Jordane Delahaye, Gleaner Writer
Last week a public lecture took place on the creation of the Japanese art genre manga, for Jamaican animators, illustrators, and designers as part of a move to forge a path into the multibillion-dollar animation industry for interested parties.
The lecture, which took place at JAMPRO headquarters on Friday, December 14, was preceded by two workshops at the Edna Manley School of Arts and the University of Technology (UTech) on the creation of manga the previous day.
The programme is part of a larger initiative sponsored by the Japan Foundation, the cultural arm of the government of Japan, which will dispatch manga artists to Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
According to JAMPRO's Kim-Marie Spence, around 80 individuals turned out for the lecture which was conducted by manga artist and lecturer of manga and illustration at Yoyogi Animation School (Tokoyo), Takuya Kurita.
Manga are comics originating in Japan which conform to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century. Manga writing has become a fascination, not only among Jamaican youths but comic and animation lovers everywhere.
Kaori Saito, cultural officer at the Embassy of Japan in Jamaica, revealed that the inspiration behind the lecture and workshops was Jamaica's growing interest in animation.
"We saw that there was a big interest in developing animation in Jamaica and we felt that manga is the first step in doing so. Also I was approached by students who were writing their own manga and wanted advice but I could not give any professional advice," Saito said.
"Our goal was to equip people with the necessary knowledge and skills pertaining to manga development and also help them to understand why and how Japan has achieved success in this area," Saito added.
According to JAMPRO, the global animation industry is estimated to be worth US$80 billion and animation business process outsourcing in the global animation industry is valued at US$68.4 billion.
Manga intersects with animation as the drawings come to life through anime. Japan has influenced the world through manga and anime - with both now global phenomena.
The Japanese ambassador, in his speech at the lecture, revealed that the manga industry is so big in Japan that it generates over US$5 billion annually and shares one third of the entire publication industry.
Spence said that JAMPRO decided to support the venture because the animation industry is a unique market for Jamaica and one that holds vast potential.
"It is a labour-intensive, technology-centric industry that promises jobs and transferable skills for Jamaicans and continues to grow - hence JAMPRO's interest," Spence told The Sunday Gleaner.
"Recent explorations show that the major studios (Disney, Nickelodeon etc) continue to need more suppliers of animation production services and even more sources of content. However, Jamaica needs to train a critical mass of animators to further support our entrance into the world of animation outsourcing," Spence continued.
Spence also added that the animation industry is a "whole industry", requiring attention to labour (training) and investment in studios and promotion and other areas.
Currently, there are three animation studios in the country: Alcyone, which produces Cabbie Chronicles, Reel Rock GSW and SkyRes.
But apparently there is a desperate lack of Jamaican animators to fill these studios.
According to John Ehikhametalor of the School of Computing at the University of Technology, he is constantly being approached by Reel Rock GSW pleading for animators.
UTech has taken the first step in sating this high demand in the Jamaican animation market with the organising of a bachelor of arts programme in animation, which is the first of its kind in the Caribbean.
This, Ehikhametalor posits, is the initial stage in making Jamaica the animation hub of the Caribbean, which in turn, will yield great returns for the country, both socially and economically.
"Research was done by Toon Boom (the world's leading animation software company used by the likes of Disney, Nickolodeon and Universal Animation Studios) which saw animation and gaming having a positive impact on crime in a certain state in the US," Ehikhametalor told The Sunday Gleaner.
"It's also great for educational promotion. Another study saw a 70 per cent increase in academic performance when animation-based learning tools were introduced," he added.
According to Ehikhametalor, the animation programme being introduced at UTech will offer students comprehensive training in the animation field which will include from pre-production to post-production operations.
This, he says, will provide a wide scope of job opportunities for persons undertaking the degree.
Because the programme is a new venture, however, (set to be launched in September 2013) Ehikhametalor says that the institution needs more resources and support so as not to compromise on the integrity of the education students will receive.