Monday, October 22, 2007

Taiwan International Animation Festival

Thanks to a Canada Council travel grant, I traveled to the Taiwan International Animation Festival in Taipei, Taiwan, recently to promote Canadian animation, share my film, “What Are You Anyways?” with Taiwanese audiences, learn about Taiwan’s mixed-ethnic background, meet other influential international animation filmmakers and artists, discover Taiwanese independent animation techniques and storytelling, connect with the Taiwanese animation education system, visit Taiwan animation studios, and be inspired by Taiwan’s unique and diverse arts culture. In the 11 days I was in Taiwan I am proud to say I was able to accomplish every goal.

Attending the Taiwan International Animation Festival (TIAF) in Taipei, Taiwan, was a great experience for me to promote Canadian film, culture, education, and my film, “What Are You Anyways?” to audiences throughout Taiwan. I was in Taiwan from September 27 to October the 8th, 2007. The festival was held the Shin Kong Cineplex in the trendy area of Ximending. It’s like Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The TIAF showcased over 600 short and feature animated films over 9 days (Sept. 28th to Oct. 7th) filled with screenings, parties, presentations, panels, workshops and an animation exhibition gallery at the Huashan Cultural Park. The animation exhibition was awesome with a retrospective on Will Vinton. I got to hangout with the original California Raisins puppets!

The Taiwan International Animation Festival programmed my film for two screenings as part of the Kaleidoscopic World of Animation ‘Who I Am’ program, M
onday, Oct. 1st at 10:20am and Thursday Oct. 4th at 6:40pm where I also conducted a question and answer period after the film screening. The audience for both screenings was humble with about 50 audience members per screening. The Q&A was energetic with a lot of enthusiastic audience members asking questions about the film, my animation filmmaking process, Canadian animation, and Canadian animation training. All Q&A sessions were translated between English and Mandarin by professional translators. My film, “What Are You Anyways?” was also subtitled by the festival into Mandarin so it could be understood by all audience members. When I arrived at the festival, they provided me with a liaison, Yu-nan Chou, who met me at the hotel and accompanied me to all festival functions and events. The liaison also acted as an interpreter so I could interact with local festival guests. She also toured me around Taipei between festival events and discussed with me Taiwan history and its rich cultural influences, which is a blend of aboriginal, Chinese, and Japanese culture.

While at the TIAF, I became great friends with the programmer Sharon Wu, who I first met at the 2005 San Diego Asian Film Festival. Sharon is a peer who is also an animation filmmaker and animation educator who worked previously as an instructor at CalArts in LA. As part of the festival, Sharon invited me to sit as a panelist on an Animation Educational Panel organized by the TIAF. I was on the panel with Eric Riewer from France, Sharon Wu and David Ehrlich from the America. I was representing the Canadian animation education system as I am also a part-time classical animation instructor at the Centre for Arts and Technology Kelowna. I spoke about the changing landscape of Canadian animation education and the different types of animation schools from public university programs like Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and private college programs like the one where I instruct in Kelowna. I also spoke about the changing climate in the Canadian animation industry with the advancement of Flash created programming. The panel event was very well attended with over 60 young aspiring Taiwanese animators in attendance. After the lecture many of the students approached me for more information about applying to Canadian animation schools and to speak with me about my animation experiences in Canada. As well, it was also important for me to hear the other panelists discuss how animation is taught in their countries, thus, helping me gain a new perspective on animation education around the world.

Before I went to Taiwan, I was in contact with the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, which is the name of the Canadian Embassy in Taiwan. Chloe Chen, the manager of events and outreach, general relations of the CTOT organized a series of Taiwan university lectures and Taiwan animation studio meetings during my stay. On October 3rd I had two university guest lectures. First I traveled with Chloe to the National Central University in Chung Li City to visit the Department of English. There I visited the English class of professor Wenchi Lin who also organizes the Canadian Animation Film Festival that travels around Taiwan. I presented a two-hour lecture on mixed-race identity, hapa issues, and animation filmmaking process to his class of around 40 students. I also screened my film, “What Are You Anyways?” and my latest rough cut of my new film Yellow Sticky Notes. Both the films and the lecture were well received by the students and they were very involved in a heavy discussion with me after the talk. Professor Lin was also interested in helping me find a Taiwanese and Asian distributor for my film, “What Are You Anyways?” as he wants to see other universities and schools in Asia using the film in their curriculums to learn about Canadian multiculturalism and mixed-race identity issues in Canada.

From there, Chloe and I traveled to the south of Taiwan to the Tainan National University of the Arts, which is home to the Graduate Institute of Animation. Once there, I lectured for the entire graduate student body of about 50 students and faculty. I lectured for two hours on my animation film work, animation process, and the Canadian animation industry. As well, I screened my films and afterwards was involved in a very insightful Q&A session with the students and instructors. Professor Yu Wei Cheng, one of the original founders of Cuckoo’s Nest Studio, gave me a personal tour of the universities animation facilities and I met with his faculty afterwards. There I met visiting professor Steve Brown from the California Institute of the Arts and Dr. Chi-Sui Wang. The meeting and lecture went so well, that Professor Cheng mentioned that I should come back and teach a semester at the university as a visiting professor. I know coming back to Taiwan would be an amazing adventure!

On October 4th, Chloe organized a lecture at the National Taiwan University of Arts where I conducted a lecture for the Dept. & Graduate School of Multimedia & Animation Arts. There I presented a two-hour lecture to Associate Professor Jay Shih’s Experimental Animation Class about my animation process and Canadian animation. I presented my films and again the students were engaged by the topic of the lectures by responding with an enthusiastic question and answer session following the lecture. Afterwards, Professor Shih invited Chloe and I to lunch where we discussed in more depth the relationship with Taiwanese animation schools and the Taiwanese animation industry. From all my university visits and discussions with the professors of animation, I learnt that there is little to no cooperation or communication between the animation education system and the industry in Taiwan. Most university programs are focused more on creating creative animation students rather than industry animators. Therefore, the developing animation industry in Taiwan is having a hard time finding animators who understand animation industry techniques and software. While in Taiwan, I tried to be a link towards helping the animation schools work together with the industry studios that I would later visit since I work hard with studios in Canada to make sure the students I instruct have the necessary skills and creative talent to work in the industry and/or become successful independent animators.

While at the festival, I had the pleasure of meeting up with fellow Canadian animator, Howie Shia, with whom I share very similar animation philosophies and filmmaking techniques. We both work with classical hand drawn animation and similar mediums. Chloe Chen from the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei booked tours and meetings at various Taiwanese animation studios for Howie and myself. The first studio we visited was ODD Incredible. There we met with Connie Kuo (Producer), Alan Tuan (Director), Will Wu (Designer), and Eric Tuan (Illustrator). We presented our projects to each other, shared ideas, and talked about the Vancouver animation community since ODD was considering moving to North America. Chloe als
o took Howie and I to Inext where we met with Producer Tracy Kwok. Tracy gave us a tour of the studio and we discussed their latest projects. The last studio we visited was F.Rhythm 3D Animation Company where we met with Gloria Kao. There we watched their latest project Memory Loss and we worked with her on how to turn the short project into a feature length CG film project. While there we also met with Frances Chien, the Manager of the Industry Support Division in charge of the animation industry in Taiwan. Frances offered to help us with setting up meetings and tours with any other studios if we ever traveled back to Taiwan.

As well, Howie and I were also able to accompany Loic Wong from the Institute Francais and French animator Alexandre Heboyan to visit Gamania Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd, one of Taiwan biggest gaming and animation studios. Mainly known for their video game development, Gamania had just s
tarted up a television animation production studio. While there we met with Delores Fu(Production Coordinator), Helene Chang (Line Producer), Molly Lin (Planner), Ophelia Huang (Planner), Sanvy Hsieh (Director), and Pongo Kuo (Creative Director). When we arrived we were introduced to the cartoons Gamania has in development and production. We were able to offer our insight on their show reel and exchanged ideas. We got to tour their newly created television animation studio and were able to see their new hit cartoon series Hero:108. We met as well with many of their creative directors and designers. I was impressed by their sense of design and concept work. Although, their animation movement and fluidity still needs room to grow and improve. Again, I learned this could go back to the miscommunication between the animation education system and the animation studio system in Taiwan, a gap that will need to be bridged if Taiwan animation studios ever want to create a blossoming television/feature animation industry like in Vancouver or Toronto.

Howie and I spent a lot of time with Loic and Alex. Maybe it was because they were French and we felt a connection to them since they reminded us of French Canadians. Loic, being into great food and atmosphere and knowing where all the hot spots were in Taipei, took us to some pretty amazing restaurants, lounges, and bars. One of the first nights, we went to check out a pretty ultra posh lounge in the Warner Village. After a few fancy cocktails, we headed downstairs to the super trendy Room 18. Being pretty much the hottest club in Taipei, it cost about $500NT to get in. Roughly the cover works out to about less than $20 CAN. Although, each drink afterwards is around $200NT so roughly about $7 CAN. Not bad considering you get two free drinks when you get in. The bartender took over 10 minutes to make my classic Bombay martini. He kept working on it until it was perfect by using a straw and tasting it until it was exactly right. Overall, the music was nothing progressive but the atmosphere was posh and hip. A few foreigners were there but mainly the crowd was local. A few days later, Loic took us to a great Japanese restaurant called James Kitchen. It was a little hole in the wall restaurant but probably some of the best authentic Japanese food I’ve ever had. Afterwards we headed to The Cube for an after dinner drink. It was a small place with a comfortable sheik atmosphere. From there we headed to a trendy Japanese restaurant called Dozo. Basically, this was the most amazing restaurant I have ever been in my entire life. It was beautiful, large, and the interior design was the best I have ever seen for a restaurant. The food was amazing too! I went there twice while I was in Taiwan and on the Friday night when I went with Howie Shai and Mark Walsh the restaurant had Taiko drumming while we ate and drank sake. Dozo is a must visit if you ever find yourself in Taipei. Relatively, the food in Taiwan is cheap. The dinner and drinks at Dozo cost us each around $30 CAN. In Vancouver it would have easily been over $100 CAN. Plus, the sashimi was some of the best I’ve ever had and you can’t beat the atmosphere.

While at the festival, I met many animation industry and independent animation contacts. Because there were not very m
any international guests, this allowed me to make many personal friendships with many of the guests. I stayed at the Rich Garden Hotel, which was the official hotel of the Taiwan Int’l Animation Festival. There, I had the opportunity to have breakfast with the other guests attending the festival. This gave me a great opportunity to speak one on one and in more depth with some very influential animation professionals I met. I talked and created friendships with many prominent and influential animators and artists such as Steve Anderson (Disney director), Mark Walsh (Pixar supervising animator), Philip Tan (Spawn comic illustrator), Alexandre Heboyan (Dreamworks animator), Nelson Shin (V.P. ASIFA International and inventor of the light saber in Star Wars), Kristof Serrand (Dreamworks supervising animator), Paul Vester (Award-winning experimental animator), and Stephen Chiodo (Master stop-motion animator). As well, I also spent time with other animation independent filmmakers, Hirokazu Hosoymana, Brandon Huang, and Howie Shia just to name a few. I also met producer Jade Lee from the Leader Asia Pacific Creativity Centre who works with some of Taiwan’s greatest film directors, including Ang Lee. A great treat was talking with Thailand animation filmmakers, Kompin Kemgumnird (Director) and Auchara Kijkanjananas (Producer) from Kantana Animation Studios after they had just completed the first all Thai produced feature 3d animated film Khan Kluay. It is my hope to bring their amazing film to Canada and share this amazing story to the audiences of the Okanagan Film Festival in which I am the Vice President.

Also, while at the festival, I also met with Alfred Sesma director of Spain’s ANIMA
C Animation Festival. We talked about Spain’s animation industry and the film festival and I gave him my films, “What Are You Anyways?” and Yellow Sticky Notes for possible inclusion in next year’s ANIMAC. As well, I had the great pleasure to attend many animation lectures/presentations organized by the TIAF. I watched presentations by Mark Walsh (Creating Believable Characters), Kristoff Serrand (How to Learn Animation), Alexandre Heboyan (The Making of Azure et Asmar), Philip Tan & Sharon Wu (Roaming in the World of Comics and Illustrations), and Steve Anderson (From Story Artist to Animation Director). I found many of these presentations to be extremely inspiring and I gained a vast amount of animation knowledge and technique from these master animators and artists. All of which, I can incorporate into my animation filmmaking and teachings. As well, I was able to watch many great animation shorts programs with animated films from around the world. As part of the festival, there were many programs devoted to strictly Taiwanese independent animators. From watching these programs I was able to understand the Taiwanese filmmakers’ unique and stylistic approaches to making animated short films. At the Taiwanese animation awards night, I was able to meet many of the filmmakers and discuss filmmaking and animation methods with them.

Because my film work explores mixed-race identity as a main theme, one of my main goals while visiting Taiwan was to talk to the Taiwanese people I met about mixed-race identity. Loic Wong of the French Institute, who I spent some time with, discussed with me his experiences growing up in France with mixed Chinese and French backgrounds. From our conversations, I learned we were the same age and that we both shared similar experiences growing up mixed-race even though we grew up in two completely different counties. From my conversations with Taiwanese, I discovered that Taiwan is a culture blended with many various influences from Japanese, Chinese, Portugese, and even Dutch backgrounds. Many Taiwanese are a blend of all these various ethnicities and much like the blended culture of their ethnic backgrounds, I discovered it is also very active in all aspects of their food, arts, and architecture. In Canada, people of mixed-racial background will usually describe themselves in terms of fractions. Such as, I am half-Japanese and 1/8th German, Scottish, Russian, and English. In Taiwan someone of mixed heritage simply consider themselves just Taiwanese. They do not find the need to describe their ethnic background but rather just accept that they are all Taiwanese. Also, in the south of Taiwan, many of the natives blended with the Dutch settlers who came to occupy the region hundreds of years ago. Very similar to the Meti in Canada, many of the children were mixed. Although, from what I learned, people from the south of Taiwan, although they look mixed, will never admit they possess any Dutch ancestry because of the mistreatment of the Taiwanese aboriginals at the hands of the Dutch settlers. As well, the political situation in Taiwan fascinated me with their lobbying to join the UN and the influence China has over them. I find the mixed culture in Taiwan fascinating and I will continue to study and research in more depth the issues and identity concerns of Taiwanese citizens. While in Taiwan, I was able to learn so much about the history, culture, and political atmosphere in Taiwan from my festival hired liaison, Yu-Nan Chan. She helped teach me how Taiwan actually parallels Canada in many ways. One day I would love to see people of mixed-race in Canada be able to be like the Taiwanese by just being able to tell other Canadians that they are just that Canadian instead of having to list their blended details of their ethnic backgrounds to describe themselves.

Even though I had a lot of meetings, guest lectures, and festival events to do while in Taiwan, I did manage to have a bit of fun. The second day in Taipei, Yu-Nan, my liaison, took
Howie and Faith Lin (TIAF International Coordinator) to a cosplay restaurant. Basically, it reminded me of the Taiwanese version of Hooters. Except, all the servers were girls who dressed up as French Maids. It was nuts! They would call you master and constantly fill up your water so you could stare at them. It was definitely quite the experience. I wanted to take a picture but I was told that pictures were not allowed in the restaurant. When I told Mark Walsh about this restaurant, he was so intrigued it became our mission to go back before we all left. We tried to go back but the weekend before we were scheduled to fly out, Typhoon Krosa decided to wreak havoc in Taipei. The typhoon was quite the experience. I have never seen rain or wind like that in my entire life. Although, surprisingly enough there were still people riding scooters on the streets. We all had to attend the closing night party so we ventured from the hotel in a taxi to the theatre. During a break in the films, Mark and a few of us, ventured out on the streets to experience the craziness of the typhoon. Although, not as dangerous as I thought, it was still pretty powerful to be outside in the middle of such a storm. Branches were flying around and store signs were being blown off the sides of the buildings. After our quick adventure outside, we headed back to the theatre for the closing party. Afterwards, everyone from the festival, staff and filmmakers, headed to Partyworld. Basically, Partyworld is a 30 story high building that looks like a huge hotel. But instead of hotel rooms, there are hundreds of karaoke rooms! You rent a private room where you can party and sing karaoke all night long! It’s amazing and the booze and food is really cheap. Mark, Howie, and I had fun singing our favorite Backstreet Boys songs. After our session of being karaoke allstars, we noticed the typhoon had calmed down. So we went to 711 and bought some more alcohol. In Taiwan, you can buy alcohol in 711 at anytime of night and drink it directly in the store. So we did! With a long day of storm chasing, partying, and karaoke we called it a night and headed to the hotel for some well deserved sleep.

The next day they had reopened the airport, which meant we would be able to fly out. My flight was in the afternoon, which meant that Mark, Philip, Howie, Yu-nan and I would be able to sneak in a lunch at Moe Point (the maid cafĂ©) which was closed the day before because of the typhoon. We almost thought Mark wasn’t going to get a chance to experience the maid restaurant. So, as you could imagine, Mark and was extremely happy to finally get a chance to see what all the fuss was about! Actually, he enjoyed it so much, he couldn’t stop laughing for over ten minutes when were first seated. This day the girls were actually dressed up as whatever they wanted. Some were dressed still as French maids, but our server was dressed up as Alice from Alice in Wonderland. After eating some half-decent pasta, I said my good byes to Howie, Mark, and Philip and headed back to the hotel with Yu-nan to get my stuff. Faith Lin met me at the hotel and saw me off as I jumped in the limo and headed off to the airport.

I traveled to Taiwan with over 50 copies of my film. I presented a DVD of my copy to most everyone I came in contact with. Every university professor, animation studio, filmmaker, and friend I met received a copy of my film as a gift. It is my hope that they will share my film, “What Are You Anyways?” with their students, colleagues, and friends. In the end, I had no more copies of my film left and returned back to Canada with DVD’s from the other filmmakers I met, compilations of student animations from the universities I visited, fond memories, and even better yet, new friends and peers who I would never have met if it weren’t for the experience of attending the 2007 Taiwan International Animation Festival!

Things are a lot bigger in Taiwan!

Super Nip lives as a children's show entertainer?!?

Cosplay rules!

Watch out for man digging!

In Taiwan the ninjas drink Cocacola Zero to stay fit!

No smoking and hanging yourself allowed

Taipei night markets are like Chinatown on speed!


Chiang Kai-shek Memorial

Dragon at Long-shan Temple

Long-shan Temple

Spiderman's arch nemesis finally found in Ximending

In Taipei, if you don't own a scooter, you just ain't cool!


After a whopping world record breaking 37 second elevator ride, this is the view from the top of Taipei 101 (91st floor)

Taiwan memorial

Typhoon Krosa from outside the Rich Garden Hotel where I was staying

(all photos and video taken by Jeff Chiba Stearns - all rights reserved 2007)
(photos, video, and text are property of Jeff Chiba Stearns and may not be published, copied, distributed, exhibited anywhere else on the internet, or publicly displayed. Any other use of these photos or text other than this blog, is strictly prohibited)


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