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Karolina Kaminska,
Editor, C21Kids

It’s June again – a favourite time of year for many working in the animation sector, as the industry gets together in the beautiful lakeside town of Annecy, France, for the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and MIFA.

The Annecy Festival, MIFA included, is always a joyous occasion; the sun is (usually) shining, evening drinks see festivalgoers gather along the river to unwind after a busy and productive day, and the event attracts more and more delegates year after year.

But the animation industry is in a tough place right now – perhaps the toughest it’s been in a long time. Execs who attended Kidscreen Summit in San Diego in February came home feeling deflated by a sector that is commissioning less and seemingly shunning original ideas in favour of risk-free known IP. And the mood hasn’t improved much since.

In April, those attending animation event Cartoon Next in Marseille llamented that the kids business is “haemorrhaging money,” while attendees at Animation Ireland’s event in Galway in May warned the Irish animation industry could fall apart if it didn’t deal with the “massive contraction” in production caused by the end of the streaming boom.

The story is similar in France, where some animation studios have been forced to scale back operations following the US streamers’sudden withdrawal from original commissioning. And in the US itself, the CEO of an LA-based independent studio warned via YouTube that the US animation industry is on “the brink of collapse.”

But will the industry’s woes be enough to dampen the usually sprightly mood in Annecy?

Commissioning freezes, financial struggles and a risk-averse market are worrying concerns for the animation sector at present. But they’re not the only issues it faces. Also talk of the town is the impending rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will disrupt the future of animation.

This time last year, there were a few outspoken execs and producers openly praising or criticising the use of AI in animation, while most others were too afraid to share their opinions. Now, discussions are occurring at every market, but while the subject is no longer taboo, it remains controversial.

The Annecy Festival itself has been criticised for shortlisting projects made with the aid of AI in this year’s competitions. The festival’s artistic director, Marcel Jean, justified the inclusion of projects using AI by arguing they would promote discussion and debate around the subject in a more substantive way. But in a post on LinkedIn, Samantha K Jackson, a US-based project manager and business developer focused on the social and creative industries, sparked a debate by accusing the festival of platforming “stolen” and “plagiarised” products.

We will have to wait until the festival begins to see how well those projects go down and what the market reaction will be. But in the meantime, let’s pack our suitcases and prepare for what will undoubtedly be another eventful week at one of animation’s most hotly anticipated events.