BFI Animation Seminar 2017 with UK Screen Alliance: round up

The BFI and Animation UK invited the animation industry to a seminar at BFI Southbank on 20 April to look at key areas for the industry and its talent, including the impact the Animation Tax Relief has had on the industry, the BFI 2022 Strategy and how animation will be served by it, the BFI’s animation season in 2018, and the ambitions of the newly formed UK Screen Alliance.

Helen Brunsdon and Kate O’Connor – Directors of Animation UK (now part of UK Screen Alliance) – gave an overview of how they’re representing the Animation & Visualisation sector, and how, as well as stressing the economic value of the sector, their role is to champion its cultural importance both in the UK and internationally. It was heartening to hear them talk about how the UK is renowned for producing influential and memorable animation shorts and they flagged the pressing need for funding in the UK, so that the UK can continue to maintain its international reputation. A much welcomed acknowledgement by independent animators in the room. There was a hint that plans were afoot around this idea, and AAUK will follow this up with Animation UK.

Ben Roberts, Director of the BFI’s Film Fund gave an overview of how animation fits into the BFI 2022 strategy. (You can read the full strategy here). As we reported previously, the BFI is planning to open up its funding to filmmakers and storytellers beyond those looking to make feature length work for a cinema release. Roberts said they are looking at embracing non-commercial work, acknowledging new formats and platforms, taking out restrictions around length, “opening up the view of film and what film is”. The new guidelines are due to be launched this autumn, and – if they meet these stated ambitions – will hopefully open doors for independent animators to produce innovative and experimental work.

Roberts revealed that the BFI is considering fully funding some low budget projects that are progressive in terms of content, platform, made by ‘untested’ talent. They are also interested in developing talent from other fields, such as gallery artists wanting to move into filmmaking. Perhaps this could also potentially support animators to produce longer form work?

He also talked about the conversations that the BFI, Arts Council England and members of Animation Alliance have been having over the past few years and how this had challenged their preset notions about film and the type of work that “falls through the cracks” and is not currently supported by the BFI or Arts Council England – work that is non-commercial, short form, and not designed for the gallery space. He also briefly touched upon a cross-over programme that the BFI and Arts Council England are developing that would support film and video artists working in the non-narrative space to move into producing more narrative work, recognising that there was a gap in provision around this area. AAUK will be following up this understated announcement to clarify how this programme will also meet the needs of the independent animation sector.

The panel discussion about Animation Tax Relief touched on a couple of interesting points:

  • The work can be for all ages, not just family friendly film
  • The work can be distributed online, not just available for features and broadcast projects
  • There is no maximum or minimum expenditure rate so you could technically apply for a film that is £10,000 or less (though there’s a lot of paperwork so make sure it’s worth your while)

More on the scheme and the Cultural Test here.

The BFI Aardman Development Lab gave a somewhat cryptic update on how the three teams they’ve been working with over the last two years have been getting on developing feature animation scripts. Cryptic, as there was little they could reveal about their ideas and no visual material presented owing to the need to protect the projects’ IP.

There was a sense of some dismay from the audience that the three teams (made up of seven people) were all white and predominantly male, and that this intensive and expensive pilot will only yield three feature scripts that may or may not be optioned by Aardman or other companies at the end of the process. The likelihood of another round will be dependent on the commercial success of these films. Could the money have been better spent?

The day closed with a cheering presentation by Jez Stewart, Curator of Film & TV Non-Fiction, BFI, and all round champion of avant-garde animation, and BFI Lead Programmer, Justin Johnson. The excellent news is that 2018 will mark a celebration of UK animation by the BFI, including: a season at the BFI Southbank; the rerelease of classic animated feature When the Wind Blows (1986); a collection of animation programmes set to tour the UK and internationally; animations that have been restored and digitised made available on the BFI Player; and a new publication on British animation history penned by Stewart. Short animations will feature strongly, with films by revered animators including Alison de Vere, George Dunning, Joanna Quinn, Alan Kitching, Emma Calder, and Len Lye.


As well as acknowledging Britain’s rich history of animation making and its many ‘golden eras’, it’s crucial that animation retains its cultural importance today. Animation Alliance is going to continue to advocate and to lobby for support to develop, support and promote UK talent making animation today.

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