By Lia Abbate
Hello again, Ottawa cyber-festers ~
It’s the end of Day Two of The Animation Conference (TAC) and the festival proper is in full swing, so let me get you caught up…
Last night, the festival was officially kicked off in a more somber tone befitting the morning’s horrific event. After respectful words of condolence to the victims’ families from the Canadian Film Commission, Chris Robinson, our Fearless Artistic Director, took the mic and abstained from making a speech. Instead, he regaled us with several animator jokes of his own making. My favorite being: “How do you know animators have something on their minds? They’re wearing hats.” With that, the first Short Competition lit up the screen. The varied subject matter and challenging narratives did not disappoint. Chris always seems to find the right balance between the irrepressible works of Color! Music! Fun! and the truly bizarre interludes that dive under your skin to grip your heart and brain simultaneously. Yes, a felt puppet who loses his mother can make you cry.
TAC: The Animation Conference – Day Two
There were two common threads running through today’s panels: digital channels of distribution are not quite there yet in terms of making money and you just need to create strong characters.
Case Study: Sarah & Duck
It was very telling to see that the main characters of Sarah & Duck, a lovely preschool series airing on the BBC, live in a home without a television. They have a living room with large, comfy chairs and a “technology room” where they watch television news broadcasts on the computer. Just something to note.
What a joy it was to start the day watching such a lovely work from the UK! Jamie Badminton, the producer of the series, walked us through the creation story of Sarah & Jane sharing the comic book images that Sarah Gomes Harris drew to pitch to Cartoon Forum in Hungary to tell them her personal story of inspiration. Needless to say, she was successful. Please do what you can to look this up and see this.
A great tip from their process:
When casting children’s voices, ask adult voice over actors if they have children whom they would recommend. This means their parents will already know what to expect in the recording process and will be there with guidance and support. Tasha Lawrence, a perfectly unaffected 7-year-old, fits the bill for “calm, shy, and humble” Sarah as no professional child actor could.
Panel: Creating for YouTube
Our favorite guys from Titmouse (still love the hat) and Corey Vidal, a veritable YouTube phenom, are on opposite ends of the spectrum in their experience with YouTube.
Titmouse has their own YouTube channel called “Rug Burn”. Chris contends that, given the size of their studio and its overhead expenses, the money spent on creating YouTube content will not mean a huge profit, if any. The channel helps to sell merchandise, get the brand out there, and provides an outlet for experimentation for the crew.
Corey is a full-time YouTuber who has had more than 85 million views after having produced thousands of videos. The key stat that he shared with us: 1 million views = $1000 which is Corey’ definition of a successful video. It’s a tough goal to reach. Corey’s been able to parlay this into a career making films and consulting. He’s extremely approachable and forthcoming. Drop him an email if you want to ask specific questions.
Panel: From the Idiot Box to Bytes: The Evolution of Video Distribution
This conversation hit upon many of the same topics from the previous panel. The takeaways: 1) Netflix is not quite there for the animated series youth market. It doesn’t have the penetration. The retailers haven’t recognized it as a viable tool vis-à-vis licensing. More metrics are needed. Their deal with DreamWorks on Turbo is piggybacking on the name recognition and marketing from the feature film. 2) There was another admission that in terms of funding YouTube work, one of the studios was “taking a bath,” but work on the projects and their short schedules doubled his crew’s productivity in a year. 3) The expectations from networks now include the actual series as well as content for digital platforms. 4) Amazon is taking pitches. Tara Sorenson is the contact. She will be at Kidscreen.
Panel: Making the Leap
Fresh TV, Guru Animation, Jam Filled Entertainment, and Mercury Filmworks have all developed original series in house and all seem to be happy to balance both the service and creation sides of the business within their business models. They see it as a win-win in keeping the talent inspired and the lights on. Some good news for creators/writers: Guru and Mercury are open to hearing pitches. Think comedy and family entertainment. Must be a good idea with a strong voice (that means you as a creator as well – be ready to answer questions and have an opinion). Guru would like to see a 2-page document as well. Email them directly.
Another great opportunity that TAC has put into place for independent producers, Pitch This! was the culmination of a pitch selection process in which 2 pitches were chosen to be delivered live at the conference for immediate feedback from executives from Teletoon, Nickelodeon, Corus, and Disney TV Animation. I’m not going to give away any details, but the feedback boils down to one of our themes of the day: create strong characters.
Special Screening: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Okay, this was definitely the highlight of the day. Running into Cody and Chris in the lobby of a cinema in Ottawa was a bit of an out-of-body experience (I work with them at Sony Pictures Animation). At the beginning stages of Cloudy 2, I helped manage visual development team. There is nothing like watching a brand new world being created before your eyes and then watching it come to life on the screen. Unless it’s watching it in a fully-packed movie house – with some pretty tough animation customers – who laugh and “awww” and hoot at all the parts the crew loved as the story was coming together. The screening was an unmitigated success, so well deserved, and a great memory for Cody and Kris to take back with them to the premiere this weekend.
In the next few days, the festival gods of the right place at the right time allowing, here are my three wishes:
1) To take in the Adam Elliot short films and “Mary and Max” screenings. Adam has been out and about at the festival and taking it all in here from the very beginning. Heads-up that Adam will be on the Pimpcast one-on-one with Chris on Sunday morning.
2) To check out Sascha Unseld’s presentation on creating Pixar’s “The Blue Umbrella” on Saturday morning.
3) To join the Masterclass with Eric Goldberg on Saturday afternoon. Enough said.