January 22, 2008
Today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 2008 Oscar nominees. For all the concern of Beowulf getting a spot, the worry was for naught. The shorts are diverse, in technique, storytelling and geography.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, France)
Ratatouille (Brad Bird, US)
Surf's Up (Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, US)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Even Pigeons Go To Heaven (Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse, France) entire short
I Met The Walrus (Josh Raskin, Canada) clip
Madame Tutli-Putli (Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski, Canada) clip
My Love (Alexander Petrov, Russia) clip
Peter and The Wolf (Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman, UK) clip

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January 5, 2008
2007 wasn't too bad as far as animation coverage was concerned in the local arts weeklies in fps's hometown of Montreal. The Montreal Mirror, Hour and Ici reserved the cover for the opening of Paprika, Tekkon Kinkreet, Lucky Luke and even the homecoming of an animated short, the worthy Madame Tutli-Putli.

So how do you beat that?

The first week of 2008 features Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi and co-direct Vincent Paronnaud on the cover of Hour looking hipper-than-thou (I actually passed the stacks a few times around the city until I took a closer look and realized Satrapi was on the cover). The article does neglect to mention that the features, of which we're fans, begins its general run January 11.

If that wasn't enough, the Montreal Mirror's annual Noisemakers issue compiling 30 influential local artistic forces features an animator as a 2008 noisemaker! Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre's animated documentary McLaren's Negatives is highlighted as well as an upcoming animated documentary she is working on.

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November 24, 2007
This year's charity auction includes donations from the National Film Board's library of acclaimed films. We discussed the awesomeness of Madame Tutli-Putli, The Danish Poet and Ryan in the past, and now you can own a copy and give to a good cause.

Steadfast donors 3D Total have donated their annual collections of CG shorts, The Shorts Drawer, for 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, each featuring the best animation submissions they have received for each year.

The music label Ninja Tune, has donated DVDs of music videos, including animated contributions, in addition to their backlist of Zen TV (featuring Monkmus' Basin Street Blues and Fender Bender videos for Kid Koala, and the Pinball Number Count many grew up with on Sesame Street) and Mr. Scruff's Sweetsmoke videos (animated by Mr. Scruff), they've donated the Coldcut video and remix collection, Sound Mirrors. The duo Coldcut started the Ninja Tune label in the 90s, and for their latest project they decided to leave the reins to a different director for each song of their most recent album of the same name.

The result yielded videos which were almost entirely of the animated variety, and each is very different. My favourites are This Island Earth (Joel Trussell, who also directed War Photographer), Colours The Soul, and the pixillated State We're In.

Go to the fps charity auction page
Charity Auction 2007: Hellboy Animated Statue

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November 21, 2007
(click image for complete schedule.)

UPDATE: There is a misprint on page 2 of the program. Saturday screenings are as follows: Program 2 at 5:oo p.m., Program 1 at 7:00 p.m.

The Montreal stop of the annual Sommets du Cinema d'Animation will be at the Cinematheque Quebecoise on Friday, November 23 and Saturday, November 24. Over two days, Montrealers can see some of the best animation shorts in recent memory, from the haunting Madame Tutli-Putli, the harrowing Milk Teeth, to the laugh-out-loud funny Cold Calling. And that's just Friday Program 1 (both programs are showing on both days). Almost every short in both lineups is a Quebec premiere.

It all begins on Friday at 5:00 p.m. with the launch of the Isabelle au Bois Dormant/Sleeping Betty exhibit featuring the latest work of Claude Cloutier.

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October 27, 2007
Sunday is World Animation Day. Here are some events that are happening in different cities. Check with web sites, media outlets and your friends to learn more. Let us know what's up in your neighbourhood.

JAPAN

Hiroshima: Award-winning works of the Hiroshima International Animation Festival

INDIA

Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram:
Simultaneous ASIFA-India celebration

CANADA


Montreal:
1 p.m. Catherine Arcand discusses her film Nightmare at School

3 p.m. Master class with Madame Tutli-Putli directors Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski
7 p.m. Toon Boom Internet Animation Contest Screening and Classic Films of the DEFA Screening

Toronto:
1 p.m.
Talespinners 2 workshop for children and families

Vancouver:
2 p.m. Animate It! workshop for youth

Winnipeg:
2 p.m. Talespinners 2 screening (recommended for children ages 5-9)

UNITED STATES

Boston:
3 p.m. Institute of Contemporary Art presents New England Animation

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October 10, 2007
Since Persepolis and Madame Tutli-Putli each screened at Cannes and won awards this year in May, they have appeared at animation and mainstream film festivals to acclaim. Montrealers can now finally see both films by attending the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, which begins today.

Animation seems to have taken on a more important role in the festival with more shorts than ever. However, a few might slip through the cracks if you aren't careful. The visceral Face lies in wait in Competition 1, on Thursday, October 11 and Wednesday, October 17th. Madame Tutli-Putli is showing during Competition 2 this Friday, October 12 and Tuesday, October 16. Selina Cobley's Crow Moon screens in Competition 3 next week on the 17th and 18th.

The National Film Board of Canada Stereo Lab is screening four stereoscopic shorts, which 2004 OIAF attendees might have seen, but this screening includes the premiere of a stereoscopic version of Theodor Ushev's phenomenal Tower Bawher.

Previously on fps
Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage
Persepolis coverage
Two Podcasts for Madame Tutli-Putli

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September 24, 2007
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Persepolis [2007] Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, France

BEST INDEPENDENT SHORT ANIMATION
Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor [2007] Koji Yamamura, Japan

BEST STUDENT ANIMATION
Milk Teeth [2007] Tibor Banoczki, National Film and Television School, UK

BEST COMMISSIONED ANIMATION
Golden Age [2007] Aaron Augenblick, Augenblick Studios, USA

BEST CANADIAN ANIMATION
Sleeping Betty (Isabelle au bois dormant) [2007] Claude Cloutier, National Film Board of Canada, Canada
Honourable Mention: I Met The Walrus (2007) Josh Raskin, I Met the Walrus Inc., Canada

ANIMATION SCHOOL SHOWREEL
Bezalel Academy for Art and Design (Israel)

INDEPENDENT SHORT ANIMATION COMPETITION
Narrative Short Animation under 35 minutes: Madame Tutli-Putli [2007] Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski, National Film Board of Canada, Canada

Experimental / Abstract Animation under 35 minutes: Framing (Bildfenster / Fensterbilder) [2007] Bert Gottschalk, Germany

Honourable Mention: Teat Beat of Sex [2007] Signe Baumane, USA

STUDENT ANIMATION COMPETITION
Adobe Prize for Best High School Animation: Herbert [2007] Aven Fisher, King’s View Academy, Canada

Undergraduate Animation: Doxology [2007] Michael Langan, Rhode Island School of Design, USA

Graduate Animation: t.o.m. [2006] Tom Brown & Daniel Gray, International Film School of Wales, UK

COMMISSIONED ANIMATION COMPETITION
Promotional Animation: National Lottery ‘The Big Win’ [2006] Marc Craste, Studio AKA, UK

Music Video: OOIOO ‘UMO’ [2007] Shoji Goto, Japan

Television Animation for Adults: John and Karen [2007] Matthew Walker, Arthur Cox Ltd., UK

NEW MEDIA COMPETITION
AniBoom Prize for Animation Short Made for the Internet: L’eau Life [2007] Jeff Scher, Fez Films, USA

ANIMATION MADE FOR CHILDREN
Best Short Animation: Zhiharka [2006] Oleg Uzhinov, “Pilot” Moscow Animation Studio, Russian Federation
Honourable Mention: Nightmare at School [2007] Catherine Arcand, National Film Board of Canada, Canada
Honourable Mention: Aston's Stones (Astons stenar) [2007] Uzi Geffenblad & Lotta Geffenblad, Sweden

Television Animation for Children: Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends 'Squeeze the Day' [2006] Craig McCracken, Cartoon Network Studios, USA
Honourable Mention: Pocoyo 'Dance Off' [2007] Guillermo Garcia & Alfonso Rodriguez, Zinkia Entertainment & Granada International, Spain & UK

NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA PUBLIC PRIZE (Voted by the Audience)
Sleeping Betty (Isabelle au bois dormant) [2007] Claude Cloutier, National Film Board of Canada, Canada

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June 5, 2007
I have a soft spot for mythology and folk tales, especially when they're produced by individuals or small teams. Favourites include the Dust Echoes series and the films of Nick Kozis; now I can add Croatian Tales of Long Ago, produced by Helena Bulaja. Helena brought together animators from around the world to create eight Flash-animated shorts based on stories from Ivana Brlić Mažuranić's 1916 book of the same name, allowing each one to put his or her spin on it and add interactive elements. For me, the perfect matchup between story, style and interactivity was How Quest Sought the Truth by Nathan Jurevicius: the laid-back delivery, quirky style and fun but challenging (and completely optional) Flash games just clicked for me. But honestly, the whole project is a delight. You can check out segments for free on the project's website, or buy the CD-ROMs—which are chock full of extras, including the original stories—from the Web shop.

Last year, many of us in the northeast faced an enormous quandary: go to the 30th anniversary Ottawa International Animation Festival, or to the inaugural ADAPT Conference in Montreal, held the same weekend? Independent animation or the gorgeous art to be found in big-budget features? Konstantin Bronzit or Syd Mead? It was a dilemma of soul-crushing, garment-rending proportions. Fortunately, this year our spirits and outerwear are safe: the 2007 edition of ADAPT is being held immediately after Ottawa, so you could conceivably rush from one to the other. None of the master class topics have been announced as yet, but Syd Mead, Iain McCaig and Mark Goerner are already confirmed as guests.

Forgot to mention earlier that Laurie Maher and Jason Walker will be hosting the North American premiere of Madame Tutli-Putli at the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto on June 13.

Coolest mug ever.

Do you create animation in SWF format? If so, you'll want to contact Adobe's Customer Research team; they're looking to collect SWF content to get an idea of what people are using the format for, so they can better support them. If you want to make sure animation is well represented, send the following to flashresearch [at] adobe.com by July 6:
  • Your SWF or a link to your project or a screenshot of the project
  • A brief description (3 to 4 sentences) describing the audience and purpose of the project
  • Descriptive tags to categorize the project's content and purpose – Use as many or as few tags as you like, and feel free to make up your own. Some examples tags are included below.
  • Percent of all your projects that are SWFs
  • Percentage of time you spend writing ActionScript
  • Percentage of time you spend using the timeline
  • Your name
  • Your job title and company
  • Your phone number (so a member of the Adobe's customer research team can contact you for a quick 15 minute phone call if they need more information)
Adobe's sweetening the deal with $50 Amazon gift certificates given out at random for 1 in every 50 submissions.

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June 4, 2007
Madame Tutli-Putli is a remarkable work for many reasons, but the one that many (including me) have seized on is the one that continues the tradition of combining live-action and animation: the "gimmick" of compositing live actors' eyes onto the movies' stop-motion puppets. (The image to the left is Laurie Maher—Madame Tutli-Putli's co-creator, as it were—providing a reaction shot.) It is, perhaps, a form of motion capture that Robert Zemeckis and company never dreamed of.

That bit of trickery was achieved by Montreal-based painter/animator/compositor Jason Walker, who dropped me a line earlier today and pointed me to his website, which provides a glimpse into the process of capturing actors' ocular performances and then matching them up seamlessly. Still, after poking around I found I needed more, so I went straight to the source.

Emru Townsend: You're primarily a painter. What aspect of your painting skills do you bring to your compositing work?

Jason Walker: When I'm painting a portrait, one of the priorities, to me, is creating an exact likeness of the subject. Painting a human face requires a great deal of accuaracy. If any feature is even slightly off, you have a different person. The placement of eyes, especially, are key to making a person look human.

For Madame Tutli-Putli I placed, rotated, and scaled each eye individually, by the pixel, to make sure that Tutli's character was consistent through the four years of compositing. I used the same approach as painting a likeness. Tutli's eyes were also slightly stretched vertically to give her more of a sympathetic look.

ET: You're a little vague in your description of your process for matching human eyes to stop-motion actors. You used "every trick in the book and more," as you put it. Can you give us a detailed breakdown of one of those tricks?

JW: Vague, you say! Okay, you asked for it!

First of all, this technique of adding human eyes to stop-motion puppets is extremely complicated and starts long before the compositing stage. I will be adding more information on the technique to my website once Tutli has had time be in a festival or two before showing her "un-masked."

We decided that seeing Tutli with no eyes, and just the silicone puppet, is quite shocking and should be held back. The technique itself is a system I came up with back in 2003 when Tutli was still in talks with the NFB. I had worked on post-production effects for Clyde Henry Productions for several years before Tutli-Putli, and this was simply our latest collaboration and a chance to try a new challenge.

I would start by applying makeup to an actor. For Tutli's character this makeup would evolve throughout the film. With the "Pervert" character, and the small boy, I would add texture to the actor's skin to resemble the puppet they were to inhabit. I would then choreograph the actor's moves based on a chart that I would create. A "Wunderbar," as they became known. This was my way of breaking down the moves that the stop-motion puppet was making.

This timeline for each eye shot in the film would also indicate every time there would be a light flash or shadow pass on the puppet. With this puppet's actions indicated in colours, I could teach the actor to replicate the head moves. Once the moves were rehearsed, Chris and Maciek could then direct the actors for the context of the scene while I would call out the moves, and light flashes, shadows, etc.

The actors were incredible at learning their choreographed moves, and giving great acting performances. We had Laurie Maher (Tutli-Putli) cry for two long days of eye takes for the dining car scenes.

Depending on the complexity of the shot, we would film between 15-20 takes of eyes for each scene supplying a range of acting, and a varying degree of head angles. Chris and Maciek would then review the takes and make a final decision based only on acting, and then I would import the take, and try a quick test on the puppet footage to see if I could make the timing and moves work. Very few takes had to be discarded, so I got the angles I needed, and Chris and Maciek got the acting take they wanted.

Matching the eyes to the puppet footage presented many unique problems. When you film a person going through their moves, it never matches up... ever! The timing is way off, no matter how hard you try. So I decided not to even try matching the timing, just the head angles and lights. One trick was to re-time the footage in an extreme way. This is what gives Tutli her stop-motion style of realism. The eyes are in fact "re-animated" frames. If I had a puppet take that lasted 200 frames, and the chosen eye take lasted 3,000 frames, I would selectively take only the frames that I could use to re-build the acting performances whilst staying within the restrictions of the moves and light changes. Tutli might need to blink over 10 frames, so I could re-create a blink which retains the acting from the video blink that lasts 20+ frames. For example, you can make a blink sleepy or sudden with the same take if it's re-timed differently.

I tried at the beginning to rely on the computer for tracking but it wasn't nearly subtle enough. I decided that placing the eyes by hand for each frame was the only way to do it, and was actually faster. I would use alpha masks to remove all of the actor apart from their eyes, eyebrows, and partial under-eye, using varying feathered edges to match the facial structure of the puppet. This required a lot of painting experience. Many pieces were painted still patches, touched up in Photoshop, and positioned over problem joins or missing skin, fading in and out over time.

This was one hurdle, another was matching colour. Almost every frame of Tutli-Putli flickers because she is on a moving train. The only way to match eyes into this was to film as many of the big flashes at the time of the eye take, the rest have to be created with brightness and contrast tools, and colour balancing the darks, mediums and highlights to match every frame. Film grain was matched. Motion blurs [were matched], and making the eyes look like they were behind dirty glass in some shots.

Making Tutli's puppet hair fall back over her composited eyes was a handy little trick I used.

Filming the eyes would take about 3 hours per shot, compositing them seamlessly into a shot would take about 2 to 10 days.

ET: What software applications were in your compositing toolbox?

JW: I used Adobe After Effects for the compositing, and Photoshop to paint the facial patches. After Effects had its quirks, but it was quite solid over four years. From the start of the film in 2003 I went through 3 versions of After Effects.

ET: In the four years that Madame Tutli-Putli was in production, computer and video hardware got faster and more flexible while software became more powerful. As time went on, did this allow you to do more in less time, or did it open up more options?

JW: No, I got faster with practice, but the computer was always a bit slow. This project has been a 2D effect from the start so compositing shouldn't be too hard on the computer. However, as your readers will know, being able to flip through your last few frames in stop-motion is crucial to developing the flow of the move. Sometimes I would have to manipulate the eyes so much that the computer was never fast enough at frame advancing all the separate layers, masks, and colour effects attached to each eye. This was always a problem. This effect has to be in full resolution mode all the time to see if it matches. Very slow.

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May 27, 2007
Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud received the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the adaptation of Satrapi's graphic novel, Persepolis. I can't wait to see this film. If you would like to see why I find this encouraging, pick up a copy of the original comic, or copies of Persepolis 2 or The Emboideries. If you can read French, Poulet aux Prunes is also a great read, which, like her other work, finds unexpected ways to make you laugh and break your heart. UPDATE: Poulet aux Prunes is now available in English under the title Chicken With Plums.

While the official Persepolis website hasn't been updated in a while, Satrapi's Myspace for the film has trailers up. Even if you don't know French, you'll figure most of it out. (Maybe not this one: At the end of the second teaser, the policemen are telling her to slow down and admonishing her for running in a manner the shows off her bottom. She yells back at them because they shouldn't be looking at her butt in the first place!)

Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski have received two awards at Cannes for the stop-motion short film, Madame Tutli-Putli. Both awards were in Best Short Film categories. The short received the Petit Rail d'Or and another award from Canal +, which means that their film will be broadcast on Canal + and the creators will receive the gift that keeps on giving: 6000 Euros' (over 8000 US dollars) worth of film equipment, courtesy of Panavision Alga Techno.

In addition to the Canal + broadcast, the short will be screened at Annecy, Toronto's Worldwide Shorts Festival and the Rome, Paris, Beirut and Mexico screenings for Cannes' International Critics Week tour.

Previously on fps:
Two Podcasts for Madame Tutli-Putli

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May 16, 2007
Last Friday I sat down to talk with Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, who make up Clyde Henry Productions. They were getting ready to leave for France, where their ambitious stop-motion film Madame Tutli-Putli was selected for the International Critics' Week at the Cannes film festival. We spoke at length about cinematic influences, our previous encounter at the beginning of production, and why comparing them to the Brothers Quay is a bad idea; you can find the podcast here, if you don't already subscribe to the feed. (And why not? The link's in the sidebar to the right.) Also, check out our video podcast, where I present some excerpts from the 2001 animatic of the film. (See, if you subscribed you'd already know about that.)

If you're not currently in France, you won't have much of a chance to see Madame Tutli-Putli in full just as yet. I'd recommend that you head over to the official website and take a look.

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In the summer of 2001, I was part of a National Film Board peer review, where six of us spent a day looking at film proposals to provide recommendations. One of those films was Madame Tutli-Putli, and Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski presented us with an animatic—a rough animated presentation of what they intended for the film—as part of their proposal. A few elements have remained almost exactly the same over the course of six years, but many are strikingly different.

Photo credit: National Film Board of Canada

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May 15, 2007










Clyde Henry Productions is Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, a team of multimedia artists who have been working together in animation and effects since 1997. But for about half that time, the pair locked themselves in a dark room to produce Madame Tutli-Putli, a seventeen-minute stop-motion short for the National Film Board of Canada. The title character, a demure and hesitating young woman, boards a train for an overnight journey in what appears to be 1920s Europe. But her journey is filled with strange passengers and even stranger events.

Madame Tutli-Putli is exquisitely produced, with meticulously crafted puppets and carefully worn sets and props. It's a wordless fever-dream of a story that nails you to your chair—even in its quietest moments, you get the feeling that something isn't quite right. Part of that unsettling feeling comes from what Chris Lavis calls the "gimmick" of digitally compositing human eyes onto the puppets, which produces a haunting effect that's difficult to ignore.

I spoke with the Clydes last Friday, just a few days before they were off to France. Madame Tutli-Putli was selected for the International Critics' Week at the Cannes film festival, and it's also slated to screen at the Annecy animation festival a few weeks after that. When we met at a local pub, they'd just finished several whirlwind days of publicity, and were recharging their batteries with a few pints before getting ready for their trip.

Clyde Henry Productions' next project is The White Circus, a feature in development at the National Film Board.

Links
Clyde Henry Productions
Madame Tutli-Putli
Marcy Page spotlight (from the July 2005 issue of fps)


Photo credit: National Film Board of Canada

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