I think Annecy International Animation Festival is probably a bit like Mecca for animators - everyone working in the industry should make a pilgrimage there at least once in their lives.
This was my first trip and it was more of a recce mission than anything else. There is so much to see that it definitely takes a bit of planning to make sure you get to see or do everything you want. One person I met there said it takes at least 3 trips before you really "get it". The programme is so jam-packed, I often found myself sitting in the theatre already thinking about where I had to get to next or what I was missing out on at one of the other venues dotted around the old village.
THE picturesque Annecy picture
I tried to cover my bases, and get in at least one show from each of the programmes - shorts, graduation shorts, features, TV films etc but unfortunately I missed the commissioned shorts so did not see either of the two South African animations in competition. I'm sorry not to have been there for the audience response because it's got to be one of the only places in the world where a piece of animation gets such a lively round of applause.
I was surprised to find that of the animations that I saw, many of the pieces EITHER had a great concept or script OR they looked great with a strong visual design (mostly the latter). Not many stood out as having both and although there were some incredible shorts in the competition, personally, I found none of them stood out for me as on obvious winner. There were without a doubt some stunning pieces, but I think I must be missing something, because the short that won special distinction (the same category as The Blackheart Gang's prize piece last year) just seemed crude in comparison, and maybe I was tired but I just found the grand winner long and in need of a bit of an edit. I left the festival feeling encouraged about the standard of animation coming out of South Africa and I'm sure we would get more of a name for ourselves if more local animators were to enter their pieces into all the festivals around the world.
A growing focus at Annecy seems to be on animated feature films and I got to see quite a few. The first was The Story of Mr Sorry which was a bizarre but intriguing film from South Korea. Impressively, it was actually made in 14 months as a student project.
I'm always happy when stop-motion makes a come-back, so I was especially glad to see stop-motion came out strong this year with Mary and Max tied best feature with Coraline. From the opening shots of Mary and Max you know that this is not going to be a standard animated feature, and in typical Adam Elliott style, it proved to be something much more subtle and sophisticated using quirky characters and magical moments that build to create a moving film that will stay with you for quite some time. ( I visited the director, Adam Elliott, in Melbourne a few years ago - he was working on the storyboard at the time, so it was a special moment to meet him once again as well as see the completed film)
The Audience Award winner, Brendan and the Secret of the Kells was incredibly stylish with a very strong 2D visual design, and although the story was interesting and it had some beautiful moments, I found the end a bit of an anticlimax. I still hope it makes it to local screens though - I realised how many independent animation movies we miss out on here.
Besides watching many many films, a lot of my time was also spent at the Conferences where a number of high-profile people (including the legendary Henry Selick) spoke about their companies and projects. Since we are probably going to be doing both Zambezia and Khumba in stereoscopic 3D, a special discussion on this was particularly interesting. Another presentation on various case-studies of feature films including the 3D aspect of Monsters Vs Aliens was also very useful.
The making of the Tale of Despareaux was also very insightful especially the production designer Evgeni Tomov who also did Triplettes of Belville amongst others. I missed the Pixar presentation, but I did go to a talk by Bob Peterson co-director and co-writer of Up who spoke about a research trip they took to the Tepuis in Venezuala and it was very interesting to see how their experiences translated into the final film. Other talks from nWave, Buf, Lux animation and a number of others were all inspiring, informative and encouraging - and I left the conferences feeling encouraged about our own process and our own projects.
Festival pro Bill Plympton
There is a whole other, social, side to the festival, but by the time I was done filling my brain with so much information and visual overload everyday, and with a looong, uphill cycle to my hotel awaiting each night I was quite happy to turn in sober. Maybe next time. Ah Annecy, au revoir.
Oh, here's a hint to anyone wanting to go next year: you need to know a few more French words than you can learn from one song in Flight of the Conchords.