Search form

TAC Turns 15: A Chat with OIAF Director of Industry Programming Azarin Sohrabkhani

The Ottawa International Animal Festival’s director of industry programming discusses highlights of OIAF’s annual industry-driven event, The Animation Conference.

Puppet supervisor Andy Gent and co-production designer Paul Harrod to delve behind the scenes of Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ at TAC 2018.

The Ottawa International Animation Festival‘s industry-driven forum, The Animation Conference, kicks off its 15th edition this month, running September 26-28 alongside OIAF 2018. This staple annual animation event offers topical discussions and keynote sessions with industry luminaries as well as networking events and pitching programs, inspiring and creating opportunities for animation producers and creatives alike.

Director of industry programming Azarin Sohrabkhani first joined the Ottawa Festival as an intern in 2004, before quickly moving up to first coordinating, and then running, OIAF’s sponsorship program. In her current role she programs and manages all aspects of TAC, including Indie Talks, Animation Exposé, and the InGenius Jr youth programming. “TAC is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year,” Sohrabkhani comments. “It’s just a teenager, and -- like the industry itself -- it’s continuing to evolve, so we have a lot of programming that reflects that.”

OIAF director of industry programming Azarin Sohrabkhani.

This year’s edition will see the return of the wildly successful Pitch This! and Fast Track pitching events, in addition to a one-on-one talk with media pioneer Fred Seibert, entitled “Fred Seibert Tells All: Confessions of a Serial Innovator,” and a keynote address delivered by Brent Butt, the comedian and showrunner behind hit Canadian series Corner Gas Animated.

“Fred Seibert is really an innovator in our industry,” Sohrabkhani enthuses. “He delivered the keynote at one of the very first TACs, in 2006, and spoke about digital content and moving in that direction. So it’s going to be really interesting to hear him talk about how much the industry’s changed in that time, what’s happening now, and where he sees everything going,” she says.

“On day two, we’ve got a Canadian sweetheart Brent Butt for the keynote,” Sohrabkhani continues. “He’s a really well-known Canadian comedian and is responsible for the hit live-action TV comedy Corner Gas. He’s going to be talking about his new series, Corner Gas Animated, and he’ll have some folks from his team here to answer questions as well. It’ll be really fun to have a comedian-turned-animation showrunner closing out the Conference.”

Held at the freshly-renovated National Arts Centre, TAC’s newly-rebranded Animation Exposé event  merges the Festival’s Professional Development Day talks and Career Fair activities with new interactive components for what Sohrabkhani calls “an all-out art fun-day.” Along with hosting recruiters from studios in Canada and the U.S. and representatives from leading schools, Animation Exposé will present a full program of talks, drawing sessions, and more aimed at students, artists and fans interested in learning about a career in animation. Each Animation Exposé presentation will kick off with a Career Tidbits blast from Walt Disney Animation Studios recruiter and outreach supervisor Kelsi Taglang, covering preparing reels and resumes, getting the interview, following up after, and how to show up if you get the job.

Animation Exposé sessions include panels like You Got the Gig, Now What?, where three artists talk about what happens after you land that dream job, as well as Isle of Dogs: Behind-the-Scenes with Isle of Dogs puppet supervisor Andy Gent and co-production designer Paul Harrod, The Anatomy of an Action Sequence with Pixar director of photography Mahyar Abousaeedi, Inside Creative Development at Walt Disney Animation Studios with creative executive Juan Pablo Reyes, and An Invisible History: Trailblazing Women of Animation with animation historian Mindy Johnson.

L to R: Gary Schwartz, Shane Prigmore, Brooke Keesling, Matthew Bishop and Linda Beck network at TAC 2015.

“Andy Gent and Paul Harrod will be talking about the design and development of the characters and environments in Isle of Dogs. They’ll have  drawings, animatics and CADs for everyone to see, and there will be a Q&A session at the end,” Sohrabkhani says. “Juan Pablo Reyes, from Walt Disney Animation Studios, will talk about the creative development process at Disney, which should be really interesting for people trying to break into the industry. And Mahyar Abousaeedi will discuss Incredibles 2 and the camera & staging and cinematic strategies used in the film’s action sequences. Mindy Johnson will be talking about her book that’s gained so much traction in the last couple of years, ‘Ink & Paint – The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation,’ which is a terrific way to close out the day at Animation Exposé.”

Pitch This! is TAC’s signature opportunity for emerging creators to get their projects seen, with the winner receiving a development award of $5,000 in addition to Toon Boom Animation software licenses and training, and entertainment legal services from Edwards PC, Creative Law.

“We re-imagined the entire setup for Pitch This! for the 40th anniversary of the Festival. In the past, we would select two projects out of however many submissions, and they would both be presented to the audience and panel of broadcasters. But for the 40th anniversary, we added a mentorship component. We selected 10 submissions, and paired the creators with mentors who helped them refine their pitch over the course of a month leading up to the Conference,” Sohrabkhani explains.

“We’re about to name this year’s 10 semifinalists, and we’re really excited because this year we got submissions from almost every continent around the globe,” she continues. “There’s also a cash prize, which is new this year, so that’s very exciting as well.”

A panel from TAC 2017 featuring Atomic Puppet from Mercury Filmworks.

Also new at TAC this year is a of workshop for writers, led by Karen Kirkland, creative strategist and founder of The Breakk, entitled “Personal Pitch Perfection.” “It’s a two-hour, interactive hand-on workshop TAC delegates can register for on our website. We’re asking people to submit spec or pilot scripts, 12 of which will be chosen by lottery to participate in the workshop,” Sohrabkhani says.

“Digital content is really key right now, so we’re definitely going to be covering that subject quite a bit,” she resumes. “Cartoon Network will be here as well, doing a behind-the-scenes presentation on the development of Craig of the Creek, and we’ll also have representatives from a few different European studios on hand to talk to us about co-production. And Crunchyroll Originals, just recently announced, is bringing some special content to share with us, too.”

The highly popular Fast Track is a speed-pitching event for the animation industry, where creatives meet in 12-minute sessions with production companies and buyers looking for content such as Teletoon, DHX Media, Guru Studio, and more.

“Fast Track, our speed-pitching event, is a lot like speed-dating,” notes Sohrabkhani. “We have a bunch of people working in development, broadcasters and studios, who are looking for specific content. Our online system, which is open to all TAC passholders, sets up pre-arranged meetings. The meeting slots tend to fill up quickly, but I always say that if you can’t get a pre-arranged meeting there are still many, many opportunities to meet with development execs. As anyone who’s been here knows, Ottawa is pretty small, and it’s really easy to run into folks. There are a lot of networking events, like the luncheons and the Toon Boom Boat Cruise, that allow you to find your target, so to speak, in a more relaxed setting.”

Toon Boom boat cruise at TAC 2017.

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.