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‘Toon time
Animation festival draws international attention

Bugs Bunny, Snow White and James and his giant peach may seem like kid stuff to some.

But cartoon characters mean serious business for grown-ups at the Savannah International Animation Festival. Born in 2010, the ambitious festival has grown legs in its third year, attracting more filmmakers, directors and fans from around the world than ever before.

This season, SIAF had 120 film entries from over 20 countries and will showcase and jury 54 of those films throughout the festival, taking place April 13–14 at the Coastal Georgia Center.

Also lined up are workshops, lectures, galleries and a good old–fashioned “veg–out–in–front–of–the–TV” session for the kids.

“This field has grown so immensely in the last ten years,” says SIAF co–founder Hal Miles, who created the festival with his wife, Nancy. “We have one of the largest animation schools in the world here at SCAD, and though the SCAD film festival has an animation category, we wanted to focus an entire festival to it here in Savannah.”

An industry professional who has worked in hand–drawn, stop–motion and digital techniques in Los Angeles, Hal currently teaches animation in the Visual Effects Department at SCAD. Nancy is a historian and the former curator of the now–defunct National Gallery for Caricature and Cartoon Art in Washington, D.C. To say they share a passion for animation is an understatement: Together they’ve amassed over 29,000 original drawings, stills and other animation memorabilia, including early Mickey Mouse sketches and artifacts from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas.

“When it comes to auctions, we’re a disastrous pair,” laughs Hal.

Part of their formidable collection will be on display for the festival, which is the main fundraiser and event for another project the Miles have in progress, the Animation Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is currently displayed in a traveling format, but Hal intends to found a permanent museum and archives in Savannah.

“We’d like to have our house back,” he says with another chuckle.

Their mad love for cartoons is bringing big shots to town this year. Joan Vogelesang, the CEO of software powerhouse Toon Boom Animation, will lead a workshop on the global applications of animation. Vogelesang will also serve on the panel “Women in Animation” with artist/director and past SIAF judge Cheryl Cabrera and intellectual property rights attorney Deborah Gonzalez. Television series developers Les Carpenter and Lavalle McGuirk will be in town to discuss the process of taking characters from sketchbook to screen using their latest project, Crackerland, as inspiration.

One of those heralded speakers already lives locally: Director and SCAD professor Michael Jantze will host a lecture called “Animating Diane Keaton’s Nightmare,” a recount of his adventures working on Lawrence Kasdan’s new film, Darling Companion.

The Miles’ aim for SIAF is to offer information on techniques and trends for industry professionals and novices as well as fodder for those who just dig cartoons.

“We’ve created a well–rounded set of events this year,” confirms Hal. “You definitely don’t need to be a filmmaker to enjoy this.”

In addition to the workshops and lectures in the main auditorium, the adjacent theater will screen blocks of the SIAF juried entrants on constant rotation. There’s abstract shadow work, 4D eye candy and at least one LEGO stop–motion short. Some comes from highly–trained Academy Award winners; others are the efforts of self–taught talents, like last year’s “Best of Show” winner Martin Sen from South Africa.

As promised, many films come from lands far away, including Boabab from Sudan, and one of Nancy’s favorites, a 15–minute shot from Bangladesh translated as Murgi Keno Mutant (Attack of the Killer Mutant Chickens,) starring a team of ninja chefs who hunt down a herd of monster hens for dinner.

“It’s like a cross between Scooby–Doo and Japanese anime,” Nancy raves. “Who knew Saturday morning cartoons were popular in Bangladesh?”

Speaking of those lazy weekend mornings of yore, SIAF is sponsoring a free “Cookies and Cartoons” hour for kiddies of all ages on Saturday. The line–up is appropriately old school, featuring Gumby and Pokey, vintage Superman and other classic characters that might make even the grown–ups want to cozy up in their footie pajamas with their Cheerios.

For those as passionate about cartoons as the Miles, the SIAF can be construed as one long, wonderful Saturday morning.

“It’s story and craftsmanship and art all rolled into one,” says Nancy.

“Animation is just fascinating,” adds Hal. “It’s always magical to watch it flash before your eyes.”

Savannah International Animation Festival

Where: Coastal Georgia Center, 305 Fahm St.

When: Friday and Saturday, April 13–14, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Tickets: $15/day