It was year 24 and counting…next year is
the big 25th anniversary of the Montreal World Film Festival. The
buzz in animation at the festival for the year 2000 was for “Sentinelles,” a
35mm, cinemascope, color, Dolby SRD, 8- minute film by Guy Lampron.
Photo by Lois Siegel
Lampron animated gargoyles- and we saw
them come to life on the screen. But who is Guy Lampron? He actually lives in
Montreal. Lampron graduated from Concordia University – not in animation, but
in live-action. He became hooked on digital technology when he met Michel Fleury
at the University of Quebec who had a digital lab. Fleury is now Director of New
Media at UQAM. After that, animation and special effects became his ‘thing.’
He moved from Buzz to Behavior Studio to
other freelance jobs and finally to Pygmee Productions, a division of CDMED, a
company that specializes in computer graphic images for the medical industry.
His first film was made 6 years ago and
was 2 minutes long: “Croix de Guerre” (War Crossings), a surrealistic production
about the futility of military conflict.
Sentinelles is #2. Focus is on moving
gargoyles. As they twist their long necks, we hear an intriguing sound of
Cello in a Bathtub
Francis Novak was the sound designer.
For the gargoyle-movement, he tried bending metal and putting that sound in the
computer. It didn’t work. Then he used his imagination and came up with the idea
of a cello in a bathtub. Of course, he didn’t put water in the tub. Cellos and
water don’t’ go well together. He just wanted the tub for the reverb effect.
Then the sound was transformed in the computer. It worked.
The building appearing in the film was
modeled after the Chrysler headquarters in NYC. The metallic gargoyles on the
building always look like they are watching you. He redesigned the building for
his film. The gargoyles on the real building were too short to be animated.
They were elongated for “Sentinelles.”
When describing their movement, Lampron
moves just like the gargoyles do in his film, swaying with fluidity from
side-to-side. He becomes one of them. He recreated the scene as if New York was
frozen in time in the 20s and 30s.
The gargoyles move their heads as if
they are dinosaurs coming alive after a deep sleep. We glimpse them from
different angles, and we see a city - looming like a remote landscape. Beams of
light burst through the sky, through the clouds.
“The moving clouds are a matte painting,
morphed by a computer, Lampron explains. “Discreet Logic’s Flame software was
used for the moving clouds. Two matte paintings of the clouds (painted in
Photoshop in film resolution by Rene Morel) were morphed into each other to give
them the aspect of movement using Flame software operated by Patrick Bergeron.
He’s now working in New Zealand on the effects of “The Lords of the Rings” film
Strange birds appear and fly off in
close ups. We notice the unusual way they flap their wings.
“I choreographed a body moving in space
like the Kabuki Theatre,” Lampron states. “The movement is interesting because
of the way the body moves, as opposed to using facial expression. This is not
the Disney aesthetic. There are no moving eyebrows. We see body movement with
“Sentinelles” was produced over 3 years,
part-time, by a team of 15 people. It was completed in the late fall of 1999 and
premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, February, 2000.
The software used to create it
(modeling, animation and rendering) was Alias/Wavefront PowerAnimator 8.5 (from
Toronto) on Silicon Graphics computers. Compositing of elements was done on
Alias/Wavefront Composer 4.0 (from their Alias division in California.)
The images were rendered half resolution
1K (1024 x 436 pixels) then blown up to 2K (2048 x 872 pixels) before being
printed in Toronto by Cinebyte Imaging on 35mm, 2:35:1 format, Cinemascope.
A 30 SGI computer from the University of
Quebec, Montreal rendered the images every night for almost 11 months. The
average frame needed two hours of computing (the heaviest ones were computed
over 8 hours per frame).
Financial support came from The Canada
Council, $60.000, and more help from Pygmee Productions.
“I worked on the film after 6 p.m.,
after my day job and on weekends,” Lampron smiles.
“Sentinelles” has been doing the
festival circuit around the world and received The Award of Excellence, Digital
Coast Awards 2000, Best Animation, Palm Springs International Festival of Short
Films, and Prix Ars Electronica 2000, Linz, Austria.
What’s next for Guy Lampron? He has a
few ideas in the works. One is a live-action short drama, which will combine
actors with special effects. The story centers on WWI in the trenches. “Under a
Leaden Sky will be shot in digital with effects added. Projected length: 20
Project #2 is an ambitious animated
adaptation of Don Quixote, 52 minutes. It’s at the writing stage with production
slated for mid-2001. The film is inspired by the aesthetic of important Spanish
artists, such as Dali, Miro and Picasso.
You can email
The Ant-Horses Have Landed
“Bully Dance,” a new film by National
Film Board animator Janet Perlman, is a pointed, entertaining look at Bullies –
the bad guys who attack their victims with force.
The characters in Perlman’s film look
like a cross between ants and horses. They are solid black silhouettes against
an Egyptian-like background – creating a strange symmetry. We view a dance
class in a schoolyard. Everyone moves in rhythm to hypnotic music –percussion
sounds that pulsate throughout the film
Judith Gruber-Stitzer designed the music
and sound in the film, and it’s terrific. It makes you want to get up and join
the ant-horses as they cha-cha-cha.
We hear drums, bongos, bells, a whistle,
almost as if an African ritual is taking place.
“Janet had taken dance classes for 20
years and used those classes as her inspiration for the film. Some of her
classes had live percussionists accompanying the dancers, and so it was her idea
to try and use an all-percussive track for the film,” Stitzer explains.
“I looked at the storyboard and
discussed with her what kind of soundtrack would work best,” Stitzer says. “She
was pretty keen to try an all-percussive track because she wanted her characters
to move rhythmically. We discussed the tempo and approximate duration of each
scene, and then I hauled out my noisemakers and put together a rough soundtrack
using only mallet instruments. It was an interesting challenge.”
“The music accelerates slightly as the
tension heightens,“ Stitzer explains. “When “Bully Dance” was at the fine cut
stage, I rerecorded the whole percussive track, adding specific percussive
effects to underline footsteps and important movements. The music takes the
place of Foley and sound effects.
“Ten minutes is a long time to listen to
solo drums if you’re not used to the tonal subtleties of percussion, and I was
worried that the track wouldn’t be varied enough,” Stitzer adds. “To help me to
get around this concern, I decided to use ‘sampled’ drum sounds because they
afforded me a wider range of pitches within each drum family. I was able to
play melodies with the sampled drums that would have been difficult to reproduce
using acoustic instruments.”
Photo by Lois Siegel
Judith Gruber-Stitzer and Janet Perlman, 2000
“Sampled simply means that an instrument
has been recorded digitally. Once it is in the digital domain, we are then able
to change the pitch of the sounds. I worked with an experienced percussionist on
some of the tracks, and he was able to help ‘humanize’ the feel of the sampled
drums,” Stitzer says.
The center of our attention in the film
is a bully who picks on one of the students. It’s lunchtime. The bully targets
his victim and steals his lunch. His hands are clenched in fists. Steam comes
out of his nose like a bull.
Eventually, the teacher admonishes the
bully, and he is chased and left outside the dance circle. “Bully Dance” is
like the inner workings of a clock as the pieces move in harmony with each
Ironically, “Bully Dance” was shown
before the biker feature film “Hochelaga” at the Montreal festival. There was a
biker gang in the audience that appeared in the feature. Perlman’s reaction to
the bikers and how her film may have affected them:
“I think they were taking pointers in
But the real point of the film is that
“…the community must be involved in maintaining an environment that is safe for
everyone. There is little hope for a victim in an atmosphere of secrecy and
isolation,” Perlman explains.
The animation and backgrounds were drawn
on paper with ink, and then scanned into a computer. “I colored the
backgrounds in Painter on a MacIntosh, and Randall Finnerty colored the
characters and did
camera in Toonz (Softimage). In other words, the technique was animation on
paper, then colored in the computer.
This is the first time Perlman has
worked with computers to create an animated film. “The computer has been a real
godsend to me, she says, “ It has been easier to try new styles and looks
because of that fabulous "undo" button. There is little penalty for taking
chances. With “Bully Dance” the limitations of cel were lifted - I did not have
to worry about how many levels of animation there were - there was no limit. And
no more cel drudgery - no dust, no re-shoots. I have also used an Amiga for years
to test my animation, which gives me a lot of control over my timing and
movement, and so my animation has greatly improved.”
“Bully Dance” is part of the Film
Board’s ShowPeace series and is produced by Marcy Page. The ShowPeace Series is
a group of six films. Each film depicts a different conflict situation and
offers opportunities for discussion about conflict issues. Three films are now
completed: “Dinner For Two” and “Bully Dance” by Perlman, and “When the Dust
Settles” by Louise Johnson. Three films are still in production. The animators
are Diane Obomsawin, Daniel Schorr, and Marv Newland. Each film includes a study
guide as a foldout video jacket.
"Marcy Page totally supported the
project and me as an artist," Perlman says, "A few years ago, before "Dinner
For Two," she suggested doing
a film on the subject of conflict resolution that sparked the development of
the ShowPeace series. She has been involved in getting outside support from
UNICEF and from Justice Canada. She also helped navigate through the
relatively new digital environment of the NFB. We were able to do some
experimentation to get the desired color effects."
©2003 Cartoon Networ
Penguins Behind Bars
Another Perlman and Stitzer project
“Penguins Behind Bars,” a half-hour adult TV special for the Cartoon Network
based on the book by Janet Perlman and Derek Lamb.
©2003 Cartoon Network
Penguins Behind Bars
The film looks at the sleazy life inside a 1950s women's prison,
featuring a cast of penguins. For the production, they
created Hulascope Studio, a new company in Montreal’s Plateau district, for the
Cartoon Network, in association with the NFB, who distribute "Penguins
Behind Bars" in Canada.
You can email Janet Perlman
Law As Entertainment: Animation Goes to Court
How do you turn a dull subject into
something that’s fun to watch? You hire Diane Obomsawin to animate your story
and fill it with wonderful characters.
“Understanding the Law: The Coat and
the Worm” are two delightful examples. The films are part of a series designed
to demystify everyday aspects of Canadian Civil Law, and the films do just
“The Coat” features characters with
Even the clock in one scene has a face that looks like a mouse.
The animation is filled with such details. There’s also a fish picture on a
bathroom wall, a pumpkin under the kitchen table, and a white judge’s wig that
lands on a dog, all as Hawaiian- type, Dobro-sounding music floats through the
Actually, it’s this very dog that tells
his master’s story. It works something like: Dog as master’s advocate. The
story: One day an ad for a coat appears in the newspaper. It states: it will
cost $9.99 for the 1st 10 customers who enter the store. At 4 a.m.
the customers line up, including our ‘hero.’ But there is a catch: the cashier
won’t sell the coat to him because he isn’t a woman. He takes the matter to
court, and a judge with a ‘flying’ wig gives his verdict.
“The Worm” focuses on Mrs. Popcorn and
her cat. This time the cat tells the story. Mrs. Popcorn drinks a can of cola
on a hot day. Mr. Ugly, Slimy Worm crawls out of the can. Mrs. Popcorn panics
and breaks out in spots. She complains directly to the cola company. The plot
thickens. The company denies responsibility. Mrs. Popcorn takes the company to
Again we see delightful details: the cat floats in the
kitchen sink to cool off on this very hot day, there are collage cutout heads as
observers in the court room, and the judge wildly waves his arms when talking.
The message about the law and who is
guilty is very clear. You can’t change a contract after the fact, and ads can
be considered contracts. As well, a company must provide a safe product.
Humor makes a great educational tool,
and Obomsawin’s films are definitely fun to watch while you learn.
Obomsawin has been working with humor
since she was a teenager and creating comic strips.
“It was a way for me to criticize my
family and school and any kind of authority,” she states. “I tried to laugh
about what disturbed me. It was a way for me to ‘defouler’ (to release pent up
emotions). It’s still the same motivation that inspires me for painting,
cartoons or film work, but now I put more of what I like into my work.”
Obomsawin’s “The Worm” won the
Educational Productions Award at Ottawa 2000: Ottawa International Animation
Festival. Michael Fukushima produced the films.
You can email Diane Obomsawin
“Yaourts Mystiques” (Mystic Yogurts) is
an imaginative short film, 35mm, 11 minutes by Sylvie Guerard, France. It
features a colony of yogurts that inhabit a refrigerator.
As the film opens, we are intrigued by
the strong sounds we hear as yogurts move down a corridor, accompanied by
shadows and suspense music. When the refrigerator door – The Great Door- opens,
the question is – who will be selected. All the yogurts want to be picked –
they jump up and down and yell “Moi, moi” (me, me).
Their fear is that they won’t be chosen
before their “Best Before” date. One fermenting, old yogurt is desperate when
the fridge door opens. “ Yaourts Mystiques” is a very clever film.
Sylvie Guerard studied at FEMIS in Paris
and the Royal College of Art in London.
So Much for Evolution
“Du Big Bang à Mardi Matin” (From the
Big Bang to Tuesday Morning) by Claude Cloutier, 6 min, The National Film Board
of Canada French Program, starts as an abstract film with floating snow-like
dots. As a fish appears, it becomes clear that we are watching the story of
Cloutier uses paint and India ink on
paper. He combines color with black and white images as we see a metamorphosis
from animals to humans. The animator’s sense of humor is apparent as a serpent’s
head appears out a suit, formal attire for such an animal. And where does all
this evolution lead us – to a man in a car stuck in rush hour traffic. So much
Therese Descary, Marcel Jean and
Jean-Jacques Leduc produced “Big Bang.”
Visual as Story