ASIFA-Hollywood, the nonprofit organization behind the Annie Awards, has championed the toon industry for nearly five decades, but never has its growth been felt as much as in the last few years after the organization went through a major organizational shift in 2011.

“We’ve done quite a lot in the last three or four years, building on what’s been done before with the other generations of ASIFA,” says executive director Frank Gladstone.

Gladstone was elected president in early 2011, along with a new board of directors, and they went to work to change perceptions that ASIFA had become more of a fan-based group and that
its Annie voting practices were skewed.

Current president Jerry Beck says the org sees itself as “kind of the United Nations of the animation industry worldwide. We did have a problem. We had to address it. … One of those changes that Frank first instituted as president was to instigate an advisory board.”

The board, comprising executives from all the animation studios, meets with ASIFA a couple of times a year. Out of those meetings, ASIFA revamped its voting process, instituting professional nominating panels and ensuring that only professional members can vote. “The Annie is a peer-reviewed award,” explains Gladstone. “It’s very important to us. It took us a few years to separate that.”

As a result, the Annie Awards have grown in prominence in the animation industry and within the entertainment industry in general. “How (ASIFA) runs the voting process seems to make it easier, more inclusive and more meaningful to the people within the animation community,” says Eric Coleman, senior VP of original series at Disney Television Animation. “Because they have been responsive, that has helped the show grow in popularity within the animation community.”

Courtesy ASIFA Archive

While the changes to the Annie Awards voting have been significant, perhaps an even greater achievement for ASIFA has been finding a home for its prodigious archive, which had lain dormant in storage for years. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has partnered with ASIFA to curate and house the film portion of the archive, called the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, at the Academy’s future museum next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Anne Coco, the Academy’s graphic arts librarian, called the curation of the archive challenging. “ASIFA’s storage and environment did not meet archival standards and the sheer quantity of material was overwhelming. We lacked physical access to parts of the collection for about the first six months of work. The day we opened a second aisle in the storeroom was a cause for joy.” After the initially daunting work, they’ve moved on to the next phase, developing a long-term strategy. “Once we complete this phase of work, our staff will finalize our inventory and make the contents of the collection available to researchers via our online resources,” says Coco.

But among the clutter, they unearthed some gems. “We found about three dozen cels for Ferenc Rofusz’s Oscar-winning animated short film ‘The Fly’ (1980). His style is so distinctive and the drawings are quite lovely,” she says. Also significant is a variety of work by animator Bill Littlejohn, which Coco says is a symbolic bridge between the two orgs.

“Littlejohn was a co-founder of ASIFA, and also served for many years as an Academy governor,” she explains. “We brought back together examples of his work on the films ‘Watership Down’ (1978) and ‘Heavy Metal’ (1981) as well as his collaborations with John and Faith Hubley, including ‘Voyage to Next’ (1974), ‘Sky Dance’ (1980) and ‘The Cosmic Eye’ (1986).”

ASIFA is actively looking for a partner for its television and advertising portion of the archive.

Another benefit ASIFA has seen is a bump in its bank account. “We’re in the black financially, which was something that was always very tenuous for us,” says Gladstone.

And they are anxious to spend it on things to help the animation community. Among their many efforts is a fund to help struggling animators with money or health problems, an education initiative and animated film preservation. Last year ASIFA, along with the UCLA Film and TV Archive and another donor, preserved a 1923 short film by Max and Dave Fleischer called “Bed Time,” and they plan to preserve more this year. “We’ve always put money into film preservation with UCLA and other institutions,” notes Beck. “We’re here to celebrate and educate about animation. We were doing this way before the anyone recognized the medium. Now the world’s caught up to our medium. This must be preserved, encouraged and continued.”

Education is a big focus for ASIFA. “We’re going to start scholarships for students,” Gladstone says. “We’re working now on defining how we’re going to award them, but we’ve allocated the money.” According to Aubry Mintz, chair of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Educators Forum, the organization will give five sizable scholarships to animation students this year.

One thing the ASIFA board would like to see with regard to the Annies is to have the kudocast televised. “We’re hoping one of these days to get the Annies on television where everybody can see it,” says Gladstone. Right now, the show has drawn a large viewership with its live-stream of the event, but a TV contract would help the show pay for itself, Gladstone explains. “We think we have a valid show. We know people are interested in us. We just need that consortium of networks or that one network do it,” he notes. For this year’s event, on Jan. 31, the comedy duo Garfunkle & Oates lead a group of entertainment pros, voice talent and animation notables to present the awards.

But its next big goal is to secure its own building to house its offices and to serve as a screening room.

“We are actively looking for that building,” says Gladstone. “We will have a state-of-the-art screening facility,” says Gladstone. “We can do events. That’s been one of our frustrations. We could probably do dozens of events every year that we don’t because we don’t have a purpose-directed facility. … That’s our next big thing.”