From Student to Professional Animation

The transition from the freedom of student animation to professional animation that earns money for its creators is a difficult one. This seminar at the Cardiff Animation Festival brought together a panel of recent graduates, employers and a Channel 4 representative. Report by David Jefferson.

An enthusiastic audience of students assembled to learn more about the giant step from classroom to workplace. The discussion was chaired by Dick Taylor, Course Director at The Royal College of Art. Other panel members were Claire Kitson from Channel 4, Derek Hayes from Animation City, Paul Vesta from Speedy Films, David Sproxton from Aardman Animations and independent film makers Simon Pummell and Sarah Kennedy.

Left to tight: Claire Kitson, Simon Pummell, Richard Taylor, Sarah Kennedy, Derek Hayes and Paul Vesta.

Students sometimes say to Dick Taylor, “I do not want to learn that because I am not going to be a commercial animator.” Dick explained they are usually referring to some aspect of technical skill, or some aspect of story construction, or the ability to communicate.

Although the last twenty-five years has seen a tremendous liberation from the narrow stylistic cartoon channels to which the Hollywood and TV majors have confined animation he did not think it right to ignore and discard the skills both of extremely sophisticated and skilled animation, and of entertainment. “At present there is a transitional period in animation where the product delivered to mass audiences is rather industrialised,” said Dick. “There is an enormous liberation in the styles of independent productions but they all flash briefly like fireworks and go away. It would be nice if the imagination and variety in these kinds of productions could start long mainstream series.”

Claire Kitson suggested Channel 4 does commission programmes which are not in any way the kind of things graduates would be ashamed of getting into. “Hopefully they should be a continuation of what you are doing in college,” said Claire. “We will consider any sort of programme except children’s, apart from an occasional Christmas special, or long running films that are beyond our budget. Any kind of film is of interest to us if it is good and original.”

However, they do not want something that is hard to understand. “We know our audiences are intelligent but we do not expect them to be super intelligent,” explained Claire. “We are not looking for an ordinary story but we need it to be obvious what the point of the programme is.”

Channel 4 sometimes commissions direct from people who have just graduated but this is rare because animation is so expensive. Claire prefers to invest in someone with a track record but if it is a really strong idea she will not wormy so much about the track record. Submissions to Channel 4 should include an outline conveying your point, some idea of the technique and graphic style and an idea of the running time.

Two grant schemes.

Channel 4 are involved in two schemes that may be better bets for people who are just graduating. One of them is with the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) in London, the animators in residence scheme. This is administered by the museum and you can get details from them. Four people a year get the chance to spend three months developing their ideas in the glass fronted studio in the museum. There is also a scheme in association with the Arts Council which was introduced for the first time in 1991. “It is open to anyone who wants to do an animated film that is experimental and risky, the kind of thing you would find hard to finance elsewhere,” said Claire. It is low budget, a maximum of £20,000, administered by the Arts Council.

Derek Hayes maintained the chances of getting films commissioned by television are extremely limited even with money coming from abroad. “Most of the money coming from Europe is for commercial projects that may or may not suit you,” explained Derek. “Many people who go into the world of commercial animation find they can compromise, it depends on what sort of work you are used to doing, what kind of thing you like to ~vork on and what value you put on it. If you have little regard for commercials you won’t be happy working on them and the people employing you are not going to be happy either because you won’t be putting yourself into it fully.”

Living between films.

Even people who manage to make their own films have to live in between times. “I know some people who do something completely different to live in between films,” said Derek. “Other people keep their creativity for their films and use their skills on more commercial things to earn a crust. This is not to say commercial things are to be sneered at because there is a lot of creativity in the commercials we see on TV and we are lucky to be in a country where that is highly valued.”

There is the possibility of working on things that are very interesting but the project will be designed by another person and directed by somebody else. There is no scope for changing the design or direction. “If you are called upon to design or direct it that is great, but if you are just working on it you have to abide by the rules of that particular production,” asserted Derek. “A lot of people get satisfaction out of working on things because they get the opportunity to use their talents and feel they have done a good job.

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