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Next 50 years: The Rise of a local animation industry

ID: INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE

David Mullings

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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IN February 2011, I was asked to be a guest speaker at the 12th anniversary of the Caribbean Institute of Technology in Montego Bay (CIT), a school set up by the government which provides formal training in areas such as software programming, networking and geographic information systems. My speech was printed as a column on February 13, 2011 under "Opportunities through technology," and one of my points focused on doing more than just back-office outsourced processing.

I asked the students how many of them were aware that cartoons such as The Simpsons, Spongebob Squarepants and Avatar: The Last Airbender were actually animated in South Korea. They were shocked. These are all well-known American cartoons. I pointed out that this outsourcing requires skills other than drawing and there was a real growth opportunity for Jamaica for a number of reasons.

It is no secret that I keep repeating the following: Jamaica is the third largest English-speaking country in the Western Hemisphere, is usually in the same time zone as the US East Coast, and is easy to visit. There is no reason why we could not create an animation industry similar to that in South Korea and eventually move up the value chain by creating original content to market to the world.

I am glad that JAMPRO and some private individuals share the same idea. Last year Kim-Marie Spence, film commissioner at JAMPRO, sat with me and we shared our visions for film and animation in Jamaica. Spence's indefatigable efforts resulted in a visit by the CEO of Toon Boom, a Canadian software firm that creates some of the most commonly used animation software in the world. It also happens that the CEO, Joan Vogelesang, had spent a few of her formative years in Jamaica.

The initiative has led to the launch of a local animation company by the name of Reel Rock GSW (check out the demo reel at www.gswanimation.com, and I was fortunate enough to be in Jamaica to attend their launch reception and seminar. The most impressive aspect was that the co-founder of the animation studio behind Emmy-nominated show Bob's Burgers was on hand to talk about outsourcing work to South Korea and advised how well the Jamaican team performed in comparison. Joel Kuwahara, co-founder of Bento Box, was an Emmy-nominated producer on The Simpsons, a show we are all familiar with. He spoke glowingly about the opportunity Jamaica presents, especially because we speak English as a first language.

If some are waiting for the experienced and well-connected foreigner to come down and say this is for real, then it just happened. Jamaica could have a growing animation industry over the next 50 years that benefits from our strong creative culture.

Imagine animating Miss Lou's stories for our future generations; imagine teaching math and science in schools using locally produced animation that the children actually pay attention to because it is now fun.

Imagine a Jamaican-voiced and Jamaican-created original cartoon based on a character like Anancy, complete with a Reggae soundtrack. If a wet sponge can become a global phenomenon, then a crafty spider that teaches children valuable lessons must be able to make a dent.

We have to think big, think global, then act local. Bento Box, Toon Boom and Reel Rock GSW are the beginnings of a Jamaican animation industry, and we need to see more studios popping up and tapping into the resources JAMPRO has put in place. We as Jamaicans love to cuss the government, and JAMPRO especially gets cussing, but when they do something right we must give serious credit where it is due and then ensure that we take advantage of it so the staff don't feel that they wasted their time bringing these big companies to see the opportunities Jamaica can provide.

JAMPRO can only lead you to the well. It cannot force you to drink. The government will always try to secure grant funding for animation or provide tax incentives, but private investors will have to step up to the plate. A number of Reel Rock's staff are from the Edna Manley college, one of the best creative arts schools in the world as far as I am concerned. Animated shows also need people in many other areas and we clearly have the talent locally.

Flow has shown their support by providing local distribution for Cabbie Chronicles, so the private sector distribution support is there. One of the companies I co-founded is YouTube's Caribbean media partner, allowing videos to earn revenue from YouTube. They are always looking for content and more digital distribution options are coming.

We have spent enough time looking backwards. Let us move forward with a homegrown animation industry that provides good-paying jobs, has government and private sector support and is growing.

I look forward to watching more cartoons with Jamaican touches next year.

David Mullings is President and CEO of Keystone Augusta and was the first Future Leaders Representative for the USA on the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found at facebook.com/InteractiveDialogue and Twitter.com/davidmullings

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