A MEETING OF THE MINDS: THE INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION, COMICS AND GAMES FORUM. JILIN, CHINA
Tuesday October 13th 2009, 2:13 pm
Filed under: Festivals

Any time that a 150 of the world’s greatest experts in the animation, comics and the gaming industry come together for a week, it is pretty amazing.  It is even more amazing when we are all flown to China to deliver papers.  That is what took place September 14 through the 17th at the 2009 International Animation, Comics, and Gaming Forum in Jilin, China.
Guests as diverse as Ed Hooks (United States), pioneer of acting training for animators and author of numerous books and articles; noted Australian independent animator Dennis Tupicoff, and Mark Osborne, director of Kung Fu Panda showed and discussed their work.  All of this took place over three days in the Animation Forum Theatre with two other rooms devoted to the Cartoon Forum and lectures from the gaming industry.

Mark Osborne showing off his prowess with chopsticks on a chicken head
Mark Osborne showing off his prowess with chopsticks on a chicken head


With a strict half hour per presentation strongly enforced and the need for simultaneous translation, most people kept their talks very basic and chose to show film instead.
Caroline Leaf screened her beautiful handcrafted films with very sparse comments about her techniques in between.  Caroline touched on her use of sand in Sand or Peter and the Wolf and the subsequent development of her unique handmade, under the camera techniques.  I am sorry that there was not enough time for her to go deeper into the methods that she uses for creating her beautiful films.  I did enjoy sharing a table with Caroline at a couple of meals, but most people didn’t talk much shop at table choosing instead to get to know each other as people.  I did ask her for a reel of her films and woke up on the last morning to find a very special present at my door.
Maureen Furniss, professor of Animation History at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) showed four films from well known graduates from Cal Arts: Phases by Henry Selick, Nightmare (1979) by John Lasseter, Eric Darnell’s Grassland (1989), and Stephen Hillenburg’s Wormholes (1992).  Maureen also talked briefly about the different techniques that the four animator giants used in their early films as well as a brief description of the two animation programs offered at Cal Arts:  the character and experimental programs.
The most interesting part of the IACGF Forum was not the event itself or the films screened but being in China with such a dynamic, creative group and having the chance to get to know them just as people and friends.
Occasionally forum lines crossed as when noted animator Paul Bush was asked to speak in the Games Forum room on the topic of “Computer Games Courses in Higher Education in the UK.”  Presentations in the three rooms ran consecutively, so I had to make some difficult choices.  Because I am familiar with the work of most of the animators at the Forum and a half-hour is not enough time to give an in depth discussion of their work, I chose to take the opportunity to learn more about the area of comics. I did not attend any of the gaming forums, but the people that I got to talk to in that field were all very knowledgeable and interesting.

Nancy with Paul Bush
Nancy with Paul Bush


I particularly enjoyed hearing comics artist Oleg Dergachov.  Born in the Ukraine, the Canadian resident is renowned in the field of Eastern European cartoons.  After speaking on “The Trends and History of the Eastern European Cartoon,” Oleg displayed some of his intricate wax sculptures.
New York City comics creator and illustrator Michael Golden is known for his wide range of work including G I  Joe, Marvel Fanfare, and The Avengers to name but a few.  Michael’s work on Dr. Strange is legendary, influencing many artists in their illustration career.  After talking about his career that includes such milestones as Editor at DC Comics and Senior Art Director at Marvel Comics, Michael took us step by step through how he puts together a cover piece for Agent Silver.  I was lucky enough to get to spend time talking with Oleg and Michael and they are both as nice as they are talented.
The Opening Ceremony was held at the Jilin Animation Institute.  The nine year old school, in conjunction with The Changchun Film Group and the Jilin Publishing Group, has been designated The Chinese National Animation Industry Base.  Within the large complex of 6,500 students there are five separate collages:  Animation and Comics, Games, Design, Media and Advertising.
After the obligatory speeches by dignitaries we were all invited to go up on the stage and sign a large wall.  The morning ended with a tour of the two level art gallery featuring an array of student works in many styles and formats from comics and illustrative art to projected animation.  On our first day in Jilin we were asked to participate in a hand-casting project.  Each of us had our hand cast in a framed block of plaster.  These hands will be mounted on a wall in the school gallery.
A second opening ceremony took place in the Grand Theatre of the hotel.  Keynote speeches were delivered by Zheng Liguo, Dean of Jilin Animation Institute; the Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese Artists Association, Jin Cheng; Director Mark Osborne; and Vesna Dovnikovic, ASIFA Secretary General.
That evening we were treated to a lovely program of local music and dance at the Guandong Grand Theater.  The Provincial Opera Group sang, acrobats and high wire artists performed, Korean dancers and native folk singers and dancers also took part in the grand spectacle.  The act that stole my heart however was a group of kindergartners dressed in chicken suits who danced and sang a charming song.
The next two days were packed full of fascinating talks from 8:30 pm until 6:30 in the evening.   I delivered my half hour discourse in the Animation Forum on The History of Music in Animation, and screened Page Miss Glory, Allegretto, and Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom to emphasis my text.  Nik’s talk was “Directors and Composers – A Working Relationship”.  To illustrate his points he used material from Bellows.  This is a project that he recently completed with American animator Eric Dyer that involved intense collaboration between Nik and Eric.
The festival published a thick book with the complete text of every speech in English and Chinese, so I can read all those that I missed.  I have had the opportunity to read such fascinating essays as “Development of the Creative Process for an Animated Short Film Using Sand” by Jean Poulot, French animator and director at Will Vinton Studio for 12 years.  I am slowly making my way through the book.  A second large book devotes two pages to each guest, one in English and one in Chinese with an individual photo.
As a special treat the Forum organizers offered the guests the opportunity to spend two additional days in Beijing.  On the first day Nik and I opted out of the tour to go shopping for a new camera.  We had been told to go to Buy Now and comparison shop and bargain.  Nothing that we had been told prepared us for the experience.  Buy Now turned out to be three large buildings with five floors, each full of electronics.  After four hours of running from floor to floor, building-to-building, trying to remember what price I had haggled the seller down to (I couldn’t take it any more) I purchased a nice Fuji camera, not a knock off, at half the price I had been originally quoted.

Nik and Nancy at Buy Now
Nik and Nancy at Buy Now


While I was in Jilin I had another bizarre shopping experience.  I went to a Wal-Mart, something I had never done when I lived in the States.  The store had everything.  Jar after jar of loose teas ranging from everyday black to very expensive greens. There were tanks of live fish ready for dinner, tables full of dried fish and every possible dried fruit and nut imaginable along with the usual fresh fruit and veggies.  And this was just in the food area.
At the Forum we became friends with Jin Chan Yum Wai, a young Australian/Chinese graphic artist who lives in Beijing.  Each evening that we were in his town he took a group of us out to explore the cities nightlife.  On one occasion we went to a lovely lake with restaurants and bars ringing it.  Each bar had couches and tables under a chain of lights strung around the shore and there were rowboats for rent.  This was a perfect place to be on a warm full moon night.

An evening at the No Name bar at the lakeside
An evening at the No Name bar at the lakeside


He also plunged us into the world of Chocolate, a very high end Russian nightclub of the sort I could never afford to visit in Moscow.  We were met at the street level door by a tuxedoed dwarf and descended down an escalator into a massive room decorated in full Rococo fashion.  The stage show ranged from a magician to a transvestite dance review, with the evening ending with a disco.  There was no cover charge, drinks were inexpensive, and the room was full of beautiful young Russian ladies, many of them ladies for hire.

Nancy and the little person at the entrance to Chocolate
Nancy and the little person at the entrance to Chocolate


Zheng Ligus, Dean of Jilin Animation Institute and his staff did everything to make our visit such a memorable experience.  Our translators were so very patient with us when we went shopping for dried beans and candied ginger, which was not what they had been led to expect from their foreign guests.
This was my third visit to China and each festival/forum had a distinctly different character.  This was Nik’s first trip and he came away with a positive view.  There are not enough thanks you’s to express our appreciation to everyone involved in the 2009 IACGF.

At the Forbidden City these small villagers thought Dennis Tupicoff was the funniest thing
At the Forbidden City these small villagers thought Dennis Tupicoff was the funniest thing



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