Ottawa Animation Festival: Part 1

It's taken me several days to rest and recooperate from Ottawa, and now I feel that I might have some sort of handle on the entire festival. Mind you, I wasn't able to go to EVERYTHING, and I'm sure that if I did, I wouldn't be home, resting -- I'd be dead. Four full days of animation is enough to put the most avid fan of the art-form in the nuthouse. Good thing the festival offered other outlets to satisfy us instead of cramming down our throats screening after screening of short films, videos, and commercials. It was a nice balance of screenings, panels, workshops, and retrospectives.

It was a wild morning on Thursday, the 22nd. I would be missing the entire first day of the festival and half of the second, but since they held the competition screenings twice throughout the course of the fest, I figured out a schedule to be able to see them all. It took forever to get to the terminal and then eventually onto the small plane (we had to actually walk onto the tarmac, like a jet-setter from the 60's or something). I sat down in my aisle seat (why?) and began to read the complimentary USA Today. As the people were filing into the plane, a young (mid-20's) couple sat across the aisle from me. I began to play that game in my head where I try to figure out what this couple is like, why they were on this particular plane to Ottawa, what they do for a living, etc, mostly to amuse myself and to pass time. This was all done in a flash and immediately I was back to my paper. While reading and turning the pages, I noticed that the guy (who was in the aisle seat) was looking at me or my paper more uncomfortablly than normal. I figured that he must really be interested in the goings on in Hollywood, so I offered the Life section to him. He politely said no, and then asked very quietly, "Is... your name Ward?"

"Uh... yeah."

"I'm Roque, from Ghostbot." What the--?

Roque (pronounced "Rocky") and I had emailed each other about the possibility of meeting up and hanging out in Ottawa, but I'd never expect to see him on the exact same flight, directly across from me! See, several days before the festival, I had received a few emails from readers of my blog and of Drawn! mentioning that they would be there in Ottawa too. It was pretty cool to think that I'd finally get to meet some of my readers, which would be the oddest thing for me to fathom, as I still write this thing with nobody in mind. As far as I'm concerned, only words and images are posting comments to my posts, no real flesh and blood person behind them. To actually talk with someone who reads my words seemed completely foreign to me. But exciting at the same time. Arrangements were made to meet but nothing promised.

So what were the odds of Roque and I meeting on the same flight to Ottawa, before we even get there? It was crazy. After a few minutes of "Man!" and "Whoa!" and "I can't believe this! No one will believe us!" we eventually got to talking about the biz and what each of us do. There was hardly a break in the conversation, and before I knew it, we were up in the air, on our way to Ottawa. Roque's work has a great sense of design to it, and it seems to me that what he does comes from the heart. He puts all his effort into each project, and it shows. I was happy to know that Roque created one of my favorites of the early webtoons, Joe Paradise back in 2000. Very different design and composition compared to what was being offered back at that time. (His wife, Sonia even has a website.)

It was nice to have someone to talk to while flying as it made the trip seem incredibly shorter than it was. Once on the ground in Ottawa, we bid each other adieu and I got on a bus shuttle to my hotel. (I found out later on that Roque and Sonia had a heck of a time getting through customs. I guess they looked like the video trafficking type. I knew it!)

The way they set it up at the Ottawa Animation Festival is that every competition screening is screened twice throughout the course of the festival, just in case you miss one of the times available. I was scheduled to get in at 12 noon, but there was a Shorts Competition screening I wanted to see at 1. If I missed it, I wouldn't be able to see the second screening of it because of a schedule conflict. So I was hoping that the shuttle bus driver would move along quickly, because I had to get my Festival Pass first before going to any screening. No dice. The driver had to stop at several hotels before arriving at my hotel. And by the time I got around to getting my pass at the Arts Centre and then on to the screening, it was 1:45. I missed about half the show. The cool thing was that my hotel was literally right next door to The ByTowne Cinema, where the screening took place. At least I had that going for me. Or was it? When I went in to check in, my room wasn't ready. Fine by me. I really wanted to check out the rest of the screening anyway. Before I left for the trip, I knew that there was a slight chance that I'd miss some of that particular screening, so I made a point to view some of the shorts online -- that is, the ones that were available. I was in luck.

Shorts Competition 6
I was able to see the first short featured later on at the "Best of the Fest" screening shown at the end of the Festival. And it was indeed one of the best. City Paradise was directed by Gaƫlle Denis for Passion Pictures about a Toyko student moving to London for the first time, and then finding a secret underground oasis. It had a great style to it, with live-action combined with CG backgrounds and various other techniques. The way they animated everyone's legs was a nice touch.

The Lost Reel ad for Esurance directed by Phil Robinson for Wild Brain was one of the shorts featured online. This is one in a series and you can check them out at the Ghostbot website HERE. They are brilliant. Flash animation done at its best, I must say. Even though there is some cut paper look to some of the action in these spots, it's pretty much done in a very fluid style, which is quite hard to come by in Flash. Excellent job, Ghostbot guys! (And is it possible to have a cartoon crush on the Esurance girl?)

I really liked The Detour spots for Canada's Teletoon, done by Guru Studio. You can check out the spots HERE. Some really nice character design in a stylized 3D environment. Great snappy timing, too.

The Newsroom "Learning to Fly" was a bit pretentious and too long for me. Half live-action, half animated, I was really disappointed by the lack of quality in the animation done by Cuppa Coffee Studios. There were some interesting points in the story, but it just seemed like fluff. Just a little too self-absorbed I must say.

One of shorts I really wanted to check out was one by Tom Neely, of i will destroy you. He had an entry in the Animation for the Internet catagory last year at the festival, Brother, Can You Spare a Job?, and so I was curious about seeing his newest video for The Muffs, Don't Pick On Me. I like his retro 30's rubberhose animation style, updating it for today's style in Flash. Tom picks up in the way that those old films have the characters bob up and down in repetitive cycles. Some very nice work.

After the screening, I happened to see Tom on the way out and I introduced myself. He was another reader who had contacted me before the Festival and so it was pretty cool to finally meet the guy. And he's quite a character, too, with his mostly-black wardrobe, Chuck Taylors on his feet, wide eyes and jet-black hair, topped off with his most prominent characteristic -- a straw porkpie hat. And can I say that the dude wears it well? Strangely well. We hit it off pretty well, sharing the same demented sense of humor and dry wit.

We chatted a bit before I went next door to check on my room: not ready. So we went to the 3pm screening that was showing next at the ByTowne:

Shorts Competition 5
This was a pretty good screening. Some great films featured here. Highlights include:

Tower BAWHER by Theodore Ushev was a great abstract experimental piece, described as "Deconstructivist Constructivism movements printed on film." Not a bad description. Now, I'm not a big fan of abstract animated films, but this one was pretty well done. Great look, style and design. The site for the film is HERE, but it's really for the company that produced it, and it's not currently available to view. But it does say on the site that it's coming soon. I highly recommend seeing it when it's up.

Omigosh, I absolutely LOVED the next film, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello directed by Anthony Lucas of 3D Films in Australia. Is it stop-motion? CG? It's a little bit of both and it looks entirely amazing. Harking back to the very first animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), Jasper is done in silhouette, like an elaborate shadow puppet play. At first I was thinking that it would be rather difficult to follow along because of it being in silhouette, but after about a couple of minutes I was completely into it, and forgot all about it. It helps that the story is pretty interesting, too.

Workin' Progress was a strange little film and was a terrible segueway from Jasper. Interesting retro style with mulitple workers working on a building, but I wasn't digging the animation.

Nexus Productions' Honda 'Grrr' was so strange at first but so vividly brilliant with all the gorgeous elements and idyllic setting, that when the message finally hit all of us in the audience, there was a rousing applause. Very, very cool spot. You can check it out by going to Nexus' site HERE and then scroll through the Showreel. It's one of the three Honda spots featured. Great spot.

I did not like Tick-Tack at all. Ugly character design and uglier animation. The gag at the end wasn't even that funny. Call me old fashioned, but it just wasn't a good joke. Ugh.

Another one of my favorites from the Fest is Andreas Hykade's video for Die Toten Hosen "Walkampf". Andreas did the poster and artwork for last year's Festival, and so it was very cool to see his simple linework and bizarre creatures in motion. Starting out in stark black and white, the simplicity of the video lulls you into thinking that this is all there is. But then, right when the chorus starts up, the video erupts in brilliant color. It's a great video. Andreas Hykade's site is HERE. You can actually see some work-in-progress for "Walkampf" at Studio Film Bilder's site HERE. Fascinating stuff.

Last for this screening is Don Hertzfeldt's The Meaning of Life. This is my second viewing of it and it's a bit easier to handle this time around (remember I reviewed this film earlier this year), but it's still not good. Pretentious with a capital P. I heard that he did not put any of the walkcycles on separate levels -- he animated everything all on one layer, which is time-consuming and tedious. First of all, WHY? Just because you can say you did it? It's not going to be noticed by anyone who watches the film, even with other animators. Why do this when he could've just animated a few walkcycles and duplicated them to fill the screen? It would've have the same effect, believe me. His point in not using computers is moot. It's not necessary and the significance in his hard work is getting lost by his heavy-handedness. Sorry Don, it was a valiant effort, but still falls short.

After the screening, I finally was able to check into my room. A quick break, and I was back at The ByTowne for ANOTHER screening! And guess what? I hadn't eaten anything since the morning. I was getting weak.

More on that later.

To see the Flickr photoset of my trip to Ottawa, click HERE.

To read the second installment of my review on the Ottawa Animation Festival, click HERE.


  1. Sounds like it was a blast! I'll certainly have to check it out for myself next year. Great post!

  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it :)

  3. Great write up, Ward! You're more eloquent than you give yourself credit. Wow, you had more energy than us on that first day. I thought that was the cool thing about the festival - how you could catch screenings multiple times in case you missed something. But you're right, that didn't account for eating. Sometimes I had to choose sustenance over artsy-fartsy.

  4. Am slowly checking out everyones take on Ottawa. Sounds like you've really had the time of your life! ^^ Tired,but happy and contented.

  5. Thanks for the great post, Ward. I'm so jealous - looks like you got to see a great range of animation styles. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing 'Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello' someday after reading your description. And I just had to put the 'Prince Achmed' DVD on my Netflix queue after further investigating that title!

  6. Great to get a sneak peak at what you saw in Ottawa! I checked out the site for Andreas Hykade, because the film still you chose of his work really grabbed my attention. I love his simple, clever designs! He's a genius. Nice color. By the way...I know this next comment is late, but...your "Ottawa high" illustration is perhaps the happiest thing I've EVER seen you draw. I love it. Only you could make that mellow shade of green so sublime.

  7. Hey Ward

    It was great to meet you in Ottawa. I don't know if you remember but Amid introduced us. Anyway I love yr blog

    Keep up the great work

    Nick Cross


  8. very wow! an excellent synopsis. so exicting to see what everyone is doing out there. and look forward to checking all these links.

  9. Hey Nick! Y'know, it didn't register with me who you were when I met you in Ottawa, until I checked out your blog later on when I got home. I wish that I had more time to tell you what great stuff you have posted -- can't wait to see the final product! Keep it up! It was great to meet you, too.

    To all -- I'm still working on the second installment on my Ottawa trip. Hopefully it won't be this long, but just as informative!