‘Mutant Mayhem’s’ Jeff Rowe, Nora Twomey, Nickelodeon’s Latifa Ouaou to Debate Animation’s New Creativity at Variety Annecy Panel

Variety will host a panel at the Annecy Animation Festival, Breaking the Borders of Animation, focusing on one of the key – and most exciting –  talking points in the medium: How animation is currently being revolutionized and reimagined by new waves of creativity and technology.

The panel has been organised with Nickelodeon as its official partner. 

On Tuesday June13, Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge will encourage his guests to wonder about the future of the art form, starting with Latifa Ouaou, EVP of Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation, who also executive produced “The Grinch” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

“Breaking the boundaries of animation is such a great topic to speak about because it’s a very exciting time in animation,” she notes. 

“[‘Spider-Man: Across the] Spider-Verse’ was the beginning of a new wave in animation. It gave us the freedom to move away from conventional realism and into bold and abstract expressions of realities. The future is no longer predictable in terms of what to expect next. And that is exciting.”

Nora Twomey, co-founder of Cartoon Saloon – a Kilkenny-based animation film, short film and television studio behind such hits as Oscar-nominated “The Secret of Kells” and “The Song of the Sea” – adds: “Recently, a number of films, series and games have stood out from the crowd because of brave artistic choices. As producers and financiers are beginning to trust the audience more and put more daring visuals on screen, we are witnessing the medium being pushed artistically in such amazing ways,” she says. 

Twomey also directed “The Breadwinner” and “My Father’s Dragon.”

“Rather than a race to visual realism, we are witnessing a race to amazing artistic expression and audiences respond to that. There is a truth and timelessness to that expression, rather than the fleeting nothingness evident when no one takes risks.” 

Directors Michael “Mike” Rianda, behind award-winning “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” his co-helmer on the film Jeff Rowe, who went on to direct “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” sneak-peaked at Annecy, and Slovenia’s Špela Čadež will also join the discussion.

“We are lucky to have great franchises to work with like ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ ‘Avatar’ and ‘SpongeBob.’ It’s our job is to attract the best talent and to create new stories and styles that audiences will find irresistible. ‘Mutant Mayhem’ is a great example of how matching the right talent with the right property can make magic,” notes Ouaou, while Twomey is hoping to see more authentic stories and new perspectives.

“I see the audience’s appetite for more of the artist’s hand on the screen rather than digital blandness,” she observes.

“The bravery in some of the recent content and how it’s been responded to really makes me hopeful for the future.”

“As someone who comes from the world of artistic independent animation, I would like to emphasize such aspects as celebrating artistic freedom, personal expressive works and commitment to revere artistic innovation in animation,” adds Špela Čadež.

Her recent short “Steakhouse” was awarded at Annecy and Locarno. Čadež is also a co-founder of Ljubljana’s Finta Film, specialized in producing stop-motion animated films.

“To support and protect indie animation, it is essential to create avenues for funding, provide access to resources and training, establish mentorship programs, promote awareness and appreciation of indie animation through festivals, screenings, and distribution channels,” she states. 

“Collaboration between industry stakeholders, educational institutions, and funding organizations is crucial to sustain and nourish the independent animation community.”

Still, as argued by Čadež, the biggest changes in animation have come from advancements in technology and the increasing popularity of digital platforms.

“These developments have collectively expanded its creative possibilities and [allowed it] to reach wider audiences,” she observes. 

“The future of indie animation is driven by technological advancements, digital distribution platforms, funding opportunities, diverse storytelling, experimentation, collaborative networks and increasing recognition. These factors will continue to shape a vibrant and innovative indie animation landscape, offering artists the freedom to create unique and compelling animations that resonate with audiences worldwide.”

According to Twomey, navigating the industry has always been difficult for animation companies, animators and directors.

“Over the last few decades, there were times that have been considered an ‘Animation Renaissance’ but those periods were quickly followed by thousands of industry lay-offs and cancelled projects. I don’t see that cycle changing anytime soon,” she says.

But while technological breakthroughs are certainly changing the medium – “for better and for worse” – it’s up to the entire industry to maintain the standard of storytelling and artistic authenticity. 

“When I started out over two decades ago, digital animation tools became accessible for smaller companies and smaller budgets. For Cartoon Saloon, that gave us our first path to a cinema audience with our short films. It’s interesting to see what opportunities and challenges lay ahead for everyone.”

“The pandemic, in all of its misery, had some positive impact – it allowed us to work more easily with artists and storytellers all over the world,” sums up Ouaou.  

“The advances of technology are definitely in lock step with the imagination and ambition that the filmmakers are bringing to the table. Also, more than ever, the novice has access to tools to create content and distribute it online globally. That is something that has broken boundaries.”

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