A toon freak’s paradise

If things go according to plan, this week’s World Animation Celebration will be exactly what its name implies: a celebration of animation’s importance on the entertainment landscape. The comprehensive event, which runs today through Sunday at the Pasadena Civic Center, is a direct descendent of the four Los Angeles Intl. Animation Celebrations that took place in 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1991, but it also is much more than that. Featuring a unique format that consists of different “modules” circling around the major animated film festival at its core, organizers are hoping to make the event an annual fixture.

What the WAC is not is “another event mainly for executives to go around and buy and sell product,” says celebration founder and honorary chairman Terry Thoren. “We have designed it in the hopes that it really will give the animation industry a reason to celebrate the art form. The idea is to create a sort of Olympic Village for every aspect of the animation community, to salute animation and create new opportunities for current and future animators to work and expand the craft. The three main areas of focus will be talent, youth and opportunities.”

Thoren has put together a team of 35 full-time WAC employees, led by festival director Leslie Sullivan — “all of whom have been working around 19 hours a day over the course of the past year,” he says. The WAC team is hopeful it has created an event that will bring those interested in animation career opportunities together with studios and recruiters, in the same time and place as the premiere toon film festival in the U.S.

Whatever its future, organizers already have succeeded in doing something many industryites thought impossible: They have brought together virtually the entire animation industry under one umbrella, to work together for a mutually beneficial purpose.

“Bringing the whole industry together is very exciting,” says Sullivan, who is responsible for coordinating the disparate elements of the WAC. “We’ve managed to get everybody working together. Every studio wants and needs to recruit talent, but here, they are doing it together. They are promoting the industry as much as their own studios or projects to the outside world. There hasn’t been any jealousy. People in the business will get a chance to interact with and meet individuals they might not normally encounter in their own little realm of the animation industry.”

The methodology used to make this happen was to make the fifth Los Angeles Intl. Animation Competition the centerpiece of the event, with daily screenings going on all week in Pasadena, and cash prizes and awards going to the top films selected from an initial pool of 1,100 in 40 categories. That will make the film festival the most comprehensive animation fest in the U.S., and one of the most important in the world, a development long overdue when one considers that L.A. is the world’s film capital.

“Every year or two, industry people travel to Annecy (in France) or the other major festivals around the world, but this year, we’ll get to stay home and the world will come here to celebrate the art form,” Sullivan explains.

Thoren, who has been running film festivals for years, says previous L.A. Intl. competitions have been successful, but not as well-attended as others around the globe. He felt what the WAC needed was “a variety of different events surrounding the festival, so that we could bring a huge audience into the same place where we would be screening the films. That way, there would be something to appeal to everyone during the days, but in the evenings, everyone could focus on these wonderful films being shown on bigscreens, that they might otherwise never get a chance to see.”

Those “different events,” or “modules” as WAC officials are calling them — some of which were pre-existing and some of which are new — thus became equally crucial to WAC’s success, and when combined, they end up forming an entirely new entity. Besides the Animation Competition, which also includes honorary screenings and tributes to important animators and works, among the highlights are the Animation Opportunities Expo, sponsored by ASIFA-Hollywood; the first Intl. Business Conference of Television Animation; the New Animation Technology Exposition, produced by Miller Freeman, one of the largest high-tech show producers and magazine publishers in the world; industry seminars, presented by ASIFA-Hollywood in conjunction with Women in Animation; the “Animation 2000,” an event presented by Santa Monica’s Bridges Institute of Visual Arts, a division of CrainRoyer Studios, during which 2,000 student animators from around the world will create in 24 hours an animated feature film; an Animation Art Gallery Symposium, presented by ASIFA-Hollywood and Animation Magazine; the World Celebration of Anime, and of course, opening and closing night gala parties. This evening’s opening-night party will include an Oscar tribute and will honor famed animator Chuck Jones for his 60 years of directing cartoons. That event also will feature appearances by all four animators nominated this year for Academy Awards. (See accompanying articles and schedule of events for details on these activities.)

Other events include daily breakfast symposiums, exhibitions of student animation, a colloquium on the use of the Internet for animation, and much more. Studios and production companies also will be making presentations throughout the week.

In studying the list of activities and their sponsors, Thoren says it is important to note that the World Animation Celebration could never have happened without the cooperation of important industry organizations, studios and sponsors — including Daily Variety — all of whom contributed money, people and resources to the cause. And why would so many diverse elements in such a competitive industry suddenly join forces? It was simply the logical thing to do, Thoren says.

“Animation is becoming a huge business,” he says. “There is a major shortage of talent to keep up with the increasing demand. So we as an industry need to do things to encourage more talent to come in, and also to make sure people do not forget about the independent animators, who stay up at night in their garages and attics, making films purely for the joy of creating art.”

For additional information about the week’s activities, call WAC headquarters at (818) 991-2884.

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