Coming Events in Los Angeles: AniMazing Spotlight and A Fischinger Celebration

AniMazing Spotlight 2010 logo, Juggler designed by Lou Romano

Two forthcoming animation events in Los Angeles caught my eye. The first  is the 2nd AniMazing Spotlight Animated Shorts Festival, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, September 4-5, at Woodbury University, Burbank, under the able direction of Tee Bosustow. (Tee is the son of UPA co-founder Stephen Bosustow; the festival website also hosts the all-important UPA Legacy Project website; I should also note that I am friends with Tee’s brother Nick.)

In addition to screening of films in competition, there is Tom Sito speaking on  “Animation & Politics: the Blacklist, the Mafia and beyond,”  a presentation by the UCLA Film Archive of the work of computer animation pioneer Robert Abel,  Teddy Newton giving a behind-the-scenes look at Pixar’s Day & Night, “The Legendary Fred Crippen” (UPA & Roger Ramjet to Sesame Street), “More Women than Ever” presented by Women in Animation, etc., etc.

Elfriede Fischinger 1986 The Hague
Film Historian and Oskar Fischinger biographer William Moritz, Elfriede Fischinger and animation filmmaker and teacher Michael Scroggins, c.1986, in The Hague. Source: Center for Visual Music.

On September 23rd, at 7:00 p.m., the Center for Visual Music, in Los Angeles, will be putting on “A Fischinger Celebration—Benefit Art Exhibition and Reception,  Celebrating Elfriede Fischinger on her 100th Birthday.” Though not as well-known as her husband Oskar, the pioneer abstract animation filmmaker, Elfriede Fischinger was an important figure in animation not only for her tireless efforts to promote her husband’s films, but also for her support of filmmakers and a number of animation-related organizations. Thus, when the Society for Animation Studies held its first conference at UCLA in 1989, it was not a surprise that Elfriede showed up.  I got to know Elfriede in the last decade of her life and always found her an inspiration. In a very real way, her home was a salon for animators and filmmakers, and she is well-deserving of this tribute.

The Center notes,

The evening features an Exhibition of selected photographs, artifacts and Paintings by Oskar Fischinger, a Wine Reception, and a Screening of Home Movies and Videos of Elfriede. Highlights include Oskar’s first Stereo Painting (1949), The Lumigraph film (1970) made by Elfriede, and unshot animation drawings by Oskar. Proceeds from the evening, which includes a silent auction, will benefit the Fischinger preservation, conservation and digitization work being done by Center for Visual Music, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit Los Angeles archive.

Animation Filmmakers Who Like and Do Mocap

My March 9th posting on motion capture, “Oh Motion Capture, What Art Thou?,” elicited an interesting comment from Vita Berezina-Blackburn, an animation specialist at Ohio State University, who finds motion capture

to be closer to traditional puppetry than cel animation and wish there would be more films featuring experimental use of motion capture which has infinite possibilities in terms of setting up virtual rigs driven by human movement.

Vibeke Sorenson Her wish that more artists would use motion capture for experimentation is not often heard, but did ring a bell. Back in 1999, in doing a story for Animatoon on the University of Southern California’s Division of Animation and Digital Arts, I interviewed Vibeke Sorenson, its founding chair, who mentioned she first developed an interest in the area in graduate school, when computer animation was still in its infancy; she recalled, “the real time approach was important because of the roll of the spontaneous gesture in the act of creation.” And in the “Philosophy Statement” she wrote about the program she sent me said,

The computer provides unprecedented opportunities for data transformation, both in real-time and not in real-time. It allows animators to work with both 2 and 3-D animation, in real-time interactive virtual environments. They are a hybrid form of filmmaker, functioning at various times as directors, actors, cinematographers, and editors. Computers are transformative instruments providing vast new spaces and possibilities for animators.

Sorenson is now Chair of the School of Art, Design, and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

John Clark Matthews in Up to No Good:  The Making of Papa No Good

Berezina-Blackburn’s feeling that motion capture is a form of puppetry is also a view strongly held by John Clark Matthews, the award-winning puppet filmmaker (The Mouse and the Motorcycle trilogy, Frog and Toad are Friends, Mouse Soup, etc.), who I recently talked to about the topic. (I must note John and I are friends and in 1992 I presented a paper on his films, “Experiments in Style: the Animated Puppet Films of John Matthews,” at the Society for Animation Studies conference at CalArts.)  When his studio went under in the mid-90s, he took a job as a computer animator with Sony Imageworks, where he was a lead/supervising animator on such films as Stuart Little (the design of the title character was based on the ones he did for The Mouse and the Motorcycle films) and Polar Express; he retired five years ago, but has not lost his interest in films and performance capture.

Before Polar Express, John experimented with motion capture at Sony Imageworks (samples of this work can be found here) and realized that “performance capture is nothing more than puppeteering.” As a puppeteer he is a big booster of the process and feels there is considerable room for creativity using the process.

(In commenting on the complaints animators had with Wes Anderson’s problems had with his decision to direct Fantastic Mr. Fox long distance, he feels it “is much better [using performance capture] than an animator trying to figure out what a director wants, especially when the director is not present.”

2009 Movie Box Office Break UK Records, While Attendance Also Blossoms


While there’s much suspicion about the validity of Avatar’s box office performance due to inflated 3D ticket prices, the UK Film Council’s 2010 Statistical Yearbook paints a different picture. As reported by The Guardian,

last year was the best ever in terms of box office takings and the second best year since 1971 in terms of admissions, fuelled by the continuing growth of 3D and the through-the-roof success of Avatar, as well as the enduring, recession-resistant appeal of the big screen.  …

In terms of box office, it was a record year with takings topping £944m [about $1,457,000,000]. Cinema admissions also shot up from last year’s healthy 164 million to 174 million, not quite beating 2002 (176 million), but still up 6% and the second highest number since 1971.

As to the impact of 3D,

The 3D revolution arrived in earnest, with 14 3D films accounting for 16% of UK and Ireland box office revenues, up from 0.4%. There are still sceptics but [David Steele, the council’s head of research and statistics] said: “It does not appear to be a flash in the pan.”