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MOVE SUMMIT 20, 21, and 22 February 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of animation, but the country is working hard to change that.  The MOVE Summit is a big step in that direction.

     Scotland is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of animation, but the country is working hard to change that.  The MOVE Summit is a big step in that direction.   For 3 days creatives from film, television, advertising, games, and visual arts gathered at the Pleasance Conference Center for talks by industry leaders, panel discussions, and demonstrations of the latest techniques in animation.

Chris Davey, creative director of Whitespace

    The first day of the Summit was Emerging Talent Day and students turned out in droves for it.  After a greeting speech from Caroline Parkinson, Move 2019 director, and a welcome address by Chris Davey, creative director of Whitespace, the conference got underway in the main theatre with an informal chat between Richard Scott, CEO of Axis Studio, and Jonathan Mortimer, co-founder of Animation Scotland, about how Axis Studio got its start. 

Richard Scott, CEO of Axix Studio (right) with Jonathan Mortimer

     Axis is partnered with MOVE this year to present the Summit.  The award-winning studio is based in Glasgow with other studios in Bristol and London.  Founded in 2000, the studio’s animation and visual effects can be seen on Netflix and BBC as well as online and in the cinema.  The audience, primarily students, received a good picture of what life is like in a busy production house from this conversation with the head of one of Scotland’s leading animation studios.

     Next, it was time to get the students up on their feet and working.  After breaking up into groups for the Creative Team Workshop, each team had to come up with a public service animated spot designed to inform the general public about an issue or problem.  There were mentors to advise them, but they had to do the work themselves.

Students at work on their public service announcement

     The group that I worked with devised an ad aimed at parents with young children.  In their scenario, a beloved uncle comes for a visit after being away for 3 years.  He has had a sex change operation and is now Aunt Geraldine instead of Uncle Gerry. The young child still loves his uncle/aunt but the parents are very upset.  How do they deal with this situation?  Each group was given less than 2 hours to devise the ad campaign, create a rough storyboard, and then give the pitch to other groups. My group did an excellent job.

     After lunch, there was a Toon Boon presentation.  This was followed by Cecile Blondel, Director of International Relations and Moira Marguin, Head of Animation, at the internationally acclaimed Gobelins Institute Francais d’Ecole in Paris.  As well as covering talent development, they said that even though most students start out wanting to be a director there are many other elements that go into making an animated film.  The pair emphasized that there is a big need for background artists and lighting technicians, just to name two of the higher paying jobs in the animation industry.

Gobelins Animation School presentation

     Founded in 1975, Gobelins can boast that 100% of their students find a job after graduation.  The school stresses teamwork and prepares its students for work in the industry.  Anyone who has been to Annecy will remember the clever, entertaining, high-quality daily trailers created by the Gobelins students.

     The International Animation Panel’s topic was How To Prepare For The Industry.  The students learned exactly what studios expect from prospective employees.  The panel also discussed what studios want to see on your demo reel or in your portfolio.  The panel, Anna Dinse from Axis Studio, Toon Boon regional representative Andy Wyatt, and Pixar's Noah Klocek, certainly have the experience to know what they were talking about.

Jonathan Mortimer, Moderator with Anna Dinse, Andy Wyatt, and Noah Klocek

     The final presentation of the day was given by Agnes Bizzaro.  Agnes works as a consultant for European broadcasters and producers.  She is also the content coordinator for Cartoon Springboard, so she knows a great deal about what constitutes a good pitch.  Cartoon Springboard is a pitching event dedicated entirely to young Europeans who have graduated from animation schools within the past 5 years.  It is a unique opportunity for young animators to test out a project before a panel of experts.  They gave feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of a project.  The panel also gives advice about what changes need to be made to strengthen the project so that it has a chance to become a reality one day.

     During her presentation, Pitching With Cartoon Springboard, Agnes explained that most schools do not teach students the art of pitching.  It is a real skill that needs guidance and practice.  Cartoon Springboard gives the young animator an opportunity to hone pitching skills before he or she presents a project at Cartoon Movie or any of the other big pitching forums where young animators will be competing against seasoned pros.

     That evening, the guests were treated to a lovely dinner where we had the opportunity to get to know each other informally.  The evening ended at a Scottish pub for beers and conversation.

     Day 2 was the start of programs geared for the professional animation industry.  The first speaker was Noah Klocek from Pixar.  After graduation from San Jose State University, Noah worked as a matte painter at ILM and PDI/Dreamworks before landing at Pixar over 10 years ago.  At Pixar, he is an art director, concept artist, and production designer.

Noah Klocek from Pixar

     Noah told the packed audience that his real love is illustration and that “I am a Pixar art director by day and an illustrator by night”.  He said that at home after dinner and the kids are put to bed, he goes to his home studio where he works on book illustrations.  The first picture book he has illustrated is Cloud Country.  During his talk, he showed us examples of his work including illustrations for Cloud Country.

     Noah stressed that in the animation industry “ . . . collaboration is the key to creativity”.  He stressed that no job in the animation industry is less important than any other and that it takes a team to make an animated film.

     For the next two days, sessions ran concurrently in several different rooms at the Pleasance Conference Center.  I opted to see the VR panel.  Their topic was Narrative Story Telling in VR and 360 Degrees, Decoding the New Language.  VR is no longer an oddity in the animation world, but has become another method of telling original stories.  The 3 members of the VR panel all come at it from different directions which made for a very interesting discussion.

     I knew that BBC was experimenting with VR so it was interesting to hear Camila Ruz, series producer and journalist at BBC Digital Current Affairs, talk about the possible uses of new technology in the newly created department at BBC.

     Olly Reid launched Axis Studio into its first foray in VR with The Bond which he wrote and directed.  The film, partly funded by Scottish Enterprise, is “designed to maximize the uniqueness of the medium by placing the viewer in the shoes of multiple characters and allowing them to engage with the environment from a number of dynamic perspectives” according to Reid.

     The third member of the panel was Sandy Louchart from the Glasgow School of Art where he is a senior research fellow at the School of Simulation and Visualization.  He came at the subject from an academic standpoint.  His research investigates the domains of Interactive Story Telling via the development of the emerging narrative concept and serious game design from the perspective of serious games mechanics.

     Several seasoned animators like Michelle and Uri Kranot and Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski are working with VR, and animation schools are teaching it which means that it will soon become a part of mainstream animation.  The MOVE discussion gave me a lot to think about as far as other applications for VR.

     Other important topics covered throughout the day were a panel about British certification and tax relief for the film industry, setting up and growing a new business, and CG creatures:  Exploring Photorealism vs. Character and Emotion.

     The perfect end of the day was Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes showing us how they use style to tell a story.  The award-winning duo dug into their vault of treasures to show the audience gems from their 20-year career at Nexus Studio.

     Among their many notable commercials is the 2018 BBC Winter Olympics Campaign The Fearless are Here which earned the duo a BAFTA Craft Nomination.  Smith and Foulkes’ Take on History piece commissioned by Wimbledon for its 150th anniversary is sheer magic.  The piece follows a continuous tennis rally, beginning with Spencer Gore, the English tennis player who won the first Wimbledon in 1877, right up to the present day, taking the game from a 19th Century farmer’s field to the modern sports spectacular tennis has become.

     In a totally different vein, to celebrate Led Zeppelin’s 50th anniversary, the pair created a magical mystery tour through the late ’60s to reveal the intimate relationship between Jimmy Page and his Fender Telecaster.

     No animation lover could forget Smith and Foulkes’ 2008 Oscar-nominated short This Way Up.  This droll film is about two dour undertakers embroiled in a series of unfortunate events while trying to deliver a coffin.

     Following the Smith and Foulkes presentation, Axis hosted a reception at the festival café and bar.  During the reception, I participated as one of the coaches in Speed Pitching.  Each person was given 5 minutes to present their story idea to me and get my feedback.  After the reception, everyone moved to the Salthouse Bar for Drink and Draw – exactly what the name says.

     The final day of the Summit was extremely busy.  I gave a presentation on The Unsung Women Heroes of Animation to a full audience of young women and one brave young man.  After my talk, several of the women wanted to continue the discussion about women’s place in the workplace.  For the next couple of hours eight of us had a very frank discussion about treatment in the workplace, equal opportunities for women in the industry, and how do you handle the situation if you are put on a project or game that you feel is demeaning to women?  None of the women has any sexual harassment complaints, they were all strictly work issues. Several of the young women said that this was the first time that they had been able to express their frustrations with a group of other women in the industry who share their same feelings. 

     Although we did not solve the animation world’s problems, we took a big first step toward bringing them out in the open.  I hope that there will be other opportunities for this type of informal, open, and frank group discussions with a moderator whose only job is to get the discussion started.  Young women need a setting where they can feel safe in airing their opinions and frustrations.

On Thursday and Friday animators could sign up for Creative Reviews.  Each person was given 15 minutes to show their portfolio, storyboard, or pitch an idea one on one to an expert.  I was asked to do a Creative Review session and was impressed with the short animation project that I was shown.

Noah Klocek with his workshop participants

     On Thursday Noah Klocek gave a hands-on workshop titled Finding Authenticity Through Film Design.  He expanded on the topic of his presentation the previous day, The Importance of Authenticity in Animation.  When I visited the group they were all busy drawing away.

     The Friday workshop was given by freelance character designer and illustrator Kenneth Anderson.  He designed characters for Nick Junior, Sesame Street, and BBC’s Ceebeebee’s among other clients.  Earlier in the day, he gave a talk about the journey he went on to become a character designer and the lessons he learned along the way.  At his workshop it was time for everyone to put his principles to work and draw along with Kenneth as he showed in-depth his character design process, covering some of the basic principles from initial ideas through roughs to finding a final character design.

Trying out VR in the Industry Exhibition Hall

     One large room was devoted to an industry exhibition hall.  The exhibitors ranged from VR to Toon Boom as well as studios looking to recruit new talent.  Along with the two VR demonstrations that you try out there was an interactive video demonstration.

     At the close of the formal part of the summit, there was a hot buffet and drinks hosted by Screen Scotland and Move Summit.  The busy 3 days ended with the late-night party at the Apothecary Bar for more drinks and conversation.

     Move Summit has grown in its 3 years of existence.  It was conceived in 2016 as a collaboration between Edinburgh based animation studios Interference Pattern and Stampede.  The first Move Summit took place in 2017 as a 1-day event with 240 delegates.  In 2018 it grew to a 2-day event, spread over 2 venues.  The 480 attendees listened to international speakers as well as guests from the legendary United Kingdom studio Aardman.

     This year Move had well over 900 students, graduates, professors, and guest speakers trading ideas and knowledge.  The move to their new location, Pleasance, created enough room for 5 separate presentations to go on simultaneously along with workshops and an exhibition hall.

The important announcement at Move Summit this year was the launch of Animation Scotland.  Leading Scottish animation and visual effects companies Axis Studio, Once Were Farmers, and Interference Pattern have come together to create Animation Scotland.   The industry-led group will showcase, represent, and develop the Scottish animation industry domestically as well as abroad.  Other immediate aims are to lobby local government bodies on behalf of the Scottish animation industry and to encourage excellence on behalf of the Scottish animation industry.

     Tom Bryant, Creative Director of Interference Pattern and an original founder of Move Summit commented “The success of Move Summit made us as studio owners realize that the Scottish animation industry will be so much stronger if we come together . . . representing the Scottish industry with a single voice”.  Richard Scott, Axis Studio co-founder and CEO added “Our goal is to increase opportunities for fantastic animated content and stories to be originated and made in Scotland, and then seen by worldwide audiences”.

     Animation Scotland is currently finalizing its first intake of members and will be creating an online portal to showcase their studio’s animated output and key talents.

     Move Summit was a wonderful experience for me.  I must confess that before my time in Edinburgh I did not know much about the Scottish animation industry.  It was a great learning experience.  I owe a big thank you to Move 2019 director Caroline Parkinson and Tom Bryant for inviting me to be part of Move Summit 2019.  I commend the entire staff for their energy and the hard work that they all showed while also keeping up with their day jobs.

     I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit Move Summit again.  I am anxious to follow the growth of Animation Scotland and to watch and participate in the advances that Move Summit makes to create a meeting place for students and professionals alike to come together.

     The dates for the 2020 Move Summit have not been set yet but you can learn more about this year’s event at:  www.movesummit.co.uk

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