Cartoon Network searches for young talent in the region

Training

Since the beginning of the 20th century, cartoons have been an instrument to narrate worlds of adventure, fantastic tales and love stories. The first cartoons were born from the hand of the French Émile Cohl, and his creation Phantasmagoria. Twenty years later, Mickey Mouse changed the way children – and the not so young – discover the world.

Today, animators’ overflowing fantasy and high dose of imagination have elevated cartoons to the category of art. In these productions, solid characters go through situations that obviate the laws of physics: anything can happen and yet, everything keeps its meaning. Cartoons have the ability to materialize their creators’ most irrational dreams.

The United States has led the industry, though animation is making its way in Latin America, consolidating itself as a potential creative industry that requires boosting local talent.

We sat down with Jaime Jiménez, Cartoon Network’s Content Director for Mexico, Colombia and Central America. Jiménez, who is passionate about characters and storytelling, tells us how the region’s young talent can enter the world of animation.

Jaime was invited by the Isthmus School (Escuela Isthmus) and ZincoTools Animation Studio to speak at the conference “How to pitch animation projects to international networks”. The event was created by Capatec Digital Animation Cluster and Occident Animation Studio, with support by the City of Knowledge. The conference aimed to motivate Panamanian creators to generate quality animation content to strengthen the local industry and to access leading international networks in this market.

A common misconception ingrained in our minds: animated characters are for children. What do you think?

Not at all. Human beings live for a good story.  Besides our basic needs, we all seek to satisfy curiosity, to face our intellectual challenges and to learn through entertainment. Drawing is something that has been done since the beginning of time, obviously in less sophisticated ways, but without a doubt, storytelling has always been present.

Animation is only one of many ways to tell a story, one where imagination has fewer limits.  It allows us to explore worlds we do not even know and interact with characters that aren’t real.  I think that’s the beauty of it: besides being an art in itself, there are greater possibilities to tell stories and that is why it speaks to audiences of all ages.

There are many ways to tell a story… what’s the key to do it right? 

Several elements come into play. First, you need  characters with a soul. An artist should talk about them as if they were members of his or her family. Some projects hook you from the very beginning, because they are stories in which the personal essence of the creator vibrates. One can tell when ideas are empty and generic, so it is important to distinguish between inspiration and reinterpretation. It is one thing is to extract existing elements and get inspired by them to create a disruptive idea; and another to make a vague reinterpretation of something that has already been said.

Secondly, you need to know to whom you’re telling the story.  It is true that artists do not know what their audience wants specifically, otherwise projects wouldn’t be somewhat of a gamble.   However, people need to be told what to desire, they need for you show them what kind of content they may consume.  To achieve this, you need to understand what awakens their curiosity, what moves them.   

Thirdly, to break the mold and think outside the box.  You must identify the current content that’s out there and find an unexplored point of view instead of doing more of the same.

Last but not less obvious, there is the matter of luck and timing:  to find the right risk to take at the right time.  Many times, you have the right story in your hands, but if you tell it before its time, it won’t work.

Storytelling through animation, is this something you are born with or something you learn to do?

To be an illustrator or writer is like any other calling.  There are children that know how to play ball from the moment they are born; and others that, from their early childhood, draw or tell stories.  This type of profile exists: some children can’t leave their house without their blog, because you never know when inspiration will strike.

So, I would say that, in some sense, the artist is born:  it is an innate talent you see in the way they choose to spend their leisure time.  But it is something one can learn, too, because it requires professionalization and methodology to go further.  It’s like this: if you like writing or drawing, that is great, but you can’t stay there.  You have to build a better version of yourself, researching how you can improve your technique to cause a greater impact.

What’s the most important thing to know for young talent seeking to find a way in this industry?

The most important thing is to find where your passion lies.  Art, illustration, design, script writing, production – animation includes different profiles.  An artistic flair is not a discriminating requirement if you are drawn by this industry; there are other talents that are essential, such as knowing how to create a soundtrack that combines skill in various instruments to create a single musical piece.  

There is an increasing number of schools help in professionalization – for kids to enhance their ability- in this region, too.  However, this is not the only route: there is, of course, empirical talent, self-taught professionals, which does not make them any less capable.

For instance, we have the case of a 12-year-old kid that knocked on the door of our Guadalajara studios with his project and said, “ I want to work here for free in order to learn.” After a couple of years, he’s gone through a colossal evolution.  There are many roads one can take, what counts is to have the drive and passion to learn.  In this business, many people learn along the way; that is, sitting in front of the computer one perfects, perfects and perfects; investing many hours in this process.

It’s about professionalizing a passion, then… what awaits the young people that choose to do so? 

In art, the artist’s personal touch is imprinted in his / her work, which means that one has to be tenacious enough when receiving feedback. Nonetheless, that’s what it’s about: knowing that, at first, there will be plenty of room for improvement.  You cannot expect your first project to be perfect.  This is a road where you will knock on many doors.  You present your project, advance a bit and, through trial and error, you finally end up in a place where you are comfortable and where you have the possibility of success.  It’s a process and it requires resilience!

What can Latin-American talent bring to big networks?

We are seeking unique storytellers, with a different angle.  The universal narrative has been built from the same content source:  Hollywood and the United States.  Whatever comes out of there, permeates all countries, their vision of the world is prevailing.  China, India, Great Britain and France are also strong players.

So far, in Latin America, we have only been able to produce and consume locally, which is why the scale and reach of our region’s projects isn’t so large.  What we want is for the region to have enough talent, relevant stories and a different vision to contribute to the global narrative.  We want local latent with local perspectives that are able to create stories that can travel well and connect with audiences worldwide.

What is Cartoon Network’s view about growing this type of content in Latin America?

Our goal in the short term is to have local production come up to 15% of our total. We hope this percentage can grow and to have more and more geographical areas represented.  We have already worked with markets such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile.  Now we are exploring smaller territories.  We need productions that are robust enough to transform Latin America in a global model, for local creators to transcend with their stories.

Why is it important to develop this industry in Panama and what impact will this have on the region?

Creative industries may become a bridge or, since we’re in Panama, “a canal” (laughs), for Latin America to establish this type of development.  Primary activities predominate in our region; the ship for secondary ones has already sailed; therefore, we need to tackle tertiary activity, services and creative industries.  I believe this is a shortcut our region’s countries can use to get up on  this wave of development and ride it – not only with creative industries – but also with the digital industry, products and services.  There is a road there to explore, and through which we may more easily join the global arena.

What’s the biggest challenge to boost animation as an industry that helps develop the region?

This is a process of creating awareness, since creative industries are still viewed as something that’s not profitable, something you do for the love of art.  From this perspective, governments see it as a tool to construct cultural and educational heritage.

We want to show that, besides that, they are good business.  But for this to happen, we need to create content that’s attractive globally; and governments need modernization.  If this does not turn into a business, we are condemned to always have our projects subsidized and that is not sustainable. 

There’s a paradigm that animated content has to be academic and classic, but there are ways to create culture that are more disruptive and along with the current trends. We have to open up our compass and figure out how we can achieve goth goals simultaneously:  to contribute to cultural development and also create entertainment that generates resources.