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October 25, 2013

event review: best of the 2013 nw animation fest

by sven at 4:43 pm

Our Best of the 2013 NW Animation Fest event took place on Saturday Sept 7 at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon. It repeated one week later on Sept 14 at the Bijou Metro in Eugene. Here's a short review-in-photos that I created for the NWAF Facebook page.

1. We're proud to have been up on the Hollywood Theatre's beautiful new marquee just two days after the grand unveiling ceremony.

2. Our wonderful volunteer team: (front) Hannah Viera, Naomi Fish, Sven Bonnichsen, Samantha McKinney; (rear) Danie West, Brad Bolchunos, Gretchin Lair, Nick Nall. Not pictured: Patrick Neary.

3. Fest director Sven Bonnichsen orients event staff before the evening show.

4. The audience begins to arrive.

5. Naomi Fish helps direct people as they arrive for the show.

6. The Hollywood Theatre begins to fill up.

7. Assistant director & lobby leader Gretchin Lair answers questions at the info table alongside Danie West.

8. Welcome! I'm so glad you could make it!

9. The Hollywood Theatre's popcorn has been voted the best movie popcorn in the city. (Seriously.) The line for concessions stretches down the hall.

10. The auditorium doors open, and folks begin finding their seats.

11. Hannah Viera and Brad Bolchunos hand out programs at the first door.

12. Volunteers Hannah Viera and Brad Bolchunos.

13. Nick Nall and Samantha McKinney hand out programs at the auditorium's second door.

14. Thank you to our sponsors and supporters, the Hollywood Theatre, Oregon Film, Morel Ink, ADi, Oregon Media Production Association, Wild Portland, Jupiter Hotel, the Portland Mercury & Voodoo Doughnuts.

15. There were over 200 people in the audience this night.

16. Reading through the program.

17. Welcome to the Best of the 2014 Northwest Animation Festival!

18. Someday we're going to host an event that's so crowded, people will even sit in the front row!

19. The background image is from the film "A Knock on My Door," by San Jose professor and all-around animation mensch, David Chai.

20. The show you are about to see was boiled down from the program of 155 international films that we screened this past May.

21. "Now, let's watch some films!"

22. Our audience as the lights are just about to go down for the show...

23. Lobby life: hanging out talking about your favorite films after the show has ended.

24. Hanging out in the lobby post-show.

25. It's time to head over to the Moon & Sixpence for drinks and staying up much too late.

26. Exiting the auditorium.

27. The Hollywood Theatre's new marquee, lit up at night.

28. Glittering palace of film.

29. Thanks to our wonderful hosts at the Hollywood Theatre!

30. The next full-scale Northwest Animation Festival is scheduled for
May 15-18, 2014... See you then!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

July 14, 2013

women in animation 2013

by sven at 1:56 pm

While putting films in sequence for this year's NW Animation Fest, I was struck by the scarcity of female characters. Because gender interests me, I decided to throw together some quick statistics to study what's going on.

My data set consists of the 154 films that were selected for screening at our 2013 festival. Here's what I found:

(In the program, who did we list on the film's "created by" line?)
66% Male
19% Female
15% both / name of studio only

66% Male
20% Female
14% none (abstract or unidentifiable)

If we stopped there, you might guess that men exclusively make films about men, and women make films about women. But there's actually a stronger bias at work.

72% Male protagonist
12% Female protagonist
17% abstract, or gender of protagonist is unidentifiable

41% Male protagonist
48% Female protagonist
10% abstract, or gender of protagonist is unidentifiable

(creators of more than one gender listed, or name of studio only)
83% Male protagonist
13% Female protagonist
4% abstract, or gender of protagonist is unidentifiable

What I see here is that when women make a film, they create female protagonists about 1/2 the time. But when men make films, they create male protagonists about 3/4 the time. Group projects feature male protagonists about 4/5 the time.

It seems intuitive that artists would have a bias toward creating protagonists that look like themselves. But this is not really the case. Women seem to have a fairly egalitarian interest in both men and women. Men, in contrast, tend to take a male-identified point of view.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival, writing

June 19, 2013

scenes from the 2013 nw animation fest: eugene

by sven at 11:57 pm

This post is the final installment in a 4 part photo series covering this year's Northwest Animation Festival. Gretchin and I drove down to Eugene to give all 154 films a second screening at the Bijou Art Cinemas on May 31 - June 2. Here's some of what we saw there.

1. Arriving at the Bijou Art Cinemas... Our first time doing the full three-day festival in another city!

2. Opening night at the Bijou Art Cinemas. That's us listed at the bottom of the marquee.

3. Before becoming a home for indie films, the Bijou Art Cinemas building was formerly a church — then a mortuary. Can you tell?

4. our audience begins to arrive

5. Gretchin staffs the info table

6. happy to see folks getting snacks before heading into the auditorium

7. lobby life: audience members page through the program while waiting for the auditorium doors to open

8. lobby life: "Welcome to the Northwest Animation Festival! Would you like a program?"

9. the Animation Hotline Hotspot came with us down to Euguene

10. folks trying out the Animation Hotspot

11. opening address on Saturday Afternoon: "Welcome to the Northwest Animation Festival!"

12. Thanks to everyone who came out to see animation on a gorgeous sunny day!

13. the glow of the screen puts a nimbus of light around every head

14. view of our Sunday Night audience from the balcony

15. The Bijou Art Cinemas just installed a new digital projector, funded with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Light shone from the lens for the first time barely an hour before our opening screening! We're proud that NW Animation Fest got to be the first event to use the new equipment... Congrats to the Bijou!

16. exiting the auditorium for an intermission

17. lobby life: sipping a beer, going out into the sunny courtyard, watching the Animation Hotline video loop, waiting to buy concessions

18. lobby life: popcorn gets spilled... that fellow coming down the hall was kind-spirited and stooped to help pick it up before staff could even get there

19. Cinema Studies student Peri Moritz shares a video

20. "Which film was that?" — "It was the one where..."

21. transfixed by the magic Oreo

22. beer and the Animation Hotline

23. Those two? They're deciding what films were their favorites. They're about to come over and fill out a survey.

24. Filling out surveys at the info table. "Help us decide what goes in the Best of the Fest show. Mark as many films as you like!"

25. heading back into the auditorium, popcorn in hand

26. So many conversations! This gentleman is a novelist, so we compared the unique challenges of two art forms: writing and animation.

27. a very animated conversation

28. a happy crowd excitedly discussing the films on Sunday night

29. Thanks so much to the wonderful Bijou staff: Laurie, Nick, Julie and Michelle. (Also Kegan, Steve, Ashley and Joshua!)

30. We'll definitely be back in Eugene next year... And perhaps even sooner, at the Eugene Celebration!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

scenes from the 2013 nw animation fest: portland - sunday

by sven at 10:35 pm

This year I'm letting photos tell the story of what happened at the NW Animation Fest. Here's part 3 of a 4 part series, which revisits the final day of our Portland show (Sunday, May 19).

1. "Meet the Animators," Sunday Afternoon at the Hollywood Theatre

2. interviewing some of the attending filmmakers

3. Magdalena Osinska, who flew in from the UK, discusses her film "Spirits of the Piano"

4. David Chai — from San Jose, California — discusses his film "A Knock on my Door"

5. Justin Connolly, who drove up from Los Angeles, discusses his film "Dance for Your Life, Puny Human"

6. native Portlandian Rob Shaw discusses the making of "Zero Rats"

7. Dave and Justin

8. Justin discusses the technical challenges involved in making a stop-motion robot dance-off

9. a small but engaged audience for this event

10. benefits of getting up early to meet the animators: free Voodoo Doughnuts for all!

11. me and filmmaker Magdalena Osinska ("Spirits of the Piano")

12. our volunteer team for Sunday's "Strange & Sexy" film block: (front) Temris Ridge, Becky Steele, Serin Hale, Cecilia Nguyen; (back) Stephen Couchman, Danie West, Thom May, Sven Bonnichsen, Gretchin Lair

13. step right up, getchyer tickets...

14. lobby life: answering questions at the festival info table

15. two of our marvelous ushers: Becky Steele and Danie West

16. walk down the aisle and find yourself a seat

17. getting settled in for a full afternoon of films

18. welcoming the Sunday Afternoon audience

19. Interviewing a being from another galaxy, made of pure energy. We warned everyone not to sit in the front row, to avoid the risk of being vaporized.

20. Ready to watch some films?

21. the glow of the screen fills the Hollywood Theatre's main auditorium

22. intermission: time to grab some popcorn

23. a sunny day shines in through the lobby doors

24. theatre manager Connor Kirkwood serves up the best popcorn in Portland

25. Serin Hale thanks you for turning in your survey

26. freebie buttons for survey respondents — featuring an image from the film "Butterflies" by Isabel Peppard & Warwick Burton

27. enjoying the Animation Hotline Hotspot

28. this year we worked with New York animator Dustin Grella to bring the Animation Hotline Hotspot out to Oregon

29. staffing the festival info table, Temris and Gretchin are silhouted by the waning afternoon light

30. super-volunteer Temris Ridge has helped out with every NW Animation Fest event since our inception

31. our loyal photographer, Carly J. Cais, takes advantage of the dinnertime break to check out the Animation Hotline video loop

32. lobby life: a lively crowd chatting about films during the festival's final intermission

33. I take a moment to introduce super-volunteer Stephen Couchman, organizer of the Rose City Steampunk Film Festival and GearCon

34. Thank you for coming!

35. Thanks to everyone who came together for the 2013 Northwest Animation Festival!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

June 18, 2013

scenes from the 2013 nw animation fest: portland - saturday

by sven at 1:25 am

Usually I write a long article for each NW Animation Festival, reviewing what happened moment-by-moment. This year I've decided to let photos tell the story. Here's part 2 of a 4 part series, which revisits the events of Saturday, May 18.

1. the Hollywood Theatre marquee on day 2

2. introducing our volunteer team to one another and giving instructions for the afternoon

3. the line forms for our afternoon All Ages show

4. that moment of anticipation as the door first opens...

5. the lobby begins to fill

6. Ingrid Carlson's son gets a butterfly girl button

7. Super-volunteer Serin Hale staffs the guest list table. She and Stephen Couchman took care of the lobby the entire weekend!

8. find yourself a seat

9. the auditorium starts to fill up for the All Ages show

10. there's still time to get some popcorn

11. welcoming the audience

12. the trick to avoiding stage fright is to imagine that everyone in the audience is wearing pants

13. sit back and enjoy the show

14. recent graduates from the Art Institute of Portland talk about their work on the film "Bubbles"

15. lobby life: grab a size of pizza from the "Pie Hole," chat about the films, fill out a survey

16. Serin and Gretchin take completed surveys and hand out free butterfly girl buttons as thanks

17. The boy in the orange shirt? His mother says that he's made animated films and wants to work in animation when he's older. (Awesome!)

18. watching Animation Hotline videos in the Hollywood Theatre lobby

19. The break between our afternoon and evening shows... Hanging out, waiting for the pizza to arrive.

20. Kurtis Hough sets up his camera to do some time-lapse photography in the lobby as the evening show gets underway

21. folks purchasing tickets for the Saturday Night show

22. lobby life: buying tickets and popcorn and chatting with filmmakers

23. welcome to the second night of the 2013 Northwest Animation Festival

24. introducing the first film of the night: the charming 2013 Oscar nominee, "Head Over Heels"

25. interviewing Rob Shaw, director of the Portlandia skit, "Zero Rats"

26. animator Justin Connolly discusses his film, "Dance for Your Life, Puny Human"

27. animator David Chai discusses his film, "A Knock on My Door"

28. while he was on stage, David pulled out his pocket camera and got a shot of me and the Saturday Night audience

29. exiting the auditorium

30. turning in surveys, walking a few blocks down the street to Tony Starlight's

31. Patrick Coan performs "New Key of the Ancient Light" at Tony Starlight's Supperclub & Lounge

32. using custom-built software, Patrick improvises music on his piano, which then creates animation in real time on the projection screen

33. the feedback loop of improvisation: from the screen to Patrick's fingers and back again

34. an image from "New Key of the Ancient Light"

35. our Saturday Afternoon team: (front) Serin Hale, Cecilia Nguyen, Thom May; (back) Christina Beard, Becky Steele, Sven Bonnichsen, Gretchin Lair, Stephen Couchman

36. our Saturday Night team: (front) Serin Hale, Becky Steele, Becky Hawkins; (back) Naomi Fish, Christina Beard, Sven Bonnichsen, Gretchin Lair, Thom May, Stephen Couchman

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

June 17, 2013

scenes from the 2013 nw animation fest: portland - opening night

by sven at 11:27 pm

This year's NW Animation Fest ran for three nights in Portland (May 17-19), then repeated again in Eugene two weeks later (May 31-June 2). With such a massive project, writing my usual moment-by-moment narration would be an overwhelming task. So instead, I've put together four photo series that tell the festival's story in pictures. Let's start with opening night at the Hollywood Theatre...

1. line forming for opening night at the Hollywood Theatre

2. the line reaches an astonishing length

3. view from the lobby, just before opening the doors

4. our big poster outside the theatre's main doors

5. the lobby begins to fill up

6. Temris Ridge hands out all-festival passes to superfans

7. get some popcorn, then head into the auditorium

8. find yourself a seat

9. quite a crowd!

10. welcoming everyone to the festival

11. thanking everyone who's contributed to the event

12. lobby life: discussing films during intermission

13. Oscar-winner Will Vinton

14. Sophya Vidal tries out the Animation Hotline Hotspot

15. Hollywood Theatre marquee at night

16. instructions for the Drink & Draw afterparty

17. opening night afterparty at Tony Starlight's Supperclub & Lounge

18. ASIFA's Drink & Draw table in the foreground, "Susco & Finka vs. Undead" playing in the background

19. several fest volunteers gather around the light boxes

20. it's fun to watch folks drawing

21. our brilliant light boxes were provided by Marten Zagunis

22. Thom May working on his drawings

23. speedily drawing animation frames

24. most of my drawings were bizarre inbetweens

25. Temris photographs drawings using a webcam attached to a music stand

26. at the end of the afterparty, we got to watch the film we all made together

27. a typically rough and wacky image from the Drink & Draw film

28. our Friday Night volunteer team: (front) Temris Ridge, Sophya Vidal, Thom May; (back) Serin Hale, Gretchin Lair, Sven Bonnichsen, Becky Hawkins, Stephen Couchman

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

September 11, 2012

review: best of the nw animation festival 2012

by sven at 1:28 pm

1. Hollywood Theatre

This past Sunday's "Best of the Fest" show went quite well.

I work hard to make sure every show is better than the last. Here's how we grew this time around:

  1. attendance
    By my count, we filled 196 seats. I believe this is the largest turn-out we've had to date. That's 171 paid tickets, 14 guests, 10 event staff, and 1 theater representative. I've estimated our NWAF12 shows in May at roughly 200 attendees each night. However, the exact numbers are uncertain. Friday and Saturday ticket sales were 129 and 140 — but we had much better guest turn-out than this past weekend. An improved guest book system means that that the head count this time around is much more accurate.

  2. blu-ray projection
    This was our first time projecting from Blu-ray. Whereas a pro-level computer-driven playlist introduced minor static between films at NWAF12, using consumer-grade discs on a lowest-common-denominator technology provided a seamless stream. The Hollywood Theatre's digital projector has a maximum resolution of 1280x1024, which means anything larger than a 1280x720 Blu-ray is overkill, anyway. After much research, I believe I've also found the best solution for converting 25fps films to a 24fps standard. From a technical standpoint, this was our most flawless presentation of films yet.

    2. Hollywood Theatre marquee

  3. community partners
    In an effort to reach new audiences, I made cross-promotional deals with 11 arts organizations and 4 film festivals. I provided screen ads in exchange for mentions in newsletters and social media. The number of attendees garnered from any one deal was in the single digits. Yet, based on the size of these mailing lists, we probably reached more than 10,000 people who hadn't previously heard of NWAF.

  4. Hollywood Theatre collaboration
    This summer Justen Harn from the Hollywood Theatre approached me with a proposal to form a closer relationship with the venue. Instead of paying 100% of rent up front, we get the space for free and split ticket sales 50/50. Given that 2hours in the main auditorium now costs $800, not having to worry about breaking even was a huge relief. (The new relationship also paves the way for a much bigger event in 2013).

3. Event staff: (front, L to R) Carly J. Cais, Temris Ridge, Sven Bonnichsen, Gretchin Lair, Becky Steele; (back row) Danie West, Nick Doggerpuss Nall, Brad Bolchunos, Christina Beard, Bill Womack

Ten people were on the event staff: Christina Beard, Brad Bolchunos, Carly J. Cais, Gretchin Lair, Nick Nall, Temris Ridge, Becky Steele, Danie West, Bill Womack and myself. It's a large team — but I've learned that simultaneously losing three people to personal emergencies is a very real possibility — so I lean on the side of safety.

We gathered at Magnolia's Corner immediately across from the theatre at 5:30pm. I should have allowed more time. The wine bar is typically staffed by the owner, and only has one stove. We needed more time to get everyone fed and get bills paid. We wound up heading over to the theatre at 6:15, and had very little time to get oriented before the audience started arriving.

Awkwardly, I had to be watching through the window at Magnolia's to see when info table staff from other organizations arrived. I needed to leave my food and cross the street to welcome them and help set up. Next time around I either need to keep someone posted at the theatre from 5:30 on — or I need to dictate that tablers have a specific time window in which to set up.

4. event staff clipboards

At NWAF12 I started giving everyone on the event staff a clipboard of their own. Everyone needs a "reserved" sign for their seat, a schedule and a program of films. Certain roles (Lobby Leader, Guest List, Front Door) get additional handouts. The clipboards are a good way to bind all these papers together — and help make the staff feel like they've got authority.

I improved on the clipboard concept this time by also giving each volunteer a written description of their responsibilities. I think this is going to be important at NWAF 2013, when I have to find volunteers to cover three days. It's very likely that I'll accidentally neglect to give someone an orientation. The written description should help get people up to speed if I'm absent.

The one hitch was that people didn't have enough time to read the descriptions thoroughly when we got to the theatre. I should have handed them out when we were still at Magnolia's Corner, and done Q&A while people ate.

Another tweak was that I gave each volunteer a sign with their name on it for claiming their seat (rather than just a "reserved" sign). This made it much easier to give each person the appropriate clipboard. However, it would have been smart to also label the clipboard itself, since there were a number of times when one was left lying on a table and it wasn't obvious who it belonged to.

It would have been nice to provide "reserved" signs for the info table folk as well. Telling them how many seats are reserved for each organization might be a diplomatic way to clearly limit how many volunteers each brings along.

5. the line to get into the theatre

At Best of the Fest 2011, we had a long line waiting to get into the show and had to start 15 minutes late. That hasn't been a problem since. Why? Were the doors locked last year until a certain time? Were people just exceptionally tardy, arriving at the last minute? I'm not sure. Whatever the case, we had no troubles with lines this time, and started only 5 minutes past showtime, allowing for stragglers.

6. Christina Beard welcomes attendees

At NWAF 2012 we had two volunteers staffing the door... Unfortunately it felt a little like they were guarding the doors rather than welcoming people in. This time we only had one person out front, and that was plenty.

7. purchasing tickets at the box office

At NWAF 2012, spare volunteers had a tendency to clump in the lobby, talking to each other. It impeded traffic and didn't look professional. So this time I specifically asked people to avoid doing this, and to seat themselves out of the main flow if they didn't have anything to do. That problem was largely solved.

There was still more wandering than I would have liked, though. Back in January — when we were having a technical crisis at Portland Animation Now! — I physically walked volunteers to their post and told them to be "locked down" there. If we have adequate orientation time next year, it would probably be a good idea to do a similar "locking" process again.

8. lobby as people are arriving - concessions

My back-up people were most likely to come out from the auditorium to check if they were needed. I should define their station better. Temris needed to abandon her post with the guest list in order to help ASIFA bring in T-shirts. That revealed a flaw in the "written responsibilities" plan: Gretchin hadn't been briefed about the Guest List position and was unclear about how to take over. Someone from the Hollywood Staff told Christina she should come inside — probably because they were trying to be kind, not because she was doing anything wrong — and I wound up sending her back outside again.

I want to be very clear that my staff are in no way at fault for moving around! My goal is simply to record these movements, so I can find ways to further minimize chaos as the event grows larger.

9. lobby as people are arriving - info table

Since moving to the Hollywood Theatre, I've invited ASIFA-Portland to have an info table at each event, hoping to help independent animators connect to an organized community. Having just one organization in the hallway between the auditorium doors seemed a little... sad. This year, with so many more community organizations involved, I was able to squeeze five groups in: ASIFA-Portland, Cascade ACM SIGGRAPH, the Oregon Cartoon Institute, Portland Open Studios, and Schools and Arts Together. I haven't had a chance to debrief with the people who tabled, but it certainly presented a more lively impression.

10. Anne Richardson and Carye Bye representing Oregon Cartoon Institute

11. Wendy Robinson of Portland Open Studios

One thing I didn't foresee was that info table folk would want to be handing out flyers for their own events. One of my staff alerted me that another org's volunteer was blocking attendees' path, handing them flyers as soon as they'd purchased their tickets. I can't fault his zeal — but asked the fellow to move back to the hallway so people could move through freely. Now I know to set clearer boundaries about where tablers are allowed to interact with attendees.

12. Temris Ridge laying out programs at the guest list table

We had one door marked for people with advance tickets or buying tickets, and another door for folks on the guest list. At previous events, guests would say their name aloud and our volunteer would cross their name off a list. It was awkward, because you can't always intuit how a name is spelled — and if the line is busy, it's easy to miss crossing someone off. So this time I simply had the guest list laid out on the table and told Temris that the job was to make sure everyone coming through signed their name. I think this worked out much better. It also made it easy for me to pop over to the guest list table to see who was in the audience that I might have missed coming through.

The one problem that needs to be solved here is that a surprising number of people show up after the show starts. If my volunteers are in the auditorium watching films, there's no one to collect signatures, and I don't get an accurate head count. I don't really like the idea of keeping someone out in the lobby. I might be able to coordinate with the Hollywood Theatre staff at the box office, asking them to collect signatures. (I give them a spare copy of the list anyway.)

Previously I've only put people on the guest list if they sent a RSVP. Having discovered that many folks can't commit until the last minute, this time I said RSVPs were appreciated but not required. About a third of invitees RSVP'd "no" (due to other obligations), a third said yes, and a third didn't reply. Much to my surprise, only half of those who said yes actually showed up. We didn't see anyone showing up who hadn't RSVP'd. What I take from this is that I can afford to be pretty generous with sending out invitations; it spreads a lot of good will without necessarily eating up a lot of seats.

13. Gretchin Lair, Temris Ridge, Nick Nall — and popcorn!

Gretchin had a great idea that I'll be repeating at future events. It occurred to her that event staff never have a chance to go through the concessions line to get popcorn. Our runner, Nick, didn't have anything to do just then, so she sent him around to take orders. Brilliant! It was a lovely treat this time around... Having a "Food Runner" who can go out to grab food at the nearby fast food restaurants will be even more important in 2013, when volunteers are hunkered down for 3 days.

14. Demetra Arnett (SIGGRAPH) and Danie West (NWAF) at the doors to the auditorium

At NWAF12 we had gorgeous programs printed by Morel Ink. This time around, my timeline was too tight to work with a professional printer, so I reverted to using the color laser printer in our office. I habitually print too many programs. I intended to only print 200 this time, figuring that people tend to share. At the last minute I lost my resolve and printed 275, just to be safe. I shouldn't have second guessed myself!

After the cost of space, programs are one of the biggest expenses associated with running the show. Trying to figure out what I'm spending on ink cartridges, internet research suggests we're looking at at least 15¢ per page. So it seems that programs cost at least 60¢ apiece (probably more, given how many photos I include) — $165+ in all. At this point in NWAF's development, that's not small change.

Even so, I feel it's important to have some sort of archival document of the program... Much like a museum catalog when you go to an exhibition. Larger festivals sell book-like programs separately; I don't think we've reached that point yet.

15. the audience beginning to fill the auditorium

In the auditorium, we had a pre-show reel of ads from our sponsors and community partners playing on repeat. The theatre has a separate, smaller projector that they use for just this purpose, which makes it easy to start the film program without switching settings. However, after the show I realized that it's entirely possible to have both the films and the ads formatted at 1280x720 — so next year I could perhaps offer advertisers higher resolution.

Some of the artwork I received went right up to the edges of the screen. It didn't occur to me that most people have never heard of TV-safe areas. I suspected (and had my fingers crossed) that projectors don't have the same issue as televisions. Happily I was right — none of the artwork got cut off.

To keep things interesting for the audience, for every five advertisements I included a still image from one of the films. Thinking that people would be more likely to look at the screen when a picture was up, I privileged sponsors by making sure they were the next thing to come on screen each time.

16. welcoming the audience

Event staff spent 50 minutes in the lobby greeting and helping audience members as they arrived. Then, at last, it was time to start the show. I warn our projectionist, Matthew Combs, then stride down to the front of the house. He brings up the lights on the stage...

At this point I'm reasonably comfortable with talking to 200 people. What works for me is to think of them as all being friends, with whom I'm having a casual conversation about something we're mutually interested in. At the same time, I also enjoy throwing in a bit of showmanship, starting with "Welcome to the Best of the Northwest Animation Festival!" in my most resonant voice.

My main agenda is to shape expectations for the evening by walking through the schedule of events. Chronology is the mneumonic for my speaking points. I try to keep it short and sweet — but inevitably someone opines in the post-show survey that the talking should be even shorter. I think no matter how tight I keep it, some would prefer that I simply not exist, and that this experience be identical to attending the cineplex.

17. introductory comments

I'll skip transcribing my utilitarian introductory remarks... Instead, here's the text I wrote for my "from the director" statement in the program.

Welcome to the Best of the 2012 Northwest Animation Festival!

Tonight you are going to see sixteen amazing films from around the world. Out of this year’s 177 submissions, we screened 57 at our big festival in May. Through filling out surveys, you the audience told us which ones were your absolute favorites.

This will be our first show projected from Blu-ray. There are significant challenges in compiling films that were created with different specifications in mind. After a great deal of research and testing, I am pleased to say that we now have the very best picture quality that can be produced using the Hollywood’s current technologies.

The Hollywood is a very special theatre, with a staff committed to preserving and restoring this historic building — while also hosting innovative and original film programs. I want to personally thank Justen Harn and the Hollywood staff for offering the NW Animation Fest special support. I encourage you to help them in return by becoming a theatre member or donating to the current marquee upgrade project.

Because of our new relationship with the theatre, I am excited to announce that the festival will enjoy a major expansion in this upcoming year. Please join us on May 17-19, 2013, for three nights and two days of animated films!

Anticipating a program of more than 125 shorts, we believe this will be the largest animation showcase west of the Mississippi, and the second largest in the nation. At the same time, we’re casting a wider net than ever before to make sure that our selections remain the very best the animation world has offer.

Much exciting stuff to come... Now, let’s watch some films!

Sven Bonnichsen
NW Animation Festival

18. Keith Daly from Schools and Arts Together!

Several of the community partners in the screen ads are groups that I've connected with through the new Portland Emerging Arts Leaders group. One of these connections is Keith Daly from the Schools and Arts Together! campaign. I like the cause, and Keith is a good public speaker, so I decided the right thing to do would be to give him 2 minutes before the show to address our audience.

19. explaining the need for Ballot Measure 26-146

In a nutshell, here's the issue: Portland is renowned as a community for creatives. However, in recent years we've lost a startling number of arts teachers. Whereas 94% of elementary schools in the US have music education, Portland is now down to 58%. Whereas 83% of US schools have visual arts education, Portland is now down to 18%. Schools and Arts Together is promoting Ballot Measure 26-146, a limited tax (~$35 per adult resident) that would help hire arts and music teachers for Portland Public Schools.

I very much think of animation as an art form. And I see all art forms as being interrelated with one another. So while this is not specifically about animation, where I should stand on Ballot Measure 26-146 is a no-brainer. Beyond the issue itself, though, giving Keith the stage is in sync with my goals for what the festival should be. I want NWAF to be understood as a community gathering. Using this opportunity to talk about an issue that's taking place outside the four walls of the theatre helps create that feeling.

20. audience as seen from the stage

By my watch, it was 8 minutes from when I first strode toward the stage to when the films were on screen at 7:13pm. Not bad, I think.

Here's the line-up of films we screened:

  1. The Maker
    by Christopher Kezelos
  2. A Morning Stroll
    by Studio AKA
  3. Bottle
    by Kirsten Lepore
  4. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
    by Moonbot Studios
  5. How to eat your Apple
    by Erick Oh
  6. L'Animateur (The Animator)
    by Nick Hilligoss
  7. Luna
    by Rainmaker Entertainment
  8. The Tannery
    by Iain Gardner
  9. Pushkin
    by Trevor Hardy
  10. Orange Ô Désespoir
    by John Banana
  11. The Machine
    by Rob Shaw / Bent Image Lab
  12. Death Buy Lemonade
    by Kyu-bum Lee
  13. The Girl and the Fox
    by Tyler J. Kupferer
  14. Enrique Wrecks the World
    by David Chai
    by Juan Pablo Zaramella
  16. Paths of Hate
    by Damian Nenow

21. after the films

After the first film was under way, Gretchin joined me in the auditorium and whispered that she'd seen filmmaker Rob Shaw come in. Up until I knew he was there, I wasn't certain how I wanted to end the evening. (Kind of surprising, given the level of detail with which I plan out everything else!) Knowing that a filmmaker was present, I felt an obligation to give him a moment on stage.

22. interviewing filmmaker Rob Shaw

Rob spoke onstage at NWAF 2012. By his own admission, it was a bit rough. This time around I tried to make sure I had questions he'd have ready answers for, and tried to keep our interaction taut.

I asked him to talk about using a down-shooter and paper puppets and any technical challenges involved. Knowing that he has a lot of professional work directing ads, music videos and such at Bent Image Lab, I asked him to talk about why he chose to take on this particular personal project in his copious spare time — what was its genesis? I asked him to say something about what it is that he particularly likes about stop-motion, that keeps him working in this medium.

23. everyone wants to know what's in Rob's hand ;)

It would have been nice to take questions from the audience. If there's adequate time, it's certainly my preference to have actual dialogue between the audience and filmmakers. However, I was cognizant that the auditorium needed to get cleared in time for a 9:30pm show — whose organizers had accidentally publicized a 9:00 start time — so I kept things brief.

24. audience exiting to lobby

As has become standard practice, we offered free buttons to the first 50 audience members to turn in surveys. With this incentive, we consistently get a ~50% response rate. In all, 81 people turned in surveys — which is pretty amazing!

For the buttons, I had hoped to use an image from this year's Oscar winner for Best Animated Short: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." I got permission to do so... But then was unable to find any still shots that looked really good on a little pin. Instead I went with Plan B, using a still from Iain Gardner's film "The Tannery" — easily one of the most beautifully rendered images in the show.

25. buttons in exchange for surveys

I'm still processing surveys — but here are a few initial results:

  • I asked "How did you like the show?" People were given a 5 point scale running from 1 ("hated it") to 5 ("loved it"). The stats: 55% gave the show a 5, 40% gave it a 4, and 5% gave it a 3. That's a lot of love! (Those nonplussed 3s still break my heart, though.)

  • 67% of respondents said this was their first NW Animation Fest event.

  • 54% said they went to a film festival this year other than the NW Animation Fest. This validates my hypothesis that some of the people most likely to attend a festival are people who attend other festivals. It strengthens my call for film fests to cross-promote with one another.

  • 90% said they went to an art gallery, play, or dance in the past year. This is powerful proof that my audience is part of the "Arts & Culture" set, who aren't merely looking for blockbuster cineplex fare.

  • 80% said they create art several times a year (drawing, writing, music, etc.). To me, that's a surprisingly high number of people essentially self-identifying as artists.

  • 43% said they have purchased animation-related software before. I wouldn't go so far as to say these people are necessarily animators — but the result does put me in a better position to seek software sponsorships.

26. heading over to the Moon & Sixpence

Everyone in the audience was invited to head over to the Moon & Sixpence (an English Pub) for an informal post-show gathering. The H.P.Lovecraft Film Fest has been using this venue for afterparties for years — but it took me a long time to get there myself. Even though it's just 3 blocks away, I didn't feel confident that I knew where I was going. Learning from this, I've made sure to always give my audiences walking maps in their programs.

27. afterparty at the Moon & Sixpence

By my count, 19 people came to the pub with us. We were seated in the middle of the room and couldn't all be at the same table, which was awkward. There is another area just to the right of the main entrance that worked better at NWAF 2012, but it probably wasn't available. We've yet to try the open air courtyard in back.

While most people were ordering drinks and food, Carly and Gretchin dealt with downloading photos to my laptop computer. Reusing a great idea Gretchin had at the last fest, once the photos were downloaded we set them running on loop as a screen saver. That way everyone could share the experience immediately.

28. debriefing with event staff

It's my habit after each show to ask event staff what we've learned and what we can do better. I got a few ideas back, but not as many as usual. It may be that my team has become used to running shows and are less attuned to details. Or it may be that the pub environment wasn't conducive to discussion. Or it may be that things really are going smoothly, and there just wasn't much most people could say.

The day after the show I let myself sleep in. I was feeling low — but fortunately nothing like the post-partum depression I had after the 2011 Best of Fest show. Gretchin and I spent a long afternoon debriefing at our leisure, and that made me feel better. I haven't really articulated it as such previously, but I guess that after hundreds of hours spent producing an event like this, I have a strong personal need to review and digest what just happened before moving on.

Maybe you already guessed that. ;)

29. poster on Hollywood Theatre door

When a non-profit org does a review of their last event, the first sentence usually exclaims it was "a success!" I could honestly say the same thing about Best of the Fest 2012 — but it's also true that this was probably my least favorite NWAF event.

Simply showing films is not enough. My goal is to build a community of animation lovers. In facilitating this event, I didn't feel like I did as well at creating a feeling of shared experience among audience members. A few contributing factors...

  1. few local filmmakers
    Because NWAF 2012 was much more international in nature, there were fewer local filmmakers in the program this year. That number decreased even further when the selections got boiled down for Best of the Fest. Rob Shaw was the one and only filmmaker I could call up to the stage. Without much local representation, I had a moment of panic at the end of the first film, not knowing if the audience would bother to clap. Fortunately they did. If they hadn't, then there really wouldn't be much difference between this show and anonymously attending a big budget film at the cineplex.

  2. brevity
    The Best of the Fest show is specifically designed to appeal to people who'd be intimidated attending a multi-day marathon. There's less of a time commitment — but there's also less of an emotional commitment and less bonding between the audience members. If you're a jogger in a marathon, you may be running solo — but you're running in parallel with everyone else in the race... At the end of it, you're able to make eye contact with a complete stranger and know that you've shared something, even though you don't know each other's names. I think that same experience is a subtle yet important social aspect of film festivals — and something that's lacking when the program's a mere 90 minutes.

  3. setting the tone
    My standard welcome speech is organized chronologically. I say something about the process that brought the show into being, mention if there are intermissions, ask people to turn in surveys on their way out, then join us at the after-party — and please save the date for our next big event several months in the future! I feel like I still need to do a better job at shaping people's expectations about the content, so that they're judging what they see by appropriate criteria.

    I think I've maybe come up with the magic words to put people in the right frame of mind: "If this is your first time at the NW Animation Fest, there are two important things to understand. First, this is a variety show. You might not like every film you see tonight — but it is my hope that you will find at least a few you truly love. Second, this is a celebration of creativity. Some of our selections rough around the edges; they've been included because in each case there's something remarkable about them that transcends the flaws."

    Without these caveats, there are personalities who feel compelled to point out which films "sucked" or were "too bleak" and didn't deserve to get screened... Even if those very films were Academy Award nominees or winners! Part of my job has to be putting people into a generous, positive state of mind, where they're able to see in good in things as well as the imperfections.

30. Hollywood Theatre coming attractions poster

Some people's feedback is misdirected, frivolous, or mean-spirited:

"The seats are so uncomfortable." (survey. )
Note: not only do we have no control over the seats — the Hollywood also just installed plush new seats in January.

[Q: What could be improved?] "Free Booze." (survey)

"Some of the stories were lame!" (worst survey comment)

Most people's feedback has been marvelously positive:

"Fantastic and so inspiring to see the snowballing of your event into something bigger and better. After the show I enjoyed reliving favorite scenes with hubby and daughter. Thanks!!" (Shawn D., Facebook)

"Love indie films, love film fests! So glad there's an animation festival in Portland." (survey)

"Great selection — good pacing. Loved nearly all — but all good quality choices." (survey)

"This is a great festival and animated shorts a great medium. I'm a convert." (Miriam F., Facebook)

"The show was great! I'm going to see them all now!" (Keith D., in conversation)

All told, I know that Best of the NW Animation Fest 2012 was an excellent showcase. ...Still, with love and attention I know it can be done even better.

31. coming attractions - closeup

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

September 5, 2012

best of the fest 2012 - teaser

by sven at 1:14 am

I've put together a new teaser video for the Sept 8 Best of the Fest show... Enjoy!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

adobe premiere & animation frame rates

by sven at 1:12 am

Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 - Production Bundle

Earlier this year I finally broke down and purchased Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 - Production Bundle. ...Only a week or so before CS6 was released — sigh. Happily, though, I did a lot of shopping around and managed to get a very good deal from SoftwareMedia.com.

The critical application for me was Adobe Encore, which seems to be the only good option for authoring Blu-ray discs from a Mac. Going into this, I didn't know that Adobe Premiere is the hub of the production experience in CS5.5. It's been interesting getting familiar with the software.

The only film editing software I'd worked with previously was iMovie — and I kind of hated it. Premiere, on the other hand, is a pleasure. I particularly enjoy editing to music: looking for the best moments in my library of film clips, and finding ways for the visual beats to coincide with audio dynamics.

I've spent a lot of time watching instructional videos in order to get up to speed. (Google "Adobe TV" for the best starting place.) But now that I've begun to get my legs under me, I really appreciate some of the professional magic tricks I can work. The most crucial of these is converting frame rates.

Converting framerates for the NW Animation Festival

I'm going to oversimplify: video in Europe is 25fps, film in the USA is 24fps, and TV/DVD video in the USA is 30fps. If you tell a computer to convert one frame rate to another, it's just going to insert or delete frames — which creates a very noticeable stutter. (Unless you interlace — which is a whole 'nother nightmare.) ...What to do?

Well, first off, I've got a big advantage because I'm dealing with animation. Live action filmmakers often shoot footage in 30fps. Only a very tiny minority of animators originate films in 30fps. We work and think in 24fps. When our films get transferred to 30fps for TV/DVD use, they get degraded in the process. In the world of animation, we want to avoid 30fps if at possible.

Happily, we've finally entered an age where we can avoid 30fps. Blu-rays and broadcast HDTV can accommodate 24fps. 30fps is still in usage — but there's real movement toward 24fps becoming a universal standard for film and TV.

So, based on what's native to animators, and in hopes of a universal standard, I've settled on 24fps as the master frame rate for the NW Animation Festival. In the upcoming year, I'll be encouraging animators to send me their original source files — which are most likely 24fps — and strongly discouraging them from burning playable DVDs.

This still leaves the issue of how to work with 25fps. (Q: Where did that number 25 come from? A: It's an artifact of European electrical current being 50hz, whereas ours is 60hz.) After a lot of research and a good tip from the Steve Herring at Proludio, I've settled on this strategy: slow the films down by approx. 4%, and pitch shift the audio up by +.75dB. The change in speed is imperceptible, and no frames are lost.

In the context of Adobe Premiere, one uses the "interpret footage" menu to play back individual frames at a different rate. Audio needs to be adjusted in Adobe Audition. Once you find the settings and grasp the underpinnings, the conversion is fast and easy. Getting to the point of understanding why this is the right solution, and how to accomplish it — that was decidedly not easy.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival, stopmo

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

August 8, 2012

truths about animation

by sven at 4:58 am

  1. Animation is literally magic, breathing life into something inanimate.

  2. Animation is diverse, encompassing many possible methods, media, and technologies.

  3. Animation is a serious art form with enormous potential for creative expression.

  4. It is possible to do things with animation that cannot be done in any other art form.

  5. Animation is often misunderstood, being identified solely with kids, comedy and computers.

  6. Many people enjoy mainstream animation; few have seen much independent animation.

  7. To artists, the appeal of animation is being able to turn any daydream into an external, living, sharable vision.

  8. Trading hours of real life for seconds of life on screen is laborious and isolating.

  9. The amount of labor that animation requires makes it an extremely expensive art form.

  10. To justify the effort, animators need audiences and hope for money.

  11. Indie animation is almost entirely a genre of short films.

  12. As with shorts in general, most films' only chance of getting sold is through compilations.

  13. Festivals excel at compiling films for audiences.

  14. Despite occasional screening fees, distribution deals and prizes, showing at festivals is unlikely to earn a typical animator any significant money.

  15. Festivals provide filmmakers with an audience's human reactions to their work.

  16. The emotional reactions of a crowd are different from those of an individual or small group.

  17. It is easier to watch difficult films when they are interspersed with fun ones.

  18. If audience members don't feel like they had enough fun at a festival, they won't come back.

  19. When people return to a festival annually, it begins to feel like a kind of family reunion.

  20. Though premised on screening films, festivals should emphasize and support the individuals endeavoring to create art.

  21. Animators are more likely to persist and thrive when they feel connected to a supportive community.

  22. Seeing other people's work helps inspire animators to make new films.

  23. Anyone with a desire to animate can learn the basic principles quite quickly.

  24. The main requirements for doing animation are enthusiasm and patience.

  25. Emerging artists benefit from seeing a huge number of short indie films, as a way to become literate.

  26. There is more to be learned from studying flawed films than perfect ones.

  27. Master animators develop by continuing to make more films, experimenting and trying improve upon previous projects.

  28. Animation evolves as an art form through a dialectic of animators making creative responses to one another's work.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival, writing

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

April 21, 2012

review: portland animation now! @ cinema pacific

by sven at 9:20 pm

Portland Animation Now! - April 20, 2012

We've just finished showing Portland Animation Now! at the Cinema Pacific festival. It was exciting to take a NW Animation Fest show out to another city for the first time.

As its website says, Cinema Pacific is "an annual film festival based at the University of Oregon in Eugene that is devoted to discovering and fostering the creativity of international films and new media from Pacific-bordering countries, including the U.S." After seeing the original PAN! show back in January, Cinema Pacific director Richard Herskowitz contacted me with a proposal to screen it at his festival on April 20. How could I refuse?

1. Bijou Art Cinemas

Our show took place at the much loved Bijou Art Cinemas. The historic building began as a church, then was used as a mortuary for a number of years, before finally becoming a movie theater. Great place!

2. Bijou marquee

Since Cinema Pacific was hosting the show, a lot of the advance work I usually do was unnecessary. I didn't have to do press releases, invitations, and publicity. I didn't have to organize event staff, coordinate with the theater beforehand, or host an after-party.

Even so, there was still much to do. I needed to get permission from each of the 20 filmmakers involved. One declined, so I scrambled and managed to get master animators Joan Gratz and Jim Blashfield to share two of their films instead. The projection DVD had to be painstakingly remastered. I also put together a batch of fancy new programs for the audience.

There's a temptation to slack off when doing a repeat show under someone else's banner. I remind myself: every show is someone's first impression of the festival — it's important to present the best possible show every time.

3. Edward Schiessl, Bijou owner-operator

The long-time owner of the Bijou passed away about two years ago. Edward Schiessl has since taken over, and seems to be doing a really great job putting in new equipment and programming films that connect with his audiences. He was warm, down-to-earth, and a pleasure to work with.

4. auditorium 1 - rear

As it turned out, we had our pick as to which auditorium PAN! would screen in. Auditorium 1 was very impressive, with high vaulted ceilings, a 27-foot screen and capacity for 105 people.

5. auditorium 1 - front

However, talking it over with Gretchin, we decided that if I was running Q&A after the show then auditorium 2 — which has a more intimate feel — would be the better choice.

6. Bijou lobby

So we trundled over from auditorium 1 through the lobby...

7. door to auditorium 2

Passing through the theater's beautiful enclosed courtyard...

8. auditorium 2 - rear

Auditorium 2 has a slightly subterranean feel to it. In a good way, though! Like the cinematic equivalent of a hobbit hole.

Low ceilings help amplify sound when you're speaking from the front of the room. There's more of an incline to the seating than in auditorium 1. Seats, screen and carpets are all in good condition; capacity is 97 people.

9. auditorium 2 - front

Edward obliged a tech check. Everything seemed good: picture was in focus, aspect ratio correct, sound level neither too loud nor too soft, and we got a small portable amp set up with two microphones.

Gulp. Looks like we're good to go!

10. Cinema Pacific ticket table

Separate from the Bijou's box office, Cinema Pacific had a table in the lobby for anyone buying tickets on the night of the show. I checked and made sure that the comp tickets promised for my animators were ready and waiting for their arrival.

11. Cinema Pacific volunteers hand out programs

I had put together a short survey for audience members, which was slipped into the PAN! program. As it turned out, Cinema Pacific was also doing surveys. Oops. After conferring, we all decided to slip the Cinema Pacific surveys into the PAN! programs, so as not to bombard attendees with too many loose papers. Even so, it felt a bit embarrassing to ask the audience to fill out two separate questionnaires. Next time, it would be wise to check with the host organization first.

12. audience arriving

People didn't really start arriving until 10 minutes before the film, with a majority showing up in the last 5 minutes. It was a bit nerve-wracking, pacing the courtyard, reviewing my introductory notes, wondering if anyone was going to come. But this is also sort of what happened when we did our Best of the Fest event at the Hollywood Theatre. A lot of people aim to arrive at the last minute — we have to plan for that.

13. welcome address

After a brief introduction from one of the Cinema Pacific event coordinators, I gave a little welcome speech. I knew from previous experience: keep it short — get to the films.

14. The Box Game on screen

The lights went down, and the films began. To my surprise, there was a much different feel in the house from when we've done our other events. Previously, I've always made a big deal about the makers of the films being in the audience. There's a sense of excitement in the air. People applaud after each short. This time, though, it felt like the audience wasn't prepared to be socially engaged; they were simply there to watch a film, just like any other.

After the first short ended, Gretchin and I started to applaud. There was NO similar response from anyone else, so we stopped that immediately.

15. volume control knob

Despite the general lack of excitement, I was very relieved to hear the audience having audible emotional responses to the film. All the funny shorts got chuckles. There was a little gasp when we briefly see the main character in Ursula 1000 - Rocket topless. And once again, someone exclaimed "YEAH!" when the second Ruby Rocket short comes on.

Everything was going pretty well until Chef Antonio came on. The sound was was distorted due to being too loud. I rushed over to the projection booth...

The projection booths that I've encountered so far are universally a bizarre mix of super-new digital technology and old film canisters that have likely been hanging around since the 70s. This one was no different. It has a nice feature, though, which I'd been introduced to earlier: a master volume knob positioned at the door, so you can quickly adjust volume on the fly. Very handy, since folks in the projection booth seldom have an accurate sense of how loud a film is in the auditorium.

16. auditorium sound system

I started fussing with the volume when suddenly crisis struck: the sound cut out entirely!

I ran to the lobby as fast as I could and got Edward. He came and quickly fixed the problem, while the film was still in motion. The sound cut out once more during the Chef Antonio— but was then fine for the rest of the program.

What was the problem? It seems that this particular sound system has a "feature" that causes it to cut out if there's clipping on the film's audio track — supposedly to protect the speakers from damage. After it cuts out, you have to hit the on/off switch to reboot.

I've tried to be very careful about eliminating clipping in the films I receive, adjusting levels during the DVD mastering process to avoid this problem. I never expected, though, that there would be such a horrifying punishment if I missed an overly-loud spot in a soundtrack!

The same film has been fine in the other theaters where it's played... But now I know that some equipment will bring the entire show to the stop if I make this mistake again. Painful lesson!

17. Q&A with the audience

A few Portland animators thought that they'd be able to make it down to Eugene for the show. In the end, only Matthew Dan (Chef Antonio) and Cassandra Worthington (Button Song) could be on hand. Not a problem... Taking a suggestion from Gretchin, I shifted the focus of the talk away from interviewing the artists, and made it more of an "art appreciation 101" spiel.

18. Matthew Dan, maker of Chef Antonio

After the film ended, the first thing I did was welcome the animators down to the stage with me. I asked the audience to give Matthew a very special round of applause, since he'd driven all the way from Portland and then had the bad luck of seeing his film suffer technical difficulties.

19. Cassandra Worthington, maker of Button Song

It was an awkward situation, but I'm pleased with how I spun it. I could have been apologetic about the technical failure — instead, this was an opportunity for the audience to extend some empathy to the filmmaker. Finding a way to bridge the emotional distance between the stage and everyone seated in the audience is a delicate art... This improvised solution seemed to work pretty well.

20. projection palimpsest

Something I only learned after the Q&A was over: the PAN! menu screen had been projecting across my face the entire time. It looks pretty strange in a lot of the photographs — and was distracting enough that someone actually mentioned it on their survey. Live and learn...

21. night in the Bijou's courtyard

After it was all over, we emerged into a beautiful warm night in the Bijou's courtyard. Venus beamed down from her perch in the wide cerulean sky.

22. Cinema Pacific poster

Thank you to Richard Herskowitz and Larissa Ennis at Cinema Pacific for setting us up with this screening opportunity; to all of the kind Cinema Pacific volunteers overseeing the event; to Edward Schiessl for his grace under pressure and a good conversation; to all the filmmakers who contributed their fine work to the show; to Matthew Dan and Cassandra Worthington for joining me onstage; and to Gretchin Lair for help preparing the programs, driving us to Eugene, managing lobby matters, and tremendous support in every aspect of the NW Animation Fest..

Next up: The 2012 Northwest Animation Festival — with nearly 60 films from 15 countries — will play on May 18-19 at the Hollywood Theatre here in Portland. Tickets on sale now!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

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

December 27, 2011

the great leap forward: from analog to hdtv

by sven at 5:10 pm

Panasonic 1080p Plasma HDTV

If you check the electronics section of your local department store, it's clear that society has transitioned from Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) televisions to High Definition flat screens. I have pretty mixed feelings about this. But now that I'm running the NW Animation Festival, I finally have compelling reasons to catch up with the times. Both for better and for worse.


Here's what excites me. After maybe a decade and a half of slow development and format wars, HD standards have finally solidified. Every filmmaker should be producing work with Blu-ray resolution in mind: 16:9 aspect ratio, 1920x1080 pixels, 24 frames per second, progressive. I reel reasonably confident that this standard will hold for the next ten years.

I'm thrilled that the standards for television and cinema have begun to converge. A 16:9 aspect ratio is nearly identical to the most common one for screens in movie theaters: 1.85:1. Regrettably, digital broadcast television remains based on the old 30fps NTSC standard; however, Blu-ray and most HDTVs now have native support for 24fps—the same frame rate used for celluloid. Coming from the other direction, big chain movie theaters are rapidly transitioning from celluloid to digital projection. One well-regarded industry report forecasts that by 2015, 35mm film will be projected on only 17% of screens, globally.

As a filmmaker, I crave to make films that screen equally well on a home TV or in a movie theatre. Good riddance to 4:3 aspect ratios, 30fps, and interlacing!


Now here's the bad news. Despite the hype, Hi Def televisions are still an adolescent technology. And it really shows. Analog televisions have been in our homes since roughly the 1930s. They are dependable, predictable, and fairly forgiving. HDTVs look vastly superior when you play a well-authored Blu-ray disc—but can make anything less look damnably awful.

A poor broadcast signal will lead to huge blocks of stuttering pixels. A poorly compressed film of any sort has artifacts that look like mosquitos. Movies that were shot on film, often lose their cinematic quality when displayed on an HDTV, instead having that "too crisp" look of video. Digital media are much less forgiving of audio clipping, which becomes a harsh buzz. While Blu-ray players are backwards-compatible for playing DVDs, most of my (considerable) collection now looks muddy and pixelated unless I sit far back from the screen.

As I said, the technology is in its adolescence. Given another 5-10 years, it ought to be easy enough to compensate for these awkward translations of data. I'm not sure that the industry is interested in improving quality, though. By making anything less than Hi Def data nearly unwatchable, society is forced to abandon DVDs and the like, and adopt the best new formats. It just seems a bit mean-spirited when the majority of digital content currently looks like crap.

"Upgrading" to HDTV, I feel like we've now caught up with where society is going... But with the understanding that we haven't really evolved to a higher level of being—rather, we're all going to go through some rocky technological times together.


At least I feel confident that we made the best selection possible at this point in time. We went for a Panasonic VIERA TC-P42ST30 42-Inch 1080p 3D Plasma HDTV.

There are three major flat screen technologies at present: plasma, LCD, and LED. Of them, plasma has been around the longest and is best developed. One indicator of this is refresh rate. A typical plasma refresh rate is 600Hz, whereas many LCDs are still only 60Hz. LED is the newest hybrid technology, which has the best brightness—but gives uneven luminance because the LEDs are only positioned around the edges of the picture frame.

Among producers of plasma TVs, Panasonic is currently the industry leader. Plasma TVs are noticeably dimmer than LCDs, but also have the ability to show blacker blacks. Plasmas are viewable from a wider range of angles than LCDs. There's a danger with Plasma that images will burn a permanent afterimage into the screen if you leave them on too long. However, we don't really play video games or watch TV channels with logos in the corners, and "neo plasma" technologies have lessened the problem—so this wasn't a big concern.

Ultimately, what I'm most looking forward to is running film jurying sessions for the NW Animation Festival, where I can run a single cable from my laptop to the TV and show films at full resolution. (And without having to be concerned about TV-safe areas!) I'm also excited to see the 1920x1080 version of my film Mutate displayed at full resolution for the first time.

It's curious... Technology has moved "forward"—in the process making the majority of available content look much worse. It cools my desire to be a media consumer—but simultaneously fuels my interest in creating new content that will look excellent using the new tools at hand.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival, studio space

September 19, 2011

review: best of the nw animation festival 2011

by sven at 10:58 pm

Best of the NW Animation Fest: Sept 10, 2011

The "Best of the Fest" show brought in a good-sized crowd and got rave reviews!

1. Hollywood Theatre

With 78 films at the inaugural fest back in June, it seemed to me that we had enough material to do a "best of" show, which might draw in a different audience. This was an opportunity to try out a higher stakes venue and learn its quirks — without having to simultaneously pull together an entirely new program.

2. marquee

We were well-prepared by event day, and things went off quite smoothly. A minor snafu at the very beginning: the restaurant I'd told my staff to meet at now closes at 5pm. Oh well — we sent folks over to the Plan B restaurant for food. The process of re-organizing, though, meant that I didn't really get to see the marquee with my own eyes before we headed in. I'm sad I missed that experience.

3. line outside

As is often the case at the Hollywood, the line for tickets stretched down the block. Still, even though I knew it was likely, it was thrilling to see so many people eager to get inside.

4. lobby

When we were at 5th Avenue Cinema three months ago, NWAF was the only show playing in its auditorium. That really allowed event staff time to take ownership of the space. At the Hollywood, there was another show prior to us that didn't get out until 6:30. From an organizer's point of view, it was a very different feeling waiting to be let in. Not bad — but I do look forward to a future when we'll be able to occupy the theatre entirely.

5. Gretchin Lair staffing our info table

We had three tables set up in the lobby. One was an info table for the NW Animation Fest. The other two were for local animation organizations: ASIFA-Portland and Cascade ACM SIGGRAPH. Thanks to Gretchin, Rob Bekuhrs, and AJ DeFlaminis for chatting folks up!

6. filmmaker name badges

There was less ephemera to produce this time around. There were name badges for filmmakers, programs for the audience, and a 24"x36" poster to put by the front doors... But no signage for the walls or specially branded tickets. Ticketing all went through the Hollywood's box office, which simplified things for us greatly. (And, boy, do I dig getting a prompt and well-organized financial statement at the end of things! Kudos to the Hollywood's business manager, Cailin Bell!)

7. Nicklas Nall hands out programs

As soon as the show prior to us let out, I went into the auditorium with our projectionist and did a final tech check... Then that magic moment, when the doors swing open, and the audience finds its seats! Thanks to Dielle Alexandre, Jeff Mulcaster, Nicklas Nall, and Temris Ridge for handing out programs.

8. audience getting seated

An interesting thing I've noticed: It's really hard to take photos from the rear of a theatre that make the screen look as big as it actually is. When you think about it, it's a trick of forced perspective. Because the seating slopes downward, your mind tries to compare the size of the screen to the seats in the foreground and gets fooled.

9. welcome!

Because there were still people waiting in line outside, we wound up delaying the start of the show by a full 15 minutes. That threw timing off and had me worried. But, by keeping questions-and-answers with the filmmakers short, we were able to make up for the delay and end the evening right on time at 11pm, as promised.

10. our projectionist, Matthew Combs

The DVD compilations I made for the show were flawless. Everything was sized to use as much of the screen as possible. The aspect ratios were correct. Image quality was as good as the original files. Transitions between films were seamless. Sound levels were equalized.

Despite all that effort, I made one dumb move. Though the sound levels were equalized, I failed to set the auditorium's sound system to the proper level during our tech check. The first few films were too loud, to the point of distortion. Fortunately, all I had to do was go up to the booth and get our projectionist, Matthew Combs, to turn the volume down. Lesson learned for next year!

11. Sam Niemann, Adam Fisher, Dean Holmes, Jeff Riley, Eric Kilkenny, Kartika Mediani, Marilyn Zornado, Barbara Tetenbaum

After the first block of films, I had all the attending filmmakers come up for Q&A. In attendance: Adam Fisher, Dean Holmes, Eric Kilkenny, Kartika Mediani, Sam Niemann, Barbara Tetenbaum, and Marilyn Zornado.

BLOCK 1 (90min)
1. Ursula 1000 - Rocket ..... by Eric Kilkenny
2. Timber ..... by Adam Fisher
3. Heart ..... by Erick Oh
4. Spirit of the Bluebird ..... by Jesse Gouchey & Xstine Cook
5. Chicxulub ..... by Christopher Purdin
6. Gerald's Last Day ..... by Justin & Shel Rasch
7. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective ..... by Sam Niemann & Stacey Hallal
8. The Necessities of Life ..... by Gerald Guthrie
9. Zero ..... by Christopher & Christine Kezelos
10. Cheez…z ..... by Arut Tantasirin
11. Operation: Fish ..... by Jeff Riley
12. Breath ..... by Kartika Mediani
13. The Nose ..... by Neil Burns & Dean Holmes
14. Old-Time Film ..... by Barbara Tetenbaum & Marilyn Zornado

12. Adam Fisher, Dean Holmes (mic), Jeff Riley

Dean Holmes talked about how he and Neil Burns had been working on a stop-motion TV show in Canada that was put on hiatus. During the break, they were given permission to use the studio to work on "The Nose." The TV show wound up not being renewed — so they were able to use the facilities for almost a full year!

13. Marilyn Zornado demonstrates flip-book

Marilyn Zornado and Barbara Tetenbaum's "Old-Time Film" is thought to be the first animation made using traditional letterpress printing. I've been told that it's making something of a splash in the printer's community. For the fest, the two brought along a box full of flipbooks made from the film's prints, which the audience got to examine and play with in the lobby during intermission.

14. Temris Ridge, Dielle Alexandre, Jeff Mulcaster hand out surveys

An important part of growing a festival is learning about your audience and what works for them. At intermission we handed out surveys. As an incentive, the first people turning them in got NWAF lapel buttons (the last of the batch we made back in June). We had a great response rate: almost half of everyone attending filled out a survey.

15. filling out surveys

‎56 attendees handed in surveys. 36 wrote comments. Response was astonishingly consistent… See for yourself!

Frequency of adjectives used to describe "Best of the NW Animation Festival 2011":

  • great: 10
  • awesome: 8
  • good: 6
  • wonderful: 5
  • love: 3
  • amazing: 2
  • excellent: 2
  • fun: 2
  • nice: 2
  • fantastic: 1
  • incredible: 1

Oh, and the number of exclamation marks? Thirty-three.

(Punctuation matters!)

16. intermission

I really wanted people to stay for both block 1 and block 2, to see all the marvelous films. As encouragement, I set ticket prices at $8 for one or $10 for both. It would have been simpler to have only one price for the whole evening, and I was worried about creating confusion. But, at intermission, another 15 people arrived just for the 9pm show. I think the gamble paid off.

17. getting seated again

Has everyone had a chance to use the restrooms? Get more popcorn at the concessions counter? OK, I'm ringing a hand-held bell in the lobby. Back to your seats, so we can move on to block 2!

BLOCK 2 (97min)
1. Medusa ..... by Nick DiLiberto
2. The Quiet Life ..... by Timothy Hittle
3. Just Can't Trust a Drunk Ninja ..... by Greg Doble
4. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective Web Series ..... by Niemann & Hallal
5. Slow Joe ..... by Philip Gray & Stephen Boot
6. The Lighthouse ..... by Po Chou Chi
7. The Box Game ..... by The Box Game Collective
8. Transformations on Bartok ..... by Stephen Campbell
9. Missionary ..... by Mike A. Smith
10. In the Fall of Gravity ..... by Ron Cole
11. Good Bot Bad Bot ..... by Marcus Ng & Nick Matthews
12. Something Left, Something Taken ..... by Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata
13. Landscape with Duck ..... by Patrick Neary
14. 24 Frames ..... by Brad Pattullo

18. Q and A after block 2

Attending filmmakers for block 2: Lisa Brackney, Patrick Neary, Sam Niemann, Mike A. Smith, Becky Steele, and Danie West. Sam had "Ruby Rocket, Private Detective" episodes in both blocks. Becky, Danie, and Lisa formally represented "The Box Game" — but we got a number of the other students who worked on that film up on stage, too.

19. Patrick Neary (mic), Sam Niemann, Becky Steele, Vanessa Pridgen, Crystal Tabaldo, Lisa Brackney

For the Q&A sessions, there just wasn't enough time to allow interaction with the audience. Instead, I posed a very open-ended question and let each filmmaker have a turn responding. I phrased it something like this:

What was the inspiration behind your film, or what made you want to make it? Or, tell us an anecdote from the process of making it... Something that went horribly wrong, or fantastically right. Entertain us!

(A little awkward, but it did the job.)

20. Mike Smith

As the festival director, I watch the festival from an odd vantage point. While the audience lines up, I'm introducing my volunteers to the Hollywood's staff. While the event staff welcomes people into the lobby, I'm in the auditorium doing tech checks. When everyone gets seated, I'm up on the stage blinded by lights, talking into darkness. When the films begin, I'm far in the back of the audience in an aisle seat so I can run to the projection booth if there's a problem. When the filmmakers are answering questions, I'm at the side of the stage maintaining a poise of respectful interest...

It's disorienting. I'm extremely pleased that everyone who attended seems to have been blown away. Yet, I sort of feel like I wasn't able to attend the same show that they saw. After it was all over, I had a bit of post-partum depression. At a visceral level, I couldn't understand where the event I'd put so much work into had disappeared to. Getting to see the photos a few days later helped enormously, making it all seem real again. Huge thanks to Carly J. Cais for being our event photographer!

21. good night!

All told, 120 people bought tickets. 105 for the first show, 75 for the second. 60 stayed for both blocks. Additionally, we had 24 filmmakers/guests and 8 event staff. A pretty good number of warm bodies, really, for a first-year festival.

22. milling outside the theatre

As the evening came to a close, I invited everyone to join us for an informal post-show gathering at the Moon and Sixpence, a British pub. Being 11pm by that point, few joined us — mostly just the event staff. Your loss... Best. Pasties. Ever.

23. Gretchin considers a snack at the Moon and Sixpence

Finally we come to the big question... Was the event successful enough to justify doing another festival?


We were in a huge auditorium and news coverage was disappointing. Yet, we still managed to break even, and have gotten tremendously positive feedback from everyone who attended. We are definitely doing another full-scale festival next year — and we're doing it at the Hollywood. The dates have been set!

24. goodbye Hollywood Theater — see you in May!

Let's end this review where the "Best of the Fest" began — with this introduction I wrote for the program:


Beyond Hollywood and Cartoon Network, there is an amazing world of animation you've never seen.

Independent animators produce hundreds of short films each year that are in turn hilarious, heart-warming, and profound. Sadly, without million-dollar advertising budgets, you probably won't ever hear about these gems. Through the newly-formed Northwest Animation Festival, I want to help change this.

Here's the dream: I want Portland to host the biggest animation festival west of the Mississippi. Instead of a dozen or so films, give me an abundant feast of 100+ each year. Let there be a mix of new work both from masters of the art and from remarkable amateurs. An event that inspires and brings together a community of artists.

It's a lot to wish for. But we've made an excellent start.

The inaugural NW Animation Fest took place in June. Three days of films packed the house at 5th Ave Cinema. “I gained a newfound respect for the art of animation—and if they keep things going, this festival has a future ahead of it,” wrote Cecilia D'Anastasio for the Portland Mercury.

“It was a life changing experience!” animator John Divide told me, having flown all the way from England to see his film’s screening.

This is the impact a film festival can make, and why it’s important to give indie animation a platform.

Tonight's “Best of the Fest” show gives you a taste of the finest treats from our first event. It’s also meant to be a teaser for things to come. I’m very proud to announce dates for our next full-scale fest: please join us on May 18-19 for the 2012 NW Animation Festival — here at the historic Hollywood Theatre!

Now, let’s watch some films!

— Sven Bonnichsen

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

September 10, 2011

best of the nw animation festival 2011

by sven at 2:58 pm


Drunken Ninjas, Robot Police, and Zombie Pigeons
at Best of the NW Animation Festival 2011

If you missed Portland's first NW Animation Festival this summer, here's a second chance.

"Best of the Fest" showcases 28 short films from around the world that are in turn funny, heart-touching, and profound. This special one-night event includes films from two Oscar-nominees, and many other award-winning artists. Attending filmmakers will answer questions from the audience following each block of shorts.

A feast for animation lovers, there are delights here for every taste. Just Can't Trust a Drunk Ninja hilariously warns us about the danger of intoxicated, weapon-carrying ninjas. The Nose, based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, tells the surreal tale of a vain civil servant who wakes up one morning to find that his own nose has disappeared. The Lighthouse touchingly portrays a father's unwavering, life-long support of his son's dreams — like a lighthouse forever lighting for the boats.

For schedule, photos, and film descriptions, see the website: www.nwanimationfest.com

Saturday September 10 - one night only!
Two different shorts blocks at 7 and 9pm
7pm Block 1
9pm Block 2

$8 for one block / $10 for pass to both
CLICK HERE to buy tickets

Hollywood Theatre - main auditorium
4122 NE Sandy Blvd
Portland, OR 97212

In addition to street parking around the theatre, Hollywood patrons can park in the Broadway Medical Clinic lot (4212 NE Broadway).


BLOCK 1 (90min)
1. Ursula 1000 - Rocket ..... by Eric Kilkenny
2. Timber ..... by Adam Fisher
3. Heart ..... by Erick Oh
4. Spirit of the Bluebird ..... by Jesse Gouchey & Xstine Cook
5. Chicxulub ..... by Christopher Purdin
6. Gerald's Last Day ..... by Justin & Shel Rasch
7. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective ..... by Sam Niemann & Stacey Hallal
8. The Necessities of Life ..... by Gerald Guthrie
9. Zero ..... by Christopher & Christine Kezelos
10. Cheez…z ..... by Arut Tantasirin
11. Operation: Fish ..... by Jeff Riley
12. Breath ..... by Kartika Mediani
13. The Nose ..... by Neil Burns & Dean Holmes
14. Old-Time Film ..... by Barbara Tetenbaum & Marilyn Zornado

BLOCK 2 (97min)
1. Medusa ..... by Nick DiLiberto
2. The Quiet Life ..... by Timothy Hittle
3. Just Can't Trust a Drunk Ninja ..... by Greg Doble
4. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective Web Series ..... by Niemann & Hallal
5. Slow Joe ..... by Philip Gray & Stephen Boot
6. The Lighthouse ..... by Po Chou Chi
7. The Box Game ..... by The Box Game Collective
8. Transformations on Bartok ..... by Stephen Campbell
9. Missionary ..... by Mike A. Smith
10. In the Fall of Gravity ..... by Ron Cole
11. Good Bot Bad Bot ..... by Marcus Ng & Nick Matthews
12. Something Left, Something Taken ..... by Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata
13. Landscape with Duck ..... by Patrick Neary
14. 24 Frames ..... by Brad Pattullo

posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival

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:

  • managing the line (jokingly dubbed "the bouncer")
  • tickets - both Will Call and General Admission
  • giving filmmakers their name badges
  • auditorium door - handing out programs, making sure door closes quietly
  • usher - with flashlight for late seating
  • photographer
  • projectionist
  • emcee

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:

  • photos of the films, which I could slide around on a big folding table
  • a spreadsheet, which could automatically calculate the length of each block
  • video clips in iTunes, which allowed me to hear soundtracks in sequence

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:

  • Michael P. Glover - Milton the Demon Boy ..... New York
  • Dayan Paul - Courageous Crustaceans ..... Nevada
  • Curtis Randloph - Moon Diary ..... Washington
  • Carly White - Pink Spray Paint ..... California
  • Maureen Zent - Bostle Sleench ..... Georgia

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

  • John Davide - Hope ..... England!

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:

  • Art Institute of Portland students - The Box Game
  • Christina Beard - Maurauder's Mistake
  • Jesse Brennan - Coffee Critics
  • Andrew Brown - The Old Man and the Butterfly
  • Matthew Dan - Chef Antonio
  • Fashionbuddha - Phlush PSA
  • Adam Fisher - Mashed, Timber
  • Michael Graham - Colorless
  • Troy Hileman - Inritus
  • Dean Holmes - The Nose
  • Eric Kilkenny - Ursula 1000 - Rocket
  • Patrick Neary - Landscape with Duck
  • Sam Niemann - Ruby Rocket, Private Detective
  • Christopher Purdin - Chixulub
  • Justin Rasch - Gerald's Last Day
  • Jeff Riley - Operation: Fish
  • Mike A. Smith - Missionary
  • Barbara Tetenbaum - Old-Time Film
  • Cassandra Worthington - Button Song
  • Marilyn Zornado - Old-Time Film
  • 25. students who worked on The Box Game, Teresa Drilling (their teacher), Curtis Randolph

    It was a very special pleasure to show The Box Game, which was created by more than 30 students at the Art Institute of Portland. It's an extremely well-crafted and delightful short. It deserves to be seen on a big screen — and I'm glad I could give its makers the opportunity to see it this way.

    26. Curtis Randolph discusses Moon Diary, the festival's closing film

    I'm very pleased about the relationship growing between NWAF and the Art Institute. Several films came from the school: The Box Game, Button Song, Colorless, Inritus, The Old Man and the Butterfly... And both Marilyn Zornado and Teresa Drilling (teachers at the school) made it a homework assignment for their classes to attend the fest!

    27. McMenamins Market Street Pub

    Each day of the fest, everyone in the audience was invited to walk a few blocks over to the McMenamins Market Street Pub. I had reservations — but our group was late to arrive on Friday, which made things awkward. Saturday and Sunday I wised up and sent an NWAF volunteer (Jeff) over to McMenamins to hold onto our table. By introducing him earlier in the evening, everyone knew who to look for when they arrived at the pub. This worked very well, and we wound up easily filling 20 seats.

    28. John Davide and myself

    Probably my happiest story from the festival is about John Davide from England. As the pub was closing, he came up and thanked me profusely. In his words, the festival was a "life-changing experience." Regardless of whether his film was best in show — just to have someone believe in his work enough to put it up on the screen meant the world.

    He stayed at a hostel on Hawthorne Street. After telling other guests about his film, the hostel manager took people's names down on a napkin and organized buying festival tickets for everyone!

    John felt such warmth — talking with Jeff Alexandre, Matt Dan, myself, and others — he's seriously looking into moving to Portland... Perhaps to take some classes at the Art Institute. "London has lost its soul," he says — but in Portland, there's tremendous cultural support for creatives. I wish you the best, John!

    29. Sven & Gretchin

    Lastly, THANK YOU to Gretchin for supporting this mad endeavor. Behind the scenes, she was making buttons, folding programs, making the special treat of popcorn happen. She lent me her computer for a few days while I was encoding the festival's eight DVDs. Anything I could ask for, she fulfilled.

    Beyond the tangibles, though, she was nothing but supportive during the months when I had to quit doing anything but festival work... When she'd go to bed, and wake up to find me still sitting, typing in the same chair. Without her belief in me, this wouldn't be possible.

    30. marquee

    Would I do all again? ...YES.

    The "Best of the NW Animation Fest" show is scheduled for September 10 at the Hollywood Theatre. It's a gorgeous 450-seat auditorium — and if all goes well this fall, it's where we'll do the 2012 festival next spring.

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

    May 3, 2011

    100th submission

    by sven at 8:15 am

    I registered the NW Animation Festival with the State of Oregon on my birthday, Nov 1.

    The postmark deadline for entries was this past Sunday... May 1: exactly six months later.

    The same day the 100th submission arrived!

    Last minute submissions are still trickling in. We are now officially in "beyond my wildest hopes" territory.

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

    February 16, 2011

    founding the nw animation festival

    by sven at 7:09 pm

    Big announcement... I'm founding a new film fest: the Northwest Animation Festival!

    call for submissions

    I hope all my animator friends will consider making a submission. It's very open. Films may come from anywhere in the world. You may submit films made at any time during your life. And you are free to simultaneously show your work online or at other festivals.

    All types of animation are welcome: hand-drawn, computer-generated, stop-motion, etc. If there are adequate submissions, I'd very much like to program shorts blocks dedicated to each of the different methods.

    The festival will take place on the weekend of June 3-4-5 in Portland, Oregon. However, the project is bigger than just this. Plans are in progress for a "Best of the NW Animation Fest" traveling show that will tour the region.

    If you don't have something that you want to submit this year, then please help out by passing the word on to others.

    Thank you in advance for your support!

    posted by sven | permalink | categories: nw animation festival