Coast cartoonist’s work seen at world film fests

A Gibsons-based animation studio is getting some international attention in the field of children’s cartoons.

The Animation Playground (TAP) has a number of short, animated films in circulation. Among them is The Forest and The Trees, a six-minute film selected as an entry in five 2020 animation festivals, including the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival, which ended Jan. 3. The studio’s “micro-short” film – the 39-second Viral Love – was a winner in the Animation/Stop Motion category at the Berlin Flash Film Festival last August.

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TAP, launched in 2016, is a three-person company, led by animator, illustrator, and graphic designer Choom Lam, who’s lived in Gibsons for six years with her husband, Oliver Sterczyk, a clinical psychologist and a producer on the films. Rounding out the team is Dewi Minden, a Toronto-based composer and TAP’s musical director.

“It’s very much a collaborative process,” Lam, 39, told Coast Reporter in an interview. “Oliver’s expertise is very much human relationships and experiences. When I come up with ideas to tell stories, he helps me keep an eye on the really deep, underlying themes. I’m interested in stories that resonate with people of all ages, but especially children.”

A TAP news release describes The Forest and The Trees as “a timely film, as it tackles multiple emotions that so many people are wrestling with today – fear, peace, anger, joy, grief and hope – with the ultimate message: whatever the feeling, you are okay.” The story and the animation are straightforward and uncomplicated. The main character in The Forest and The Trees is a colourful and carefree mushroom who wanders into a dark forest.

“In my films I don’t tend to use language, I use music,” said Lam, a graduate of Vancouver Film School. “They’re very simple, and it’s the kind of thing where even if you didn’t speak English, you could still watch the film and understand.”

Lam grew up in Singapore, and said that looking back, she believes she was drawn to cartoons for their universal appeal. “Being Asian, especially growing up in the 80s, there wasn’t very much representation of people who look like me on TV, so I always gravitated towards these characters that were more metaphorical. It’s something that I feel quite deeply about and I want to continue helping create that kind of content for people who still may not see themselves represented.”

When not working on TAP projects, Lam said she works remotely for Vancouver animation studios. Her animated films have been shown in festivals around the world, including the Reel Earth Environmental Film festival in New Zealand, the Northwest Film Festival of Seattle, the British Animation Film Festival in London, and the Animation Block Party in New York City, TAP’s release noted. The Forest and the Trees is also available in book form from lulu.com.

With the help of a grant from the B.C. Arts Council, the TAP team is working on a new project to be released later this year, co-written with husband Sterczyk and for which Minden is composing an orchestral score. “The film is a meditation on solitude, contemplating a theme of being ‘good enough,’ [with] the suggestion of embracing one’s imperfections and limitations,” said Lam. “The piece involves some experimental 3D animation techniques I am exploring, choreographed dance by a young Canadian dancer, Annika Buffam, which I am translating into animation.”

Many of the studio’s films have been posted on The Animation Playground’s website.

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