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Festival inspires an animated crowd: DAY 6 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


There were a few hard choices trying to select from overlapping events in this last full day of the festival. I decided to make it a big Aardman day. They were well represented at the festival by both Peter Lord and David Sproxton as well as several animators and producers. I hadn't been able to make any of the previous Aardman presentations so I didn't feel bad about hitting two in a row Saturday morning.

Creature Comforts
First off was the Creature Comforts U.S. presentation given by executive producer Kit Boss. The mood of the presentation was a bit tempered by the fact that the show's just been canceled. He screened one full episode that was introduced with the statement, "This is the show that would have been on last Monday." (What's wrong with American broadcasting? They don't give anything a chance! I think it aired only 3 or 4 episodes.) Needless to say it was hilarious and superbly animated, though to my mind the animation was missing just that last tiny level of subtlety and sophistication that the BBC series had. I'd have to watch them back to back to be sure, but I know the production schedule for the American series was brutal.

After that I stayed to hear Peter Lord talk about the history of Aardman.

What a terrific presentation! Peter Lord was delightfully entertaining as he talked about his decades long partnership in animation with David Sproxton. He showed pictures of the company in reverse chronological order so that the staff and facilities appeared to be shrinking, until it was just Peter and David as teenagers at their kitchen table. He showed the very first "Aardman" cartoon, a traditional cell animation of an inept superhero (named Aardman because they thought aardvarks were funny, though Aardman has no aardvark qualities, or any superpowers at all that I could see, just a guy in tights with sideburns.) The cartoon was about 40 seconds long and involved Aardman walking safely over a hole, only to fall through the "floor" just on the other side. This actually sold to British television (!) and when our young animators had to create a bank account to deposit the check, they created the company name "Aardman". That solves that mystery.

Peter explained another major lucky break was meeting Nick Park, who's work more than anybody else's defines the look and feel of what people think of as Aardman animation. He says the studio's partnership with Nick Park works out well for both of them because they get to benefit from Nick's genius and Nick gets the support (or pressure) he needs to actually finish his films.

There was of course a great deal more about the studio's history and work that I couldn't do justice to here. Peter Lord talked a half hour over time until we were kicked out of the auditorium.

After that I went over to a nearby restaurant and had lunch with David Sproxton, Kit Boss, Theresa Drilling and two other Aardman animators. Well, I had lunch near David Sproxton, Kit Boss, Theresa Drilling and two other Aardman animators. I was going to ask for some pictures as "proof" of having had lunch with them, but I couldn't bring myself to disturb their meal. That makes me a poor reporter, but hopefully a decent human being.

Walt Disney Animation Studio's Shorts
After lunch I gave up on the opportunity to hear Henry Selick talk about his work and maybe see a preview of Coraline, the new Laika stop-motion feature he's directing, in order to attend "Walt Disney Animation Studio's Shorts" Wow! What a horrible mistake that was! I'd heard that since John Lassiter was back at the studio, they'd relaunched their shorts program, including work in 2D. That was really exciting to me and I thought we'd see a screening of old and new shorts. No such luck. Instead, we were subjected to a tedious and often confusing talk by Chuck Williams who's running the new program.

The most interesting aspect of the talk was the bold admission that the studio's been squelching innovation and creativity for years. It wasn't news, but it was nice to hear from the mouth of a Disney executive. He explained how John Lassiter, Tim Burton, and Brad Bird were all fired from the studio essentially for trying new things and for caring too much. I'm glad it's become obvious to them that was a mistake. There were no shorts screened and the question and answer was torture as Chuck Williams was either deliberately dodging the questions or just really couldn't comprehend what was being asked. Awful.

Tribute to Hanna/Barbera
Next was the Tribute to Hanna Barbera panel, which was totally awesome! Moderated by Jerry Beck of Cartoon Brew, the panelists were Ward Jenkins, now of Laika but formerly a director on "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law", Michael Ouweleen of Cartoon Network and Kenny Scharf, a painter who's done a series of paintings featuring HB cartoon characters and has even created a religion around them. Ward Jenkins stole the show with his irreverent love of the characters and the process of limited animation for TV. The discussion was informative and entertaining with some screenings of some of the earlier HB cartoons produced for television. The cartoons were pretty awful, but well received by the crowd. This was after all a tribute.

Awards Ceremony
My second mistake of the day seems to be missing the Awards Ceremony (though my wife is certain I made the right choice being at home and giving her a break from our son!) I hear it was really entertaining. Sometimes unintentionally so due to some gaffs and poor organization, but that the mood was so jovial everyone was having a great time. Too bad I couldn't be there and report on it first hand. Maybe someone who attended would like to post?

Closing Party
I did get there for the cosing party, natch! What fun! The music was too loud to talk to people inside, outside was crowded with smokers. But it seems I somehow managed to deal with those annoyances because I chatted it up with old and new friends for over four hours! There was a real down side to the festival being here in my home town of Portland. Life didn't halt for it. If I'd traveled to the festival, what else would there be to do but submerse myself in it? There were a few colleagues in from out of town I was hoping to visit with. I pictured running into them at a screening, then treating them at a favorite nearby bistro while we catch up. Instead, I was racing to fit in festival events between work and home obligations. The obvious plus side, of course, is if the festival had been in another town I'd have not attended anything at all!

I've been really curious how this festival stacks up. I mean, to me it's been fantastic, and I feel I've only been able to attend about a quarter of what I hoped to! But I've never been to Annecy or Ottawa or Cannes or Sundance. So I asked some people who I know practically make a living visiting festivals and overwhelmingly the response is positive. Patrick Smith says it's the best festival he's ever been to!

Want to see the missing days and many more photos from the event?
Check out Sam's blog posts to find more...

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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
Related Keywords:event, platform animation festival, portland oregon

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