Animation Part 2: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Over the past year of 2012, we have come to realize that there is a growing interest in animation in Jamaica. Something that is welcome and long past due. With interested parties ranging from JAMPRO to UTECH to EXIM Bank, animation seems to have some corporate backing. Once again there was the staging of Animae Caribe Jamaica ( albeit on a scaled down level due to sponsors being sucked dry from Olympics and independence fever), Toon Boom has been making it’s presence felt in encouraging local investors to buy into animation, Alliance Francaise has it’s animation week, The British High Commission invited two storytellers down to stir the animation and film community, and recently the Manga workshop. With all this,  Jamaica is well on it’s way to a thriving animation industry. …..This is where I throw a wrench in the works.

Actually, It’s not so much a wrench as it is a “yield” or “proceed with caution” sign. To get my point across, let’s start at the beginning.

Now it’s no secret that Jamaica’s economy is slowly going down the toilet in a flurry of fiscal fecal matter and debt defecation, and everyone is looking for a way to make big bucks quickly to avoid being sucked down into ever impending poverty. People are trying everything from ponzi schemes, health products and cash-for-gold, to just all out old-fashioned robbery. One or more of these things may land you in jail, so people are now trying to find more legal, long-standing ways of making it big, and in the process, building Jamaica up out of the dung-heap politicians have buried it in.

For years a few of us, myself included, have been talking about the viability of an animation industry in Jamaica (and the wider Caribbean) …and for years, interest has been lacking. Some time during last year, Toon Boom had a few seminars and lectures regarding the business of animation. Somewhere during the meetings, someone said the words “Multi-million-dollar industry” and suddenly people were interested in animation. Phil Phillips facilitated a small meeting where a few of us animators and animation enthusiasts got together to attempt to start an animation association. We decided to name it JAN since I already had Jamaica Animation Nation as the go-to animation group on facebook.  However, after considering the cost of incorporating a company, legal ramifications and responsibilities, I was not sure that it was what we needed at the moment. Not only that, but I can see the instant we began talking about being a “not-for-profit” group…interest waned and everyone pretty much scampered off to do their own thing.

Over the next few months, a few small animation studios popped up. Until finally, out-of-left-field, the launch of a new animation studio in September of this year.  The studio was hailed as “the start of the animation industry” and I for one was glad things were moving along in the right direction.

I attended the launch and walked awkwardly around the guests as they sipped wine…all the while hoping to get an answer to one nagging question…..Where are all these studios getting animators from?

Now, I have Jamaica Animation Nation on facebook and even though we have over 300 members, I can count all the active Animators who have consistently done work, on two hands and still have fingers left over….myself included in that list. The animators at this studio were apparently students that had graduated from Edna Manley, and while the portfolio of work was impressive, I could see where improvement was needed. Fast forward a few months and this Article pops up in the Gleaner regarding the Manga workshop:

GLEANER ARTICLE

Now this one little paragraph caught my eye:
“But apparently there is a desperate lack of Jamaican animators to fill these studios.

According to John Ehikhametalor of the School of Computing at the University of Technology, he is constantly being approached by Reel Rock GSW pleading for animators.”

GEE….I did not see THAT coming at all (scathing sarcasm). Once again it is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse….and I mean that in an overall sense, not just one studio.

The long-winded point I am trying to make here is this: You can buy a big office, fill it with the best computers money can buy and say you have an animation studio…but if you are lacking good animators, I mean, the type of animators that all know what they are doing, and can work as a cohesive unit and create the caliber of work that big companies will fork out big bucks for…it will possibly fail.

UTECH is starting a four year animation program that is sure to produce the kinds of animators that Jamaica needs…..in four years….So unless we are willing to wait all that time….we need a rethink of our  strategy.

What we need more than anything right now, is training facilities. Many people are interested in learning animation…train these individuals and voila, you have an animation workforce to work with. Yes, we do have places with animation programs, yet, I have not seen any work from any of these programs to say they are working, or if they are intensive enough to produce skilled character animators. This is where the focus needs to be right now; on creating suitable in-depth programs of varying lengths and skill levels to aid in producing high-caliber animators for Jamaica, so that the big companies will come knocking on our door.

Even Kim-Marie Spence of JAMPRO addressed this point in the same article:

“Recent explorations show that the major studios (Disney, Nickelodeon etc) continue to need more suppliers of animation production services and even more sources of content. However, Jamaica needs to train a critical mass of animators to further support our entrance into the world of animation outsourcing,” Spence continued.

Spence also added that the animation industry is a “whole industry”, requiring attention to labour (training)”

The opportunities for learning overseas are only open to the fortunate few who can afford such endeavors. There is need for local training facilities to access those who still wish to learn animation in the country of their birth.

IF, however, we think that animation is a get-rich-quick scheme, and we do not want to do this vitally important groundwork, then the entire initiative will fail, and interest will once again wax and wane as dollars get invested elsewhere.

Animation has not been in Jamaica long enough to produce the sort of maturity and drive that motivates people to collaborate and create a viable and marketable product. A few years back it was all about being a graphic designer…why? Because people heard that graphic designers make LOTS of money. (I found out first hand, that this was NOT true -_-) So anyone with a bootleg copy of photoshop could add text to an image and BOOM they are a graphic designer…but sadly, not a very good graphic designer.
I feel that the attitude towards animation is the same…get the software, do a piss-poor job of moving a character around, get your friends to say it “haaard” and BOOM…Disney MUST come knocking at yer door immediately.

When the truth hits and reality sets in, it leads to frustration…and frustration will lead to interest moving elsewhere and the promise of a thriving animation industry will die in a muddy ditch on the roadside.

Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day..Teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Long do I hear the chant of “creatives are not business people” so we do not understand the process of industry, commerce and the call of the almighty dollar sign…however, it is because we are not business driven and empowered to gain only for ourselves that we can see the bigger picture. It is not about lining our pockets with money, it is about the pieces of the whole. About building a thriving Jamaica, about giving people opportunity where there once was none. It is about a sense of pride for being Jamaican, and all that it stands for, long beyond the screams and cheering of the Olympics and independence celebrations. It is about lifting Jamaica up to the point where we will all have no other alternative BUT to prosper as a people.

The foundation needs to be set. It will be a long winding road, but if we start off on the right foot, it will be a rewarding journey.

KEEP CALM
AND
ANIMATE!

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