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Wendy Tilby's When the day breaks wins at Cannes.

IN a city inhabited by cop dogs, rabbit storeclerks and crooning cows, a happy pig named Ruby greets the new day by bursting into song. A little later, she accidentally bumps into a fastidious chicken at the corner market and finds herself emotionally unprepared to handle her response to an accident that happens on the street just a few moments later. After some soul-searching and a little trip down memory lane, Ruby--a little wiser after her brush with tragedy--recovers her sunny disposition.

One could certainly envision this scenario coming to life in the familiar animation style of Disney; after all, for decades, cartoon animals that burst into song have been the famous studio's stock in trade. But in the hands of Wendy Tilby, an award-winning Canadian animator, the scenario becomes a completely different beast. When the Day Breaks, which Tilby codirected with Amanda Forbis, is a 10-minute animated short that beautifully articulates truths about human existence, expressed through music, humour and innovative animation techniques developed by the directors. Produced by the National Film Board, the film marks the first collaboration between Tilby and Forbis. The two Alberta natives became friends in 1985 while studying at Vancouver's Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and now both live in Montreal.

Completed in April, When the Day Breaks has already earned the codirectors two feathers for their collaborative cap. In May, Tilby and Forbis travelled to France to attend the 52nd Cannes International Film Festival, where their film won the prestigious Palme d'or for Best Short Film, as well the International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, the most important festival showcase and competition for independent animators. "We're thrilled to be going to Cannes, although to be honest, it's not as animation friendly as Annecy and other smaller festivals. It's another world altogether," Tilby says. "You work so hard on animation that you go into your own world and you start thinking `what am I doing this for?' It can seem like such an insane thing to do. But then, if you're lucky enough to get your film into a few festivals, especially animation or short film festivals, you get hooked into the little network of the animation world and, at least for a few days, you feel that you're not alone."

When the Day Breaks is Tilby's second animated short for the NFB. After seeing her 1986 graduating project, the seven-minute Table of Contents (which was programmed at a few international film and animation festivals), the NFB invited Tilby to join its Montreal animation studio to develop her next film. "Everything was opening up then and the Film Board was very active in encouraging younger filmmakers," Tilby recalls. "Anybody who goes into animation reveres the Film Board, so for me it was an adventure to move to Montreal and become part of an instant community. I was given the resources and the time to do exactly what I wanted to do creatively."

Strings, Tilby's first NFB short, is a perfect example of the animation studio's long-standing tradition, which supports innovation, thematic exploration and artistry--in other words, quality over quantity. Completed in 1991, Strings won awards at several prestigious festivals and received both a Genie Award and an Oscar nomination. Using the same painstaking technique as she employed in her student film, Table of Contents, Tilby essentially created a moving painting for Strings. "I used watercolour mixed with glisterine, which I kept wet so I could manipulate it. So you're making a wet painting on a piece of glass under the camera. You continually manipulate one image into the next and literally repaint a character in a slightly different position while you're taking a frame of film. You have no artwork when you're finished," she explains. "The simplicity is appealing. If you goof up you have to keep going, which does create some anxiety when you're waiting for the film to come back from the lab. For a perfectionist, it's a great technique to help prevent you from doing things over and over again."
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Author:Punter, Jennie
Publication:Take One
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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