EIFF 2015: we chart what's hot in animation from this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival

Iain Gardner picks out the highlights in this year's animation part of the festival – and tells us how he selects them.

With a line up boasting everything from Fritz the Cat to Pixar’s Inside Out, animation is yet again a major part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which opens today.

As well as a wealth of shorts covering a wide range of media and techniques, the Animation strand plays host to not one, but two animation legends.

This year's Master of Animation is Barry Purves, whose stunning short films include the Shakespeare star-vehicle Next, Kabuki-inspired melodrama Screen Play, and stop-motion biographies of Gilbert & Sullivan and Tchaikovsky.

Purves will present a retrospective selection of his work as part of his in-person appearance on 25th June.

The festival also plays host to a retrospective of feature films by Ralph Bashki, including The Lord of Rings, Wizards, and Fritz the Cat. After the latter screening on 26 June, Ralph Bakshi himself will be beaming in to the Filmhouse 2 cinema via Skype for a Q&A.

Meanwhile the Animation Lab is hosting Adam Elliot, Oscar-winning director of Mary and Max and fellow Oscar recipient, producer Claire Jennings

The full programme is online and available to book here, but we thought we'd get a personal guide to animation at the festival from the man responsible, Animation Strand programmer Iain Gardner.

Image: Stills from Crow by Yoav Segal 

Michael Burns: How do you programme the animation strand of a film festival? What do you look for?

Iain Gardner: "Programming is quite an organic process.

"You have to patiently go through all the submissions that come through, keeping tabs on the ones that display originality, technical excellence and innovation, strong realisation of the central idea; whether that is narrative or abstract.

"Basically you look for good stuff which feels relevant to the pursuit of the advancement of animation as an art form."

Image: Toonocalypse 

MB: How long does it all take to prepare?

IG: "This starts late November, with short list being drawn up by March and final programmes locked in April.

"Often, I’ll keep my ear to the ground at other festivals and through contacts for new work in production, and put them on a chase list for consideration.

"Oscar-winner Adam Elliot’s new film Ernie Biscuit (pictured) getting its UK Premiere with us is an example of this strategy.

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MB: What is the spread of animation formats and techniques like this year? 

IG: "I’m always keen to get the balance right between drawn, stop frame and CGI, but it’s also great to see films which employ techniques you hadn’t dreamt of such as You Could Sunbathe in This Storm by Alice Dunseath from the Royal College of Art (pictured). This film exploits natural crystal growths.

"Crow by Yoav Segal is another remarkably original visual using ink.

"I’m amazed at the quantity of hand crafted work which still gets produced, given the dominance of digital in popular commercial animation.

MB: How does the McLaren Award process work – how are films selected?

IG: "The McLaren Award acts as the barometer of British animation; for example, many of our selections go onto receive a BATFA nomination.

"Looking back over previous catalogues from the EIFF reads like a who’s who of the British Animation Industry. I’m conscious of that legacy and try to ensure we’ve got the finger on the pulse.

"On occasion I request some directors to officially enter work which is freely available online in contradiction of our submission rules; but I only do this in rare exceptions where artists are investigating the dialogue between animation and ingestion of online media and as such I feel are important to register for posterity.

"Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit by Wesley Louis is a faux anime title sequence in a perfect imitation of 80s Saturday morning cartoons which the director launched anonymously on YouTube to entice forum discussion as to whether people remembered seeing the show.

"There’s a context being examined which goes above merely uploading a film online as a platform to reach large audiences which is really fascinating.

IG: "One also has to try and keep a balance between different film schools, regions and techniques to give an overview of the state of the UK.

"We’ve also developed a good relationship with Edinburgh College of Art which opens an opportunity for the final year to submit their works in progress by the submission deadline;

"I often gamble with the ECA films as it’s very hard to determine how the final films will work out, but it’s important to give our local graduates their platform on the world stage, as we did with Ainslie Henderson’s I Am Tom Moody.

"This year we debut One Step Ahead by Helen Chiu (pictured)

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MB: What do you expect will be the sell-out events and shorts?

IG: "I’m hoping Oscar-winning director Adam Elliot will be a big draw for International Animation. He’ll be in town and maybe available for a Q&A after.

"The crew behind Toonocalypse (pictured) have built an impressive social media following, so we’re seeing good ticket sales for their screening in McLaren 1.  The animation programme audiences usually balance out as people tend to want to see the whole collection.  

"My colleague Lydia Beilby has programmed the directorial debut of former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan, so that’s probably a sell out!"

MB: Any rare gems that people might miss but really should check out? 

IG: "We nearly didn’t get to screen Ralph Bakshi’s seminal 1970s feature film Fritz the Cat as we were coming across a real stumbling block as to who retained the screening rights for the UK. But that’s all resolved and we’ve got a 35mm print. 

"Its reputation as X-rated animated porn distracts from a film where the animation has been created with real joie de vivre. 

"As an extra bonus Ralph Bakshi himself will be Skyping in for a Q&A afterward."

MB: What innovations should we look out for in the programme?

IG: "Too many to mention, but here’s a mix from across the strand:

"Amardo & Waldo’s Joyride (pictured) by Timothy McCourt & Max Taylor has a spontaneity to it that belies the painstaking effort of animation.

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"Dissonance by Til Nowak looks as incredible as Inception, with gargantuan cityscape effects as the back drop to the story of an estranged husband trying to win back the respect of his daughter.

"Unhappy Happy comes from the unique mind of Peter Millard. I’m not sure what I can say about it, I’m still trying to figure out what I saw.

"Stems by Ainslie Henderson is a modest and pure eulogy to stop motion puppets from the triple Bafta nominated animator.

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"ManOMan by Simon Cartwright is pretty intense."

MB: What will be the personal highlights for you in this year’s line up?

IG: "I really enjoy chairing the in-person event, and this year the stage will be graced by Barry Purves, a British stop-frame puppet animator with a prestigious history as an animator, and a dazzling collection of his auteur films, which are rich with literary and theatrical influences.

"We’ve named this event Barry Purves: The Naked Animator as Barry really wants to get under the skin, not only of his meticulous puppets, but of the creative drive itself.  

"And I also love meeting the film makers who make the journey to Edinburgh to support their films on the big screen.

"I’ll also be leading an informal walk over Arthur’s Seat on the 24th June in the hope to get as many animators as we can up the top of the extinct volcano!"