“Animation is a nice world, not like the horrible world of film”

Romania does not have animators. Or, in any case, it has too few of them, and they are not properly trained. This problem is more than obvious for anybody who has taken a quick glance at the Romanian competition section in the Anim’est festival, populated, mostly, by experiments made by amateurs- not to mention, if you were to look for Romanian animation anywhere outside of Anim’est, you would, most likely, be left wanting. But enough about this, I said to myself. So I went to „Start me up”, a discussion panel at the London International Film Festival (LIAF) to hear about the problems of others, too: for instance, the UK has a lot of animators, all talented and well trained – more than it can find use for, actually.

The setting chosen for the debate, however, a corner in a big electronics shop on Regent Street, awakened in me a feeling that is well known to us, Romanian animation lovers: the feeling that our field of interest is a very small niche, of no importance to serious people, and, therefore, that we must feel very grateful for anything we can get. While somewhere behind us, in a futuristic-looking showroom, clients were swarming amongst monitors and gadgets with many buttons, a few animation industry professionals were chatting to a small number of interested people, including yours truly.

The hosting organisation, Animate Projects, used to fund experimental and independent British animation shorts back in the day; last year, their state funding was cut (cartoonbrew.com/shorts/england-axes-funding-for-animation), so they now have to resort to online crowdfunding to be able to support their website and archive – perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining about the fact that they didn’t find a better venue for the debate, then. (Another issue on which we, Romanians, can empathize with the Brits: wherever they are, artists are poor.)

The speaking guests, two young animation graduates and independent animators, Phoebe Boswell and Joseph Pelling,, Susi Wilkinson, animation lecturer at the London College of Communication, and Claire Spencer Cook, producer at Nexus Interactive Arts, were there to give us some pointers on how to start an animation career. The mission proved to be a difficult one, as their advice was often contradictory: for example, it was said that it is not a good idea to post your work online in its entirety, because you should be submitting it to festivals, but then again, admitted Susi Wilkinson, we can’t deny that a project like “Simon’s Cat” achieved fame with no help from festivals whatsoever.

So, what to do? Well, do what you can to stand out from the crowd of animation graduates that are going on the job market. “We had instances of candidates bringing pizzas to everyone at the interview and try to get a foot in the door this way”, the Nexus representative told us. (I’d be curious to know if the trick was successful. Who doesn’t like pizza?) A slightly saddening idea that perspired from the discussion was that even though the UK has a great talent pool, the best chance for them is to leave for America, where they get swallowed by big studios. It’s no coincidence that someone asked: how do we start a studio like Pixar? and not: how do we start a studio like Aardman? even though Aardman is just as prestigious, if maybe not as financially successful. But not every studio can be a commercial recipe for success like Pixar, and they don’t even have to be: such uniformity would be boring, tragic even. Unlike Romania, Great Britain has the talent, as well as the tradition of an animation industry, but it risks turning the latter into an endangered species for economic reasons. (bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts)

In the end, the most useful guidelines came from the Nexus producer, who was able to offer a more detached perspective, not being an animation creator herself- like the suggestion that you should always test the story of your film with others and, if the people who don’t get it are very numerous, perhaps your idea is too complicated for its own good. (I wish this phrase could be printed on a poster and given away for free to all filmmakers whose work is too deliberately artsy). The British producer opined that an animation degree is not the beginning and end of it all and said she had no problem employing a self-taught person, as long as they can show a very good reel (this sounds encouraging for the amateur animators of Romania, myself included). In fact, the main role of an animation school is networking, but you can network on your own as well: if you know someone you’d like to work with, try giving them a call- most of the time, people will at least talk to you once. “Animation is a nice world, not like the horrible world of film”, said Claire Spencer Cook. (And Phoebe Boswell added that the world of Fine Art, from which she comes, is quite harsh as well.)

The most important thing, however, and something that I’ve heard from all participants: animation is a collaborative art. A question from the audience was “What’s more important, having a great narrative or having great technical skills?” “Depends what you want to do, and what you’re good at”, replied the producer (even though the young independent animators were quick to point out that they value storyline more). When animated films in Romania will start being made with more resources than just one person working on their home computer, perhaps then we will begin to have reasons for questions like :“The industry, where is it heading?”, but not a second sooner.

Photo: cargocollective.com