Friday, September 26, 2008


At long last, now that I found some extra pictures to add to the few I took (thanks to Jason Vanderhill and Daryl Anselmo!), here are some reports on the first annual Spark Animation Festival in Vancouver.

I first arrived to the festival Friday afternoon and had to get settled in getting all the VanArts gear stored away for the following day.

The first full panel I was able to check out was on Directing Animated Features with Mark Osborne & John Stevenson (of Kung Fu Panda) and Steve Martino & Jimmy Hayward (of Horton Hears a Who). I must say the whole conversation, though completely drenched in profanity and f-bombs from Stevenson and Hayward, was brilliant and very inspiring! All of the ups and downs of directing & dealing with studio politics and art departments were explained candidly, honestly, and in a very entertaining fashion. John Stevenson's career began as an artist on The Muppet Show, and his story about his first day on the job at age 19 was nothing short of breathtaking, and very funny. He even had the same voice intonations and mannerisms as Frank Oz, but with a British accent...incredible! Afterwards when speaking to him briefly, he told me that so much of his career was indebted to the good lessons he learned from Jim Henson.

Later on during the festival I got the chance to chat with Mark Osborne as well, whose roots are in stop-motion and the Oscar-nominated short MORE. I like his work very much so it was an honor to meet him as well...I ended up signing a copy of my book for him. He told me he's hoping to get back into another stop-motion project at some puppet-pushers gotta stick together and keep returning to our roots now and then I think.

Late Friday afternoon I got to be part of the Best of the Web panel, thanks to the gracious invitation of moderator Daryl Anselmo from Propaganda Games. Joining me were local animators Andrew Duncan, George Samilski, & Johnny Darrell...unfortunately I don't have any pictures of us. The crowd was moderately sized and casual, and the highlight was simply getting to show off our favorite clips from the web. Mine mostly included stuff I've previously posted here, such as David Lynch's Goofy Movie and The YuYu...also made reference to my regular blog visits and artists of note (PES, Cartoon Brew, Michael Sporn, Ryan McCulloch, Justin Rasch, Ward Jenkins, and Garfield Minus Garfield.) Some other great stuff I got to see for the first time included...

Burning Safari
A Gentleman's Duel

Great stuff!

Much of the rest of the day was spent between events catching up with so many old friends, former students & colleagues from VanArts who showed up at the event, and meeting some new people as well, including another stop-motion animator/director Bronwyn Kyffin, who had worked at Cuppa Coffee, Edison & Leo, and most recently on Jibber Jabber directing many of my VanArts comrades. Always great to meet others in the field and see how we're all connected. That evening I got to catch most of The Pixar Story, which I had first seen in Seattle last year. (I hear it's going to be available on the special edition of WALL-E which is good to know.)

The following day, Saturday the 13th, was a full day of festival-going for me, starting by setting up the VanArts booth and the Free Stop-Motion Jam lobby activity. A little bit of drama ensued as I discovered I had a faulty fire-wire cable and had to run over to the school to grab another one. Once it was all going, things were good. I set up a table with some clay and action figures, and set StopMotionPro's time-lapse feature to automatically take a frame every 30 seconds. Between screenings people could just dive in and animate whatever they wanted.

Here are the results from the day...notice how the shadows move across the table!

The first presentation by Pixar's Paul Topolos focused on matte painting & production on WALL-E, and he was a funny & entertaining speaker (with a dead-on Brad Bird impersonation!) Got to see some deleted animatics from the film and it was really interesting.

The following presentation was one I was really looking forward to, which was Ed Hooks. He had some wonderful, inspiring things to say about animation as an art form and true form of acting...and much to say about the pitfalls of animation becoming too much of a product & money-grabbing machine. One of the central themes of his talk was that with early man, the storyteller and actor were the same person, and stories were told because there was something the tribe needed to hear...or the storyteller had something to say. The best films are made when the storytellers and actors are one & the same, and when they work from the perspective of "what does the tribe need to know?" rather than "what will they buy?" I found this to be very inspiring and true. Ed weaved countless other philosophical bits of wisdom in a stream-of-consciousness fashion that was truly captivating.

The following presentation was Paul Herrod from Bent Image Lab, a stop-motion studio in Portland. They've done some great pieces for music videos, TV specials and commercials which were great to see, and also meet the puppets in person...

Robot Puppet from They Might Be Giants music video "I'm Impressed"

Paul was great to speak with about the stop-motion craft, and he's graciously invited me to visit the studio next week, as I'll be in Portland briefly, so I'm looking forward to it. That day I also had the pleasure to meet his wife, independent animator Joanna Priestly, whose work I had seen & enjoyed at Platform last year. They're incredibly warm friendly people and very passionate about the creative work they do, so it was great to meet them both.

As an indie animator, the next panel was especially informative and inspiring for me, as Joanna Priestly was joined by Mike Grimshaw, Martin Rose and Marv Newland. I picked up lots of good tips and advice for things like film funding, festival entry, and general nuts-and-bolts of the independent scene. It's been difficult finding the time or motivation to get my film back on the stove these days, so this panel gave me a good dose of ammunition to start trying to move things forward again. I asked them about some options for funding, so I'm going to look into the things they mentioned.

Following the afternoon panels, I got to catch up with Jerry Beck who had just arrived to host his Worst Cartoons Ever show! I had seen this show at Ottawa years back and it always makes for a fun wacky addition to any festival. I gave Jerry a brief introduction, and after his little speech, the show was on...the show included some new material that blew me away in terms of its utter strangeness, especially the Sam Bassett cartoon. Holy crap was that messed up, but hilarious!

After recovering from the plethora of strange animation, it was time to party! They had a huge electronic screen that people could draw on with an electronic pen, kind of like a giant Cyntiq or Magna-Doodle...kind of hard to describe, and challenging to draw with, but I managed to play around and do some neat stuff.

Tired, bleary-eyed but inspired socially, artistically and spiritually, I headed home to crash, and we left for Disneyland the following morning. What could have been better?


jriggity said...

awesome coverage dood!

I would have loved to join ya...

maybe next year!


Dshum said...

SPARK was a pretty awesome event,
Thanks for the re-cap!

Todd Wheeler said...

Dang...I left Vancouver just a bit too early! This would've been an awesome event to go to.

LanceLeFort said...

it was an awesome event. Mad props to the volunteers who killed themselves to get this mammoth project to the community. They nabbed some top speakers, some entertaining entertainers and generally had a good time.

Hopefully the event next year gathers more steam and success. Vancouver and the people that made this a success deserve a big pat on the back for all the hard work!

David Nethery said...

"The best films are made when the storytellers and actors are one & the same, and when they work from the perspective of "what does the tribe need to know?" rather than "what will they buy?"

That's great.

I'm printing that out and posting it above my animation table with other inspirational quotes.