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Jamaican Film Industry Gets Animated

Joel Kuwahara, Co-founder and Executive Producer of Bento Box

Kingston: For over a decade, especially since the arrival of the capacity for fully digital animation, Jamaica has been flirting with the animation industry. The flirtation seems to be ramping up to a full-blown love affair with the arrival of the island’s first animation studio Reel Rock GSW. As a part of a slew of events to launch their arrival in the industry Reel Rock hosted an animation conference, on September 11, 2012 under the theme The Global Animation Industry US$50 Billion and Growing – Jamaica Secures its Place.

Speakers at the conference included Joan Vogelesang, President and CEO of Toon Boom Animation and Joel Kuwahara Co-Founder and Executive Producer of Bento Box Studios who brought an international perspective to the discussions. Toon Boom is one of the world’s leaders in the creation of animation software that is used on some of the highest grossing animated feature films and television series. Bento Box has responsible for animating television series such as Allen Gregory and Bob’s Burgers, as well as the Brickleberry which will debut this September on Comedy Central.

l-r) Mr. Rick McElrea (Actg High Commissioner, Canada), Ms. Joan Voselesang (Toon Boom), Lorna Green (Reel Rock) & Jana BentBoth Ms. Vogelsang and Mr. Kuwahara stated that Jamaica was well-poised to carve out a piece of the animated pie. They noted that although the United States remained the hub for animation, much of the work is sub-contracted to studios around the globe with India, Korea and Brazil making significant strides in the sector. Toon Boom significantly aided the growth of the industry in India. But in the dynamic film industry opportunities can disappear faster than the Road Runner. As such, to avoid becoming the hapless Wylie Coyote there are initiatives that Jamaica needs to put in place or the animation sector is likely to be left languishing on the cusp of development, as is the case of the live action film sector.

Ms. Vogelesang noted that Jamaica’s co-production treaty with the UK puts it at a distinct advantage. She also noted that studios would consider the presence of tax incentives as important to there decision to bring projects to the island. Unfortunately, Jamaica is yet to action the UK Co-production treaty and despite the clamouring of the film industry for several years, the government has not instituted a tax credit system for film producers.  The result is that most major production studios have opted to take their live action films to other countries in the region. Without these initiatives and greater training opportunities at the nation’s universities and colleges, the lucrative animation industry could face the same fate.

However, should the country invest in the right infrastructure, there are numerous benefits to be gained. “I firmly believe this is the kind of industry where Prime Ministers and Minister’s should be saying, this is where we put our money,” said Acting Canadian High Commissioner Rick McElrea. Of course, this has been a policy area of the Canadian government to the country’s benefit. Canada currently rivals Hollywood in terms of the presence of studios especially in locations like Vancouver.

 Chief among the benefits from the animation industry are the jobs created. Ms. Vogelesang explained that India currently has 100 studios hiring between 300 - 3,000 persons each. Additionally, unlike manufacturing which is labour intensive but generally provides low wages for the majority of employees, the animation industry provides more mid-income jobs. This will mean that growth in the industry is much more likely to positively impact quality of life, increase the percentage of the population with leisure spending which in turn allows for growth in other sectors.

The sector therefore remains hopeful that Minister Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining who was the morning’s guest speaker as well as his colleague Ministers of Industry, Tourism and Entertainment, and Youth and Culture who all have varying responsibility for the sector, will hear their cry.

The conference took place at the Knutsford Court Hotel  and attracted illustrators, animators, book publishers and others interested in getting into the animation industry.