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Festival inspires an animated crowd: DAY 1 By Sam Niemann
Who better to report on the debut of the major new animation festival in Portland, Oregon than an animator from Portland.  I asked some friends up at renowned animation house RENEGADE ANIMATION if they'd drop in to see what all the hubbub was about, and got back more than expected. 

Veteran animator Sam Niemann started a journal which he's allowed me to reprint here.

To find out more about RENEGADE ANIMATION, check out their website at  To read about their new digs in Portland, check out the previous Animation Artist article here:    -Ko Maruyama

 Platform Day 1

Monday, June 25th, 7:30 or so, I didn't check the time: Portland Mayor Tom Potter took the stage to welcome us to the first Platform International Film Festival.

First off, I'm going to come right out and mention that the film I submitted to Platform was rejected. So it was with mild bitterness and a critical eye that I attended the opening night screening. Each film had to prove itself worthier than mine. Happily (or dejectedly) I was blown away by the films in the opening night screening!

What made them so worthwhile? The short answer is - Production Values! Not that money is the measure of a cartoon, but mine was made for the price of six reams of paper and in my spare time. If forced to use one word to describe all the entries in the opening night of festival competition, it would be: lavish! Of course, the category of the competition is "Short Film - Budget over $50,000" Not my category, so I'll reserve just a touch of bitterness.

The Festival opened with the Platform Signal Film (as will every screening, I assume). It's a brilliant bit of stopmotion/pixilation work based on the Platform cube shape logo, depicting a box's cross-country journey to join his brothers in spelling out PLATFORM. I wasn't the only one disappointed it wasn't included in the contest. It was every bit as entertaining as many of the films.

The competition included both narrative animations as well as 30 second to 1 minute commercial spots. A juxtaposition I found jarring and unpleasant. For example, the charming 2006 Academy Award winner "The Danish Poet", a 15 minute film about the narrator's parents met, was followed by a soap commercial. (A spectacular soap commercial to be sure!) A piece titled "The Knife: We Share Our Mother's Health", a black white and red montage of medical instruments, severed heads and showers of blood, was followed by a Fed Ex commercial.

My own vote went to Aardman's "The Pearce Sisters" by director Luis Cook. It seemed to be primarily 3D animation but had a wonderful hand painted look.It's a bleak tale of two hideous looking sisters eking out a hard seaside existence. To cut an 8 minute story short, they collect dead washed up sailors for a morbid tea party. It's hard for me to resist a tale so grim presented so beautifully.

My second choice would be "Story Ville", a black and white 3D animated salute to Ub Iwerks, New Orleans Jazz, and the Ferryman of the River Styx myth.


The music was too loud. You couldn't talk to anybody. Lot's of great people to meet and greet everywhere you turned, but my throat was killing me. The food (cheese and crackers) ran out before I got to the table. I'm only now realizing I paid $3.50 for a flat club soda!


I wasn't sure I'd last long enough to attend this 11:00 to 12:30 panel but I'm glad I did. A good natured smackdown of abstract animation films presented by Joanna Priestly, up against comedy shorts presented by Bill Plympton, as judged by an applause-o-meter. The tone was set when Joanna came to the stage in a robe and boxing gloves. There was some good trash talk between the presenters, who both have their animation roots in Portland and have been good friends for 20 years.

Bill Plympton explained that the idea for the match up came from a 2004 film by W.P. Merton his company Plymptoons produced called "Spiral". It caused what he called "a furor" at Annecy. SPOILER ALERT! If you think you'll ever get to see Spiral (and I recommend you do if given the chance), move on to the next paragraph. Spiral opens on a sheet of graph paper with a dot on it, accompanied by some plinky piano music. The dot enlarges and shrinks again, tracing a spiral shape and repeats this several times. Eventually a square lowers from the top of the screen while a triangle raises from the bottom to overlap the square in the middle. The shapes join and morph and disappear and then we're back to the dot. These two motifs repeat several times and you may start to notice some ambient noise filtering in with the plinky piano music. You can soon hear more clearly a bored and restless audience. Someone in the distance yells, "This sucks!" The boos and hisses get louder until gun shots ring out and the dot falls from the graph paper into a bloody heap. The triangle and square come out to berate the audience, "He had a family! We're just trying to bring you people some culture!" It's pretty funny.

In 2005, Annecy projected a film called "Rebuttal" by Steve Woloshen. Rebuttal starts out with the shimmering image of what might be oil paint on glass or ink on celuloid and a minimalist jazz piano sound track. Suddenly the music switches to a banjo hoe down full of hoots and yeee-haws and the text "IN YOUR FACE" scrawls across the screen as screenshots from Bill Plympton's first animated short "Your Face" are subjected to all manner of artistic and abstract deconstruction. Also tremendously amusing.

And so the feud began. Before I give you the results, I think the deck was a bit stacked and here's how. I think Joanna did a better selection job and probably picked the cream of the abstract crop while I believe Bill could have selected much funnier films. Second, Joanna excerpted 4 minutes out of a 16 minute piece. Unfair! We all know what sucks most about many abstract animations is they go on too long! Finally, the front row, and therefore closest to the applause-o-meter's readings, definitely belonged to Joanna's posse. I won't mention the meter reader was Joanna Priestly's husband, Paul Harrod. I think he nobly performed as an impartial judge.

I will mention that after 3 cartoons each the score was Abstract-17, Comedy-18. But Abstract had four films and so the score was based on an average. That made the final score:
Abstract 6.25, Comedy 6. Winner - Abstract!

Tune in next year for the rematch.

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Sam Niemann is an animator at the award winning RENEGADE ANIMATION studios, and is currently working in their Portland, Oregon offices( To view some of his personal work, visit
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