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When is a cartoon not a "cartoon"?

Nathan Strum


When it's an "animated film". :)

This year's Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize winner, Yonatan Tal, said the other night when accepting the award, "We can make cartoons... but we'd rather make animation." That's a pretty interesting distinction, and one that wasn't lost on me when watching our student films this year. For many of the films, they felt less like traditional cartoons, and more like short stories that happened to be animated.

As with last year, and the 22 years that preceded it, we just wrapped up our end-of-the-year student film screenings.

"We" being the Character Animation Program at CalArts, for those of you who haven't been following along. And those 22+ years are just the ones I've been involved with as technical staff. Our program goes much further back than that. Scary though, to think I've been with the program now more than half of its existence.

The Open Show (on April 22nd) was comprised of 167 student films, one faculty film, opening titles and end credits, spanning some 7 hours and 10 minutes. Not including two half-hour intermissions. I'm not sure it was our longest show ever, but it was certainly the most films we'd ever shown. And that's one school year's worth. About the equivalent of 4 feature films worth of animation. Or about 19 episodes of an animated TV series. And over 320 people binge-watched them all, back to back to back. (Admittedly, not everyone stayed for the whole thing. But more than half did. But we had popcorn.)

As usual, it took me about 85 hours over the course of that week to assemble, edit, mix, stage, and screen everything. But it all went off without a hitch. Exhaustion, yes, but hitch, no. There were some HDCP hitches during a separate screening for faculty (which was also Saturday), but since they stop between films to judge them anyway, the hitches weren't complete showstoppers. And I've figured out the solution for next year (BlackMagic and Denon don't like each other).

This Wednesday (May 3rd) was our Producers' Show. This is what our faculty spent all of that Saturday sorting out. The top 21 juried films were screened for industry big-shots, alumni, students, faculty, and whoever else could get tickets at the Directors Guild Association theater in Hollywood (our third year there). There were around 670 people there, spilling over into a second theater. Despite some delays in getting everyone seated, this show also went off without a hitch. Which is good - since it's my job to make sure everything is as technically hitchless as possible. The folks at the DGA were all super professional and accommodating, even though Hollywood itself is a horrendous nightmare to drive to and/or through. Sure glad I only have to go down there a couple of times a year. But the place was packed, people enjoyed the films, and hopefully some students get some jobs out of it.

Seriously. The cost of education these days is completely ridiculous.

Something different happened this year with the Producers' Show though... we were written up by Variety.

Yes... that Variety. The one that uses the word "boffo" a lot. Usually in relation to box office results.

We have our own boffo box office results, incidentally. Although we don't actually see any financial returns from it. Looks good in magazine articles though.

And why were we written up by Variety? Well, because our Program's Director - Maija Burnett - was named "Animation Instructor of the Year" by them. That's why.

Pretty cool, and well deserved. Although this meant she had to go into Hollywood twice this week. Wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Anyway, as always, you can watch over 100 (and counting) of this year's films on our Vimeo channel.

And, as always, I'm posting some of my favorites right here, and I'll likely add a few more as they appear online:

2017 Character Animation Producers' Show Intro
Yonatan Tal

Josue Geronimo

Winston & Pigbert
Julian Sanchez

Yonatan Tal

Crystal Kung

Virtual Critters
Li Wen Toh

A song for the whales
Lorenzo Fresta

Erika Shing

Blue like the ocean
Frank Liu

I think I love you
Xiya Lan

Alex Avagimian

Sewing Circle
Jackie Lee

Alex Ishida

Aram Sarkisian

Hannah Gibbs

Cat City
Victoria Vincent

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This is, without a doubt, the most generous blog post I've ever seen. I do stop motion and my son does and will likely do animation in the future, whether hobby or professional, so I will watch much or all of this with my old lady and thank you.

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