IT may have taken 10 months to painstakingly craft his seven-minute animated short Flutter in Photoshop (nope, not a typo), but for Howie Shia, the effort is paying off big-time. This past March, the young Toronto, Canada-based illustrator and artist became the first non-Japanese creator to win the Open Entries Grand Prix at the Tokyo Anime Fair. Not a bad showing, considering it was only his second work in the art form.
Flutter, a would-be urban fairytale about a boy and girl who realize they must abandon their friendship in order embrace their true callings, beat out 216 competitors hailing from 16 different countries. Shia says the idea germinated from a drawing of a boy with paper wings taped to his feet that he’d created while working with Canada’s National Film Board on his first project, a 30-second short called Ice Ages. The NFB liked his work so much that along with Bravo! Fact (an arts fund hatched by specialty broadcaster Bravo!) and his own PPF House, it put Flutter into production.
And the Photoshop? ‘Nobody recommends it, but I wanted [Flutter] to look as hand-drawn and gritty as possible,’ says Shia, adding that as an untrained animator, he’s ‘as close to being a Luddite as someone can be.’
Moving forward, Shia expects he’ll have to step up his tech knowledge. And along with keeping PPF (which he co-owns with musician brothers Tim and Leo) in commercial design, video and music work, he’s now developing a kids animated series and a children’s picture book.
Shia hasn’t pitched the series to potential co-pro partners or broadcasters yet, but he has been soliciting feedback from fellow animators working in Toronto. He envisions it as a 2-D animated show with an urban look and feel, focusing on a group of curious kids who explore the odder nooks and crannies of the world. ‘It’s sort of like an X-Files for children that mixes sci-fi, fantasy and mythology from different cultures around the world.’
The picture book is a bit further along. Waiting for Giants is a story about a young girl living in a small town who befriends an elderly puppeteer and helps him put on plays. The pair is charged with entertaining the townspeople at the Waiting for Giants event that takes place once every 10 years. Too young to remember the last event, the girl keeps wondering who the giants are and what it is, exactly, they do, and her curiosity drives the narrative.
As for the impact of winning the prestigious prize, Shia’s pretty humble. ‘I’ve just started talking to animators and companies that I met at the Fair,’ he says. ‘I have many, many business cards to follow up.’