Sean Uyehara Talks S.F. International Animation Festival

Eve O'Neil November 7, 2007

It’s very easy to observe the deep creative influence that animation holds over a part of the country as artistically active and diverse as the Bay Area. A vibrant street art community, rivaled in scope only by urban areas such as New York and Los Angeles, pulls heavily from the aesthetic of animated graphics. Asian American heritage ties us to the exploding popularity of anime and the truly unique visions of directors such as Hayao Miyazaki. And of course who could forget Pixar, an industry giant that, for years, no one could quite understand until they succeed in tying animation to digital filmmaking for the first time. SF360 caught up with Sean Uyehara, who has programmed the San Francisco International Animation Film Festival for both years it has been running, to talk about his personal influences, upcoming trends in animation, and what to look forward to when the festival opens this November 8th.

SF360: Is there any specific film that you got you interested personally in animation?

Uyehara: Not really. I just like movies. I always was into the Looney Tunes, and then when I went to college I saw Norman McClaren and FRANK FILM and stuff like that and was just blown away. I feel so lucky to be doing this now.

SF360: So, how many different films did you end up watching before deciding what was going to be screened as part of the festival?

Uyehara: 200? 300? I am not sure.

SF360:When you begin planning something like this, where do you start looking for content?

Uyehara: There are tons of places to look. Other festivals, TV, Internet definitely, simple research, and then there is work that comes in unsolicited that surprises. Basically, any way that you can imagine finding work is how we find it.

SF360: After watching so much material, do you see any trends (storywise, technique wise) emerging with current animation?

Uyehara: My favorite current trend has to do with history, both personal and political, in animation. We have a number of nonfiction animated films like ‘Teat Beat of Sex,’ ‘I Met the Walrus,’ and ‘Magnetic Movie, in the festival. There are also feature length films out there like ‘Persepolis,’ ‘Chicago 10,’ and ‘Waltz with Bashir that integrate animation with nonfiction. It’s great mind-candy to contemplate the layers of representation involved in this kind of animated work. Because of the nature of animation, it already sort of points towards an artist — ‘Someone drew this!’ Do you know what I mean? When you add more layers of nonfiction in there, it creates a pretty robust and complicated document.

SF360: Can you give me your thoughts on animation as a means of producing a film without (or with a reduced) budget? I watch a picture like ‘Film Noir,’ with tons of action, expensive locations, several actors, and an international crew, and can’t help but think that as a live action film it would’ve taken millions to produce.

Uyehara: Frankly, I don’t know how much money these things cost. I can’t imagine a feature-length fiction film costing just a ‘little.’ But, to be certain, there are modes of practice represented in the shorts programs that could inspire one to think, ‘Hey, I could make a short animation all by myself.’

SF360: ‘Komaneko’ is the first Japanese stop motion animation released by a major studio. Do any of the other pieces present a specific milestone culturally or artistically?

Uyehara: Not to harp on ‘Magnetic Movie,’ but its director team, Semiconductor, is working in a specific cultural context that is pretty unique. They look to reveal the artistic outlines of the world of science. We showed their documentary about the sun, ‘Brilliant Noise,’ a little while ago, which was incredible, and they are continuing on that path with this new film. ‘Film Noir’ may not achieve a milestone, but it certainly is the product of a specific production practice that is possible today. It is an English-language Croatian/Bay Area/French film.

SF360: I remember when no one had any idea what rotoscoping was and then ‘Waking Life’ came out. Now everyone is familiar with that aesthetic. Are there any new techniques that you’ve noticed recently emerging?

Uyehara: Rotoscoping is as old as the hills. Maybe not that old, but it isn’t new by any stretch. Animation techniques are great and varied, and we have a lot of them in the fest, but what really matters is how technique and style communicates effect, aesthetic, or feeling in a film.

SF360: Do you ever think video game animation will have a place in a film festival?

Uyehara: Definitely. We presented Rooster Teeth, the makers of the machinima ‘Red vs. Blue’ and ‘The Strangerhood, in SFIFF a few years back. We haven’t quite stretched out to show commercials in SFIAF or SFIFF yet, but if we did, I would love to show the ‘Warhammer — Mark of Chaos’ trailer. It’s not video game animation per se, but I was blown away by this piece.

SF360: Are there any animators/directors/companies we should be keeping our eye on in the coming year?

Uyehara: One of my favorite animators, David Russo, has been working on a feature-length film about male anal birth. But, I hear that it is live-action. I mean, what?

SF360: What are your favorite animated movies of all time?

Uyehara: There are so many, but the Popeye films from the ’30s and ’40s rule! Mainly, because of the all the mumbling sound.