ANIMATION FOR ANY SITUATION

Rolling up its sleeves for the second season of Jar Dwellers SOS, Viskatoons is a clan with a plan.

Victoria’s longest running independent animation studio Viskatoons is building on its enduring reputation for fostering new talent in the animation sector.

The company has taken on five up-and-coming animators through a traineeship support package from Film Victoria which will see trainees hone their skills on the recently announced second season of Jar Dwellers SOS.

An absolute kids’ favourite, the Jar Dwellers series follows siblings Sophie and David as they discover and release amazing creatures from special science jars hand made by a famous naturalist.

Viskatoons' founder / creative director Peter Viska shared his insights on the nature and direction of the industry, the recipe for high quality children's content, their progressive traineeship program and his advice for aspiring animators.

What are the identifying characteristics and strong points of Australian animation in your opinion? Where does it stand in the international animation scene?

Although we are influenced by market trends and design fashion, Australian productions have managed to create original shows that stand out in the international market. Moody Street Kids has been able to export Flea-Bitten, Sumo Mouse, She-Zow and Kuu Kuu Harajuku. Get Ace by Galaxy Pop is another original series with local designs and writing that has stayed on the edge of trend. Studio Moshi did a great job with local stories on The Day My Bum Went Psycho. Bogan Entertainment Solutions has managed to hold its own with their original creations Exchange Student Zero and are in production on Kitty Is Not a Cat. On our front, we worked with Fabian Lapham to produce a very original mini series Suspect Moustache. At the international markets, Australian producers are very well respected and we are sought by major distributors looking for our IP. Being located mentally between American and European animation, we have a strong grasp of the needs for both markets.

With a career spanning over 35 years in Australian animation, what changes have you observed in the animation industry over this time?

The main change is that Melbourne now has a solid animation industry. Currently there are five series in production: Jar Dwellers SOS S2 (Viskatoons), Kitty Is Not a Cat (Bogan Entertainment Solutions), Space Chickens (Studio Moshi), Kuu Kuu Harajuku (Moody Street Kids) and The Strange Chores (Media World / Ludo). Over the years, the producers have created their own IP, taken the concepts to international markets and been able to find co-production partners and necessary funding. We stand on our own two feet technologically and have moved from traditional animation, through Flash and now Toon Boom Harmony which has become the current world standard.

What’s your recipe for an outstanding kids' series?

The recipe must have lashings of FUN. We've also added originality and a life-time of creating for children. Add good fun concepts, great fun designs and strong funny stories. Although Jar Dwellers began with the concept of Darwin and his expeditions, it evolved, to a show with personality filled creatures from all over the world living in a secret basement trying not to be caught by Professor Van Riceberger and his Jar Tracking machines.

In Victoria’s sprawling animation scene, are there enough trained animators available? As a champion in fostering new animation talent in our state, can you talk us through Viskatoons’ animation traineeship program and the rationale behind this initiative?

It was evident from day one that Victoria could only handle two series at once. Over time, with a steady stream of graduates from the animation course the talent pool has grown exponentially but there is not quite enough to sustain five major productions. As we began to cast our net for our Jar Dwellers production team we discovered that the majority of existing animators had been signed up, which left us with a conundrum: have the show animated offshore, import talent or train talented locals. We decided on the latter. Our animation director Mark Sheard has been the premier animation teacher in Victoria for 15 years and like me, is happy to go the extra mile to foster new talent. He understands, like I do, that the bigger and better the talent pool, the better the local productions. We currently employ a number of A grade experienced animators and designers, plus the top graduates from the local courses as well as five specific trainees. These trainees are being supported by Film Victoria as part of their belief in the local industry's need for experienced new talent.

What on-the-job skills will the trainees gain along this educative and enlightening journey?

While the trainees have the necessary skills to have animated and produced their major student films, they have not used the software (Toon Boom Harmony) and have never experienced the discipline of working in a commercial creative team before. They need to learn studio protocol, file naming conventions, how to get on with other team members and produce a consistent output of great animation per day to reach a weekly quota. We engender a spirit of knowledge sharing so we all learn from each other.

What are the must-have qualities you look for in prospective employees? What golden advice would you give to the aspiring animators?

Dreaming big is the only way to dream. “Stick-to-it-ivity” (Walt Disney's favourite made-up-word) is the only way to bring your big creative dreams to reality. Regardless of all the technological improvements, it still takes an inordinate amount of work and dedication to produce animation. It still needs to be enjoyable day in, day out, week in week out, for the length of the project and on to the next. We favour animators who can draw, are self-driven and love the art of creating.