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MIA Animation conference hopes to draw a crowd Saturday and Sunday in Miami, Miami Beach

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Once upon a time, film animation including the grandest Walt Disney fairy tales was done the old-fashioned way — with pencil and paper.

“That’s the way they did it from the very beginning, from Steamboat Willie [the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 1928] and even earlier than that,” said Matthew O’Callaghan, supervising animator for Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989).

Disney/Pixar’s 1995 box-office blockbuster Toy Story launched the era of computer-generated animation. “Technology has advanced so much. People, when they go to the theater, they're accustomed to seeing it now. It’s become the industry standard,” said O’Callaghan, the California-based keynote speaker at this weekend’s MIA Animation Conference & Festival to be held in Miami and Miami Beach.

“This is happening in my backyard. It's a fantastic opportunity for the arts and production to happen right here,” said David Sexton, a Miami Beach-based artist and writer for Marvel comics (Marvel Tarot, Mystic Arcana). “I’ve been doing artwork forever. It puts the drama there in front of you. When you’re doing a drawing it’s there on the page. When you actually make it come alive, there’s a real thrill to that. It’s exciting. It brings another level to the artwork you’re doing.”

Sexton, Univision animator Mauricio Ferrazza and Debra Pierce, a former advisor at Miami International University of Art & Design, are presenting MIA Animation, a technical conference aimed at making South Florida an animation capital.

“We went from cocaine days, to model days, to party town. Art Basel, thankfully, came to Miami and we became capital of the art world,” said Ferrazza, who founded the festival and is working with Miami’s Downtown Development Agency and Community Redevelopment Agency “to make Miami a place where animation and gaming can be developed.

“The bottom line is we want to bring business to Miami to create jobs for our students,” he said. “The creative technology industry. Geographically speaking, we’re right there for South America. I’m from Brazil and it’s booming for gaming and animation.”

This is the second MIA Animation festival. Two hundred attended the first in 2010. More than 400 have registered this year.

In addition to O’Callaghan, speakers include representatives from Cartoon Network, Walt Disney Television Animation, Universal and Microsoft Studios. Daytime workshop topics at the Miami arts university include “Innovation in Animation,” “Animation for Games in Mobile App Development” and “Crossing Over: From Student to Professional.”

“If the public is interested in animation, gaming, visual effects, broadcasting, web design, film, we have lectures for all these topics,” Ferrazza said.

A conference highlight: “Pitch to the Industry,” in which student animators will compete for a trip to meet agents and studio execs in Los Angeles.

Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, 15 animated short subjects by students and young directors will be publicly screened at the Miami Beach Cinematheque.

Sexton, a former South Beach gym owner, said he first became interested in animation as a youngster, watching Saturday morning cartoons.

“My brother and I would get up at the crack of dawn and watch for four hours. Scooby Doo, Super Friends,” Sexton said. “As an adult, I came back to it again when Disney had the resurgence. Little Mermaid is a fantastic film. It was me reintroducing myself to animation and falling in love with it again. When I was a kid, cartoons were kid stuff. Now it’s South Park and Simpsons on TV, it’s Toy Story and The Avengers. A lot of the big blockbuster movies are 50 percent animation. There's video games and apps. It’s become a part of everyone's lives, everywhere.”

In the late 1930s, South Florida was briefly a capital of U.S. film animation. Fleischer Studios, which competed with Disney and produced Popeye and Superman cartoons, was based in Miami until World War II.

MIA Animation producers hope to bring the business back to South Florida. More than 15 employers will participate in a conference jobs fair, said Pierce, the festival’s development director.

“We started finding companies that do animation, do gaming, do mobile gaming applications. We started realizing the market in Miami, there are other opportunities in Miami,” Pierce said. “We have more than enough talent but a lot of these employers don’t know it.”

IF YOU GO

The MIA Animation Conference & Festival runs Saturday and Sunday at Miami International University of Art & Design, 1501Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Registration prices vary, http://miaanimation.com.

Public screenings 7 p.m. Saturday and 5:15 p.m. Sunday. Daily admission: $10 adults; $9 for students and seniors. Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. http://mbcinema.com.

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Loved the way it was created. First class animation indeed.

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