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February 14, 2013

ottawa international animation festival 2012 - review

by sven at 11:05 am

1. Ottawa International Animation Festival 2012 poster

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Ottawa International Animation Festival (Sept 19-23). After a good deal of thought, I've decided that too much took place to tell the story chronologically. Instead, I'll organize my review geographically — giving a guided tour of the locations I visited. Being a festival director myself, I'll also be peppering in observations about event management.

2. thank you Regional Arts & Culture Council!

But first: THANK YOU to the Regional Arts & Culture Council! This trip was funded in part by a Professional Development grant. I'm very grateful for the opportunity, and hope that what I've learned from this trip will help me to give back to the Portland community in the form of higher quality arts events.


3. flying to Canada

I flew to Ottawa by way of Toronto. The Toronto airport was mammoth in scale and labyrinthine. I really half-expected to meet a minotaur in there. On the way back, I went via Vancouver, which much more laid-back.

4. meeting Barry Purves and Chris Robinson

Immediately upon arriving in Ottawa I discovered an OIAF table. The festival's artistic director, Chris Robinson, was waiting there to meet incoming film jurors. What a stroke of luck! Before almost anyone else had arrived, I got to ask Chris some questions about his role with the fest. Then Barry Purves arrived. He was to be one of the Feature Film Jurors... He's a master stopmo animator who's written a few books, and is a bit of an idol to me. I felt a little star struck, catching a ride into town in a van with these two (and a few others).

5. staying at the Quality Hotel

I stayed at the Quality Hotel, which is on downtown Ottawa's main drag, Rideau (ree-doh) street. It was fairly bare-bones in terms of amenities — but within easy walking distance of all the theaters, which was the whole point.

6. view of Rideau street from the hotel

Up on the 9th floor, I could go out to the hallway and get a good view of the ByTowne Cinema just below. In the photo, you can also see that there was major construction going on all up and down Rideau street. I was told by other attendees that this project wasn't going on during their last visit... And that the whole area is pretty torn up compared to past years.


The main hub of the festival is the Arts Court, which houses the OIAF offices, the festival lounge area, and a small black box theater.

7. the Arts Court

The Arts Court, as I understand it, was Ottawa's first courthouse. At some point it was decommissioned — and then later, the city renovated it and made it a space for arts organizations. It houses quite a few groups besides OIAF.

8. OIAF banner

As I approached the Arts Court, I was interested to see a big OIAF banner. The artwork that OIAF used this year is pretty telling... A man whose face is contorted in shock/disgust, with the slogan "You can't unsee this stuff." It's true — despite being the oldest and largest animation festival in North America, Ottawa is known for its decidedly in-your-face attitude... And I did indeed see films that I. Can't. Unsee.


The Arts Court Studio is up on the second floor...

9. Arts Court Studio

It's a big multi-purpose room that was set up with tables and chairs for lounging. A food bar dubbed "Chez Ani" was set up along one wall to serve chips, cookies, bottled water and small snacks.

10. registration

The Arts Court Studio is where you go to get registered for the festival and pick up your festival pass. I learned that OIAF has decided not to use a service like Ticketmaster; they've decided deal with registrations in-house. Shu Zhang, box office coordinator, told me about how she'd spent days upon days going through those boxes of festival passes making sure everything was alphabetized and in perfect order before the start of the event.

11. festival passes

There were four festival pass designs, each specified for a different package deal. Bright yellow lanyards made it easy to pick out festival participants while traversing Ottawa's streets.

12. Shu Zhang, box office coordinator

Immediately outside the Arts Court Studio was a sign listing all of the festival's major sponsors. Similar tripods were present at many (if not all) associated events.

13. Aniboutique and Chez Ani

The festival's largest venue, the National Arts Centre, didn't open until Friday evening. Before then, the Studio also housed the "AniBoutique" — several tables piled with books (many of them written by Chris Robinson), DVDs, and posters and shirts from 2012 and several years prior.

14. closing night party

The Studio was mostly an area for low-key conversation. Sunday evening, though, a DJ came in and played music for a closing night dance.


The Arts Court Theatre is immediately adjacent to the Studio.

15. Arts Court Theatre

This was OIAF's smallest auditorium. I'd estimate it has about 120 seats.

16. Meet the Filmmakers Breakfast

Each morning at 9am there'd be a "Meet the Filmmakers" breakfast. (A bit of a misnomer in my opinion — the snacks available in the Studio didn't seem particularly breakfasty.) A facilitator from the National Film Board of Canada would interview the animators whose films are in competition. Some were articulate — some were not. But with maybe a dozen people on stage, it wasn't too hard to keep the conversation moving.

17. Talk: "Whoa! What!? Experimental Influence in the Commercial Realm"

The Arts Court Theatre was where smaller panel discussions took place. I only attended one, titled "Whoa! What!? Experimental Influence in the Commercial Realm." Each of the speakers was clearly a very talented artist. However, it seems to me that when people are on a panel, there's very little incentive for any one individual to prepare remarks too carefully. Ideas feel watered down because no one takes responsibility for making a concise point. After that first experience, I prioritized attending other sorts of events.

18. Barry Purves, Tchaikovsky and me

I was particularly excited to attend a Master Class taught by Barry Purves. During his presentation, he described his work on the film "Tchaikovsky: an elegy" (which I screened at the NW Animation Fest last May). He also poignantly described the great sadness that comes from looking back at a life of good work — knowing that if there had only been more time and funding, it could have been a life of truly great work. An empathetic audience felt Barry was being too hard on himself — but that frustration with knowing he could have done even better made complete sense to me.

19. projection booth computer

After one of the screenings in the Studio, I was able to talk to a projectionist. This was hugely valuable to me. With the exception of a few 35mm prints, it turns out that OIAF is playing all of their films from computers. These are Macintosh desktop machines — nothing terribly exotic. The software is Playback Pro. Generally speaking, playback during the festival was excellent... But in the Arts Court Theatre, I did notice that a horizontal line was sometimes visible in the picture. The projectionist revealed that the projector in this auditorium was an older, analog model — so we extrapolated that it was probably having a hard time keeping up with the data stream.

20. Playback Pro software

This is a very important lesson: The success of digital film exhibition requires that every component of the system be as robust and up-to-date as possible. It's not just celluloid and a reel-to-reel projector that you're dealing with — it's a digital file, a computer, software, cables, and a projector. If any one of these things isn't up to snuff, picture quality will suffer.


I arrived in Ottawa on a Tuesday; the festival began Wednesday night. Arriving early was a good move on my part. It allowed me to spend my first day in Ottawa just exploring the city, making sure I could get from one venue to the next quickly and without getting lost. I also made use of that first day to visit the OIAF offices.

21. OIAF headquarters

Th OIAF HQ is just a few small rooms, downstairs in the Arts Court building. While I was waiting to be helped, I overheard a interesting conversation there. A volunteer coordinator was instructing drivers on the importance of checking in before ending their shifts for the night. That's a safety precaution I wouldn't have thought of. Very smart!

22. OIAF tech office

The main HQ room had a couch or two where people could sit comfortably for a meeting. The smaller office next door was more crowded and messy — housing all of the 2377 DVD submissions that came in for this past year's show.

23. 2377 DVD submissions

I am so glad I got to see this room... I've been dying to know what such a mass of DVDs looks like, and how it gets stored.

24. DVD labeling system

It was interesting to discover that OIAF prints out sticker labels to help with tracking all of the DVD submissions.

25. viewing-on-demand room

There's a small room adjoining the main office that's set aside for "viewing-on-demand" during the festival. There are three stations with DVD players attached to monitors. You can ask to see any submission you want.

26. Short Competition I - DVD menu

Not knowing what to ask for, I just went with the flow and took a look at the first disc of films in competition. Even though films in the festival are being played as digital files, someone went through the trouble of creating about a dozen compilation DVDs, all with full menus. Why? How do they get used? And how long did it take to make them?

27. bins for transporting stuff to and from theaters

I noticed a few big plastic bins sitting in the hallway just outside the OIAF office. From the labels, it was clear that these are used for carrying papers, T-shirts, supplies and such from the office out to the theaters around town. Another good, practical idea.


The ByTowne Cinema was the site of OIAF's opening ceremonies — so it was the first venue where I actually got to see some films.

28. ByTowne Cinema

Signs at the ByTowne indicated that OIAF tickets were $7 for ByTowne members, $12 for regular entry, and $60 for a card that could get you in to see 6 films. There was also a sign indicating where passholders should line up for entry.

29. ByTowne concessions

The concessions area formed a sort of airlock between the front doors and the doors to the auditorium. As attendees passed through, an OIAF volunteer kept count using a tally-clicker. It's difficult to track attendance when some people just have to wave their badge. This solves the problem elgantly.

30. ByTowne auditorium

The ByTowne has a single large auditorium. It's similar in size and flavor to Portland's Cinema 21, so I'm guessing it has roughly 500-600 seats.

31. Feature Competition I audience at the ByTowne

Prior to the start of the show, there was a pre-show reel. Mostly it contained stills from various shows in the festival — in effect, advertising the festival itself. There were also a few advertisements from sponsors. One of these was animated; appearing amongst still images, it was a rather jarring effect.

32. Chris Robinson's speech at the opening ceremonies

Chris Robinson took a very low-key approach to kicking off the festival. No pomp and circumstance, no statements of grand ideals. Very much one peer speaking to others. His choice of costume — a casual short sleeved shirt and jaunty hat — added to this impression.

33. merch table at the ByTowne

On the way out of the theatre, there was a merch table where you could purchase odds and ends. Tables like this were present at all of OIAF's venues.

34. line for re-entry

The auditorium gets cleared between shows. Given the length of the line to get back in for the next show, there's a strong incentive not to lollygag. If you don't get yourself out of the room quickly, you're going to find yourself halfway down the block.


The National Gallery is large, beautiful art museum. I didn't have time to go see any of the exhibits — but I did see several films in its big, modern auditorium.

35. National Gallery

The National Gallery is maybe a 10-minute walk from the Arts Court, or 15 minutes from the ByTowne. I'd be a little winded from speed-walking to get from one place to the other — but I never had any trouble getting into a show and finding a decent seat.

36. Maman sculpture

There's a remarkable sculpture of a giant spider just outside the National Gallery titled "Maman." A nearby plaque says this about it: "Maman, the giant egg-carrying spider, is a nurturing and protective symbol of fertility and motherhood, shelter and the home. With its monumental and terrifying scale, however, Maman also betrays this maternal trust to incite a mixture of fear and curiosity." It seems to me a very daring piece, which in itself says something about the cultural life of Ottawa as a city.

37. ticket/merch table at the National Gallery

The OIAF's "Festival Reader" includes names and photos of event staff. Using it as a reference, I could tell that the blonde woman at the merch table was Technical Coordinator Keltie Duncan. I would like to have had a chance to query her about details of running the festival, but the opportunity never seemed right.

38. National Gallery auditorium

The National Gallery's auditorium is huge, and has a fairly steep rake. The upholstery of the seats and the carpeting all seem quite new. I'm guessing there may be 1000 seat in the room.

39. National Gallery audience for "The Making of Le Tableau"

The same pre-show reel screens at every venue. When the show starts up, there's a clip that lasts maybe 60 seconds acknowledging the festival's sponsors. I was surprised by how quickly the names appear and disappear — no more than 2 seconds given to each. I suppose that when the clip is repeated so many times throughout the week, no one's going to complain too much about brevity. Plus, with so many sponsors to mention, you really do have to rush — or else people will quickly get antsy for the show to start.

40. director Jean-Francois Laguionie and translator

The first show I saw at the National Gallery was "The Making of Le Tableau," in which the director of this feature film showed concept art and clips from its development. Director Jean-Francois Laguionie is French and needed some assistance from a translator. During the course of the week, it became very apparent that there is a wide range of skill levels amongst translators. One or two switched between languages with fluency — but I'd say the majority struggled from time to time, trying to find the right words. (One poor soul was truly flummoxed by the task, which raised audible audience ire.)

41. Christie projector

Again I poked my head into the projection booth. Christie is a very high profile brand of digital projector. The National Gallery's projectionist told me that the company provided several projectors this year. They gave essentially flawless performance, so far as I could tell.


The Empire Rideau theatre is housed within the Rideau Centre, a large maze-like shopping mall in the heart of downtown Ottawa. Being a typical cineplex, it's easily the least interesting of the festival's venues.

42. Rideau Center

The Rideau Center seems to take up several city blocks. Finding the movie theater inside there took a little doing the first time.

43. escalators up to the Empire Rideau

Did I mention that this mall is also four stories tall?

44. Empire Rideau theatre

The Empire Rideau has several auditoriums — but OIAF was only using one of them. Some patrons were showing up to see Hollywood fare, completely unrelated to the fest.

(I have to say, it felt a little odd to be watching indie films in such a mainstream venue.)

45. OIAF table at the Empire Rideau

Again, there was an OIAF table up front.

46. concessions/lobby at the Empire Rideau

I'd estimate that this auditorium has about 250-300 seats.

47. Empire Rideau auditorium

I noticed that the edges of the image in the pre-show reel were cut off. I think I recall hearing that only 3 out of 5 venues were using Christie projectors... If that memory is accurate, perhaps this auditorium was using a pre-existing projector arrangement?

48. pre-made sandwiches

One excellent discovery I made at the mall: pre-made sandwiches. There was a sort of grab-and-go deli on the ground floor selling various flavors of sandwiches in plastic wrap. When you're running across town, trying to get to the next show on time, having a few of these in your shoulder bag can be a real life-saver!


The National Arts Centre is the grandest of OIAF's venues. I hear that the building was closed for renovations for a few years, and that OIAF is just now getting back into the space. It has smaller auditorium and a larger auditorium. The big one is where the closing "Best of the Festival" show took place.

49. National Arts Centre

Situated on the edge of a canal, the National Arts Centre building is a gorgeous sight.

50. NAC entrance

To get to NAC's entrance, you go down a story from where you were when crossing the nearby bridge. Despite being in the middle of downtown, the entrance feels tucked away.

51. NAC lobby area

The lobby is long and has low ceilings. When people would queue up for a big event in the main theatre, the line would snake far down this passage and loop back around.

52. NAC sculpture / water feature

At one end of this lobby space is a sculpture and water feature. The "AniMarket" clusters around this area. From what I'd read, I expected the AniMarket to have dozens of vendors — like one might see at a comics convention. Instead, there was a motley gathering of perhaps eight tables: a few animation schools, Wacom tablets, Disney reviewing artist portfolios, an animation software company...

53. Aniboutique at the NAC

With the AniMarket opening Friday night, OIAF's own Aniboutique switched spaces. It seemed like there were a lot more items over at the Arts Court Studio; here, OIAF staff somehow managed to fit all the DVDs into a single glass case, and the books onto one table. I think the DVDs for sale were primarily items carried by Animation World Network — I didn't notice individual animators bringing in DVDs, trying to sell their own films.

54. animation school representatives

It's increasingly clear to me that there are just a handful of animation schools with an international reputation. Supinfocom (France), National Film and Television School (UK), and Tokyo University of the Arts (Japan) were all featured in a special "School Competition" block of films... But they didn't send recruiters. I spoke to a representative from Vancouver; she says that the students there are putting out top-notch work, but word hasn't reached festivals yet. I'm interested to find out more.

55. Ralph Bakshi's table

Ralph Bakshi (of "Fritz the Cat" fame) was a featured speaker at the fest. He had a table in the lobby/AniMarket area where his son was helping to sell cels and other original artwork. This table seemed most akin to comic con culture.


The Studio was NAC's "small" auditorium — I'd still guess that it had 350+ seats.

56. NAC Studio audience

Programming for this space focused on panels and presentations having to do with career development. Due to scheduling conflicts, I was only able to sit in on two partial workshops. Once again, I felt that panelists are prone to making off-the-cuff pronouncements... And then the one speaker who I saw doing a solo presentation seemed to rely perhaps too heavily on video clips.

57. NAC Studio speakers

Maybe I'm being unfair. Perhaps the intellectual in me is hoping to hear academic papers? Or perhaps the opposite: practical hands-on how-to workshops? I'm not sure what I really think yet, except that I walked away with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.


The National Arts Center Theatre is big — but not as huge as I thought it might be. It's a little bigger than the Newmark Theatre at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts — but a little smaller than the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall.

58. NAC Theatre

Some of the competition screenings were identified as "galas." I gather that these were the ones where filmmakers would be in attendance. I prioritized gala screenings, so I'm not entirely certain how much the non-gala competitions differed.

At my first gala, I was surprised by how the show comes to a stop between films, a live announcer reading off the title and director for each film over loudspeakers. If the director was available, the lights would come up briefly after the film ended, the artist standing up from where they were seated to receive applause.

Having a live announcer really helped distinguish the experience from simply going to a typical movie at the cineplex. It may have also played a practical role. OIAF continues to screen some 35mm prints; having a pause in the program probably helps smooth the transition between films. (I expect this was even more important in the past, when celluloid was the norm.)

59. NAC Theatre

I said that the Christie projectors' performance was flawless... But there was one tiny technical issue that occurred during a screening at the NAC Theatre. When the screen was dark, a few little white points would appear randomly. My own guess is that the problem had to do with interference in the cables somewhere — but there's no way to know.

Hisko Hulsing, both a juror and director of "The Junkyard", commented publicly that the colors of his film had been washed out — that we hadn't seen a true reproduction of the work. I seriously wonder, though, if there's an unfair comparison being made between what can be accomplished on an LCD computer screen vs. throwing light across a room onto a giant screen.

60. One-on-One with Ralph Bakshi

I asked Chris Robinson what he considered must-see at this year's fest. He recommended the "One-on-One with Ralph Bakshi" interview, saying that sparks might fly — so I gave this featured event a whirl.

I respect Ralph Bakshi's contributions to animation; I'm neither a serious fan nor a detractor. Several of Bakshi's feature films were screened during the week — but on principle, I skipped any screening that I could either see in a mainstream theatre (e.g. Hotel Transylvania) or rent at home (Fritz the Cat). So Bakshi's work was not especially fresh in my mind during the interview. I got the impression that this is someone who has spent a lifetime being scrappy and managing to make passable art without waiting for big budgets to fall in his lap... Someone who feels they're making important social commentary about class disparities in the USA. Perhaps this interview was an apt centerpiece for the festival; but because I didn't prioritize Bakshi's films, much of the meaning was probably lost on me.

61. Shorts Competition jurors announce winners

One thing I'll say for the NAC Theatre: it really added a sense of grandeur to the final "Best of the Festival program." Environment matters!

62. emcees Joel Frenzer and Alan Foreman

Yet, this awards show was a curious animal. With many awards to hand out, there was a bit of a rush to keep the program moving. It was unrehearsed, so the jurors seemed a little uncertain at times about which one of them should be at the microphone to speak — or for that matter, what needed saying. As emcees, Joel Frenzer and Alan Foreman (who host an animation podcast) did some light comedy between segments. Having met them, I think they're both very nice people... Yet, there's something about these segments that didn't seem to quite fit. I'm having trouble putting my finger on exactly why. Clearly every film award ceremony follows in the shadow of the Oscars... Perhaps I'm just picking up on the dissonance between animators pantomiming glamor and the reality of just how socially awkward most of us are.

63. Kids Jury

Films for kids were judged by kids. Neat idea. Unfortunately, a horrifying gender dynamic played out. Upon reaching the stage, the young boys immediately made a grab for the two cushy interview chairs, and put on appalling airs of superiority towards the girls. I have some interest in trying a youth jury in Portland — but the way the boys reacted to being in the spotlight now sounds a note of caution in my mind.

64. award winners projected on screen

I don't recall any film clips being shown during the awards ceremony — but there were slides that displayed the names of the winners. When I was planning out my schedule for the week, I wondered why there weren't any re-screenings of the competition programs on Sunday. Now I realize that all the competitions had to be juried by the end of Saturday in order to leave time for preparing Sunday's show. I hate to imagine being the person who had to put all the slides together the night before!

65. Rob Shaw accepting award for Zero Rats

It was a proud moment to see Portland's own Rob Shaw accept an award for his "Portlandia 'Zero Rats'" segment. Rob hired me for my first professional animation gig at Bent Image Lab some years ago. He does very clever work, and I'm glad to see him receive recognition.

66. OIAF Award

Each of the OIAF awards is a unique sculpture created by a local artisan. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the creativity inherent in making unique awards is laudable. On the other hand, when the awards all have a single design, I think it helps an animator feel like they are joining a long line of winners, joining a heritage. Formality enhances tradition, whereas the whimsy of one-of-a-kind awards undermines that sense of venerable membership.


Now that I've covered all five screening auditoriums, I'd like to review some peripheral locations... Beginning with OIAF's famous Animator's Picnic.

67. bus to picnic

Free busses cycled back and forth between the Arts Court and the picnic area.

68. picnic tent

The picnic tent, set up in a nearby park, was huge. It was a sort that I've seen used by colleges at outdoors graduation ceremonies.

69. Cartoon Network sponsorship sign

Cartoon Network sponsored this event. As usual, there was a sponsorship sign on a tripod at the entrance.

70. picnic tent interior

The combination of rain outside and free lunch inside made for a very crowded tent.

71. free lunch

The buffet tables were arranged in a long line down the middle of the tent. There were vegetarian options — but they weren't clearly labeled, so I was left to guess. Ample garbage and recycling bins were provided.

72. pumpkin carving

The highlight of the picnic is the pumpkin carving contest. It was mostly college students doing the carving — I'm not sure I saw anyone else make a submission. I can't be sure, but I think most of the participants were part of a group that bussed up from the Rhode Island School of Design.

73. pumpkin carving contest lineup

The buffet was cleared and pumpkins were arranged for judging. I'm including photos of several below. With regret, I don't recall which one was the winner.

74. ferris wheel pumkin

75. pumpkin matrix

76. smoking pumpkin

77. pumpkin birds

78. "Monster of Nix" pumpkin

79. pumpkin mask

80. pumpkin carving contest winners

Brooke Keesling from Cartoon Network gave out DVDs as prizes to the contest winners.


The Opening Night Party was held at the Hard Rock Cafe.

81. Hard Rock Cafe

Passholders received coupons for free drinks, which were slipped into our festival badges at registration. Limitations were set on which types of alcohol you could order — just the basics. Still, free drinks are a great way to get the party moving.

82. view from Hard Rock Cafe staircase

I bumped into Shu Zhang again, and she introduced me to a few people — taking an active role in helping folks mix. (Thanks Shu!)

83. karaoke: "I like big butts..."

The RISD students were really getting into karaoke upstairs. One woman sang an energetic a version of the "I like big butts" song that blew the crowd away.

84. shirt over the head — this is a thing?

And then there was this guy. Jumping around with your shirt over your head is a thing now? The segments of the portable stage began to come apart, and the karaoke TV monitor wobbled dangerously. Our moderator, a drag queen in a purple rubber wig, had to gently bring this behavior to a halt.


Reviewing the schedule, I realize there was an alcoholic opportunity at the close of every night during the festival.

85. Ritual Nightclub

Hard Rock cafe had karaoke, a bar, and booths where you could get some food. In contrast, Ritual Nightclub was much more of a dance club.

86. dancing at Ritual

The dance floor was quite crowded. I made the mistake of setting my coat down for a while. When I came back, someone had stolen my business card holder. Most likely they thought they were getting my wallet — so I got off lucky. I saw a young woman in tears, talking to the fest organizers, who may have had a more significant loss. (If I ever try to host something like this, I'm going to need to think seriously about what security should look like.)


Club Saw is physically connected to the Arts Court — though I don't know of any indoors passageway between the two buildings.

87. Club Saw

This was the site for "Salon de refuses" — a screening of some of the better films that didn't get into the fest. How were they chosen and who compiled them? I wish I knew — it's a rich concept. All I do know is that Laika sponsored the event.

88. Laika sponsorship sign at "Salon des refuses"

From what I gather, "Salon de refuses" has been going on for at least a few years. Chris Robinson introduced the event, and commented that it was his first time attending... Kind of a strange experience for him, being the the very person who does the refusing.

89. "Salon des refuses" at Club Saw

There was tiny moment of drama. Chris mentioned some topical political absurdity going on in the USA (remember, this was during the lead up to the elections)... On this cue, a group of students in the back of the room — the same ones who had sat behind me, talking through the films of the last screening — started bleating "You Ess Ae! You Ess Ae!"

90. Chris Robinson introduces the "Salon des refuses"

I despise jingoism. Quite out of character, acting on an unsuspected instinct... I flipped them off from the front of the room. Which took Chris quite off guard and made him crack up, so he couldn't finish his introductions. He came down from the stage to chat with me, still laughing. Nice moment of conection. Unorthodox international diplomacy — but hey, if it works...


To wrap up, I wanted to document some ephemera associated with the fest.

91. Festival Guide and Reader

Ottawa produces a "Festival Guide" and a "Festival Reader." Both contain the schedule and event descriptions. The Guide is newsprint — which is presumably inexpensive, being left out as a freebie at various venues. (I'm curious to know how many copies were printed, and where all they were distributed.) The Reader is glossy and has a spine like a paperback book. It comes along with a festival pass. Purchased on its own, it's $20. Unlike the Guide, the Reader feels like a keepsake. It also contains contact information for every filmmaker in the festival — which is a very valuable resource to a another fest director, such as myself.

92. signal film painting by En Masse and See Creature

In addition to the pre-show ads and the animated sponsors clip, there was also a "signal film" that acts as a sort of "station identification" for the festival. This year's signal film evolved from a group painting created by the groups En Masse and See Creature.

93. painting detail

The original painting hung in a small gallery space in the Arts Court.

94. poster on a light post

There were four different posters for the festival. I saw a few around town on lamp poles and in shop windows. Nice bright colors really make a difference.

95. OIAF flags

I also saw some OIAF flags in one or two spots around town. I'm not sure whose property they were on, or what the arrangement is that allowed this display. It seems similar to how Portland sometimes hangs banners on its lightpoles for marathons and the like. (I have no idea how those permissions work, either.)

96. flyers on tables at the Arts Court Studio

OIAF organizers weren't the only ones creating ephemera. Filmmakers, schools and vendors also brought flyers along to scatter across flat surfaces.

97. Smoke's Poutinerie

A form of ephemera that has almost nothing to do with OIAF... Poutine! I definitely wanted to try some of this Canadian favorite while in Ottawa. I'm glad I did so on my first day there, while there was some free time to explore. It couldn't have happened at any other time. I overheard some people talking about going to restaurants for meals. There were no meal breaks in the schedule — I can't imagine how you could go eat somewhere special without missing big chunks of the fest.

98. Poutine!

The trip to Ottawa served the function I'd hoped for. I feel like I've returned home with a much broader literacy about animation festivals in general. I'm charged up with ideas for how do better event organizing — with a particular interest in expanding and continuing to develop the Northwest Animation Festival.

Thanks again goes to the Regional Arts & Culture Council for its marvelous support!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events

August 9, 2012

best of the nw animation festival 2012

by sven at 7:00 am

If you missed the big fest in May, here’s your chance to sample the cream of the crop!

Best of the NW Animation Festival
16 audience favorites, one night only

Date: Saturday Sept 8 @ 7pm
Runtime: 92min
Venue: Hollywood Theatre
Address: 4122 NE Sandy Blvd
Tickets: $10 general admission

CLICK HERE to buy tickets

The Northwest Animation Festival proudly presents this year’s audience favorites. See 16 films from around the world at this special one-night-only event. Highlights include Oscar contenders and the 2012 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short.

A debonair caterpillar woos his lady moth with flamenco guitar. Demon pilots fight a desperate aerial duel to the death…and beyond. A strange creature races against time to make the most important and beautiful creation of his life. A chicken cheerfully strolls the streets of New York—despite mad men, hipsters, and hungry mutant zombies.

Hilarious, dramatic and inspiring, this memorable variety show offers delights for every taste.

more info

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, nw animation festival

July 8, 2012

going to ottawa on a racc grant

by sven at 1:25 pm

I've just won my first grant: funding from the Regional Arts and Culture Council will help me go to the Ottawa International Animation Festival this fall.

2012 Ottawa International Animation Festival poster

This is a Professional Development Grant. It's intended to assist "artists or arts administrators with opportunities that specifically improve their business management development skills and/or brings the artist or the arts organization to another level artistically." It doesn't go to the Northwest Animation Festival as an organization, but rather to me as an individual who has a career producing arts events. The funding won't pay for the trip to Ottawa in its entirety, but will certainly make a big difference.

Ottawa is the oldest, largest, most important animation happening in North America. I made the case that I'm at a pivotal moment, when experiencing the gold standard of festivals first hand is likely to have the most significant impact on my curatorial vision.

The fest will run from Sept 19-23. It's a 36-year-old event that pulls in 2000+ film entries each cycle. I'll be joining 27,000 attendees for 90+ screenings and related events... I'm really looking forward seeing this monster in person!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, nw animation festival

July 6, 2012

part time playhouse interview

by sven at 12:53 pm

David Holloway, Sven Bonnichsen and Archie Washington on Part Time Playhouse

I got to be on television this past Sunday (7/1).

Archie Washington is the producer and director for a cable access show called Part Time Playhouse. He invited me to be his guest for a 15-minute interview representing PDX Playwrights.

I initially resisted the invitation. I've successfully passed the reins to Miriam Feder for producing Fertile Ground 2013, and have been gently extricating myself from power for the past few months. Better to spotlight the new leadership, I felt.

I did manage to get David Holloway on board — the one PDXP member who's been around since the group's beginning, five years ago — but Miriam was unavailable. Archie still wanted me... So I decided to do the interview to support a fellow producer. I know what it's like trying to wrangle enough people to put on a show.

Archie interviews Jessica Dart and Claire Willett

It wound up being rather fun. Archie is very warm and easy-going, so it was a low-anxiety affair. And being in the big open room where filming takes place, surrounded by cameras and lights and equipment, you can't help but feel a sense of creative possibility.

The call for "talent" was at 4:50, the live broadcast took place at 7:00 — so there was a lot of sitting around, waiting. Most of that time was spent in the "green room" (actually a conference room) chatting with David, Claire Willett and Jessica Dart. Claire is the new creative director at Milepost 5; I've known her a few years via PDXP. Jessica's a dramaturge collaborating with both Claire and Archie to create The Scriptorium, a new series of workshopped plays.

MetroEast Community Media

This episode consisted of clips from the previous season's performances, an interview with Claire and Jessica, more clips, the interview with David and me, then more clips. I felt like I managed to hit all the important points about PDXP with at least tolerable eloquence. From what I can tell, the episode will eventually be available on YouTube — but I have no idea when.

So, all in all, a neat little opportunity. Thanks Archie!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, playwriting

February 3, 2012

review: portland animation now! 2012

by sven at 3:08 am

Portland Animation Now! - Jan 27-28, 2012

This past weekend I produced Portland Animation Now! — my third major film event. This was my favorite yet. Not because it ran smoothly… But because there was a crisis and we emerged triumphant.

1. line to the ticket table


Our first night we were running a little behind schedule.

The doors to the theatre were unlocked at 6:00pm. We arrived not more than 5 minutes after six, but discovered one ticket-buyer already waiting — and another taking a nap on the bench where we needed to set up the ticket table. Advance tickets were sold via BoxOfficeTickets.com, which included a notice that our box office wouldn't open until 6:30. Even so, everyone's instinct was to purchase tickets as soon as they walked in the front door — even though we obviously weren't ready for sales yet.

2. Gretchin runs our box office

While Gretchin held back the increasingly impatient throng, the rest of us worked furiously to get our auditorium ready.

Auditorium 2 at 5th Avenue Cinema doubles as a classroom during the week. We need to go through and put seat tables down, move furniture around, sweep the floor, and set up our own microphone, speaker, and CD player for pre-show music. We need to check sound levels and make sure there are no surprise problems with the DVD. As emcee, I need to get each volunteer to their station, reviewing how the projection system works, the lighting setup and light cues. I have to make sure each one knows what to do at the end of the show: who's handing out surveys and who's going to go save us a table for the after-show party.

When told, "we're still getting set up," one irritable patron exclaimed, "what's there to set up?!" …Well, now you know.

3. super volunteers: Brad Bolchunos, Nicklas Nall, Dielle Alexandre, Carly J. Cais, Gretchin Lair, Kate Belden

I always plan to have at least one spare volunteer on hand — in case we need to send someone out to deal with an emergency, or if someone gets sick, or simply flakes. On Friday night, I found myself three volunteers short. Each for very good reasons: sickness, a job interview, friends from out of town. I had some advance warning and we managed… Still, lesson learned: always plan to have at least THREE backup volunteers on hand!

In a 100-seat theater, you might think having 8-10 people for event staff cuts into ticket sales. Don't be miserly. Having the show run smoothly is far more important than giving up a few seats.

4. audience on Friday night

We filled the exact same number of seats each night: 82. While we didn't sell out, the room felt full. It seems to me that a room feels full at 50% capacity. Most people don't like to sit next to strangers unless they have to, so there's a tendency to spread out — and the eye simply skips over the empty seats.

Looking back at my records, I see that the average number of seats filled during last year's June 3-5 event was also 82. I wonder how to interpret this consistency?

The numbers of seats filled last summer were 97, 87, and 62. (I make no distinction in those numbers between paying audience members and filmmakers who attend free — but don't include event staff, since we sit in a special area at the back of the room.) NWAF11 was a completely different show each day, whereas PAN! was the same program on both nights. Maybe I can infer that the house would have sold out if there were only one screening this time?

Whatever the case, I think the experiment in showing one program on multiple nights was quite successful. If I can get enough good material to do a PAN! show again next January, I may have it run for three nights, just to see what happens.

5. Ruby Rocket pins and tickets

I go to a great deal of trouble to make the event's ephemera look pleasing. This was the last time I'll be showing audience favorite Ruby Rocket, Private Detective for a while, so I worked the character's image into all of the graphic design. Her image appeared on the ticket stubs, the pre-show slideshow, the programs, and button pins.

I made improvements to the program this time around. One of the surveys from September's "Best of the Fest" mentioned that the text was too small to read in dim light. So I came up with a new multi-page layout that uses bigger type and includes a small color photo from each film. Stapling all the pages together adds further labor — but this new format will be absolutely essential when I get around to selling ad space.

6. surprising Nicole Lane with award

The PAN! show came about because I saw the chance to do something that hadn't been done before. This year was my second year producing live stage plays for the group PDX Playwrights at the Fertile Ground festival of new works. While reading through fine print, I noticed that the fest is intended to include live theatre, dance, visual arts, and film.

"Odd," I though to myself. "I've never seen film at Fertile Ground." Then: "Wait a sec! I show films now! I've got lots of films that I could show!"

So I wrote to festival director Nicole Lane to discuss the idea. She loved it. She's been wanting to include film for some time, but hadn't known how to reach the right people.

There was some initial concern about the films needing to be world premieres. I pointed out differences between live theatre and animation: how long it takes to produce animation, the economic pressure to premiere in places where there are film markets, and the need to present shorts in anthologies. For film to work at FG, a modest compromise would need to be made.

I proposed the following criteria: (a) films in the program should be "recent" (new if possible), (b) they should all come from Portland, and (c) the program taken as a whole should be substantially different from previous compilations. That sounded fine to folks, and I got the OK.

I'm very proud, in Fertile Ground's fourth year, to have now produced the festival's first-ever film program.

7. Nicole receives Fertile Ground award

Working with Nicole Lane over the past six months, I have a pretty good sense of how much effort she's put into Fertile Ground — a 10-day city-wide festival encompassing more than 100 performances. Making lunch one day, just before the fest was about to begin, it occurred to me: "Nicole totally deserves a medal for this." Then my next thought: "Oh, that's totally doable!"

So I emailed all 70+ Fertile Ground producers, and asked them all to chip in for an award. It didn't take too long to get enough pledges. I went ahead and ordered a hefty yet elegant crystal thing from Bardy Trophy. A lot of the donors were my PDXP playwrights, who were able to just hand me cash. For the rest, I set up a private online payment system via the NW Animation Fest site.

Gretchin has another way of telling this story: "So, Sven was organizing 19 plays and a film festival. And he thought, I don't have enough to do…"

8. "From your garden, our art blossoms"

I could see from my BoxOfficeTickets.com Will Call reports that Nicole had reservations to see Portland Animation Now! on Friday. Perfect!

After making my opening speech, I announced that we had someone very special in the audience tonight — and sprung the surprise. Nicole was taken totally unaware, and was deeply moved by the gesture. Later, after she got home, she wrote this to me:

"Well, I'm pretty much still blown away. What a huge surprise! I was completely taken aback. I'm not much one for lime-light, more a behind the scenes/keyboard kind of gal and being recognized and thanked by you so publicly leaves me a little discombobulated...and pretty much at loss for words. I teared up in front of a room of strangers -- geez!

I'm, honestly, so very touched by your thoughtfulness. That you thought, acted and contacted the other producers....well, that is just so very kind of you. I actually went to three events tonight, and at the one I ran to after yours, I mentioned the award and they all just laughed and said they knew about it and were all in on it. That you went to those lengths, I truly appreciate. Deeply.

You must know I work on Fertile Ground because I love what it is...what it is to artists, first and foremost, and what it can be for audiences in their growth process as well. I feel blessed that I GET to do this and I have skills I can share to help everyone.

I'm still thinking on how I'm going to thank, talk about this, publicly. My first impulse was to FB immediately, of course. And yet, I need to sit with it. I really does mean a lot to me."

THANK YOU NICOLE! You deserve this and so much more!

9. 5th Ave Cinema - Auditorium 2

Then, we watched a 90-minute program of 22 films:

  1. Ursula 1000 - Rocket
    by Eric Kilkenny
  2. Timber
    by Adam Fisher
  3. The Box Game
    by The Box Game Collective
  4. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective
    by Sam Niemann & Stacey Hallal
  5. Missionary
    by Mike A. Smith
  6. Mashed
    by Adam Fisher
  7. Colorless
    by Michael Graham
  8. Old-Time Film
    by Marilyn Zornado & Barbara Tetenbaum
  9. The Old Man and the Butterfly
    by Andrew Brown
  10. Coffee Critics
    by Jesse Brennan
  11. Chicxulub
    by Christopher Purdin
  12. Chef Antonio
    by Matthew Dan
  13. Phlush PSA
    by FashionBuddha
  14. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective Web Series
    by Sam Niemann & Stacey Hallal
  15. Button Song
    by Cassandra Worthington
  16. Inritus
    by Troy Hileman
  17. Pop Goes The Weasel
    by Joel Brinkerhoff
  18. Marauder's Mistake
    by Christina Beard
  19. Eyeliner
    by Joanna Priestley
  20. Landscape with Duck
    by Patrick Neary
  21. Operation: Fish
    by Jeff Riley
  22. Old-Time Film: behind the scenes
    by Marilyn Zornado & Barbara Tetenbaum

10. Q&A with filmmakers: Eric Kilkenny, Joanna Priestley, Becky Steele, Christina Beard, Christopher Purdin, Marilyn Zornado

As with all the events I've run, after the films ended I asked all the animators in the show to come to the front for another round of applause and to take questions from the audience.

There are important things to remember for this part of the show. People are shy at first about asking questions, so it helps for the emcee to start things off with a question that allows each filmmaker to introduce themselves. (My opening has been: "Tell us either about what inspired your film, or an amusing anecdote about the process of making it.) People never talk loud enough for the whole room to hear — so be sure to put a microphone in the animators' hands — and also to repeat each audience member's question back after its been asked.

11. Joanna Priestley speaks about her love for animation

I was particularly pleased that Joanna Priestley was able to make it to the Friday night show. Saturday night she was premiering 3 new animated shorts at the NW Film Center — so it wasn't until Friday afternoon that she discovered there was time in her schedule. Joanna has made more than 20 films, and is widely known as "the queen of indie animation" (a title given to her by the king, Bill Plympton). It was quite an honor to have her with us.

12. Marilyn Zornado & Barbara Tetenbaum talk about letterpress animation

I'm still searching for what questions I want to pose to filmmakers. This weekend I finally got the inkling of an insight. I think I'm looking for questions that help educate the audience about animation in general. On Friday night, I came up with a pretty good one: "Many people assume that you've got to be a bit crazy to spend so much time creating up to 24 separate images for every second of film. Help us understand what it is that you love about animation that keeps you going."

Saturday night, an audience member asked filmmakers to explain what the main methods of animation are, and which variety each film in the program exemplified. Great question… As a facilitator, I need to think about how I might use a variation on that in the future to help the audience better understand what they're watching.

13. crowd control for Saturday night


Saturday night things seemed to be running smoothly. We got smarter about crowd control, and technical issues with the DVD were all sorted out.

Gretchin took the initiative to make sure that we were the first ones let into the building, so no would-be patrons could lay claim to our ticketing area. We put up a ribbon at the end of the hall so people would be physically prevented from trying to purchase tickets while we were setting up.

Previously, we'd had a series of signs on the wall asking people to separate into a Will Call line and a Buying Tickets line. That totally failed. Everyone just jumbled together. I think part of the problem is that most people pay no attention to the walls. Intuitively, they make a bee line for the ticket table. So for night two, we put a sign on a microphone stand with arrows pointing toward either side of the hall. I'm not sure it kept folks from being a jumble — but when it was time for the Will Call people to pick up their advance tickets, it was indeed easier to get them separated out and queued up.

There was also another music stand at the entrance to the long hallway with two signs on it. One said "Filmmakers please come directly to the ticket table." The other said "We are running a little behind schedule. Thank you for your patience."

I am extremely pleased with this second sign — and intend to have it up at every show I do from now on. See, it's almost always going to be true. And even if we are running on time, it prompts people to be understanding rather than increasingly impatient. Whether or not the sign is strictly true is less important than the atmosphere it creates.

14. a "postage stamp" projection, black bars on four sides

The preceding weekend, I came in at 11pm and did a late night tech rehearsal at the theatre. I'm very glad that I did. I discovered that the DVD player's settings were wrong, and the films were being "postage stamped" — black bars on all four sides, making the image unnecessarily small. Fortunately, it was an easy fix. Some people still mentioned in surveys that the image should better fill the screen. What they don't realize is that we're screening in 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio — whereas the screen was originally made for celluloid films shot at 2.39:1.

During the tech rehearsal, I also discovered an appalling stutter in the pre-show slideshow. After much research at home, I think I figured out what the problem was: the still images had been compressed more than once, leading to artifacts that looked like interlacing lines — and a "de-interlacing" option may have misinterpreted that, creating the stutter. I had really wanted to have the slideshow cycle through 10 images… But in the interests of certainty (since there was no time for a second tech run), I wound up killing the slideshow in favor of the one static image of Ruby Rocket.

15. line extends into lobby on Saturday night

In general, the second night of an event goes easier than the first. The auditorium had already been put in order, and the event staff had a clear sense of their roles. We'd sorted out crowd control, and the DVD was running smoothly…

So it was a terrible surprise when Dielle and Kate came out and grabbed me from the lobby. Up on the screen, we had the following message in big red letters:


No matter what, it wouldn't go away. And already we had a line of attendees extending down the hall and into the lobby.

16. Jason Ross, heroic theater manager

We ran and got that night's theatre manager, Jason Ross. When he saw the message, he was straight to the point: "This could be bad."

We raced through options.

Option #1: "Do you have any friends who have a projector we could put in the aisle?" Uh, no. And for the price we're charging, that's not an acceptable cinema experience.

Option #2: "Call the Portland State University A/V staff." Unfortunately, it's a Saturday and the folks in charge of these $500-$600 bulbs all go home by 5pm.

Option #3: "What if we cannibalize the projector in Auditorium 1?" That was my contribution. But even I saw pretty quickly that it was a terrible idea. The projectors are a good 15+ feet up, and all components are sealed inside a metal enclosure. Too dangerous and foolhardy.

Option #4: "We're going to cancel the show in Auditorium 1 and give you that space."

Bless you Jason. That was a solution we could all live with. Only a few people had bought tickets to that night's other show, The Red Shoes. Still, it's a terrible thing to get all the way to the theater to see a show, just to get kicked out. So I told Jason and Gretchin that anyone who'd bought tickets for The Red Shoes should get comped in to Portland Animation Now!. Jason made a gutsy move to deal with the crisis we found ourselves in — helping smooth things over with his displaced patrons was a no-brainer.

17. announcing the change of auditoriums

As soon as the idea of switching auditoriums was raised, I told my event staff to quickly and quietly begin setting up the other space. How pleased was I that I've made a policy of always having a backup DVD on hand? …So pleased!

Then, with the decision official, it was time to time to address the waiting crowd. I climbed up on a folding chair, and a in my loudest, most charming voice proclaimed:

Ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for your patience. I'd like to explain to you the predicament that we are in. Right now, we are seeing a message on the screen that says 'replace lamp,' and we cannot make it go away. This is not acceptable. However, 5th Avenue Cinema has very generously offered to cancel their other show and let us use Auditorium 1. We are now in the process of moving everything to the other room. If you will wait just a few more minutes, we will begin taking tickets here at this table. I'd like to ask everyone to please move to this side of the hall, so there's an easy path for volunteers. Thank you!

Or, you know, something very close to that.

18. clearing a path down the hallway

As I said at the start, of all the film shows I've run so far, this was my favorite. Here's why.

At most shows, people arrive singly or in pairs. Everybody's separate from one another, maybe with even a hint of competition, just wanting to get in and get into the seats. But faced with the threat of the show possibly being canceled, suddenly the people in line all had a sense of shared purpose. They would experience success or failure together. All of them were focused on the hope that our crew would surmount the challenge, and everything would turn out right.

Succeeding in saving the evening — fairly gracefully, no less — provides a vicarious sense of victory for all involved. What would have been a routine outing to the movies instead became something out of the ordinary, a story that could be recounted to friends and family later on.

There was drama. There was heroism. We were all in it together. And we won.

19. 5th Ave Cinema - Auditorium 1

5th Avenue Cinema doesn't usually rent out Auditorium 1. It's where they show 35mm prints each weekend. But now having done a show there, I can say: it's niiiiice. There are lights along the aisle leading to the front of the room. There's a little stage area. There's more space at the back of the room, and everything feels just a bit better maintained.

I'm definitely having fantasies about how to negotiate use of this room for future events.

20. audience on Saturday night

As the audience waits for the show to begin, they have an opportunity to read my "director's statement." I felt my message this time was a little less inspirational than previous ones, but I'm sure it sufficed. Here's what it said:

As director of the Northwest Animation Festival, I curate films from around the globe — from cities as far-flung as London, Kraków, and Beijing. Yet, it seems that few people understand what a treasure trove of talent we have right here at home. Tonight I’d like to show you.

Portland birthed the California Raisins. It schooled the voice of Bugs Bunny and the mind behind The Simpsons. It’s home to “the queen of indie animation.” It’s a rising force producing hit feature films such as Coraline. All these cultural icons emerged from our electric, eclectic, eccentric community of creatives.

Portland Animation Now! showcases 22 short films from local independent animators. Encompassing both masters and remarkable amateurs, it’s still only a small sample of our creative wealth.

Tonight’s event is being presented as part of Fertile Ground: an annual ten-day arts festival with over a hundred new Portland-generated performances. Traditionally focused on live theatre and dance, I am very proud to say that this will be the festival’s first-ever program of films.

It is my hope that you will encounter something here that helps broaden your vision of animation and our community’s special talents. After the show ends, please stay for discussion. Attending animators will answer questions, helping to further illuminate their process and this remarkable, magic art form.

Now, let’s watch some films!

Sven Bonnichsen
NW Animation Festival

21. filmmakers coming to the stage

During the introduction to the films, I mentioned that there would be surveys available following the show. As an incentive to fill them out, each night the first ten people to turn in surveys would get Ruby Rocket buttons.

We got a great response. Over the two nights, we received a total of 74 responses — nearly 50% of the audience. Still, I may have made a tactical error. As soon as the filmmakers got up to the stage for Q&A, almost half of the audience filed out. Maybe they just wanted to get home… Or maybe I accidentally encouraged them to bolt with the promise of freebies.

22. Q&A with filmmakers: Matthew Dan, Danie West, Troy Hileman, Andrew Brown, Sam Niemann, Michael Graham, Jesse Holden

A lot of comments in the surveys seem to cancel each other out. Some people wanted fewer student films — others were grateful to see a wide range of skill levels. Some wanted a longer program — some shorter. Some felt there was too much talking — others loved the Q&A. Some expressed a strong preference for traditional narrative stories — others were enthusiastic about abstract and/or darker offerings.

When asked how we could improve, a number pointed to things that we have no control over. Such as turning up the heat in the auditorium. And free beer.

One clear positive did rise to the top, though. "Variety" was repeatedly mentioned as one of the program's strengths. And lots of people cried for "more!"

As for negatives, it seems we need to work on improving sound quality during the Q&A. (Often a difficulty.)

23. Troy Hileman rocks the mic

Here's the thing that fascinates me most about the surveys.

Despite the crisis on Saturday night — or perhaps because of it — people had almost nothing negative to say about the second show. On the night when things went more-or-less according to plan, people were more critical… Whereas when things went wrong, enthusiasm and supportiveness was higher.

I certainly have no intent of ever manufacturing a crisis. But this does get me to thinking. The time when people are waiting in line is also an experience unto itself. How can I make what happens before entering the auditorium more interesting and interactive?

What if I could arrange things so people in line could be part of making an animated film — one that would then go on screen during the program proper? The technical challenges are considerable… But how cool would that be?

24. Matthew Dan receives enlightenment

Originally, I had been thinking that Portland Animation Now! would be a more low-key affair than my previous events. I figured I could dispense with having an after-party and doing photography, and just show a simple block of films.

But I changed my mind. My photographer from previous shows was eager to be involved. And one of the filmmakers wrote to ask if an after-party was planned. I realized that while this batch of films may be old news to me, for many people this would be their first-ever exposure to the NW Animation Festival. Perhaps some had already been to the June 3-5 event — but even if so, few could have attended all three days. Why would I treat this event with any less importance and gravity than the original fest?

Every show I do will be somebody's first show. I owe it to them to always give my best.

25. after-party at McMenamins Market St. Pub

Both nights after the show I invited the audience to congregate at the McMenamins Market St. Pub. I even provided a walking map in the program — a detail I'm particularly proud of.

McMenamins was very accommodating. We reserved a table for twenty. Maybe 7 people attended the first night, 10 the next. It was good to let loose and decompress. Me, I got to chat with Jesse Holden (who stood in for Jesse Brennan during Q&A) who has apparently managed to make it to every event I've run so far... Wow!

It was also a good moment to download all the photos that our pro photographer Carly J. Cais had taken. After September's "Best of the Fest" event, I learned that reviewing what happened can do a lot to help me avoid post-show depression. Seeing photos, it's less like 2-6 months of my life have suddenly evaporated into nothingness.

Two lessons about event photography that I need to remember for next time: Always get a good group photo of your volunteers! And if you're shooting in low-light conditions, dial down the camera's resolution to get better results. Since most of my photo use is online, I seldom need anything bigger than 640x480. No matter how good the camera, 2592x3888 is going to slow down image capture and produce blurrier results.

26. marquee

Huge thanks to 5th Avenue Cinema — and particularly Jason Ross — for dealing with our technical crisis gracefully. Being a student-run theater that (due to bureaucracy) lacks direct control of certain resources, it's not surprising that there will occassionally be snafus. Yet, the rental price cannot be beat — and there's a lot to be said for an enthusiastic, accessible staff.

(Gotta get them to take down that "free movies" part on the marquee the next time I run a show, though.)

* * * * *

Next up: The Northwest Animation Festival's second season begins with our international showcase on May 18-19 at the newly remodeled Hollywood Theatre.

I'm really excited about this one… I've been receiving great entries from countries all around the world — including China, Norway, Poland, Ireland, and Brazil. And while I'm not quite ready to make the big announcement yet, it's fairly certain now that we'll have a very special keynote speaker this time to kick things off.

Hmmm.... Any guesses? :)

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, nw animation festival

January 1, 2012

portland animation now! - jan 27 & 28

by sven at 4:30 pm

I'm proud to present a new show later this month:

short films from 20+ Portland animators

Dates: Jan 27 and 28 @ 7pm
Runtime: 90min
Venue: 5th Avenue Cinema
Address: 510 SW Hall St, Portland, OR 97201
Tickets: $8 cash or check only

Amazing short films from Portland's powerhouse animation scene! Highlights include…

Eyeliner by Joanna Priestley (dubbed "the queen of independent animation" by Bill Plympton): A playful exploration of the organic geometry and archetypes of the human face. Ursula 1000 - Rocket by Eric Kilkenny: A love story told as a fever dream involving stolen works of art, dualistic robot terminators, and a giant floating head who seriously needs his moustache trimmed. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective by Sam Niemann & Stacey Hallal: It had been a long night and Ruby Rocket, Private Detective needed a stiff one—then HE walked in. Missionary by Mike A. Smith: Geopolitical allegory as cartoon slapstick, featuring eggs and fearsome hand-on-stick technology. Old-Time Film by Barbara Tetenbaum & Marilyn Zornado: Handset type, printer's ornaments and antique engraving come to life in the first film created entirely through letterpress printing. Operation: Fish by Jeff Riley: After a series of goldfish abductions, a secret agent is dispatched to bring the fishnappers to justice, and possibly save the world!

Portland Animation Now! is being presented as part of Fertile Ground, a city-wide festival of over 100 new Portland-generated arts events.

Buying a festival pass will get you into ALL Fertile Ground shows for a single, low price of $50. When you check out, you’ll be asked to select the company that should be credited with your pass sale. Please select “NW Animation Festival” from the pull-down menu. That’s the only way NWAF makes any money back from festival passholders.

…See you at the show!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, nw animation festival

October 8, 2011

sambuka black @ wordstock

by sven at 1:35 pm

Sambuka Black @ Wordstock - video greeting card
click on image to play film (36sec - 2.3 MB)
or view on YouTube

Congratulations to Dielle and Jeff, whose newly self-published book Sambuka Black debuts at Wordstock this weekend!

Sambuka Black

Dielle and Jeff are master animators dating back to the hey day of Will Vinton studios, and also worked Coraline. Dragons, a cyclops, a faun, giant wasps—it's a really fun fantasy novel... Packed full of references that will make stopmoes giggle with delight.

And all of the books are painstakingly made by hand!

source animation, before AfterEffects work
click on image to play film (36sec - 376 KB)

I've been doing some experiments with a down shooter in my (cough) copious spare time. I thought you might like to see the source animation, before I messed with it in AfterEffects.

drawings for images

The drawings were done on gridded paper that I created using incompetech.com. Small equals fast. And it's really nice to be able to work from left to right, just as one would for normal handwriting.

...Congrats and good luck with the book, Dielle and Jeff!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, movies

September 29, 2011

in portland tomorrow: the whisperer in darkness

by sven at 9:45 pm

The Whisperer in Darkness

Late breaking AWESOME news! The Whisperer in Darkness — a film that I worked on for almost a year — will be playing tomorrow night at the Hollywood Theatre!

This is a feature horror film produced by the revered H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. I did armature work relating to the monsters.

Whisperer will be playing as part of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. The fest begins at 7:00pm, Whisperer screens at 9:00pm. From what I see on Facebook, this show may sell out. Buy advance tickets here.

2011 H.P.Lovecraft Film Festival

This year the HPLFF is under new leadership. Tomorrow is the first night of a two-night mini-festival. The next full-scale HPLFF will take place next May.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events

July 14, 2011

montreal stop motion film fest - call for submissions

by sven at 7:00 am

I got a note from the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival asking for help promoting their event. I don't usually do this, but feel a kinship with other stopmoes, and a bit of a debt after other bloggers helped promote my fest.

It is free to enter. Just download a submission form, fill it out, and send it in along with your film. Deadline for submissions is Sept 26, 2011.

The festival will be held in Montreal, during Oct 21-23. Awards will be given in four categories: professional, academic, independent films, and commercials/advertisements.

(Jeffrey Roché, Emily Baxter, Grant Goans, Don Carlson — you all should be doing this!)

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events

July 13, 2011

"mutate" in da vinci days film fest - july 16, 17

by sven at 1:46 pm

My short film Mutate will playing at the da Vinci Days Film Festival this weekend in Corvallis.

It's playing twice, so Gretchin and I will be taking a little vacation to check out the whole affair. It's part of the Animation Block, which will show on Saturday (July 16) at 3:45pm at the Darkside Cinema and Sunday (July 17) at 2:30pm at the Majestic Theatre.

I'm often amused by how festivals re-write my film description. Here's the da Vinci version:

Like an Animal Planet documentary from another dimension, MUTATE reveals the bizarre life-cycles of various alien creatures as they meld, merge, dissolve and evolve in surprising and frequently hilarious fashion.

Not bad. :)


posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, movies, stopmo

July 7, 2011

northwest animation festival 2011

by sven at 8:00 pm

NW Animation Fest: June 3-5, 2011

The inaugural Northwest Animation Festival took place just over a month ago. This was by far the most ambitious event I've ever organized: 78 films from nine countries, shown over the course of three days.

1. 5th Ave Cinema

The 5th Ave Cinema was an excellent first venue. We had 100 seats, low rental fees, and full control of projection from a kiosk at the front of the room.

2. line to purchase tickets

A majority of tickets were purchased in advance. Our Will Call table was set up just in front of the doors to Auditorium 2. The line for tickets stretched down the hall, but moved quickly once we opened the doors.

3. Temris Ridge and Gretchin Lair staff the ticket table

An important part of running an event smoothly is having enough volunteers. Depending on the night, we had up to eight positions:

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who helped out: Jeff & Dielle Alexandre, Carly Hirano, Gretchin Lair, Jessica Lockwood, Nick Nall, Temris & Matt Ridge, and Rebekah Villon.

4. filmmaker name badges

A lot of effort went into making the event's ephemera beautiful. The festival's logo went on our programs, tickets, filmmaker name badges, buttons, and some of the signage. Wherever we needed signs, I was sure to use the festival's font: century gothic.

5. NWAF button

Gretchin generously took on a last-minute project at my request, producing a batch of 50 buttons as a special freebie for filmmakers and volunteers. Thanks to Bridget Benton of Eyes Aflame for lending us the button-making machine.

6. Jeff Alexandre hands out programs

What makes a film festival different from just going out to see a movie at the cineplex? People. It begins with your interaction with the event staff, from ticket table to usher to emcee… And then during the show, it's getting to do Q&A with the filmmakers. It's a very different, more social experience when you know that the people who made the films are seated all around you in the audience. At the end of every film, the audience applauded. I didn't know to expect that — but it was awesome!

7. entering the auditorium

Coming into the auditorium, I wanted people to feel like they were entering a special, magical space. Lights were dimmed, the festival logo was on screen, and pre-show music set the mood (Cirque du Soleil.)

8. find your seats

As people found their seats, I was delighted to say hello to many friends and acquaintances who'd made it out for the show. One of my few regrets is that I was unable to personally give all the filmmakers a proper greeting. Having spent so much time with their artistic works, I'd developed a fondness for these people I'd never met.

9. welcome to the festival

The job of an emcee is to shape expectations. Why are we here today? How should we judge the films we're watching? When do we start, take breaks, and end? Where can we congregate after the show? And when's the next festival going to be?

People just need to know what's going to happen. Focus on that, and you've got a good chance of avoiding Interminable Opening Speech Syndrome.

10. my welcome speech

There IS a place for talking at length about the big vision, though: the director's statement in the program. Here's what I said in mine:

I’m an animator myself. I love this magical art. So what do I want from an animation festival?

I want an abundant FEAST. Not just a dozen films — a hundred films!

I want to inspire fellow artists to make new work. The festival should stimulate imaginations — and give a concrete answer to that awful question, “What do I do with my film once it’s done?”

I want to help artists grow. I envision every animator being on a path to creating the best work of their life. Something profound or beautiful or funny or moving. Not everyone who submitted this year could be in the fest, but my hope is that everyone who stays on the path eventually WILL be shown.

Portland is an animation town. There is a family of artists here. The festival should be our annual family reunion, where we watch new talents gradually develop into masters.

It’s important to showcase the breadth of what’s being done with animation. There needs to be a place for people who still draw toons with pencil and paper; people who make vectors, layers, and Bézier curves in a computer; people who pose puppets one frame at a time; people who are making up entirely new ways to bring the still image to life.

Some films should be works of genius that just blow you away. But I also want to give screen time to the ones that make you say, “What a neat idea — maybe even I could do that!”

It’s OK if not every film in the program is your cup of tea. I’m confident that there will be something here for everyone. Hopefully you’ll get to experience a little bit of the delight that I’ve had while sifting through submissions… Discovering a collection of gems that dazzle.

— Sven Bonnichsen

11. shhh...

I was surprised at how different the feel of the crowd was each night. Friday night people had a hard time getting settled down; some were arriving up to a half-hour late. Saturday, everything when remarkably smoothly, and people seemed to arrive ready to be absorbed in the films. Sunday I thought the room felt just a bit lethargic.

12. Q&A with Dayan Paul, Christina Beard, Mike Smith, Dean Holmes

After each block of films, I'd invite all the filmmakers whose films had just screened to come up and answer questions from the audience. Gretchin coached me to say something like "So, what did you think?" immediately after the end of the films, to get a reaction from the crowd and warm them up. Justin Rasch helped me better understand the need to start the Q&A with some questions of my own, giving the audience a little time to start formulating what they might be curious about.

13. Mike Smith discusses Missionary

It's a special experience to be the filmmaker taking questions. None of your answers feel entirely adequate. You're hoping that the next question is directed to you — and simultaneously that the next question is NOT for you. You're standing beside these other filmmakers whose works just blew your mind… But for all the clumsiness, there's a rush of adrenalin from being in the spotlight. And even though all that you've done is stand up at the front of the room, somehow that actually does make you an authority — and everyone in the audience contributes their suspension of disbelief toward making that role a shared reality.

14. Q&A with Eric Kilkenny, Michael P. Glover, Marilyn Zornado, Barbara Tetenbaum, Andrew Brown

The festival was broken into 8 blocks of films. On Friday and Sunday I scheduled two 1-hour blocks, followed by a half-hour featurette. On Saturday I showed two 75min blocks. From the feedback I heard, both ways provided adequate time for stretching and using the restroom. The 75min blocks were significantly more difficult for me to assemble, though.

15. Q&A with John Davide, Jesse Brennan, Michael Graham, Adam Fisher

There's an art to creating a good line-up of films. I used three tools:

I tried to put the very strongest films at the beginning and end of blocks. I tried to make sure there were short "palette cleansers" between longer films. I did a lot of color-coding in the spreadsheet, noting which films were light and funny, dark and gothic, or impenetrably abstract. I had further color tags to indicate whether a film was 2D, CG, stopmo, or hybrid/exotic.

16. Justin Rasch discusses Gerald's Last Day

Basically, assembling a program of films is like creating a giant mix tape. Variety is crucial, and you have to pay a lot of attention to the highs and lows of mood/energy. The temptation to put all the dark, bleak films on one day must be resisted! Or, by the same token, the urge to group all environmental films on one day. Avoid theme!

17. audience during Q&A

Despite juggling all those factors — strength, length, animation method, happy/sad, energy level — problematic similarities would still emerge. For instance, four films made conspicuous use of butterflies. Three featured skeletons. Two films had almost identical guitar riffs. The first shorts block had an overabundance of films where the predominant color was either white or muted/desaturated hues...

You do your best. I was very pleased to hear folks saying that the program seemed well-balanced. When it works, you don't even mind watching the films that "aren't your thing," because you trust that something else that you will like is only a film or two away.

18. lobby during intermission

Depending on how many filmmakers were present for a particular block, I'd facilitate 5-7 questions, then go to intermission. People milled in the lobby and hallway.

We brought along a chime that was Gretchin's signature "time's up" sound back when she was running Artist's Way classes. Ringing it was en elegant way to let folks know when it was time to return to their seats.

19. popcorn provided by Scarlet Star Studios

Another nifty thing about 5th Ave Cinema is that for an additional fee, you can provide free popcorn for your entire audience. Gretchin was marvelous, and donated popcorn to the festival. Because I was wearing my Festival Director hat, it was only slightly strange to be thanking Scarlet Star Studios for the generosity.

20. hot buttered popcorn!

During the films, all the volunteers got to come into the auditorium and watch the program. Really, though, we could almost have had someone staffing the ticket table during the whole show. One night we had someone purchase a ticket for just the last half hour. Apparently they weren't very impressed with the John Wayne film in Auditorium 1, and wandered over to see what we had to offer.

21. Matthew Dan and Jesse Brennan chat during intermission

Both ASIFA-Portland and Cascade ACM SIGGRAPH were very helpful in getting word out about the festival. I'm embarrassed that I forgot to give either one time for promoting their group from the stage until the last day. It also took until Sunday to figure out where we could put an info table that wouldn't block traffic... And to start encouraging people to sign up for the email list to be notified about the next NWAF event.

I hope to foster community among animators, and for NWAF to become a valued community gathering. There's room for improvement.

22. Dayan Paul brought freebie mouse pads to promote Courageous Crustaceans

Several people traveled from out of state for the festival:

And the winner for our imaginary "traveled furthest to be here" award?

23. get seated for the next block of films

I was careful to let everyone know what we could and couldn't offer at our first festival — and still they came! It was a shock (albeit a pleasant one) when the first person let me know that they'd bought plane tickets. Suddenly the event became so much more real... Other people believed in it enough to make a journey!

24. more Q&A with the filmmakers

Most of the filmmakers currently living in Portland were able to come at least for their own film. Attendees included: