2023 in review: Animation Skills Fund

Image: Ladybird and Bee Season 2 (c) Paper Owl Films

2023 started brightly for the Animation Skills Fund. Nominations for the Annie Awards, recognised as the sector’s highest honour, were announced in January with three productions that contributed to the Fund picking up nominations. Moominvalley (Gutsy Animations) received a nod in the Best TV/Media - Children category, while the Magic Light Pictures production, Superworm, was one of five to compete for the Best Special Production award.

There were seven nominations in total for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse with the Bad Robot/BBC production going on to win in four of them, collecting the award for Best Character Animation – TV, Best Direction – TV, Best Special Production and Best Editorial – TV. The film, an adaptation of the bestselling illustrated book, went on to collect further prizes with wins at the BAFTA and Oscars a month later.

Read more about the Annie Awards

Contributions made from productions like these enabled the Fund to support crucial training across the sector and create new opportunities for those looking to enter or progress within animation with the Fund receiving a total of £100,000 from 11 productions across the year (since April).

Key programmes supported by the Fund include Animation Trainee Finder, a landmark training initiative that this year saw the first cohort end their two years on the programme. Twenty new entrants received tailored training and paid production placements, working in roles ranging from storyboard artists to production trainees. James Boyle was one of those on the programme, he said: “Programmes like this are very important. There are so many things you don’t and can’t learn in education: how to work in a professional environment, working as part of a larger team, and understanding your place within that team and project, to name a few. Programmes like this provide hands-on experience that is hard to teach elsewhere.”

Read more about James's time on Animation Trainee Finder

Fellow candidate Laura Jeffcote agreed: “It was phenomenal. I worked with animation professionals who were so knowledgeable. I learned loads, absolutely loads about designing for animation. It also provided industry insight and job search training, a lovely mentor from Smoking Hippo, and it brought the trainees together at Manchester Animation Festival, which was an absolute blast.”

Read more about Laura’s time on Trainee Finder

Both candidates have now secured work at animation studios, further cementing the programme’s reputation among industry.

In December 2022 Kieran Argo joined ScreenSkills as Animation Production Liaison Executive, overseeing the work of the Fund and further establishing ties with industry. In a testing year for all screen sectors, he spoke about the need for animation to focus on areas of concern in order to further build a workforce ready to support productions.

“The last year has posed some considerable challenges for the animation community.  The industry is facing, in many quarters, a less predictable and more volatile environment. However, the UK animation industry demonstrates remarkable resilience; adapting to new challenges and embracing opportunities for growth. At the heart of this dynamic landscape, the need for skilled animators and the adaptability of skills organisations remain paramount. ScreenSkills looks forward to working closely with the animation industry to identify and address the skills and talent needs for the future.”

One example of those close industry ties was apparent in the 3D AMI COURSE held over the summer of 2023. The Animation Skills Fund supported initiative welcomed 27 13-18 year olds for 10 days of creativity that saw them create their own 3D film with the help of industry mentors, providing experience and guidance to potential new entrants to the industry.

At Manchester Animation Festival in November, ScreenSkills’ Head of Film, Animation and Future Skills, Emma Turner, joined industry leaders for a State of the Nation panel discussion. The session saw experts paint a contemporary picture of the animation industry, reflecting on the challenges and triumphs that have been faced and may lie ahead and provided an opportunity to cement relationships and highlight the work of the Fund.

The festival invited industry to both take stock and look ahead to further developments, challenges and opportunities across the world of animation.  

As the Fund’s own focus turns to 2024, the Animation Skills Fund is looking ahead to working with the second cohort of Trainee Finder candidates. Thirty trainees have been selected to take their first steps in the industry and begin their screen career journey with tailored training and placement opportunities in 2D, 3D and stop motion.

Read more about the new Animation Trainee Finder cohort

There are further opportunities available in the upcoming Toon Boom training programmes supported by the Fund. These courses, designed for individuals in or aspiring to join the animation industry offer practical and technical knowledge essential for succeeding in the field. Three courses focussing on cut out animation, introduction to rigging and technical direction provide specialised support and training to help artists grow both their knowledge and their confidence.

Joining them will be a series of creative animation courses, bespoke training that will cover creative leadership, production management, producing and directing for animation.

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Find out more about the Animation Skills Fund

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