Animating Community

Animating Community.” In Shock, Fear, and Belief: The Films and Videos of Madi Piller, eds. Clint Enns and Mike Hoolboom (Toronto: Pleasure Dome, 2016), 4-6.

Amy Lockhart’s Self-Portrait from Animated Self-Portraits / Autoportraits Animés.

Animated Self-Portraits / Autoportraits Animés (2012) is a collaborative animation in which eighty-four artists were asked to produce twelve paper illustrations to be animated into short loops forming an omnibus of Canadian animator self-portraits.1 The images were brought to life by Madi Piller on a modified 35mm animation stand setup in animation legend Eugene Fedorenko’s living room.2 The animators who contributed represent a wide spectrum of animation practices in Canada. Some of the animators worked for the NFB (National Film Board of Canada), others worked in animation studios, and others worked totally independent of any studio or institution. The work is both a celebration of animation made in Canada and a document of the various styles employed by Canadian animators, with the short segments forming a larger self-portrait, namely, a portrait of Canadian animation.

This work is historically significant given the legacy of Canadian animation left by Norman McLaren (whose portrait appears in the flm) and the NFB. In 1942, McLaren was put in charge of the NFB’s animation department, transforming the landscape of Canadian animation by hiring some of the most creative animators. Since that point, Canada has garnered a reputation for producing innovative and imaginative animation. Historically, animation has struggled to gain legitimacy among the traditional arts due to its mode of production and its association with cartoons. Animated Self-Portraits attempts to remove this perceived cultural divide. Te diverse selection of animators (many of whom are thought of as artists not animators) eliminates notions around high and low animation or distinctions between animation as art and animation as cartoon. Moreover, by only employing twelve frames, all of the animators are forced into the position of the independent animator.

Animated Self-Portraits was a return to handmade animation techniques for many of the animators, since many of them are now working digitally. All of the portraits in Animated Self-Portraits were made using hole-punched paper and alignment pegs, with each image literally bearing the mark of its author. The twelve images, together with animator’s instructions, were sent to Piller through the mail, further reinforcing the material nature of the work.3 Finally, the individual portraits were compiled by Piller and animated on Fedorenko’s 35mm animation stand.

This project is clearly a labor of love and it is an understatement to say that without Piller’s generosity, devotion, and community engagement, this project would not have been possible. As local animation legend Dave Cox explains,

With some irony, I had titled my segment Swan Song, insinuating my departure from the industry, due to my declining eyesight due to the onset of my diabetes. I had resisted Madi’s requests to participate in this flm [Animated Self-Portraits] but she was adamant, more persistent, and so very encouraging that I struggled to complete my little segment, with magnifying glasses and lifetime memories.

Big thanks to Mad.

  1. The animators who participated in the project are:

    1. Ed Ackerman 2. Kimberly Anderson 3. Stephen Andrews 4. Willy Ashworth 5. Shira Avni 6. Cordell Barker 7. Carol Beecher & Kevin Kuritnik 8. Ellen Besen 9. Marc Beurteaux 10. Jim Caswell 11. Luc Chamberland 12. Martine Chartrand 13. Elisa Chee 14. Marilyn Cherenko 15. Claude Cloutier 16. Richard Condie 17. Dave Cox 18. Siloën Daley 19. Paul Driessen 20. Jacques Drouin 21. Félix Dufour-Laperrière 22. Ann Marie Fleming 23. Nick Fox-Gieg 24. Mike Geiger 25. Suzanne Gervais 26. Joseph Gilland 27. John Halfpenny 28. Bryce Hallett 29. Heather Harkins 30. Chris Hinton 31. Co Hoedeman 32. Larry Jacobs 33. Patrick Jenkins 34. Susan Justin 35. Sharon Katz 36. Jody Kramer 37. Pasquale LaMontagna 38. Elizabeth Lewis 39. Arnie Lipsey 40. James MacSwain 41. Amy Lockhart 42. Craig Marchall 43. Wrik Mead 44. Margaret Moores 45. Lisa Morse 46. Norman McLaren 47. Martha Newbigging 48. Marv Newland 49. Gail Noonan 50. Diane Obomsawin 51. Luc Otter 52. Iriz Pääbo 53. Alan Pakarnik 54. Sylvie Paradis 55. Ishu Patel 56. Michèle Pauzé 57. Janet Perlman 58. Madi Piller 59. Kaj Pindal 60. David Ratzlaf 61. Rick Raxlen 62. Aubry Reeves 63. Richard Reeves 64. Janice Schulman 65. Joseph Sherman 66. Clive Smith 67. Lynn Smith 68. Michael Snow 69. John Straiton 70. Malcom Sutherland 71. Suzie Synnott 72. Hélène Tanguay 73. Paul Teglas 74. Jef Tran 75. Almerinda Travassos 76. Marie-Hélène Turcotte 76. George Ungar 78. Mike Weiss 79. Craig Welch 80. John Weldon 81. Barbara Whitmer 82. Lynn Wilton 83. Bob Wiseman []

  2. Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove animated the Genie Award-winning flm Village of Idiots (1999) on this stand. []
  3. Interesting to note, McLaren’s first animation gig was with the UK General Post Office (GPO) film unit, a division under the leadership of John Grierson, who would later found the NFB, and hire McLaren. []