Joe Rogan the Tank Engine Joe Rogan the Tank Engine

In this ongoing series, we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.

This week’s subject is the underground Canadian artist, musician, and animator, Justin Tomchuk.

In a sentence: Unsettling, hilarious, soothing, philosophical, surreal, and occasionally utterly ridiculous, Tomchuk’s vibrant lo-fi digital works are bizarro head twisters you can’t – and don’t want to – unsee.

Where to start: The Cycle of Life (2019) A Campbell’s soup can floats through a warehouse and eventually makes its way to a corporate boardroom. Things get weird from there. Part biting satire of corporations and capitalism, part Lynchian mind melt.

What to watch next: My Birthday Suit | SAFE MODE: 01 (2022). Set in a world called “Interface,” the three-headed protagonist, Smear, is visited by the administrator who has been forced to go into safe mode. Smear has to figure out what’s going on and how to get the interface back on track. A wonderfully hypnotic piece of techno sci-fi.

Other key works:  Caillou Dies (2021), The End of an Era (2021), Joe Rogan the Tank Engine (2022), Seinfeld Expands (2023).

Influences: “Michael Mann the film director by far, mostly for his use of music and the choices he makes with his DP for cinematography. Two others, Jesper Kyd and Akira Yamaoka, both are composers primarily working in the video game field, I don’t think I would have started producing music without them.”

Says: “Despite my animation looking very crude, I try to approach their drawings and color choices similar to that of painting – which is to say to focus on how light affects the subject. Light plays a huge part in the style, especially in my ongoing series Interface, and with just a few bright strokes against a dark background, you can create animations that are dynamic and not flat.”

Currently working on: Episode six of Safe Mode, a new web series that will eventually be compiled into a feature film. In September, the first retrospective of his films will be shown at the 2023 Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Pictured at top: Joe Rogan the Tank Engine

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Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson is a writer and Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF). Robinson has authored thirteen books including Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation (2006), Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin (2008), and Japanese Animation: Time Out of Mind (2010). He also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning animation short, Lipsett Diaries.