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The Prolific Mr. Robinson

The following is a guest post by animation producer Michael Fukushima.

Animation isn’t a high-output film genre, especially in the short, auteur form practised here at the NFB, where an 8-minute short might be 24 months in the making. Even an animated TV series has a lead time several factors longer than a live-action sitcom, and an animated feature can easily take four years of production time. So, an animator’s oeuvre often seems deceptively small compared to her non-animation counterparts.

On the other hand, animation presentation (festivals, TV, cinemas, web) works in a completely different temporal space. Cinema and festival programmers regularly need new material, be it weekly, monthly, or annually. They barely have time to reflect on the success or failure of the current event before frantically planning for the next. Which might explain the rabbit-like writing prolificacy that is Chris Robinson, author, editor of  ASIFA magazine and artistic director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

By my count, Chris has written five books about animation, along with one or two non-animation books. I enjoyed his hockey book, Stole This From a Hockey Card, about Doug Harvey, the standout defenceman for the 1950’s Montreal Canadiens. Chris has two new animation books waiting for a publisher’s launch; Animators Unearthed: A Guide to the Best of Contemporary Animation (Feb 2010) and Japanese Animation: Time Out of Mind (Aug 2010).

The animation books already at your local online bookshop are Canadian Animation: Looking for a Place to Happen, The Animation Pimp, Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin, Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation, and Unsung Heroes of Animation. A writing rabbit, for sure.

I don’t always agree with what, or how, Chris is writing. I guess much depends on “which” Chris is on the page. But despite our differences, I enjoy reading him. He’s singular, he’s provocative, he’s insightful; he’s seen way more animation than even I have, and his opinions are informed by a vast range of influences and sources.

As evidenced by his Estonian animation book, Chris does have a handful of eccentrically hard-to-fathom favourites. And yes, sometimes he says and writes things just to get a reaction – witness his recent back-and-forth with Chris Landreth on The Spine blog. But truth be told, I’m not a follower of “gonzo” journalism, which is where Chris is rooted, and from where his more visceral writing comes.

Yet, despite our disagreements and our debates, there are three things that keep me coming back to Chris’s articles and books over and over again. And I suggest they’re things that’ll hook you and keep you interested too.

One is that he mainly writes from the gut (viscera, again), which makes him accessible and comprehensible and – to overuse the cliché – honest. And opinionated. Another is that he’s well-informed, so he’s not just making stuff up from whole cloth.

In the small world that is our kind of short-form, auteur animation, it’s good to have someone who speaks frankly about our films and filmmakers. Sometimes it can feel abusive, but we’re all adults, right? Finally – and this is what I appreciate most about him – Chris is a great and steadfast champion for the animation underdog, the overlooked film (or filmmaker) that so often gets lost in the pell-mell furore of the current “hot” film. Do you want to see the great little gems no one else has spotted yet? Chris can point the way. It’s sometimes a bumpy ride, and you might sometimes wonder why you got on this particular train, but it’ll be an adventure. And life’s too short to not at least sometimes take a flyer.

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