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ANIMARKT STOP MOTION FORUM: 8 through 13 October 2018 - Lodz, Poland

Animarkt is a 6-day event designed as a forum for people involved in all branches of stop motion to meet and exchange ideas.  The Forum is divided into 3 different segments:  Animarkt Presentations, Workshops, and the Pitching Session, which is what I am involved in as the Pitching Coach.

     Lodz, Poland is known as the city of film.  The first post-WWII animated film, Zenon Wasilewski's In the Time of King Krakus, was made in Lodz in 1947.  1948 saw the founding of the Lodz Film School and in 1956 the multiple Oscar-winning stop motion Se-ma-for Studio was opened. Now that Se-ma-for Studio is defunct, ANIMARKT is carrying on the city’s stop-motion tradition.

     Animarkt is a 6-day event designed as a forum for people involved in all branches of stop motion to meet and exchange ideas.  The Forum is divided into 3 different segments:  Animarkt Presentations, Workshops, and the Pitching Session, which is what I am involved in as a Pitching Coach.

Iranian animators Negareh Halimi and Amin Malekian at their script consultation with Wim Vanacker

     Before meeting with me each filmmaker received a session with script consultant Wim Vanacker.  Wim is head of the script department and project manager of the Media funded project European Short Pitch.  He is also the founder of Sireal Films, a Brussels based production company.

Viktoria Chernuaha presenting her project Papo & Pepe to Nancy at the private coaching session

     It isn’t enough just to have a good idea, you have to be able to pitch it well to prospective producers and distributors.  To that end, each of the 15 animators and/or producers presenting a project received a private 55 minute one on one consultation with me.  After listening to their presentations I gave them advice on how to improve their pitches.  Pitching a project is a very individual thing.  Some people just needed a bit of reassurance while others needed a lot of advice usually ending with me saying “Now you should go back to your hotel and rewrite your presentation”.

     The fact that the films pitched were all stop-motion was the only thing that they had in common.  Stories ranged from children’s animation to very adult themes.  Marnik Loysen is a United Kingdom animator who has worked at Aardman on their last 2 feature films.  His 8-minute project Prime Cuts introduced us to vegan detective Hopkins and the alluring Alibi.  Vegan Hopkins finds himself wrapped up in a salami based murder mystery.  Based on his love of 1940’s film noir, Marnik’s film milks this classic film genre for all it’s worthwhile giving it a modern twist.

      The puppets that Marnik showed us as part of his presentation were beautifully crafted as one would expect from someone who has worked at Aardman.  The pitch was humorous and to the point.  Marnik received an Ale Kino + Special Award.  The Ale Kino + award guarantees the purchase of the film upon completion by Ale Kino +, a Polish television channel owned and operated by Canal +.  Prime Cuts was also awarded the DitoGear Award of a 50% discount for the purchase of DitoGear or if the film is made in Poland the 50% discount on the purchase price or free rental of the equipment.

     Crab was a standout project for me.  Polish animator Piotr Chmielewski takes us into the world of a crab who has a lucky escape.  The sinking of the ship Britannic was a great catastrophe for most of the passengers.  There was one creature, however, who thought of it as a miracle.  A crab in the ship's kitchen was about to be plunged into a pot of boiling water until he suddenly found himself back on the ocean floor.

The Crab puppet

     Piotr’s crab puppet, which he passed around the audience, was a delightful character.  The artwork that was presented looked excellent and the story is delightfully quirky and original.  Crab won top honors at the Visegrad Animation Forum (now the CEE Animation Forum) in Trebon, Czech Republic last year so I was not surprised that the jury awarded him the Dragonframe 4 license and keypad as well as an Ale Kino + prize at Animarkt.

Cynthia Levitan pitching Forbidden Love

     Brazilian Cynthia Levitan currently lives in Porto, Portugal.  Her project, Forbidden Love, tackles a very serious subject, not usually dealt with in stop-motion, with sympathy and understand.  Her transgender puppet, Pierre, is living between 2 worlds, his male birth self and the woman hidden inside him.  Between drinks and cigarettes, Pierre finally allows himself to discover Pietra, his beloved female self.  In love, the two parts of one body live out the conflict of 2 souls inhabiting the same body and 2 bodies sharing the same home.

     Cynthia brought the star of her film to demonstrate how quickly Pierre can be transformed into Pietra.  Pietra’s wig and dress are lovely down to the tiniest detail.  She also demonstrated a number of exchangeable faces that she has created to give her character a wide range of expressions.

     Cynthia’s pitch was well throughout and to the point.  She was also able to explain her motivation in making a film about a transgender person.  Her presentation earned her 2nd place in the pitching forum, the Audiovisual Technology Center contribution of in-kind services in the amount of 40,000 PLN.  The Audio Visual Technology Center is where Loving Vincent was shot along with many other noted animated and live action films so the prize is well worth winning.

     During the coaching sessions, I tell the animators to be sure and say what specifically they are looking for, besides winning of course.  Cynthia took my advice to heart and told the audience that she was looking for a co-producer to work with her Lithuanian producer and a scriptwriter.  After the pitching session, she received offers from both a scriptwriter and producer interested in working with her.

     Mexican animator Jennifer Skarbnik Lopez and her Polish producer Ela Chrzanowska told us about Jennifer’s personal connection to her film See You Soon.  The proposed 10-minute film is inspired by an actual letter her grandfather Ruwen wrote from Mexico to his sister Haneczka who lived in Poland at the end of World War II.  He had escaped Poland during the war but his sister had chosen to remain.  All that she had to remember him by was a button that fell off his coat when they were saying goodbye at the train station.  She thought that she would never see her brother again until a letter arrived ending with See You Soon.

Jennifer Skarbnik Lopez and Ela Chrzanowska with the puppet and letter from See You Soon

     Jennifer and Ela have put together a very clever promo package for their film.  Inside an envelope with actual antique Mexican stamps on it are postcards containing such information about the film as a one-sentence synopsis of the story, financial statistics, concept art and portraits of the two main characters.  Attached to the back of the envelope is a small package with Haneczka’s name and concentration camp number and inside is a handmade button.  See You Soon received a Special Mention from the jury.  I was quite taken by this project and look forward to seeing the finished film.

     Estonian Riho Unt’s new film The Wings, presented by his producer Kerdi Kuusik-Oengo, did not receive an award but there is no doubt in my mind that the film will be completed.  Riho is a highly respected animator, winning a Jury Crystal at Annecy for his intense stop-motion film The Master.  His latest project, The Wings, is a 16-minute film set in the early 1900s.  Based on the correspondence between a character from a book, inventor Jaan Tatikas, created by the classic Estonian writer Eduard Bornhohe, and the famous Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci’s spirit.  Both men dreamed of giving men wings to fly.

Estonian producer Kerdi Oengo explaining her pitch for The Wings

     Along with a delightful story, the artwork looks lovely and the character designs are charming.  The Wings has already been funded by the Estonian Film Institute.  Kerdi was at Animarkt looking for a co-production partner for post-production and I am sure she will not have any trouble finding one.

     Top honors at Animarkt went to Warsaw director and producer Michal Lubinki for his 15 to 20-minute project Astra.  The film is the story of a six-year-old girl trying to prevent her older sister Anna from going off into space, which is a metaphor for a life-threatening illness that Anna has. Anna goes on her mission but her sister Astra comes to her rescue.  The story is composed of 2 interlacing moments in the sister’s lives that are combined in a nonlinear fashion.

Michal Lubinki, winner of the Animarkt pitching session

     Michael’s goal at the pitching forum was to find a professional studio with professional equipment and support.  He certainly achieved that winning the top prize from the Audiovisual Technology Center in-kind in the amount of 60, 000 PLN which is approximately 14, 000 Euros.  In awarding first prize to Astra the jury said “The story has a lot of heart.  The pitch was excellent, very complete and well organized.  Character design was nicely presented and researched.  Fantastic execution”.  This year’s jury was composed of Jean Thoren, owner/publisher of Animation Magazine; co-founder of Ikki Films and producer Edwina Liard; and stop-motion animation specialist at the Audiovisual Technology Center Jacek Spychalski.

Michal Lubinki with Nancy

     Workshops are an integral part of Animarkt.  Master stop-motion animator Tim Allen’s workshop had a long list of applicants for the six places in his Character Animation workshop.  Each applicant was asked to send in a film representing their work.  Tim then selected the 6 participants and designed a series of individual exercises for each participant according to the animator’s skills and needs.  The 3-day workshop covered over 21 hours of hard work. Don’t let Tim’s boyish looks fool you.  He has over 18 years of experience working on such films as Corpse Bride, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the latest Wes Anderson film Isle of Dogs so he really knows his stuff.

Characters from Tim Allen's character animation workshop Participanats in Tim's worskhop getting inspired

     Ben Tesseur and Steven De Beul have built their Mechelen, Belgium based Beast Studio from the ground floor up.  Now Beast is the place to go for development, financing, and production or co-production for stop-motion animation.  They have been involved in such prestigious projects as This Magnificant Cake, Oh Willy, Panique au Village (Panic in the Village) and the television series Rinje.

     At their Animarkt workshop, Directing Stop-Motion Animation With Beast Studio, Ben and Steven gave insights into how they work.  The participants were also given assignments to help them learn what details they should pay attention to in every part of an actual production.

     Barcelona based scriptwriter, content consultant, and story editor Carlos Bleycher is well qualified to lead the Character Development and Storytelling workshop.  Carlos has written original content for animated series that have been broadcast on major networks such as Disney xD, Cartoon Network LA, and Discovery Kids.  He was also head of story and script for the stop motion series Puerto Papel (Paper Port) broadcast in 9 countries.

     Participants in his workshop learned with theoretical and practical examples how to develop characters that fit organically into their stories and give the key points to the structure of their episodes from the springboard to the actual scripts.

     Along with the hands-on workshops, the Master Classes were invaluable sources of information.  Alvaro Ceppi, creative director, producer, and partner in Zumbastico Studio in Santiago, Chili, introduced the audience to his unique television series Puerto Papel (Paper Port). The plotline centers around Mathilde, a 12-year-old girl, who wakes up every morning with a new superpower.  She loses the power at the end of every day, but the next day brings a new power and new adventures.

Alvaro Ceppi with Mathilde

     What makes this project so interesting and unique is that it is a hybrid papercraft 2D television series.  The sets are paper or cardboard based.  The characters appear to be made out of paper, but actually start out with a cut-able plastic base to ensure that they are rigid and then covered with printed paper.  The television show is already in its second season and Zumbastico Studio is in pre-production on a feature-length Paper Port movie which will star Mathilde and her friends.  Alvaro took the audience through the entire process of creating an episode from concept – story development to final production.  I found it to be a very complex and interesting process.

     Angela Poschet is one of the most organized people I have ever met and she has to be.   She is an award-winning Line Producer, Production Supervisor, Manager, and Consultant for animation productions.  Her screen credits are too numerous to mention, but her latest job was Production Supervisor on Isle of Dogs.

     Anglea’s Master Class was titled How to Plan and Schedule a Stop Motion Production to Not Lose Money and Do It Successfully. She used her work on Isle of Dogs to give her audience a behind-the-scenes look at the film from the Production Supervisor’s point of view.  For anyone interested in going into the production end of animation Angela’s tips about involvement and responsibility, from planning to monitoring the shooting timeline and the set to the puppet fabrication process, during the entire production was invaluable.  Even if you were planning on making a short animated film rather than a feature, Angela’s advice was well worth heeding.

Nancy with Barry Purvis

     Anyone involved in puppet animation knows Barry JC Purves.  The British master of stop-motion, Barry has won numerous honors including BAFTA and Oscar nominations in his 40-year career.  He has worked on such classic British television series as Wind in the Willows and Twirlywoos but I think that he is best known for his own award-winning, darker adult short films such as Rigoletto, Achilles, Plume, and Tchaikovsky.  My personal favorite of all of his films is Gilbert and Sullivan – The Very Models which was shortlisted for the Oscars in 1999.

     Barry is a most entertaining speaker.  Listening to Animation - A Celebration of Artifice, his Master Class topic, you could not help but be caught up in Barry’s enthusiasm and love of just not animation but all art forms.  Using numerous slides to demonstrate his points, Barry defined what animation is and how an awareness of the techniques, tricks and processes are all part of the enjoyment of animation.  He went on to connect up how the awareness is interconnected and shared by other art forms such as theatre, opera, and dance.  I walked out of Barry’s class feeling inspired with a whole new way of looking at all forms of art. 

At the formal networking dinner Juan Pablo Zaramella's Little Man enjoying the networking dinner

     Even with its very busy schedule, Animarkt made time for socializing and networking.  Following the opening ceremony at the lovely Szpulka Cinema there was a banquet and on the following night a networking dinner.  Following the closing awards ceremony, where we learned which pitched film had been awarded, there was also another opportunity for all of us to mingle and talk at the dinner and after party.  On the last day of the forum, participants could schedule one-on-one meetings with any of the guests.

     My sincerest thanks go to Agnieszka Kowalewska-Skowron who was in charge of the pitching sessions and Pauline Zacharek, logistics manager for inviting me to act as pitching coach for the second year.  It is a job that I look forward to with great pleasure.  Another thank you goes to Animarkt Coordinator Olivia Jary who made sure that everything ran so smoothly.  My very special thank you goes to Kasia Gromadzka who was in charge of transportation and accommodations.  She not only had the unenviable job of working out my flight from Moscow to Poland so I could arrive in time for my coaching sessions but once I arrived in Lodz she made sure that I always got to where I needed to be.

Animarkt staff - L-R Paulina Zacharek, Agnieszka Kowalewska, Olivia Jary and Iwona Buchcic

     If you have a puppet animation project in development I wholeheartedly encourage you to apply to Animarkt pitching.  If you are involved in stop motion animation or want to learn more about this special art form a visit to Animarket for the Master Classes and presentations will be invaluable to you.  You can find out more about Animarkt 2018 and how to become a part of the 2019 program at:  www.animarkt.pl

     My next stop on my whirl windfall of 2018 animation tour was the festival in Thessaloniki, Greece where I had a fabulous time and met so many wonderful, generous people involved in the animation community there.  My next article will be about my Greek adventure.

Winners of ANIMARKT Pitching 2018

1st prize – Audiovisual Technology Center contribution in-kind in the amount of 60,000 PLN (approximately 14,000  Euros) – Astra, Michal Lubinski, Poland

2nd prize – Audiovisual Technology Center contribution in-kind in the amount of 40,000 PLN (approximately 9,300 Euros – Forbidden Love, Cynthia Levitan, Lithuania and Portugal

Dragonframe 4 program license and a Bluetooth controller – Crab, Piotr Chmielewski, Poland

An Industry Accreditation for MIFA 2019 in Annecy – Papo & Pepe, Viktoria Chernuaha, Ukraine

Ale kino+ Special Award (TV Channel Ale kino+ will buy license rights for the pitched project when they are ready:       

     Astra, Michal Lubinski, Poland

     Crab, Piotr Chmielewski, Czech Republic, Poland

     Prime Cuts, Marnik Loysen, United Kingdom

Sound postproduction swevices in Playade Sound Studio –Incoherence, Quentin Haberham, The Netherlands

Dito Gear special award – Prime Cuts, Marnik Loysen, United Kingdom

One year’s subscription of FestivalWhizz application – Noah’s Tree, Peter Vacz, Hungary

Special Mention – See You Soon, Jennifer Skarbnik Lopez, Mexico and Poland