Cartoons Underground, Southeast Asia’s top independent animation festival, is marking 10 years of helping to propel fledgling local film makers towards greater things. The brainchild of Singaporean festival director Vicky Chen and celebrated American animator Patrick Smith, Cartoons Underground showcases new animation from around the world but gives films from Southeast Asia and, especially, from Singapore-based student animators extra exposure.
Chen, who launched the event aged just 21, has long been an avid follower of the local animation scene. “We always believed Singapore had this huge potential to be a hub for independent animation for the entire region,” she says. “When we launched Singapore was trying to tempt the big international studios. But it’s the independent studios that have stayed and ten years on we’re seeing more and more people buying into our vision.”
Cartoons Underground forms a vital part of an emerging ecosystem around Singapore’s emerging independent animation that includes partner organisations like *SCAPE. *SCAPE provides support for the island’s youth and works with Cartoons Underground to mentor and encourage would-be animators to explore careers in the industry.
“This is our second consecutive year partnering with Cartoons Underground,” says Shawn Wong, Deputy Executive Director of *SCAPE Co., Ltd. “Last year we worked together to stage a story development lab to teach the practical skills needed to get films commissioned. This year we’re upping the ante – a four day workshop over two weekends here at *SCAPE, and Zoom webinars covering topics such as the future of monetisation and the impact of Non Fungible Tokens on animation.”
“Putting together aspiring young filmmakers with industry mentors who can show them how to go from a concept to a vision to a winning pitch is the kind of practical help we like to provide. So between ourselves, LASALLE and Cartoons Underground, we’re seeing this great ecosystem developing that I hope will help give indie animation a really bright future in Singapore.”
Last year the workshop participants spent two days with old hands from the industry giving them tips on storyboarding, filming and how to secure backing for film projects. “I learned a lot in two days from that process and winning the best pitch was a very good experience,” says Olivia Griselda whose film idea was judged the best even though she had absolutely no prior experience. “The lab led me to find my co director, Sarah Cheok, who was one of the pitching-session judges, and my project producer Jerrold Chong, who was one of the mentors for the lab. And so the three of us we ended up working together to get funding and that let us kick start the pre-production.”
Olivia’s film, She and Her Good Vibrations, an exploration of female sexuality, is due to be finished mid 2022. Another indispensable component supporting local animation is Singapore’s education sector. Many of the local student films come from those studying at NTU and LASALLE.
“The impact of our partnership with Cartoons Underground can really be felt in Singapore’s animation scene,” says Chris Shaw, Head of the Puttnam School of Film & Animation at LASALLE College of the Arts, a Cartoons Underground partner for the last five years. “We teach students how to make films but Cartoons Underground gives them an independent showcase and a chance to gain exposure. At Cartoons Underground they can watch and learn from each other’s work, network with industry leaders and perhaps land their first jobs.”
“I actually landed my first full-time animation job from the festival,” says Ronald Fong who studied at NTU and whose student film was screened in 2015 where it was spotted by a local studio. Having launched his career at CU he now heads an eight-strong team at Masonry, an animation studio he cofounded. Ronald’s film was spotted at CU by Enrique Caballero, until recently head of CGI at One Animation. “I saw the film at Cartoons Underground on the Saturday, Ronald came in on the Monday, he was basically hired on the spot and he was at work on Wednesday!”
“Cartoons Underground is about great stories,”says Vicky Chen. “It’s about the great stories animators tell on the screen but, for me, it’s also about the great stories of dreams and friendships and collaborations and careers that start at Cartoons Underground. And we’ve got lots more of those stories still to write.”
Cartoons Underground runs from 20th to 27th November 2021. Tickets and more information available here