TV industry event offers pitch, networking and educational opportunities.
For three days preceding and overlapping the Ottawa International Animation Festival, industry professionals from across Canada and the world will gather for a little pitching, a little networking and a whole lot of professional development at the Television Animation Conference.
Held at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel, this year’s TAC features keynote addresses from Tom Warburton, creator and director of Curious Pictures; Marc Landsberg, CEO of Social Deviant; Eric Coleman and Mike Moon, representing Walt Disney Television Animation; and Melissa Wolfe, development executive, kid’s programming at Amazon Studios.
Panels explore current animation industry issues such as preserving your company’s vision in a co-production deal; developing games into animation; exploring the evolu- tion of hit franchises like Dora the Explorer; how to generate leads and pitches; legal issues; and, of course, the brave new world of crowd-sourcing.
Two specialized programs are dedicated to the art of pitching: Fast Track, presenting an opportunity for private meetings with broad- casters, distributors and production companies; and Pitch THIS!, in which two ideas are chosen to get 10 minutes to be pitched to a panel of about 300 broadcasters and industry insiders, who will offer feedback.
Perhaps the most fun, though, happens at the networking and social events. This year’s events include: a Toon Boom Boat Cruise; TAC Nelvana Happy Hour; Big Jump Delegate Lounge; Delegate Networking Luncheons; Portfolio Entertainment Coffee Stations; and the ever-popular Animator’s Picnic.
Also, Nickelodeon will present an Art+Biz day, featuring pitch and portfolio reviews, a networking brunch and a keynote. Additionally, screenings of films from the festival will be presented for TAC attendees to get an early taste of the fun to come.
Few countries are as well positioned to take advantage of the growing demand for high quality animation and visual effects as Canada, and studios up north are definitely seeing the benefits.
“One of the reasons to work anywhere is the execution and results you get,” says Michael Hefferon, president of the Vancouver-based animation studio Rainmaker. “Canada has a long history of animation that’s been fostered a great deal by the support of the Canadian government with the tax-credit system, the support from the broadcasters, and the (Canada Media Fund) and other funding sources that allow Canada to compete on a global stage.”
And, especially for American companies, that’s just the start of the advantages to working with Canadians: they (mostly) speak English, there are no major timezone differences and they have a reliable economic, educational and technological infrastructure.
While instances of growth can be found all across the nation, animation and visual-effects work has pooled around several population centers. Vancouver has seen the biggest recent boom, especially in visual effects; while the long-standing animation traditions found in Toronto and Ottawa have expanded to Hamilton in Ontario and Montreal and Quebec City in Quebec. And on the east coast, Halifax has emerged as a growing center for animation work.
Made in the Maritimes
In Nova Scotia, the growth has developed around Halifax being home to the head offices of DHX Media, a major international producer of family entertainment and owner of a large library of content. The company, which has a preproduction studio in Toronto, in 2007 acquired established 2D animation house Studio B Productions in Vancouver.
Steven DeNure, president and COO of DHX Media Toronto, says Canada’s long tradition of producing animation as well as training animators and developing software has it perfectly positioned to meet the growing global demand for animated content.
“When you look around and you think about players like Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and toy companies like Mattel and Hasbro and Spin Master, there are a number of really important players who realize the power of animated content who are helping drive that demand for more content,” he says. “It’s an important change and difference from the environment of five or 10 years ago.”
DHX’s Halifax studio is working on a number of 3D animated series, including Doozers with Henson for Hulu, Poofenwish for Amazon Studios, Super Why! for PBS Kids and an upcoming reboot of Inspector Gadget.
Nova Scotia also is home to Halifax-based Copernicus Studios, which does service-based work for clients such as Disney, YTV, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Warner Bros.; and Dartmouth-based Huminah Huminah Animation, which has worked with Nelvana, Hasbro, Disney and Nickelodeon in a service capacity and also creates original productions.
Center of Tradition
Southern Ontario, including the Toronto area and Ottawa, has the oldest
Alphabet Stories follows YOUniverse, a similar series of animated interstitials for preschoolers that showcases space exploration and aired on TVO in March.
Victory Arts has signed up with Distribution 360, a Marble Media company, to distribute Alphabet Stories and YOUniverse. Hollo says Victory Arts also is interested in expanding both shows into longer formats about spelling, phonics reading and science.
The company also is on the tail end of development talks with TVO Kids about a long-format preschool series called Air Crafters that would be 52 11-minute episodes. Amberwood Entertainment ( Rob the Robot, Rollbots, Shutterbugs) is serving as executive producer for Air Crafters.
In the last few years, networks have gotten serious about fostering their internal creative cultures with the hopes of growing their next animated hit right in their own backyard. This is the ladder Patrick McHale climbed to get his 2D-animated miniseries Over the Garden Wall into production.
“I pitched an early incarnation of the show in 2006 before I’d even really worked in the industry,” says McHale. “It may have been a possible Halloween special at one point, but I had trouble adapting the series idea into one big stand-alone story.” McHale started out doing storyboards on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and when co-worker Penn Ward’s Adventure Time director, and later a writer.
“Cartoon Network asked me if I was interested in pitching any pilot ideas. I dusted off the old pitch bible, did some re-writing, and pitched it again. And they let me make it!”
The show follows two brothers, Wirt and Gregory, who find themselves lost in the woods and have to find their way back home through a mysterious world, getting into trouble and meeting strange characters along the way. McHale originally came up with the concept back in 2004 as a scarier, quest-style story.
Despite the worst-case-scenario pilot creation process — which saw McHale on the other side of the country from the studio, with a newborn and a busted septic system among other complications — he’s ended up with a dream experience, bringing his story to life and working with incredible talents. His No. 1 piece of advice for aspiring animators? “Be a nice person. Do a good job. Try really, really hard.”
Disney’s action-centric channel is prepping the ultimate in wish fulfillment toons with Jared Bush and Sam Levine’s Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, which follows a kid with the best job ever: zapping between dimensions to fill in for the heroes of those worlds and save the day in ever-changing ways.
and complex painted textures on 2D characters and a hand-drawn line. This has never been achieved in an animated feature, let alone a TV show. And we are doing it each week,” says Levine.
This is complicated by the ever-changing worlds and characters of the show, which has two 10½-minute stories per episode. “And, for each episode, there are an impossible amount of decisions that must be made all the time and they never stop,” adds Bush.
“What’s daunting is that all of those decisions feel like they are crucial to the series working. We’ll debate a word in a script, or the shade of green in a tiny logo on a background character’s shirt, or the type of piano used in a two-second music sting for hours, because we want it to ‘be right.’”
Luckily the pair has been in the industry long enough to know that the growing pains will wear off as the show goes on. They have more tips as well: “Don’t take the easy route. It’s tempting to settle on an idea or a story or a design just because you like it. But you can probably dig deeper; there is always a different solution, and usually a better one,” says Levine.
“But most importantly, don’t eat like a pig,” jokes Bush. “Most of the work you’ll be doing will be done in a chair. By the end of season one, you’ll be disgusting.”
Pirata & Capitano Millimages (France), Vodka Capital (Spain) Kids 6-8 | 52 x 11 Planets: The Greatest Show in the Universe Blue-Zoo Productions (U.K.) Kids 6-8 | 52 x 11 Scribe Wigglywoo (Ireland) Young Adults & Adults | 6 x 22 Squids Ellipsanime (France) Family | 52 x 13