Call for enteries for the BITFILM FESTIVAL
Friday January 25th 2008, 6:09 am
Filed under: Festivals

Moritz Hirchenhain, director of the Bitfilm Festival is a friend of mine, so I know that all films submitted will be treated respectfully.
The Bitfilm Festival is calling for entries.
Since 2000 the Bitfilm Festival has shown films that use digital technology in a creative and innovative way. Bitfilm 2008 will start with an opening event in Stuttgart, Germany, from May 1 to 8, which will be embedded into the International Festival for Animated Film and the FMX Conference.
The Internet audience will decide on the Bitfilm Awards and 10 000 Euro prize money in an online voting from May 1st to July 1st.
The winning films will be disclosed at the Bitfilm Festival Hamburg from July 10 to 12.
Films may be submitted online until March 1, 2008 as digital video files under:
We are open to any kind of digital video: short film, music video, advertisement, motion graphics, abstract clips, etc. Feel free to submit as many films as you like.
These are the award categories:
computer generated 3D animations
digitally composed hybrid films
vector animations made with Flash
films shot live in computer games
films and series designed for mobile devices
animations rendered in real time

Wednesday January 23rd 2008, 12:32 pm
Filed under: Educational

Whenever Nik and I travel schools to do our workshops, it’s always interesting to see how each school has set up its curriculum. Recently, we had the pleasure of getting acquainted with the workings of the animation program at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in Bournemouth, England. I was already familiar with the high quality of the students’ work from festivals such as Annecy and by viewing the 2007 Graduation reel, and was very pleased to receive an invitation to visit the Animation Production Department from Professor Peter Parr and his charming and talented wife Astor. This gave me a chance to find out how their BA (Hons) Animation Program was structured.

With Astor and Peter Parr at their home
With Astor and Peter Parr at their home

The first thing that struck me was the intensive team based program that the staff has put together. Each student is exposed to and required to develop a strong working knowledge of the total production process, giving the young animator a good introduction to the working conditions they will find upon entering the professional animation world.

Students at all levels operate together, and teamwork is stressed as the key to success for everyone’s work. Students in levels one, two and three work alongside each other from the very beginning, giving an added reality to the animation industry, where colleagues must relate to each other and talk ideas through, giving support to a the project and to each other. Far too many schools fail to address this aspect of the industry, leaving students to face a jarring reality when they finally enter “the real world”.

Nik and I have gotten to know Professor Peter Parr over the past several years and have developed a deep respect for him. He and his wonderfully creative course staff are firm believers in the principal that creating excellent animation in any form requires a mastery of practical skills - draftsmanship, technical proficiency, and technical knowledge. Students are encouraged to work in the different mediums of traditional, computer based and stop-motion animation and, while computer solutions are taught, all students must first learn the fundamentals by starting at the beginning of the animation process through drawing. It is easy to see the deep respect and affection that the students have for each other as you watch them work together. These feelings also extend to Professor Parr and the rest of the staff. It is really a pleasure to watch the students and faculty interact with humor and respect on both sides.

The Arts Institute’s animation program recruits students from throughout Europe, and thanks to Astor Parr’s hard work, is also actively recruiting in Asia. A program is open to all students that involves leaving the school for 13 weeks during level 2 to work in a professional studio in Europe. Students are also encouraged to consider the Erasmus Exchange Program which provides the opportunity to study at another European school.

The Arts Institute is one of only fifteen institutions of higher education in the UK devoted solely to the arts. Courses range from the School of Arts and the Design School to the School of Media, and students are encouraged to cross course boundaries to solve problems. The animation studios have been completely refurbished recently, and each student is provided with an individual work station and light box as well as having access to group work spaces. The animation department also has its own computer site.

Teamwork in Action
Teamwork in Action

At the lght tables
At the lght tables

One of the workstations
One of the workstations

Their modern and inviting library offers a selection of 50,000 books, over 300 journals, DVD’s, videos and CD’s in a bright and inviting atmosphere with ample space for comfortable individual and group study. The library also offers Wi-Fi and access to both pc and mac computers.

From the library balcony
From the library balcony

Study alcove
Study alcove

The Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP), established in 1988 is also located in the library and on exhibit is a comprehensive collection of all things plastic from 1880 to the present day. It is a special learning tool for students to be able to view such items up close as Bakelite radios, jewelry, even Mr. Potato Head, and is also an opportunity for visitors to travel back to a bygone design era.

Nik and I began our visit by presenting our “History of Animation through Music” program to a packed auditorium of students who asked intelligent and interesting questions. I spent my two days at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth touring the animation studios, seeing the impressive results of the Fashion Design Program, visiting the library and Plastics museum, touring the model making studio and viewing an exhibit by students of the Interior Architecture and Design Department in their beautiful new building. I took the opportunity to informally chat with many students in different departments, all of whom expressed enthusiasm for their course studies, the faculty, fellow students and most importantly, of all the opportunities that an education at the Arts Institute offers them.

Student audience
Student audience
Talking film
Talking film

Nik spent his two days working with the groups of animation students giving advice for the music for the 2008 Graduation Showcase Films. In 2007 he worked with two groups of students to create the music for their films, and will be composing and performing the scores for several of the 2008 Showcase Films as well as consulting with students who need some “sound” advice.

A big plus about all programs at The Arts Institute is that they are designed to be positive and friendly to all disabilities, and all the programs try to accommodate specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia (very near and dear to my heart since I suffer from it and had to struggle my way through higher education with very little support or understanding). The programs are also equipped to handle students with sensory impairments, and medical conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy.

If you are a student looking for the right animation school to study at or a professional in the industry wanting to stay on top of what’s new and where top new young talent is emerging from, check out The Arts Institute at Bournemouth website at If you are a student and are interested in attending the next Open Day on 20 February, 2008, or want to arrange for a separate campus tour, you can also register on the website. You can also contact the Course Office in Great Britain at 01202 363 228.

The 14th Bradford Animation Festival: English Hospitality and an Excellent Festival Are a Perfect Combination
Sunday January 13th 2008, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Festivals, Profiles

Whenever I am invited to be a juror at an animation festival I am very honoured but I also realize that it is a great deal of work and responsibility that must be taken very seriously. I also assume that I will miss many programs that I would like to see. The 14th Bradford Animation Festival (BAF), November 14 - 17, turned out to be a pleasant surprise since Pat Raine Webb, our jury foreman, planned things so we did our work on the first two days, leaving us free to see several exceptional special programs.


For me the highlight of the festival was the Bob Godfrey tribute. Bob was present to accept the BAF Lifetime Achievement Award and even though he is showing signs of a long life well lived, the merry twinkle is still in his eyes and he has not lost his hearty laugh. Godfrey’s 50-year career covers diverse mediums from animation to live action - silent comedies and commercials. Bob, through his work has inspired and influenced several generations of animators. The program started with The Birdie, from 1953 and screened much of his wonderful work, up to Know Your Europeans: the United Kingdom, made in 1994. Many of these pieces have not been seen by Bob or anyone else for many years, but thanks to film historian and preservationist Jim Walker, who is in the process of cataloguing Bob’s work, we will soon be able to see much more of it. The program ended with a documentary interview that Bob’s grandson is making about him. Bob loves a good laugh, and he enjoyed watching his films as much as the rest of the audience. It was a lovely program and a fitting tribute to one of animation’s greats.


For much of the audience the highlight was Nick Park in Conversation with Paul Wells. Paul, who is Director of the Animation Academy at Loughborough University and has published widely in the field of animation, was able to put the very shy Park at ease. They sat on stage chatting as if they were in a living room, even though the large hall was packed with fans. Nick talked about lots of things including his interest in animation that started when he was 13, making films in his parents’ attic, the birth of Wallace and Grommet and his recent work, Creature Discomforts, created to help the public see disability in a new light. The program ended with a lengthy question and answer session. He comes across as a very genuine and humorous person. Since Nick is the superstar of British animation, the festival actually had to lock the theatre doors until they could get him out to his car. Otherwise he would have been totally mobbed.

I have long been a fan of Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel and his beautiful painted films. Over the last few years I have gotten to know him, and this time I had a chance to develop a friendship with him. He is a nice, interesting and humorous table companion, and it was a pleasure to get to spend some time with him. The 13 films in his retrospective leave no doubt in my mind that he is one of the animation greats. Georges’ films are marked by a strong relationship between music and images and his masterful brushwork brings texture and resonance to his characters. I am very delighted that Jeu (Game) has been short listed for the Academy Award and I hope that when the final list is announced, his name will be on it.

It is always good to see Paul Bush and I never tire of viewing his innovative films. From Still Life with Small Cup, a radical reworking of an etching by the Italian artist Georigo Morandi, to the hilarious, sexually explicit Tribute to Mae West, Paul has the ability to transcend the boundaries between fine art and animation. Unfortunately the jury was in deliberation during his retrospective, but I heard that it was well attended and enthusiastically received. In addition to being extremely talented, he is also a really nice person.

Another highlight was the physical space we were in. Bradford’s National Media Museum, with its excellent projection facilities and two screening rooms, is a perfect location for the competition screenings and to showcase the impressive number of retrospectives of invited guests. The seven story National Media Museum is an excellent museum, well worth a visit on its own, especially the animation gallery. You can learn more about it at their web site -

The Films in Competition

I have never been on a jury where the entire process was so painless. My fellow jurors Pat Raine Webb, Margot Grimwood, Rolf Bächler and Phil Mulloy have been my good friends for quite a while, and our deliberations were very congenial.

Rolf Bächler, Margot Grimwood, Pat Raine Webb and Nancy Denney-Phelps

Rolf Bächler, Margot Grimwood, Pat Raine Webb and Nancy Denney-Phelps

THE JURY DEEP IN DELIBERATION: L to R: Margot Grimwood, Pat Raine Webb, Nancy Denney-Phelps and Phil Mulloy

Persepolis was the opening night film. It was my first opportunity to see it and I completely agree with all of the praise Karl has heaped on it. Since he has already written extensively about the film I see no need to

In the Films for Children category, Oleg Uzinov of Russia won the BAF Award for the delightful Zhiharka, which is part of the brilliant Pilot Film Studios’ project Mountain Of Gems. The film, which the jury felt catches the joyful spirit of childhood, is based on a fairy tale from the Ural Mountain region about a fox trying to steal a little girl named Zhiharka in order to eat her. It’s an enjoyable work for both adults and children.

I have long been a fan of Aardman Studios’ Shaun the Sheep series. The 2007 BAF Statue for the best TV Series went to director Chris Sadler for the hilarious Shaun the Sheep: Still Life. In this episode, the farmer takes up oil painting, determined to paint a masterpiece, but when his back is turned, Shaun and his fellow pasture mates decide to also have a go at it, with unexpected results.

The Commercials Category was the most difficult to judge, since none of us watch much commercial television. The World Wildlife Fund’s PSA was such an embarrassment that it made me question ever giving them another euro if this is how they are using my money. After much discussion we gave the award to Cravendale: The Last Glass, a milk ad that showed originality and humor in the use of animation to sell a product.

To create a musical video for the British band The Hours, director Jonas Odell utilized an effective mix of old fashioned stage trickery and contemporary graphic design, building to a finale of dancers and singers using the skulls, clocks and colors which are part of the logotype design for the band. I enjoyed this piece not just as a music video, but as an entertaining piece of animation which takes more than one viewing to grasp all of its many facets. The BAF for Music Video was awarded to director Odell.

The BAF Best Independent Film prize was awarded to Elizabeth Hobbs of the United Kingdom for her ink-on-tile film The Old, Old Very Old Man. In it, she tells the true story of Thomas Parr, who, at 152 years old, was England’s oldest living man, and how he was taken to meet King Charles I, who ordered an immediate celebration of Parr’s longevity – with fatal consequences.

I was very pleased that the jury selected (without any arm twisting on my part) Roman Klochkov’s Administrators as the Outstanding Student Film. All of us felt that this film captures perfectly, with humor and artistic style, the bureaucratic brick wall that we have all run up against at some time or other. Roman, who was born in Russia, but has lived with his parents in Gent for many years without papers, cannot be caught outside of Belgium or he will be sent back to Russia. Although Administrators has been screened at Cannes, Annecy and many other festivals, he has never been able to attend any of them. The BAF staff mailed his award to Nik and I, and we had a party with faculty and students from KASK to present his award to him. (Note: Ron Diamond showed it to ASIFA-SF members Oct. 30 at ILM)


Down the Road captured the Professional Film Award. I have written at length before about this dark and disturbing film by Danish animator Rune Christensen. Every once in a while, since I first saw the film at Annecy, I find myself thinking about it and it still sends chills down my spine. It had no less an unsettling impact on the rest of the jury.

The jury awarded the Grand Prix Statue to The Pearce Sisters. Luis Cook has managed to create a film that can make us feel empathy with two of the most grotesque characters in the world while still leaving us with a very unsettled feeling. I’ve written extensively about this film so I won’t repeat myself. The Pearce Sisters has also been short listed for the Academy Award and I hope that it will also be one the five finalists. If this film is nominated, it will definitely signal a change, even if a slight one, to the American industry’s attitude toward short animation, a change that is certainly long overdue!

Our final award, the Jury’s Special Award, was given to the student film Their Circumstances, animated by Korean born Jittyun Ahn, who studied at the school of Visual Arts in New York and now lives in New York City. The film captured the jury’s attention with its humor and originality. In this experimental animation, five seemingly random story lines are seen through the eyes of four characters, which are vitally connected with the tale of a set of incidents that all happen in one day. Ahn’s animated Johnny Depp, who keeps popping in and out of the film, adds to the absurd fun.The BAF also showed films produced by children, five Panorama screenings and four features. The features were Tales of the Earth, the directorial debut of Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and it is based on a series of Ursula Le Guin books. Azur and Asmar: The Princes’ Quest, Michel Ocelot’s French-Italian-Belgian co-production has already been covered by me in previous articles. This was my first opportunity to see The Simpsons Movie, and it was much better than I expected it to be. The pig completely captured my heart (it reminds me of Nik with Remi) and I have it on very good authority that the pig will appear in future Simpson’s television episodes. But more about that in future articles. There was also a special Saturday morning screening of Ratatouille for school children and their families.

The festival had so many diverse events going on that I can’t possibly write about all of them, but I do want to mention the BAF “Game” series that explored the connection between video games, animation and film. This series of talks, discussions and screenings led by industry experts delved into the creative form of gaming in all forms. Although I did not get to attend any of these sessions, I got very positive feedback from animators who did. The 7 floor National Media Museum is well worth a visit on its own, especially the animation gallery. You can learn more about it at their web site -


Did I get in my usual quota of fun? The festival was not just work and screenings. Plenty of time was provided for invited guests to enjoy themselves. Rolf and I also found time to wander around the town to look for hidden treasures at the many local Oxfam and charity shops and we attended Alan Gilbey’s scriptwriting workshop. Alan, an award winning screen writer, show developer and script consultant, got everyone up on their feet and moving with group activities and silly games punctuated with cartoons to keep us laughing. I whole-heartedly recommend Alan’s workshops to anyone interested in scriptwriting, actually to anyone in the industry who wants to hone their communication skills.

Alan revealed another side of his multi talented self as “Toonscribe/Quizmaster.” He organizes “Toonhead”, BAF’s annual animation pub quiz (in traditional BAF fashion it is not held in a pub but a curry house). For several years people have told me about what a fun time the curry quiz is and they were definitely right! As our team (Rolf Bächler, Phil Mulloy and I) heaped our plates with spicy Indian food, we felt pretty confident that we could pit our years of animation knowledge against a room full of young animators, most of whom were at least a generation younger than we were. Alan is indeed the king of obscure animation knowledge, and much to our chagrin, we did not do very well, in fact we came in last! We did redeem ourselves when the modeling clay was handed out and each team had to create a product and pitch it. But then again, as the quiz judges said, if we three “old pros” couldn’t come up with a really silly product and successfully pitch it better than anyone else in the room we would have definitely lost all self-respect. One word in defense of our last place in the quiz, many of the questions were based on British children’s’ TV of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We did quite well on the general history questions. Definite fun!!!

The Festival staff, especially festival director Deb Singleton and festival co-coordinator Ben Eagel, did everything possible to make our visit thoroughly enjoyable and our jury work was painless. The fabulous Bafettes, a group of enthusiastic young volunteers, did everything from manning the information desk and taking tickets to cheerfully carrying my heavy bag from the hotel to the festival office. All of the guests and the Bafettes stayed at the Midland Hotel, a historic railroad hotel where everyone from touring vaudeville stars to the Rolling Stones stayed in the days when everyone toured by rail. All of us staying in the same place made for fun late night gatherings in the lobby lounge for drinks and good conversation very easy.

Swiss Animator Georges Schwizgebel and England’s Phil Mulloy

Swiss Animator Georges Schwizgebel and England’s Phil Mulloy

Swiss Animator Georges Schwizgebel and England’s Phil Mulloy

Following the awards ceremony, the festival concluded with the closing night dinner party in the lovely Midland Hotel Ballroom. On our final day in Bradford, the festival staff arranged a trip to Salts Mill in Saltaire, a few miles from Bradford. Salts Mill is a beautifully refurbished mill that still has enough of its previous existence as a working mill exposed to remind you of how bleak life must have been for those who worked there and lived in this company owned town. Its new life is two floors of shops including one of the best book and art stores that I have ever been in. Luckily I had been warned to leave my credit cards at the hotel. It also houses one of the largest collections of paintings by Bradford born artist David Hockney. The perfect end to this lovely week was our final delicious lunch together at the Salt Mills Diner.

As always happens at festivals there is one very special time that stands out above all other memories. This happened on the final night when Pat Raine Webb, Margot Grimwood, and I were the last three left at the hotel. We met in the lounge for a farewell drink that turned into an evening of good stories and many laughs over several nightcaps. These two amazing women have led such an interesting and extraordinary life, and I felt privileged to have them share a small part of it with me.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend the Bradford Animation Festival be sure to jump at it. To learn more about all of the festival events that I did not write about in full or to get information about the 2008 Festival, visit