pen-aaron-thurop pen-aaron-thurop

Ottawa Festival Emphasizes TV Creators This Year

Pen Ward, Aaron Augenblick and Thurop van Orman

I’ve attended my fair share of foreign animation festivals over the years, and have always bemoaned the lack of Los Angeles industry artists at these gatherings. In Annecy artists from throughout Europe’s animation industry show up, in Ottawa a sizable lot from the New York and Toronto industry attend, but artists from Los Angeles have been conspicuously absent at every animation festival I’ve ever attended. There might be a few stragglers, but undoubtedly they’ll be outnumbered by the LA-based development and creative execs, who pounce on any opportunity for a free “business” trip.

The apathy of LA industry artists is historical. During the legendary 1967 Montreal animation expo, which was one of the great all-time gatherings of animation talent, only one Disney animator who had worked on Dumbo and was still employed at the company, took the time to attend the screening of that film. It was, of course, the studio’s most creatively curious artist, Ward Kimball.

This all leads up to some positively encouraging news. Browsing through the schedule for the upcoming Ottawa International Animation Festival, I noticed that not only are Adventure Time and Flapjack being shown in competition screenings , the creators of both shows–Pen Ward (top photo, left) and Thurop Van Orman (r.)–will attend and participate in a discussion about their work. This interaction between Los Angeles animators and the much larger world of animation beyond the San Fernando Valley doesn’t happen nearly often enough. Considering how relatively inexpensive it is to attend one of these festivals versus the mind-expanding benefits of meeting like-minded artists and seeing innovative new animation, I’m surprised that more studios don’t encourage and finance these trips for their employees. It would certainly be a wiser investment than shipping a cartload of executives to each festival.

The appearance of Ward and Van Orman isn’t the only TV-centric event at Ottawa either. Aaron Augenblick (top photo, center) who runs Brooklyn-based Augenblick Studios (Superjail!, Wonder Showzen, Ugly Americans) will be presenting a retrospective of his work. The program isn’t exclusively TV-related, but Augenblick is best known nowadays for his studio’s consistently high quality TV output, which is no small accomplishment.

  • Torg Munson

    Creative execs and senior development people are highly prized by the studios, much more so than the artists who actually make the shows. In America the business people are kings. No real shock that the ascent of the creative exec paralleled the deterioration of American
    TV animation during the last decade. It may be relatively inexpensive to attend such animation festivals but many artists have been struggling mightily in recent years just to make a living and cannot afford unreimbursed travel and lodging. The 1967 Canadian festival was held in a different animation epoch, when creative people, rather than creative executives, were held in far higher esteem.

    • amid

      LA artists struggle no more than other artists around the world who can still afford to travel to other countries and attend festivals. Regardless of whether creative people are more respected or not today, the apathy toward engaging with the broader animation community is unique to LA artists, and that’s ironic since LA artists are among the highest-earning animation artists in the world.

      • Bob Harper

        Maybe the “big guns”are doing well enough to afford attending these festivals and maybe are apathetic, but most of my fellow trench dwellers who aren’t rolling in dough are excited by these events, some scrounge up funds to attend, some submit films and most connect with those from other countries through other avenues such as Twitter, Facebook etc.

        But let’s be face it, many Los Angeles industry folks know how you and many who attend and run these festivals feel about what we produce, so it’s not like we’re exactly welcome.

  • Thomas Hatch

    Toronto to Ottawa – 219 miles

    New York City to Ottawa – 336 miles

    Los Angeles to Ottawa – 2,372 miles

    • amid

      Sorry, I should have pointed out that you can’t drive to Ottawa. You have to use this new contraption called an airplane. Millions of people use them weekly to traverse long distances.

      • Thomas Hatch

        Wait, why can’t you drive to Ottawa? Also, I’m pretty sure airplanes fly daily, not weekly. Also, one more thing, you’re aware that airplanes are not teleportation devices, yeah? Longer flights are more expensive?

        Other than that, your comment is awesome!

      • Pow!

        Is the festival willing to fund their flight over there?

  • Skeptical

    Why exactly should Los Angeles animation artists regularly travel thousands of miles away from home, on their own dime, to see animation that they can see online or at local venues and festivals? Let’s face it, most of what is screened at an animation festive is unwatchable, and the best stuff circulates quickly.

    If it’s about interacting with people from around the world, I do that every day online, or in person when people come to visit Los Angeles. I’ve chatted face-to-face with Hayao Miyazaki, Frederic Back, Bill Plympton, and countless other pros when they come to events in southern California. There is something animation-related going on virtually every week in Los Angeles, most of which I don’t even have time to attend.

    A couple of the animation festivals I’ve attended had a distinctly anti-Hollywood/anti-industry flavor. A fair amount of the lack of California participation in these festivals has to be laid on the shoulders of the festival organizers. Is it possible that Pen Ward and Thurop Van Orman are attending Ottawa because they were actually invited?

    Finally, the snippy comment about the new invention of the airplane is a glib way of ignoring of Thomas’s excellent point. When one is working 50-60 hours a week on production, and has little control over when one gets a vacation (basically between crunches), booking a week out of your life and spending a grand or two (or much more if you have a family) at an animation festival doesn’t seem like such a wonderful idea.

    I say all this as someone who loves to travel, and who loves to mix with animators from all over. My point is that apathy and curiosity have little to do with my decision about attending a far-off animation festivals.

    • Jen

      What’s so strange about animation artists going to a festival about animation? It’s a tax deduction, and great business investment.

      Seeing Bill Plympton or Hayao Miyazaki at a screening is NOT a festival experience. Plus, you knew who these people were before you saw them. Why not expose yourself to something new?

      You said, “Let’s face it, most of what is screened at an animation festive is unwatchable, and the best stuff circulates quickly.”

      That comment only reveals your own small-minded view of the animation medium. However, if you’re perfectly satisfied getting your animation exposure by watching viral videos on the internet, go for it.

      I’m tired of hearing people complain about the costs of traveling to festivals. As an animation artist who makes a fraction of what California union artists make, I still find ways of going to Ottawa and Annecy, and have a richer, more nuanced understanding of what is happening in the industry.

      • Bob Harper

        Attending festivals is definitely something worth doing, I’ve been to a few throughout the years. And if you have a few grand to spend to attend, you should. Although, I’ve made even better connections that have lasted longer through the internet.

        But not attending festivals doesn’t mean one is apathetic to animation from other parts of the world. If that’s the logic then everyone is apathetic towards something worthwhile by not flying far away to attend a conference or festival for it.

        Every Los Angeles animation artist supports world animation by buying dvds, books art etc. from artists from all over the globe. Check out Stuart NG’s shop in Los Angeles (Torrance) which is a mecca for local guys looking to buy the latest imports from everywhere. The CTN expo in Burbank does what it can to bring animation artists from all over the world who are treated like superstars by us locals.

        Most industry folks I know frequent this site to learn what’s going on in the world of animation, I just think that the evidence that we’re apathetic is weak.

      • Skeptical

        Talk about small minded, Jen. Sounds like you have some resentment and attitude towards those of us working on the west coast. Viral videos are a tiny fraction of my ‘animation exposure.’ I’ve traveled widely, and I’ve sat though more than my share of self-indulgent, unprofessional exercise in self-expression waiting for the occasional gem. There can sometimes be some interesting, novel, and even ground-breaking ideas one sees at a festival. But in my experience, one is just as likely to see the same set of good films circulating from festival to festival.

        You cite going to festivals as great business deductions and business investments. What if I already have all the deductions I need, and I’m working 50 weeks a year and don’t need the ‘business investment’? What if I choose to take in a wide range of artistic influences, especially those outside the narrow world of animation, during my rare travel time?

        There seems to be this attitude that professional animators in California look down on animators elsewhere. I guess if you go around with a chip on your shoulder, it might seem that way.

  • Robert Fiore

    It seems to me there’s an obvious explanation here that’s being ignored, which is that the Los Angeles animators don’t see the international animators as their peers. The executives might go to seek out talent that might be of use to them, but the attitude of the animators might well be something along the lines of, “Oh, so you’ve made your own little cartoon! That’s adorable! Did you get help from your Daddy?” Or perhaps, “So how’s that advertising career going for you?”

    Do the Emeryville animators show up for these things?

    • Orly

      That’s a pretty insulting and presumptuous way to guess at the thought of “Los Angeles Animators”.

      For what it’s worth, not everyone working in the studio system is “from” Los Angeles, for a start. I work with people from all over the world, including many people who have made shorts that have gone around the world. Even people with entries can’t always manage to attend the far-off festivals-Bob Harper and Skeptical explained the realities as to why they–and we–don’t attend very well.

      And believe me, whether you’re an artist from Van Nuys, Paris or Sao Paulo(all of whom I work with), no one would ever be such a douche as to say anything remotely like “Oh, so you’ve made your own little cartoon! That’s adorable! Did you get help from your Daddy?” .

      How about waiting for the supposed sneering, superior attitude comments to actually show up before bashing people based on imagined biases? Because I’m betting they won’t. Where did you get this idea? Have you read the blogs of any “Emeryville animators” lately? Because I read excitement and praise for far-flung work from indie artists of all kinds in those blogs.

      I and my friends at least are on the the side of artists making their own films and being true to their vision, even if we happen to work a 50 hour per week job at a big studio. Give us a break.

      • Bob Harper

        Exactly Orly. Those from the outside don’t know the diversity of the Los Angeles scenes and what we all like. For a start there’s Animation Nation, Women In Animation, ASIFA, Pink Slip Animation etc. not to mention the students from all of the universities.

        As you pointed out many in the field aren’t from LA – I’m from Texas and have lived in Puerto Rico. I was mentored by a director from Spain and I’ve worked with animators from Canada, France, Mexico, England, Argentina and many other fantastic places.

        And I agree with your response to the charge how we respond to indy films from abroad. Many of those inspire us and many of us envy schools like Gobelins and studios that produce Chomet’s latest.

        It’s like i stated earlier, we get how we are perceived by those outside of LA and if they want to continue to be closed minded to what we have to offer, so be it, we’ll enjoy consuming as much diversity as we can find.

  • david

    i work in l.a. but i don’t get paid enough to take trips to ottawa or europe.

  • Mat H

    I’m from Ottawa and I have attended OIAF several times. Its not worth the $600 ticket from the west coast.

  • Priory

    Hipster beards:

    the one-way ticket to getting your own show on CN

    • It’s not just the shows that look alike in LA, the creators do too.

      • DNAndy

        “Adventure Time”, “Regular Show” and “Flapjack” look NOTHING alike. Unless your judging only on noodle arms.

      • Buh

        Lumberjack beards = incredibly unattractive. SHAVE, dear hipsters. Please!!

  • For me, the Ottawa festival has had a huge impact on my professional career. The first time I went (in high school) it introduced me to all of the animation schools out there which helped me decide what school to go to. Then, as I worked at a bunch of different studios as an animator, heading to the festival helped me learn more about the industry and how people in the industry do business (which is worth knowing). I started my own studio and the contacts I made directly from the Ottawa festival (at the TAC parties in particular) has lead us to do character design work for Breakthrough Entertainment and lead my studio to animate a special episode of Nick Jr.’s “Dino Dan”, among other things.

    What you get from this festival is the opportunity to network in a more relaxed environment. This industry is about who you know, and you can meet a lot of great people at this festival. I go to Kidscreen in New York and the Licensing Expo in Vegas every year, and those events are a lot more busy and less personal and don’t provide as many enjoyable networking opportunities as the Ottawa festival does.

    Regardless of distance, attending animation events is really important if you want to further your career.

  • 2011 Adult

    This one time I worked for a company ruled by an iron-fist by its CEO/Founder/Lawyer. He also created the concept and premise for every single project they came up with, and policy prohibited none of the artists to do it instead. One day, he was invited to the Nickelodeon Teen Awards thing, for the purpose of inviting him as “an animator”, and he also had to “draw characters from his show”. He rejected the offer, because clearly, he couldn’t even draw anything to save his life, and was never an animator, or artist-person to begin with- he thought they were out of their minds! They also asked for a cel-painted sample- Nickelodeon failed to see that the show was done digitally. He never went to any animation-related event! It’s sad.

  • Tony G

    Struggling artist and international flights??? Really?

  • Saturnome

    I’m going for the first time this year, but since I’m absolutely terrible at making contact with random people, I guess it’s just going to be a nice thing to watch happening.

  • Pow!

    You know what guys. No matter what the argument involved here, we can call agree, Augenblick is a handsome handsome man.

    • Michael

      Maybe thats because Augenblick is the only one of the bunch who doesn’t look like he eats his meals out of a dumpster.

      • Yeah, Augenblick looks more like an imperfect clone of Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith, with Conan O’Brien’s hair.

  • Eddie

    Who cares if a bunch of animators from a particular area don’t want to go to a festival(s).Worry about your own life.

  • E. Nygma

    Adventure Time & Flapjack are hands down the funniest cartoons on TV now, with integrity and true creativity, so I think the creators can look like whatever the heck they want!

    • Thomas Hatch

      Yes! Thank you. See? that’s my point. We historically apathetic, un-creatively-curious, douchebags of the San Fernando Valley don’t have to travel all the way to Ottawa to hear fascinating conversations about Pen and Thurop’s facial hair… we can have those conversations right here! Without ever having to board some magical contraption. Thanks to Amid’s post, young animators all over the world are currently growing beards and climbing into dumpsters, hoping that their shows will be picked up by Cartoon Network, and then after 2 years of hard work, criticized by a lonely animation historian who lives 336 miles from Ottawa.
      Hey, speaking of Ottawa, there’s a large advertisement for the festival right up there in the corner of this page, so it’s kind of like we’re already at the festival, haha, right? (Hmm, I wonder if that ad covers Amid’s flight and hotel, or just his hotel)

      • amid

        I paid my flight and hotel to Ottawa last year (I’m not attending this year). And we do an in-kind sponsorhip with Ottawa; no money has ever exchanged hands with them. Nice attempt though to devalue my positive commentary about Pen, Aaron and Thurop with an ad hominem attack.

      • Thomas Hatch

        Your commentary is already devalued by simple geography, however I take back the final sentence of my previous comment.

      • Thomas Hatch

        Hey, you changed you comment! It used to just say, “commentary” and now it says, “positive commentary about Pen, Aaron and Thurop”. Why did you add that? That’s not cool. I wasn’t trying to devalue your positive commentary about them. I was trying to devalue your negative commentary about LA artists being apathetic. You know that. Booo!

  • Brian

    Congrats to the three TV show creators getting proper acknowledgement at the festival this year. I hope their shows keep going to keep animators in NY and LA employed on good shows.

  • Snagglepuss

    He changed the published comment? Lame. But yeah, regardless of costs or plane, LA to Ottowa is insane and incredibly difficult to afford when you’re focused on your own work. LA has plenty of visitors, events and festivals to make traveling across that length redundant.

  • Katie Cropper

    I’m not sure what the big to do is going on here? I’ve attended the Ottawa festival for the last 5 years, which includes years where I’ve made almost nothing and others where I could splurge on a plane ticket. Artists should support fests that screen their work so I don’t see why the two LA creators wouldn’t make it out? If there was an episode of adventure time screening at the Tribeca fest would anyone double take if Pen got a plane for the east coast to attend?

    most of the fun of Ottawa is the meeting creators and animators from all over the place, I really make the trip for the conversations, parties and strange short program.

  • I will be going to the Ottawa animation fest and will hopefully get some interesting interviews and cover it on my podcast so check out the facebook page for updates