From Gargoyles to Ant-Horses:
Animation at The Montreal World Film Festival
2000

By Lois Siegel
 


©
Photo by Paul Jean

Lois Siegel

Filmmaker/Photographer
Plays fiddle and she teaches Video Production at
the University of Ottawa
Her documentary films include “Baseball Girls”
 (women who play softball and baseball)
 “Lip Gloss” (female impersonators)
 “Strangers in Town” (albinism)
 and “Stunt People”
 (The Fournier Family performing stunts for films).

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
   Guy Lampron

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 crunching metal.

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 adaptation.”

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 expressive feeling.”

“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 minutes.

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 Guy Lampron
 

    
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 other. 

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 bullying people.” 

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 is “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 that. 

“The Coat” features characters with funny faces. 
  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 air.
 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 court.
  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

Yogurt People

“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.

The Drawing That Wanted to be 3D

“The Quest for Electric Liederhosen,” 4 minutes, by Francis Hanneman, Concordia University (Montreal), won “Best Animation Video” at the 31st Canadian Student Film & Video Festival.  The story centers on an ad: Dancer Wanted. But the dancer who answers the ad and auditions is only a flat, line drawing (it looks like a drawing-on-film), thus, too thin to do the job. The director of the production is disappointed.  Then the line drawing transforms itself into a 3D animation, but the outcome is not good.  Can line drawings really hope to be 3D dancing images…see the film and find out.

“The Quest for Electric Liederhosen is Hanneman’s first entirely digital animation. It consists of three parts: 3D animated characters, the “scratch-on-film” type character, and the backgrounds.

“I used Softimage 3D to create and animate the 3D characters,” Hanneman explains. “I animated them on a pure red “key” background to facilitate the integration of the characters and the backgrounds. For example, when the “Director” character shakes his head from side-to-side in discontent; his glasses imitate the “red” transparency of the red seats behind him.”

“For the main dancing sequence, I used a motion capture film which I created using a magnetic motion capture system,” he adds. “I used a program called AURA to create the “Scratchy” character.  AURA is a simple but powerful program that combines video, drawing and layering. I used video files of my own movement (filmed with a video camera), which I manipulated in Adobe Premier (editing program).  Using the video layer as a background, I traced the main motion lines of the character using a Wacom PenPal (virtual Pen and Tablet) to give the sense of “dirty” scratch-on-film animation.”

Hanneman is a recent graduate of the Film Animation Program at Concordia University.  “During my three years at Concordia, I completed four films.  The first two were puppet animations.  “Nun the Hun” illustrates a limerick by Edward Lear about a cannibalistic nun.  “MSG Instant Noodle!” combines puppet animation and computer animation in a fast-paced parody of Japanese-style advertising (includes dancing robots with integrated microwaves).  “An Eight of Tomorrow” is an experimental film, which combines time-lapse cinematography, animation, pixilation and accelerated live-action to comment on our fast-paced society.”

 “The Quest for Electric Liederhosen” was Hanneman’s first entirely digital animation.

“Animation is more of a hobby for me – a fun way to express myself,” Hanneman insists.  “I once heard somewhere that people lose their passion for what they like when they make careers out of their hobbies.  Maybe I enjoy animation too much to make it a career.”

You can email Francois Hanneman

So Much for Evolution

“Du Big Bang 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 evolution. 

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 for evolution… 

Therese Descary, Marcel Jean and Jean-Jacques Leduc produced “Big Bang.”

Visual as Story

“1974” by Paula MacDougall, 8 minutes, NFB French Program is a visual stream of colors. We see a sketchpad twirling, color swirls, and dissolves as the image of a female figure’s face constantly changes.  Everything is ephemeral and misty.

Without a decipherable story, the film rests on its experiments with images.  The colors, at times, are brilliant with a kaleidoscope blue.  MacDougall used 24 different materials, including oil paints, acrylics, watercolors, graphite, powders and luminescent on paper and cells.

“I punched holes in black paper and used fiber optics, bottom lit and top lit,” MacDougall explains.  “The creation of “live-action sequences” filmed under the animation camera comes from using paintings, lights, and a diverse array of reflective creations and found objects that were panned and rotated. They were balanced by classical types of art done in inks, pencils, crayons, waxes and gouaches.”

“The digital imaging was used in the second half of the film, when it became impractical to use in the camera bipack technique for increasingly complex scenes. All the material was shot under a traditional animation camera, then scanned digitally so the computer could be used to assemble the parts like a jigsaw puzzle,” she adds.

Technically, there were huge problems with this method, and almost 50% of the time was needed to just “get back” the images to the state of the original art.  For some reason, the true image was there somewhere, but appeared hidden; the image would appear to be a mass of grey and blue or some other arbitrary color, and so the image had to be rebuilt. This is one of the reasons the film took six years to complete.”

MacDougall studied Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba and painting at Sir George Williams University, Montreal. She traveled for a year in India and was the first Westerner to study at Silapakom University, Bangkok, Thailand. Her background includes commercial freelance work, medical art, illustration, and painting.

The producers of “1974” are Pierre Hebert, Marcel Jean and Yves Leduc.

You can email Paula MacDougall

  Body Rhythm

Another visual film was Wayne Traudt’s “Body Rhythm,” NFB, 5 minutes, 35mm.  Moving colored circles appear with a dancer. The image is reminiscent of Norman McLaren’s “Pas de Deux” (1968) as a drawing with what looks like multiple-frame printing appears.   Colors blend, then are muted, and textures are combined with a floating figure in front, mixing with other images on the screen. Accompanying music has an Eastern flavor. Rather than focusing on a specific story, instead the story seems to be body rhythms.  The film is a visual rendition of renowned Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s vocals as he performs “Tracery,” composed by Michael Brook. There are no lyrics, only classical vocal exercises in which the words have no meaning but are used for the quality of their sound.

Traudt explains his technique:  “I first studied videotapes of rhythmic gymnastics to familiarize myself with choreographing body movements with geometric shapes. I made many quick gestures by drawing from paused video frames and posed live models that I hired for that specific task.”

“Thousands of in-betweens were added to join the extremes.  I redid some scenes thirty times in order to get the slowed-down, life-like movement (in my mind, the setting for this film is a womb and the figures are moving through amniotic fluid). The figures were drawn in pencil and then scanned into Photoshop where they were cleaned and aligned.  The backgrounds were made with pastels which were also scanned, cleaned and aligned in Photoshop.”

“After numerous experiments, I managed to get an effect similar to the “staggered cross dissolves” used by McLaren in “Narcissist” and “Last Dance,” Traudt adds.  “Frederick Bach also used a similar technique for the filming of his later frosted acetate films.”

Traudt used a compositing program called AfterEffects.  “When you watch my film, the figurative animation in “Body Rhythm” is on traditional 2’s while the pastel backgrounds are a continuous series of staggered cross dissolves.  If this film had been shot on a traditional camera and stand, some scenes would have required up to 26 passes. With AfterEffects I was able to render out each frame of the film and transfer each directly to 35mm film stock.”

Traudt is a graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design, where he also taught animation for seven years.  He is currently looking for work creating movie titles, animated commercials and broadcast graphics.

Jennifer Torrance is the producer of ”Body Rhythms.”

You can email Wayne Traudt

Mobsters, Monsters and Icebergs

Paul Driessen divides his screen into sections once again with “The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg,” 9 minutes, NFB, only this time there are only two screens instead of eight, as in “The End of the World in Four Season.”
  Filled with humor, “Iceberg” introduces a boy with a very vivid imagination.  On screen we simultaneously see his real world (left screen) and his fantasy world (right screen) where bad things happen.

 

“The balancing of the two screens was one of the problems. You have to be very careful with the timing and the input of animated information for each side,” Driessen explains.

Randall Finnerty was digital imaging specialist on the project. He

says, “Basically, the entire production was done in Toonz (version 4.3), a 2D cel animation software package. Paul did all the drawing and created
paper dope sheets, which I transcribed into the Toonz Xsheet (the digital
version of a dope sheet). I also scanned in all his drawings (all scenes done
in 12 Field). These were grey tone scans (for best quality line definition)
done in Toonz using an auto feed scanner.”

“Because the film uses a split screen (reality versus fantasy) theme, I simply
used two different peg bars, one for each side, which contained all the
levels as described in his dope sheet.” Randal adds.  “I also placed a line down the middle on another peg bar - to divide the scene between reality and fantasy. I matted the right-hand side so that elements could come in and out of the scene without crossing over into the left-hand side.”

”All art direction was done in Toonz as well. Paul and I spent a great deal
of time sitting in front of the computer working out the color schemes,
creating palettes and color models. Using these color models, I (or my
assistant) would paint everything, backgrounds, overlays and characters, in
Toonz.”

"The color transitions in the film were done using the multi-palette function in the Toonz Palette Edit module," Randall continues. “Using this device, I could interpolate colors between the bedroom and the torture chamber (for example). Paul actually drew these transition scenes by hand, so it was not a matter of cross dissolving between scenes, but rather of transforming one scene into another. This was a tricky task for the painter, who had to maintain the same palette positions from the start of one scene, through the transition and into the next scene.”

“When I applied the multi-palette function over the 16 or 20 frames of the transition, the color of the boy's shirt would start out white in the first scene, but end up blue in the second scene. This may sound simple, but it's actually a bit tricky to do, especially since many elements were dissolving into different objects or disappearing altogether.”

”There were also some cross dissolves in this production. We applied some transparencies to some colors as well as glow effects. We tried to keep any computer effects to a minimum since Paul's animation style looks very much hand-drawn. We purposely avoided extraneous shadows on the
characters. So everything was painted flat colors. Our final render was output at 1024X768, which was then scaled up to double size by the film recorder when going out to film.”

Driessen says, “ My next film deals with 2D, 3D and even 1D drawn animation.  My plan is to have some yodeling in it. It will hopefully be a co-production between Holland and the National Film Board of Canada.  La Sept-Arte and Channel 4 will also be involved.”

A native of Holland, Paul Driessen worked on The Beatles film “Yellow Submarine” (1968). He has produced over 20 short films and divides his time between Canada and Kassel, Germany, where he teaches animation.

In the millennium, animation is still alive and kicking at the Montreal World Film Festival.


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