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Canadian Animation: Looking for a Place to Happen

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From cover to cover, Looking for a Place to Happen is a fantastic read. I enjoy jumping into a thought-provoking book on a subject in which I am not well versed, and which both expands my knowledge of that subject and encourages further exploration of the topic. Canadian Animation: Looking for a Place to Happen is such a read. The book follows the author, Chris Robinson, as he travels from Vancouver to Montreal conducting a series of interviews with animators who contribute the Canadian independent animation scene.

Robinson makes good use of the book’s 258 pages by squeezing in as many interviews as he possibly could. It will require a modicum of patience and determination to follow through to the end. Some of the interviews are upwards of 20 pages long, and one might find it difficult to absorb an entire flow of words and thought without finding it entirely jarring to disengage and jump right into another. I found it best to read one or two, put the book down, absorb it, and come back for more once I had sufficiently digested what I had read.

Bridging these interviews are journal entries featuring Robinson’s thoughts and experiences between stops. While the journal entries could not save the book from required reading breaks, they do showcase Robinson’s wit and help ease one back into the reading experience. They contribute to a sense of being on a journey as opposed to having a mess of interviews crammed together in book form.

The interviews manage to create the atmosphere of a relaxed conversation with a friend. I always enjoy having an opportunity to get inside the heads of other artists. Whether it be insight into process, the idea of art for the sake of art, art with purpose, what happens when you fall into a career of animation, not knowing any other way to be, stopping once you’ve run out of things to say, working within and/or frustration with the system: it’s all fascinating. Equally, it’s a monumental task to balance both a commercial and independent career, or to live a minimalist lifestyle to support an independent-only career. It takes an uncommon level of dedication and courage.

Threaded throughout the book, and providing another common theme, are mentions of both Helen Hill (“Mouseholes”) and Ryan Larkin (“Walking”, “Street Musique”, “Syrinx”). The author portrays them as two entirely different personalities, both of whom had a large impact on other animators in the scene: Hill, with her strong sense of community and activism, and Larkin as a cautionary tale.

There is a minor disappointment with a missing interview that the author misplaced somewhere along the way. In that instance, and any other where the interview was not coherent enough or the meeting between the animator and Robinson was not able to take place, an article or reprint has been inserted in its place.

Images break up the text, but not overwhelmingly so. While the inclusion of screen grabs allowed some visual access to the styles of the animators’ works, they’re only stills. They couldn’t possibly communicate what a moving image could. The book really would have been better served by including a sampler DVD with short clips of the various works.

Those interviewed or spotlighted include: Rick Raxlen (Geometry of Beware, Deadpan, Rude Roll, Fish Don’t Talk), Bruce Alcock (At the Quinte Hotel), Marilyn Cherenko (Omnibus, Pursuit/Flight, About Face), Gail Noonan (Play Ball, Lost and Found, Your Name In Cellulite, Honey, The Menopause Song, More Sensitive), David Fine (Ricky Sprocket, Bob and Margaret, George and Rosemary), Anne-Marie Fleming (AMF’s Tiresias), Marv Newland (Bambi Meets Godzilla, Tête à Tête à Tête, Beijing Flipbook), Carol Beecher and Kevin Kurytnik (Intergalactic Who’s Who, Abandon Bob Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here, Ask Me, Trees, Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning), Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis (Table of Contents, Strings, When the Day Breaks), Richard Reeves (Linear Dreams, 1-1), Ed Beals (SeXXXy, Plickey and Muto, Pat the Cat), a gathering of Halifax animators (Heather Harkins, Lisa Morse, Lynn Wilton, Siloen Daley and Shelley Wallace), James McSwain (Atomic Dragons), Patrick Jenkins (The Magician’s Hat, Making Faces, Alleycats, Eye to Eye, The Skateboarder), Jonathan Amitay (Nukie, Oh, Dad, Three Nukies), Eugene Federenko (Every Child, Village of Idiots), John Straiton (Horse Play, Marilyn), Claude Cloutier (Sleeping Betty, From the Big Bang till Tuesday Morning), Janet Perlman (Why Me?, Lady Fishbourne, My Favourite Things that I Love), Theodore Ushev (Tower Bahwer), Chris Hinton (The Man Who Waited, Watching TV, Flux), Craig Welch (How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels, Welcome to Kentucky), Chris Landreth (The End, Bingo, Ryan) and Nick Cross (Tea for Two, U-Girl, The Waif of Persephone).

Canadian Animation: Looking for a Place to Happen is currently available through Amazon.com.