ince 1984, the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS) has encouraged animation as an art form. The artist-run, not-for-profit organization is deeply committed to animation and those who create it, but in the most practical terms. With a fully-equipped animation studio in Liberty Village, TAIS provides affordable access to specialized equipment. Through talks with master animators, workshops, monthly “Incubators,” and annual animation showcases, TAIS promotes the exchange of information, ideas, and encourages animators to do what they do best: animate.
Madi Piller, current president of the TAIS Board of Directors, emphasizes that the animation laboratory is key in encouraging Ontario’s practicing animators to keep working and creating. Often, aspiring filmmakers go through school and emerge with the skills and desire to animate, but none of the expensive equipment needed. Studio membership to TAIS (a bargain at $150) gives members access to the space and the equipment. “I always say it’s much better to join TAIS and use the equipment than to invest all the money you need to invest in cameras, computers, monitors, tablets, and everything,” says Madi. “You can actually put that money into the post-production of a great film instead.”
While TAIS does programming year-round in the form of workshops, screenings, and talks which are open to non-members as well as members, the centrepiece of TAIS programming is the annual TAIS Showcase. The 2012 showcase is scheduled for June 1 at the NFB Mediatheque and TAIS is currently holding an open call for submissions. Madi is quick to point out that while submissions are juried by the TAIS Board of Directors, this is a showcase, not a festival. “We try to make it more of a party,” says Madi. “We want to to be more of a networking event without all the stress of a festival.”
An essential component of the annual TAIS Showcase is the “Anijam”, a series of 10-second animations centered around a loose theme. 2011 was the year of the “Bunny Jam” and this year’s theme is “Technical Difficulties,” a topic perhaps familiar to animators. Of course, 10 seconds doesn’t seem like much, but Madi believes this portion of the showcase is crucial to getting animators animating. “A lot of animators don’t really have time to devote to their own personal films. An animated film can take years to make,” says Madi. “But anyone can make 10 seconds. It’s a moment to get people to focus and work on something personal.”
For animators feeling more ambitious, TAIS offers options to carve out the space and time needed to work on longer projects. Under the category of “Special Projects”, TAIS mentors artists through the process of creating their first animations. But this is no mere grant to simply give artists time to work. It’s an education not only in the skills to create animations, but in the process to incubate an idea from conception to screening. “The point is that the artist gets the whole experience, from having an idea to doing the work to the final screening,” says Madi. “The artists get paid to do the work and get the mentorship. The final component is a screening somewhere””a theatre, gallery, a subway station, somewhere.”
A subway station? Yes, a subway station””or, more specifically, the screens all across the Toronto subway system. In June of 2011, TAIS, working with One Stop Media and Art for Commuters, made an open call to animators for “The Elements” project. Applicants were asked to propose a one-to-three-minute animation on the theme of the essential elements of life: earth, wind, fire, and water; TAIS supported the production of those animations. On October 1, 2011, “The Elements” stormed the 300 television screens in the Toronto subway systems, replacing the usual advertisements and weather updates that are routinely broadcast to commuters. For Madi, this cuts to the heart of TAIS’ mission. “We want to help animators do the work and support them in personal projects,” says Madi. “But we also want to do the work of dissemination so more Canadians know about animation and the art of animation.”
You don’t have to be an animator to benefit from all that TAIS offers. TAIS screenings and workshops are open to the public, and they also offer levels of membership geared less toward animation production and more toward animation appreciation. For filmmakers, those interested in film production, or visual artists eager to explore the possibilities animation might offer, TAIS has something for everyone. In fact, when asked if she herself is an animator, Madi says no. “I’m a filmmaker,” she says, then pauses. “But my work has been highly contaminated by animation!”
TAIS is currently accepting submissions for the 2012 TAIS Showcase, the 2012 Anijam on the theme “Technical Difficulties”, and “Remembering Helen Hill: A Mentorship Residency with Amy Lockhart.” For more information on the Toronto Animated Image Society and the screenings, programs, and artist talks on offer, visit their website at http://www.tais.ca/. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact them directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also dip a toe into the TAIS waters at the informal monthly meetup known as the TAIS Incubator. Incubators occur on the first Tuesday of every month, from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at 60 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 102.
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