Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Tradition Meets Technology: Cuban Film Animation Enters the Global Marketplace

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Tradition Meets Technology: Cuban Film Animation Enters the Global Marketplace

Article excerpt

I don't work for a market. I don't work to sell a product. The purpose of the work I do is to give pleasure to Cuban children.

Armando Alba

What can we say to the children of today? They bump up against a challenging reality. . . . Their parents struggle to get food on the table. . . . Their dreams begin to escape. Children in Africa and Iraq can't dream.

Paco Prats

Memories of my first visit to Cuba's national animation studio are alternately bright and dim. It was in 1994, during the depths of the Special Period, a time of economic hardship and extreme uncertainty on the island. As I walked through the modest facility the lights flickered on and off. Each time the darkness engulfed us, we stopped and waited. And each time the rooms brightened, the artists picked up their ink pens and paintbrushes and we resumed the tour. I recall being impressed by the beauty of the works in progress; the passion and perseverance of the animators despite difficult conditions; and the attentiveness of my hosts, the producers Paco Prats and Aramis Acosta. I was also struck by the monumental camera mat had been used to photograph eels for some thirtyfive years. That tour of the animation studio more than a decade ago provided me with a glimpse of the traditional animation process as practiced by worldrenowned specialists in Cuba's National Film Institute (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, ICAIC). Even then, I knew I was witnessing a dying art. What I didn't appreciate was just how imminent its demise would be. Only a few years later, the migration from hand-drawn to computergenerated images began, as ICAIC artists embraced what had become the dominant production mode in the international industry. The island's economic crisis and ensuing shortages forced them to adapt to survive, and one major move was toward computer animation.

This essay traces the dramatic transformation in the production and dissemination of Cuban animation. Over the past decade alone, computergenerated images (CGIs) have replaced much of the hand drawing and painting; ICAIC's animation studio has expanded from a suite of rooms in a house to a seven-story building; and the staff has grown to include a host of young artists working alongside their experienced counterparts. Perhaps most significantly, the entity has stepped up its efforts to engage with the international sphere participating in more festivals, entering new markets, and providing services to clients around the world. Without a doubt, Cuba's animation operation has undergone sweeping changes. This transformation has not meant a complete rupture with the institution's past, however. The studio's original mission -contributing to the creation of a uniquely Cuban culture - remains intact. And its commitment to the revolution has not wavered. Animation artists continue to perceive their primary role as serving their compatriots, especially the children of their nation, and resisting U.S. domination by proffering alternatives to Disney cartoons. So while digital technology and international market forces have had a major impact on Cuban animation in recent years, the global industry has not usurped the island's local tradition. On the contrary, autochthonous animation is thriving in Cuba.

The success of animation on the island has to do, in great part, with its ability to adapt to an ever-changing social, political, and economic landscape. And crucial for this adaptation has been the careful balancing of political aims with aesthetic concerns, local needs and goals with global influences and market forces, and tradition with innovation. The talent and tenacity of the studio's artists and technicians have been put to the test as new challenges have emerged. Time and time again, animation artists, directors, and producers have revised their modes, redirected their efforts, and retooled their skills to remain effective. The studio has demonstrated a knack for reinventing itself - but never at the cost of abandoning its mission or denying its history. …

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