Back to The Well
Where to begin…
I’ve been going to The Animation Conference and the Ottawa International Animation Festival since I before started Echo Bridge back in 2010. My first experience with TAC/OIAF was in 2008. I was working as an Animation Director for the legendary FatKat Animation Studios and was on the last few weeks of my contract. Prior to heading back to the U.S, Gene invited me to go with him and infamous Animation Producer, Robbie Anderson and a close colleague of ours, Jason MacArthur. We loaded up a mini van with goods and gas and rolled out of Miramichi [New Brunswick, Canada] at dawn’s first light. I remember seeing my first Canadian moose on that trip.
We get to Ottawa and I’m taken away by it’s gorgeous scenery. Never expected to see a place like that before, and I’m always happy to come back each year. It’s like summer camp for me at this point. Gene and Robbie had TAC passes in order to attend their meetings and do businessy things, while Jason and I only had festival passes and had to keep ourselves busy for two days that we were there. We both had brought our cameras and decided to tour around town, check out the pubs and museums. We’d meet up with Gene and Robbie later in the evening where we got to sit in on some business dinners and after parties. That’s when I got to meet my dear and close friend Mike Valiquette, and the ever inspiring Gary Schwartz. We got to meet some real players of animation and I felt like a little kid meeting his favorite sports heroes for the first time. I geeked out a few times, but that’s ok. We all have those moments.
OIAF 2008 was also my first introduction to the animation film festival world. Jason and I met up with a lot of fun animators and film goers and we all went together to the screens to watch cartoons. In fact, after OIAF ‘08, I was inspired to make a short film with the hopes of getting into the festival some day. Fast forward 8 years, still haven’t gotten in. Some day…
It wasn’t until TAC/OIAF 2010 when I came as Echo Bridge. My first TAC experience was a pretty surreal one. I remember coming in a suit and tie, trying to look sharp. Someone had told me that it was a business conference and I took it to mean just that. I had brought some pitches with me, mostly mature oriented content and it wasn’t shortly after I arrived at TAC that I discovered that most people attending were pitching kids oriented productions to networks, broadcasters and other studios. Sheepishly, I put my materials away and started promoting the studio and what we do.
TAC would have Happy Hour at the day’s end and I met many more amazing and inspiring artists, producers, writers and other studio owners. It’s there that I met my good friend Sam Chou, the talented Mike Geiger and the charming Brooke Keesling. I also reconnected with people that I hadn’t seen since 2008. Seeing and knowing that they’re still around and kicking is a good feeling. Also seeing their progression throughout the years and how life has treated them brings a sense of comradery you only get from working closely together.
This year’s TAC/OIAF was a special one for me seeing as it is my 6th year attending. Reconnecting with colleagues, friends and catching up on life… I never really understood the concept of nostalgia until this conference. So many events have happened in people’s lives but they’re still persistent to make something amazing despite the struggles or successes.
As a business, it’s about creating product. Products that entertain and turns profit. As an art, it’s about shaping a world view. It’s about taking a position and trying to define that which is hard to define.
When you work in the animation industry for a while, it has a way of changing you. 16 years ago, I started off chipper and excited and couldn’t wait to get started on the day. Now, sometimes what is suppose to be fun and exciting becomes dreadful and boring. You question why you do what you do. You question what’s the point. The actions of the day to day have our attention on the moment to moment rather than the bigger picture. When you have to worry about receiving payments and sending out payments, resolving disputes, business development, maintaining old relationships while curating new ones, mentoring, and your everyday life outside of work walls; you need to go back to the well.
Animation is both an art and a business, but not all businesses are created for the sole purpose of profit. While it takes a tremendous amount of effort, resources and people to put an animated project together and even though the company is looking to recover costs; there are some businesses whose purpose is to change or improve the way we see and live in the world.
When you’re at conferences like TAC, MIP, or KidScreen, you can see the distinction between those who are in it to make a profit and those who are there to make art. It’s not to say that profit and art are exclusive from one another, but there should be a balance between the two. And when we start to forget why we are doing what we are doing, going to places like TAC/OIAF is - for me anyways - going back to the well. To replenish or refresh your perspective.
While I was unable to attend the film festival segment of TAC/OIAF, reconnecting with like-minded colleagues and friends who are trying to do what you do, is refreshing.
Looking forward to going back to the well next year.