Letter to Arts Council England and BFI, July 2015

In July 2015, 23 animators, artists, programmers and producers – many of them members of AAUK – wrote to Darren Henley, CEO, Arts Council England and Amanda Nevill, CEO, British Film Institute, to draw their attention to the need for greater clarity around public policy and investment for independent animation, and asking them to urgently take steps to address these issues to help ensure British animation’s continued success.

You can read the letter and accompanying notes below. They responded with an invitation to a smaller group to meet with ACE and BFI in December 2015.

You can read the letter below, and notes of the meeting here.

15 July 2015

Dear Amanda Nevill and Darren Henley

We are some of Britain’s award winning animators, artists, producers and curators, working across and between ‘film’, ‘the arts’ and other creative industries. We are proud to have contributed to the growth, success and international renown of independent animation from the UK.

We are writing to draw your attention to the need for greater clarity around public policy and investment for independent animation. We ask that you urgently take steps to address these issues to help ensure British animation’s continued success.

We welcome the initiatives that have been introduced since 2011: the tax credits to support children’s television animation; the BFI Aardman Development Lab; the Vision Awards for animation studios; and the BFI Film Fund development support for animation features. However, our concern is at the lack of support for other forms of animation: for experiment, innovation and creative risk.

The UK’s international reputation for nurturing original and creative animation talent was achieved in the 1990s and came by way of a uniquely British model of consistent public support from public service broadcasters and from public film and arts funding bodies that facilitated creative production. Today, there is no dedicated funding for animation in England and the detrimental impact of that is startlingly evidenced, not least, in the diminished UK representation at the Oscars and international film festivals (please see our notes, below).

British animators have continued to make films, and the success of student work, studio and self-funded films – at the BAFTAs, Oscars, and international festivals – is testament to both the quality and determination of British artistic talent. But without public investment, other talent is not developed and is going to waste, or going elsewhere. The absence of public support means that the only people who can make animation are students, the few directors supported by the studios that represent them, and those with independent means. The art form cannot be expected to be wholly reliant on its practitioners’ resourcefulness: this is inequitable, unsustainable, and fails to promote diversity.

Why independent animation matters
Animation is a vital part of the UK’s culture and its creative industries; is has a public value that is intrinsic and instrumental, economic and cultural. Animation is the predominant digital visual form, inherently cross-platform, and an core component of digital form and culture. The Arts Council England funded Accelerate Animation Report (2013) notes how “digital technology and the explosion of screen-based culture mean that we all encounter animation in different forms many times a day.”

Animators make a fundamental contribution to much live action production. Animation is prevalent in contemporary visual arts practice; it is an increasingly integral component of theatre, opera and dance productions. The UK’s reputation as a centre for creativity in animation attracts international students to our animation schools.

Animation is a site of innovation, risk-taking and the development of new creative techniques that extend the potential of technologies. The UK’s reputation for creativity and innovation creates demand for animation talent; independent production is a test bed for advertising, video gaming and other creative industries, and for filmmakers and writers who go on to make feature length films and television series. Chris Robinson, artistic director of Ottawa International Animation Festival has noted how “almost all of the most successful and original industry animation voices came from independent backgrounds. It was their unique, experimental styles and voices that made them stand out.”

Contemporary practice and ways of working
The Warwick Commission’s report, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, noted that “the points of connection between the Cultural and Creative Industries are where the potential for greatest value creation resides – culturally, socially and economically” and that “insufficient attention has been paid to the synergies between the interlocking sectors of the Cultural and Creative Industries Ecosystem. There is already a flow of talent, ideas, and public and private investment across and between the Cultural and Creative Industries.”

The Accelerate Animation Report amply evidences how animation practice sits at the nexus of this interchange. The Warwick Commission’s recommendation that “this flow needs to now be better identified and encouraged” and the warning that “not enough is being done to stimulate or realise the creative potential of individuals, or to maximise their cultural and economic value to society” could not apply more strongly, and critically, than they do to animation.

Arts Council England has declared its commitment to animation: most recently, in November 2013, then Chief Executive, Alan Davey, said that ACE and BFI would work together “to further support animators in both development, production, networking and knowledge sharing in 2014/15′′. We believe there is no time to lose in acting on these intentions. The sums of money required to underpin a vibrant independent animation sector are relatively very small indeed, especially in relation to the potential cultural and reputational returns on any investment.

Our hope is that you will appreciate our concerns and be open to further conversation with us on how independent animation can best be supported, and as a first step, we hope you might consider a meeting.

Yours sincerely

Will Anderson, BAFTA winner
Kieran Argo, Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival
Paul Bush, animator, awards include Tampere, Hiroshima, Zagreb, Melbourne
Emma Calder, animator
 and artist, Pearly Oyster Productions. Awards include Bradford, Zagreb, Chicago, Dresden, Cinanima
Sarah Cox, BAFTA winner
Gaelle Denis, BAFTA winner
Keith Griffiths, producer, BAFTA nominee, Cannes Palme d’Or nominee and winner
Jonathan Hodgson, BAFTA winner
Phil Mulloy, animator, three time Best Feature award winner at Ottawa International Animation Festival
Ian Francis, Flatpack Festival
Iain Gardner, animator, animation programmer Edinburgh International Film Festival
Karolina Glusiec, winner Jerwood Prize for Drawing
Stephen Irwin, animator, awards include Grand Prize Ottawa International Animation Festival
Ruth Lingford, animator, Professor of Animation at Harvard, McLaren Award winner
Maria Manton, producer, BAFTA nominee
Mikey Please, BAFTA winner, awards include Annecy, BAA, Los Angeles, AFI, Clermont Ferrand, SXSW
Sally Pearce, animator
Timothy and Stephen Quay, animators, BAFTA nominees, Cannes Palme d’Or nominees
Chris Shepherd, animator, BAFTA nominee, awards include Rotterdam, AFI, LFF, Fantoche, BAA, Ann Arbor
David Shrigley, artist
Gary Thomas and Abigail Addison, Animate Projects


Notes on UK Animation

In the 1990s:

  • BBC and S4C have dedicated animation units
  • Channel 4 supports around 15 short films a year through its innovative open call schemes, in 
partnerships with the BFI, the Arts Council of Great Britain/England and the National Media 
Museum, as well as single films
  • Between 1995 and 2000, National Lottery funding for film supports animated shorts and artists’ 
animation with grants of up to £50,000 Now:
  • No dedicated funding for animated shorts in England
  • Creative England’s iShorts is effectively off limits to animators, as was the BFI’s Shorts scheme
  • ACE support for animation through Channel 4’s Random Acts now supports training of/production by 
young people, and the availability of slots for professional animators/producers and other filmmakers is as a consequence substantially reduced

Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film

1990   Nick Park wins with Creature Comforts
1991   Daniel Greaves wins for Manipulation
1992   3 of the 5 Oscar nominees are British
1993   4 of the 5 Oscar nominees are British
2000   Michael Dudok de Witt’s Lottery funded Father and Daughter wins

In the ten years from 1992 to 2001, there were 19 Oscar nominations for British films. There have been only nine nominations 13 years since, including two children’s television specials, Nick Park’s A Matter of Loaf and Death (made for the BBC), three NFTS graduation films, and three independent productions with no UK public investment.

BAFTA Award for Best Short Animation

Since 2007:

  • 21 British UK independent nominated
  • 12 were student films
  • only 3 had any public investment 

British representation at international festivals

Stuttgart Animation Festival           1998: 13 films          2011: 1 film
Hiroshima Animation Festival         1998: 18 films          2011: 4 films
Annecy (competition)                     1998:   8 films          2011: 2 films

Despite the lack of public investment, British animators have continued to make films and find success. In 2011, at Ottawa International Animation Festival – the biggest of its kind in North America – animators from the UK took seven of 15 international prizes, including those for best short (Stephen Irwin) and best feature (Phil Mulloy). At Sundance in 2012, five out of seven in the international Animated Short category were British, and another two British animations were selected for the International Narrative Short category, with Kibwe Tavares’ Robots of Brixton winning the Special Jury Award for Animation Direction.


Our meeting with Arts Council England and the BFI, December 2015

We sent our letter to Arts Council England and BFI in July 2015. Amanda Nevill (CEO, BFI) responded immediately to say they’d get right on it, and a while later, we got a letter in the post from Darren Henley (CEO, ACE), saying they’d try and arrange a meeting, which they later managed to do.

They invited a small group of AAUK members to ACE’s headquarters in London on 8 December 2015. We were: Abigail Addison, Paul Bush, Emma Calder, Jonathan Hodgson, and Gary Thomas.

We met with: Peter Heslip (Director, Visual Arts & London, ACE), Anna Mandlik (Senior Relationship Manager, Visual Arts, ACE), Paul Glinkowski (Senior Officer, Creative Media, ACE), and Ben Roberts (Director, BFI Film Fund).

At the meeting, we got an outline of how the BFI’s support of animation has substantially increased in the last couple of years, including its Vision Awards to animation studios and development of features, though it was acknowledged that this support wasn’t addressing our specific concerns for independent work and short animation. The BFI’s focus seems likely to remain on development and support of feature length films.

ACE said that they received only a small number of applications to Grants for the arts for animation projects. We noted that there was a lack of clarity and conflicting statements from ACE about its remit. They told us that they were supporting animation through their Random Acts Network. We pointed out that there was that there is no obligation for the RAN organisations to support animation, and little indication that the Network Centres intended to support animation substantially, given their expertise. We reminded ACE that RAB funding is for 16-24 year olds, and noted that this £3million Lottery funding replaced ACE support for Random Acts commissioning that had previously supported professional animators and producers.

Following the meeting, ACE and BFI have agreed the following action points:

BFI will:

  • define its remit and responsibilities with regards to animation, and will do this as part of Film Forever 2 (April 2017)
  • do some further informal sector consultation as part of the wider Film Forever 2 consultation
  • will consider its ongoing support for animation as part of Film Forever 2.

Arts Council England will:

  • define its remit and responsibilities with regards to animation
  • do some sector consultation with animation practitioners and organisations (as part of its stakeholder consultation in 2016) in order to identify the needs of the sector
  • explore how they can support animation through our existing funds, namely Grants for the arts.

We’ve asked ACE if they could indicate what the timetable would be for their actions, or when they might have more detail of when and how those things will happen.

At the meeting we didn’t get a chance to say much ourselves, and it was disappointing that we couldn’t have any discussion of the broader points we raised in our letter: about the cultural and economic importance and value of independent animation.

In 2013, ACE and BFI had agreed on a joint objective ‘to develop a policy position for animation in England and the UK, providing policy clarity and funding information to artists, filmmakers and producers working in animation.’ They had planned ‘to undertake joint research and consultation to understand the animation ecology across film and arts and publish our policy position.’

At the meeting, it was explained that this won’t be happening because developing a policy for animation is against ACE policy. We suggested that they might instead develop a strategy to support animation. We noted that ACE had invested in a strategic review of puppetry that had led to the setting up of the Puppetry Development Consortium, and that ACE was investing £1,950,000 by way of a three year commissioned grant to bring together four dance organisations together to create a unified ‘go-to industry body’.

Creative Scotland commits to prioritise support for animation

Creative Scotland, the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland, has announced its portfolio of Regularly Funded Organisations for 2015 – 2018. The Centre for the Moving Image in Edinburgh, which runs Edinburgh International Film Festival, home of the McLaren Award for British Animation, gets a substantial uplift, as does Glasgow Film Theatre, home of Glasgow’s Film, Youth and Shorts festivals.

Creative Scotland has also published On Screen, its film strategy for 2014-2017. And refreshingly, animation is right in there. In contrast to England, where Arts Council England and the BFI have shelved plans to develop a policy position for animation, Creative Scotland acknowledges the need “to develop and produce more films (documentaries, features, animation and artists’ films)” and prioritises “support for and commitment to Scotland’s production community, in particular documentary-making and animation, through sourcing increased funding for production.”