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It took a global pandemic for a pipe-dream to come true. Seven years ago, Damian Perea, founder-director of the Canary Islands, Spain-based animation festival Animayo, had a vision to introduce a virtual component to the festival. The technology did not even exist then but last year he met Don Stein, the founder-CEO of Teooh, a new avatar-based virtual event platform that enables professional and enterprise communities to sit and interact in the same digital space.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “I had two options: Shut down the festival or take up the challenge and find a creative solution,” said Perea. The result was the first animation festival in the world to go virtual, Animayo Gran Canaria 2020, which encompasses animation, VFX and video gaming.

The 15th edition hosted back-to-back virtual panels via Teooh on the weekend of May 9-10 which registered a record total of 18,000 participants from around the world. Generous backing from sponsors led by the Canary Islands local government, Cabildo de Gran Canaria, enabled the festival to forego registration fees and raise its annual scholarship award to €500,000 ($545,000), up from €100,000 ($109,000+) last year.

Experts from top animation studios, led by Disney, DreamWorks, Sony, Weta Digital, Skydance and Warner Bros., led the eight panel discussions in limited seating sessions, many of them oversubscribed. “Most of them had 5,000 people wanting to participate,” said Perea. Some sessions were held in Spanish, others in English. Topics ranged from VFX insights to 3D Modeling and storyboard creation. For those unable to participate, the panels will play again on Animayo’s YouTube channel on May 18.

The virtual platform proved ideal for the creative community which had some attendees revel in giving their avatars blue faces, purple hair or green skin. The conferences went quite smoothly, with some technical issues arising from those in territories with weaker internet capabilities. Some attendees sheepishly admitted that they were still in their pajamas.

The general consensus was that working remotely has been an advantage for many. Despite the distractions of family for some and missing their workmates, they celebrated the hours gained from long commutes. “My productivity level is up,” noted panelist Eli Jarra whose credits include “Ant-Man” and “Avengers : Endgame.” Others noted that studios that were once resistant to remote work have realized that it’s not an issue after all.

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Animayo 2020 Animayo

The debate “Women in the Animation, Special Effects and Video Game Industries” had moderator Rocío Ayuso raise the question on whether a debate about women in these industries was still necessary. “There are definitely more women in the animation and technology work forces, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said panelist Argentina Oliva, production supervisor at MondoTV. “There are certainly more women at DreamWorks Animation and in positions of power but there’s still a lot to be done and I hope that some day, panels such as these will not be necessary,” concurred Marina Soto, associate recruiter at DreamWorks Animation.

15 Masterclasses in Spanish or English are scheduled to stream on the festival’s YouTube channel on the weekend of May 16-17. Access is unrestricted but a registration deadline is slated for May 15.

Award winning pros from DreamWorks Animation, Cartoon Saloon, The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros., Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation, Ilion Animation Studios, Skydance, Weta Digital and Delirium Studios will hold forth on a wide range of topics including 2D and VR animation, how to render realistic performances on animation characters, and video game music. They will also include first-hand accounts of their careers by animators Remy Terreaux (“Puss in Boots”) and Aya Suzuki (“The Wind Rises,” “Isle of Dogs”), among others,

An international jury led by Danish animation producer Claus Toksvig, whose co-production, “Song of the Sea,” was nominated for an Oscar and won the Annecy audience award, will announce the winners of the festival’s competitive section on May 29.

For the third year in a row, the festival’s winning short will be included on the Academy Award’s short list of qualifying animated shorts.

“The animation and video game industries are the only industries that are truly surviving the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Perea. He pointed out that the Canary Islands animation industry is thriving and with tax rebates being hiked to 50% with refund caps of €10 million ($10.9 million), up from €3 million ($3.3 million), he expects that the islands will grow ever more attractive to international filmmakers.

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Animayo 2020 Animayo