By David Tousek
So what exactly have we learned at MIFA? Have we gained something meaningful? I have to admit I need more time to answer such a question, to see if an event of this kind brings along something worth the effort invested into just coming over. After all, if the animation business is about relationships / partnerships, then there needs to be a lot more work done after the event beside the initial quick flirting. But...
...I think I have been really open in my second post where, I believe, I made obvious that what one gains is the real-time networking, friendliness and sharing the same passion for the craft. It’s an experience which encourages and supports our hard work and passion to produce animated movies. Such inspiration is most needed especially for us that live in such a hard Bohemian environment in Central Europe.
So, I’m very glad for the contacts that we made for potential co-productions. Also, there is inspiration from all the screenings we saw. Days spent watching movies are a true combination of vacation and work in one. And so one wants to work even harder once we get back to Prague. Isn’t that pretty meaningful? And don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of a guy that gets excited easily, actually. Excitement is not the way to go. Animation is a damn exhausting process where excitement “merely” initiates. Excitement doesn’t sustain drawing pictures with solid production foundations, planning, vital partnerships and people around that participate, and keep their legs on the ground. I guess only when I finish a production I can try to think about heavenly stars in the sky. Annecy serves well to draw this picture in just a couple days.
Surprisingly, Czech animation is not at its peak anymore and those that want to animate movies here do NOT really do it primarily to earn money. At least I wonder about it because there are much better areas of business, I think, that allow for more money to be made. So, I guess you animate because either you cannot do anything better, or you love it, no matter how much that may sound like a “phrase.” I mean, if you consider what it takes to produce an animated film in our “Bohemian kingdom,” then this phrase starts to make a little bit more sense.
Animation production and training in the Czech Republic has never taken steps toward embracing more modern animation approaches and techniques. No one is making movies for the popular audience, to compete and be successful alongside the best movies made outside the country. Seems to me there is a slight difference in mentality, philosophy if you like, with how western animation is done. Unfortunately, schools remain true to the mindset that worked 30, 40 years ago when the industry was booming, when Czech animation was an independent industry, from story development to animation and even distribution. For example, we had a law that literally dictated every feature had to have a short film before its screening. That stimulated tons of productions and a portion of the proceeds had to be put back into animation production.
From what I have heard, as I’m not an old man yet, it sounds like a pretty golden age for an animator. But it was also run by the state, the communist state to be precise, so the philosophy (and I’m not talking about ideology now) was that animators did not need to care much about producing profitable films, as they do now. The schools back then also mostly trained animators to be independent filmmakers with a specific style, as opposed to today, when many young animators are used to working in more animation friendly environments. They are trained to work on bigger commercial projects already being produced at the school.
Anyway ... times have changed and since Czech schools do not train animators to handle even basic 3D character animation above a hobbyist level, things seem to be a bit backwards...by the way, most young students have little hope to stay in the business after their training is finished ... to work on stuff they would love to be part of artistically. Yet I have tremendous admiration for the local talent because there are still those that really want to do animation and nothing else.
So after many years, I have gradually moved my passion one more step forward to try to make a change on my own. With my partners, in addition to our own creative art production, we started doing professional training in 3D character animation with the best professionals we had an opportunity to invite to come teach. We fill the gap that exists between what’s taught in classical schools and the industry, to support local talent and growth, to keep up with the current state of world trends and our own ideas as well. Our courses, called ANOMALIA (www.anomalia.eu ) because we feel we are bringing in something not typical, challenge the dedication of young and talented animators in our region. We try to inspire them through course taught by the best professionals in the world, from studios such as PIXAR, Blue Sky, Lucas Arts, Les Gobelins, Disney ...We found out for ourselves that these guest teachers we had the honor to welcome to Prague over last 5 years, were able to wake up a sleeping beauty. After five years of running Anomalia, we can see how much excitement, inspiration and focus these summer sessions are delivering.
So coming to Annecy for our very first time, getting inspired by people from other parts of the animation community, we can continue to grow with what we have started. For example, Dawn Rivera-Ernster from Disney got back in touch with me with a reassuring email that we can invite their artists in the future because ANOMALIA sounds like a nice opportunity for them as well. Isn’t that cool?
We have also come to Annecy with our own creative projects. We were primarily looking for a co-producer for our main project - a cartoon about a snail in love that wants to cross a busy road to meet his snail girlfriend, but that the road is a groaning killer beast. Should be pretty funny, ideally. We have already produced a short film called Tele-vision, which was screened at Siggraph, but this time, we have a different philosophy with our new story, because it seems like there has been enough sad and frustrated movies in this world.
This project has been already granted 50 percent funding by the Czech Film Fund and so we were looking for a co-producer that would join our journey. We had a chance to show the pitch at MIFA and see what people think before we start the production marathon (I liked that people smiled when reading the storyboard). At MIFA, I was able to make some new personal contacts that I can communicate with later about the project, which is essential. Our other projects in development had their moments too. One TV series, that’s just at the scriptwriting stage, seems to be gaining attention already.
All of this feedback and inspirational experience from Annecy helps us to keep working hard, because working in animation means you really have to believe in it. It would be a lot harder, though still possible, without our trip to Annecy, but I dare to say, based on my humble experience, it easier having been here then having been to other events. Of course this is just a first step, flirting with business opportunities, beginning to build mutual trust and something more with new collaborators. But still, I’m glad I was asked to write about Annecy. As one Canadian scriptwriter told me, as she was in Annecy for the very first time as well, is that Annecy has what other places don’t, a great tradeshow and festival running parallel. Go try it for yourself.
Enough good words about the past. Life is not just about animation, so let’s see what story is ahead of us now.
David Tousek is an animator and partner in 3Bohemians, a boutique studio and training company located in Prague. This was David’s first visit to Annecy and the MIFA. You can contact him via his website at http://www.3bohemians.eu.