This year, A.A.A. (Atelier de cinéma d'Animation d'Annecy et de Haute-Savoie), the pioneering ASIFA workshop, celebrates its 25th anniversary. To commemorate this, I would like to explore some of the reasons that led its organizers to what has become a quarter century effort to educate young people in the art of animation.
We live in a world of images-cartoon strips, movies, television, video games, etc. --which both fascinate and inundate children and teenagers. However, very little has been done to prepare these "consumers" to judge what they see, or to appreciate and master them.
At school, children are trained in reading and writing. But they also should be taught how to read and write images. And if cartoons are the images most familiar to children, then animation should also be a part of their education.
Both art and entertainment, animation gets so little recognition, that it has generally been classified as "just for kids." This has led to an abundant supply of low quality productions. However, masterpieces of animation art do exist and it has always been an important part of our workshops at Annecy: showing youngsters films from artists from around the world, using every imaginable technique, and making them aware of contemporary art. Little by little, they become able to appreciate even serious works and even ask to see them again.
In addition to "reading" animation, we also deal with the "writing" part as well. Animation is a wonderful medium for expression and communication, using shape, rhythm, time and movement all working together. Children find it easier to express themselves in terms of movement than with the spoken and written language of adults-a language they have not yet mastered.
Animation can communicate without using words: this is why we could organize international projects among a host of ASIFA workshops, completing films done jointly by groups in 10 to 20 (and more) countries on the same theme, without any language barrier. This is why we invite professional animation artists from around the world to participate as teachers: even when they do not speak French, they are able to communicate their art to the children through drawings, movement, pantomime, et al.
It is very important, in our workshops, that professional animators be involved. The kids should have contact with artists; they should know that animation is a profession; that behind the moving images, there is someone who has something to say. It is always a great moment when one of our guests shows and talks about one of his films.
Our main activity are a week long workshops during the school year, involving 24-30 children, ranging in age from 5 to 18. The children take off from school and come with their teachers and interested parents.
Before they come, they have already selected a script they want to make. Their first step, as a group, is doing a storyboard-an important first step in visualizing what they want to say or express. Each kid then selects a segment to animate. The choice of characters is done collectively. Each piece of animation is shot and checked on video line-testing equipment. After the instructor checks the work, it is time for coloring: the colors are also chosen collectively. The film is finally shot either on video or 16mm film. The last day is reserved for recording the sounds made by the kids, who also jointly select the music.
For young kids, the techniques of choice usually include clay, pixilation, cutouts and objects. These techniques, which use everyday materials, make animation closer to them.
Needless to say, during these one week workshops, both teachers and parents learn a lot about animation.
Every year, we have screenings where all the films are shown. What follows is a series of unforgettable moments, when the students see what they have made -- no matter what technique they have used-come to life on the screen. There is just no comparison with their normal homework assignments. And best of all is the applause and appreciation they get from the audience.
During the last school year, we had workshops with 26 classes -- about 650 kids in all. We can say that these 650 have been prepared to become a passionate audience for animation-which is our main goal. After all, the art of animation needs a public outside of festivals.
For our 25th anniversary celebration, apart from the usual workshops for children, we are organizing special screenings for both adults and schools alike-with participating professionals.
To date, we have already had tributes to Polish Animation, with Piotr Dumala, who demonstrated his personal techniques of engraving on plaster; a tribute to Italian Animation with Guido Manuli; a tribute to French Animation with Bernard Palacios, who presented the works of the Studio La Fabrique. Following these, we will have a tribute to clay animation featuring Peter Lord giving a demonstration of how to make plasticine come alive. And finally, we will have a tribute to Alexandre Alexeïeff and Claire Parker, the creators of the pinscreen-who patronized our workshops when it was founded. This two day tribute will include screenings, a seminar featuring 12 guests, including Bretislav Pojar, Jacques Droin, Nag Ansorge, Raoul Servais, Faith Hubley, Juri Norstein and Edouard Nazarov. These two days will be dedicated to the art of animation.
Nicole Salomon is Co-Founder of the Annecy Workshop and has been an ASIFA Board Member for several years.