Northern California-based indie toon houses Baobab Studios, Kuku Studios and Tonko House have joined forces to form the Bay Area Animation Alliance to build a community of industry professionals in the area and foster creativity.
One of the group’s first events was to hold an auction of original work by artists from each of the studios to benefit the Equal Justice Initiative — founded by lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson — whose goal it is to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S.
The first Art Auction for Racial Justice raised nearly $13,000 and drew the attention other Bay Area-based artists who asked if they could participate. A second auction is taking place this weekend, June 19-22 at baanimationalliance.org/events.
“We’ve been so inspired by the Bay Area animation community’s reaction to our first BAAA art auction,” says Baobab Studios’ Eric Darnell, who directed all of DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar” movies as well as Baobab’s Emmy-winning VR shorts. “We never imagined that so many artists would ask to participate and create personal original works of art inspired by this movement. This is our small way of fighting hate with what we do best — by creating art.”
The second auction features works by Darnell; Mark Andrews, who won an Oscar for Pixar’s “Brave”; “The Good Dinosaur” director Peter John; “Finding Dory” co-director Angus Maclane; Trevor Jimenez, director of the Oscar-nominated short “Weekends”; Dave Mullins, who directed the Oscar-nominated short “LOU”; Alexandra Bolger, illustrator of Chelsea Clinton’s children’s book “She Persisted”; and many others.
Once again, all proceeds will go to the Equal Justice Initiative.
“There are nearly 3,000 children in the United States who have been tried as adults and are currently serving life sentences in adult prisons without parole,” says Mullins. “Seventy percent of these children are people of color and are often underrepresented legally. 3,000 children. That number is staggering. The Racial Justice Art Auction is donating their proceeds to the Equal Justice Initiative, which helps these kids and works to reform the laws surrounding this issue. Though this is only part of the work the EJI does, I feel it’s important to highlight it. Please join the auction, overbid on our art and help this very important cause.”
Andrews echoes Mullins’ call to action: “The bully wins if we are silent. Hate wins if we are silent. Inequality wins if we are silent. Enough! We must find our voice and speak up when we see injustice,” says Andrews. “This auction is a way to have a voice. The Racial Justice Art Auction is the perfect megaphone to speak up against systematic racial injustice in our country.”
The Bay Area Animation Alliance plans other events, such as a talks with key industry professionals like the one it has already hosted with computer scientist Alvy Ray Smith, one of the co-founders of Pixar. “We had nothing like BAAA when Ed [Catmull] and I were starting Pixar — there were no other CEOs to even think about chatting with. I’m envious that you all get to start with a community,” said Smith, Baobab’s advisor, during the recent talk with the three studios. “I hope that this is the beginning of a very long history for BAAA.”
The alliance was born out of the longtime friendship of the three studios’ leaders: Alex Woo, founder and CEO of Kuku Studios, which is behind Netflix’s “Go! Go! Cory Carson”; Robert Kondo, co-founder and CEO of Tonko House, which is developing a feature-length version of it’s Oscar-nominated short “The Dam Keeper”; and Maureen Fan, co-founder and CEO of Baobab Studios. The three would meet regularly for years to support each other and the alliance grew out of those meetings.
“We are excited to expand our events to the entire San Francisco Bay Area,” says Fan. “The Bay Area Animation Alliance is about our shared values of inspiring the best work possible, celebrating artists, and creating community — with the goal to combine efforts to help raise the bar for animation worldwide.”
“Practically, we want to help each other to improve our collective knowledge and contribute to our community by sharing our work and experience, says Kondo. “Emotionally, we hope to support and inspire each other along the tumultuous path of being independent and pursuing big dreams.”
The organization is taking some inspiration from an earlier alliance of a trio of Bay Area filmmakers: Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Saul Zaentz, who supported each other’s work and grew creatively because of it.
“As their filmmaking grandchildren, we independent studios have been the direct beneficiaries of the countless contributions they’ve made to the industry and the craft of film and animation,” says Woo. “We hope to continue their tradition of friendship, shared passion and camaraderie for the next generation of filmmakers.”