Thursday, January 07, 2010

Gram Goodman interviews Brett W. Thompson for The GRAMICLE.

Gram Goodman, a great buddy of mine from FSU and OAF (Organic Artists' Forum), has started a DIY publication called The GRAMICLE out in Texas where he's been working as a window washer, but he also makes incredible, energetic music (used to be available for free at but it's been down for a while). He's also been doing some comics lately which I absolutely love. I might help him get some of his art back online in the future.

So Gram (sometimes known as Graham) interviewed me about ASIFA-Atlanta for The GRAMICLE; take a look, it was fun:

what is asifa-atlanta? tell us about the organization.

ASIFA-Atlanta is the local chapter of the worldwide animation society ASIFA, founded in Annecy, France in 1960. ASIFA's a French acronym: "association internationale du film d'animation".

Our particular chapter has been around for about ten years. We got started when a few female animators wanted to start a Women in Animation chapter. They approached Linda Simeksy (executive at Nick and Cartoon Network), whose reply was why not start a group for everyone first?

In 2005, the president of ASIFA-Atlanta, Lou Hertz, who had worked on Mr. Magoo, passed away, just months before I moved to Atlanta. Joe Peery, animation director at Turner Studios, heroically resurrected ASIFA-Atlanta, starting by picking up a cardboard box of ASIFA-related tapes and papers from Lou's.

Joe stepped down in Febuary 2008, though he still runs our weekly figure drawing class. I had already been running a few events at that point and been pretty involved, so I stepped up as president and have been doing it since then.

Now we have monthly screenings, weekly figure drawing, monthly workshops, and my favorite, monthly animation draws, where I bring light tables, stacks of paper, and markers to WonderRoot (community art center in Atlanta) and have people draw whatever they want, creating animation. It's on YouTube, actually- search for "ASIFA-Atlanta animation draw".

where are other hot spots for animation around the world?

ASIFA-Hollywood is our biggest chapter at the moment. They have an incredible thing there called the Animation Archive- they have a physical space, open to the public, in Burbank, where they have digitized over 5,000 films (most not available on DVD or VHS) and scanned over 50,000 animation-related drawings.

I was most excited about the long collection of thick binders that held all the storyboards for Ren & Stimpy, though. They welcome anyone to just stop by there and watch films and study drawings or storyboards. We're hoping to replicate the archive in Atlanta eventually but we need funding for it. They post samples at

They also do something called the Annie Awards, which is like the Oscars for animation, and actually influences the Oscars I think.

There are strong chapters all over the world, though, and most of us exchange films with one another for International Animation Day on October 28th. Israel, Brazil, Japan, Korea, France, and Greece have sent us really amazing, beautiful films. There was an animation from Bosnia- with a dragon rapping about drugs or something, totally not in English- that I particularly loved. We almost didn't put it in but I begged for it.

So Hollywood's the hot spot for commerical animation, but there's great independent animation coming from all over. New York City seems to have a higher-than-normal collection of extremely talented independent animators, though: Bill Plympton, Nina Paley, John Dilworth, Signe Baumane, Rauch Brothers, etc. NYC has a fantastic scene, and I was even going to try to move there because I wanted to work on Superjail! so badly with Christy Karacas and Aaron Augenblick.

how is asifa funded?

Great question!

I think most chapters stay alive via their membership dues. Our dues are pretty cheap and we don't have a ton of members, so we have to make money other ways- actually, tonight we have a big art opening / music show / party that should raise some funds. We do this every year and it's our biggest money-maker.

Last year we had our annual art show / party at Eyedrum and the parking lot was completely packed, which to me means it was a success. We're having it at WonderRoot this year, which is a lot smaller, so I hope it works out! WonderRoot has been tremendously helpful- I didn't have to do nearly as much work this year, which was a huge relief, because last year was a bit difficult to put together.

Sometimes we make a little bit of money from screenings, but it's almost just as likely that we'll lose money from a screening. I actually really like to put on free screenings- we don't charge for International Animation Day at the High Museum of Art, for instance, and I like that.

I'm working on getting us non-profit status, though, so we'll be eligible for government grants and tax-deductible donations. It's just taking forever.

I believe some of the other chapters get government grants; Europe in particular seems to be more supportive of the arts, which is lovely and makes me want to move there. Their festivals don't usually have submission fees and they'll give filmmakers grants to make films. It's amazing.

what are animation artists that you like?
I just discovered the work of Phil Mulloy thanks to my girlfriend Hannah. I think his "Cowboys" series is hilarious and brilliant. You can find some of it on YouTube I think.

I admire Nina Paley so much- her feature film, "Sita Sings the Blues", is free, as in, released under Creative Commons ( So anyone can show it and even charge for it. She's made about $50,000 in donations, merch, etc, which I think is incredible. It's actually amazing that she animated a feature film by herself in the first place, really.

I also admire Don Hertzfeldt for working on paper and for making a living doing independent animation without being accountable to a client or big corporation.

I really love Nick Cross' work too, he has a delightful old-cartoony look. He worked for John Kricfalusi years ago I believe.

where do you see the future of animation?

This year there were three stop-motion animated features released: Coraline, Mary & Max, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I'm not a huge fan of the perfection of CGI, so I'm hoping that animation that makes use of real stuff will continue to grow. Mary & Max in particular did almost everything in-camera. It's a beautiful film.

I'm also hoping that there will be more people like Nina Paley who will create independent films on their own. Big budget features can be great, especially for employing a lot of people, but I wonder what kind of film one of those guys who's just a cog in the pipeline might make on his own.

With Flash and YouTube, I think it's leveling the playing field a bit, so someone can make something like a funny gay unicorn cartoon and have it seen by tons of people. I think this is exciting- not only do you have gay unicorn cartoons, you also have films like MUTO by BLU, which is breathtaking- you might have seen it- crazy animation on walls, like on the side of a building at one point. Bobby Z called me up immediately when he saw it for the first time!

how has animation evolved in your lifetime?

Great question, Graham!!

When I was a kid, I didn't see a lot of independent animation, though I did see Jan Svankmajer's "Darkness Light Darkness" on PBS, taped it, and watched the shit out of it. Today I've recently gone to France, China, and Portugal for animation festivals where they show all kinds of stuff. When I was a kid, there was the TV, movie theater, or video store- I didn't even know about festivals, and there certainly wasn't YouTube or Vimeo or BitTorrent.

There was Liquid Television, though, and Spike & Mike, and there was a good video store in my neighborhood (Video 21). But now it's so much easier to see different animation, because of the Internet and because of my involvement with ASIFA.

The biggest change I've seen so far in my lifetime has been the rise of 3D CGI animation, and also the rise of cheap Adult Swim-style animation.

anything else?
You can see my work at ASIFA-Atlanta has a website at

Thanks so much for the interview, Graham!!


DJ Were-Panda said...

Hey Brett! Lots of good info on different animators. I've been following your blog for some time now...some of your drawings reminds me scenes from Chris Cunningham videos for Aphex Twin. Glad you're doing well...will be researching some of the names you dropped in this entry. :)

Brett W. Thompson said...

Awww, thank you SO much for your comment!!!! I miss you!!

missing. said...

Great interview, Brett!

Let me know if you have any specific questions about getting non-profit status, applying for grants, etc. Some of the people I work with know everything about that stuff, and I'd be happy to pick their brains for you. ^_^

Brett W. Thompson said...

Awww, Kelly, that is SO kind of you!!!!

We've been trying to get nonprofit status for years and years. We have a lawyer from Georgia Lawyers for the Arts assigned to us, but she's been busy and hasn't had a chance to make much progress yet..

Once we have nonprofit status though, I'd absolutely love to look into grants, of course! :D

Thank youu!!!!