Much as it is with all kinds, genres, and flavors of film making, Toronto (and Canada in general), is ripe with animation talent. However, as in other areas of film making, animators face the same Canadian disparity between production and distribution, between output and demand. Or rather, animators face those disparities when feeding content down the tried-and-true entertainment channels of festivals, theatrical releases, and television. But what if the Canadian animation community is uniquely geared to exploiting newer and more direct distribution channels? TFS recently sat down with Mike Valiquette, Director of Development at Smiley Guy Studios, publisher of Canadian Animation Resources, and all around animation know-it-all, to take the pulse of Canadian animation.
Mike is passionate about animation, particularly about a cartoon-style of animation that is growing in prevalence among Toronto’s working animators. Mike is also optimistic about the directions in which the animation community is drifting. “A lot of animators are moving toward a completely independent model, and it’s a game changer in terms of industry,” say Mike. “It’s untenable to make a $500 million feature in Canada, so there’s an emerging market for independent feature.”
It’s a true point that the Canadian film industry can’t support the production of big-budget features, a common complaint from Canadian film makers of all stripes. But how can the animation community support the production of completely independent features, especially in a genre that is so time-consuming and labor intensive? “The old barriers aren’t there. The tools are relatively cheap and you can have an animation studio in your home,” says Mike. “In a sense the playing field is evening out.”
As optimistic as he is, Mike is the first to admit that the playing field, while leveling out, is still bumpy. Obviously the industries – television, film, grant organizations – still control much what gets funded, made, and seen in Canada. But some savvy animators are beginning to eschew those channels for a completely open one, also known as the Internet. “It’s got the TV people in a mess. There’s a whole group of creators who are essentially one-step from the audience.” says Mike. “You can get your film to an audience with one click of the “˜upload’ button. Now the question is how do we monetize that, how do we build a pipeline to make that feasible?”
Those are good and pressing questions, ones that animators must solve to make independent animation features possible. But a large part of the animation community is taking a “do the work first, ask questions later” approach. In that spirit, animators of all kinds are sharing their work online, making it easier to discover emerging animation superstars. Here are a few animation names Mike Valiquette advises animation fans to keep an eye on as the industry sorts itself out.
Nick Cross has been animating for awhile, doing not only commercial work but producing many independent shorts. Mike singles Nick Cross out not only as a talented animator who has consistently exceeded expectations with his work, but as one of the game-changers who’s bridging the gap between the commercial and the artistic. Nick is currently working on his first feature-length film, Black Sunrise , funded completely by an IndieGoGo campaign which has already raised half of his production costs.
Discover Nick Cross
Black Sunrise trailer
Mike has worked in broadcast animation for over a decade, produced various independent shorts, and burned up the animation festival circuit. Mike Valiquette notes that Mike has not only consistently developed his craft, but is a sterling example the promotional savvy and personal branding that a new generation of animators is proving so adept with. You can keep up with Mike’s latest work on his website and his blog.
Discover Mike Geiger
County Ghost , Episode 1
Tabitha Fisher, an alum of Max the Mutt Animation School, has been working in animation production, illustration, design, and obsessively documenting her daily life by sketching. In 2011, she was accepted for the NFB’s Hothouse program. While she hasn’t produced a lot of independent animation work yet, Mike is keeping an eye on Tabitha’s animation development, noting that she’s taking the first steps in distinguishing herself from assembly line animation.
Discover Tabitha Fisher
Tabitha’s Sketch Blog Tabitha Draws
As animators become more savvy and more comfortable with new production tools and new distribution channels, they share more of their daily work. All of the three featured animators share their work online on a consistent basis, but they’re not the only ones. If you wish to dig deeper into the current crop of Canadian animations, Canadian Animation Resources, with an extensive blogroll, a showcase page, and numerous interviews and articles, is a great place to start. Ongoing events, screenings, and workshops offered by Toronto Animated Image Society offers ample opportunity to discover new and exciting work. Websites for the numerous animation festivals provide a lot of artist information, and the Ottawa International Animation Festival is one of the biggest. Cartoon Brew remains one of the big boys on the animation blocks with a steady stream of industry news and features.