The Netherlands Institute for Animation Film and the Animation Landscape Today
Courtney Sheehan, November 2011
Animation is unlike any other art form. The opportunities for innovation are endless and artistic exploration constantly contributes new methods and styles, while technological developments lead to new tools and cutting-edge programs used by animators. In addition to representing arguably the most exciting frontier of artistic filmmaking, the broad commercial capacities for animation ensures its prevalence in visual culture. Animation runs rampant online and in advertising, video games, and software applications. As an artistic form and technological medium, animation straddles the line between high and low, experimental edge and consumer appeal, creative and practical use–perhaps moreso than any other field or practice. In a time when funds for artistic production, exhibition and education are being cut all over the world, one thing about the future of filmmaking remains certain: animation is not going anywhere.
The Netherlands Institute for Animation Film (NIAf) is unlike any other animation organization. It is the only animation institution in the Netherlands, functioning as the center for education, talent development, research, distribution, promotion, and preservation in the Dutch animation sector. This wide variety of activities makes NIAf stand out as distinct not only within the Netherlands, but on an international scale as well. No other organization contributes the same combination of services and resources, making NIAf a rare asset to the animation industry. For example, NIAf’s two year artist-in-residency program is unique in its length; most residencies last only for a matter of weeks or months, or a fraction of the time it takes to realize even a short animation project. By fostering the development of new and proven talent on such a committed level, NIAf plays an important role in expanding and enriching the field of animation worldwide.
Mission and Strategy
NIAf was established in 1993 by an enthusiastic network of bodies headed by the Sitchting Animated People (STAP). Its missions was to ensure and foster the environment for both commercial and artistic animation in the Netherlands — encouraging growth of talent and the ability of animators to reach a wider audience. In order to accomplish this mission, NIAf’s strategy consists of talent development (masterclass, workshop, residencies), stimulating production of animated films, education, (the design and implementation of projects for primary and secondary education and vocational training) research in the name of preserving Dutch animation heritage for future generations, promotion (at festivals and exhibitions), distribution (presentations on various networks including lectures, books, articles, movie tours, DVD spending and Internet publications.) NIAf also keeps collections of books, films and artwork related to Dutch and international animation. NIAf currently receives funding from three governments, but due to recent massive spending cutbacks in the cultural sector, the future of NIAf’s funding structure is unclear. For this reason it is actively seeking sponsorships and exploring new possible funding channels.
The Animation Landscape: NIAf in Relation
In the animation landscape, where can we locate NIAf? What follows is a brief overview of a number of organizations in Europe and North America that could be referred to as a loose network of animation organizations, institutes, associations, etc. NIAf is connected in some way to many of these organizations, enabling NIAf to develop and draw on support and opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing in the field.
Several animation organizations are concerned primarily with education. The Animation Workshop in Viborg is Denmark’s leading animation institution and focuses mainly on education. As part of the VIA University College, the Viborg Workshop offers a variety of educational programs, including bachelor courses, classical drawing courses, professional training courses and masterclasses. The Animation Workshop offers two BA programmes: Character Animation and Computer Graphics Art, in addition to professional courses.The Animation Workshop receives financial support from the Danish Film Institute as well as regional funds.
La Poudriere in Valance, France offers a two year graduate program, with a focus on directing. It is a private higher education institution and professional continuous training centre. The program is connected to Folimage and supported by the MEDIA program, the Ministry of Culture in France, and other regional and local funds. Folimage is a famous French animation studio that also offers residencies and distributes its films. Autoour de Minuit, also in France, is another for-profit animation production company. In addition to producing animated films, the company also distributes animated and digital works.
The Animation Academy at Loughsborough University describes itself as “a research group dedicated to animation research, scholarship, practice and exhibition, embracing tradition and progress, education and industry, art and commerce.” Attached to the Loughborough University’s School of Art and Design, the Animation Academy emphasizes animation as a cross-platform media. The Academy offers postgraduate courses and research opportunities.
Along the same lines of research-based activity, but on a larger scale, the Society for Animation Studies is the “international organization dedicated to the study of animation history and theory.” The main activities of SAS consist of organizing an annual academic conference and publishing an online journal. NIAf Director Ton Crone was a past president of SAS, which is affiliated with the Department of Film and Video at the California Institute of the Arts.
Although not strictly an animation organization, Agence du Court Métrage is an “association for the promotion and dissemination of short films,” many of which are animated works. It receives financial support from the French government’s National Centre for Cinematography and its main activities include organizing a festival of animated film, distributing short films in cinemas and festivals, developing new talent, facilitating film education through workshops and training at universities, programming, and sales. Agence du Court Métrage also maintains a database of short films in France.
Another organization that strives to develop and improve the distribution channels for short works of cinema, including animated films, is the KurzFilmAgentur Hamburg in Germany. Working in the fields of distribution and sales, education, exhibition, and archiving, KurzFilmAgentur puts on the Hamburg International Short Film Festival as well as the Mo & Friese Children’s Short Film Festival. It also runs a short film school, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Media in Hamburg. It receives funding from various film, political, and cultural bodies, including Kulturbehörde Hamburg, the Federal Commission of Culture and Media (BKM) and Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, as well as MEDIA. Notably, KFA boasts a representative on the German Federal Film Board, originally modelled on Agence du Court Métrage. As a joint project, KFA and ACM have published a brochure introducing all distribution channels for short films in Europe. Short Film Contact Point co-financed by German Ministry of Culture and Media and the Hamburg Ministry of Culture.
In Greece, the European Animation Centre puts on the Athens Animfest and Animart as well as running workshops. It is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that “aims to bring the younger generation closer to the secrets and fascination of the art of animation and their diverse applications on the small and big screen, the multimedia, the Internet and education in general.”
Concentrated on the commercial industry, the SPAFi Animation Academy in Czech Republic describes itself as ” the society for Education and Knowledge Exchange Support in the computer animation and film industry. The main objectives of the society are to provide the opportunity for artists, designers and developers to keep in touch with state-of-the-art technologies, to introduce such parties to Best Practices in the digital film industry and computer games production, and to help artists both acquire and improve on their knowledge and experience.” It runs 6-12 week-long intensive training courses in English and orchestrates networking events and disseminates industry news. SPAFi realizes many of its activities through partnerships with companies and organizations that offer financial support in exchange for advertising and cooperations.
Based in Brussels, CARTOON is an association that aims to support animation in Europe. Founded in 1988 and supported by MEDIA, CARTOON organizes masters training seminars, a co-production forum for features, a forum for television series, and Cartoon Connection, an initiative that fosters cooperation between EU and non-EU animation professionals.
The German Institute for Animated Film (DIAF) concerns itself with “the maintenance and promotion of German animated film.” DIAF works in the areas of archiving, conservation, research, and publishing. Managed by a board of directors, the DIAF is funded by the Saxon State Ministry of Science and Art and the Dresden State Capital Culture and Historical Preservation Office. DIAF has also realized multiple projects through the assistance of the DEFA Foundation in Berlin. The Institute itself does not offer any educational or training courses in the field of film, but it is affiliated with workshops such as the International Animated Film Workshop at the Krakow Academy of Art in Poland. DIAF states its long-term goal as “the creation of an extensive German animated film network.”
A few organizations in North America are notable here as well. The National Film Board of Canada is renowned for its animated film productions. The NFB’s globally recognized reptuation is due in large part to its committed devotion of resources to developing artistic voices rather than commercial agendas. The mission of NFB “is to produce and distribute audio-visual works which provoke discussion and debate on subjects of interest to Canadian audiences and foreign markets; which explore the creative potential of the audio-visual media; and which achieve recognition by Canadians and others for excellence, relevance and innovation.” The strategic plan for NFB, relevant through 2013, calls for a move to firm financing while continuing to perform an important public purpose.
ACME Animation in the U.S. “provides supplementary experiential learning and mentoring by peers and professionals to students and teachers of Arts, Animation, Computer Technology, Digital Media, Humanities, and Technology programs.” ACME is registered as a 501c3 non-profit, but has corporate sponsors such as Pixar, Disney, Sony, and DreamWorks. From 2004 to 2009, institutional funding made up between 41% – 49% of ACME’s revenues. The balance of revenues came from Program Fees paid by schools, as well as in-kind and other contributions.
Also based in the U.S., the Animation World Network is the “largest animation-related publishing group on the Internet.” It functions as a leading animation news source.
Although this does not represent a comprehensive list of the contemporary animation scene, it does demonstrate the variety of institutions and opportunities in the animation sector by briefly describing many of the leading organizations in the field. The importance of NIAf within this animation landscape is obvious. First, as stated above, NIAf is the only animation institution in the Netherlands, making it an invaluable resource for animators, teachers, students, and animation enthusiasts. Second, no other organization that is unconnected to a university or other higher learning institution provides NIAf’s unique combination of long-term artistic (rather than solely commercial) residencies, workshops with world-renowned animators, and focus on animation education and film literacy in schools.
NIAf Director Ton Crone describes artistic animation as, “the field where animators can develop their own style. It’s necessary to be able to do research without connection to industry.” Crone emphasizes the importance of NIAf’s programs for primary and secondary schools, which give “the opportunity to let [students] know what it is to work with the language of images…it is important to be aware that it is possible to be manipulated by images. But on the other hand it’s possible to manipulate images and communicate with it.” This leads to asking vital questions that are relevant and pertinent beyond the field of animation. Learning the language of film and animation enables students to inquire about their culture in new ways. As Crone puts it, “What is our history? How is our history in animation linked with other European countries, and the U.S. or Asia?”
In order to continue to seek answers to these questions through its educational programs, exhibitions, participation in film festivals, academic research, and artistic residencies, NIAf must secure funding through alternative channels. Private as well as public-sector parternships will be necessary to ensure adequate funding. Advocacy resources such as Culture Action Europe, a political platform for arts and culture, might be considered as indirect support systems. Online resource for locating arts and culture funding include Korda and Cine Regio. Funds for specific productions might be sought through Eurimage and MEDIA, although these funds are also tighter, as more applicants are forced to seek supplemental funding sources.
List of Sources
Businessplan Nederlands Instituut voor Animatiefilm in Eindhoven, versie 2
Interview, NIAf Director Ton Crone, conducted 16-11-2011
Animation Workshop in Viborg (DK)
La Poudriere in Valance (F)
Animation Academy at Loughsborough University (UK)
Society for Animation Studies
NPO Sales (NL)
National Film Board of Canada (CA)
National Film Board of Canada Strategic Plan
(especially useful for making the case for existence–see framing questions, e.g. “do we serve a public purpose?”)
Autour de Minuit (F)
Agence Metrage Court (F)
Animation World Network (USA)
European Animation Centre (Greece)
SPAFi Animation Academy
German Institute for Animated Film (DL)
Culture Action Europe
Connect Cultural Policy Database
Korda: database on public funding for the film and audiovisual industry in Europe
Cine Regio: network of regional film funds in Europe
Comparative tables of cultural policies in different countries