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By Allen White | August 22, 2001

At the WACFest, the animation industry was visibly gearing itself, at long last, toward creating content for the cartoon-hungry adult market. Nickelodeon, because of the success of their show “SpongeBob,” was specifically seeking ideas for humorous adult-oriented shows for Nick at Nite. Klasky-Csupo’s new adult division, Global Tantrum, displayed a darkly funny trailer from its upcoming feature film based upon the writings of Charles Bukowski.
In addition to the Career Expo, there were specific panels aimed at writers and voiceover talent. Present were such luminaries as Nancy Cartwright, voice of Bart Simpson, and Tom Kenny, voice of SpongeBob, who both participated in a panel that discussed how to break into voiceover work.
If WACFest is any indication, members of the animation industry distinguish themselves from others in the film and television industry by virtue of dressing much more casually and being generally more laid back. The feel is of a scene where many of the participants know each other, because not only is the cartoon production scene small, but many of the talent have worked for the bigger animation houses.
Yet the industry is not all one happy family. During the WACFest writer’s panels, a group of Nickelodeon writers and WGA representatives handed out flyers protesting Nickelodeon’s lack of a WGA contract for its writers. One of the flyers, titled “Nickelodeon bans free speech,” claimed that the company had prevented writers from “distributing literature and communicating with each other about efforts to unionize,” which is illegal. Another flyer noted that Nick refused to recognize their writers’ wishes to unionize and to negotiate with the WGA. As animation writers have long been left out of unions and the benefits they confer, the outcome of the conflict between Nick and the WGA will clearly be an important and precedent-setting development. These are just the opening shots in a coming war.
But the bottom line of the whole shebang, despite such conflicts, as well as corporate struggles to make a profit in an increasingly global animation market, is the quality of the cartoons themselves. And one factor remains clear — there are some fantastic animation talents working today. One highlight was the semi-feature film Blood: The Last Vampire, a gorgeous piece of animé that combines 2D and 3D animation, and that ran out of funding halfway through production. The truncated story, a little over 45 minutes in length, makes it feel like the pilot episode of a new TV series. Hopefully, positive audience response will propel them to continue with a sequel.
There were far many more shorts than features, created with both traditional cel animation and computer animation, and they represented a wide variety of styles, subjects, and countries. Clearly, the volume and breadth of new works means that animation fans have nothing to worry about, as the flow of new, original animation seems destined to continue unabated. WACFest, despite the current (and surely temporary) industry downturn, still remains a good place to network with industry players, to preview coming trends, and to experience the simple joys of well-made cartoons.
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