Walt Disney may have started animated features with his 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but with the rise of digital animation, independent animators working on tight budgets are marketing their fresh stories, ideas, and styles to accredited festivals.
Former St. Albert resident Wendy Tilby and her creative/life partner Amanda Forbis, two award-winning animators, have been invited to screen their latest creation, The Flying Sailor, at the Edmonton International Film Festival on Sunday, Sept. 25.
It is one of five short films entered by the National Film Board of Canada. The other four are Lori Lozinski’s A Motorcycle Saved My Life; Monica Kidd’s The Storm; Terril Calder's Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics; and Arctic Song, a co-production by Neil Christopher, Nadia Mike, and David Christensen.
Now based in Calgary, Tilby's and Forbis’s collaboration goes back more than two decades. When the Day Breaks (1999) received an Oscar nomination and more than 30 international awards including the Palme d’Or, the highest honour presented at the Cannes Film Festival. The duo also received an Oscar nomination for Wild Life (2012).
Candid about the Palme d’Or’s win, Tilby says, “If you make a major release that’s worth millions and millions at the box office, it benefits you financially. For short films, the benefits are more obscure. For us, it attracts more commercial and agency work. They have confidence in you. But the awards aren't to be sneezed at, and it helps our films get seen.”
The Flying Sailor is adapted from a true story of the miraculous survival of Charles Mayers, a sailor standing on the docks during the 1917 Halifax Harbour explosion. Two ships collided in the harbour. One was carrying explosive material. A fire detonated the cargo and the subsequent explosion killed more than 1,700 and injured 9,000.
Charles Mayers was blown skyward and flew two kilometres. When found, he was naked, wearing only one boot, and was soaking wet. Originally from England, he returned to Liverpool, but was never able to recall the event.
The eight-minute short reveals a 30-second prologue of the explosion before focusing on the sailor’s catastrophic slow-motion flight across space and time. Hypnotic, comic, suspenseful, and full of wonder, it contemplates both life’s profound and insignificant moments as the sailor floats across space before plunging back to Earth.
“We didn’t want to make it a historical film in the port because we didn’t want to pin the geography. We were interested in the surrealism of his journey and the potential in it. What we were interested in was the trip. We wanted to play up the near-death experience. We slowed everything down — the white light, the memories. That’s what we wanted to play with.”
In creating the main character, Tilby and Forbis focused on developing a salty old sailor who enjoys a puff now and again. Using 3D software, Forbis focused on drawing and painting the sailor while Tilby developed a concept and fine-tuned editing and sound.
“We liked him to not be classically good-looking. We wanted a mix of humour and gravitas, a pink figure without clothes floating in a balletic way in the middle of all that black smoke. We had him in fetal position while he relived all his memories.”
Tilby and Forbis first met at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver when they were both students. Later while living in Montreal, Tilby was deadlocked on a project. Forbis, who was in between films, stepped in to provide creative input.
“I tend to be a perfectionist and Amanda can pull me out of it. At the start, I like going beyond the project when anything is possible. She has a harder time at the start. But there’s a point in the middle I get despondent, and she’s got her rhythm and the energy kicks in.”
Luigi Allemano, a former St. Albert musician now living in Montreal and teaching at Concordia University, was the project’s sound designer. Allemano is an animation filmmaker and composer whose sound design has appeared in more than 50 National Film Board films.
Tilby praises Allemano’s contributions, saying, “The music and sound are extremely important. It’s almost half the film. It’s very important in shaping the idea and working with Luigi was a joy.”
Edmonton International Film Festival runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1. Complete information is available online at www.edmontonfilmfest.com.