British Columbia’s only Oscar-accredited festival is back as a hybrid event, with an expansive program of talks, presentations, screenings, and career networking events, running October 27 – November 30; submissions still being accepted through September 16.
It’s been two and a half years since SPARK ANIMATION - British Columbia’s only Oscar-accredited festival - has hosted its world-class animation celebration in person.
This year, they’re back.
“There was actually a point where we looked at each other and said, ‘Do we even remember how to do this?’” says Spark Computer Graphics (Spark CG) Society’s festival director and president Marina Antunes. “This year, we have a little bit of both worlds, with online and in-person programming, which allows us to not only expand our programming but also to bring the festival to a much wider audience than just whoever can make it to Vancouver.”
SPARK ANIMATION is one of Spark CG’s two main annual events, the other being SPARK FX. 2022 marks the festival’s 14th year; this year, it runs October 27 - November 30, featuring not only film and animated project screenings, but also panels, talks, and workshops from a large group of talented artists, directors, and studio luminaries.
But while the festival is still over a month away, this week is the last chance creators have to submit their animated works for consideration. The deadline for submissions is this Friday, September 16.
“Our submissions are open to everyone and in every form – stop-motion, CG, 2D, 3D – it doesn't matter to us,” says Antunes. “Our goal with Spark is to highlight the amazing work that's being done in animation and visual effects. We want to see what's being created out there, and it's been really satisfying to see the varying styles and stories that are being told by these filmmakers and creators. We really are looking for everything.”
SPARK ANIMATION accepts submissions in seven categories: animated feature films, animated short films, animated student films, commercials (including PSAs and self-promotion), music videos, game cinematics as well as teasers ad trailers (real-time or pre-rendered) and VFX narrative short films.
“There really is a little bit of something for everyone and we try to program a little bit of something for everyone because there is some amazing creative work being done across all genres, which is fantastic,” says Antunes. “Being able to see the films that are coming in, the projects that are coming in, it's both exciting and a little bit scary, because you feel the weight and the responsibility of that. You are seeing some of the best work that's been created for the last year and a half.”
Many projects recognized at past festivals have gone on to win Oscars and other top awards, including Glen Keane’s Dear Basketball (Academy Award winner, 2018), Domee Shi’s Bao (Academy Award winner, 2019), David Fine and Alison Snowden’s Animal Behaviour (Academy Award nominee, 2018), Will McCormack and Michael Govier’s If Anything Happens I Love You (Academy Award nominee, 2020), Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s Wolfwalkers (Academy Award nominee, 2020), and Robin Robin from Aardman Animations (Academy Award nominee, 2021).
This year’s festival jury – who will watch, rate, deliberate and select winners – includes Sony Pictures Imageworks VFX supervisor Clara Chan; renowned producer, writer, and director Ron Clements from Walt Disney Animation Studios; Animal Logic co-director Laura Brousseau; and Pixar’s Brave writer and director Brenda Chapman (the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature as well as a BAFTA and Golden Globe).
But it’s not just industry professionals Spark wants to hear from.
“We want to attract filmmakers and creators at every level and have them submit their work,” notes Antunes. “Whether you are a professional who's been working in the industry for years, a student, or self-taught filmmaker, it's amazing the amount of work that individuals, if they have a passion for it, can create on their own. We want to make sure we are as inclusive as possible.”
Inclusivity and diversity, according to Antunes, have been part of the foundation of Spark CG Society since the non-profit was first formed in 2008 and joined with the Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH chapter, working behind the scenes of Vancouver’s computer graphics community, organizing and hosting events that ignite the imagination and advance technology.
“Diversity is a very hot topic and Spark, from its inception, has always been very diverse,” says Antunes, who has been with Spark CG since 2014. “The board is 50-50 women and men, our leadership is very close to 50-50, our submissions last year were almost at parity, our programming is almost at parity, and we do our very best to try to include as many diverse voices as we can. If the creatives are out there, we want to hear from them. And, for us, giving voice to those creators, in whatever way that we can, is very important.”
Hence the online programming. In addition to expanding SPARK ANIMATION’s range of audience members, including a virtual program opens up more space for a wider range of conference presentations.
“Last year, we had submissions from pretty much every continent, and with the online programming, it also allows us to program projects that we may not be able to screen in person due to lack of time and venue space,” says Antunes. “There are only so many projects that you can physically program in your four-day festival, but I have taken a look at some of the stuff that the leads are preparing for the online portion of the festival, and there's some very, very cool stuff coming down the pike.”
She adds, “It also allows us the opportunity to tap into certain areas of the industry that are perceived as mainstream, such as presentations on AI, the Metaverse, and virtual production. It’s kind of neat to be able to sit at your computer, on your own time, and watch a presentation about some new, innovative way that clouds are being created in animation, which sounds like it might not be that interesting, but it totally is.”
But what truly sets SPARK ANIMATION apart from other global-reaching animation festivals like Annecy and Stuttgart is its commitment to spotlighting BC’s local creative community and women-led projects.
“We have a program that's dedicated to Canadian filmmakers, our Canada Shorts program, and that is something that we work really hard to populate with great material that's being done locally,” notes Antunes. “Our other mandate is female creators. As a woman myself, I feel a need to highlight the amazing work that's being done by underrepresented groups. And so, we've made it a priority to reach out and do more outreach to women and minorities to try to make those programs a little bit more robust. I'm hoping that, in the next couple of years, we're able to expand that a little bit further. But small steps, right?”
Showcasing diversity in gender, ethnicity, age, and experience level when it comes to animation featured at the festival is all part of a broader effort to foster togetherness in Canada’s animation and VFX community.
“Spark really came out of the desire to break down silos and bring the community together,” says Antunes. “You have all these people working in CG, so why not celebrate the work that's being done across the board? And I think we've been very successful with that.”
Along with their yearly SPARK ANIMATION and SPARK FX events, Spark CG Society also hosts monthly events, career fairs, and webinars that provide ongoing education and industry resources for locals with a passion for animation and visual effects.
“Our monthly events, when they were in person, were mostly focused on television shows and films that were being done by local studios as a way to celebrate their achievement,” explains Antunes. “Over the course of the pandemic, we moved these events online and, in addition, we've also expanded that to include projects that aren't done locally. Earlier this year, we did a presentation with the CoSA VFX team on Resident Alien. Some of the work was done here. Some of it was not. We do try to keep things still focused primarily on the local industry, but we've also expanded our doors to welcome work being done by studios internationally.”
She adds, “Really, our mandate is to not just celebrate the work, but to bring the creators together. So that they can see how the work that they’re doing can actually be used across a multitude of different projects and pipelines and businesses that they may not have considered.”
Which is why Antunes is unapologetically thrilled by the fact that SPARK ANIMATION is back in-person this year, because community gatherings just aren’t the same when they’re done through a screen.
“It’s not quite the same to have coffee virtually versus being able to get together with somebody and have that face-to-face interaction,” says Antunes. “That's one of the reasons we're really keen on getting back to in-person, just to be able to have that one-on-one connection with people. I'm personally really looking forward to being in a dark room, with a bunch of strangers, watching the same movie. I'm excited to see the creators, and I think the creators are excited to see fans. The energy seems to be building to this great explosion of togetherness and happiness and I'm really looking forward to it.”
Those interested in submitting their animated projects to the 14th annual SPARK ANIMATION Festival can do so here.