Collaborations in Animation, or Animation without Borders
Unlike commercial (studio) film production, the history of auteur animation is a history of individual authors struggling for months to finish a film project, usually in the solitary of a dark room. That said, some key works have been created as a result of collaboration of a group of authors. In most cases, it was creative duos, partners at work and at home. The artists to have left the biggest mark in history include Lotte Reiniger and Karl Koch, Joy Batchelor and John Halas, Faith and John Hubley, Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth, Claire Parker and Alexandre Alexeieff, Sandra and Paul Fierlinger, Gerrit and Cilia van Dijk, Sayoko and Renzo Kinoshita, Gisèle and Nag Ansorge, Alison Snowden and David Fine, Joanna Quinn and Les Mills, Catherine Buffat and Jean-Luc Greco, and last but not least Priit and Olga Pärn, whose latest masterpiece Pilots on the Way Home is featured in this year's competition programme. Norman McLaren also made some of his most successful films in collaboration with his colleague Evelyn Lambart. And finally, there is an unflagging animation duo in Slovenia. Milan Erič and Zvonko Čoh, former classmates from the art academy, spent ten years drawing images for the first Slovenian animated feature film Socialisation of a Bull?, ultimately wrapping it up.
Spanning six programmes, Animateka’s retrospective this year shows mainly contemporary omnibus films and the recently very popular form of “anijams”. In addition to four outstanding feature films we are screening two programmes of collective shorts. But before we look at the films, let’s see the definitions of omnibus film and anijam.
An omnibus film (also known as an anthology film, package film, or portmanteau film) is usually a feature film consisting of several different short films, often tied together by only a single theme, premise, or brief interlocking event (often a turning point). Sometimes each one is directed by a different director. Sometimes there is a theme, such as a place, a person, or a thing that is present in each story and serves to bind them together.
An ‘Anijam’ is a collaborative animation where various artists create individual short animated segments that are linked together to make one larger film. Each of the animators create their sequence without knowing what the other participants will be creating.
Winter Days, an adaptation of a renga by Basho, is a unique project in terms of scale. Renga is a collaborative form of poetry involving a minimum of three poets. The original poem Winter Days involved six poets (Basho, Kakei, Jugo, Tokoku, Shohei, and Yasui) who alternated contributing verses. Kihachiro Kawamoto and Tatsuo Shimamura took on the daunting task of assembling an impressively diverse group of 35 animators (including themselves), to make the 36 short films required. The creation of the film followed the traditional collaborative nature of the source material – the visuals for each of the 36 stanzas were independently created by different animators. As well as many Japanese animators, Kawamoto assembled leading names of animation from across the world. Each animator was asked to contribute at least 30 seconds to illustrate their stanza, and most of the sequences are under a minute.
Colombian experimental feature entitled The Mysterious Presages of León Prozak is an “exquisite corpse” which, from beginning to end, seeks the path to diversities in the art of film, poetry, graphics and music through a metamorphic play with film language and techniques. The film consists of kaleidoscopic scenes, animations, made by different visual artists, whose work is based on the pleasure of painting time. These animated paintings take on several topics, from politics to eroticism, by expressing a shocking vision on the world.
Fear(s) of the Dark is an anthology by six of the world's most renowned comic and graphic artists (Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire), who brought into this project their most intimate phobias, nightmares and fears. The outcome is a surreal animated epic where fear is revealed at its most naked and intense. This is how Marie Caillou described the process of collective filmmaking at the Ljubljana premiere in 2009: “Starting out, we had no shared vision of what the film would look like. We knew what the basic concept was, but we all worked by ourselves or with our teams. Each of us would make our segment the way we chose to, telling our stories and using our specific animation techniques. It was only in the final editing process that we decided which parts of our segments to cut, to make them compatible with the segments made by others.”
In Tokyo Loop, the 16 artists were asked to contribute a short film inspired by the city of Tokyo. The films would also be linked by the participation of Seiichi Yamamoto, a well-known musician from Osaka’s underground music scene, who composed the score. Yamamoto corresponded with the artists during the production process. He composed the music in advance based upon the sketches and storyboards provided by each animator, then revised them to fit the final edit of the film.
Of the short films in the retrospective, one that deserves special mention is a big international collaboration of artists, who showed that Animation Has No Borders. There are many who believe animation is the purest form of cinema and can function as an international language. In this spirit in 1986 the Dutch animator Peter Sweenen put together a collaborative animation film called Animation Has No Borders with financial support from cultural institutions in the Netherlands. Sweenen asked 35 other animators representing 36 different countries to join him in contributing animation to the project. Each contribution was conceived independently of the other animators and lasts from a few seconds to no more than 15 seconds. Apart from length, the only instruction given to the animators was that their work should embody the theme of animation not having borders.
This principle has lasted to this day, even if evolving with a global use of the Internet into “anijam” projects such as Canadian existentialist anijam Yellow Sticky Notes or Ghost Stories, a U.S. take on the newly popular genre of horror films. Another interesting production method was used in Sailor’s Grave, a Spanish sea-themed film resulting from three international workshops based on the “exquisite corpse” method (each author continuing the composition where the previous has left off). The programme also features two short films produced the “ordinary” way, but as a collaboration of a group of authors. In the case of Father, the Croatian, Bulgarian and German authors, with acclaimed British director and screenwriter Phil Mulloy as mentor, first had a long process of developing the script and then long skype sessions to finish their parts of the omnibus each in their own studio. Meanwhile, the Academy Award winning Logorama is a work of a collective which carries our each project by dividing tasks, responsibilities and awards.