Business

Animation takes flight in Jamaica

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2011    

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IT costs up to US$350,000 ($30 million) per half hour of animated programming in the US compared to less than US$75,000 for similar production work in India.

This competitive advantage helps India earn US$739 million annually from animation outsourcing — despite accounting for less than 10 per cent of the market — and is one of the dynamics of a growing global industry into which Jamaica is trying to tap.

Industry data reveal that the animation industry was valued at approximately US$115 billion at the end of 2009, with an average annual growth rate of 12 per cent. Against this background, the Jamaica Film Commission, which forms part of Jampro, has identified animation as part of its medium-term strategy to encourage non-traditional exports.

"It's us moving in a new direction," Jamaica's Film Commissioner, Kim Marie Spence, told the Business Observer yesterday. "The fact is that the animation industry is booming; they don't have the capacity to deal with the demand because it's no longer just a children thing."

Indeed, the marketplace for animation is now a diversified one — from 30-second commercials and five-minute cartoons to feature-length Hollywood films — that stretches across all demographics.

According to Spence, the prospects for Jamaica are encouraging, given that most animation is done through business process outsourcing, with smaller studios all over the world providing animation services to big studios. The upshot is a robust prospect for job creation comparable to that of the booming informations and communication technology sector.

"Animation provides a number of benefits, besides the entertainment content, as it is labour intensive and requires a high level of skills. It promises jobs with transferable skills for Jamaicans and it also provides another avenue for us to tell our stories," Spence said last week.

Alison Latchman, head of the 10-member Jamaica Animation Network, describes the local industry as a "fledgling" one right now.

"You have people starting to come out of the woodwork as there are more opportunities on the world stage," she said.

Latchman is co-founder and CEO of Alcyone Animation, the company behind the popular Cabbie Chronicles animated series on local cable television. She and her husband started doing animation while offering advertising services, and received their big break after winning a Best Caribbean Animation award in Trinidad & Tobago in 2010.

"We have been in advertising for about 10 years and there has always been some sort of animation," Latchman said, noting that the couple began character animation just two years ago.

"Cabbie basically saw the light of day because we got the attention of the animators in Trinidad," she acknowledged.

Corretta Singer, one of the more recognisable local animators, who produces the popular Kina Sky animated series, admitted that "It's fairly early in the game to say we have an industry" but noted that there is undeniable talent in the country.

"What we do have is a pool of unsung, talented animators and individuals with the spark of imagination and drive of ideas who need guidance and most of all, support," Singer said.

"There is still a lot of ground work to do in terms of training and the creation of a national 'body of animation work'. However, the potential for a thriving industry is irrefutable," she said.

According to Spence, Jamaica has innate competitive advantages in that it is an English-speaking country and is close to the lucrative North American market.

"In the same way with BPOs (business process operators), where you see a movement from being really far away to being closer to the core market, there is also a wish to be closer to the North Amercan market," she said.

However, Spence and other industry stakeholders say that, before any other initiative right now, training is the priority.

The latest initiative from the Film Commission on November 19 was the hosting of Animae Caribe Jamaica, the 10-year-old Trinidadian animation festival that, for the first time, had a satellite staging of the event to complement the main festival held from October 30 to November 6 in Port of Spain. Held at Jampro's New Kingston head office, Animae Caribe Jamaica involved workshops by experienced international animators James Parris and Kristin Solid.

Parris, a visual effects artist and animator, was a part of the award-winning visual effects team that worked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He is head of his own production firm, Paper Tiger Films, and has worked on movies such as X-Men, I Robot and Transformers.

Solid is a senior animator at the Academy-Award winning studio Rhythm and Hues, and has supervised animation teams on the films Yogi Bear and Alvin & The Chipmunks, among others.

Through the Animae Caribe Jamaica workshops, Jamaican animators were introduced to the variety of contemporary 2D and 3D animation styles that are widely used in the animation industry.

They also had got to see the line animation short The Muscular Princesses by Julia Farkas.

Animae Caribe Jamaica was organised by the Jamaica Animation Network and sponsored by Flow. Latcman lauded both organisations for the valuable support.

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