'How'd he do that?!' This artist is on a mission to keep an amazing DIY filmmaking technique alive
Like most of Steven Woloshen's films, "Playtime" is a great example of "drawn-on-film animation"
Steven Woloshen has been making animated films for more than 30 years, but recently, the Montrealer has noticed audiences reacting to his work a little differently. Whether he's screening at a festival in the U.S. or Portugal or Australia, people keep asking him the same thing.
"How'd you do this?!"
Sunday on Exhibitionists, we'll be airing Woloshen's film "Playtime," a short commissioned by the Toronto Animated Image Society in 2009. Maybe you'll be wowed yourself. Or maybe you'll be having major flashbacks to the days of seeing NFB shorts on CBC — stuff by Norman McLaren, especially.
I want to become a spokesman for handmade cinema.- Steven Woloshen, filmmaker
Like that particular Canadian film legend, Woloshen uses a technique called "drawn-on-film animation," which — boiled down to the simplest definition — works exactly like it sounds. He'll get a roll of film (35mm Cinemascope is his medium of choice) and then draw (or scratch, or paint) in every frame. A few hundred feet later, you have a movie.
"People come to me saying, 'How did you do this? What program did you use? What kind of camera did you use?' And I go, 'I had no program, I have no camera. I unrolled 300 feet of film onto the floor and started painting and scratching on it. And they go, 'What?! That's impossible.'"
"They're startled that things can be so simple," he says.
That simplicity, though, is one reason why he loves it — and it's why Woloshen's on a mission to introduce more people to the technique.
He's written two "manuals/cookbooks" on the topic — Scratch, Crackle & Pop! (2015) and Recipes for Reconstruction (2010) — and whenever he visits a film festival, he asks to stage workshops. (His latest work, "Casino," will be headed to the Holland Animation Film Festival in March, for example.)
"This is the thing that's been keeping me going. I want to become a spokesman for handmade cinema," he says.
"People who have never tried making a film before — I think they're kind of thrilled to see it done, to see something that's the size of a postage stamp projected on a big screen."
"There's no middle man; there's no review process; you don't have to edit it." (That means, by the way, that if he makes a mistake, he's stuck with it.)
"You just do it one day, and there it is in front of people the next."
Woloshen first started scratching on film back in the '70s, just another "bored teenager" in the Montreal suburbs.
"We didn't have a lot of stuff to keep us busy, so we started destroying things," he laughs — things including his parents' old Super 8 filmstrips. He and his friends would lacerate the frames, painting over family memories so they'd have some rad visualizations for their punk shows. Through art school, he kept at it — and he hasn't stopped since.
The feeling from the early days "stuck with me," he says. "That sense of, 'There are no rules' — we could do whatever we wanted to do."
The artform itself is spontaneous and playful — which leads us to the film we're showing on Sunday, "Playtime."
Instead of playing an instrument, I pretend as though my pen is like an instrument.- Steven Woloshen, filmmaker
Like a lot of Woloshen's work, it's animated to a skittering jazz soundtrack. Great jazz musicians know how to improvise; this form of animation requires a similar skill. "Instead of playing an instrument, I pretend as though my pen is like an instrument," says Woloshen, who draws along to the music.
The piece was commissioned as a tribute to Canadian painter Jock MacDonald, and while the film doesn't mimic anything in the abstract artist's portfolio — instead mixing in references to everything from Matt Damon in Ocean's Eleven to Jacques Tati's film of the same name — Woloshen says "Playtime" is ultimately an homage to the joy of painting.
"They say that in art there's seven major characteristics: form, colour, shape, rhythm. And I try to put all of that into my film," he says.
"It's to enjoy," he says. "If you love jazz, it's to enjoy that. Or if you like colour and movement, it's to enjoy that, too. Sometimes, you just want to enjoy crackle — that thing when you put liquid on plastic. If you just want to enjoy that, be my guest.
"I'm really happy that you're watching it. And from one of maybe the last people anywhere who still works this way, I'm just really happy that somebody still cares."
On that note, enjoy "Playtime."
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