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Centre drives animation success

A FRAMEWORK is being drawn up in Fremantle that could give WA a slice of the multi-billion dollar worldwide animation industry.

The Film and Television Institute’s Centre for Screen and Digital Animation is trying to assemble a cadre of people from different fields that will be able to recreate what New Zealand special effects company Weta has been able to do for that country.

FTI head of training Tom Lubin said he hoped the CASDA, which is trying to build teams of people for animation projects, would be able to recreate Weta’s efforts in the animation industry.

Weta created the special effects for the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films and was formed by the trilogy’s director Peter Jackson and fellow New Zealand film makers.

Mr Lubin said the team approach would be more effective because of the breadth of the requirements of the industry.

“I was seeing that we needed to bring together a lot of different people with similar interests and good project managers,” Mr Lubin said.

However, he said it was early days to talk about an animation industry in WA.

“What’s here at the moment are some people who have an interest in it and make some living from it, but all have other jobs,” Mr Lubin said.

Animation, once the realm of television and movies, is branching into much wider areas such as computer games, movie special effects, the Internet and even mobile phones.

The CASDA also incorporates animation with computer technology and puppetry because demand for those skills is growing.

Another thing the centre is experimenting with is the Didjiglove, a device that simplifies the animation of 3D computer images.

Indeed, it was used to help produce an animated character for a Singapore Television show.

CASDA mentor Ian Tregonning, who has worked on films such as Babe and Labyrinth, said puppeteers could be very useful in the animation process.

However, he said matching puppeteers with computer animation experts produced far better results.

WA company Animation Works has already enjoyed success on the international scene, producing such works as the Silver Brumby, Ocean Girl and, most recently, top SBS show Quads.

Animation Works director Colin South said technology had changed the way things were done in the animation industry.

“The secret for us is bandwidth. The cheaper it becomes the cheaper our industry becomes,” he said.

“When we did Quads we had a studio here with 20 people, one in Melbourne with 20 people and a studio in Canada.

“The first 13 episodes took us one year to do. The second 13 took us eight months.

“When we did the Silver Brumby for Channel 10 it took us four years to hand draw 39 episodes.”

Mr South said while the technology helped, it was not a silver bullet for success in the industry.

“You have to have something different to offer and that’s driven by good scripts,” he said.

The ability to “tell fantastical stories” would help build the WA animation industry, according to Mr Lubin.

“When I came here I organised with Warner Brothers to come and have a look at what we were doing. They signed three projects to first stage development deals. That’s a pretty good hit rate,” he said.

“You also have to develop the basic animation skills. That’s what guys like Disney and Pixar want.”

Besides Animation Works’ successes, computer games developers such as Bungarra and Dogmelon are also making inroads into the industry.

Dogmelon is working on a Play Station 2 game and Bungarra is developing a surfing game.

Even the Australian Defence Department has indicated interest in the fledgling WA industry because it is interested in applying it to training simulations.

Mr Lubin said the computer games industry alone was worth $22 billion.

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