I recently returned from a week in Los Angeles, which was mostly spent at the Society for Animation Studies conference, which was hosted this year by the University of Southern California’s John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (part of its School of Cinematic Arts). Congratulations are in order to Lisa Mann, Christine Panushka and Kathy Smith of USC for being such gracious hosts; kudos are also in order for the Society’s continuing leadership, which seems to get along just fine, thank you, without my butting in.
The conference was something of a homecoming for me, as I got my M.A. in Cinema and Ph.D. in Communications (Film Studies) at USC. The Cinema program and facilities have changed considerably since I first went there in the 1960s, when it was only one of two schools in the country that offered a PhD in film (the other was Northwestern). I struggled through their production-oriented program, which eventually stood me in good stead in pursing my real interest, which was film and TV studies. At the time, there was only one full-time animation professor, Herb Kosower, who, I believe was one of the founders of ASIFA-Hollywood and seems to have served as mentor for George Lucas and John Milius.
USC’s animation program did not gain much traction until the 1970s, when an MFA in the field under Gene Coe was finally offered; however, it was only when experimental filmmaker and educator Vibeke Sorensen was hired to become Chair of the new Division of Animation and Digital Arts in 1994 did it gain much traction. (Sorenson, pictured at right [with Donald Crafton, University of Notre Dame, in background] showed up from her current gig as Chair, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. By the way, she was a pioneer in using motion capture before the term became a dirty word. )
I dropped out of USC in 1968 after I got my MA and returned in 1979 to finish my PhD. By that time, Lucas had helped fund a new building ostensively modeled after the funky bungalow-style facilities of yore; the new building didn’t really prove satisfactory, so Lucas then funded a new building complex, where the conference was held. (The new facilities do seem to be an improvement.)
Given USC’s high-powered connections to the industry, it was perhaps not surprising that DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg spoke (via video) at the opening reception (after all, the Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Center for Animation was just next door). This was followed by a live talk by Bill Damaschke, the studio’s Chief Creative Officer. (DreamWorks previously sponsored Donald Crafton’s keynote address at the 2002 SAS conference held at Glendale’s Brand Library, which was presented at the studio itself.)
The other glamour speaker, so to speak, was actor Geena Davis, who spoke strongly about the work of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. In particular, she talked of the chronic problem of women being underrepresented in the film and animation industry, as well as the lack of female roles. One comment that struck home with me was when she felt that a major problem was that male screenwriters often hesitate to include women in their scripts for falsely fearing they do not know how to write that type of role; a number of years ago, I was offered a free option on a novel by a woman author but hesitated to follow through for exactly those reasons.
The following pictures were mostly taken at the opening reception, with a few at the annual membership meeting. I would have included more, but I’m afraid my photo-taking capabilities and cameras were not always up to the task. (I’m especially embarrassed by the lack of good photos of two of my students, John-Michael Kirkconnell and Maureen Monaghan, who did themselves proud with papers on “Stylistic Dissonance as a Narrative Tool in Mixed Media Animation” and “Memories and Perceptions: Creating Emotional Resonance Using the Child’s Gaze.”)
No SAS conference is complete without Charles daCosta, the Society’s historian and photographer. He was also my colleague at SCAD and bravely took over the reigns of the 2009 conference when I stepped down for medical reasons. He’s now based out of Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, where he’s just set up an animation program. His paper was called, “Cracking the Frame: Oral Tradition as a Reflection of Non-cinematic Animation in Sub-Saharan West-Africa.”
Cheryl Cabera, another former SCAD compatriot, now working at the University of Central Florida’s Orlando campus. She came to give a micro-talk about The Animation Hall of Fame, which she is a Board member (I’m on its Advisory Board). If she has her way, UCF will host a future SAS conference.
Tony Tarantino of the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning was present to give a micro-talk about next year’s conference, “The Animator,” which will be hosted by Sheridan in Toronto and on campus in Oakville, Canada. Sheridan College, of course, is a legendary animation school which was, along with CalArts, a key factor in the emergence of the current animation renaissance. Canada seems an obvious locale for next year’s event, since 2014 is Norman McLaren’s centenary.
Experimental filmmaker Rose Bond, of the Pacific Northwest College of Art, is a perennial at SAS conferences. This year she gave a paper on “Poetics & Public Projection: Layered History–Redrawn Memory,” a part of a spectacular panel mostly concerned with what might be called environmental or site-specific animation. In fact, there seemed to be a heavier-than-usual focus on this sort of motion graphics/motion media design, which reflected some of the interests of the USC animation program.
Animation producer Yvette Kaplan and historian/blogger Jerry Beck dropped by for the opening reception. Jerry has a long history with SAS, having programmed a memorable screening of films from the UCLA Film & Television Archive for the first conference in 1989.
Paul Ward, Arts University Bournemouth, is the current SAS president, whose paper was called “Paratexts and Participation: The Off-screen World of Dirtgirlworld.” Like my wife Vickie and myself, Paul has a strong interest in social practice theory. (Is there something about being SAS president and SPT?)
Nichola Dobson, University of Edinburgh, Timo Linsenmaier, currently based in Belgium, and Paul Ward. Nichola, whose talk was “Dancing to Rhythm of the Music: Norman McLaren and the Performing Body,” is the former editor of SAS’s Animation Studies journal and is now doing similar duties for the Society’s Animation Studies 2.0 blog. Timo, who gave a micro-talk about “The Dissident’s Kitchen 2.0,” i.e., web animation in the former Soviet Union, is SAS’s webmaster extraordinaire.
Michael Frierson, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, at a break between sessions. Michael’s expertise is clay animation, as per his talk, “Tim Hittle/Jay Clay: One Person Making Artwork as Authentically as Possible.” Like Paul Ward and Nichola Dobson, did yeoman duty as a past SAS conference organizer.
USC Professor, long-time friend Tom Sito and former president of The Animation Guild, prior to giving the “Harvey Deneroff Keynote Address” based on his new book, Moving Innovation, A History of Computer Animation. Naming the talk after me was the Society’s way of honoring my role as founder. I must admit to be a little uneasy about the whole thing, but then my wife, Vickie, noted is was better than calling it the Harvey Deneroff Memorial Keynote Address.
Here I am presenting my paper, “Rethinking the Metanarrative of Character Animation,” in which my wife, Vickie, and I attempted to rethink the conventional wisdom of how character animation developed and how this has affected animation education. One of our main points is that the master narrative of personality animation has unfairly ignored the contributions of stop-motion filmmakers. Vickie, unfortunately, could not be there, but the presentation seemed to go over well.
Past SAS president and outgoing chair of the Board of the Directors Maureen Furniss, California Institute of the Arts, at the Annual General Meeting. She gave a micro-talk on “Direct Film Paradigms,” and also acted as conference consultant. She was one of the original members of the Society and talked herself into a seat on the Board of Directors when she was a graduate student at USC, saying there was a need for a student representative. The Society honored her years of service during the meeting through a donation to an animal shelter. Maureen was the third USC alumni to be SAS president after myself and Bill Moritz.
Filmmaker and scholar Pamela Turner, Virginia Commonwealth University, was at the membership meeting to take over from Maureen Furniss as the Society’s new Board chair. Like Furniss, she has a strong interest in experimental animation. Congratulations Pam.
Next year in Toronto!