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Cordell Barker on working with others

Cordell Barker on working with others

Cordell Barker on working with others

I just got back home to Winnipeg after working in a big dark room for six weeks at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal. I was there to shoot the stop-motion puppets and props component of my latest film, tentatively titled If I Was god In it, I recall a specific incident that occurred when I was a 12-year-old in Grade Seven science class and speculate on what it would be like to have the powers of god. The film primarily consists of stop-motion puppet animation but makes use of various other forms of stop-motion, as well as my usual brand of 2D hand-drawn animation. I wanted this film to have a somewhat eclectic sprinkling of different animation techniques throughout. And since the film is also being shot in stereoscopic 3D, I had to go to Montreal to shoot my puppets and props with the special camera rig that makes the 3D stereoscope image possible.

While there, I shared one corner of the building with a whole raft of other animators, all working on their own projects in varied animation disciplines: stop-motion puppets, 2D drawn animation, paint on glass, wet clay under camera, many forms of CGI (computer animation). It was a fascinating array of styles. Not that I got to see the other filmmakers much. Every day, I would enter through the back door of the building, go directly to my darkened studio and get straight to work. It was a bit secluded. And there’s something about the stop-motion environment that seems to not welcome visitors. I suppose it’s the big, darkened room with the huge black curtain inside it surrounding your work space. Anyone approaching the curtain can see escaping slivers of bright light, illuminating god-knows-what beyond it. I suspect it all gives off a “Do not disturb: fragile artiste at work” vibe. When anyone does dare to draw near, they call out in a demure, tentative way, using an “Are you decent?” tone of voice—presumably allowing me enough time to re-button.

The high-ceilinged room I worked in is the stereo-lab (focusing on projects created in stereoscopic 3D) and was separated in half by the aforementioned curtain. I was on one side of it and on the other was Munro Ferguson, who is finishing up work on his terrific-looking film Minotaur. We would periodically converse in the darkness. This is a big step up from the past 30 years of my working alone in my spare-bedroom studio.

Cordell Barker - shooting papier-mache earth

Barker’s papier mâché earth spins on the graduated rotation device he built.

Within my six weeks of allotted time in Montreal, I didn’t finish what I had set out to achieve on my stop-motion agenda, but I did overcome the seemingly daunting clay-mation hurdle, creating an animated flipper-card device (you’ll have to see my film to know what that’s all about) and shooting all my papier mâché astronomical items: Earth, Moon, Sun, Saturn, stars, etc.—all spinning on the graduated rotation device I built for that very purpose. I still have paper characters to re-rig at home, and then I go back to Montreal in early February to finish up the last of the stop-motion. I realized that because of my inexperience with stop-motion I had made the paper puppets in such a way that I knew I’d be fighting with them to get what I wanted—I had made the same mistake with the clay-mation puppet. So I decided that I should head home and re-think their scale and rigging.

I am sooooooo looking forward to finishing up all this stop-motion work. I find it a bit stressful. But I know that as soon as it’s done (and assuming it all looks good), I’ll look back very fondly on my little foray into the painstaking stop-motion world. And on working alongside of others—albeit from behind a discreet, isolating black curtain.

Cordell Barker is a director, screenwriter, and animator best known for his Oscar®-nominated short animations The Cat Came Back (1988) and Strange Invaders (2001). He is currently working on a new project at the NFB.

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  1. Dear Mr. Cordell Barker

    Kanoon (The Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults) is holding the 10th Tehran International Animation Festival (TIAF) on March 5-9, 2017. This institute is an Iranian cultural organization that has produced over 400 short and feature films and published 2000 books. It has also established 850 libraries for children all over the country.

    It would be a great pleasure for us if you submit your film to our 10th edition and make it a better one.

    If you are interested in participating in our festival please do visit our website: to fill out the entry form.

    • To be mentioned Tehran International Animation Festival (TIAF) is not specified just for children and young adults, you will be able to submit any kinds of artistic animated films including children, young adults and adults section.

    • The copy or the downloadable link of the film must be received by the Festival Office not later than November 5th.

    • You are kindly requested to attach the submission code on the film(s).

    For further inquiries, feel free to contact us.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely yours

    M. R. Karimi Saremi
    Festival Director

    Tehran International Animation Festival Office
    Tel: +98 21 88958778
    Fax: +98 21 88958779

    Add: Cultural & Art Creative Center, Hejab St., Dr. Fatemi St., Tehran, Iran
    Zip Code: 1415613144, P.O.Box : 14145/363

  2. All very well and good, but this is not French and all important words in titles of artworks are capitalized: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, not The cook, the thief, his wife & her lover. Even if you stretch the issue of the subjunctive because it’s poorly used in contemporary speech, You Can’t Have a Title with a Final Noun in Lower case.

    1. Hi Joe, you’re absolutely right that those are the rules of grammar. However, the choice of an artist to deliberately over-ride proper capitalization for their own preference is certainly not unheard of. Some people even eschew capitalization of their own names (like bell hooks, k.d. lang, or danah michele boyd), and the Chicago Manual of Style allows for a sentence to begin with a lowercase letter if it uses the name of a product whose brand necessitates a lowercase letter (iPod, iPad). The TV show “jPod” used a lowercase letter as well. While it may be unconventional, artistic license wins out in the end! Thanks for your comment.

      — Jovana Jankovic,
    2. Weirdly, I just received this comment heads up, now, in October. Anyway, to address the point, that’s the great thing about English, and what makes it so powerful – It rolls and adapts. Apparently more than any other language. I appreciate your points on rules of grammar, and I often lament the sorry state in which it is used on the street, but knowing the rules and rigidly applying them can be two different things. You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, but adhering to that rule can often result in some clunky or pretentious conversation – depending on to whom you are speaking (!?!). Jovana Jankovic, in a very well thought out reply to your comment, makes the exact point I would make – in this application, in a work of art (?), the rules don’t apply. I can make the title anything I wish. I can spell words incorrectly and play with grammar if I choose. I could capitalize every second letter. English didn’t materialize fully formed. It’s like genetics, we wouldn’t look like we do without a few million mutations along the way. It’s great, though, that you argue the point. I love discussing grammar. My father and one of my brothers are avid grammar junkies, and we’ve often fallen into discussions about English around the dinner table. I try to instil the same thing in my sons. Mainly, I just try to make sure they don’t say “I seen…” or “my bad”

      — Cordell Barker,
  3. Thanks for your question, Joe—we love feedback from our readers! (And I, personally, love to debate quandaries of grammar, style, and punctuation. Yep, I’m a nerd.) And thanks to Cordell for such a thoughtful reply.

  4. Is there a viable reason why the title of the film is If I Was god instead of the grammatically-correct and correctly-punctuated If I Were God?

    1. Good eye! There is a viable reason, though probably only to me. Since the title expresses an ‘hypothetical subjunctive’, it would be correct if I used ‘Were’, instead of ‘Was’, since it is not normally possible to be, or have been, God. But in my film, I remember back to a moment in time when I actually become a god. The lower case g was intentional. Just a personal choice thing. Think if it as my take on the iPod of deities. In fact, this interpretation of the possibility of becoming god, or A god, is kind of central to the point. You’ll have to see my film to see if the title makes sense. This is all a bit academic, since this is only my working title and could very easily change. But I love that you caught that!! Thanks!

      — Cordell Barker,

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