Sam Burton, Head of Animation at Jelly London says “People seem to think that with animation there’s a magic button you press to tell a character to walk…” When technology meets creativity there is a tendency for some to adopt the opinion that the soft/hardware does all the work. The advent of photography (1839), is often discussed with reference to the death of painting - Painter Paul Delaroche famously, is said to have made the apocryphal statement “from today, painting is dead”. Closer to reality perhaps are Delaroche’s comments documented in the French Government’s report on the Daguerreotype reflecting his support for a medium he considered had great potential to advance the process of artistic production.
The evolution of technology may change or influence the way we as creative practitioners produce work, it may make workflows more efficient and less time consuming, it may also dissolve boundaries enabling work to occur at any time in any place. However what remains consistent is a creative process which involves the effective communication of a concept that, when successful has the power to spread ideas, shape imaginations and as Anne Hamilton relays “remind[s] us of our power to make the world”.
Creative practitioners use the tools available to them to push the boundaries of what is possible and it is this very pursuit that drives advancements in that technology. Animators are not looking for a magic button they can press to tell their characters to walk. They are passionate about, as Ronnie del Carmen from Pixar says, creating unique “characters and stages to reveal stories” and New Zealand animation studios are becoming increasingly recognised for their ability to do just this. Huhu Studios in Warkworth, for example, is a relatively small company – employing around 12 animators, which has positioned itself well to capitalise on the NZ/China Co-Production Treaty in Film and Television. The announcement earlier this year of a joint venture with GET Capital to develop long term relationships with key stakeholders in China is estimated to contribute approximately $13.4m to New Zealand’s economy over 5 years. An agreement with China Film Group to produce five animated movies with twelve to follow will also see Huhu’s “family” grow as they hire up to 100 animators from around the world.
Local animator and filmmaker James Wilkinson, graduate of the Southern Institute of Technology’s Graduate Diploma in 3D Animation, is well aware of the potential opportunities in New Zealand’s thriving animation sector. In 2015 Wilkinson entered and was announced as a finalist in Tropfest with his animation “Life Through a Wire”. A paper-cut-out aesthetic is utilised to tell the story of characters living and communicating through devices which was aptly echoed in a real-world story of remote connection that unfolded in the background of the work. Wilkinson had utilised music for the animation from the Creative Commons website which was licensed as non-commercial. Unsure of the implications of entering the work in a film festival Wilkinson contacted the musician (Gillicuddy) in Germany who gave him permission and was so impressed by the work that he asked if Wilkinson would consider doing a music video for him. Wilkinson agreed and having listened to the track drew inspiration from native forest in Nelson conceptualising a story of life and death, of a figure trapped in his own perpetual winter doomed to performing the same actions endlessly.
The desire to see local stories and characters reflected on our television screens is the driving force of another local animator – Rachel Mann, Animation Tutor at the Southern Institute of Technology. Mann’s concern is that 95.5% of children’s animation shown on New Zealand television is generated offshore and the characters depicted are statistically white, heterosexual and male. This drove the development of “The Tale Enders” – an animated web series currently in production that reflects, Mann says, “youth and the social and cultural issues they encounter growing up in regional New Zealand”.
Aimed at audiences between the ages of 12-16 “The Tailenders” focuses on telling the stories of a diverse group of Southland teenagers - Izzie, Hamish, Amelia, Dan, Sam and Lucy. Mann’s characters come together seeking acceptance, strength and sanctuary in a world they often encounter as hostile and indifferent to their struggles. Parents, religion, and sexual identity are among the challenging themes Mann confronts in an attempt to encourage dialogue but foremost to ensure that young people in New Zealand see themselves and their stories reflected as significant in our wider cultural landscape.
The demand for creative animators shows no signs of abating and Southland is proving to be a distinctive and valued training ground producing animators who can take their drawing, storytelling, and character development skills to the world. Whether from the comfort of their own homes in Southland or Weta Digital studios in Wellington, graduates are demonstrating their ability to work in collaborative environments to spread ideas and shape imaginations and in doing so, are shaping seemingly limitless potential for the future of the animation industry in New Zealand.
 Hamilton, Anne. SAIC Commencement Address, On the being of being an artist, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2006. P31/2.