The British Film Institute has launched a new Short Form Animation Fund, offering support for higher-budgeted animated works from U.K.-based teams, Animation UK reports.
“Short animated films are the bedrock of our animation industry,” commented producer Phil Davies or Astley Baker Davies / The Elf Factory Ltd. / Gastons Cave Ltd. “Be it stunning visuals or challenging shorts of the avant-garde, all have a home in this wonderfully eclectic art form. They not only act as a driver for the animation film and TV industries, but have also established themselves as an essential art form in themselves. Some of the purest story telling you’ll ever see.”
Two years ago, Animation UK set out to support growth in the sector and a secure production base by lobbying for further investment in the nation’s globally respected animation industry. In addition to vigorous support for the Young Audience Content Fund, and increased commitments from broadcasters in response to the Children’s Content Review, Animation UK joined the BFI’s consultation on support of the sector, which was identified as a priority in their five-year strategy BFI2022. The organization gathered evidence on the impact of reduced dedicated support for animation over the last decade and made a case for a support for animated shorts.
The resulting BFI Short Form Animation Fund is a vital part of the investment program, which will fill the vacuum left by previous schemes for investment in our animation creative talent and provide the next step on from the BFI NETWORK, which funds smaller projects at entry-level across the U.K.
“This new Fund is a result of us listening to the industry, and filmmakers, and working with them to develop something which celebrates excellence and creativity at a point when talent need is most,” said Ben Roberts, Deputy Chief Executive of the BFI. “Huge thanks to everyone we consulted on this work for their time and expertise, particularly Animation UK, Animation Alliance UK, and Helen Brunsdon, Director of the British Animation Awards. Our animators have long led the way in driving forward this art form, and we are thrilled to be offering funding which aims to back U.K. animation talent from a host of backgrounds, and through a variety of traditional and innovative media.”
The fund is for high-budget, U.K.-based animation teams, providing funding of £30,000 to £120,000 per project, to help support these teams in creating work which can open-up new opportunities, and gain them better recognition. It can support narrative short form projects in any animated technique or genre and for any platform, from cinema to online to TV (not work intended focally for broadcast TV), and more. The fund is intended for work that is unlikely to be fully commercially financed and would therefore benefit from National Lottery support. The call for applications will take place once a year.
Ruth Fielding, Joint Managing Director of Lupus Films, observed, “Animated short films provide a valuable talent ladder for directors and writers to move from short form to longer form work be it series, one-off specials or features. Securing funding from the BFI, together with the support of existing established production companies, will help propel the talent of tomorrow towards the tipping point in their careers. We at Lupus Films as well as Animation UK welcome this initiative with open arms.”
The BFI Short Form Animation Fund will also offer the funded projects access to insight from a BFI Executive, and allocation of support from a dedicated animation specialist if required. Although the fund will not provide distribution support for projects, in some cases the BFI may take up a consultation role for funded teams in giving advice on distribution, exhibition, festival strategies, and methods of promotion.
“Huge credit should go to Animation UK and the BFI for creating this opportunity to access funding for short animated films, giving the next generation of filmmakers the opportunity to develop ideas, styles, techniques that all add to the ecosystem of our industry. Blue-Zoo already runs a successful in-house shorts program and hopes to support this initiative and the individuals who apply,” said Oli Hyatt, Managing Director and Co-Founder, BlueZoo.
French studio TeamTO has appointed director Chloe Miller and head writer Rebecca Hobbs to its new “girl-power” animated series Jade Armor, after switching out the original concept’s boy lead for a girl hero. The announcement was made by Corinne Kouper, Producer and Founding Manager of TeamTO.
Based on an idea by Pongo Kuo, Jade Armor (52 x 11) is an animated action-comedy about an unlikely hero with an even unlikelier set of powers — and one awesome, high-tech Jade Armor suit that can be a bit unpredictable. The concept was developed and presented at Cartoon Forum 2011 with a male lead (a sort of Ferris Bueller wearing Iron Man’s suit). But Kouper seized on the notion of recasting Jade as a female lead, bolstering the show’s girl-power theme with a girl-powered creative team.
“With its bubbly, feminine and brave heroine – descended from a long line of strong women – Jade Armor is a project very dear to my heart,” says Kouper, who serves as exec producer on the show. “This modern girl role model is a fun and important one for the kids space and interestingly appeals to boy audiences as well.”
Jade Armor is an action series with a lot of comedy, set in a picturesque yet contemporary world. Cho Yu is a modern day girl who stays busy at school and volunteering at an animal shelter. The last in a long line of strong, powerful women, Cho Yu’s life takes an unexpected turn when she receives a mystical suit of jade armor. With her best friends Yang and Lin and the magical Beasticons, Cho Yu battles for justice. A Bible and trailer will debut at Kidscreen. Delivery is planned for 2018.
Chloe Miller joined TeamTO in 2006, serving as first AD on Zoe Kezako, then head of graphic development for Babar and the Adventures of Badou, director of Angelo Rules and art direction lead for TeamTO’s feature Yellowbird.
Rebecca Hobbs is a veteran scriptwriter and developer. Her CV includes stints as VP for worldwide drama at Fremantle Media and four years as director of development for Disney Channels EMEA. She is now a freelance writer and development executive.
Animation professionals from around the world gathered to hear the first panel of November 2 at the World Animation and VFX Summit at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, CA. Gathered together to discuss Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet were the internationally acclaimed animated film’s director, producer and film production company.
Damián Perea, director and producer at ANIMAYO, moderated the panel featuring three of the individuals responsible for bringing Kahlil Gibran’s masterpiece to life: director Roger Allers (Open Season, The Lion King), CEO & co-founder of Bardel Entertainment Delna Bhesania and producer Clark Peterson (Monster). The trio discussed their mutual admiration and respect for Gibran’s seminal work, as well as the triumphs and trials of leading an international team to create a beautiful full length feature film in 2 years and three months.
The book, composed of poetic verses spanning across different themes, first had to be conceived in a way that would fit a narrative storyline. Originally, said Peterson, the producers wanted the film to be shot in live action. However, Peterson envisioned that with the poetic structure, the medium of animation would serve as a better visual backdrop.
“It was Clark’s idea to do it as animation. It is a really brilliant way of interpreting poetry,” said Allers.
“It’s a beautiful film and I think it is difficult to do because it’s based on a book. [But] it’s the perfect way to do it with animation,” said Perea.
“When I thought of the book it’s really these chapters that have these poems. The only thing I could think of was Fantasia, which had these cinematic qualities like poems. Animation seems to be the answer,” said Peterson.
Peterson and the film’s other producers sought the rights of the book for five years, which belonged to the native village where Gibran grew up in Lebanon. After receiving the rights, Peterson sought the help of Oscar-nominated actor Salma Hayek, who first was introduced to the book by her Grandfather when she was a little girl. Her admiration for the book and Peterson’s vision helped give the push it needed to help get the project off the ground. Peterson then sought to find artists and a studio that would give the story the artistic respect it deserved. Fortunately, that proved to be one of the best parts of the process.
“When you start with a property that’s beloved and touched a lot of artists, people are drawn to it,” said Peterson. “Nobody came on for the money. Everyone came on for the love of Gibran and wanting to do something creative.”
Delna Bhesania, CEO of Bardel Ent., bid on the project after finding out about it from another producer. After reading the book, she knew it would be the perfect project for the Vancouver based animation studio. “It was so unusual and so different that it was something I wanted to do personally,” she said.
Bardel and another studio bid on the project, and when the first studio bowed out, Bardel stepped in to take the reins.
The next step was to create a visually lush film. Originally, the plan was to create it wholly in 2D, but due to budgetary and time constraints, the Bardel team opted to create a 3D technology that compressed the imagery, giving the film a 2D look and feel.
“[The] challenge was to create 3D models that could flatten to become the 2D graphic we had originally,” said Allers.
“We created a program to cast light on models and [the artists] hand-drew where the characters should be,” said Bhesania. For the final step, the 2D artists finessed the lines of the characters and backgrounds using TV Paint.
All of this was made possible due to the dedication of the film’s artistic and production teams, which spanned across 12 countries. “We didn’t want it to be one person’s interpretation of the book. Let’s find artists and musicians from around the world,” said Peterson. “It’s amazing how you can make a movie around the world nowadays. It was really an international collaboration.”
Some of the renowned artists who contributed to the film included Sita Sings the Blues director Nina Paley, Cheatin’ director Bill Plympton and Song of the Sea director Tomm Moore.
“When you get to work with all of these talented people it’s really exciting,” said Allers.
After enjoying an international release, The Prophet will be coming to DVD and Blu-ray in 2016.
World Animation Summit: Creatives Talk The Prophet
World Animation Summit: Creatives Talk The Prophet
Following its recent release, Iron Maiden’s animated music video for “Speed of Light,” the heavy metal band’s first single in five years, has become a bona fide viral sensation. The five-minute clip, which features Maiden mascot ‘Eddie’ travelling through a variety of video game worlds, was produced in London over a six-month period. We caught up with director Llexi Leon, co-producer Yaya Leone, and animation producer Shiraz Liberman — of London VFX studio The Brewery — to find out how they pulled it off.
Animation Magazine: The “Speed of Light” video brings together heavy metal, video games and animation. How did that develop as a concept?
Llexi Leon: I wanted to take the viewer on a trip through the band’s forty-year history but without it feeling like a documentary. There was a parallel with video games, which have also been evolving over the last forty years, and as a fan of both heavy metal and video games myself, I knew there was a lot of crossover with the fan-bases.
Yaya Leone: Bringing metal, video games and animation together in this video meant having three tools of engagement, which was great. We needed to ask ourselves who this video really was for and how we could bring in a wider audience while keeping the spirit of the band and the fans at its core.
What kind of animation techniques or programs did you use?
Shiraz Liberman: For our 3D work we used Maya and rendered with RenderMan. All 2D work was done in After Effects, Nuke and Photoshop. We animated the 8-bit scene at the resolution of a game from that era, then scaled it up to HD to apply post effects like glows, pixel patterns and grain. The 16 bit sequence was designed in Photoshop and animated in After Effects. For Eddie and the killer robot car, we used a 3D render as a reference and painted pixel art over the top.
For each game style we doubled the resolution as the era got closer to modern day. The final game scene, the first person shooter, was almost entirely done in Maya and rendered in RenderMan. We used After Effects for the UI and the muzzle flashes. This was one of the easier scenes for us to pull off, actually, as the techniques used are very similar to the work we regularly do at The Brewery.
How did you give the video a cohesive feel despite the different types of animation styles used?
Liberman: We used the album artwork by artist Derek Riggs as reference for the levels’ design, making them identifiable as a part of the ‘Maiden universe’. I think the pieces fit together so well because of the tempo of the video; things are changing constantly so nothing feels out of place and our creative directors gave the video a color palette and a visual language which carried through.
Leon: Once we’d established the rules and logic of the video, that Eddie is entering classic arcade games, there becomes an expectation that we’re going to see each game world improve upon the last in terms of the graphics, and so the challenge really became finding innovative ways to blend each sequence in visually interesting ways but with a thread of similarity to the previous transitions. We relied on repetition of cues like the blue portals opening up at the end of each game, and applied various transitions to bring the viewer from a stylized 2D or low poly game world into more lifelike 3D animation.
Leone: Some of the story elements were designed to do just that: they re-occur, the viewer makes a connection and the different types of animation styles get unified with their conceptual similarity. We use storytelling techniques to draw attention to those elements, then it’s up to the viewer to play ‘connect the dots’, which makes it more fun.
Which was the most challenging part to animate?
Liberman: Definitely the transitions from Eddie flying through a wormhole to Eddie entering the different video game worlds. We wanted transitions to be smooth and interesting but at the front of our minds was making sure the narrative was clear and engaging. These scenes were difficult to storyboard so we devoted a fair chunk of time to getting the pre-viz right. The digitally illustrated assets used in the 8- and 16-bit segments of the video also took a long time to produce and were lovingly drawn from scratch, in Photoshop, by our pixel maestro Matt Hutchings. We had to create a coherent visual statement that would bring all the different elements together for the video to really work. The Brewery’s 2D and 3D creative directors, Marc Knapton and Rob Ride, were able to give everything a strong stylistic backbone which really brought the video together.
How did the production process work with the producers, studio, band and management?
Leon: Following my initial pitch, the band and their management were enthusiastic about the themes and tone I had in mind, so from that point on it was a case of whittling down decades of potential album artwork and game references into a narrative structure that could be conveyed in 5 minutes and on budget. Yaya and I refined the treatment and approached a few studios, but it was The Brewery we felt were most able to rise to the technical challenges the video presented. As we reached key milestones I would get approval from the band to make sure we were on the right track but once things started coming together they just let us get on with it!
As well as the numerous Iron Maiden and video game references, eagle-eyed fans have spotted nods to everything fromTron to Wreck-It Ralph. Which films/television shows did you take inspiration from?
Liberman: The whole team was given a chance to contribute something from their personal favorites. Stargate, Terminator, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, Dragon Ball Z and of course loads of Maiden references. It’s been really encouraging seeing such great reactions from fans, and to hear they’re scanning the video searching for all the Easter eggs. It makes all the extra time and effort spent on those little details worthwhile.
Leone: The truth is that we just wanted to include as many as we can. I mean, how often do you get to reference your favorite Iron Maiden albums and gaming history in a music video? Llexi prepared this huge bank of great ideas and references, the first thing was seeing which naturally work well with one another as the main themes and games in the story. After that, it was watching out for opportunities to drop in more and more nodes and Easter eggs to things we like.
Leon: All of the imagery in the video had to be 100% Iron Maiden, only reimagined to fit the form factor of classic video game genres. Many of the band’s early album and single covers reference the popular culture of the time so we followed a very similar thread with our approach to this video. It’s equal parts parody and tribute – there’s a lot of love for the original Iron Maiden artwork, and a similar nostalgia for classic platformers, fighters, side scrolling shooters, and more. And yes, there are definitely nods to Tron and Wreck-It Ralph, as well as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which is a personal favorite of mine, with the wormhole sequences.
Video games seem to a popular topic right now and the video has been – favorably – compared to Adam Sandler’sPixels. Were you aware of the movie and did it influence your work at all?
Leon: I actually haven’t seen [Pixels] yet, but I think it’s easy to rely on well-loved characters to bring people in, and there’s nothing wrong with that in principle. The hard part is doing those characters justice and capturing the essence of what drew people to them in the first place. We went out of our way to pay tribute to a number of classic games that were staples of our youth. Beyond referencing iconic gameplay genres, we attempted to recreate the aesthetics of specific eras of gaming, recreating the animation styles of the day with similar limitations – even adding scan lines and a CRT monitor glow to individual pixels in the earlier gaming worlds – evoking that feel of playing Nintendo on a chunky old TV in the living room, and I think that’s what fans have responded to.
Liberman: We’ve been so busy with the video that none of us had any time to watch the film! I suppose the style is so full on that it works best when it’s fast and furious. ‘Speed of Light’ is such a powerful track it makes for a really awesome five minutes. We paid a lot of attention to synchronizing the video to the track, really letting the song direct where the animation should go. Maybe Pixels could have benefited from a heavy metal soundtrack!