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Animation Central
by Gene Walz
The   History   of   Animation   in
"It's a great talent," according to
LaRoche-foucauld, "to be able to con-
ceal one's talents." If he's right, then
Winnipeg's animators must be
among the most talented in the
Consider the following:
—  Winnipeg has a longer and
steadier 'history' of animation than
most other cities in North America,
dating back to perhaps 1910;
— the designer of one of the most
famous creatures in cartoon history,
Bugs Bunny, was from Winnipeg;
—  during the 1950s one Winnipeg
company was among the largest
animation houses in the world,
employing thirty people full-time to
create animated commercials;
—  for the past six years CBC tele-
vision has broadcast more examples
of animation made in Winnipeg than
NHL hockey games;
—  Winnipeg's current group of
animators have won more than a
dozen international film awards since
If this is all news to you, you are
not alone. Winnipeg animation has to
now been, unfortunately, one of the
best kept secrets in the movie busi-
ness. But this is about to change. Dur-
ing 1985 the Prairie production office
of the National Film Board will
release four short animated movies:
Brad Caslor's Get ajob, Richard Con-
die's The Big Snit, Alan Pakarnyk's
Carried Away, Cordell Barker's
The Cat Came Back. With luck, the
animations, past and present, will
finally get the recognition they
Winnipeg, like Kansas City —
where Walt Disney got his start —- is
not as unlikely a place for animation
as it might seem. As a transportation
centre, it has been directly connected
to the latest developments in twenti-
eth century culture, yet isolated
enough to have to rely on its own re-
sources. It has a hardy arts com-
munity and a School of Fine Art to
supply the talent and training. Its
climate (those notorious long, cold,
lonely nights) gives people the time
and perhaps instills in them the pa-
tience to labour over the necessary
twelve to twenty-four drawings per
second used in animation. And, more
importantly for animation than for
any other kind of film, it is a centre
of commerce; for animators need
commercials to sustain themselves.
The oldest existing animation made
in Winnipeg is ample proof of this
commercial connection. It is part of
a promotional film entitled The Man
Who Woke Up, written by William
Ganson Rose and directed by J.A.
Norling for the Federated Budget
Board of Winnipeg in 1919. The film
tells the story of a miser who refuses
to give to charities. A visit to a
hospital full of small children re-
unites him with his lost, orphaned
grand-daughter. Back home he falls
asleep, and his dream is presented as
a blue-tinted cartoon. "In cartoon-
ology", according to the National
Film Archives catalogue, "he sees the
charities closed, the hospital closed,
and awakens to the horrible realiza-
tion that if he does not give, these
terrible things might become a re-
ality." Nothing is known about Norl-
ing and the making of this film except
that he went on to make movies in
the United States.
If Norling is the grandfather of
Winnipeg animation, then Jean Arsin
is probably the great-grandfather and
Charles Lambly its most illustrious
early ancestor. According to film-
maker Francis J.S. (Frank)
Holmes, sometime around 1910 or
1911 Arsin was making 35mm ani-
mated movies featuring articulated
puppets in a sandlot and a tarpaper
shack on Selkirk Avenue. Unfor-
tunately, no evidence of these movies
now seems to exist. Lambly created
the most ambitious animated movie
in the history of Winnipeg animation,
a twenty to twenty-five minute film
called Romulus and Remus commis-
sioned by the Montreal Catholic
Diocese. The cartoon figures of this
1926 film were showcard cutouts
with movable neck, arm, and leg
joints. Romulus and Remus, now
lost, was noteworthy for its artwork
according to Holmes, who assisted
Lambly on the project and who was
to animate a section of his own film,
Each Year They Come, made for
Ducks Unlimited in 1946.
The expatriot uncle in the family of
Winnipeg animators is Charles G.
Thorson.  A restless  man,  Charlie
Thorson left his commercial artist's
position at the Brigden ad agency to
try his fortune in Hollywood. Hired
immediately by Disney studios, he
worked on many cartoons for them,
chiefly on Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs. His forte was the creation of
anthropomorphic cartoon animals;
he created over one hundred of them
in his career, most notably the in-
famous Bugs Bunny. Though he
rarely stayed very long at any studio,
he worked at all the major 'cartoon
factories' of the time — from Disney
to MGM to Warner Bros. to
The Brigden ad agency was also the
launching platform for the most suc-
cessful animation venture in the
city's history. In 1948 John Phillips
and Harry Gutkin split from Brigdens
to form their own small company. By
the time nationwide television came
to Canada, they had several short
promotional films and local advertis-
ing animation to their credit and thus
were able to compete with Toronto
for the lucrative television commer-
cials market. Their first national ac-
count was for Libby's Foods, adver-
tising on the first National Movie
Night on CBC in 1954. The commer-
cial was, in trade parlance, a 'sand-
wich' — the opening and closing sec-
tions involved animation of "Libby's
Quality-Control Cops" and the mid-
dle part was live-action. Within a
year or so Phillips Gutkin and Associ-
ates were averaging fifteen to thirty
commercials per month. Their na-
tional accounts included Kellogg's
Cereal, Kraft Foods, Chrysler
Corporation, Simonize Wax, Blue
Ribbon Tea, and the Bank of Canada.
To cover their commitments, PGA at
one point employed thirty people,
several of whom were to gain re-
nown on their own (most notably,
animators Barrie Nelson and Barrie
Helmer, filmmakers Bill Mason,
Blake James and Don Campbell, and
political cartoonist Jan Kamienski).
A typical example of PGA's anima-
tion at the time was the Windsor Salt
"Wacky Bird". The character was a
simple line-drawing caricature of an
anthropomorphized creature set on a
blank or minimalized background
and made to perform basic, set-piece
actions. Their success with these
commercials led the company to join
with the prestigious Halas and Bat-
chelor animation house of England to
alternate production of a proposed
weekly cartoon show entitled T.
EddyBear. In 1959 a pilot show was
produced in colour and in the UPA
(United Productions of America)
style popular at the time. The failure
of this program to generate any in-
terest and a sudden ruling by the
CBC to ban animation from adver-
tising tor children's-based products
led to the deiiiJ"0 of the company.
The end of this modo-t "golden age"
of Winnipeg anii^ation came in 1966
when Phillips Gutkin and Associates
merged back with Brigdens, selling
off their film and animation equip-
ment and retreating into the safe con-
fines of printed advertising and com-
mercial art.
The final links to the present gen-
eration of animators are provided by
Kenn Perkins and the CBC. Both
Perkins' Border Street studio in St.
James and the CBC's Sesame Street
shop have been in operation for some
time, and both have given most if not
Continued on page 6.
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