Jamaica’s Animation Industry – How is it doing?

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Jamaica’s Animation Industry, how is it doing?

Not very well in 2016, according to Corretta Singer, Chair of the Jamaica Animation Nation Network. She was not in the mood to mince words.

“it’s not going as great as most people would have hoped. Studios are teetering on the edge of closure, training institutions are teaching students with very little know-how on Animation, and Animation quality is lacking.”

According to Singer, Jamaica is not venturing in animation for the first time. During the 1970s, attempts to launch an animation industry in the island were short lived. Leo Sullivan and Floyd Norman, the first black animators to work with Disney and Hanna Barbera, wanted to start a Jamaican animation studio. Numerous challenges and political barriers met their efforts. Ever since, animators attempted to build their animation craft, but with limited success.

So, how about now?

The Jamaican Animation Industry now

More players have entered the Jamaican Animation game. From the start, the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) promoted new industries and innovations in Jamaica. In partnership with the World Bank, the Korean Trust, and the Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology (MSET), JAMPRO and an overseas studio –  Studio C,  collaborated to further develop Jamaica’s animation industry. They expect that investment and export opportunities related to the Jamaican animation product will grow.

Using the Youth Employment in the Digital and Animation Industries (YEDAI) programme as its vehicle, the partners trained and equipped young people in animation skills. In April 2017, YEDAI launched the Creative Industries Education and Employment project. This project trains youth in animation and prepares them for employment in the international animation market.

Also, local animation studios set up shop to bite into the lucrative US$254 billion-dollar global industry (2018 estimates). They include the Alcyone Animation Studio, the developers of the increasingly popular Cabbie Chronicles, and the award-winning Reel Rock GSW Studio.

Strong Growth Potential of Jamaican Animation Industry

Industry players see animation as one of the fastest growing industries globally set to reach US$270 billion in revenue by the end of 2020. By all indications, Jamaica has the talent and capability to take a decent slice of the global animation pie.

Indeed, Jamaica’s animation industry has the potential to provide thousands of jobs for animators, art directors, producers, directors, voiceover actors, writers, and other categories of talent. In a general sense, Jamaica has the necessary creativity to become a hub for animation that is competitive with the Australian and East Asian markets.

The question is whether Jamaica can ensure that young, talented people make animation their actual career.

Undoubtedly, young Jamaicans have always done well at the visual arts. This achievement is demonstrated by the 2,500 high school students who over the past four years gained grades 1 or 2 in the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Visual Arts Exams. The real challenge is providing youth with the knowledge and tools to apply themselves fully to animation as a career.

Furthermore, a first step in boosting Jamaica’s involvement in the animation industry is the development of an ICT hub. Evidently, the animation sector is poised to help Jamaica to drive ICT innovation.

The growth of technology and internet penetration in Jamaica has boosted opportunities for Jamaican participation in the world animation industry. Jamaican animators can collaborate with project teams in multiple countries. Within a few years, Jamaica has the potential to become the place of choice for outsourced high-quality animation products.

Training and Employment in the Animation Industry

Evidently, Jamaica has managed to get a foot in the door. As Jamaica’s Film Commissioner Renee Robinson puts it,

“Over the past 10 years, Jamaica has created more than 20,000 temporary jobs to service the animation industry, along with attracting over a thousand international film projects, and generating J$6 billion (US$7.75) in capital expenditure.”

Naturally, the hope is that any growth in Jamaica’s animation sector will help to stimulate Jamaica’s overall economic growth.

In reality, according to UTech’s Senior Lecturer and Programme Director of Animation, Production, and Development Nadine Maitland, Jamaica immediately needs 200 additional persons with animation skills to fill the gaps. At the time (November 2018) Jamaica had a little more than 50 animators.

Maitland notes that

“If Jamaica is to capitalise on the opportunities that will arise from this emerging industry, there must be deliberate efforts in the training of its people.”

It was in September 2013 that Utech introduced its 4-year Bachelor of Science Degree in animation production and development (BSc APD) through its School of Computing and Information Technology. The institution trained its first cohort of twenty-five students. Subsequently, this degree programme grew considerably, and UTech became the foremost institution in the Caribbean providing tertiary level training in animation production. In 2018 UTech had 135 students enrolled in its four-year programme.

Challenges for Jamaicans

In 2017, Singer was a little more optimistic about the state of animation in Jamaica. She, however, pointed to some concerns that remained potential barriers.

  1. Public education practitioners and students still regarded animation as “just art” that does not make money;
  2. High Customs duties on computers and components put these tools out of reach of the average animator. “Having to pay US$1500 for a computer and then another US$600 – 1000 to import it, is crippling. Hardcore workstations used by overseas studios cost upwards of US$15,000.”

Bright future ahead

Notwithstanding the challenges, there are other encouraging signs. International interest in Jamaican animation grew significantly. For the third time since its inaugural staging, the KingstOOn Animation Competition and Conference was held in Jamaica between April 5 – 7, 2019 at the University of Technology (Utech). The two previous occasions were in 2013 and 2016. KingstOOn succeeded in exposing Jamaican animation talent to a broad cross-section of interested industry players and sponsors.

The future of the Jamaican animation industry looks promising as more sponsors come on board. These include Bento Box, Toon Boom Inc, Capilano College, and the Government of Canada.

JAMPRO, through its Film Commissioner, encourages young animators to remain connected to global, technological and regulatory trends and be always prepared for opportunities. JAMPRO’s Film Commission provides opportunities for animators to expose their talents at major and developing film trade events.

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