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A Closer Look: Imagina Put In Danger

French authorities, through INA, the Audiovisual National Institute, have pulled their support of Imagina, the foremost European visual effects event. For 19 years, Imagina has served as the testing ground for new talents and technologies in Europe. In the past few years the event has drawn over 1,300 participants and 5,000 visitors, growing to fill venues in two cities. A group has been formed to save the festival, which many professionals cite as being a wonderful meeting place to not only exchange ideas but also network and make valuable production deals. Currently, over 650 people have signed the document urging INA not to back out of Imagina. INA and Imagina's history are intertwined and this sudden decision shows a radical change in direction. INA was founded in 1974 when the French National Radio-Television (ORTF) split into seven autonomous organizations, one of which became INA, the National Audiovisual Institute, dedicated to the preservation and development of French audiovisual heritage. In the early 1980s, when most animation production was being completed in Asia, steps were taken to rectify the situation in France. Four major priorities were defined: research (basic and applied), education and the formation of three technical pillars (manufacturing, utilization and production). Obviously a privileged place for the application of new technologies, the field of animation became the chosen territory for INA to put their work into operation. To that end, they developed their first system for producing animation with computers, for which they had to educate animators and producers. Three generations of digital systems were created by their research staff, with the object of modernizing the chain of production. To accompany this new direction, the National Audiovisual Institute started in 1981 a formidable observation opportunity in the form of the Imagina event. Created in collaboration with the Monte Carlo Festival of Television, Imagina in its first year presented "some monochrome polygons animated by computers according to elementary laws of physics" as Francis Beck, President of INA, described on the occasion of the 1999 event. Today Imagina is regarded in addition to SIGGRAPH as one of the most important computer conventions and an essential window for the discovery and evaluation of talents. Aided by the government's focus on these promising fields and Imagina, France has acquired an international reputation. Several French companies are leaders in the areas of special effects for features, advertising, music videos, CD-Roms, rides and virtual installations: Buf, Duran, Ex Machina, Fantôme (now part of Neurones), MacGuff's, Sparx (which recently received an Emmy for their work on "Rolie Polie Olie") and Z.A. Productions (which originally received recognition for producing "The Quarks," one of the first television series produced using 3D computer graphics, 35mm film and High Definition Video). INA justifies today's withdrawal from the festival due to budget restrictions, as well as a refocus of their activities toward film preservation. To question Imagina's cost is legitimate. Each edition costs approximately 15 million francs, however, there is usually a deficit of roughly 11 million francs, of which INA assumes 6 million francs. However, the suddenness of this decision doesn't allow any time to study other possible financial configurations with the Monte Carlo Festival of Television and other potential partners. Furthermore, this decision disowns 19 years of hard work and is in complete contradiction to the speeches of French and European public figures about the importance of new technologies. Three weeks before this announcement, Ms Catherine Tasca, French Minister of Culture and Communication, explained that INA was a key player in the discovery and promotion of new talent and new technology. While the Monte Carlo Festival of Television has agreed to continue Imagina in some form, we hope that INA will revisit the issue to ensure the festival remains at the forefront, providing Europe with a useful platform for the artistic and economic development of visual effects and new technology. To learn more about this situation and to sign the petition to save the festival visit http://www.multimania.com/sosimagina/homepageGB.htm. Related articles:

- Read Jeff Kleiser, co-founder of Kleiser-Walczak, to find out his impressions of Imagina 2000 in Animation World Magazine. - Read Animation World Magazine article "ImagIna '99: Innovative Villages and Dancing Babies" by Stephane Singier to find out why 1999 was a big year for the event.

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