Steve Henderson is the editor and co-owner of skwigly.com, the UK’s biggest online animation magazine and community. He’s also the Director of the Manchester Animation Festival, the UK’s largest Animation Festival dedicated celebration of the animated art form.
STARBURST: What is your top tip for anyone looking to get a career in animation?
Steve Henderson: My top tip for anyone looking to get a career in animation is to hold on to that passion. Working in the animation industry isn’t like any other nine-to-five job. You take it with you absolutely everywhere. And if you don’t love it, then it’s not right for you. Also, look beyond the role of an animator or a director because the animation industry is huge, and there are lots of different roles that people can take. So you might not necessarily be good at drawing, but you might be incredibly well organised. Well, in that case, why not be a production manager? You might not be good at drawing, but you might have a passion for storytelling. Well, in that case, why not be a writer? There are lots of jobs in animation. But people often think about the people who can draw, the directors, etc and those guys are wonderful. However, there’s more to animation than animating.
How did the Manchester Animation Festival come about?
The festival was founded by myself, Jen Hall, Bill Lawrence, who founded the Bradford Animation Festival, and Deb Singleton, who was the director of the Bradford Animation Festival. Deb took me under her wing for the first few years at the Manchester Animation Festival before she retired, and I’m very lucky to have the three of them teach me so much about the world of film festivals. Bill and Jen are still teaching me to this day, it’s fair to say. MAF started on the final night of the Bradford Animation Festival.
People were coming up to me and Jen and asking what we were going to do about the closure of the Bradford Animation Festival because the animation crowd at BAF felt a little bit homeless. Jen and I didn’t know how to answer it that evening. But over the course of the year, we got together with Bill and Deb, and within a few short months, we established the idea of a festival in Manchester. Manchester is an obvious choice.
Bradford doesn’t have much of an animation history. But Manchester has this incredible legacy, as well as HOME, which is an amazing venue, which we thought, ‘well, that’ll be perfect for an Animation Festival. It also has this incredible history of Cosgrove Hall. So it all just came together. We decided we wanted to do a screening and see where we go from there, just start small. But gradually, the festival snowballed, and we had people contact us wanting to be a part of the festival and wanting to deliver masterclasses. And so, before we knew it, the festival has grown into something that incorporated workshops, masterclasses, and panel discussions and took on a life of its own. And before we knew it, the first Manchester Animation Festival was here.
What are you looking forward to most with the Manchester Animation Festival?
That’s a really difficult question. We have over 100 events at MAF this year. It’s like asking a mother to pick their favourite child. But I’ll have a go. We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do over the years at the festival, and we have some incredible panels, workshops, and masterclasses this year. We’ve got Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones, who is coming over from America to deliver a talk on Disney’s upcoming blockbuster ‘Wish’. It’s superb to have the team behind Netflix’s Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nuggets come to deliver a behind-the-scenes masterclass on that and give us a screening of the film.
We’re also delighted to welcome Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Passion Pictures, Kugali, and many more for workshops, panels, and master classes. But as ever, I always look forward to meeting people and discussing what they enjoyed about the festival. I look forward to hearing what films they enjoyed from our short film selection, what feature films they enjoyed, and which ones they think might win the competition. I enjoy hearing about what’s going on in the industry as part of our Industry Day. And I look forward to the conversations taking place at our Animated Connections Conference, which focuses on education and training.
And I look forward to seeing families engage in worldwide animation as part of our Family Day. And also working with our fantastic team here at MAF, so Jen and Greg. We just have such a great time working on putting the festival on, and it’s a joy to see it all come together with them. So what I’m looking forward to most is just the buzz, the atmosphere, the people, and people getting excited about animation.
What’s been the most interesting challenge so far when it comes to the festival?
Putting on an event the size of MAF is always a challenge. But it is a challenge that we always relish because we love animation, and we love showcasing animation. So, the outcome is worth any of the struggles. But our main challenge is not putting on the event. Our main challenge is getting people to understand animation.
When people think of animation, the first thing they might think about is probably something that keeps the kids quiet. So that could be an all-singing, all-dancing American CGI film, or it could just be a kid’s TV show. And those are brilliant, obviously. But there’s a lot more to animation than that. Our mission as a festival, our challenge as a festival, is to get people to understand that animation is everywhere. Animation is international.
And it is full of incredible ingenuity and variety. And so, whilst people might go to a film festival and come away culturally enriched, we want people to understand that they can do the same at an Animation Festival. Our challenge is to get people to understand to look beyond the simple answer when it comes to animation.
If I can’t make it to the festival, what’s the next best thing?
If you can’t make it to the festival in person, we have a brilliant online selection which features over 12 hours of content from the festival. You can catch up on some of our major talks, including Magic Light Pictures at 20 (The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom). We’ve got Nimona’s Fearless Journey with ND Stevenson talking about his journey making the film from a comic. We have a studio talk from Kugali, riding the waves of the changing world. We have online Q and A’s with directors. And as well we have the best of the festival in terms of the short films. So, over 12 hours worth of content as well as all these amazing things to offer as part of our online package.
Is there anything else that you’re working on that you want to tell the world about?
MAF 2024. It sounds like a flippant answer, doesn’t it? But MAF 2024 will be our 10th edition of the festival. We’re excited to have been embraced by the animation industry for ten editions. And we’re looking forward to putting on our biggest and best yet. Every year, we tend to excel, and we’ve got big, exciting plans for MAF as we go into the future.
The Manchester Animation Festival runs from November 12th to 17th on-site across Manchester and then continue online until the end of the month. Booking information can be found here.