Is there a future in short animated fiction?

A seminar held at the Annecy Animation Festival addressed the question of the future of the short animated fiction film in the light of the many political and economic changes taking place in the world today. David Jefferson reports.

Eduard Nazarov, Russia
Giulio Gianini, Italy
Bill Plympton, USA
Raoul Servais, Belgium
Robert Basler, Spain
Clare Kitson, UK
Jimmy Murakami, Ireland
Gunnar Strom, Norway

A panel of experts was assembled at the Annecy Animation Festival to give their views on the future of the short animated fiction film. The idea for the seminar came from Soviet director Eduard Nazarov, who was concerned about the effect the changes in his country were having on the funding of animated films.

There were many excellent personal artistic animated films in the Annecy Festival and it is easy to be complacent about the future. However, the money to produce these films has to come from somewhere. If new animators are to be encouraged to produce exciting and innovative work the framework for production must be put in place.

Raoul Servais, made the point that movies require a considerable investment and so a huge gulf separates the author from the audience. The public are in the hands of the distributor when it comes to the films available. The distributor has abandoned the short film while the public like them. Governments are not investing in films that do not seem to have the potential to recoup their cost.

He also pointed out that children’s workshops are very worthwhile because children who take part will be fervent admirers of the art for the rest of their lives.

Eduard Nazarov outlined the situation in Russia. Many companies from abroad view Russia as a source of cheap labour. They want to make films quickly, ask for top quality, and offer very little money. “For many years we were working in cages, under supervision, we did our art as well as we could,” Nazarov explained. “We were not ready for the commercial type of animation which exists all around the world. Like everybody we have a national form of art. We are worried that with the commercialisation of animation we will lose that level of art.”

He appealed to all the animation companies around the world to be human with each other: “If we make films together we must have the same level of salary, taking into account the
different cost of living in each country.”

“However, money does not come first, the first and last consideration is culture,” he asserted. “Culture cannot live without money, but our only legacy from the past is culture and we can only leave culture for the future. Our future culture is through our children. Recently there has been an influx of Disney style films from the USA. I do not see anything of value in these programmes. They are only jumping, kicking, smiling, crying, thumping each other and so on. If a minister of culture from any country were to sit in front of a television all day and watch these programmes he would need hospital treatment. I feel the directors of these films need treatment too, and then I think, maybe I need hospital treatment. Everybody becomes crazy.”

When Nazarov talks with people in Europe they claim to have ideals but nothing changes, studios and companies are doing what they want. “Look at what is happening to our children, they are all like little animals with empty eyes,” claimed Nazarov. “I see this all over the world. They are chewing gum while watching the movie and what do they have for brains, chewing gum? Animation is an art that comes directly into the heart and brain without any explanation, unlike books. Now children do not read books, they want pictures.”

He referred to the films of Walt Disney made in the 30s, 40s and 50s that can be watched a thousand times. However, he did not admire the present day Walt Disney productions. “If Walt Disney were alive today I cannot begin to imagine what he would say about the productions made in his name,” declared Nazarov.

“Look to the future because we are in danger of loosing the big art of animation,” he implored. “Only animators can change things, let us do it.”

Giulio Gianini said that in Italy there was no support of any type for personal films. However, personal animation was on the increase thanks to sales on video cassette. He agreed there was much low quality animation on television but in Italy he had been called a racist for criticising the low quality of Japanese films.

Jimmy Murakami suggested that international festivals were the only place where many independent animators can exhibit their work. They also have the opportunity to see other peoples work. He likened it to going to a gallery full of paintings, it enables you to learn more about your art. You also feel an emotional reaction to this art form which encourages you to go back to your own country and produce your own work.

“I come from the old school of art where making movement, animation, timing and so on is all fundamental background,” explained Murakami. “There are many near genius people who do not have to go through that stage to become artistic film makers.”

He did not want to put labels such as “art film” on a certain type of production because that could be very destructive to novice animators. Everyone has to make a living at some time and quite a few of the films in the festival were made by people who have made commercials and gone through the mass communication entertainment side. Murakami wants the young film makers to have the experience of exhibiting in a festival because it is part of learning about their work. “Whether it is done in your own time at home or at weekends in the studio, it is important you should do this because you have to have some measure of how good you are,” declared Murakami. “You need knowledge about creating an image or a design or a story. If you do go into commercial animation you will always find people who believe they know better than you, and you are not in a position to argue with them. You should always go to the maximum of your ability when creating your personal work, it is self satisfying and it is something you can protect because it is your own.”

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