BANG! ransacked the brain of ASIFA Atlanta's President, Fatimah Abdullah, for some insight on what it is they do. Since Taste Du Animation is fastly approaching (May 22), we thought it would be nice to touch base with the animation hub and remind you why there's no excuse to miss the event.
BANG! Due to the fact that ASIFA Atlanta is the only hub for animation of its kind in the Southeast, what challenges do you and the organization face that are particular to your situation?
Fatimah Abdullah Few people outside of animation know what ASIFA is, or its history, let alone in the South where cultural centers are so spread out. Many may recognize the prominent events, “The Annie Awards” by ASIFA-Hollywood, or “Annecy” organized by ASIFA-France, but ASIFA was established back in 1960 (Annecy, France) as a support network for professionals and new chapters are still forming. Each chapter has its own goals and mission for promoting the art of animation. Fortunately, Atlanta is a hub for animation in the Southeast, which positions ASIFA-Atlanta to advocate for digital arts education as a means to recruit future animation artists, and keep talent coming and staying.
BANG! Is there a focus for workshops on aspects of the market that aren’t over-saturated, or are they more so geared toward highlighting the most competitive areas?
Fatimah Abdullah Right now we have focus on beginners and intermediate levels. For beginners, we focus on the comprehensive techniques of animation and basic ways to experiment at home, how to rig cool stands, basic terms and places to look for inspiration. That includes artists and organizations looking for creative ways to produce short films. For intermediates (entry level professionals and college students), we host 12 n’ 12, a competitive workshop environment that challenges teams to produce animated promos for a mystery client unveiled in the first hour of the contest.
BANG! Do you think animation is more of an organism amenable to strides in technology and methodology or a practice of reinvention? Basically how much “old-school” is in the “new-school”?
Fatimah Abdullah Certainly! Animation endures and that’s why I love it, especially considering that animation can describe many disciplines. Gaming, 3D, motion graphics, visual effects, even some elements of web design have all developed with the advances in technology. In some cases, it has shaped new methods and practices (Pixar’s custom render farm for instance). Even traditional hand-drawn looks are making their way back in new forms (Disney’s, Paperman). Like any technical art field, animators in the industry have to stay ahead to stay relevant, which usually derives from trying to keep the cost of production down.
BANG! What endeavors in the years leading up to Taste du Animation has ASIFA Atlanta engaged in to elevate its respective interests in the community?
Fatimah Abdullah ASIFA-Atlanta started in 1995 with the primary focus to screen rare and unusual animation. I’d like to take an excerpt from A History of ASIFA-Atlanta written by Brett W. Thompson and Joe Peery to explain:
"Stephen Mank of Primal Screen, the first president of ASIFA-Atlanta, was instrumental as early leadership, along with Noeve Warren and Madeline Fan, who served as co-presidents in the very early days. ASIFA-Atlanta presented an impressive burst of screenings in 1999: "ASIFA Declares War" (WWII cartoons), "Canada Drawn" (National Film Board of Canada animation), "Ain't I a Stinker: Cartoons about Cartooning", and "Good Toons Gone Bad.”
Later, ASIFA-Atlanta's annual "Roll Yer Own" (RYO) was created, a screening of local student, independent, and professional animation. It became so popular that we split the professional animation into its own event, "Blowin' Smoke". RYO is our longest running event and has been a staple of Atlanta animation for over a decade.
Animator Sarah Fay Krom became president, who screened a variety of animation including vintage beer commercials. When Sarah moved to Singapore in 2003, Lou Hertz replaced her. Lou cultivated animators and artists in Atlanta during his time at Atlanta College of Art and Creative Circus and through his work at DESIGNefx. His sense of humor and warm personality touched many Atlanta animators.
Lou passed away in July of 2005 at the age of 73, and ASIFA-Atlanta was briefly dormant.
Joe Peery, refusing to see Lou’s work wasted, picked up a box marked “ ASIFA 2005” from Lou's wife and became president. Joe’s leadership experience with the Graphic Artists Guild got ASIFA-Atlanta back into action. With dedicated board members like Ward Jenkins, Joe Kubesheski , Vella Torres, and Raquel Asturias, Atlanta was presented with animation once more. Including a special "Harvey Birdman" screening, and a low-cost weekly figure drawing class, which is still going strong today.
In 2006, Karl Sigler and Brett W. Thompson began to help Joe Perry and Ward with International Animation Day, originally held in the basement of Relapse Theater. With very little promotion, the house was nearly full. The following year board member John Ryan secured the High Museum of Art and we have celebrated International Animation Day there since.
In 2008, Brett was elected president. He started the annual cartoon art show with the help of board member, Alena Spragg, started a free workshop series, Animation Draw, and presented many unique events, including "Sita Sings the Blues", "Mary & Max", and Don Hertzfeldt. Brett also co-founded Animation Attack!, an animated film festival held in conjunction with the Atlanta Underground Film Festival.
In November 2010, Brett resigned, nominating Fatimah Abdullah as president, an arts administrator and artist. Today, ASIFA-Atlanta continues its annual programming while fostering new opportunities for animators and audiences in Atlanta.
Screenings are still our forte, but our constituency has grown to include younger audiences and we now partner with other arts organizations in town to broaden our audience. From those relationships, we’ve gotten new opportunities to lead workshops and curate content for festivals. Over the past year we've gotten many requests from libraries, museums, schools and community kids' programs to bring our screenings and programs to the metro-area and neighboring states, places beyond our usual bounds. Which brings us to Taste du Animation, a fundraiser to help us get there.
BANG! What does ASIFA Atlanta bring from the Southeast to the international level?
Fatimah Abdullah As part of a global network of professional animators and enthusiasts, ASIFA-Atlanta curates unique screenings through the ASIFA’s International Animation Day (IAD) exchange program. Established in 2002, IAD celebrates the first exhibition of animated film in Paris on October 28th, 1892. Each October, ASIFA chapters exchange their best locally produced animated short films with participating chapters effectively sharing new international animation with audiences all over world (this year, the best of these submissions will be screened December 7th at the High Museum). ASIFA-Atlanta selects talent from its annual independent animation festival, “Roll Yer Own,” now in its 11th year.
Moving forward we hope to contribute more to the international level by recruiting animation from the southern region as well as Georgia, sending in quarterly reports and industry developments.
BANG! How does ASIFA Atlanta cater to different sides of the animator’s spectrum, i.e. those who gear focus to garner employment opportunities and those who are more experimental?
Fatimah Abdullah Many animators seeking employment, or already gainfully employed, have an experimental side or are producing indie work that aims away from the uber-gloss of industry animation. Either way, we have several avenues of communication for experimentalists and studio-bound animators. We have a blog dedicated to job postings and calls for collaboration listed on our website. And our Animation Fan Registry, aka newsletter, lists upcoming submission deadlines for festivals. Membership is a great way to get one-one advice on opportunities and where to connect.
BANG! What do you see trending or manifesting in the future of animation in the Southeast?
Fatimah Abdullah With Georgia’s tax incentives attracting studios to Atlanta, we’re growing at a tremendous pace. Even technical schools and high schools are looking for ways to expand digital arts and broadcasting in curriculums.
Arts of the south haven’t been given their due in the recent past, but that is changing and the influx of the film industry is driving it. Atlanta has been a hub for animation for some time now, but with this new rush of energy I hope we’re able to push more animated, southern-inspired stories into the pipelines.
BANG! How does one “play nice” in the field without getting trampled?
Fatimah Abdullah Like any creative field, putting yourself and your work out there has its dangers. Animation is a competitive field. If skills are the best weapon, having pride in your work and manners are tied for second. You may not like everyone on your way up, but at least show respect.
BANG! At the end of the day, what do you hope to contribute via the ASIFA Atlanta vehicle?
Fatimah Abdullah For ASIFA-Atlanta I envision a multi-day animation festival, an organization that can fund short animated film projects and has a closer relationship with animation studios here in town. Those are big goals. First we need to develop a sustainable infrastructure and establish our organization as a nonprofit. We are entirely volunteer-run and have strong history to protect. Mostly, I want to inspire our supporters to keep pushing and to keep sharing the unique perspective of animation in and from the South.