Nov 122013


Last week I attended all three days of the Playgrounds Festival here in The Netherlands along with my MA classmates. The festival is run by Leon van Rooij, one of our tutors, so we got full passes.

Playgrounds is a festival for ‘innovative and creative digital art’ and is made up of three days of artist talks in big auditoriums, more intimate workshops, performances in the evening, and screenings of animated short films on rotation in installations. This year the first day was in Tilburg, the second in Eindhoven and Tilburg, and the third in Amsterdam.

I really dig the format of the festival – it’s really nice to have the chance to see some many artists speak. Too often at animation screenings the artists aren’t present, and when they are the most you get to hear from them is a few answers at the end. But here you got to hear a good 45 minute presentation from each artist or group, plus questions.

I will say that the choice of artists was a bit broad for my taste. It’s always interesting to be exposed to a variety of mediums, but I have to admit I would have loved to see more independent animators and fewer illustrators, graphic designers and large studios. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see this festival, but have the chance to hear from all of the leading and emerging independent animators today?

But there were some things I found inspiring. Julia Pott, indie animator, gave a workshop and a lecture. Her lecture I found quite interesting, mostly because I related to her work and trajectory: an indie animator who started making short films and music videos and now also gets commissioned work. She has a unique drawing style and a real talent for expressing human emotions in disturbing, sometimes darkly funny, ways. Her workshop on storytelling was also interesting, though I felt we ran short on time and would have liked to hear her go into more detail on her own choices for her work.

Belly from Julia Pott on Vimeo.

A few more observations: illustrator Jon Burgerman presented, and one of his main points was to make sure your personality shines through in your work. I agree with this, but I also felt that is easier for people like Jon, whose personality is so outgoing and funny. How do other people manage that?

French illustrator Genevieve Gauckler started off her presentation explaining that a few years ago she realized she doesn’t actually draw anymore – she does a lot of copy-pasting and vector manipulations. I was very thankful for this observation, because so many artists tell their audiences to ‘just keep drawing’ or that drawing is really important, and the truth is, it just isn’t important to some people. Instead there are other ways to get the creative juices flowing.

Illustration by Genevieve Guackler, Source:

Illustration by Genevieve Guackler, Source:

Belinda van Vanlenburg from Pixar showed some amazing work, and at the same time I walked away thinking that working in such an environment would not be ideal for me. Only one of 1,500 people working on someone else’s film for 4 years? Not for me, though I do admire people that can thrive like that.

Rex Crowle gave a nice presentation on his studio’s video game ‘Tearaway‘ set in a paper world. Fascinating stuff, though completely out of my arena, but he did mention something that other presenters didn’t. When talking about the development of the game he explained that at first the game was just an environment the player moves through themselves, but they needed a character because the audience needed something to emotionally bond to, someone with “hopes to fulfill and fears to conquer”. I realized that none of the other filmmakers/game designers had explained why they felt having a character to begin with was important. I think about this a lot because most of my films don’t have characters in the traditional sense.

Animator/Artist Max Hattler gave a performance in Tilburg to which I was very much looking forward, but ultimately was a little disappointed by. He and a friend were on stage, and he was improvising visuals to his friend’s music. But the audience was not let into the process, so to us it could have just as well been a video on which they pressed play.  Afterwards I went up to Max Hattler and saw that he had a special switchboard he was using to manipulate the image and asked him about it. He explained that the image was actually one very big jpeg, and he was manipulating the different parameters of the camera that was looking at the picture (I am thinking he meant things like position, zoom, focus, opacity levels, etc.). This would have been great information to have before the performance. Maybe he even could have given a demonstration at the beginning, and then we would have been blown away by the show.

Max Hattler performance, photo by Tess Martin

Max Hattler performance, photo by Tess Martin

Ultimately I think I prefer Max Hattler’s short films, like Collision, which I wrote about a few posts ago.

Job and Joris from the studio Job, Joris & Marieke presented on their work and this was pretty awesome. They are a small studio who do almost everything themselves, and they have a range of work: from independent short films, to advertisements for television, music videos and children’s programs. It was inspiring to see them take on such things and be successful. I especially enjoyed the information about their short film Mute, and I asked them a few questions about their distribution strategies (internet vs. festivals, etc.).

MUTE from Job, Joris & Marieke on Vimeo.

Hearing about Job, Joris & Marieke‘s small studio, as well as the German Polynoid studio, and Genevieve Gaucker’s collective Pleix in Paris, made me think about the collective I’m a part of in Seattle called SEAT, the Seattle Experimental Animation Team. I hope we can do more work as a group like these successful small studios.We’ll see what the future brings!

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