The View from Venice
Deep explorations of the top visual-effects and animated movies mark the German event’s 20th anniversary. By Tom McLean.
ew places are as idyllic as Venice, which is perhaps why it’s the ideal real-world locale from which to let animation launch a voyage from historic Israel to fictional Tracy Island of Thunderbirds fame.
The 18th edition of Cartoons on the Bay, set for April 16-18 in the iconic Italian city, continues its tradition of exploring the depths of animation from all corners of the world.
Israel is the guest country of this year’s festival, with the Pulcinella Career Award going to Albert Hanan Kaminski, director of the 1995 animated feature The Real Shlemiel, based on a novel by Jewish Nobel Prize-winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Born in Brussels in 1950 to a Jewish family, Kaminski moved at age 20 to Israel, where he worked on a farm community and began studying graphic arts. A graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, he also studied at the Rijksakademie of Amsterdam and produced in 1981 his first short, The Pink and the Grey.
In the early 1980s, he began working in Israeli children’s programming and began a long cooperation with the Children’s Television Workshop that saw him develop an Israeli and a Palestinian version of Sesame Street.
Living in Paris in the 1980s, he worked on many TV series and was mentored by famed French animator Paul Grimault. The suc- cess of The Real Shlemiel led him to direct more features and TV series, including Pettson and Findus. He lives in Tel Aviv and is working on a new feature, titled Being Solomon.
Kaminski will serve on the international jury at Cartoons on the Bay, along with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti of Italy; American visual-effects artist Anthony LaMolinara; RAI Com president Costanza Esclapon; and Sophie Boé, head of children’s co-productions and presales for Canal Plus in France.
The competition will present honors in eight categories: TV series for preschoolers, TV series for children, TV series for tweens, educational and social work, TV pilot, advertising and promotional work, interactive animation and short film. More films, including an Italian preview of The Book of Life, will screen out of competition.
Additional special awards will be given for best character, best European work and best soundtrack. The professional program offers three days of panels, presentations and awards, and will open the proceedings with a screening of Nyosha, an animated short film from Israeli filmmaker Liran Kapel.
Other presentations range from a look at women in animation, licensing, and animation in Italy to company-specific spotlights from Toon Boom, Nickelodeon, ITV Studios, Mad Entertainment and Cartoon Network.
The program also offers the Pitch Me! contest. This year’s event will be juried by director Guido Manuli, director Roberto Recchioni and writer Cinzia Leone.
The conference will present additional honors to Graphilm Entertainment, as Italian Studio of the Year; DreamWorks Animation and ITV Studios each will be honored as International Studio of the Year. Receiving Pulcinella Special Awards this year: • Sylvia Anderson is best known to animation fans as a voice artist, producer and costume designer on the many iconic British animated series she created with her husband, Gerry Anderson, including Thunderbirds, Supercar, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Stingray. She most famously voiced Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds, which is being relaunched this year as a CG-animated series from ITV Studios.
• Marty O’Donnell is an American composer, audio director and sound designer best known for his work on the video-game franchise Halo.
• Anthony LaMolinara is a visual-effects artist who won an Oscar for his work at Sony Pictures Imageworks on Spider-Man 2 and was nominated for an Oscar for work on Spider-Man. He also worked as an animator on the original Toy Story.
A trio of art exhibitions will run through the festival: Boom Boom, from Graphilm Entertainment; 50 Years of Thunderbirds, from ITV Studios; and Leo for Expo 2015, from Gruppo Alcuni. For more details on Cartoons on the Bay, visit www.cartoonsbay.com.
If you’re searching for a peek at the tech behind the top visual-effects and animation blockbusters of today and tomorrow, the 20th annual FMX conference in Germany is the best place to start. Set for May 5-8 at the Haus der Wirtschaft in Stuttgart, the multifaceted conference is offering in-depth looks into this year’s Oscar winners Interstellar and Big Hero 6, and is sure to have one of the hottest tickets in the industry with an early look at the rendering in Finding Dory, Pixar’s highly anticipated 2016 sequel to Finding Nemo.
FMX’s programming will explore a broad range of topics from stateof-the-art creative achievements to the best opportunities in the business. For the organizers, such programming is both representative of FMX’s mission and a celebration of 20 years of contributions to the fields of visual effects and animation.
“FMX has sought to offer an international platform for the industry to reflect its achievements and losses, and — above all — the opportunities that the future holds,” says FMX program chairman Jean- Michel Blottière, who is responsible for the overall composition of the program. “At FMX 2015, we therefore assemble luminaries that have contributed to FMX over the years and we look to the new innovations in the realm of immersion and virtual realities, the two intertwined themes that are already changing every aspect of film and media production worldwide.”
As in previous years, attendees can continue these conversations at the concurrent Animation Production Day, set for May 7 and 8, presented in partnership with the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film, which itself is running May 5-10.
Here’s the lowdown on the must-see events at FMX and its related events.
The only German market dedicated to animation, Animation Production Day has joined forces with Cartoon — European Association of Animation Film to qualify the top three presentations for participation in Cartoon Forum.
The move is designed to promote German production efforts at the conference, which will present 30 to 35 handpicked animation projects during its day and a half of programming.
This year’s event also adds a new half-day event called Producers Meet Producers. Aimed at animation producers, service producers and production service providers, this event focuses closely on the creation and production side of animation projects. The event offers one-to-one meetings in a relaxed atmosphere, providing opportunities to meet potential national and international coproduction partners.
The meat of the event is the APD Conference, which features case studies of groundbreaking projects and content briefing sessions that allow broadcasters and distributors to explain their current programming requirements.
Complementing the program are lunches and dinner events that provide additional networking opportunities.
The National Association of Broadcasters Show is focused heavily on broadcast technology, offering some 1,700 exhibitors to see in the relatively short span of four days — April 13-16 — at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
So, the question for people who work in animation or visual effects is how to boil it down to bypass the booths with network switchers and news van broadcast antennae and focus on the stuff that matters?
Your primary stops should be the big guys: Adobe ( booth SL5030), Autodesk ( booth SL3317), Maxon ( booth SL10405) and The Foundry ( booth SL6329). All of them should be making pretty big announcements at the show, and this is typically the time of year that Autodesk releases the most-recent update to its Media & Entertainment Suite.
Maxon had some exciting announcements back around SIGGRAPH, but they usually have very well-structured and informative demos. And The Foundry is going to be touting Nuke Studio hard because of its integration into a broadcast-centric pipeline.
Software tools for artists are probably going to be next on your list. Here are a few things to check out that can make your toolset more robust:
BorisFX ly acquired Imagineer Systems – the award-winning developer of the planar tracker, Mocha — so it will be making a big deal about that, on top of its huge libraries of effects for compositing. RE:Vision Effects ( booth SL5807) will be revealing GPU acceleration for Twixtor and Reel Smart Motion Blur, which is available for most of the primary compositing tools such as Nuke and After Effects. We are retiming stuff all the time nowadays, and if something can help speed that up, then it’s definitely worth checking out. I’m intrigued by ThatStudio ( booth SL6106). They have a suite of effects and editing tools, but they also have a countdown on their website with the statement, “Something amazing is coming … ” So, color me curious. Other software developers to visit are mainly plug-in developers and such. Digital Anarchy ( booths SL6005, SL6105) is the home of Knoll Lens Flare and Beauty Box – both staples in the visual effects artist toolkit.
Rampant Design Tools ( booth SL5706) provides a crazy amount of stock clips of film and light effects at 2K, 4K and 5K. Thinkbox Software also will be there, talking about the new version of its render manager, Deadline, and Sequoia, a point-cloud mesher that is still in beta. But, you’ll have to make a special trip to their hospitality suite in the Renaissance Hotel.
For those of you who want to invest a bit more in your craft – or just like cool toys — there are a number of hardware exhibitors with some technological advances.
The most-recent addition from Blackmagic Design ( booth SL219) is Digital Fusion – which I guess is just called Fusion now. The company made waves by releasing a free version to the masses to be used for personal or indie level projects. I’m sure their booth will be pretty busy between that, the capture cards, the cameras and their DaVinci Color Grade suite.
Lightcraft Technology ( booth C6746) is all about optimizing workflow on productions, especially for very time constrained ones like for television. They have camera tracking systems, real-time compositing systems, and 3D rendering – all bundled into a package called Previzion. If they do have something setup at the show, the amount of technology working hand in hand is a wonder to behold.
As a seeming answer to Previzion, Motion Analysis ( booth SL2428) has evolved its motion-capture technology into a CamTrak solution to not only provide real-time compositing,
Iknow, this doesn’t seem like a very “animation” centric product, but it kind of is. As filmmakers, we have new equipment coming out every time you turn around. So sometimes tools like this may just help make your next viral video shot on a GoPro.
The SteadiCam Curve by Tiffen is a gimbaled counter-weight system designed to be used with GoPro Heroes. While it’s not as fancy as a full-blown SteadiCam, it functions in a similar fashion. The handle separates your own motions from the camera – adding a buffer of sorts. This gives the camera a much more fluid motion. This is important for animators because we want to try and avoid all that shaking and jittering, especially with the notoriously Jell- O-y rolling shutter of a GoPro.
I found the setup to be incredibly easy and I was up and running in minutes. But don’t expect to be a pro just because you have a new toy. Like anything, the control of the Curve takes a bit of practice and a lot of finesse. The touch is delicate, so like those posture exercises for etiquette where we see women walking with books on their heads, the Curve wants some grace from the user. Once you get it down, there is no comparison between the footage from a straight handheld GoPro and one mounted on a Curve.
If you like to incorporate your visual effects into live-action footage, but don’t have access to a full-app DSL or Red or something, the cost of entry with a GoPro isn’t bad. And if you already have a GoPro, you can find the Curve for as low as $ 80.
Full disclosure: GoPro footage isn’t ideal for visual-effects work, but once you get the hang of the foibles, it is great for found footage visual effects. Todd Sheridan Perry is a visual- effects supervisor and digital artist who has worked on features including The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Speed Racer and Avengers: Age of Ultron. You can reach him at todd@ teaspoonvfx.com.
TThe largest toon-centered event in the United States brings the Northwest Animation Festival — its biggest show ever — to Portland and Eugene, Ore.
he Pacific Northwest has earned a reputation both stateside and abroad for a vibrant creative community, welcoming attitude and less-than-ideal weather. But as Portland, Ore., celebrates its third year as home to the largest animation-focused festival in the United States this month, the region is looking to claim another sobriquet unrelated to any Portlandia skits.
This year marks the fifth annual Northwest Animation Festival ( nwanimationfest.com), running May 4-10 in Portland with encore screenings May 15-17 in Eugene. The weeklong event at the historic Hollywood Theatre will screen 176 films — and, for the first time, features, including Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea. The shorts were selected from more than 1,400 submissions from roughly 60 countries by an international jury connected by a built-from-scratch system.
“Much of our success stems from a decision to let filmmakers submit their work for free,” says festival director Sven Bonnichsen. In year three, NWAF moved to a hybrid system with a free “early-bird” submission period followed by a fee-required period. Despite the addition of fees, that year saw the amount of films submitted increase by three and a half times the previous year’s, necessitating the worldwide, hundred-person jury. “Everything we do has this do-it-yourself ethic.”
Bonnichsen, who in founding this homegrown festival has perfectly melded his experience working with local nonprofits and his passion for stop-motion animation, was initially inspired by 2007’s Platform event. A lack of funding shut down Platform after its triumphant debut as the largest animation festival in U.S. history. “I’ve approached ( NWAF) as if it were a grass-roots political campaign: building up our community of indie animation artists and enthusiasts one person at a time.”
This year’s event, the biggest ever, will kick off with three days of guest shows, retrospectives and specially curated selections. On Thursday, the Northwest scene will be celebrated with the Oregon Animation Industry Showcase, which will spotlight Portland-area studios like Bent Image Lab and local freelancers. Friday through Sunday will offer immersive, four-hour marathon screenings of international shorts, and the weekend’s afternoons will be split between Saturday’s “Family Friendly” program and the ever popular “Strange & Sexy” show on Sunday — the perfect Mother’s Day treat for the rugrat-free set.
“We approach creating this festival with the idea that it is foremost being produced by animators for the benefit of other animators … We want to share the best work of our peers with the broader audience of animation enthusiasts, and then go even further, enticing the general filmgoing public,” says Bonnichsen. “Animation is one of the youngest art forms — festivals are a crucial part of capturing its history as it happens.”
Though the volume of responses means Bonnichsen has had to share the wealth by bringing in industry-savvy jurors to narrow down the programming, he still makes an effort to watch every film that comes in. This year, he’s noticed the increasing influence and artists’ mastery of digital painting techniques in 2D animation. He’s also noticed a pretty cynical thematic trend among filmmakers worldwide. His must-see picks?
“The genius of the best filmmakers is in finding a plausible exit out of impossible situations. Beach Flags by Sarah Saidan does this in a very literal way, telling the story of a young Iranian lifeguard who helps a peer escape an impending forced marriage.
“Other films make an impossible departure by breaking the rules of naturalistic illustration and storytelling. Cruising by Zachary Zezima, for instance, tells a basically mundane story about a young man who feels sensory overload while walking through the crowd of passengers on a cruise ship. Yet, with an overlay of psychedelic colors and abstractions, the telling becomes a mesmerizing exercise in synesthesia. As always, it is a delight to find films like this that can only be told via animation.”
Licensing Expo moves into the digital space and more global markets for its 35th edition, set for June 9-11 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Factor.
The Characters and Entertainment Zone of the show floor features booths representing brands from such wellknown animation companies as Aardman Animations, DreamWorks Animation, The Jim Henson Co., Masha and the Bear Ltd., Paramount Pictures, The Pokemon Co. Intl., Tezuka Productions, Toei Animation Co., VIZ Media and Zag America.
Owned and organized by UBM Advanstar and sponsored by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association ( a.k. a. LIMA), Licensing Expo this year expands its presence into both the digital space and into more international markets with new programming and features.
With more than one-third of show attendees now coming from outside the United States, Licensing Expo has increased its international focus to deliver a more global experience for both exhibitors and attendees.
Brands from more than 35 countries will be represented on the show floor. For 2015, Licensing Expo will host new pavilions and in- creased representation from countries including Mexico, India, China, Japan and the United Kingdom.
These new international exhibitors join a growing list of global companies and featured pavilions that include Brazil and Korea, with China and Japan significantly expanding their footprint at the 2015 show.
Held in conjunction with LIMA’s Licensing University, the Digital Media Licensing Summit is a first-of-its kind program that creates a bridge between the manufacturers and retailers of licensed products and the world’s most suc- cessful and popular digital-media companies and stars.
The inaugural summit features exhibitors from the digital content world, as well as a full day of programming on June 8, which features a number of keynotes and panels focusing on new business opportunities that leverage the tectonic shift in young consumers’ media habits toward digital platforms and stars.
Discussions with high-level stars and executives will explore the future of licensing in multiple categories. All of these programming elements and exhibits were specifically created to bring these two worlds closer together, and foster the development of new licensing partnerships.
The conference features an opening keynote panel focusing on the future of retail. Panelists include Dow Famulak, president of Global Brands Group; Lisa Harper, CEO of Hot Topic; Mike Fitzimmons, CEO of Delivery Agent; and Richard Barry, executive VP and chief merchandising officer for Toys R Us. Marty Brochstein, senior VP of LIMA, will moderate.
Licensing University offers everyone from newcomers to industry veterans the chance to dig into topics such as “How Kids View Brands Globally ... and Locally,” “Royalty Rate Trends” and “Tapping into the Power of the U.S. Hispanic Consumer.” The program runs over three days and requires purchase of a Licensing University pass at registration. Details on registering for or exhibiting at Licensing Expo can be found online at www.licensingexpo.com.
As an independent animator, there is no limit to your potential earnings, if you have the right plan. On the other side of the coin, however, if you are just starting out or struggling, you may not know where your next paycheck is coming from or when it may arrive. Being independent provides the unique opportunity to have complete control over your goals, plans and destiny, so it’s your personal and professional responsibility to make them amazing.
Instead of eking by, scrambling to pay the bills and accepting any and every toxic client that comes your way just to try and make ends meet, how would it feel to boost your profits by 20 percent? Fifty percent? What about doubling your income this year?
Once you break down the apparent enormity of doubling your income into simple concepts, you will realize it’s much more attainable than you thought, involves somewhat obvious strategies ( once realized) and requires only simple math equations. Believe it or not, in some cases doubling your income may not even require additional work. This being the case, what’s holding you back? Here are three simple approaches that you can start now:
Option one: Double your rates. This may sound obvious if not impractical, but you may be surprised how much more money quality clients are willing to pay above and beyond what you think they are willing to pay. Most independent professionals undercharge their services because they think it increases the chance of landing more projects. What this does in actuality is overload you with small projects and cheap clients that will try to nickel and dime you to death, thereby keeping you overwhelmed producing work at cut-rate prices. Doubling your rates overnight for existing long-time clients will certainly cause unfriendly waves, so the best approach for this option is to send notice to your existing clients of a future rate increase (test the waters, but I suggest keeping the increase mild, under 25 percent), while doubling your rates for all new clients.
For example, one of my clients who had been running a moderately successful business for over 10 years made absolutely no changes other than doubling his prices and he achieved record sales that very same year and, more importantly, record profits. He offered the exact same product and the exact same service, doubled his prices, doubled his earnings and even gained more new clients than he lost.
Option two: Double your projects. If you produce twice the amount of projects without raising your rates, you will double your income. To do this, you can either pitch and land twice as many projects with your current client list, or you can land twice as many new clients. In reality, this option will probably end up being a mix of the two — more projects with existing clients plus acquiring new clients.
If you choose to double your projects, keep in mind that you will also need to double your labor to cover the new projects. If this is more than you can handle alone, subtract the amount of money you will need to pay independent contractors to produce the additional work and increase the target number of additional projects you will need to land to compensate for this expense.
Again, this approach may sound fairly obvious, but so few people ever come to this realization, set this specific goal or put it on paper.
Option three: Hybrid approach. This is probably the most realistic and feasible approach for those of you who commit to doubling your income this year. Your plan will more than likely involve a blend of option one and option two. If you already are making a very hefty rate for your work, I would recommend focusing more on option two than option one. If you already are overloaded with more projects than you can handle, I would strongly recommend focusing much more on option one than option two. In this case, it might benefit you greatly to purge some of the high maintenance/ low- paying clients in your roster and seek only new, professional clients that are more than happy to pay your new rate.
If you are serious about skyrocketing your earnings as an independent, choose an option listed above, plug in your own numbers, commit to it and don’t look back. Breaking this goal down into simple steps and even simpler math, you may find that doubling your income is easier and more attainable than you ever imagined. Martin Grebing is an award-winning animation writer/director/producer, small business consultant and president of Funnybone Animation, a boutique studio that produces animation for a wide range of clients and industries. He can be reached via funnyboneanimation.com.