Animation students draw inspiration from all walks of life, which is what Sheridan 2002 alumni Rich Duhaney, Ben McEvoy, Mike Weiss and Barnabas Wornoff set out to do when they founded the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI) to spotlight and recognize variety in animation (and animators) from around the globe.
Now in its fourth year, the festival runs from April 22 to 24, and has attracted animation luminaries as speakers, such as Animaniacs director Audu Paden, co-director of Pocahontas Eric Goldberg, and the “The Three Tooners” —Tony Benedict, Willie Ito and Jerry Eisenberg — who brought The Jetsons, The Flintstones and Yogi Bear to life at Hanna-Barbera.
“Toronto has every other type of festival imaginable, but even though we have one of the most prolific and creative animation, gaming and visual effects communities in the world, we still didn’t have an animation festival to call our own,” says Wornoff, who splits his time between teaching at Sheridan College and Seneca College, working as an animator at 9 Story Media Group and serving as TAAFI chair and director of speaker programming. “Canadian animation started here in Toronto with Nelvana (and also the National Film Board in Montreal), so it’s only fair we’d continue in the great tradition of the ‘old guard,’ while celebrating and inspiring the ‘new guard’ of animation students.”
As the self-professed “middle guard” between the greats and the grads of animation, the four friends wanted to pass along their own experiences as well as honour those that came before them. Sheridan animation professor Kaj Pindal (recognized with the festival’s first Most Animated Person of the Year Lifetime Achievement award) made a particularly big impact on the group’s success. “His films are great, he’s still teaching and inspiring Sheridan students at the age of 88 and there is no sense of fatigue or boredom in him,” says Duhaney, TAAFI’s director of marketing and director at Smiley Guy Studios. “Thirteen years after graduation, I continue to be in touch with and be inspired by his passion for the craft of animation and for storytelling.”
Watch the video above to find out more about TAAFI.
As a student, encounters with your industry idols can be difficult to engineer. By creating safe spaces to meet the giants of the animation world, such as the gathering and recruiting areas of the Animation Arts Maarket and the industry party, the Nelvana Bouncing Ball, Wornoff says that the TAAFI founders wanted to level the playing field between newcomers and pros. “You never know who you’ll be standing beside. Whether you’re ready for it or not, you get that one shot sometimes, and you should seize the moment.”
By providing networking and mentoring opportunities as well as recognizing new growth and established greatness in the animation field, each of these alumni give back to the community that reared them in their own way. “The most interesting aspect is realizing how interconnected the industry is, and how a festival such as ours bridges so many aspects of that industry,” says McEvoy, TAAFI’s director of sponsorship and senior producer at Jam3. “I’ve had the privilege of meeting hundreds of amazing and passionate people from across the spectrum of our industry, which in many ways inspires me to continue forward with the festival despite the challenges.”
If you’re going to spend your life watching cartoons, they might as well be good.
As an added bonus, the four grads get to create and educate in an industry that is both a career and a lifelong interest. Weiss, the director of film programming for TAAFI, now teaches the next generation of Sheridan animation while also working as a director at Brain Power Studio Inc. “I wanted to help to spread interesting and enjoyable content, curated through a discerning filter,” he says. “I genuinely love watching new and interesting animation. And if you’re going to spend your life watching cartoons, they might as well be good.”
Pictured above left to right: Sheridan alumni and TAAFI co-creators Ben McEvoy, director of sponsorship; Barnabas (Barney) Wornoff, Chair and director of speaker programming; Rich Duhaney, director of marketing and Mike Weiss, director of film programming. Photo by Grayden Laing of canadiananimationblog.com.
Check out 2014 bachelor of animation alumna, Nneka Myers creating the TAAFI 2016 poster below.
For more information about the 2016 Toronto Animation Arts Festival International, click here.