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Portland Animation Artists Share Their Favorite Films


Since the 1970s, animation hubs like Will Vinton Studios and LAIKA have put Portland on the map as a hub for animation. In honor of these amazing artists, “Oregon Art Beat” released “Oregon’s Animation Magic” with a screening and artist panel at the Whitsell Auditorium in downtown Portland. Moderated by “Art Beat” producer Eric Slade, we asked five animators about the films that inspire them.

Will Vinton — “Ratatouille”

Will Vinton is not only the mastermind behind the California Raisins music video for “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” In 1975, Vinton won an Oscar for best animated short film “Closed Mondays,” which follows a drunk man’s hallucinogenic walk through a gallery. The win catapulted Vinton into the top flights of professional animation, where he has been creating award-winning commercials and short films for four decades.

Vinton’s favorite animated flick is “Ratatouille,” the now 10-year old Pixar film about an aspiring rat chef that teams up with a struggling cook to master the art of french cuisine. Starring Patton Oswalt, “Ratatouille” won an Academy Award and was nominated for five Oscars, making it the most Oscar-nominated computer-animated feature at the time.

Joan Gratz — “The Big Snit” by Richard Condie

Joan Gratz is the creator of the animation technique “clay painting,” which utilizes mineral oil and clay to create swirling animated textures. She was an early employee at Will Vinton Studios where she experimented with different animation techniques. She spent 10 years making the Academy Award winning “Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase,” which traced the great painters of Art History from Leonardo da Vinci to Chuck Close. Now, Gratz is working with computer technology to create her newest films, like “Puffer Girl,” which uses her invented technique “high relief.”

Joan Gratz’s favorite film is “The Big Snit” by Richard Condie, which features a couple playing Scrabble while the world ends. As Gratz said jokingly, “Sort of my life.” As chaos reigns outside their window, a woman yells at her significant other for peeking at her letter tiles. Aesthetically wacky and charming, “The Big Snit” is a heartwarming satire.

Jerold Howard — “Akira”

You may know Jerold Howard for his Portland rats from “Portlandia,” or perhaps you’ve seen his work in the Disney’s “James and the Giant Peach” or “Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” Howard has been building worlds since he landed a job at Will Vinton Studios just after graduating from Portland State University. Now he is working on a new series about gentrification which will feature a claymation axe-wielding Paul Bunyan walking through the streets of Portland.

Jerold Howard said one of his favorite films is the 1988 science fiction anime classic, “Akira.” It takes place in a dystopian Tokyo in the distant year of 2019, following a cyber punk biker gang. The film’s cult following brought Japanese anime to  wider audience.

Rose Bond — “Tale of Tales” by Yuriy Norstein

Rose Bond’s art stretches way beyond traditional animation. A new media artist and animator, Bond creates magical worlds of light by combining projected animations and sound effects. She’s projected her work on cultural landmarks across the world, while her films have been shown at Sundance. Bond’s hand-painted films are part of at the film collection at MoMA. Last year, her shimmering light work was projected around the stage at the Oregon Symphony’s performance of Messiaen’s “Turangalîla”.

Rose Bond picked Yuriy Norstein’s “Tale of Tales,” a 1979 Russian film thick with political commentary and symbolism. Norstein’s nonlinear film plays like a string of memories that flow from one to the other. “Tale of Tales” is critically acclaimed throughout the animation world and was voted to be the greatest animated film of all time at two different international festivals.

Brian McClean — “Planet Sauvage” by René Laloux

Brian McClean is the Director of 3-D printing at the immensely popular animation company LAIKA. McClean oversaw 3-D printing on LAIKA’s first film “Coraline,” and has won a number of awards for his work on both “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.” McClean was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for “Kubo and the Two Strings.” In 2016, he won a Scientific and Engineering Award for his use of 3-D printing at the Academy Scientific and Technical Awards.

Brian McClean’s favorite animated film is René Laloux’s “Planet Sauvage.” Known also as “Fantastic Planet,” the film is a colorful and surreal story that places humans on an odd alien planet where giant blue humanoids are in control. The odd and beautiful “Planet Sauvage” won the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.

Nelson Lowery — “Aladdin”

Nelson Lowery is an art director and production designer, known for his production design on “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Paranorman,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” He also served as the Art Director for Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride.” He won the ICS Award and the NSFC Award for Best Production Design for “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” as well as an Annie Award for his work on “Kubo and the Two Strings.” He also won an Emmy in 2000 for his animation work for the TV show “The PJs.”

For his favorite animated film, Lowery picked the classic 1992 Disney flick “Aladdin.” The film won two Academy Awards for its music and won the Annie Award and the LAFC Award for Best Animated Feature.

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