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Annecy is massive. Annecy is overwhelming. There is no other animation festival like it.

Imagine San Diego Comic-Con and the Cannes Film Festival smashed into one, except everyone attending is an animation artist or somehow involved in the business, or otherwise a student working toward the goal of becoming a professional artist.

Everyone from indie filmmakers working alone from home to the biggest names in the California animation industry attend the festival (and have been attending for the last 56 years). There are so many wonderful programs happening, that you’re bound to miss cool discussions, screenings, and events unless you pay close attention. Here are 9 highlights from the upcoming edition, taking place June 13-18. Go to the Annecy website for the whole program guide.

  • The medieval castle at the top of the hill in Annecy, dating back to the 12th century, is worth seeing simply on its own, but it’s a must-visit this year thanks to a retrospective exhibition of French animation legend Jean-François Laguionie. The exhibit will allow viewers to follow the path from “a solitary artist’s pencil to the big screen and is well outlined with notes, sketches, drawings and paintings.” Artwork from throughout Laguionie’s career will be on display, including films like The Lady and the Cellist (grand prize at Annecy 1965), Rowing Across the Atlantic (Palme d’Or at Cannes and César for Best Animated Film 1978) and Gwen, the Book of Sand (below). On Thursday, June 16, at 4pm, a reception with Laguionie and colleagues will take place at the castle. The reception is open to all badgeholders and museum patrons.
  • Virtual reality is an exciting new frontier for animation, and Annecy is putting a major focus on it this year. From Tuesday through Thursday, attendees can experience new VR projects in the “salle de création” at the main Bonlieu venue. Projects include Pearl and Allumette, both of which we’ve written about on Cartoon Brew, as well as the projects Rain or Shine from Nexus, Minotaur from the NFB, and a Tilt Brush demo hosted by Titmouse. At Sundance and Tribeca, there were long wait times to try the VR projects, and I’m assuming it’ll be the same at Annecy, so make sure to sign up early. More on the VR slate: On Monday, June 13, there will be a panel about Google Spotlight Stories with exec producer Karen Dufilho, creative director Jan Pinkava, Pearl director Patrick Osborne, Rain or Shine director Felix Massie and producer Chris O’Reilly, and Special Delivery director Tim Ruffle and producer Peter Lord. On Tuesday, a four-hour long meeting, “Creation Conference: The Challenges of Virtual Reality,” will include artists, directors, and writers from a half-dozen studios talking about where VR storytelling in animation is headed.
  • Three masterclasses are on the schedule: on Monday, June 13, composer Bruno Coulais (Coraline, Song of the Sea, Mune: Guardian of the Moon) speaks; on Wednesday, June 15, film director (and Trollhunters animated series creator) Guillermo del Toro; and on Friday, June 17, Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. (The festival has also announced that John K. will world premiere his long-awaited short Cans Without Labels, on Tuesday at 11:00 pm, before the screening of Nerdland.)
  • Guillermo del Toro's CG series "Trollhunters" is being produced by Dreamworks Animation for Netflix.
    Guillermo del Toro’s CG series “Trollhunters” is being produced by Dreamworks Animation for Netflix.
  • Three festival keynotes are on the schedule, too: Aardman co-founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord will present “Aardman at 40,” retracing their legendary studio’s journey from its humble beginnings (6/14, 6:30pm); Cinesite’s director of animation Eamonn Butler will explain how the studio, which is a leader in vfx production, is transitioning into feature animation (6/15, 6:30pm); and Ankama co-founder Anthony Roux will talk about the recent release of the French feature Dofus Book 1: Julith and the gaming company’s transmedia strategy (6/16, 6:30pm).
  • Genndy Tartakovsky will host a work-in-progress of the new Samurai Jack (6/15, 2pm), and Ernest & Celestine co-director Benjamin Renner will host a work-in-progress of his new series of TV specials The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (6/16, 2pm).
  • This one is a bit quirky: Les Courtisans, a short film association, is installing a shack in the gardens of the Imperial Palace hotel to present “intimate screening experiences.” If you’re attending the MIFA market at the hotel, you can take a short break at the shack to discover shorts about topics such as the endangered environment, questioned gender, dysfunctional families, and mechanical societies. The shack will be open all day on June 15.
  • Speaking of MIFA, the animation market that runs alongside the festival, around 2,700 people are scheduled to attend this year, among them, 555 exhibitors from 63 countries. Industrial Light & Magic and Unity Technologies (makers of the Unreal gaming engine) will have booths at Annecy for the first time, and the countries of Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Turkey, and New Zealand will have a MIFA presence for the first time, too.
  • Lines to get into some screenings and events at Annecy can get pretty crazy. (Photo: F. Blin/CITIA)
    Lines to get into some screenings and events at Annecy can get pretty crazy. (Photo: F. Blin/CITIA)
  • As part of the festival’s focus on French animation this year, which will include 13 programs and 5 documentaries, a panel discussion takes place Tuesday (5:30pm): “French Animation: From the Game-changing 80s Up Till Today.” The panel will aim to analyze the factors that have led to France becoming one of the world’s top three countries for animation production. Discussion topics will include:
    • “Annecy: An event that changes with the times” Speaker: Dominique Puthod
    • “The 1980s and the image plane” Speaker: Jack Lang
    • “Winning back the domestic audiovisual market” Speaker: Marc du Pontavice
    • “The resurgence of French and European feature films” Speaker: Jacques Bled
    • “Does the French touch exist?” Speaker: Kristof Serrand
  • The major studios will be there in full force. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules) will reveal exclusive footage from their first CG feature, Disney’s Moana. Story artist Leo Matsuda will premiere the new Disney short he directed, Inner Workings, which will be released widely in front of Moana. On the Pixar side, Andrew Stanton will be present to introduce a screening of Finding Dory. Dreamworks Animation will have a significant presence: on Thursday, June 16, at 4pm, director Tom McGrath (Madagascar, Megamind) will discuss the story process and artistic development of Dreamworks’ upcoming feature The Boss Baby. Dreamworks will also host a panel on its new Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender with Dreamworks head of television Margie Cohn and series exec producer Joaquim Dos Santos (6/15, 6pm), and will hold a work-in-progress session on the upcoming Trolls with production designer Kendal Cronkhite (6/14, 9:30am). Other studios giving presentations include Mikros Image (6/13, 4pm), Warner Animation Group (6/14, 4pm), Nickelodeon Animation (6/15, 4pm), Cartoon Network (6/16, 6pm), and Weta Digital (6/17, 4pm).

(Photo, top: D. Bouchet/CITIA)