Studying and working in the field of animation means to create visuals. Whether it is about designing a character, drawing backgrounds, or creating concept art: animation is, naturally, a visible medium. However, animation is much more than that. It is also about the things you do not see. It is about telling stories, conveying thoughts, kindling emotions, sparking discussions. For young animation artists, though, this bridge between the visual and non-visual is not always an easy one to cross.
In the following article, our Animation student Julia Skala discusses exactly this struggle. Julia tells us about her personal artistic journey and explains how a trip to a Hungarian film festival cemented her self-image as a young filmmaker in the animation scene. Go ahead, Julia!
My name is Julia Skala and I am an animation directing student in my fourth year at the Animationsinstitut. When I started my studies here in 2018, I was purely focused on concept art. I had studied graphic design before, specializing in illustration, and was eager to become a visual development artist and character designer for animated films, marveling at the work of the big US-American animation studios. Visual development artists are responsible for any visual designs that you see in animated films. This includes the set designs, environments, props, creatures, characters, and color concepts for the entire film.
Looking back, I grew up in an environment where we did not have a lot of discussions, I rather practiced to be diplomatic and pleasing from an early age on. This is a skill that I have profited from these last years in my work as a directing student. However, for a while, there remained a feeling of not being entitled. Not being fully eligible to hold academic discussions about visual arts and film or to judge them. After all, what gives me the right to do so?
Many things have changed since then. I still have a strong focus on visuals and design and I am working as a freelance illustrator and visual development artist alongside my studies at the Animationsinstitut. My studies here have given me the greatest gifts that you can hand to any young artist in order to grow and thrive: empowerment, resources, and time.
With these, I have slowly realized that there is not only a power in my visual craft, but also in my thoughts, philosophies, and the stories that lie behind the images I create.
This autumn, I was attending PRIMANIMA Festival in Budaörs, Hungary, as a happy student and representative of the Animationsinstitut but also as a reporter for the East European Film Bulletin—an online film magazine publishing essays, reviews, and interviews on central and eastern European films. They also cover a variety of festivals and this time, I had the pleasure of venturing off to Hungary.
PRIMANIMA Animation Festival 2022 was a festival of warm, familiar hospitality towards all filmmakers and guests. Just a bus ride away from the capital Budapest, it was showcasing a variety of international, European, and Hungarian animation films that should not be missed. The first Hungarian word I learned was katasztrófa (catastrophy), the last one was rántott sajt (fried cheese).
I have slowly realized that there is not only a power in my visual craft, but also in my thoughts, philosophies, and the stories that lie behind the images I create.Julia Skala, student Animation
PRIMANIMA festival describes itself as the “Worldwide Festival of First Animations”. This is a description of the festival’s efforts to showcase and promote young animation filmmakers’ work who are either still students, recent graduates or producing their first professional projects after graduation—officially referred to as: first films.
After a fourteen-hour train ride from Stuttgart, I arrived at Budapest-Keleti station. Despite my lack of Hungarian vocabulary, I finally found the taxi that the festival had sent me and I was driven to Budaörs. This is a small town right next to Budapest that is also home to BABtér, the Budaörs Animation Base and Creative Space.
BABtér opened its doors in 2016, just when the fifth PRIMANIMA festival was taking place. Their goal is to “spread the magic of animation”. They seek to make the craft more accessible, by offering various courses and organizing cultural events all year (including printmaking, stop-motion animation, graphic arts and drawing). They also help artists and young filmmakers with building a network and connecting with organizations. BABtér hosts part of the screenings during the festival (namely the children’s, teens’, and night movies program). It is also Primanima’s hospitality center, where all the meals are provided for the guests during the festival and where music and drinks are enjoyed in the evenings.
The heart of the festival program, including the student’s and master’s competition, is being showcased at Jókai Mór Művelődési Ház—which is a cinema just down the street from BABtér. Due to this, I was merely walking up and down a single street all week: from the meals to the screenings and then to our flat, in order to write about the films I saw.
I was sharing an AirBnB, provided by the festival, with three other guests; Hungarian puppet-theatre enthusiast Máté Hirsch, Hungarian illustrator Agnés Szucher and the Italian illustrator, animator, and animation directress Giulia Martinelli. The latter two where screening their films LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA (2021) and MAREA (2022) at Primanima festival.
When I left for Hungary, I was feeling a bit tense and nervous. Despite receiving a great education as an animation filmmaker at the Animationsinstitut of the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, I had very little experience in writing about films, let alone as a published writer. This is, of course, a shift of perspective from the work I usually do in my studies. Luckily, and to my own surprise, I was blessed with a feeling of enthusiasm and ease when I tackled the articles. The writing process felt smooth, inspired, and my work was well received.
I took nice memories home with me from Hungary, but mainly a soothing reassurance to the conviction that I had struggled to believe for such a long time: The conviction that not only the images that I create as an artist can be relevant, well-crafted, and meaningful—but also my words, personal opinions, and interpretations of art.
You can read all of my articles on four of the great films I saw at Primanima Animation Festival as well as the interviews I conducted with the Hungarian animation directors Réka Bucsi and Tomek Ducki on the website of the East European Film Bulletin.
Life has a funny way of being dramatically ironical. Just some weeks after my first trip to Budapest for PRIMANIMA Festival, I had the chance to venture there again last month:
My fellow student Oscar Jacobson and me received a special mention and a marvelous golden squirrel statue for our second year animated film, SOMMERREGEN (2020), which we co-directed, at Cinemira Teen film festival.
I was also accompanied by my partner and fellow animation student Benjamin Wahl. Cinemira Teen is very interactive and offers many activities; we animated on direct film for the first time, played around with the festival’s green screen booth and met wonderfully kind people there.
After all of this: Thank you, Hungary, for making me feel so welcome—as a reporter and animation filmmaker! See you again soon.
This year at Primanima and Cinemira Teen film festival, there were no films from Filmakademie being shown…so, submit your films until spring 2023 and get ready to travel to Budaörs next fall! This is when the sun is as golden as the Hungarian strudel cakes and the weather is perfect for spending time in the hot thermal baths of Budapest.