Toronto animation arts festival aims to build bridges

Barnabas Wornoff and Ben McEvoy talked to Playback about the inaugural public festival's industry components, including extensive pitch-related programming.

The Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI)  is hoping its inaugural event next week can help boost the public profile of local productions even as it helps to bring the animation industry closer together.

TAAFI board chairperson Barnabas Wornoff and sponsorship board member Ben McEvoy say that an animation arts festival fills a gap in the busy, growing animation arts infrastructure that’s already in place in Toronto.

The entertainment-industry niche includes more than 50 animation studios and numerous schools and academic programs.

“We’ve got the right audience; we’ve got the industry professionals, students, animation schools, we’ve got the right mix for a festival,” McEvoy tells Playback.

While there have been previous animation festivals in the city, none were as comprehensive as TAAFI, they argue.

“We think of TAAFI as the circus tent that all the fun happens under,” he adds.

With programming that covers the animation arts cross-section, and screenings including 100 shorts and a kids sidebar, as well as panels and workshops, the organizers hope the fest can grow to become global in scale.

Wornoff and McEvoy add that a large number of industry professionals have stepped up to take part in all aspects of the festival, like advising on programming, running events, and PR.

Pitching in

One industry standout is the Pitch-A-Palooza on Saturday, July 7, billed as a boon for professionals who can meet with development and broadcast execs in a speed-dating format to pitch their ideas.

A value-add to to the pitch session, explains McEvoy, is the prep training offered beforehand.

Pitch participants can take part in a Pitchlab at the NFB’s Toronto office on the Wednesday prior to the big event, during which some of the development execs who will be present during Pitch-A-Palooza will offer insight on their development slates and tips on how to “wow” on pitch day.

Industry veterans will also help attendees through the pitch-preparation process, including the all-important honing of the key messages.

And on Thursday, Pitchlab attendees can also attend the Monkeyworks, a collaborative workshop at Arc Productions, where attendees can kick their concepts around with other storytellers ahead of Pitch-A-Palooza.

“We want to remove a bit of the mystery, so if people feel like they’re going to pitch these people, they’re getting a really good opportunity and not just shooting blind,” explains McEvoy.

Companies who have confirmed they will have development execs participating include industry heavyweights like Guru Studios, Smiley Guy Studios, March Entertainment, Heroic TV, Little Tugboat, Radical Sheep and Sinking Ship Entertainment.

Addressing the industry’s shift towards transmedia and digital content, The Press A To Jump panel brings game-makers together to discuss the expanding role of animation in games.

“Animation plays a huge role in gaming and interactive design,” says McEvoy, adding that many properties now can be developed into TV series, web eps, mobile “appisodes” and games.

And furthering the conversation of the industry’s future, the burly State of the Union panel, moderated by Fresh TV prez Tom McGillis, will feature industry leaders including Elliott Animation owner George Elliott, Guru Studio owner Frank Falcone, 9 Story president Vince Commisso, Cookie Jar CEO Michael Hirsch and CASO president Neishaw Ali discussing how Canadian businesses can survive and thrive in the face of challenges and changing global markets.

Wornoff says that part of the “animation arts” umbrella is also focusing on the artists behind the animation.

So the fest will also feature The Ren and Stimpy Show creator John Kricfalusi (John K) and a live script read of 9 Story Entertainment’s Almost Naked Animals, with Sean Cullen and a cast of ACTRA voice talent.

The programming cross-section speaks to the organizers’ goals of appealing to both the industry – professionals and students working in animation and ancillary sectors – and the public.

“We produce content for other people, not for the industry, so we want to show the breadth of the industry,” McEvoy adds.

TAAFI opens July 6 with a festival gala screening of Ronal the Barbarian in 3D at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.