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Event founder’s dream springs to life

Putting the World Animation Celebration together has been a yearlong marathon effort requiring the cooperation of hundreds of individuals, studios, sponsors and organizations from throughout the toon world. But festival director Leslie Sullivan says the event never would have happened without the glue that stuck those various elements so tightly together.

“You have to start with Terry Thoren,” she explains. “This event is his brainchild, and without him, it never would have come together. There are lots of people involved, but he’s the one who came up with the idea and gave it structure. Now, it’s taking on a life of its own.”

Thoren is founder and honorary chairman of the event and well-known in the animation community as CEO of Klasky-Csupo Inc., and owner of Animation magazine. With a background as a film festival director, he founded the WAC’s forerunner— the Los Angeles Intl. Animation Celebration — in 1985 as part of his desire to bring a major animation film fest to the United States. The last LAIA, however, took place in 1991. But for six years, Thoren and his colleagues have wanted to launch a more ambitious version, and this week, they finally are doing just that.

“What has changed since 1991 is that our industry, collectively, needs more talent now than ever before,” Thoren says. “We always wanted to revive the film festival and competition, but we realized we also needed to do something to lure talent into the industry. So we put together an event that has the film festival as its core, while also giving the world’s best animators a chance to interact with the major studios and production companies.”

Thoren says the WAC has morphed into something much larger than anything he ever imagined. He credits the animation industry as a whole for this and, in particular, organizations such as ASIFA-Hollywood, Crain-Royer Studios, high-tech tradeshow outfit Miller Freeman, Women in Animation, Animation magazine staffers, Pasadena city officials and major studios, including Viacom-owned Nick Toons and MTV, Fox Animation Studios, Warner Bros., the Walt Disney Co., DreamWorks, Pacific Data Images and Klasky-Csupo, all major sponsors of the WAC.

“Until now, there has never been a collective campaign in which we all have joined together to put our industry on a pedestal,” he says. “From the major studios to individual volunteers, people have worked together to create an event that can help the entire industry.”

He also points out that his first responsibility throughout the year of planning has been to his employer, Klasky-Csupo, and says his work as president of the studio is part of what made him realize the animation industry desperately needed such an event. “Our studio is growing, as are many others,” he says. “We also put a big emphasis on being an artist-driven company. That comes directly from (company founders) Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo. They were supportive as far back as the first Los Angeles Intl. Animation Celebration in 1985 because they understand that any event which promotes animation as an art form and lures new talent into the industry is good for the studio, because it is good for the entire industry.

“The point is, if we create an environment where everybody wins, then sure, our studio wins. But so do Disney and Warner Bros. and Nelvana and Film Roman, and that’s the best possible outcome. The people supporting this festival include people like (major industry executives) Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jean MacCurdy, Peter Schneider, Max Howard, Abby Terkhule, Albie Hecht and Margaret Loesch, among others. These are true visionaries, forward-thinking people. Their support has been crucial to making this thing happen.”

Thoren’s goal is to make the WAC an annual event. But he says he does not want to be WAC’s honorary chairman next year. Instead, he is hoping that event organizers will succeed in creating a nonprofit corporation with an executive board composed of major industry figures who rotate as chairman each year.

Whatever the future may bring, however, he is certain of one thing: the World Animation Celebration is here to stay … one way or another.

“There is no way it can fail, in my opinion,” he says. “It’s just what the industry has needed for a long time. All the best companies, the top studios, are coming. They are all organized and working together. We even have (Viacom chairman) Sumner Redstone giving the keynote address, so that tells you how important the animation industry has become.”

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