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Richard Condie

Director, Producer, Screenwriter, Animator, Composer
(b. January 1, 1942 Vancouver, British Columbia)

Richard Condie is one of Canada’s most eccentric, and celebrated and internationally recognized, animators. His career as a director, writer, composer and musician began with a penchant for privacy, decades of “fooling around” (or doodling) on paper and a Canada Council grant. By the time he was in his late twenties and living in Winnipeg, Condie had tried his hand at teaching, social work, musical performance and astrophysics. In 1977, when he was in his mid-30s, he applied for government money to make Oh Sure (1977), which exemplifies the now classic Condie scenario — men who make fools of themselves in their efforts to impress one another. More than a quarter of a century and 10 animated works later, this auteur has earned two Oscar nominations and dozens of awards from around the world for his daring and comically dark personal parables.

His move to Winnipeg proved to be fortuitous: while he was developing his skill as an animator, the National Film Board opened its Winnipeg studio. In 1978, the NFB commissioned Condie to make the short film John Law and the Mississippi Bubble. The studio, with Condie and fellow artists such as Cordell Barker, came together to create a significant chapter in the history of Canadian animation: a movement later identified as Manitoba Animation. It was a heady time. As Take One’s Essential Guide to Canadian Film offers, “During the 1970s and 1980s, Condie and fellow NFB animators Cordell Barker and Brad Caslor created cheeky, off-the-wall work, fully in keeping with the independent films made at the same time by Winnipeg filmmakers Guy Maddin and John Paizs.”

With the release of Getting Started (1979), a film with no dialogue, Condie won wide praise and six international awards. The film reflected his frustrations with procrastination. (Ironically, Condie, who is known as a recluse, often creates films that are semi-autobiographical.) As author Gene Walz writes in Cartoon Charlie, his book on animation, “Condie's films have always been true auteur films, perhaps more so than any other animator, he puts his own experiences in his work.”

His films inspire words like "wacky," "weird," "bizarre" and "insane." In Cartoon Capers (1999), a history of Canadian animation, Karen Mazurkewich describes his unique visual style: “In graphic terms, it could be billed as a National Film Board genetic experiment gone wonky: mutations of the buggy-eyed, bulbous-nosed characters favoured in the 1960s. Cock-eyed and orthodontist-needy, Condie’s characters are the creative manifestation of cabin fever.” Combining savage wit with genuine compassion, Condie tackles themes of human inadequacy, especially our inability to learn from past mistakes — and he’s obsessed with environmental crises.

The Big Snit (1985) is Condie’s most famous film, an Academy Award nominee and winner of 16 international awards. It features a couple whose domestic habits are as warped as their facial features. And, yet, they are recognizably ordinary, squabbling throughout a game of Scrabble and then making up. They are caught up in their own little world, oblivious to the nuclear holocaust that has rained down on the world outside.

With La Salla (1996) came Condie’s second Oscar nomination and a shift from cell animation to computer-generated animation. Condie calls it “computer animation in opera form.” It’s the story of a boy and his play world, a room full of wonderful toys, and an inviting door that leads to another world. It’s a tale of temptation — the boy’s weakness is as common as what plagued Pandora. Condie says the film resonates with his temptation to fiddle with the countless options available in computer animation.

In 2002, Condie created The Ark (also known as The Apocalypse), a made-for-TV half-hour program with Toronto-based Nelvana, Canada's leading animation producer. The story centres around a man who builds a nuclear-resistant ark that shelters him and his family from the war and pestilence destroying the world around them.

In addition to his work as a director and writer, Condie has contributed to the films of fellow Winnipeg artists as a narrator, singer and musician. As Karen Mazurkewich reports in Cartoon Capers, “The camaraderie among Prairie artists is exceptional. This may be due in part to the simple fact that most of the films were scored, recorded and mixed in the basement of Wayne Finucan, a former drummer for the Canadian band The Guess Who.... As a result, a small community of artists contributed to the films.”

Film and video work includes

Sesame Street, 1974-1975 (director; writer; TV)
Oh Sure, 1977 (director)
A House on the Prairie, 1978 (music)
John Law and the Mississippi Bubble, 1978 (director; animator)
Day Dream, 1979 (music)
Getting Started, 1979 (director; writer; animator)
The Top Few Inches, 1979 (music)
Darts in the Dark: An Introduction to W.O. Mitchell, 1980 (music)
W.O. Mitchell: Novelist in Hiding, 1980 (music)
Pig Bird, 1981 (director, writer, animator)
Everyone's Business, 1982 (music)
Heart Land, 1987 (co-director with Norma Bailey; writer; animator)
Another Government Movie, 1988 (director)
Ocean of Wisdom from CBC's Man Alive, 1989 (music; TV)
The Apprentice, 1991 (director; writer; animator; producer)
Another Government Movie, 1992 (director)
La Salla, 1996 (director; writer; animator; producer)
The Ark series, 2002 (director; animator; TV)

By: Kay Armatage