Canadian animation receives its 50th nomination for short film

Feb 2, 2023 | Arts

Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby have made three animated short films together, When the Day Breaks, Wild Life and The Flying Sailor.

All three have been nominated for an Oscar.

The Flying Sailor, this year’s nomination for the two, also won Sundance’s 2023 Animated Short Film Prize, among other awards. It’s the 50th Academy Award nomination of a Canadian film in the category, according to their official database.

Forbis said they wanted to make this film since they knew about the real story.

“But other things got in the way until sixteen years later,” she said.

Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Amanda Forbis (left) and Wendy Tilby (right), animation directors who have just achieved their third Oscar nomination and the 50th for a Canadian animation short film. Photo credit: Courtesy: NFB

Tilby said she hopes the nomination can help people “to appreciate these films take a long time and you get cloistered making them.”

Animation professor at Humber College Terry Posthumus said that talent, skills and opportunity are important in this sense.

“At the end of the day, what really matters is how hard you want to work at it,” he said. “I fell in love with this and when the opportunity came, I determined in my heart that I was going to be the first to arrive and the last to leave.”

Nevertheless, they represent different ways of working in animation. Forbis and Tilby work with traditional and mechanical techniques, like watercolor, drawing or even scanning videotapes. Posthumus works mainly with computers.

However, their lives changed in 1999. Forbis and Tilby had just finished their first film together, When the Day Breaks.

“We shot ourselves or friends in video, printed selected frames and painted them using oil stick-and-pencil,” Tilby said.

That’s how they achieved the texture of the animal characters and animated objects for which they earned a Palme d’Or in Cannes.

That same year, researchers Glen Norcliffe and Derrek Eberts published a study about the computer animation industry in Toronto. According to the study, “the speed of change in this sector makes links to training very important.”

That year, Terry Posthumus said he started teaching the software Maya to tutors at Humber College, while at the same time working at Disney. He said still teaches the Animation – 3D program, which he developed and coordinated.

A study about Canadian animation education, written by Chinese professor Xingqi Wang and published in 2016, that says “Canada has a global reputation for her excellence in animation education and animation movie industry.” Wang researches what Canada has done to improve the Chinese education model.

“[Canadian animators] have good pedigree, because the teaching of animation started here with Sheridan College program,” Posthumus said.

The study by Norcliffe and Eberts says it began in 1967 with a classical animation program, which was upgraded in 1980 by adding a one-year computer animation course.

But Canadian animation history has been previously recognized, mainly thanks to Scottish-born filmmaker Norman McLaren. According to the National Film Board (NFB) website, McLaren joined the NFB in 1941 and worked mainly in experimental works and founded the animation department.

He won a Palme d’Or in Cannes and an Oscar, but the creation and development of the animation program is an important part of his legacy, according to the study by Norcliffe and Eberts.

Amanda Forbis said the Canadian animation industry is successful “because of the National Film Board.

“When we were kids, we used to see NFB films on television, in the classroom, so we’ve grown in a culture of our own animation,” Forbis said.

She said she and Tilby dreamed of doing a film for the NFB while they were in art school.

“And that happened for both of us, it was within reach, and that’s a privilege,” Forbis said.

Along with many other animated films, Tilby and Forbis’s last film (as well as the other two) can now be seen online for free on the NFB website. The Flying Sailor is based on the real story of the survivor of the Halifax explosion in 1917.

Although they said their artisanal way of working is declining, they have done many commercials and even projections for a ballet.

As for their next film, it will take time.

“Five years is a generous deadline for us,” Forbis said.

On the other side of the animation spectrum, Posthumus said “as a teacher, seeing my students’ names in films and games credits, nothing makes me prouder.”

Films, video games and visual effects (VFX) are some of the outcomes for computer animation students, Posthumus said.

He said that for his students nowadays it wouldn’t be so strange working for a big studio as when he did it.

“When I told my mom I was going to work for Disney, she asked me what mall I was going to be working at,” Posthumus said.