LONDON, England (CNN) -- From bedroom creators to big studios, hand-drawn to CGI, animation has charmed and entertained children -- and, increasingly, adults -- for many years. The Screening Room went to Annecy in France to discover the secrets of success in animated films...
Annecy has hailed animators like director Tim Burton, seen here receiving a special award at Annecy in 2006.
Annecy is the Cannes of animation. The French town, which lies close to the Swiss border just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Geneva, has hosted the International Animated Film Festival for almost half a century and attracts a younger crowd than many of the major film festivals. With prizes for long and short features, television and student animation, Annecy highlights a wide variety of different types of animation and budgets.
One veteran of Annecy is Craig Decker, known as worldwide cult figure "Spike" and co-founder of "Spike and Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation." Beginning 30 years ago as a means of bringing independent animation to new audiences, the touring festival was instrumental in showcasing the early works of legendary animators such as Tim Burton, Pixar's John Lasseter and Aardman's Nick Park, as well as the first episode of "Beavis and Butthead."
Spike explained to CNN the challenge of getting animation taken seriously. He said, "Originally we had to deal with the stigma. We showed great films like National Film Board of Canada [pieces], or "Tin Toy" by John Lasseter, works of art, masterpieces that take two to three years to make, and we had to deal with, 'What is it? Cartoons like Bugs Bunny or something like that?' And over the years we've educated the public, and we've put animation in the context of a very cool thing [with] a young, hip, adult audience of 18 and over."
One of Spike and Mike's biggest fans, Nick Park, won the Annecy award for Best TV Animation with "Shaun the Sheep," a spin-off from "A Close Shave," one of Aardman's famous Wallace and Gromit short features that grabbed an Oscar.
Stop-motion is also close to the heart of director Tim Burton, who employed the technique on "Corpse Bride" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas." He said, "Because it's such an old-fashioned technique, a lot of it truly has to do with finding the right group of animators, the right group of people to build the puppets, because a lot of things are being done by computer now. Very few people are doing this style of animation."
Allison Abbate, a producer on "Corpse Bride," added, "Stop motion is an age-old process as far as animation in film-making goes. It hasn't really changed since the days of King Kong - we used new technology in 'Corpse Bride' to bring it into a new century."
"I think there's room for all types of animation," she continued. "It depends on the story. The story should really decide how you tell it. I think there are stories that are better made in 2-D and CGI and that's what you'd go for."
2-D animation is the mainstay of Japanese anime - a subject so vast it will command its own feature in a subsequent edition of the Screening Room. The film "Paprika" has won worldwide critical praise during the past year as a sophisticated example of the art, whose keenest supporters are sometimes contemptuous of their Hollywood animation counterparts.
Asia is becoming an increasingly powerful force in animation, where companies who traditionally provided a cheap source of labor for animation studios are now using their skills to take a leading role in the creative process. UTV Toons is one of several Indian companies forming partnerships with big U.S. production houses to make new animated features.
Combination of skills
Animation requires a combination of several skills, as producer Allison Abbate explained. She told CNN that animators face many complex challenges. "Animators have to know how to move things, how things work anatomically in a space, but they also have to know how to act, how to emote and that is what makes animation so different from live action. It is so crafted, one frame at a time."
But Spike points out that the rewards animation promises can be very high. "Obviously in features, look at the most successful films," he told CNN. "They're nearly all animated Pixar pieces or, if it's live action, it's the special effects animation that carries the film."
And the future? Spike believes animation is going mobile. He said, "Internationally, what's exciting is with new media: with digital; with broadband; with mobile phones. That's where we're going with our stuff." E-mail to a friend
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