Friday, June 21, 2019

Annecy 2019

I've just returned from one of my favorite film festivals, the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, located high in the French Alps.  This is the granddaddy of animation festivals.  I've been going every year - since I first attended in 1985 with my first film "Boomtown".  (By my accounting I've probably attended Annecy more than any other filmmaker...)

The week started out as a rainy mess, so I was able to catch a few films - as you probably already know, I'm a huge fan of Masaaki Yuasa (his films "Mind Game" and "Kickheart" are brilliant).  He had his new film, "Ride Your Wave" at Annecy in competition, and it's a great departure from his other films...only in the wrong direction.  I don't know why he abandoned his radical gonzo style of animation, but this film looks just like a million other animé films I've seen.

Perhaps he's married and needs the money.  Or perhaps his producers forced him to copy the other Japanese animators.  But it was all there: the big eyes, wispy hair, no nose, all the clichéd telltale signs of animé!  And the story also was a sugary sweet romance between two young surfers. Please, Masaaki, get back to your brilliant kick-ass animation!

I was also really looking forward to the new Lorenzo Mattotti film "The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily".  I had to stand outside in the rain in a very long line to get in.  All the seats were sold out, but I managed to sneak in, just barely.  This film is the most beautiful film I've ever witnessed!  Every shot was a masterpiece and I wanted to linger on each beautiful background.  I was gobsmacked!!! I can't think of a film that was so similarly gorgeous - "Bambi"...No, "Fantasia"...No, "The Red Turtle"...No!  Plus, the story was excellent, with great characters, great designs, only the young female lead was badly designed and drawn, as if Mattotti had nothing to do with her.  As you all now, Mr. Mattotti is famous for his wonderful illustrations, posters and books, so it seems natural that his film would be a masterpiece.

Once the rain stopped, I was able to hit all the parties and play in Lake Annecy.  Even though the film I submitted this year was rejected, I was still able to show four of my films in various non-competitive programs.  The festival showed my classic 2001 short "Eat" in a special program about gastronomy, for example.

Plus, the Spike and Mike documentary "Animation Outlaws", directed by Kat Alioshin, screened to very large crowds, and even though my animation is featured prominently in the film, somehow they forgot to interview me.  But it's a great look at the crazy roadshow called "Sick & Twisted" that toured across the USA for many years.  The doc features such animated greats as John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, Mike Judge, Don Hertzfeldt, Nick Park, Will Vinton and so on.  Unfortunately Mike passed away in the 1990's and the festival doesn't have the energy and weirdness factor that it once had, and it plays in much fewer cities, sad to say.

One of the highlights of the festival, for me, was the Academy party.  A very posh affair, where Bonnie Arnold introduced me to director Dean DeBlois of "How to Train Your Dragon" fame - now he's one of my great heroes.  I was awestruck to meet him, and he was a very friendly guy.  I hope to got back to Annecy next year, and every year after that - if I can get one of my damn films in!

with Dean DeBlois
Back in the USA, last night I attended the East Coast premiere of a music video I directed and designed, called "Wicked World" by the young genius, Matt Jaffe (no relation to Al Jaffee) at the National Sawdust Theater in Brooklyn.  First Matt played a bunch of his other songs - I did some caricatures, showed a clip from my new work-in-progress film, "Slide", then we showed the new music video.  Judging by the reaction from the audience, it was a big hit.  The theater managers seemed to like my work, so I may return to Williamsburg and do my whole show there. I'll certainly let you know when that happens.

The next event I've got coming up is a special screening of all SIX of my infamous "Trump Bites" episodes, at the IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, NYC next Monday, June 24 at 6:30 pm.  I'll introduce those shorts, plus some of my classics like "Guard Dog" and "Your Face", and we'll do some live demos about how to draw Donald Trump, and then a Q&A with me and "Trump Bites" co-creator Billy Shebar.  Join us to have a good animated time as we make fun of the President!  For tickets and more info:

Here are some more pictures from beautiful Annecy - talk to you next week -


with animator Michael Dudok de Wit (2nd from right)

with Sandrine, Pat Smith and Peter Lord 

with Pat Smith and Sandrine
my son Lucas was selling his own drawings at my table!

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Story Behind Gun Shop..

"Gun Shop" is my first foray into stop motion/object animation, and will be in competition at this weeks Annecy. Here's the story of how a hand drawn animator switched gears and experimented with stop motion, and in the process got educated about guns and our culture.

In July 2018, my mother had just passed away, and my father fell into deep dementia. The family was in turmoil, we had a house to sell, a father to care for, and no money.  Through all of this I became very close to my brothers and sisters.  As we were packing up my parents belongings, re-visting photos, reading love letters, all things children of loved ones do.  We came across my fathers Guns. My dad and his father were avid deer hunters, and had a variety of shot guns and rifles. I’m fairly familiar with guns; as an American it’s part of our culture.  I reached for my camera, positioned the guns on the table, and photographed each one.
One of my Dad's 12 gauge shotguns.. which started the entire thing.
Those were the first photos I composited as a test, in the style of one of my favorite filmmakers, Paul Bush. Paul Bush pioneered a technique that few have ever duplicated. The history of this particular type of object animation, a technique that involves using a different object for every frame, can be traced back to Jan Svankmajer, who used winged insects similar to Paul Bush’s masterpiece “While Darwin Sleeps.” You would be hard pressed to find ten more films in this technique. Some notables are Fabio Friedli, Alain Biet, Adnaan Jiwa, Gerco de Ruijter, Páraic Mc Gloughlin, and Ynon Lan. I’m sure there are more, but not too many more.
"While Darwin Sleeps" object animation by the legendary experimental animator Paul Bush.

I showed this animation test to my producer at the time, David Gaynes, who mentioned that it would work well synced to percussion (he was a drummer).  Most of my career has been visually interpreting music and audio interviews, and I thought that perhaps I could contribute in a unique way by utilizing my own technique of syncing animation, and percussion happens to be perfect for object animation.  So, between jobs I researched some of my favorite films that utilized Jazz.. namely George Griffin’s “Koko” and the experimental synced work “Begone Dull Care” by Norman Mclaren and Evelyn Lambart. Also the experimental films by Len Lye.

Then... the project stalled as I got deeper into a few other drawn animation projects like my 2018 film “Pour 585.” This happens, and is often the death of new ideas.

One day, several months later, the phone rang. It was the impregnable titan of animation, Ron Diamond. He never calls me.  Ron had just watched “Pour 585”, and had a very simple critique for me.. “Pat it’s time to move on.. you’ve been making the same films for 20 years.”  Tough love. That conversation shook me, I trust Ron, and I had to admit that “Pour 585” as well as my previous film "Pittari" was failing to resonate.  So that evening my wife suggested I explore the Gun idea in more depth.

I traveled to several gun shops and museums, typically taking photos on the sly with my phone. I gathered roughly about half of the thousands I needed.  So over the course of a few weeks I posted messages on Facebook, twitter, and message boards, asking people to submit photos of their personal firearms, the response was overwhelming. My best source was from a private collection in Long Island, New York, which contained approximately 200 different firearms, many heavy.  Frightening? yes. And expressing this cultural phenomenon is what the context of the film morphed into.

Through my travels and communications, I learned a lot about firearms, and those who have them. The most shocking thing about the research I did for “Gun Shop” is how incredibly cooperative gun owners were with my project, knowing full well my anti-gun politics. It surprised me, and shook my view of the gun-toting populace. There’s more to it than most think.  This issue is incredibly polarizing simply because it’s so ingrained into American culture.

Toy gun Oil Painting by Tony Curanaj.

The method of visually illustrating this cultural connection was a challenge. I remember an oil painting done by my old NYC studio mate, Tony Curanaj. He painted an iconic toy gun. It was beautiful and brought me back to my youth of squirt guns, cap guns, and plastic machine guns that launched Styrofoam bullets.  So I settled on that obvious juxtaposition.  Ironically, the toy guns were more difficult to find and photograph than real guns, an interesting commentary in itself. The film came together over the following months, much to the detriment of my commercial projects.. but that’s always been the case with me. So. Thank you Ron Diamond, thanks Jason Wiseman, my wife Kaori Ishida, George Griffin, Paul Bush and the talented musicians Jen Mitlas and Steve Rice. .. and the un-named populace that helped me immensely to gather the thousands of photos needed to produce “Gun Shop.”

My follow up film “Candy Shop” is almost wrapped, and is slated for premiere this coming November. I fear this technique will stay with me for a while.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

YouTube as a venue for independent Animators..

Does YouTube work for independent animators? I have a specific use for YouTube: To get the film seen, thereby garnering paid work. This mantra has paid off over the past 5 years, with an almost total majority of my clients coming from people who saw my videos on-line. I believe this to be the most vital part of the on-line venue. If you're interested in my methods of getting these views, let me know in the comments, maybe I can do a multi-part series about it.

So, “Pour 585” hit 1 million views the other day.. The majority viewing age is, 25-44, substantially older than my last viral video (Handshake which has about 3 million). Also the source of views was initially started by the 17k channel subscribers, who also provided insightful and thoughtful comments, more so than any other video I have up. Subscribers are key to any successful YouTube launch.. they are the ones that start the process into sliding into the coveted "Suggested Videos" column.It’s tempting to be cynical about views, but in the end, this is the reason we make animated films: To communicate to as many interested people as possible.
Thanks for everyone’s help pushing the original launch, especially Amid Amidi who gave it a short pick of the day at Cartoon Brew, JJ Sedelmaier, Dan Sarto at AWN, and everyone else who shared!
MAKING FILMS IS A BATTLE, with many obstacles and gatekeepers to circumnavigate in order to reach your audience!  Ultimately I think on-line viewing works seamlessly with more traditional venues, to the benefit of independents.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Upcoming Events

I'm sorry that I've been out of touch for a little bit.  I'm now working on two big projects - one secret project for my favorite TV show, and perhaps in a month I can make an announcement about it.  But for now, the lawyers say I'm forbidden to talk.

The other project, of course, is my new feature film, that the lawyers say I CAN discuss - it's called "Slide".  I'm now about 1/5 of the way through the film, and in all modesty, I must say it looks pretty damn good.

But I do also have a lot of other events that I'd like to talk about.  First, I just saw "Aladdin", the new "live-action" version, starring a blue Will Smith as the Genie.  This was the character I was almost hired to animate for the original Disney version, released in 1992.

The big downside for me in the film was the feeling I was watching a Broadway musical.  All the songs sound alike and therefore feel like processed cheese.  I found the plotting very lackluster and static.  However, the ending is something to marvel - it really came together in the last 15 minutes - I give it a "C" grade overall.

Another big announcement is the fact that one of my more recent music videos is getting a live premiere at the new National Sawdust music venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  On June 20 at 7:30 pm (doors open at 6:30, get there early!) I will make an appearance, along with boy genius Matt Jaffe to screen the video for his new song "Wicked World".  It's a great song, and then I added some wild animation to go with it.  We will be there to talk about the making and the meaning of this video, and then the audience will hear a bunch of his other tunes.  He's quite a phenomenon, at 21 years old he's extremely talented and very handsome, too.

Even though I worked on his video, I've never met Matt in person before, but I've very excited to do so and to see him perform.  It should be a great show, so please check it out.  The National Sawdush is located at 80 North 6th St. in Brooklyn - and you can get more info and tickets here:

The third project on my list is the premiere of three more "Trump Bites" animated shorts at the IFC Center on 6th Ave. in the West Village part of Manhattan, starting on June 7.  I'll add more screening details here and a ticket link here as soon as I have them.

These are the anti-Trump shorts that I've created with Billy Shebar and David Roberts of 110th Street Films.  They've gotten HUGE international publicity and millions of fans (thousands of haters, also) by taking Trump's own words and adding surreal animation.

It's funny, in the 1970's and 80's I was drawing a syndicated political cartoon strip, and I'd be lucky to get 1 or 2 comments each month.  Now that my political animation hit the internet, I'm getting so much hate mail, it's more than I can read - and sometimes I'm afraid for my life.  Even Sean Hannity screened one of them, with his usual disgusting remarks that followed.

You'll be happy to know that the first set of "Trump Bites" episodes received a coveted Webby for "Best Animated Series" on the internet.  It's sort of the equivalent of an Oscar, since now more people watch things on the internet than go to the movies.

Finally, I'm now packing my bags for my trip to Annecy, France - the home of the biggest animation festival in the world, and possibly the most important one, too.  I've been going for almost 20 years, and I always see great friends and amazing films.  Plus, it's just a gorgeous place to hang out, drinking wine.

So, when I return I'll give you a full update on all my wonderful experiences in Annecy.  Now, enjoy this week's cartoon below!


Bill P.