Manchester Animation Festival 2015 Review

New Beginnings

This week saw the very first Manchester Animation Festival, or MAF, stepping into the void space of the year where Bradford Animation Festival (BAF) used to take place, BAF was a very well regarded animation festival for the UK (and worldwide) but unfortunately Bradford Media museum had to cut back on exhibits and events due to funding withdrawals and as of now BAF seems to be no more.
I was never able to attend BAF myself, but knew it had events for everyone ranging from students to seasoned professionals and people were genuinely friendly and able to interact and network.
Judging from my experience the new kid on the block, MAF, is certainly on track to follow those footsteps.
It helps that members of staff involved, Jen Hall who now works at HOME in Manchester (the event space for MAF), also worked for BAF for 7 years, as well as the recent touring film programs “This is not a cartoon” in association with Skwigly Animation Magazine. Showcasing a varied selection of “circuit” films and a guest speaker, I attended the first of these at Staffordshire University on 24th April 2015 with BAFTA winning director Ainslie Henderson for a Q&A following the screenings. Had a good evening, with beer and snacks too and got to see many films I’d only heard about via articles and interviews on the excellent Skwigly Animation Podcast. This Is Not A Cartoon is now on it’s 3rd Programme catered for enthusiasts, students and mature audiences as well as it’s 2nd Young Peoples Programme for all audiences.

The Event Booking, Travel and Venue

Manchester Animation Festival was a 3 day event taking place on the 17th, 18th and 19th of November 2015 at HOME in Manchester. Home is an excellent venue celebrating and hosting events for arts and culture, having a few bars and a restaurant inside and very friendly staff.

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These photos are of the ground floor bar by the entrance, the restaurant also with another bar was on the 1st floor, and a smaller bar also available on the 2nd floor, toilets available on all floors.

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I hadn’t any films eligible for submission this year but felt it very important to attend and fuel my passion for animation, hopefully kick starting a professional career. I booked my full festival delegate pass and planned what to see when new events and screening were announced on the website and social media pages.

To avoid cramped, queueing rushes and disappointment you were able to email the festival management and request 3 event tickets per day for your pass, Wednesday 18th had already sold out of day passes so knew it was going to be busy, and unfortunately I was unable to pre-reserve a space for a Masterclass with Will Becher as it had already reached its delegate pre-allocation limit. Not to lose hope though as remaining tickets were released on the day for delegates or guests to reserve too, I’d just need to be quick.

I was successful in reserving all my other chosen events, and received confirmation that they had been booked and I could pick them up along with my pass when I reached the festival.

If I had to criticise this process I would say It would be great to be able to choose and reserve tickets for screening or events at the same time as when you buy your ticket online, like optional selections when ordering a take-away only. However I did greatly appreciate being able to reserve events and receive a written response email from staff confirming pre bookings, so I wouldn’t like to see it phased out next time if the technical limitations restrict an optional online pre booking feature being possible .

I faced train delays and cancellations every day of the event but didn’t miss any of the events I wanted to attend so things worked out, I walked from Manchester Piccadilly to HOME each day, it took me about 16 minutes or so at a brisk pace, I was able to jog back in 8 minutes one night to reach my last train at the silly time of 2207 (seriously Stoke-on-Trent, station should have later operating times so you can go to events in the major cities) although options are available to take a free metro shuttle bus to cut out some foot journey if 20 minutes of walking could pose an issue to you, I’ve been running and getting in better shape since June (and enjoy a good walk/run/cycle anyway) so this wasn’t a problem, although I did consider taking my bicycle before hand I don’t think I would have bothered with the hassle for day 2 or 3.

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Nile and Arvin Ape from Jungle Tails on the Train

The venue itself was very nice inside and out, with a good selection of drinks and seating available, the restaurant was medium/moderately priced, and of good quality and cleanliness, it was also very efficient at the times I went too. I certainly had no issues with the food available.

Mmm-mmmm. That is a tasty burger. Vincent, ever have a HOME Beef Burger with Haloumi?

Mmm-mmmm. That is a tasty burger. Vincent, ever have a HOME Beef Burger with Haloumi?

Screenings, Panels and Events

Tickets and flyers

Tickets and flyers

Day 1 – 17th November

I started Day 1 with Short Films Panorama (18)

“This selection showcases the versatility and scope of contemporary animation. A mixture of techniques, storytelling and platforms this panorama of films represents the breadth of animation, to be enjoyed by all.”

It was a varied showcase of films of various length, style and medium, I’m not usually one for experimental animation without narratives and at least one tends to sneak into festival lineups and last ages sucking the souls and enthusiasm of it’s audience members but even “Scribbledub” has a sort of electronic musical charm and a sense not to have a long drawn out running time duration. Other films shown include the humorous public information film “I saw your willy” warning children about the perils of sharing intimate photos on their smartphone and the charming “Wise Man and His Beard”. In summary a good selection of films with topics from environmental statements to charming jokes.

 

Necking “Networking Nectar”

I then had a chance for coffee and networking before a Masterclass with Tomm Moore I’ve not seen a Tomm Moore film before but was certainly aware of Cartoon Saloon and have been very drawn into posters and dvd covers for his films Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. It was an exceptionally interesting talk of how the films have been produced working with multiple studios around the world and I will definitely be checking his films out soon as they are very stunning and have a sprinkling of that charm of Disney and Ghibli films.

I spoke with Tom outside the event and he loved my show reel shirt, taking his own photo and sharing it on twitter to all his followers

Afterwards I caught “Short films in competition 1”

Presenting some of the best animated short films from around the world playing in competition at MAF 2015. These superbly crafted short films demonstrate the potential of the animated form. Amongst these films one will win the Short Film award at the first ever Manchester Animation Festival.

With some outstanding short films like “We cant live without cosmos”Panic” and “Ernie Biscuit” all showing strong humour and emotion.

After more networking I headed to “skwigly showcase 1 existential enticements” which was a brilliant selection of films that have been featured on the skwigly website and podcast and more thoroughly enjoyable selection of shorts

An hours break for me with some food and chatter and the main event “Fellowship Award for Brian Cosgrove” Manchester Animation Festival is celebrating the productions and history of animations created in and around Manchester this year, most of today’s production companies started out working for Cosgrove Hall in some form with Mackinnon and Saunders, Factory and Flix amongst others hailing from Cosgrove Hall prior to its initial closure, the first fellowship award rightfully celebrating and looking back on the company and its many successful franchises such as Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, The Wind In The Willows and its impressive films, some of which sadly unavailable to purchase and view stuck in tv production company vaults and archives gathering dust and degrading. Luckily we get a glimpse of these rare films with clips sourced by MAF from the production companies displaying exceptional model puppets and animation with amazing life and expression that easily rivals the quality of feature films of 20 years later like coraline and corpse bride with many former employees and collaborators in attendance, sharing memories and stories it was a very special event indeed a “This is your life” for a pioneer that encouraged and nurtured creativity and has spawned a cultural creative boom of equally minded businesses in its wake that look set to continue with world renowned quality productions. Brian was evidentially emotional by the end when presented the award itself, a hand crafted steampunk style robotic bee model from Mackinnon and Saunders, as were his friends and coworkers he proudly refers to as the family.

Brian Cosgrove and Peter Saunders ‘on stage’

A short break between the next events to chat and network.

I manage to catch voice actor Mark Silk afterwards, who provides all the voices for my next production Jungle Tails for a great photo with the Arvin Ape puppet

 

A couple of Monkeys and a puppet

I knew I may have to leave early through the next event to catch the last train so decided to swap my original ticket to “the prophet” for “shorts in competition 2” knowing I could walk out having seen 8 or so shorts compared to missing the end of a feature, it was another good mix of films showing strong use of animation and emotion, I ended up hovering by the exit for the final film ‘the master’ till the credits then darted across the city for the train

Thoroughly excellent day and an impressive start to a brand new animation event.

Day 2 – 18th November

Having caught shorts 2 last night and with a newly announced event from blue zoo animation, about keeping their team creative and with a VR demo I queued up to get into any spare seats.

It was a good talk with some nice clips and talk about their history and development and growth and future, with some great tips for new studios currently wanting to branch into tv productions.

I was desperate to try out the Gear VR headset that had been bought along to the event which had a 30 second demo animation they’re working on so leapt forward at the end of the talk to experience my first VR experience it was very cool and I didn’t experience any issues with focus or motion sickness as I spun around and looked up and down at the cartoon world around me, I did notice that i was looking at a screen as some sort of banding similar to tv scan lines were present but I can totally see myself being immersed in games and interactive experiences via VR headset in the not so distant future and would love to try out a gaming demo on a HTC Vive and Vituix omni set up.

Next up was How To Make Friends and animate people the art of crowdfunding a panel with staff from Aardman, Simons Cat and Kilogramme studios talking about how they’ve successfully utilised crowdfunding programmes like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to help create animations and products and the issues they’ve encountered and what to prepare for if you were to start your own campaign, it’s crossed many minds and spawns a few good questions from the audience by the end. It’s also eye opening for the companies running the campaigns to see what their audiences really want to see. Commonly it seems that the total amount asked for is much less than actually required to create and finalise the products, often requiring funding from elsewhere, Aardman put up half the cost of production for the new Morph series (and then agreed to match any funds additional raised passed the target)

Kilogramme, a studio I was not overly familiar with have produced a great series of films about innocent lies you tell children entitled “Tall Tales” it seems that across the board the average pledge is ~£40 so you should set any pledge tiers effectively, a lot of time is spent sending out physical goods and approximately half of all money raised goes towards physical goods too so manage and plan beforehand.

Some more gathering in the common areas between events before “A Masterclass with Will Becher” the first event to sell out I think. Will was able to skip a lot of the usual talk that accompanies such talks as an overwhelming majority of those in attendance were aware of all the basics of how stop-motion animations are made, so focused on how the specific puppets were made and the gigantic sets were planned, built and moved around the stages, lots of behind the scenes videos and comparisons were shown too including the always entertaining Aardman LAV’s (Live Action Videos)  where the animators and directors practise the shot at hand before shooting with puppets, so always lots of over the top expressions and funny positions (I’ll always remember a LAV from creature comforts of animators pretending to be goats) Will brought along a lot of puppets, props and armatures, including one that could be passed around, was nice to finally meet Will Becher (amongst many more in Attendance) as I speak with Will online fairly often on Twitter and have been a fan of his short animations for a long time too

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After having such a great time at Skwigly’s selection on day 1 I decided to go to “Skwigly showcase 2 fetching fascinations” I didn’t enjoy as many of films in this selection, Fulfilament was easily the strongest film, but there was many chuckle moments due to weirdness in the other films.

Was very hungry afterwards but only had a few minutes between the end of the screenings to the start of the eagerly anticipated first come first serve event “Skwigly animation quiz” so a mad dash outside to a jamaican takeaway for a jerk chicken salad, (sorry for any smell!) and returned to join some friends old and new to form a team to enter the quiz. Some very tough questions in some rounds “what are the full names of shaggy, hey arnold, postman pat and chucky from rugrats?” a picture round to decipher the cartoons from the cryptic character clues.

There was lots of excellent prizes on offer (even more prizes than participants actually) and the odd booby prize too (some Family Guy books, Percy Jackson lightning theif DVDs?)some of the gems up for grabs were signed box sets of Dangermouse and Count Duckula, art books and animation drawing training books, we racked our collective brains swap answers sheets, handed them in and waited, staring at the prize table. We didn’t win 1st place, but as people chose their own prizes from each table, my favoruite prizes were still available, and we came 2nd!

Skwigly Animation Quiz WinnersLook at our happy faces 😀 with Brian Cosgrove signed goodies

I also met Joanna Quinn who commented on my showreel shirt and drew in my book (more on that later) full of high spirits I headed into ““Graduation films in competition 1” which had some great films in showcase like Manoman and The Moustache.

After some more networking it was onto my final event of the night and most anticipated of the festival “Making it in Manchester” a panel headed by representatives of Factory, Flix and Mackinnon and Saunders all companies producing world class work together in the Manchester area, a brief but detailed look into the work of each company, how they’ve grown taken on new projects, worked together and hopes for feature films made in the area in the future, Opportunities seems bright in the region for creative film making and as I sat in the front row of people, I left my showreel shirt playing on repeat as I feel the speakers almost addressing me personally as their gaze connects with mine as they present their work and talk about their projects, I had asked Phil Chalk from Factory if we could chat prior to the festival on linkedin and sure enough he took the time to talk with me in the cinema and in the meeting areas too with drinks, sadly I had to leave due to train times again but Phil invited me to the studio for a tour, and promised to send me some details of who I should write to to be considered for contracts, I’ll be in contact as soon as this blog is published Phil!

Breaking News! Factory just won the Bafta for Clangers! Well done everyone!

Mackinnon & Saunders brought Frankenweenie puppets with them, heres some Sparky’s

Day 3 – 19th November

A more relaxed pace for myself today, deciding to skip the first events as I didn’t have an additional pass for Joanna Quinns life drawing session, and had previously caught short films panorama I arrive in time for “The Re-making of Danger Mouse

Remakes are a tricky thing to get right with many failing to find the balance needed to appeal to a new audience whilst also keeping the older fans happy.

However, in spite of the perceived odds the new series has been universally lauded, and like an episode from the show, those odds have been defied and Danger Mouse has emerged triumphant as ever.

We will be joined by the team responsible for this rodent renaisance as they take us behind the scenes for an exclusive look at a yet to be aired episode.

The talk focuses a lot on the pre production, discussing layout and style choices, showcasing some brilliant backgrounds created for the show, alien landscapes and an overgrown jungle of London, amongst others that I’m sure many in attendance would love to see released as wallpaper pictures for their various digital devices.

A yet to be aired episode is dissected and broken down then built up again in stages with the panel explaining the process and changes between sketch to screen, afterwards we are treated to the full episode which still manages to squeeze a few giggles out after we’d watched the same clip a few times before in the development stages, which speaks of the writing’s strong script and style.

If you’re a fan of the Skwigly podcast a lot of what’s discussed was subject to their interview on “Episode 34 Danger Mouse” so if you were unable to attend you could catch up as it were by listening to that episode.

Then outside for networking opportunities again (and a sneaky coffee laid on for the Manimation conference also happening today) a few more doodles for my book and it’s time for

Masterclass with Tim Searle Tim’s a bit of a punk anarchist of the animation world, initially producing title sequences and music videos for TV, he has some greats under his belt like 2D TV and Have I got news for you, the talk splits up Tim’s work history and university days, touching on the subtle experiences he got as a student union leader (learning to organise events and deal with people and celebrities) which may resonate and inspire many of the crowd to run for their own students union and society positions, with Tim’s TOP TIPS. Don’t be a dick. Practise. Short brief tips for the audience members to further their careers. Tim talks about how he’s lobbied for the animation tax break and concludes with an episode of the new animated Mr Bean show.

Sadly this is where I ended my festival time, I turned in my ticket so someone else could got to the Awards Ceremony winners were

Guida by Rosana Urbes has won Best Short Film at the inaugural Manchester Animation Festival alongside other winners, Edmond by Nina Gantz winning Best Graduation Film and Kung Fu Badger by Paper Panther and the transition Year class of Coláiste Eoin, Stillorgan taking the Best Film by Children (Under 16). Simon Cartwright’s MANOMAN received the Audience Award prize as voted for by the delegates at the festival.

So keep your eyes out for these award winning films near you.

In summary

I had an amazing time at Manchester Animation Festival and feel refuelled and passionate this is what I need to do with my life, and that now is the time. I hope that MAF has a long successful life and that I can attend many more with my own films in the future.

I didn’t meet anyone who had issues with the festival, and the only time things were a little uncomfortable was the final day when 2 or 3 events finished at once with Manimation and there was a big crowd in the hallways, but this was a crowd of enthusiastic people, in fact 2 Manimation producers stopped me and insisted they watch my showreel shirt loving the idea and sharing details.

The little Book

Now what of this book I’ve mentioned? Well aside from catching eyes with my showreel shirt  I wanted to engage with the people I spoke with at the festival, be it guests, friends, twitter followers, the volunteers or organizers so decided my takeaway from the festival, other than the few business cards would be a doodle.

So here’s some scans from my little Manchester doodle book, it gives me a unique memento to take away and hopefully cements some names to faces, and sow some new friendship seeds.

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