Attending Ottawa: The TAC and Feature Competition

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The Ottawa International Animation Festival was a cool event — and I’m not just talking about the weather.

Though the weather was colder than expected (snow was falling as Friday night’s late screenings let out), the event was a friendly and successful exhibition of some of challenging and interesting animation.

Kicking off the festival was the Television Animation Conference, held at the beautiful Chateau Laurier Hotel in the heart of historic downtown Ottawa. I was there to moderate a case study of the new Teletoon series Skatoony, which Toronto-based animation studio Marblemedia had developed from the United Kingdom format into a series for the Canadian market.

A quiz show that combines animated characters with real kid contestants, Marblemedia partner and executive producer Mark Bishop, creative director Johnny Kalangis, head of content development Miklos Perlus, and Teletoon manager of original production Athena Georgaklis spoke in detail about the production.

Among the most interesting points were how Marblemedia was re-using a significant portion of the original U.K. animation elements into their version; how characters from Fresh TV’s Total Drama Island franchise were incorporated into the show to give it a Hollywood Squares feel and how versions were produced in both English and French for Canada’s two official languages.

Kalangis then detailed the extensive interactive efforts that support the series and allow kids to play the game online against each other, bringing the experience of the show home in a unique way.

Bishop said they do have the rights to do a U.S. version, though he would reveal no details other than to say Marblemedia is in talks about such a project. The series debuts Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m. on Teletoon in Canada, with a preview episode to air Oct. 28 at 8:30 p.m.

The feature competition earned a lot of attention from festivalgoers due to the experimental and challenging nature of several of the competing films.

Goodbye Mister Christie, from British animator Phil Mulloy, continued the story of everyman Mister Christie, who has an affair with a French sailor named Ramon only to find out his wife also had an affair with Ramon. Told in simple and abstract computer animation using voices filtered through a computer, the tale ends up with the Christies in hell. This challenging film won the best animated feature prize and sparked plenty of debate among festival goers.

Also challenging was Midori-Ko, from director Keita Kurosaka. A surreal story about a young girl trying to develop a wonder food to feed a world on the brink of starvation, each frame is sketched by hand in various media with a sepia tone. The artistry of the film is gorgeous — it’s impossible not to admire the craft that went into the film. Again, it challenges the viewer with a dreamlike logic in which characters and objects constantly morph into and around each other.

At once both more experimental and conventional is Gravity was Everywhere Back Then, from director Brent Glass. The narrative — told in a style similar to that of NPR’s This American Life — follows the true story of a man who obsessively builds onto and modifies his rural house in the hopes of turning it into a “healing machine” that could cure his dying wife’s cancer. Animated with still photographs of actors playing the roles, Glass adds animated elements such as claymation tears throughout, creating an unusual mix of media that supports the emotional tale.

The festival also screened The Illusionist, the new film from Sylvain Chomet. Telling the tale of a old magician who takes on responsibility for a naïve young girl in 1950s Scotland, Chomet tells his tale with only the occasional smattering of dialog. Combining traditional hand-drawn animation with stunning evocations of canals, this was the real crowd-pleaser of the festival.

Scheduling prevented me from seeing the fifth feature in competition, One Piece Film: Strong World. For some reason, this was the one film most festgoers said they passed up among the feature films, with many citing having seen some of the One Piece anime series as at least part of the reason for skipping it.

The festival fortunately left enough free time in its schedule to allow festgoers to take in the sights of Canada’s capital city, from the neo-gothic architecture of the Parliament buildings to the national war memorial, the National Gallery of Canada to the lively Byward Market and local delicacies such as poutine (French fries with cheese curds and gravy) and outstanding beer such as Creemore Springs.

Next, we’ll talk about some of the shorts and the rest of the festival.