I first saw The Animation Show of Shows back in 2014; unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the first screening hosted at Cogswell College. The founder of the program, Ron Diamond, came to the school and shared a handpicked selection of the finest animated short films from around the world. During my freshman year, I was exposed to some of the most important films of my college career, including Glen Keane’s Duet, Julien Bisaro’s Bang Bang! and Daisy Jacobs’ The Bigger Picture. Until that point, a majority of my exposure to animation had been in feature films with the occasional short included in Pixar films, and very little of that exposure delved into the purely artistic and abstract, or even the emotionally mature. In many ways, the beauty of the short film is often its detachment from outside ulterior motive or commercial incentive. For the short, there is rarely a need to pander. Throughout the last four years, I’ve had the luxury of this exposure, and within it I found its primary value. I found the catalyst of creation.
But first, a brief introduction
The Animation Show of Shows is a traveling screening of some of the best animated short films the world has to offer. The show started as a non-profit event in 1999 with only four films. Since then it has grown through the help of sponsorships from various animation and tech companies, and recently through annual Kickstarter campaigns. Most of the films presented come from the current year, with an occasional outlier from years prior. All these short films are assembled and presented to a wider audience courtesy of Ron Diamond and the Acme Filmworks company. Through their efforts, the show has premiered well over 100 unique films from all around the globe, and the number of venues for the show itself seems to be growing continuously.
For my sake, The Animation Show of Shows has been available for the last four years; before that I had honestly never heard of it. It was a chance meeting between Ron Diamond and the Dean of the College, Jerome Solomon, that led to the event being hosted at Cogswell College ever since. The annual premiere of the show is now considered a standard at Cogswell College, with an attendance that grows every year.
On the topic of Exposure
Probably the biggest advantage offered with the school’s screening of The Animation Show of Shows is exposure. There are many advantages to being American, but an active and healthy exposure to global art is not especially one of them. In the category of cultural import, Europe surpasses us, especially in France where films are available either in French voice dubbing or in their original language with French subtitles. Films from their neighboring countries – such as Italy, England, Germany, Spain and Switzerland – are much more likely to show up in French cinema than in the U.S. Sure, we’ll have a couple special screenings of a foreign film now and then, but a majority of our cinema is American, which leaves us with a lack of exposure.
Don’t get me wrong, American cinema is plenty awesome – especially when done well – but it has cultural limits. Part of the role of animation, as is the role of film, is to translate the values of cultures and individuals into a visual language that everyone can understand. It takes a larger worldview to conceive some of these stories; I can’t imagine films like The Burden, The Battle of San Romano, Tiny Big, Ballad of Holland Island House or Crin-crin ever being imagined by an American perspective. Luckily, I can watch the first three of those in one sitting at this year’s screening, and that’s just limited to films that I considered especially foreign. In truth, this year’s selection of short films is only one-quarter American. The rest come from a healthy spread of Canada, France, Belgium, Germany, U.K., Switzerland and Sweden. And this is pretty normal for The Animation Show of Shows; last year’s selection included many of those places as well as Norway, Latvia, South Korea, Scotland, Russia, and Israel.
We already know the American perspective (for better and worse), so it’s crucial as artists that we consider the perspective of our creative neighbors. The Animation Show of Shows is an excellent way to bridge that gap, and it’s probably one of the best that Cogswell has to offer its students currently.
On the topic of Motivation
One of the most common questions I’ve heard students ask is “How do you motivate yourself [as an artist]?” Unfortunately, I’ve yet to discover a universal answer. I have found, however, that watching short films is a pretty good answer.
See, part of why The Animation Show of Shows is so important for Cogswell (and creators in general) is because art fuels art. As artists, we take inspiration from the creations of others, either through a recognition of their methods or appreciation for their end product, or possibly through some element that happens to resonate with you. Short films represent bursts of creativity, and the advantage of The Animation Show of Shows comes from having a rather wide arrangement of films (often between 12-18 films). Additionally, thanks to people like Ron Diamond, the selection is expertly curated and assembled from enormous swaths of films, guaranteeing what you see is among the best and brightest, or at least well put together. As personal observations go, I notice that each year’s batch has a fairly healthy balance of both light and heavy tones, creating a wonderful mixture of comedies and tragedies.
When you watch something like The Animation Show of Shows, it’s almost assured that you won’t enjoy every film shown ,but it’s also nearly assured that you’ll absolutely love at least one. In this relationship, the positives outweigh the frustrations; if even one film completely blows your mind, it’s worth watching eleven other films that were probably decent at the very least. Often, the odds of epiphany are much more favorable than what I’ve described.
This year had a total of 16 films. Of those 16, I think I only disliked one or two. The rest were either good or great, and three others completely blew my mind: The Burden, Dear Basketball, and Hangman – a digitally remastered film from 1961. I was overcome at how much Hangman was able to convey with such stark animation, favoring masterful illustrations over fluidity in a way that actually empowered the oppressive lingering the film slung over its shoulder as a central theme. I was utterly delighted at how sweet and sincerely Dear Basketball portrayed a story of love, and from a wonderfully unexpected source. I was devastated by the remnants of The Burden, which has more to say about the hardships of the soul and the nature of being insatiable than I have room to cover in this article.
Regardless of which films strike you the hardest, what matters is that they all strike hard. For the last four years, I’ve walked away from each Animation Show of Shows with roughly the same plethora of emotions – excitement, shock, and a degree of passion. Every year, usually the day after, my first thought is, “I want to make something like that.”
The Catalyst of Creation
At the heart of The Animation Show of Shows lies this concept I value called “The Catalyst of Creation”. It’s something you experience, often an aspect of art or reality, that propagates the inception of a new idea. To put it simply, it’s something that makes you want to create. It’s the start of inspiration.
Consistently after every Animation Show of Shows, I’ve been inspired by the work of others. I see the amazing things they do and use the intensity of my reaction to kickstart my creative nature. Sometimes, it only takes a well-told story to convince you to make your own. I’ve written my fair share of stories, but I think my best ones were driven by the heart of some of these films. These screenings for me, along with a majority of short films by Pixar and Disney, create such a powerful wellspring of thought, exposure and motivation that continue to fuel my creative ambitions constantly. At their worst, they provide me a love and appreciation of animation as a creative medium. At their best, I’m breaking out a pencil to draw gestures in the park, or typing up a cool new story idea that just came to mind.
As an added benefit, this exposure also fueled the drive to find other films not included and seek them out, both short and long. Anime is nice and all, but Europe is quietly revolutionizing the world of animation and it’s a shame we tend to miss it.
I think it’s important not to miss events like this at Cogswell (especially since they’re free). It’s essential for all artists to paint from a large palette, a wide selection of options and tools. In times like these, maybe consider spending 90 minutes of your day to gather the ideas that empower an entire year. It’s only been four years for Cogswell, but I can’t imagine our school without The Animation Show of Shows. We should continue to welcome them with open arms; every year they offer the finest works of our peers and bring the catalyst of creation to the forefront for students of all disciplines.
If you missed the show at Cogswell, there will be plenty of other screenings in the future, including San Francisco and Oakland in December.
More information can be found on their website: https://www.animationshowofshows.com/
Additionally, many of these films can be freely found on YouTube and Vimeo.
So get out there and find something that inspires you: