Signe wrote something for that festival's catalogue about what it's like to make independent animation in New York City, and I'd like to reprint it here. These notes are also posted on her blog, which is located at:
Oh, and while you're there, please check out her animation art for sale, and her holiday offer to draw or paint any animal of your choice!
Here are my New York Animation notes for Etiuda&Anima Festival catalogue:
It's probably not an understatement to say that New York City has one of the most vibrant and thriving animation communities in the world. The reasons for this are multiple:
1. There used to be an amazing amount of animation jobs in the city (Nickelodeon, MTV, Little Airplane, Animation Collective, etc.) Perhaps not so much now, but animators stay here because –
2. We have a very excellent chapter of ASIFA-East that organizes screenings and meet-ups every month, and an annual festival of work from its members. When people see each other on monthly basis, it creates the sense of a community, involvement and support.
3. New York independent animators don’t compete with each other for funding (generally, the funding for arts or animation in the U.S. is scarce, so there is nothing to fight over) but instead we compete with each other over who will make a better film, we challenge each other and we support each other with advice, tips and animation tools.
4. There are at least five colleges in NYC that teach animation – so there are plenty of interns/apprentices for independent animators to employ which is a good reason to open an independent animation studio in New York. Also students have a lot of youthful enthusiasm for animation as a sophisticated form of self-expression. Enthusiasm is infectious.
5. New York City is a source of endless inspiration for stories. Also, because everybody in NYC is constantly busy and short on time, we New Yorkers value time more than anything. As a result, good sense of timing for NY animators becomes visceral. Timing is part of our minds, our bodies, and our essences. That's why some of the best animated films from NY may not have perfect design or the most amazing concepts, but they have timing that will make you laugh or cringe, and you walk away thinking you just watched a perfect film.
6. We in New York have the beacon of independent animation – Bill Plympton. This beacon shows you the way to be an indie animator (create short films that connect with audiences and make a lot of them, consistently) but it also warns you not to come too close to the cliff, where the beacon stands on. It can ruin your life - to be an indie animator and consistently produce films you must give up on aspects of normal human life, like having friends, family and hobbies.
I don't know any independent NYC animator who hasn't looked at Bill and, at least once in their life, said, "That looks easy, I can do it." And then lunged into making indie short films. But then they had to stop after a few years because they got married and/or had children and had to find a better way to pay the rent. No one else can do what Bill does (he is unique) but thanks to his example and our aspirations to be like him we have a lot of independent animated films made in New York.
For these reasons, the community of NYC animators is so tightly knit and supportive that one day (in 2004) a bunch of us got together and published a DVD of our work, called "Avoid Eye Contact". It was so successful (2,000 DVDs sold in one year) that we released "Avoid Eye Contact" Volume 2 in 2005.
Since then, DVD's have fallen out of fashion, and we animators/artists have proven yet again that we are more interested in making films than selling them. But the energy of cooperation and innovation is still there, because that is what New York City is about.
For Program 1, I selected 14 films that are my favorites from the two "Avoid Eye Contact" volumes. The films are perhaps on the older side ("One of Those Days" is from 1988) but since animation doesn't age like other films, they are still classic.
Programs 2 and 3 were put together exclusively for Etiuda&Anima and they consist of films never screened at Etuida&Anima. There are several things that are striking about the work for in those programs – first, a lot of these shorts take place in strange spaces, for example - "Terrible Alpha 9" (Jake Armstrong), "Pangs" (Wendy Cong Zhao), "Egg" (Jack Wedge), "Mirage" (Youngwoong Jang) and "Wandering Eye" (Edwin Chavez). It probably can be explained by New York City being a strange place with its own rules that are not immediately accessible to a newcomer and the city can seem like an alien planet at first. Note, "Wandering Eye" was hand drawn on index cards while the animator was commuting to school on subway.
To counter that, there are a couple of films that explain this strange place called New York – "Concrete Jumble" (Gary Leib) and "The Lost Tribes" (Andy and Carolyn London) - they give the audience a little bit of local history and context. Then there are films that are strongly, unapologetically female and even raunchy, like "Teat Beat of Sex" (Signe Baumane), "Boobatary" (Leah Shore), "Cee Cee's Bedtime Stories" (Joy Buran and Noelle Melody) and "Everybody's Pregnant" (Debra Solomon). Their unabashed revealing of the most private elements of a female life (body functions, having sex, being infertile, getting high or drunk) may come from the experiences of being part of the masses moving through the streets and mass transit of New York which erases your feeling that your privacy is sacred. You are just one of the 8 million humans living here, and everyone has the exact same problems as you do, so get over it and share your shame and private thoughts with everyone else. It's only a stereotype that big cities alienate their residents from each other. New York does just the opposite - it connects people and teaches us to love other humans (you really can't live in New York if you don't love humans).
And, of course, as in any place around the world, in New York, too, there are inevitably films made about universal themes like food ("Gastronomic Shark", the Polish premiere of Bill Plympton's short film) and aspirations for love ("Hedgehug" by Dan Pinto, "Video 69"). Love is everywhere, even in New York.
The notorious neurosis of New Yorkers is depicted in "Something Left, Something Taken" – and since the filmmakers in the film also make fun of themselves, it shows a very typical New York humor – the self-deprecating kind.
In the end, without the compassion and understanding of other human beings the life in New York would not be possible, and that's what animated doc "A Life with Asperger's" is teaching us.
If you can't come to New York, then New York must come to you! These 3 programs are showing some of the best New York animated shorts created in the last 20 years. This is your chance to experience all the inner workings of the minds of New York and New Yorkers. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and we hope you'll leave the screening inspired to make a film of your own.