution that women made to animation has rarely been acknowledged (let alone encouraged in the dark and distant past by many of the major animation studios).

Guests of honor ~ Nancy Beiman, Kathie Flood and Kureha Yokoo.

Consequently, our first showing of festival competition entries was entirely made-up of animated films created by women… with some amazing work amongst them I would add!

To launch the entire “Girls Night In (Animation)” event I could think of no-one better than Nancy Beiman. Nancy had spoken at the festival last year and delighted the audience with her amusing and thoroughly fascinating presentation. (That coupled with the fact that she is a mine on information on the subject of animation at large… and women in animation in particular… and that she is both one of the best teachers of animation, as well as being a top professional animator who has worked at Disney and Warner Brothers among others, made her perfect for the job.)

Nancy with one of her early concept designs for Disney's "Hercules."

Needless to say Nancy didn’t disappoint. Her presentation of her own life and times at Disney, with much of the previously unseen development artwork she had created for such films as “Hercules” and “Treasure Planet,” gave us all a unique insight into a unique (and very amusing at times) woman’s life as an animator at the very top of the totem pole. Nancy also talked of her earlier days at Cal Arts where she showed a rare photo of her fellow classmates there… including a certain John Lasseter and Brad Bird! (Other fellow student,
Tim Burton, was not revealed in the picture as he was a year below them all.)

Young Nancy (top right) with her infamous classmates!

Nancy’s whole entrancing presentation was brought to a close by the showing of her first-ever independent film from 1983, “Your Feet’s Too Big,” choreographed to the great Fats Waller song of the same name.

Following rapturous applause, Nancy held the stage to present the next speaker… Microsoft games producer, Kathie Flood. Kathie guided everyone through a side-by-side comparison of ‘games production versus film production’ and we were intrigued to discover the overlapping approaches we all shared and the ones that were very dissimilar indeed.

Kathie at the podium.

Kathie is a fabulous person. I got to know her when she attended my traditional animation classes at the Henry Cogswell College (now sadly defunct) and was an excellent student (although she readily admitted to me that her drawing skills were not amongst the best!) She actually took the class as in her role of game producer she was often dealing with 2D animators who would techno-speak things that were going over her head. (Her expertise was naturally in the 3D world.) So, in order to be better at her job she actually undertook the entire course with me (producing some respectable animation in the process!) and emerged as a much more accomplished and experienced games producer as a result.

Kathie, a person of many skills, also plays drums for a local band!

Kathie rounded-off her presentation by showing the trailer from the latest game she’s produced for the Microsoft Game Studios for the XBOX 360… a car race thriller that crosses many continents, “Project Gotham Racing 4.” Kathie assured us that the trailer contained nothing but 100% un-doctored action from the game itself, causing the audience to be totally blown-away by the realistic and yet breathtaking visuals that transport (at extreme high speed) the player as they race through all the major city streets around the world!

The final presenter of the evening was Pixar animator “Kureha Yokoo.” Kureha never intended to be an animator until she inadvertently saw “Toy Story” one day. It was love at first sight and from that moment on she decided she wanted to learn animation and be a Pixar animator. She enrolled in a local school and upon graduation was given the position of ‘crowd animator’ for the film “Bugs Life.”

Kureha speaking.

Kureha has subsequently worked on every Pixar film since, culminated with “The Incredibles” and more recently “Ratatouille.” She showed the progression reel of the Ratatouille animation she did for one of my favorite moments in the picture… where Emile first kisses Colette in the street, when she was about to Mace him. Kureha explained her step-by-step process of creating the scene… from blocking-out to its final render. I was so captivated by the sensitivity, humor and yet total believability of the emotions exhibited by the characters at this transitional moment in the picture when I first saw it but never realized until this moment that Kureha was actually the creator of this magical moment.

Referring to the theme ‘women in animation,’ Kureha almost brought the house down when following a showing of a famous picture of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” she screened a much more contemporary picture of Pixar’s “Nine Young Gals”… a collection of young and highly talented female animators who currently contribute so much to the Pixar magic.

Kureha relaxes after her absorbing presentation.

Following these three absorbing presenters (and in keeping with the themes of the evening) I introduced one of my favorite British films… “The Snowman”… directed by the late Diane Jackson. I was directing and animating at the Richard Williams studio in London when this film came out, shortly after Dick’s own Oscar triumph of the time, “A Christmas Carol.” Consequently it was a delight (and yet a huge surprise) in those days when another British studio was nominated for an Academy Award. “The Snowman” didn’t actually (sadly) win the award that year but it had a huge impact on the international scene at the time… being that there is no dialogue in the 26 minute film, it contained nothing but individual pencil-shaded drawings throughout, and the sole but climatic song in the film, “Walking in the Air” (composed and arranged by a friend of mine, Howard Blake) hit the ‘Number 1’ slot in the UK charts for many weeks at the time of the film’s TV premiere. I therefore felt that the audience deserved to see a non-theatrical animated ‘classic’ such as this, directed by an accomplished woman director from Europe.

The evening was rounded-off by a late showing of some of the more bizarre, adult and experimental films that were entered into the festival competition. Although I have to admit that many of these are not among my favorite entries, I do believe it is very important to me that ALL directors and animators find a public place for their work if it is good enough, and therefore my festival director, Ken Rowe, and I were happy to support these filmmakers in this way. Anyone who spends months… maybe years… of labor in bringing their imagination to life through the art of animation deserves respect and recognition from their peers, regardless of style or subject matter. The screenings of these films had to be late however as we were trying to avoid young children seeing much of the subject material they contained, which was clearly not suitable for most young eyes to see.

At around midnight we finally closed the doors on the last departing audience member and breathed a huge sigh of relief that we had survived the first real day of the event. All had gone to plan and everyone seemed to have left with big smiles on their faces and lots of “thanks for staging this fabulous event” on their lips. It made us feel good after all the hard work that had been put in by all concerned… especially by Ken Rowe who had worked harder than anyone to ensure that this year’s festival proved to be the success is was already appearing to be. However tomorrow was another day. So we dragged our weary bones home, to sleep and perchance to dream of an equally successfully day to come.



Nancy said...

Hi Tony,

Kureha Yokoo's great photo was of Pixar's "Nine Young Ladies"
Her added comment was "out of 92 animators at Pixar" but it's a start.
Thanks for hosting another great show!

Dave Pryor said...

Thanks for taking the time to do this write up on the festival. Sounds like it was a great success. I'm proud to have been a contributor this year, and I'm so pleased that people enjoyed my film. I hope to be a part of the festival again in the future.

Szymon said...

Nice report :) ...but Emile kissing Colette? I must have been watching another version od Ratatouille (with zoophilia scenes censored out ;)