Starting this Wednesday, North America’s longest-running and largest animation festival returns to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa.

The Ottawa International Animation Festival and its sister event, The Animation Conference, draw thousands of attendees, attracting both indie filmmaking and industry crowds. In fact, it has the second-largest attendance of any international animation festival, exceeded only by the French festival beast Annecy. But despite its size, Ottawa manages to retain a low-key feel where everyone is welcome, whether you’re a veteran attendee or a first-timer.

If you’re headed to Ottawa, remember that the festival is big: to get the most out of it, you have to do a bit of planning beforehand because there’s no way to experience everything that’s packed into the five-day event. Here’s a few can’t-miss highlights:

  • The five short film competition programs at Ottawa are always a must-see. Selected from 2,469 entries, the screenings compiled by artistic director Chris Robinson are the animation world’s equivalent of a mixtape – they’re not just a random collection of shorts programmed to fit a running time, but a carefully curated selection of contemporary films that are designed to be seen and experienced as a whole. To get a one-of-a-kind perspective on the contemporary animated filmmaking scene, these screenings are a must.
  • This year’s key film programming event is “Collideoscope,” a five-part retrospective series on collage animation. Contemporary artists like Lewis Klahr and Stacey Steers get their own retrospectives, and will give workshops about their craft, while other compilation programs will present classic and contemporary examples of collage from the likes of Harry Smith, Stan Vanderbeek, Larry Jordan, Terry Gilliam, George Griffin, Emily Breer, and Frank Mouris (pictured at top).
  • A picnic may not sound like an essential event at an animation festival, but the Animator’s Picnic on Friday is a highlight at Ottawa, presenting a casual opportunity to mingle with a good number of the festival’s attendees. There’s plenty of other parties and events throughout the five days, but the relaxed mid-afternoon vibe of the picnic provides one of the best opportunities to actually talk with people.
  • Animation Exposé is a series of industry-oriented talk that will take place on Saturday, September 29: Mahyar Abousaeedi, director of photography – camera at Pixar will share insights about the camera and staging department’s work on Incredibles 2; Isle of Dogs’ puppet supervisor Andy Gent and co-production designer Paul Harrod will talk about the design and development of the Wes Anderson stop-motion fature; Juan Pablo Reyes, a creative executive at Walt Disney Animation Studios, will explain what a creative executive does; and historian Mindy Johnson will lecture about her new book Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation.

The festival’s talks, panels, and screenings offer something for everybody. Here are some of the other events that look worth checking out:

  • Unity for Film Production: Or How I Learned to Stop Rendering and Love Realtime Animation
    Saturday, Sept 29, 1:15 pm (NAC – Atrium & Glass Thorsteinson Staircase)

    As creators we are intimate with our stories and the execution of our vision. There is no doubt of the artistic quality of a well-placed stroke evoking emotion or anticipation. Computer animation has long struggled with the expression of the tools required to balance creative production with the reality of industry demands. While the embrace of technology has influenced production, we still want to be true to our craft.The defining edge of real-time animation brings us more closely to our desired outcomes. Listen to Ron Martin of Unity as he chats with Emily Paige of E.d. Films about Unity’s exciting leap in production technology that is helping artists and studios alike organically reach their creative goals.

  • Behind the Scenes with Craig of the Creek
    Thursday, Sept 27, 10:45 am (Château Laurier)
    Co-created by three-time Emmy-nominated Steven Universe writers Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, Craig of the Creek follows the creative and imaginative escapades by a trio of best friends, Craig, J.P. and Kelsey. The series premiere spurred a groundswell of excitement from critics and fans across social media by tapping into an emotional sense of nostalgia for audiences. Join the creators as they discuss what inspires them, how they connect with viewers through the show’s relatable characters and storylines, and the importance of inclusive storytelling.
  • Can We All Just Sit Down And Talk? Getting Shorts Made and Seen
    Thursday, Sept 27, 5pm (Arts Court – Theatre)

    An explosion of digital platforms dictates a necessity for content. How can filmmakers take advantage of this boom and where is it heading? How are some filmmakers financing their projects? What are the funders saying? How can you manoeuvre these distribution channels and create a strategy that gets your film seen? What are the distributors saying? What’s everyone saying?!

    Speakers: Celia Bullwinkel (filmmaker), Luce Grosjean, (Miyu Distribution), Winston Hacking (director, Brainfeeder Films), Meghan Oretsky (curator, Vimeo), Angela Stempel (filmmaker), moderated by Penny McCann (media artist)

  • War and Peace in the Balkans
    Thursday, Sept 27, 7 pm (Arts Court – Theatre)
    Friday, Sept 28, 7 pm (Arts Court – Theatre)

    War in Yugoslavia started with ethnic conflicts provoked by the Serbs and soon escalated in Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II. It is a risky statement, but Vlado Kristl’s masterpiece Don Kihot (1961), seems to have predicated the conflict when it suggested that: ‘Who is not with us, is against us and will be punished.’ That is what unfolded in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The rise of extreme nationalism on each side caused the fall of critical thinking and many artists had two choices: go to the front line or leave the country. The cruelty of war presented in this program is not the depiction of blood and destruction at the battlefield, but more a view on the absurdity of mind control and the creation of war controlled societies. This timely screening, curated by Animateka festival director Igor Prassel, also explores the varied reactions to the destruction of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

  • Body-Mind-World: Unusual and Futuristic Animation Techniques
    Thursday, Sept 27, 1 pm (Arts Court – Theatre)

    Through the format of a small experimental laboratory, this presentation explores plastic and aesthetic research regarding unusual animation techniques. These techniques led to the creation of Montreal director Nicolas Brault’s latest projects. From modern medical imaging, ephemeral sugary desquamations, virtual reality to brain-computer interface, the friable and sometimes disturbing boundaries of the human body will hide beneath your gaze.

The Ottawa animation festival takes place Wednesday, September 26, through Sunday, September 30. Passes and tickets to individual screenings/talks can be purchased at the festival. For more details, visit

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