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.

BFI 2022: their future plans. Now with added animation!

The BFI has published its new five year plan ‘designed to help shape the BFI’s next chapter for film, television, animation and the moving image generally’. And we think that even just from that phrase – acknowledging animation as something distinct – it’s very encouraging!

It’s a high level document – and it’s strategic, so about their ambitions, not necessarily the reality of what they’ll be able to do. But still.

They say ‘the riches of British animation’ will be an ongoing focus in their cultural programme, making available ‘comprehensive history of British animation featuring 275 films from the 19th century to the present day.’

And there are exciting prospects for animation production from the BFI Film Fund. In the next five years they say they’ll focus their work ‘across live-action fiction, animation and documentaries. ’ We’re not sure that leaves out..but again, animation is emphatically there.

They say they’ll ‘support work across different platforms and lengths to encourage creative filmmaking that expands the possibilities of storytelling and form’, and they’ll update eligibility criteria ‘specifically around length of work and the expectations of a theatrical release.’ They’ll ‘de-restrict’ their funds to allow them to support ‘certain non-theatrical, episodic, hour-long or other non feature-length work, a greater variety of animation and digital work, and narrative filmmaking on other platforms, including immersive and interactive work.’ Which sounds great for what a lot of us do.

A couple of other key things to note that might matter to us are their plan to devolve 25 per cent of all BFI production funding to decision-makers based outside London, and a commitment to a ten-year skills strategy with Creative Skillset.

It’s all here.



Arts Council England keen to get animation applications

After our meeting with Arts Council England and BFI last year, one of the things ACE promised was to explore how they can support animation through their existing funds, namely Grants for the arts.

Last week we went along to a briefing for ‘word spreaders’, including us, bloggers, HE and some people from their Random Acts Network Centres.

ACE doesn’t fund all kinds of animation – they’re guidance is: ‘animation projects which are experimental in form or content, or technologically innovative’.

The briefing focused on animation in a visual arts context, but they acknowledged that animation exists outside visual arts practice. And they’ve previously told us that they value the creative contribution of the animation sector and continue to welcome and support proposals for funding from animators and organisations working with animation.

ACE gets very few animation applications. And lack of awareness that animation is eligible for this funding clearly has something to do with that. The animation applications that they do get have a higher success rate than other visual arts applications.

We explained that one reason they don’t get animation applications might be that AAUK members have been told bluntly by ACE staff that ‘ACE doesn’t fund animation’, and that experimental animation or anything shown in cinemas is ‘film sector activity’ and not appropriate to ACE’s remit. They assured us that everyone at ACE now knows that’s not the case.

There was quite a bit of discussion about support for early career animators. They pointed out that establishing a career is a challenge for all artists. We pointed out that it’s more of a challenge for animators because those other practices have sector support from organisations supported by ACE’s National Portfolio, but they don’t support any animation specialist organisations.

So, if you have an ‘animation project which is experimental in form or content, or technologically innovative’, get applying.

Grants for the arts is a rolling programme with no deadlines. You can apply at anytime. Decisions for up to £15,000 take six weeks. Over £15,000 take twelve. First time applicants are advised to go for up to £15,000 with their first application. The assessment considers: artistic quality, public engagement, finance and management.

Guidelines are here.

Our tips:

Don’t be put off by their online submission system. It’s not intuitive and it can be very frustrating. You have to register before you can make an application, and it takes five days for them to validate your profile.

You need a minimum of 10% cash. More is better. That can be private funding – including your own money!

Public engagement can be tricky for film – for an installation, for example, a gallery can guarantee exhibition, but with films, festivals only select work after it’s been made. Production or R&D only applications are eligible, but you will need to give a clear indication of WHO you want to eventually engage with your work and HOW you’ll do that. And that can include your distribution strategy, and examples of where your previous films have shown. But remember – ACE’s remit is to support the arts – and audiences – in England. So don’t just say you’re going to show internationally only.

Don’t waste their time – or yours – submitting something they’re not likely to be interested in eg with a more mainstream focus, conventional character narrative, children’s tv series, etc

It’s a very good idea – essential, even – to contact them for advice before submitting. The contact details are on the guidelines. And if they say they don’t fund animation, tell them they’re wrong! The London people we met said they’ll often meet people – but in other regions there might not be the same capacity to do that.

You may get rejected. But don’t let that put you off necessarily – they’ll give you a reason why you weren’t successful, and that may include advice on what to change in a re-submission.