Last month, I was in Toronto and its suburb of Oakville for “The Animator,” the 26th annual Society for Animation Studies conference, hosted this year by Sheridan College, June 16-19th. I was there to present a paper I wrote with my wife, Victoria, on “The Independent Animator Model in Early Animation: The Case of Ub Iwerks,” as well as to enjoy the usual wide variety of presentations, this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of Norman McLaren’s birth. (Vickie and I even managed to make a reference to McLaren.) In any case, despite Vickie’s inability to attend, I had a great time meeting old friends and expanding my knowledge of animation history and theory from scholars new and old. As is my wont, the following is a bit of an annotated photo gallery of my visit (aided with images by Charles DaCosta, SAS’s official photographer — that’s his photo of me getting ready to snap a picture of Tom Klein of Loyola Marymount University talking about “Evoking the Oracle: The Animator seeking Prophecy.”) (Click on images to enlarge.) Given that there were at least three panels presented at the same time, my impressions of what was going on was obviously very limited.
The bulk of the conference (Monday-Wednesday) was held at the Corus Quay, headquarters of Corus Entertainment, the media and entertainment conglomerate which includes Canadian animation giant Nelvana (whose success and even existence owes a lot to Sheridan’s animation program). The conference actually overlapped that of the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI), which began on June 13th; thus, SAS kicked off with a joint keynote address by the Head of Character Animation at PDI/DreamWorks and Sheridan alumnus Rex Grignon. I was especially taken with his recollections of the early days of computer animation at places like the New York Institute of Technology’s Computer Graphics Laboratory.
One of the pleasures of these conferences is getting to know new people from around the world. This year had a several presenters from India or talked about the animation scene there. Pictured above (left to right): Timothy Jones, an American PhD candidate in the UK who gave a talk on “Socializing the Animator: Interpreting discourses of the professional animation association,” which examined the Indian animation industry from the perspective of social practice theory (which Vickie and I also use); Akshata Udiaver, who gave a presentation on “Broadcasting Animation in India : Cracking the Distribution Code”; Debjani Bandyopadhyay talked about the “Language of Children in Animation,” which related the her and her husband’s experiences teaching animation in rural India. I had some involvement with Indian animation, having been Festival Director for the Week with the Masters and wrote an article on Famous’ House of Animation.
Here I am meeting up with ace animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi. the last time we had seen each other since Annecy 2000. The new, expanded edition of Bendazzi’s encyclopedic history, Cartoons, has happily found a new publisher, Focal Press, which, if all goes well, will be out next year (initially in a pricey edition aimed at libraries, to be followed one for the rest of us). He also gave a talk on “Jiri Brdecka, a director of animated films,” who he feels has been unjustly neglected.
The SAS proper part of the festivities began with a Norman McLaren panel with (left to right) Terence Dobson, Kaj Pindal and Nicola Dobson, moderated by Paul Wells. Terence Dobson, a New Zealander, is the author of The Film Work of Norman McLaren (John Libbey, 2007), also presented one solo paper, “Norman McLaren Beyond 100 ,” and one with Canadian Crystal Chan, “Norman McLaren, Internationalist.” Pindal is the reknown Danish-Canadian animation filmmaker worked at the National Film Board with McLaren. Nicola Dobson, who later presented a paper on McLaren, “Behind every great man…,” is also working on a bio and was particularly enthusiastic about her exploration of McLaren’s correspondence, including his unexpected enthusiasm for living in New York City, trusting his initial sojourn to Canada would be rather brief. Wells, as is his wont, popped up several times and later introduced his new documentary on Mackinnon & Saunders: A Model Studio, as well as giving a keynote address.
Conference Chair Tony Tarantino takes a quick break from his duties to take a snapshot or two. Tony and his Sheridan cohort, including numerous volunteers, did an amazing job of putting together a world-class event.
The first day concluded with a panel on stop-motion animation in Toronto with (left to right) local animation artists Bret Long and Nora Keely, and Sheridan instructor Chris Walsh, moderated by Sheridan’s Mark Mayerson, who is actually best known for his pioneering computer animated TV series, Monster By Mistake.
Experimental filmmaker and computer animation pioneer Larry Cuba (Iota Center), almost smiling, with Pamela Turner (Virginia Commonwealth University), who very successfully finished her first year as Chair of the SAS Board.
Former SAS President Richard Leskosky, myself and Australian Kahra Scott-James caught off guard at lunch. Leskosky kept up his reputation for exploring some of animation’s quirky nooks and crannies with a charming paper on “The Animator and the Ventriloquist,” while Scott-James spoke of “Authenticity in Docudrama: Capturing Displacement through Animation.” (The animated documentary, obviously, continues to be a topic of interest.)
Animator Charlie Bonifacio (Arc Productions), a former Sheridan instructor and alumnus who has worked for Bluth and Disney gave the first SAS keynote address. (His talk was moved up after Corus Entertainment’s Executive Vice President Scott Dyer had to bow out.) Bonifacio made a strong plea for the relevance ’of classical (i.e., drawn) animation skills in today’s CGI environment, though I wonder if doubling down on such an approach is the complete way forward for animation education.
Ann Owen (Falmouth University), giving her presentation on “Seeing the Real: A Neuroscientific Perspective on Stop-Motion Animation Spectatorship.” I was especially interested in her talk since it related to one of my MFA students is thesis paper and film. Owen’s work is consistently interesting, including last year’s survey she presented of the latest research on the aesthetics of stereoscopic filmmaking.
Robert Musberger, SAS’ long-suffering treasurer is a steadying presence at every conference. While he did not present any paper, he did announce that he would be coming out with the 6th edition — of his Single-Camera Video Production (Focal Press). Like all the books he writes, Musberger always includes a section on animation.
Here I am giving my presentation of the paper my wife Vickie and I did on Ub Iwerks. Basically, we posited a somewhat different reading of his career and why he gave up animating and directing in favor of “tinkering.” In so doing, we identified what we call the “Independent Animator Model” of production that was widely used in the silent and early sound eras before being supplanted by today’s industrial approach championed by Disney. In chatting about our paper beforehand, I was surprised that a number of people didn’t seem to know who Iwerks was, though they certainly knew his films.
Charles DaCosta all gussied up to give his talk on “Animating Homeland: Toward a Definition of the Notion of Home and Place.” Charles and I have been friends since I recruited him to take my place in Savannah when I moved to SCAD-Atlanta. I quickly realized he had relatives all over, including Toronto, which represented something of a one-family diaspora from Ghana, where his father had been politically unwelcome. Thus, the topic of homeland (or heimat, as he likes to put it) is something he comes upon quite easily. (For the last few years, he’s been teaching at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.)
This year there was a small but vital Italian delegation led by Giannalberto Bendazzi, including Cinzia Bottini, who presented on “The orchestration of emotions in Jerzy Kucia animated films.” A student of Bendazzi’s at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore,” she also helped him with the writing and research for the new edition of Cartoons.
I found the talk by Elisa Bertolotti, of the Politecnico di Milano, on“Doing animation today. An ethnographic research on the animators practice” especially interesting. Not only did this fit in with the use of social practice theory my wife Vickie and I have been using, it more specifically relates to Vickie’s PhD dissertation, which involved an ethnographic study of a high school science teacher. We both look forward to seeing the results of her work.
I knew former Disney and Warner Bros. animation artist Nancy Bieman (here sitting next to Alex Williams) a bit in Los Angeles before she started teaching—she’s now at Sheridan—and writing books on animation. She always had a strong interest in animation history, so it wasn’t surprising for her to give a paper on “The Animated Tramp: Charlie Chaplin’s Influence on the American Animated Film 1916-2014,” which went beyond the usual observations on the topic. In the Q&A that followed, Donald Crafton noted that Buster Keaton had appeared on the same vaudeville bills as Winsor McCay, while Beiman added that Keaton had discussions with the Fleischers about doing animation for his Three Ages (1923). (She later pointed out to me that Three Ages was the source of the classic Wile E. Coyote falling off the cliff gag.)
Robert Wilson, one of my students at SCAD-Atlanta, is seen here defending his paper, “Proper Naming, Rigid Designators, and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.” Something of a philosophy nerd, Wilson’s attempt to apply the theories of philosopher Saul Kripke and literary theorist Uri Margolin.
Pierre Floquet, author of Le Langage comique de Tex Avery (L’Harmattan, 2009), recipient of the SAS’s 2011 McLaren-Lambart Award for the Best Scholarly Book on animation, talked on “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto: an Animated Exploitation of Exploitation cinema,” which dealt with Rob Zombie’s 2009 movie.
The only micro-talk panel I went to was moderated by Chris Somerville (left) and featured 5-minute talks by American-Brazilian João Paulo Schlittler, who talked about “Motion Graphics and Animation,” Alex Williams on “Flipping the Classroom–a better way to teach animation,” and Korean Dallim Park on “Animated Sound as Generative art.” As Editor of Animation World Magazine, I once commissioned an article by Williams but hadn’t seen him since I left Los Angeles 10 years ago; a top animator whose credits include Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Iron Giant, he seems to have drifted into teaching full-time (Buckinghamshire New University) along with doing his Queens Counsel comic strip; I too have been toying with the idea of flipping my History of Animation classes, and found his experiences helpful. In talking with him later about mocap, he compared his job of animating on Monster House (2006) to that of an assistant animator, something he could do while listening to music on his earphones.
Dinner was on the first deck, while there was dancing above on the second deck.
I had the pleasure of dining with Susan Ohmer (Notre Dame) (left) and her husband Donald Crafton, who did not present papers this year. However, Michele Leigh (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) did give a talk on “Gendering an Icon: Sterling Archer and 21st Century Masculinity.”
An interesting addition to the discussion of the role of life drawing in animation training was made by Australian Kay Kane (Griffiths University), who presented on “Animation as Conservation: Classical values in Contemporary Practice.” Among other things, she pointed out that traditional life-drawing skills is largely absent from most art schools, with animation being one of the last areas where it is still considered central.
Jeremy Speed Schwartz (Alfred State College) gave a talk on “Technique-Focused Teaching of Animation History,” in which he related how he introduced production techniques to his students. This differs from my classes, where animation students already have had some production experience before they take my History of Animation classes.
The last keynote address was given by Michael Fukushima, Executive Producer of the NFB’s English Animation Studio, which brought everyone up-to-date on what Norman McLaren started. Here he is with Kaj Pindal after his talk.
The grand finale, so to speak, was a screening of digital restorations of 3D stereo films produced by Norman McLaren in 1951-52 for the The Festival of Britain. The SAS screening was ahead of the official world premiere of the restorations a few days later at the The Edinburgh International Film Festival. The films included two directed by McLaren: Around is Around (1951) and Now is the Time (to Put on Your 3D Glasses) (above), as well as Gretta Eckman’s Twirligig (1952) (shot in 2D and put into stereo by McLaren) and Evelyn Lambart’s O Canada. Eckman’s career was cut short because of the Red Scare that swept North America; as a result, McLaren took both Eckman’s and his credits off the film, though they have now been restored. I asked Terence Dobson earlier about McLaren’s interest in stereoscopic animation, who replied that yes, he was very enthusiastic about it, just as Oskar Fischinger had been before.
Anyway, after the Annual General Meeting and a Canadian barbecue dinner, there was little do but wait for next year in Canterbury Christ Church University, near London, in July 2015. And if all works out, then it will be on to Singapore!