Association International du Film d'Animation
(International Animated Film Association)
March 2009
by Karl Cohen


TWO BAY AREA GIANTS GET LIFETIME AWARDS The Venice Film Festival is honoring Pixar’s John Lasseter in September with their 2009 Golden Lion Award. He is a co-founder of Pixar and has been the force behind an uninterrupted string of successes including Toy Story, The Incredibles, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Cars, Finding Nemo and Ratatouille.

In February The Visual Effects Society gave Phil Tippett their Georges Melies Award for his pioneering work in visual effects. Phil became well known for his stop-motion work on Star Wars. Since then he has worked on subsequent Star Wars films, Starship Troopers, Jurassic Park, Dragonslayer, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Haunting, the three RoboCop features and dozens of other films.

GENE HAMM HAS COMPLETED A STRONG ECOLOGICALLY-SOUND ONE-MINUTE CARTOON FOR A PLANT STORE Gene created both the animation and music for The True Story of Valentine's Flowers. It is a short about how un-cool it is to buy imported cut flowers. It was made for a green company,, an online plant store. Gene later told me, “I checked the rose cartoon on YouTube a day or two ago and it had 500 hits. Today it has 79,000 hits and 37 comments; all favorable!

He has also animated Newt, a turtle mascot for Garage Co Toys. Newt will appear in a commercial that will premiere at the Toy Fair in New York City soon.

‘UNTITLED STOP MOTION PIECE” This is an interesting experimental work directed by Eriq Wites, a young graduate from UC Berkeley. It appears he is part of a film collective called The Last Laugh, San Francisco.

ART, COSTUMES & PROPS USED IN THE MAKING OF “WATCHMEN” AT THE CARTOON ART MUSEUM THROUGH JULY 19 Follow the creation of the Watchmen universe from Dave Gibbons’ conceptual sketches through his completed artwork to the actual props and costumes used in the creation of the film. This is an in-depth look at one of the most anticipated films of 2009 and the graphic novel that inspired it. Several of Gibbons’ original book illustrations are also included.


“ANIMATION ON DISPLAY -- THE SAN FRANCISCO ANIMATION CONVENTION” HONORED OUR BELOVED KEN PONTAC This annual event is a convention for fans of anime, video games, comics and other forms of pop culture. The festival’s website says, “Ken Pontac recently completed writing dialog for Sega's ultra-violent game MadWorld; dialog that would almost certainly damn him to an eternity in hell if his previous work for Happy Tree Friends had not already done so! . Regarding Happy Tree Friends, Pontac is at least partly responsible for the new HTF spin-off series KaPow!, which features fan-favorites Flippy, Buddhist Monkey and Splendid in all-new adventures. He is also still enjoying royalty checks for writing the LazyTown song ‘You Are A Pirate,’ which has become an Internet meme, enjoying millions of hits on YouTube and inspiring multiple mash-ups and karaoke videos. Pontac lives in Sausalito with a beautiful redheaded nurse and his crazy dog, Whistle.”

Note: The year I spoke at AOD I was introduced to cosplay. Many of the teens and young adults had created and wore elaborate and sometimes outrageous costumes. A major highlight of the event is the costume contest held on Sat. evening. KC

“SITA SINGS THE BLUES” IS ON THE INTERNET It will be shown on the New York PBS station WNET on March 7, and starting Feb. 26 the show “Reel 13” has been making it available on the station’s Web site.! The NY Times ran “Hindu Goddess as Betty Boop? It’s Personal,” a big article about the film and Nina by Margy Rochlin (Feb. 15).

GENE HAMM’S FIRST ALBUM IS ON HIS WEBSITE It is quite original, not top 40 or MTV.

THE ORPHANAGE HAS “SUSPENDED OPERATION INDEFINITELY” On February 4 Stu Maschwitz posted the sad news that the company, after 10 years of growth, work on effects for many major releases, opening a commercial division, being a pioneer with new technology and other successes, was closing. When I saw the blog the next day there were almost 100 comments that had been posted by people shocked and saddened by the news. Former employees spoke highly, both of the work the company did and of the spirit of the company. It was a unique work environment that did a lot for their employees as well as for clients.

The company had worked on many well-known features including Pirates of the Caribbea: Dead Man’s Chest; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Superman Returns, Iron Man, The Host, Sin City, The Day After Tomorrow and many others. Their commercial clients included Microsoft, BMW, Comcast, Toshiba, Dolby, IBM/Lenovo and others. Variety reported that the Los Angeles-based Orphanage Animation Studio, headed by Genndy Tartakovsky remains in business. They are working with OAS and the Jim Henson Co. on The Power of the Dark Crystal .


WELCOME TO THE THIRD WORLD, DIRECTED BY WEBSTER COLCORD WILL BE ON YOUTUBE It was on YouTube for several days and then pulled for a “bigger release” in late April. It features music by The Dandy Warhols. The music video was completed late last year. He made it with Jan Van Buyten, Eric Kilkenny and with students from DeAnza and Expressions. Animation Brew commented, “If Fritz the Cat had been done as an artsy independent animated film, it might look something like “Welcome to the Third World.”

DISCOVER THE MANY FACES OF MANGA The exhibit is at the National Japanese American Historical Society’s space in Japantown. Art by both Japanese and Japanese American artists is shown including images by Dr. Tezuka and Disney artist Wiullie Ito. Ito will appear in person on Saturday, April 18. The show closes June 30th. The NJAHS Peace Gallery is located at 1684 Post St. (between Laguna and Webster) in San Francisco. Hours are M-F, Noon to 5 and the first Saturday of the month. Admission is free, donations accepted. (415) 921-5007


Wednesday, March 4, 6:40 pm, FREE SCREENING OF “KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS” 1998, 75 min in French with English subtitles with DIRECTOR MICHEL OCELOT IN PERSON Opera Plaza RSVP with you name and number of guests

Friday, March 6, 7 pm, DANA GOULD PUTS IS THOUGHTS IN YOU an interview with a stand-up comic who is a former staff writer on The Simpsons. Cartoon Art Museum, 7 - 8pm, $5 general admission, free for museum members.

March 6 – 12, MICHEL OCELOT’S “AZUR AND ASMAR” MEET THE CELEBRATED FRENCH DIRECTOR FRI. MARCH 6 AT THE THEATER Ocelot’s 4th feature is a fantasy set in mythical Arabia. Reviews describe the artwork as dazzling, absolutely gorgeous and “quite simply it’s a visual masterpiece that combines cut-outs with CG I and the mesmeric beauty of Islamic art to create a magical world.” The story is about two boys raised together until… eventually reunited, “the two brothers set off on a dangerous quest to find the Fairy of the Djinns.” The Guardian (UK) notes the film offers a moral about ethnic differences, with interracial friendships as the answer for a harmonious future. It will be at t! he Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness, SF. Read reviews at

A TIP from Nancy Denney-Phelps: She says, “I have indeed seen it several times. The backgrounds are absolutely breath taking… He is a lovely man and I am sure that his talks at DeAnza and at the Opera Plaza will be well worth attending. “ (French site)

Tues., March 24, 8 pm, “CHUCK JONES: MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD.” Turner Classic Movies premieres an interview with Chuck made shortly before he died. Much of his conversation is about unusual moments in his childhood that influenced his later life in some way. It is not profound, but it certainly is quite charming. It was made by the Oscar winning team of Peggy Stern and John Canemaker.

Saturday, March 21, 11 am, CAREERS IN ANIMATION, presented by ASIFA-SF and SF State’s Animation Club. A panel d! iscussion with guests from PDI, Pixar, WildBrain, Electronic Arts There will be lots of time for Q&A. Free, SF State, Fine Arts Bldg, Coppola Theater (FA 101)


“KUNG FU PANDA” WINS 10 ANNIE AWARDS INCLUDING BEST ANIMATED FEATURE, WALLACE AND GROMIT WIN THE BEST SHORT PRIZE DreamWorks’ Panda won 10 prizes, leaving none for the other features entered this year. Besides the best feature prize it won for animated effects, character animation, character design, directing, music, production design, storyboards, voice acting (Dustin Hoffman), and writing. The panda’s video game also won a prize. Before you suspect that a studio somehow rigged the vote, you may recall that last year Pixar won nine Annies for Ratatouille.

The best short prize went to Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death. It beat out works from Disney, Pixar and Bill Plympton. As a voter in this competition I got to see the show on the Internet. Even though the picture downloaded with lots of interruptions, it is a delightful and at times amazing half-hour TV show. Nick Park is once again in top form.

A notable work with a local connection is the winner of the Best Television Commercial award. It went to United Airlines – Heart. The ad was produced by Duck Soup, directed by Jamie Caliri and it was animated by Scott Kravitz, who lives in San Francisco and Eileen Kolhep, who lives in NY.

I’m told one of the highlights of the evening was Nick Park receiving the Winsor McCay award from Henry Selick.

AN ANNUAL AFTERNOON OF REMEMBRANCE The Animation Guild, ASIFA Hollywood and Women In Animation’s non-denominational celebration honoring departed friends from our animation community. It was held in February at the Lasky-DeMille Barn in Hollywood near the Hollywood Bowl. The 2008 honorees included John Ahern, Gus Arriola, Phyllis Barnhart, Gordon Bellamy, Harriet Burns, Greg Burson, John W. Burton, Jr., Vivian Byrne, Joyce Carlson, Bob Carr, Rose Di Bucci, Charlie Downs, Ray Ellis, Joni Jones Fitts, Etsuko Fujioka, Steve Gerber, Fernando Gonzalez, Yoo Sik Ham, Larry Harmon, Margie Hermanson, Ollie Johnston, Ted Key, Eartha Kitt, Andy Knight, Harvey Korman, Lyn Kroeger, Brice Mack, Bill Melendez, David Mitton, Ga! ry Mooney, Jim Mueller, June Nam, Ethan Ormsby, Bill Perez, Richard Pimm, Oliver Postgate, Denis Rich, Dodie Roberts, Irma Rosien, Gerard Salvio, Gina Sheppherd, Robert Smith, Jim Snider, Al Stetter, Dave Stevens, Morris Sullivan, Emru Townsend, Pat Raine Webb, Chiyoko Wergles, Bob Winquist, Justin Wright.

PIXAR’S “WALL-E” HAS NOW WON AT LEAST 18 MAJOR FILM AWARDS Prior to Hollywood’s Oscar ceremony Wall-E had taken top prizes at the British Academy Award, Golden Globes, and from several critics’ associations and festivals (Hollywood, New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Las Vegas, Florida and others).

“HER MORNING ELEGANCE” IS A WONDERFUL EXPERIMENTAL STOP-MOTION FILM ON YOUTUBE A friend told me, "This stop-action film kind of blew us away.”

The song is by Oren Lavie who was born in Tel Aviv, Yuval and Merav Nathan are listed as his co-directors / animation, and Eyal Landesman was the photographer. The video was made from roughly 3225 still photos. Only one camera was used and it was hung from the ceiling most of the time. It took 4 weeks before shooting it to create an animated computer generated storyboard using 3-D dummies for the characters. It took 2 days to shoot live actors to re-create the 3.5-minute computer sequence on the set, frame by frame. You can read about the animators an d see earlier work at

20TH CENTURY FOX TO CO-FINANCE THE THIRD “NARNIA” FEATURE Disney backed out of the production late last year and skeptics in the press said it wasn’t likely another studio would risk co-financing the project as the 2nd Narnia feature didn’t break even on worldwide box office returns. The film’s first profits were expected to come from DVD sales. It looks like Fox’s studio heads are optimistic about blockbusters making money.

US THEATERS ARE SLOW TO SCREEN “WALTZ WITH BASHIR” by KC Studying the financial progress of this film is interesting to me as it ! indicates how difficult it is for adult oriented animation to gain recognition in the US. It isn’t just the struggle Waltz is having, it also hints at how difficult it will be for films like Sita Sings the Blues and Idiots and Angels to achieve success here if they get theatrical runs.

In late December Waltz opened in five theaters in LA and NYC. Its “wider distribution” in early January resulted in being shown on eight screens in the country. After it received a nomination for the best foreign language Oscar, it was on 44 screens. As of Feb. 16 it had grossed $1.5 million in the US on 46 screens ($9.3 million worldwide).

At the Directors’ Guild of America award ceremony Waltz With Bashir won the Best Documentary Award. The Writers Guild of America has awarded it the Best Documentary Screenplay. At the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards it won the Best Foreign Language Film prize.

The film is director Ari Folman's animated study of his experiences as an Israeli soldier struggling to recall suppressed memories of his involvement in the war with Lebanon. It uses stories from other soldiers and his returning fragments of memory to piece together his involvement in the senselessness orders he followed. It captures the fear that pervades every moment, and the casual bloodshed of civilians.

IS THE RECESSION HURTING OR HELPING THE FILM INDUSTRY? This is a question that different writers who try to answer it end up with different answers. Disney and other studios have cut staffs and canceled projects. Disney’s latest quarterly report says profits fell by almost a third due to steep declines at its television network, theme parks and film studio businesses. That news resulted in the expected drop in their stock price.

Despite all the negative news including The Orphanage closing in SF, the Hollywood Reporter says January, 2009 was the best January ever for ticket sales; about $1.03.billion; up 19% over January 2008.

So are cuts necessary? One person told me, “I have to wonder if all these companies really need to slim their workforce or are they taking advantage of the current economic situation to purge themselves of their higher earning staff to boost profits and to please Wall St.?”

One area that is expanding its business potential is showing blockbusters on IMAX screens. This year about ten features, including the next Harry Potter, another Star Trek, Avatar, and The Watchmen, are expected to be in IMAX, up from seven in 2008. Richard Gelford, the CEO of IMAX, says the business appears to be recession-proof. It costs about an extra million to convert a 35mm feature to the IMAX 70mm format. Gelford says, “Good films easily recover that” (he also noted that Speed Racer flopped). At present there are about 175 commercial IMAX theaters in the world and by 2011 he hopes another 250 will be built, i! ncluding 150 in the US. There are other IMAX theaters that just show educational films.

ASIFA-ATLANTA TO HOLD A BENEFIT FOR NINA PALEY! They are doing a fundraiser screening of Sita Sings the Blues in March to help her get her film out of copyright hell. Read her blog about her unusual business

HANDSOME GRAPHIC NOVEL OF “WALTZ WITH BASHIR” NOW IN PRINT It is Ari Folman’s text and David Polonsky’s art from the film, 120 pages, $18 from Metropolitan Press.

ASIFA EAST HONORS “SUPER JAIL“ In February they held a program with Christy Karacas and his co-creators. The show is on Adult Swim.

BE A JUDGE IN AN INTERNET ANIMATION COMPETITION Judging for the Anifest Internet animation competition in the Czech Republic ends March 22.

SEE PHOTOS OF THE EXHIBIT “IT ALL STARTED HERE” The exhibit covers 100 years of animation in the NYC area. Animation directors J. J. Sedelmaier and Howard Beckerman were the curators. There are hundreds of images and objects in the museum show.

.WHAT IS EXCITING IN SIGNE BAUMANE’S LIFE? She wrote me, “I went to inauguration and now am about to go to Berlin. My film Birth is in the Berlinale shorts competition!”

BEHIND THE SCENES OF HENRY SELICK’S “CORALINE” by KC Before the film opened I spent time talking with Henry at a party in his honor. I also heard him answer questions after a private screening of his film, recorded a press conference, and was sent a 50-page press book full of valuable information.

Henry’s involvement with Coraline began in 2000 when he was sent the manuscript, long before it had a publisher. He immediately obtained an option for its screen rights.

He says, “The biggest problem with this movie was getting people willing to support it, to take a chance. Basically, through Travis Knight who was one of our lead animators and one of the finest animators I’ve ever worked with, he does stop-motion and CG, and his father Phil Knight who is the backer of Laika Studios, I found that support.”

Although it was relatively easy for him to write the screenplay, it took years to find Laika. In 2004, after completing animation for Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic, Laika invited Henry to be their supervising director for feature film development. His first production there was the CG short Moongirl, and then it was on to Coraline. It wasn’t clear at first how they were going to animate it so they made tests where one of Coraline’s worlds was CG and the other was stop-motion.

One of the subjects Henry likes to talk about is his use of stereoscopic 3-D. The film is made with a process called RealD and the viewer wears comfortable polarized glasses. Henry says, “Not only does 3-D capture the fact that all this stuff is real, it sucks the audience in as Coraline is sucked into this world of an alternate reality. As you watch the film you may notice there are not a lot of things that are coming out at you, it mainly is like Coraline going into that tunnel; you are going into that world.”

“It’s more 3-D in the ‘other world’ than the real world. The two worlds are actually designed differently. We made duplicate sets. The living room sets look the same, but in the real world the living room has a crushed perspective with very little actual depth to it. The floors are raked. We don’t show they are raked, but you get a sense that it feels more confining. In the kitchen it’s almost claustrophobic. In the ‘other world’ it seems to be the same living room, still very neat, but more spacious. It’s not obvious, it doesn’t hit you over the head, but before the magic happens in the ‘other world’ it is a way to make it feel better, like you can really breathe in that other place.”

“There are many differences between the two worlds. I tried not to be too blatant. In the real world we used longer lenses. I was trying to flatten space with less depth of field. The ‘other world’ was much more about wide-angle lenses. It is more pleasing in many ways, and then we amp them up till there was a certain amount of distortion. The lighting was much more naturalistic in the real world and the ‘other world’ is much more about beauty and warmth. By the end of the film in the real world the lighting has shifted slightly. It has more warmth.”

When asked about creating films with dark themes Henry said, “It goes back to everything I’ve ever been involved with. With Nightmare Before Christmas Disney wouldn’t put the Disney name on it, so it was a Touchstone release. The early Walt Disney was completely in touch with the balance; you know the yin and yang of dark and light. His first features, Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Fantasia, they all had large doses of the blackness in men’s and women’s souls, the dangers that are out there. For thousands of years there has been someone warning children that you’ll be eaten if you go into that cave, there is danger here, there is danger there. Whomever was best at giving the warnings became the storyteller who would raise the hairs on the backs of the kids’ necks.” !

Today Henry sees the dark side as entertainment. “What has happened in modern times is that we have to pretend we are keeping children safe at the movie theater. Look at the stuff they see online. There is always some kid’s older brother who shows kids Grand Theft Auto. It’s ludicrous to pretend that at the movies we will keep them safe.”

“We want to scare kids in a good way. It’s not for little kids. It’s PG if anyone pays attention to those things.”

A reporter asked Henry if he thought about heaven and hell when he created the film. He said, “I wasn’t consciously going there in Coraline, but for a brief time while I was at Disney, about 1980, I was trying to do an animated version of Paradise Lost. I looked at a lot of paintings and illustrations from various periods, so that is part of who I am and it might have seeped into Coraline.”

Another journalist asked why he uses stop-motion. He answered, “I’ve tried working in all the styles of animation. I wasn’t a great 2-D animator, but I was good enough to become a Disney animator. Stop-motion is just what I love the most. It’s the flaws that make it human, unique. Some CG is incredible. Pixar films will be around forever, but I like to think there is also room for stop-motion. If I were going to do a whole CG feature I’d do something stylistically brand new. The worlds that CG has explored have been incredibly narrow. It can go much, much further.”

Stop-motion animation now uses state-of-the-art technology

The most amazing advance in the making of Coraline is the use of a computer-controlled copier that printed out flexible latex 3-D sculpted face parts. When Selick’s crew hand sculpted Jack Skellington’s head in Nightmare, he had very few moving features so they just popped on different heads that had different mouth movements and expressions on them. About 150 heads were needed. This is called the replacement animation, a technique that dates back to George Pal’s puppet films in the 1930s and ‘40s..

Coraline needed more expressive facial movements, so they created enough interchangeable replacement face parts to give her an estimated 207,366 possible face combinations (there were 17,633 combinations for the mother). At one point Coraline’s face shows 16 different expressions in 35 seconds.

The construction of the heads in Coraline was quite complex. A solid skull with a neck, hair, and movable eyes was separate from the fleshy face. Face sections were attached using a registration system and the upper part of a face was separate from the lower part. A barely visible line across the temples where the face parts joined each other was later digitally removed. Henry did tests to see how people responded when the line was left in shots. He says, “We did tests and after 5 minutes people didn’t see it any more.” He liked leaving the line in as “here’s proof everything is handmade. It was more expensive to make it look smoother, perfect. (He laughs) I’ve suggested we do special midnight screenings of Coraline with no fixes. You will see the rigs. When Mr. ! Bobinsky jumps up into the air, you will see a metal rig with an arm on it that holds him up.”

Henry’s innovative new approach to replacement animation was made possible by using three Objet Geometries Ltd. printers from Israel. To make the thousands of face parts needed his rapid prototyping (RP) department scanned real sculptures/models along with drawings. Then 3-D computer programs were used to construct what the inbetween sculptures would look like. Then each inbetween was printed out as a 3-D sculptured element using the Objet Geometries printers. The company has developed photopolymer-jetting printers that create high-resolution 3-dimensional prints made of latex over a plastic base. The system was also used to make multiple copies of props, house parts (door knobs, hinges, etc.) and other things.

Henry found out about this amazing printing system from his wife Heather. She had met the creator of the printer and realized Henry might be able to use it. It made the fine range of expressions possible, but each part still needed hand sanding and painting before Coraline was ready for her close-ups.

Coraline’s body is constructed with miniature hand-machined parts. It took 10 individuals three to four months to construct one puppet. To make the film, 28 different puppets of Coraline were constructed, each 9 ¾” tall. Then another team dressed the puppets in miniature clothing. Duplicate costumes and puppets were needed for most of the characters as up to 30 different teams of animators and assists were working at one point on the production (the studio created room for 52 sets, but Henry told me that was a luxury, not a necessity). Coraline has nine costume changers in the film and she wore several hand-knitted sweaters. One video on the making of Coraline on YouTub! e is an interview with the woman who knitted them.

This is the first stop-motion feature to be filmed in 3-D (In Tune with Tomorrow, a stop-motion 3-D short, was made for the 1939 NY World’s Fair). Each digital frame of the film was shot with a single lens reflex camera. Each image was shot twice to get the 3-D effect. For each shot a special rig moved the camera slightly to simulate the distance between the left and right eye that gives us a stereoscopic effect. It also made adjustments for the distance between the camera and subject being photographed. The rigs used were adopted from robot cameras used in factories to inspect machined parts.

One of the tools used today to make stop-motion movement smooth is the use of a computer and video camera to store recently shot images. By toggling back and forth between the previous frames and the image being posed, the animator can check to see if everything is exactly where it should be. When Henry made Nightmare there were no commercial frame grabbing devices on the market so he had engineers build him primitive systems. Now with digital technology long sequences can be stored and Henry says he actually prefers working digitally. Pete Kozachik, his cinematographer who has worked on several of Henry’s features including Nightmare Before Christmas, say! s, “Film stock has never been technically perfect for shooting animation. One animation shot may go on for a week, and in the past you never knew exactly what you’d got until you saw what you’d filmed. Something may have moved on the set, or a tiny leak fogged the film, making the shot unusable. It’s only recently that digital imaging lets the crew and animators get instant feedback on their work and lighting.”

Coraline is a remarkable groundbreaking production and the results show in every scene on the screen. I hope it is nominated for several Oscars, is awarded a technical prize by the Academy and wins Annie and other festival prizes. I suspect that its popularity will grow over the years. I also hope it encourages producers wanting to be part of the next hot trend to finance future projects by Henry Selick and other stop-motion directors. The film has a wonderful handmade quality to it that is missing in CG features. I think in the future there will be audiences for CG, stop-motion, 2-D and other forms of animation. It really boils down to how great the story is and then what technique is the best way to bring it to the screen.

KEVIN COFFEY SAYS, “’CORALINE’ IS THE FINEST ANIMATED FILM I’VE EVER SEEN. SECOND BEST? ‘SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARF. ’I've always been a Disney man. Disney's hand drawn animated cartoon shorts and features from 1928-1945 have always defined for me what good animaton should be.” Kevin has been making animated cartoons since he was 10. He worked with Henry Selick in the 1980's on stop-motion Pillsbury Doughboy commercials, and animated a long 2-D hand drawn sequence in Henry's Nightmare Before Christmas (ghouls in the Oogie Boogie/Santa sequence). He runs Cartoonland, a company that does animation and illustration work.

Hot Dog, 2008

His shorts and other projects by Karl Cohen

What else besides promoting Idiots and Angels around the world is happening in your life? “I’m working on my “quadrilogy,” my fourth dog film. He falls in love with another dog, he has obvious romantic problems and as always, the results are a complete disaster. It’s called Horn Dog. I’ll continue working on it as soon as I get back to NY. It’s all story-boarded and ready to go. I just have to animate and color it. We are hoping to get that one ready for Annecy. “

I’ve been told the dog is your Mickey Mouse. “He is. He’s extremely popular. Even today at the 1 pm screening people came up to me and said, “I love the dog. I’m so glad you put the dog in the film.” The dog has an amazing number of fans. I’m happy he is so popular. But I don’t have a big studio. I can only afford to do one dog film a year. Every year I’ll do another dog film.”

“There is another film that I just finished. It’s a real quickie that I did for the Internet. It’s a Christmas film called Santa, the Fascist Years. It’s a low budget film and the advance will be enough to cover my costs. I did it in three weeks. It’s three minutes long. It’s about Santa becoming a Nazi and taking over the world.” He chuckles and says, “Very twisted.”

Is Plus Annecy going to continue this year? “It was a little small last year for a couple reasons. One was my involvement with having both the feature and a short in competition, so I was really busy with those two things and I was on a panel. I really couldn’t devote a great deal of time to it. Also we had to move it to a café and the facilities were not that good. Tell people to send in their films that were rejected by Annecy. Send them to me or to Nancy Phelps and we will be happy to look at them.”

Tell me about Plympton’s Picks, the program you organized and showed in LA. “That was a big success. We didn’t get a huge audience, but we showed some really good films, the Lemmilie (theater company) was happy with it, and a lot of people got films that qualified for Oscar nominations. It’s a great way to get around Lemmile charging $500 for each film to qualify it for consideration by the Academy. It’s expensive, so we decided to put together Plympton’s Picks, the best films this year for animation and it was pro! moted as such. We did it for free. The theater kept all the money, which is fine. I’m not doing it to get rich. It’s a good service for films that I thing are really good. “

Are there any new additions to your product line? “I’m working on four books. One is with Kanye West. We are selecting 12 of his favorite songs and I’m doing big double spread illustrations to illustrate each song. Then he dissects the lyrics as to their meaning, where the slang comes from. He translates them into regular English so you can see what’s behind the song. It’s history, and it’s pretty cool. It should be out in 2009. “

“Then we are doing a storyboard book for Idiots and Angels. I don’t know when that is coming out. Hopefully when it comes out in theaters. Then I’m doing a children’s book based on Fan and the Flower for a publisher who wants it. And finally, a book I’m really excited about, a Bill Plympton coffee table book for another publisher. It could be a really important book. Except for the Kanye West book these are all in very early stages of development. I haven’t signed any contracts yet. I hope something will happen.”

“Although I’m doing a new dog film and developing my jealousy feature, I’m concentrating my efforts on getting Idiots and Angels out to cinemas and making my money back. That’s a full time job. Just because you make a film doesn’t mean its going to be a success. You really have to promote it and hustle. You need to meet people and make deals. Talking money and contracts can be really dreary, a boring part of the filmmaking process, but an important part of the process.”

Do you have much time to sleep? “Yea, I do. The most intense time is when I’m drawing the film. I get up at six in the morning and I’m drawing till seven or eight at night, every day, even on weekends. I’m in this sort of rush or high, this burning passion to get this stuff out, so my social life is zero unfortunately. But I’m excited about the film.”

“When I finished drawing Idiots and Angels in January (2008), I slept for 2 or 3 weeks. I did nothing. Then other people took over doing the editing, sound, coloring and all that stuff. I can relax. Now it’s wonderful. I’m traveling, doing a short film and starting to write the new feature. I have a very easy schedule. “

How long does it take you to do a dog film? “Probably about six to eight weeks. It takes about a week to storyboard it, perhaps two weeks to draw it, a week to color it and then postproduction. “

“The features take about three years. A year to storyboard them, a year to draw 25,000 drawings, give or take a thousand, and then about six months for post production which is coloring, compositing, editing, sound effects, music; all that stuff. The good thing with Idiots and Angels is that there were no voices so that made things go really fast. Voices slow a film production down a lot. You have to do lip-synch, record the voices; everything has to be timed out exactly. You waste a lot of time doing technical stuff.”

“When you don’t do voices it’s like silent films. It is pure visual story telling. That’s one thing I like about this film. It’s much more poetic. It’s pure visual storytelling. You don’t have to listen carefully to the dialog and get caught up in it. It is pictures and music. It’s more emotive, more subtle, more mysterious in terms of storytelling. It hits your soul a little bit deeper.”

“In my new film, the jealousy film, I looked a lot at Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil, because it has a sort of border town kind of feeling to it; a sort of sleazy, small dusty town. I wanted to get that kind of effect. I like Orson Welles’ camera angles. His films are kind of like cartoons. His character, especially the sheriff in A Touch of Evil, is a cartoon nasty. I love that guy. Welles could have been an animation director, the next Walt Disney.”


Since recording this interview Bill’s Idiots and Angels has opened in France along with an art gallery show in Paris that covers 20 years of his work. He says, “This is a unique look at the evolving art style of an outrageous independent animator.”

Bill’s Santa, the Fascist Years, a new short about Santa Claus’ hidden past, can be seen on the Internet at It has a voiceover by actor Matthew Modine. It can be seen along with his music video for Parson Brown titled Mexican Standoff for $1.99.

Bill’s travels in late January took him to the Sundance Film Festival where they showed Hot Dog. Then he was off to Sweden, where they showed his latest feature and several shorts. Then he went to LA where he attended the Annie Awards. Hot Dog was nominated for Best Animated Short Subject. In late February he was at Anima, the Brussel’s Cartoon and Animation Festival where they showed Hot Dog and Idiots and Angels. His feature has also been booked this year by festivals in Canada, Italy, Finland, Turkey, Mexico Portugal Hong Kong and in several cities in the US.

Next month Bill talks about his use of music.


4th ANIM’EST INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FILM FESTIVAL BUCHAREST, ROMANIA for films produced after January 1st, 2007. Competition categories are for features, shorts, student films, Romanian animation, video clip and advertising. Deadlines are July 1st for the DVD and the entry form.. Festival only shows works in 35mm and Beta SP.


2008 XIAMEN INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL November 1 through 5, 2008 by Nancy Denney-Phelps I love to travel but one of the few places that I have never thought about visiting was China. I guess that it has always seemed so far away to me. When an invitation arrived to visit the 2008 Xiamen International Animation Festival in Xiamen, China from November 1 through the 5th, it was a chance that I could not pass up. I was excited by the idea of having an opportunity to see what China was creating in the field of animation since we get to see very l! ittle work coming from there in Europe.

The entire ASIFA International Board was invited to attend the festival and as the representative on the Board for ASIFA-San Francisco I knew that members would be interested to hear my observations on the state of the art in China. The International Board also planned to hold an official board meeting during the festival.

The first thing that struck me upon arrival at Beijing International Airport was how new, modern, and international it was. Passengers moved between terminals on high-speed people-mover trains and the terminal bookstore featured works in several languages including the latest best sellers in English.

It was a short flight from Beijing to the island of Xiamen. From the moment my hosts met me at the airport, I was treated to a most generous and lavish week. My room at the Yeohwa Hotel was almost as large as my home in Belgium with every amenity imaginable. The hotel complex, located in a park like setting, was the place where Richard Nixon stayed when he visited Xiamen on his 1972 trip to China.

My plane arrived two hours late, so almost immediately I was whisked away to what was the first of many magnificent feasts. Xiamen is famous for its cuisine, which features a wide array of seafood. I love all types of seafood and was totally overwhelmed by the sheer quantity, variety and quality laid out on the numerous buffet tables arranged around a very large room. Just in case you couldn’t find exactly what you desired there was a battery of chefs who would prepare anything that you would like.

I was surprised that the head chef was from the United States. When he discovered that I have a particular weakness for shrimp dumplings, a plate of them appeared at my place every time I sat down to enjoy a meal at the hotel restaurant. I must admit that I have never had the pleasure of eating all of the oysters and sushi that I have ever wanted before, even at breakfast!

The evening meal was served very early every day, usually around 5:30 PM. No official activities were planned for most evenings but the hotel had a guest lounge that was stocked with complementary beer, wine, juices, and just in case you wanted an evening snack a nice spread of food including sushi. Many of the board members met there in the evenings and it was a lovely chance to catch up on news with each other in a relaxed atmosphere.

Daily activities began very early. I am not a morning person, so my 6:15 wake-up call was a rude shock, but when I opened the curtains it was already sunny and bright outside. After leaving the cold weather at home in Belgium, the promised 80 degree weather was a welcome treat.

After a breakfast of sushi and steamed pork buns, I was ready for the 20-minute bus ride to the Xiamen Software Park where the festival took place. The “park”, which has space for 40,000 workers, is brand new and the festival was the first event to be held there. The exhibit hall was packed full of the latest technology and was more like a trade show than an animation festival.

Along with ASIFA board members there were several other special guests. Bordo Dovnikovic, a pioneer of animation in the former Yugoslavia and Croatia, delivered the keynote speech at the official opening of the film festival. I was very interested to hear Bob Sabiston speak about some of the new innovations in animated effects. Bob developed the rotoscope program, Rotoshop, was head animator on Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, and created a paint and animation program to be released on the Nintendo DS. John Sanders, head of production technology at Lucasfilm in Singapore, spoke about the co-operation between East and West under Globalization, and Cary Silver, producer of Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Andrew Harris, Lucasfilm computer graphics and Lighting Designer, also gave a presentation.

Each ASIFA board member was asked to bring a DVD representing their members’ work that was screened during the festival. The ASIFA-San Francisco sampler that I took was more industry oriented, with samples from ILM and other Bay Area commercial studios although it did include excerpts from some lovely independent animation such as Sally Cruikshank’s Quasi at the Quackadero. Each of us was also asked to participate on a panel discussion or give a presentation on a topic of our choosing. I presented a program on the history of animation through music and afterwards young members of the audience told me that alth! ough they were aware of Disney they had never heard of the Fleischers or Chuck Jones. They had no idea that this sort of animation was being created long before they were born.

The competition programs, with the exception of a few foreign works in the Best Overseas Animated Short Film category such as Rune Wake’s Rabbit and Alexei Alexeev’s KJFG5, were unexceptional. Over and over I saw formula styles of 3D characters that fell mainly into two categories - super heroes and “cute” little big eyed kids and animals. Plot lines were minimal. Most of the films looked like they had been developed for show reels with an eye on an industry or television job. Unfortunately I could find little or nothing in the way of artistic work. All of the young people that I talked to asked me the same two questions, “How do I get into the industry?” and “How much money can I make?”

China has definitely entered the animation high tech race, but it seems to be totally ignoring the creative, artistic process in favor of crass commercialization that has little or no interest in well-developed story lines or high quality animation. That said, I tried to take in to account that this is an emerging industry in a country that does not have the long tradition and history in an art form that the United States, Europe and Russia all share. Rather than just accepting what modern China produces, I hope that the animation community in other parts of the world will use their years of expertise and experience to help guide China into a more creative direction. ! ;


For me the most important part of the trip was our ASIFA InternatioHnal board meeting. There were 12 voting members and 2 non-voting members as well as 10 proxies from absent members. The board had six major topics to discuss: budget, website, ASIFA’s magazine, an anniversary book, Independent Animation Day and finding an executive director.

Obviously several of these items, such as the budget, anniversary book, Executive Director, and magazine are interconnected. The first lengthy conversation was about our magazine. Concern was expressed about the publishing and shipping costs of CARTOON which continue to rise. There was also a long discussion about how to make ASIFA more relevant to the ever-changing world of animation so that we can encourage new members to join our association. Unfortunately, although there were many suggestions, no concrete resolutions to most of the issues were agreed upon.

As a member of the website committee, my main aim at the board meeting was to secure the board’s approval for the allocation of the 5,000.00 Euros that the committee needs to launch a redesigned website and maintain it for one year. Anyone who has visited the ASIFA International website recently has seen what an outdated mess it is. One of our most effective tools to recruit new members to ASIFA International, especially young animators, would be to have a web site that gives up to date, meaningful information. I did achieve my goal of a 5,000 euro budget for the website. We also agreed to provide an online French translation ! of CARTOON, our magazine.

The matter of selecting an Executive Director consumed a lot of time and generated a heated discussion at the 2006 Zagreb board meeting. The matter is still unresolved. After more discussion about why this position remains unfilled, Bill Dennis offered to re-define the position and clarify the job responsibilities. I hope that Bill’s work will make it possible for us to find a qualified Executive Director in quick order. Filling this position will not solve all of ASIFA’s problems, but if we can find the right person it would certainly be a step in the right direction. There are many grants, especially! in Europe, that are available for projects and organizations that encompass several countries and applying for these is a perfect example of a duty for the Executive Director. Another need is to have a person who can put together an information pamphlet that can be given out at festivals. If anyone can articulate our needs clearly it is Bill.

There were lengthy discussions about our magazine including the need for a new design and a revamping of the mailing system. ASIFA will celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2010 and it has been proposed that we publish a book commemorating our history for the event. There were discussions about the budget for the publication, timetable, format and number of pages. At the time of our meeting we had not received our annual fiscal report and so several board members expressed a feeling that we have to wait until we knew our financial state before making definite publishing plans. For example no one on the board knew the c! ost of the proposed project.

There were very important issues that we didn’t have time to discuss, such as the need to rewrite the ASIFA statutes. There are many issues that have come up in the last year that are not clearly defined in our present statutes. We also did not have time to talk about membership fees and the possibility of a sliding scale for dues according to the GNP of a country and the number of chapter members.

Originally, our board meeting was scheduled for only 4 hours, but with so many board members finally face to face and a multitude of major issues to deal with, we shortened our lunch hour and extended our meeting to the last possible minute. Several of us voiced the opinion that we would like to continue our discussions in the evenings, since dinner was always served very early, but some board members didn’t seem to want more time for serious discussions.

I believe in the goals that ASIFA was founded to foster and promote and I will continue to work very hard to try and strengthen these aims, but I feel that we must realize that times have changed. There is an entire new generation of animators who have no connection to ASIFA. Our organization cannot live in the glory of the past, but must move into the 21st century and give our members an association that is as meaningful to them as ASIFA was to its founding members 50 years ago.

The entire ASIFA Board visited the mayor of Xiamen at his office. Along with tea and speeches we were each presented with a lacquer thread sculpture plate gilded with 24-carat gold leaf, a 300 year old traditional craft in Southern Fuijan province.

Besides the sumptuous buffet meals in the hotel dining room we were honored guests at several banquets including an eight course dinner hosted by the vice mayor of Xiamen featuring such delicacies as Fo Tiao Qiang soup with assorted seafood, crispy codfish, and fried rice with fish roe. I was definitely in food heaven.


The vice mayor kept making the rounds of the table. He would pour clear white liquor and toast each of us. I am still not sure what the liquor was, but it certainly packed a wallop! A party honoring ASIFA followed the meal and of course more food and drinks were served.

So far, I had seen new modern China, but I was anxious to discover if any of old China still existed in Xiamen. That afternoon, my fellow board member Heikki Jokinen and I went to an old section of the city. The sights and sounds were a vast contrast to the calm serenity of our 50-acre hotel compound. The division here between rich and poor is very extreme. The streets teemed with people and the open-air fish market that we chanced upon stretched for blocks, with baskets full of every type of fish imaginable, and a few that I could barely fathom spread out on the ground. Xiamen is famous for Oolong tea and one narrow street wa! s crowded with entire families, young and old, sitting in their open doorways cleaning tea.

On the last full day in Xiamen, guests were taken to the beautiful island of Gulangyu, a short ferry ride from Xiamen. The island is home to Fuzhou University Arts and Design College as well as a tourist destination. The works on display in the university gallery ranged from beautiful to creatively innovative and I was particularly taken with a group of fanciful ceramic underwater creature sculptures. We were given a short tour around the island in little motorized trains with a stop to tour the piano museum. As we drove past the lovely beaches, I longed to explore them, so I opted out of the museum tour and had a short walk o! n the beach instead. I also got to explore the lovely garden below the museum that was full of fishponds and a long walkway to a pagoda on rocks out in the bay. When the rest of the group returned to Xiamen I stayed on Gulangyu and spent several serene hours walking on the beaches in the hot sunshine. I also climbed to the top of the mountain in the center of the island where I was treated to a breathtaking 360-degree view. It was also intriguing to explore the narrow streets and alleyways of the one town on the island. After all of the delicious food that I had been eating, hours of walking was just what I needed, but all too soon it was time to return to the hotel to prepare for dinner and the festival’s closing awards ceremony.

If I had any illusions that the ASIFA board has become a two-tiered democracy, my last doubts were dissolved when we arrived at the Xiamen International Conference Center for the awards ceremony. Our President, the four Vice Presidents and Secretary were led to front row seats while the five remaining board members were ushered to the seventh row where we were not served tea. In a country where the smallest gesture or action carries great significance, the message was not lost on any of us “second class” board members.

The “Cyber Sousa” Award program resembled a splashy Academy Awards ceremony gone awry. It was unlike any closing night award ceremony I had attended in Europe. The show opened with the “Action Song” Dreams Come True. The presentation of the first award for Best Experimental Animation was followed by a “Dance Drama,” Scarecrow. The most bizarre part of the program was a vocal selection from Chicago complete with skimpy costumes. The award presentations seemed to get lost. They were! stuck in between such overwhelming productions as the Gaojia Opera Clowns, Puppet Show: Daming Mansion, and Theme Songs of classical Chinese and overseas animation works.

Even more bizarre was the awarding of the prizes itself. For each award, three young people were ushered onto the stage, with the first prizewinner always in the center. All of the categories and award winners were announced in English as well as Chinese, so I assumed these were the actual award winners since “accepting the award for. . . ” was never said. When we got to the Best Animated Film from Overseas the three people introduced on the stage were definitely Chinese. KJFG No. 5 was announced the winner and it was definitely not Alexei Alexeev who stepped ! forward to receive the trophy, but the obvious intention was to give the impression that it was and that all awards, even foreign awards, were won by Chinese. This was one of the longest award ceremonies that I have ever sat through!

I cannot thank our hosts Johnchill Lee and Anni Liang enough for the generous hospitality that they showered upon all of the ASIFA’s board. I also have the fondest memories of my translator who showed great humor and tolerance in putting up with my western ways. They must have seemed very strange at times to her. And of course, I will wear my hand sewn “bear ears” from one of the exhibition hall’s costume sales booths that she presented to me with great pride and fond memories.

KUNIO KATO WINNING THE BEST ANIMATED SHORT OSCAR At ASIFA-SF’s screening of the Oscar nominated shorts, Kuino Kato told the audience that he made the film by first envisioning the unique setting and then he developed his story of a man exploring his memories by descending though the layer of his past. He also said it was a big challenge for him to learn leadership so he could keep his production staff busy. Later at our dinner honoring the group Kuino said he directs animated TV ads at Robot Communications, Japan’s second biggest commercial studio. They were quite supportive of his project. About 10% of their work is animated.



Special thanks to: Bill Plympton and Henry Selick for exceptional interviews, Ron Diamond and his crew at for organizing pre-Oscar events and to Dolby Labs for hosting our 35mm screening. And thank to all ! our volunteers including Dot, Shirley, Tara, Pete, Denise, Nancy and Patricia for their help. Ricci Carrasquillo is the artist for our fine cover.

“Come hear more about 3D geekery and be regaled with tales from behind the monitor.”

(Fine Arts 101, between Creative Arts and the Student Union), free, public invited
Presented by the Animation Society of SFSU and ASIFA-SF


CARLOS BAENA, PIXAR ANIMATION STUDIOS, Carlos has worked as an animator on almost a dozen major features since he graduated from the Academy of Art in 1998, plus he is a founder of the online school AnimationMentor. He worked for Will Vinton (Portland), ILM and WildBrain before joining Pixar in 2002. He was nominated for an Annie Award in 2007 for his work on Cars.

JOSH BOOK, W!LDBRAIN ANIMATION STUDIOS, CG Supervisor. Josh is a creative animation director who worked for Electronic Arts and Nickelodeon Studios in Burbank before joining Wildbrain. He also is a teacher with Animation Mentor and has co-authored several books on Maya.

JIM CONRADS PDI/DREAMWORKS ANIMATION, Global Outreach Supervisor. Jim joined PDI/DreamWorks in 2007. He recruits entry-level talent and works closely with universities to develop their animation and computer graphics curriculum. Prior to joining DreamWorks, Jim was an Associate Producer/Post Production Supervisor on Hellboy, Across the Universe, The Hard Easy, America's Sweethearts and Black Hawk Down.

MARGE DEAN, W!LDBRAIN ANIMATION STUDIOS, General Manager. Dean oversees production of animated programming on all platforms at W!ldbrain. She began her career as a production manager on The Ren and Stimpy Show and has since worked as s VP of Animation for Technicolor and in leadership roles at several studios including Sony TV Animation and Warner Bros. Animation.

DAWN HAAGSTAD, PIXAR ANIMATION STUDIOS University Relations Lead. Dawn has worked at Pixar since 2000. She focuses on University Relations and the studio’s internship program. Prior to that she worked as a Senior Recruiter and handled identifying and hiring talent for areas such as animation, art, story, paint, and editorial.

ERIC PAVEY, ELECTRONIC ARTS, Technical Character Director. Starting his career in games in 96’, Eric has been with EA since 2002 working directly on Dead Space, The Godfather and several Lord of the Rings games. He’s touched just about every facet of the art side of games development, and currently focuses on rigging tech, pipelines, and tools.

“Careers in Animation” is for people who want to know how to find employment in the local animation industry. Representatives from the industry will discuss their careers, background, the kinds of work they do, who gets hired, what training you need to get a job, portfolio tips on what will impress people who are in a position to hire you and other basics. This is your chance to ask and get your questions answered about careers in animation.

Please leave your portfolios at home as this is not a portfolio review session.


Newsletter Editor: Karl Cohen
Contributors: Paul Naas, Gene Hamm, Nancy Denney-Phelps and other friends of ASIFA-SF.
Cover illustration by Ricci Carrasquillo
Proofreader: Pete Davis
Mailing Crew: Tara Beyhm, Shirley Smith, Denise McEvoy
Webmaster Joe the Calif. Kid Sikoryak, assisted by Ricci
Special thanks to: RICHARD WILLIAMS and his wife MO SUTTON for their generous gift to our chapter of two 2-hour programs at the Balboa in November. Thanks also to Gary Meyer of the Balboa for hosting the benefit for our chapter. It was a wonderful event and about 500 people got to enjoy learning a bit more about animation that day. Also thanks to Gene Deitch for his excellent program later in the month. Thanks also to Tara Beyhm our VP, to our treasurer Karen Lithgow, to The G Man for sending out our e-mail updates, to Nancy Denney-Phelps for representing our chapter on the international ASIFA board, to Patricia Satjawatcharapjong who posts excerpts from our newsletter on the International ASIFA website
ASIFA-SF is a chapter of: Association Internationale du Film dAnimation with almost 40 chapters around the world.
Our website and blog is:
Mail can be sent to: or to: PO Box 14516, SF, CA 94114

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