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  • Corretta Singer

State of the Jamaican Animation Industry Report

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to once again attend the Animae Caribe Animation festival in Trinidad. It was a fun week of screenings, workshops, bootcamps and camaraderie amongst animation aficionados. A few things happened: 1: I was voted in as the New President of ASIFA Caribbean. This is a HUGE deal. I have a lot of work cut out for me, but that is a story for another time.

2: And this is the one I want to focus on…I was asked to give a “State of the Industry” report for the Animation Industry in Jamaica.

I am not going to mince words here….It’s not going as great as most people would have hoped. Studios are teetering on the edge of closure, training institutions are teaching students with very little know-how on Animation, and animation quality is lacking.

And we are not alone in the region in facing these issues. I do no one any favors by trying to candy-coat a dire situation. My plan was to simply lay out the facts. Take it or leave it, these are not embellishments but stringent facts on the timeline of the industry thus far.

So if you want to know what I said: This is the document I read from: Scope of the Jamaican Animation Industry Jamaica is no stranger to animation. From as early as the 70s, there have been spurts of animation creation that have graced our island only to seemingly vanish without a trace. The two first black animators, Leo Sullivan and Flloyd Norman, of Disney and Hanna Barbera fame, both had great interest of creating an animation studio in Jamaica; however, their venture was fraught with challenges and political roadblocks. Over the years since, lone individuals have dabbled and developed the craft, as the onset and refinement of digital animation made the industry more accessible. We have our fair share of animation pioneers, who sought to cut a path long before the wheels of industry and commerce in animation began to turn. We have been spurred on, mostly or at least in part by the animation movement in our Caribbean neighbor, Trinidad.

In 2009 a facebook group was created and the Jamaica animation nation became a meeting ground for animators, and those in related and supportive fields, who have been practicing, dabbling and experimenting unaware that there were even other people on the island walking the same road as they were.

Despite the success of Award winning, globally lauded Jamaican produced animated works from as far back as 2001, the cry for a movement to jump-start the animation industry, went mostly unheeded.

In 2010 Joan Voglesang…Of Toon Boom Came to visit Jamaica along with Phil Phillips and inspired a new breed of investor to see Animation as an untapped source of potential income. With the buzz of animation being a 100 billion dollar industry at the time, it planted the first seeds of a greater movement forward with animation as an industry.

In 2012, after years of increasing animation activity on the island, we saw the need for the Jamaica Animation Nation to be something more than just a facebook page. With practicing animators who had local regional and international contacts, we saw where an association was needed in Jamaica, a neutral entity to be a liaison and voice for the various animation interests; Freelancers, employed animators, studios, festivals, training facilities and government entities. The intention is to use our collective knowledge and expertise to help steer Jamaica’s Animation industry in the right direction.

2012 was also the year that Jamaica’s animation industry was officially, nationally recognized with the opening of GSW Reel Rock. The Global animation industry was seen to be valued at 200 billion US dollars a year and rising, an attractive and lucrative figure, that engrossed investors and various entities. With GSW, Jamaica was finally in a place to capitalize on the global growth of animation, by seeking to corner its share in the market with this lucrative new venture. Though not Jamaica’s first animation studio, it was hailed by the media as the “launch of the Animation Industry”. GSW Reel Rock embarked on a journey to provide quality animation with its original team of 12 animators, utilizing Toon Boom as their platform of choice.

With the previous existence of two other studios, Alcyone of Cabbie Chronicles fame and SkyRes, formerly IDEAL studios, it brought up to three, the number of small to medium-scale animation studios operating in Jamaica, with a few boutique one and two-man operations scattered about. Even long before them, Liquid Light, was known for being the only large-scale production house on the island capable of producing quality 3D animation for local and regional commercials.

Soon after, local Film festivals had begun calling heavily for locally grown animation, and some have even gone as far as adding an animation category. Among these are Reggae Film Festival, Lignum Vitae Film Festival, Alliance Francaise French Film festival (which is going on right now) and the Jamaica Film Festival.

In 2013 the Kingstoon Animation Conference was launched. The 2 day event was heavily attended and lauded, focusing on both developing animation skill and animation as a business. It called upon the expertise of both local and overseas practitioners to share their wealth of knowledge to those in attendance. Animators were excited and encouraged and eagerly awaited the next installment.

Due to growing outsourcing opportunities, a call went out for the training of more animators to fill a growing need within the studios to remain competitive for the global outsourcing market. For example In 2014, one such program was…and this is Quoted from a Jamaica observer article dated February 16 . “Animate Jamaica” a six month certificate program of the Caribbean institute of Media and Communication CARIMAC, with support from a private Jamaican animation Company, Reel Rock GSW, The Government and the World Bank as Global partner. A unique feature of the exercise, as pointed out by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, was that the 28 young people graduating are all expected to find immediate employment, a rare occurrence in these times of high unemployment among young school leavers. Another 17 young animators also completed the program at the Western Jamaica Campus of the UWI in Montego Bay.”

Other six month courses were initiated by UTeCH, GARMEX, HEART and Edna Manley College for the visual and performing arts. Graduating on average 30 -60 animators each, every six months. So, on all accounts Animation has finally taken root in Jamaica as an industry poised to prosper.

However, the road has had its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way.

The studios are each dealing with their own challenges some of which have disrupted production.

Training institutions have been plagued with complaints about the quality of the animation from their graduates, citing that they cannot be used by the studios to produce work for overseas clients. It has led to a mass call for longer-running program and retraining of Trainers.

Even though Animation has been utilized in numerous large commercials for big firms and telecom companies, sadly, and perhaps, ironically, at a time when animation has become the buzzword, and despite a growing number of animation practitioners and locally available animation resources, a fair chunk of work is still outsourced. Price has been said to be the determining factor but information on this is conflicting, scarce and uncorroborated. This has affected even the local studios, forcing them to shift their focus to mainly providing outsource work, citing that local and regional jobs were few and far between.

Even as the association, we have had our fair share of challenges.. For example, despite a wildly successful and well supported first installment of Animae Caribe Jamaica with JAMPRO offering up its support via their conference room, our efforts to keep subsequent installments of Animae Caribe Jamaica as an on-going festival was scrapped due to lack of funding and support.

Efforts to keep animators interested, encouraged and involved, is proving more difficult, despite the growing national interest in Animation, citing to perhaps a deeper socio-economic issue.

However, we are on the cusp of a dynamic new shift. The outcome of which will remain to be rolled out over the next five years. CARIMAC has already begun a Bachelor's of fine arts in animation. Already we have seen new fervor and effort by entities such as World Bank and MSTEM to support and help position various entities to assist in building up the industry. MSTEM lent its support to JANN, providing a space for our official launch in July of 2014. Both World Bank and MSTEM have invested in the recently concluded Train the Trainer program, an intensive 4 week retraining course with involvement from HEART which invited two lecturer-practitioners from Capilano to drill their teaching methods and their 2D and 3D knowledge into the attendees. Two of those attendees were also JANN exec members. To the delight of many animators, the MSTEM and World bank initiators and sponsors of Kingstoon, will once again have the event take place in March of 2016, providing a 3 day animation extravaganza, involving workshops from both international and local practitioners, along with an animation competition and a pitching competition where amazing prizes will be given to the winners. The event is not just open to local animators but welcomes regional and international entrants as well.

The Jamaican Animation industry has learned much, and new realizations about animation and the animation industry are being discovered as we go along,

For example, the realization that animation is NOT “easy” and Not everyone can do it. But it can provide new opportunities for those who are artistically and technically inclined.

The realization that we need longer-running training program.

And also…the realization that Toon Boom is not the end all be all of 2D animation pipelines.

That’s where we are at, thank you for your time.”

There is so much more that could be said but I feel that this was enough to cover things from beginning to end. More things will be coming and the time to say what needs to be said is at hand. So stay tuned and keep animating. Corretta Singer is a practicing 3D Generalist/ Animator Chairwoman of Jamaica's official Animation Association JANN (Jamaica Animation Nation Network) President of ASIFA Caribbean

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