It’s glamorous, exciting, star-studded and a festival. Oozing world premieres and expected to boast its highest attendance figures ever, the biannual International Animation Festival opens on May 27 and runs until June 1.
But, it’s not in Cannes, Las Vegas or L.A. It’s in rainy old Cardiff, Wales.
It started in 1965 in Cambridge as an initiative devised by academics in the animation business (including star animator Bob Godfrey, who will be there this year). In 1989, it moved to animation center Bristol before a further short hop up the road took the event to Cardiff in 1992.
‘It’s to do with venue size,’ says festival director Fran Barlow, who takes up the role for the first time this year. ‘They were turning people away in Bristol, because the festival was so popular and we needed bigger screening venues.’
Barlow’s background is in events and marketing, rather than animation, and her arrival has signified a change in structure for the organization of this year’s event. Three years at Granada Television in international marketing and three years at the MIDEM organization have given her the administrative expertise to pull in the sponsorship and funding necessary to stage the event.
The animation festival is run as a charitable non-profit organization and fundraising activities (such as sponsorship, and Barlow’s innovation, an Animation Expo) are aimed at covering the costs of staging the event.
‘We need the support of the industry to continue,’ she says. ‘Getting sponsorship is always tough, but the Expo seems to have been a great success. In ’94, we had a few software companies present, but my background is in expos and I felt we had a need for a bigger space. We’ve filled the Cardiff International Arena with companies like Avid Parallax and Cambridge Animation systems.’
Animation Expo also features Disney exhibiting merchandising, the prospect of Internet surfing and Softimage computer animation software. It reflects the changing face of the animation industry.
‘There has been a phenomenal growth in animation over the last 10 years,’ explains Barlow, ‘and there is now a far greater focus on technology.’
Tackling the thorny issue of computers versus cels head-on, she says she believes that technological expertise isn’t taking over, ‘but it d’es play a role a good role so we’ve got to say, ‘this is what’s available and it’s a help, not a hindrance.”
A self-confessed animation novice (‘although I’ve learnt a lot in the last year’), Barlow hired four specialist programming heads to schedule the festival’s primary areas of interest: international animation, British animation, technology and children’s programming. Although there is a realization in the industry that animation isn’t just for children, says Barlow, the bulk is still directed at a young audience.
The festival attracted not only 1,200 delegates, but also 9,000 members of the public in 1994, and is expected to top that number this year with up to 2,000 delegates and 12,000 members of the public, with large showings expected from the Americans, Europeans and Australians.
To keep the numbers up, Barlow is keen to present plenty of public screenings and events alongside the seminars and presentations for the delegates.
Special public exhibitions include one by British producer Cosgrove Hall Films, the talent behind Danger Mouse, Noddy, Count Duckula and Oakie Doke, to celebrate the firm’s twentieth birthday. Featuring original models and sets, the show will also include a specially commissioned film in which the public will meet all the creators and producers at Cosgrove Hall and be introduced to Fantomcat, its new feline star.
Cosgrove Hall will be joined in the Expo by a Beatrix Potter exhibition, which will include cels and photos from the series, and the slightly less-classic Spitting Image team, who specialize in irreverent and satirical animation, and their eponymous puppet show.
‘Kids R Us a Children’s Day’ will feature specifically targeted sessions for children’s programs. International highlights for kids include screenings of restored versions of early animations Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia, master classes on the new Toy Story, and a sneak preview of Disney’s latest feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame with a technology expert on hand to explain what went into the making of the film.
Also from the U.S., Klasky Csupo children’s programming will include original footage of early Simpsons, Rugrats, Aahhh!! Real Monsters, Santo Bugito and Duckman. Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo built one of the most successful animation companies in the world from a spare bedroom and will present four British premieres and one world premiere (Igor Kovalyov’s Bird on a Window).
And to celebrate the Centenary of Cinema, an international jury consisting of Giannalberto Bendazzi (Italy), John Canemaker (U.S.), Clare Kitson (U.K.), Joachim Kreck (Germany) and Michel Ocelot (France) has selected a program of all-time animation favorites, including The Wrong Brothers and Duck Amuck.
No festival is complete without a retrospective (or two), and Cardiff is no exception. Europe’s answer to Tex Avery, Guido Manuli, is honored with screenings of his dark, short films and an extract from his 1990 feature Volere Volare.
Pilot Studio and Second Frog, two Russian animation studios, are the top, and the first privately owned, production companies in the country. They will present a look at their work since starting up in 1988.
Two In Memoriam stands will look at the work of Warner Bros.’ animator Friz Freleng (the man behind the Pink Panther title sequence) and British animator John Halas.
Respect is also being paid to MTV’s long-standing commitment to innovative animation and to commissioning new talent to produce its famed stings and idents. A session will feature a diverse assortment of the music channel’s recent short films and stings, as well as acknowledging its important role in breeding newcomers to the industry.
An international first comes with Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), who will present a one-off European preview of his feature film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story James and The Giant Peach as the opening film. Selick was a guest of the last festival in ’94 at the premiere of The Nightmare Before Christmas. (The organizers are particularly pleased with this coup as Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff, and maintained close roots there.)
British children’s animation is represented by the omnipresent, multi-Oscar winning Aardman Animation, also celebrating its 20th birthday this year.
Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park will be at the festival and screening A Close Shave and Creature Comforts (both Oscar winners), but also from Aardman is the new Wat’s Pig, aimed at a slightly older audience and a world premiere of new series Rex the Runt.
Kids screenings for the public will be introduced by the director of The Forgotten Toys, Graham Ralph. A mix of animation for kids will include Ann Vrombaut’s When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Tiger! (about a kitten who is fed up with being cute) and two episodes of Kevin, from another Oscar winner, Bob Godfrey.
Not forgetting the increasing popularity of adult animation, the programmers are making the point with ‘Animated Erotica,’ described by the festival as ‘a program of sex, seduction and sinful cels.’ Films screened (emphatically not in front of the children) will include Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood, Antoinette Starkiewicz’s Pussy Pumps Up, Wayne Traudt’s Penis Envy and a 9 1/2 Weeks spoof, Nine Seconds and a Half by Vincenzo Gionola. Strictly behind closed doors, of course.
The New Film and Best of World Animation program includes new work from all over the globe, including U.K. premieres for Quest (Germany), L’Alliance (France), Joy Street (U.S.), Oscar-nominated Chicken from Outer Space (U.S.), The End of the World in Four Seasons (Canada) and Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side (also from Canada).
‘I think it’s a good balance between British and international animation,’ Barlow says proudly. ‘The festival has two functions: to showcase British animation, but also to educate people in international animation. We’ve always had an educational philosophy.’
The National Film and Television School has trained a whole generation of award-winning animation directors such as Nick Park, Alison Snowden and David Fine, and will present a session called ‘Plasticine, Pencils or People,’ looking at the interaction between live action and animation film-making. It will include the work of up-and-coming students, and all the animators will take questions after screenings.
Animate! a British scheme, co-financed by Channel 4 and The Arts Council, that funds animators to realize experimental and non-commercial projects will present the new ideas, and talk about risks and the films that have resulted. Recently completed films Juke Box, 15th February and Scrutiny will be screened.
Turning to commercials ’30 Second Epic’ features two of the U.K.’s most respected animation directors, Jerry Hibbert and Graham Ralph, looking back at over 13 years of commercials produced at their award-winning studio, Hibbert Ralph Animation.
And ‘End of an Era’ takes a look at John Coates and his studio TVC one of the most popular and successful U.K. animation studios, which is to close in 1997. This program will look back over 30 years of TVC productions, such as its world-renowned collaborations with Raymond Briggs on The Snowman and When the Wind Blows. A question-and-answer session after the screenings will feature a panel including Briggs, author of the animated books on which the films are based.
Other TVC highlights include The Beatles’ classic animated feature Yellow Submarine and a recent adaptation of The Wind in the Willows.
Technological advice comes from keynote speaker Scott Ross, CEO of leading Hollywood digital special effects company Digital Domain, and formerly of ILM.
Disney’s Ed Ghertner will talk about the firm’s computerized animation system and its impact on the ubiquitous Disney features. Newcomer to the fray DreamWorks SKG is sending Dylan Kohler to talk about how he built the Digital Animation DreamMachine, and David Fine gives an animator’s view of the system, used to develop Bob’s Birthday from Oscar-winning short to series.
New media for animation is a development area and two sessions examine the options for where the product can go. ‘Animating the Net’ looks at the technologies getting it moving and shows how distributors are using it as a showcase, with speakers from Apple and Animation World Network.
‘Multimedia for Animators’ is a primer on multimedia and computer games, emphasizing what producers need from animators and what they, in turn, have to offer.
A celebration of Welsh animation is particularly appropriate in Cardiff. Two programs will reveal the diverse range of talented animators based in Wales: one in Welsh and one in English including Michael Mort and Deiniol Morris’ popular Goggs.
‘It’s good to be in Cardiff, because it is such a center of animation in the U.K.,’ says Barlow. And, the local council has been generous with sponsorship.
But one of the aims of the festival is to join with other animation events. Barlow is particularly keen to work with the British Animation Awards, which relaunched in ’95 and is currently based in London, to present a more united front for animators both here and abroad. Although the Cardiff festival is traditionally non-competitive, there will be a screening of the ’95 British Animation Award winners on the closing night.
‘There may be a possibility of combining the events,’ says Barlow. ‘I will be speaking to the organizers of the BAA to discuss it, although nothing has been talked about yet. I wanted to show the winners, because the international visitors won’t have seen the awards.
‘It would be nice to have one huge week in everyone’s diary,’ she adds, ‘to say come to Cardiff and get animated!’