Is there a future in short animated fiction? – Page 4

The students submit proposals and a panel chooses the best and most promising ideas. Each of the students spends three months in the glass fronted studio developing the project and shooting a small amount of footage. They work with a production consultant who helps them present their work to a television company. “This is an important part of the scheme. Many good ideas get thrown in the bin because they are not properly presented and not understood,” claimed Kitson. “They bring their schemes to me and it is like any other proposal, if it is good I will put it into full production.”

People tell Clare Kitson she should have a regular animation programme but she has resisted the format so far: “To show my animation at the same time each week means it is ghettoised. It would be placed late at night or during the afternoon. I want to be able to use the whole of the schedule. The other problem about a regular slot is if it is a half-hour slot you can not show anything longer than a half-hour. If you show something that is twenty-minutes the chances of your supplementary programme matching the other one are very remote.”

Seasons of short animation films have been linked with feature film seasons in an imaginative way. An example that worked very well was a Channel 4 season of live action feature films by women. They put a season of British women’s animation before the movie, in traditional cinema style.

“There is an enormous potential in video,” stated Kitson. “We were always aware of this. Every time we had an animation season there were floods of phone calls asking where they could they buy this video.” The British Film Institute, together with Connoisseur Films have initiated a series of animation on video. The sales have been better than any of the other films in this line of art-house films.

Clare Kitson shared Eduard Nazarov’s horror of children not being able to read: “In my opinion it is not the poor animation, it is too much television in general. It is easier to turn on the television than to pick up a book. It is a big worry but it is a different worry.”

Following the statements from the panel the audience was invited to ask questions. Paul Demayo described three feature films he had watched the previous day. The first was a Japanese film, the second one was a Japanese film trying to be an American film and the third was a film made by Disney. He observed that when a certain culture tries to take over another culture there is a flattening of creativity in the film making. He wondered whether there will be a loosening of culture with the European film making. The Japanese films are wonderful if they are true Japanese films, if they are made for an American market they do not work.

Jimmy Murakami explained that some films made in Japan are only for the Japanese market and they make a profit because the budget is controlled. When they make a film for the American market the only way they can get finance is by going along the path of Disney. Murakami suggested it was a mistake to mimic films of a different culture because the animators still work with the style of their own culture and the difference can be seen.

“Europeans should not make films for America,” asserted Murakami. “The best thing is to make low budget films for the European market. When the Wind Blows did not get American distribution but it made money in Europe and Japan from people who do not mind watching films that are not Walt Disney.”

A member of the audience said that East European films used to be regarded by him and other Weston film makers as a barometer for the level of quality they were trying to achieve. He continued: “We all talk about ‘quality’ but I am sure there are large differences in our perception of quality. We put too much faith in money. There is a film market at this festival which demonstrates that there is a lot of money producing very little quality. Money will not necessarily bring quality, opportunities will.”

He thought that computers might be able to provide some of the opportunities:
“Unfortunately, computers offer access to people who have no artistic background or education and they can easily achieve the kind of results clients are interested in. There is a supermarket of effects, but if you are not taught how to make your selection the results are poor.”

On the positive side, he pointed to the way Xerox copying has enabled the production of short run magazines. He believed that future advances in computer and video technology will make it economical to produce films for very limited audiences.

American film maker Maria Milatidge Dale agreed about using new tools: “We have a computer in our studio which I was kicking and screaming against until I started using it myself. Now I see it just as another tool. If you have artistic guts you can use that tool beautifully.”

Independent British film producer Keith Griffis tried to shock the panel from their self congratulatory mood by claiming he was sure he had stumbled into the wrong seminar: “When I looked at the title it said ‘Is there a future in short length animated fiction?’ I thought I was going to hear from our very distinguished panel a series of challenging ideas. Instead, I find a sort of desert island instinct, which constantly returns to the economic situation of the artist making, or challenging, animated fiction.

“It seems to me we can complain, or be concerned about the complexity of the world’s television media but it is not going to change,” maintained Griffis. “It is going to get more complex, more difficult. The problem for animators, who want to create challenging fiction of one kind or another, is how can they brace that complex media system and also subvert it if they wish to.”

The debate continued with much concern being shown for the plight of the lone animator. I will let that well known director of comic animation, Bob Godfrey, have the last word: “One of the problems with the craft of animation is it takes place away from an audience. When we animate we sit with our back to the audience like an orchestra conductor. I have seen many films here that are not communicating, they are boring the audience.”

“The rules of communication were laid down about ten thousand years ago and the Greeks were drawing up rules about two thousand years ago. We ignore those rules at our cost,” continued Godfrey. “I have been tremendously elevated by the brilliant individual films I have seen at this festival. I have been depressed by the bigger ones. The people who are making these turkeys do not seem to be aware they are working on a turkey. Or else the animators know it is a turkey but they have to pay the mortgage. You should put your money on the screen and to hell with the mortgage, live in a tent. There is a lot of talk about money, the people I admire are those who do not have a great deal of money yet still continue to produce absolutely fantastic films.”

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Printed in Animator Issue 29 (Spring 1992)