MIAF 2024 artwork Q&A

MIAF 2024 poster
MIAF 2024 poster
MIAF 2024 poster

We LOVE the poster artwork for MIAF 2024 by Nina Blasche. It was completed in mid-October, just ahead of our International Animation Day (IAD) event, and we’ve been egar to unveil the new MIAF 2024 look as soon as the IAD dust settled. Getting poster artwork done nice and early is a surprisingly critical element of the process that MIAF’s Production Manager, Michael Hunt, in his efforts to rebuild the festival after all the covid-era challenges to make it sustainable and successful for many more years to come.

The history of how MIAF has arrived at its annual poster artwork is a long and storied one. For the first ten-plus years the artwork was done by the one and only Susi Allender, one of MIAF’s original founders. The first artwork proposed for MIAF #1 waaaaay back in 2001 just didn’t feel ‘right’ and with the clock ticking the three founders (Susi, Nag and Malcolm) turned to what they had on hand which was a big box of cut-out animation characters drawn and painted on cels that Nag & Susi had used to make their film “Ashputtle Or The Mother’s Ghost”. The trio agreed that the ‘cat’ character had the right ‘attitude’ but it really came together when Malcolm rearranged his limbs to make him look like a disco dancer.

As MIAF grew more people expressed an interest in producing the annual MIAF poster. Interestingly this often came from animators whose films had won prizes in previous MIAF’s. It was a delight working with these artists. One snowy morning in Tallinn (Estonia) Martinus Klement sat down with Malcolm in a dark café and sketched out his idea for artwork based around the number “13”; Dax Norman blew our minds one year with a wild set of psychedelic characters, soon after CC Stanhill took the vibe in a completely different direction with some fine line pencil work that we’d kicked around at a Yarra Valley winery, master animator Tom Schroder created a range of poster images based on a magnificent film he had released the year before, Peter Millard gave us crazy-rough dioramas and Alice Markham brewed up a series of super cool outer space scenes. In 2014 MIAF’s manager at the time, Helen Gibbins, produced a whole ‘family’ of ‘box people’ that just zinged straight into the whole notion of what animation is and how it’s watched. A couple of years later, one of MIAF’s best friends, the one and only Soncha Iocona spent months carefully hand drawing beautiful renditions of the Jiri Trnka puppets she had seen on a research trip through some of the most iconic puppet animation museums in Europe.

As we struggled to find a pathway back from the cancelled years we turned to local animator and artist Nina Blasche who has been helping MIAF in various ways large and small since her student days. It was Nina who pulled together artwork for MIAF’s relaunch in 2023. It was done in a hurry and without much guidance from us – and we loved it. But we wanted to get artwork ready good and early for 2024 so we could get the ‘face’ of MIAF front and centre from the beginning and give us all a chance to get used to it and really learn the best ways to use it across all the platforms that artwork invariably gets used on.

With all that extra time up our sleeves we figured we would be able to spend time with Nina and really figure out the ‘look’ of the artwork and the ways it would be used. It turned out that – straight out of the gate – Nina had a couple of super strong ideas and we all bought into the draft version of her “EYES” idea straight away. It evolved from draft to finished concept pretty fast as well. It broke the mould of pretty much all MIAF artwork that preceded it in a number of ways: there is a wonderful digital ‘sheen’ to the design and a really sophisticated, understated colour palette. There’s also a quiet intensity to it that sends a different message than a lot of the loud, hyper-coloured imagery that we’ve run with in the past. It kind of …well, looks back at the viewer asking them what it is they think they are looking at; it engages in a different way than much of what preceded it.

Many people would be surprised to learn how many times and in how many different ways an artist’s poster work gets sliced and diced in the service of an event such as MIAF. It’s not only critical that the mechanics of the way the artwork is received can cope with this rough and tumble but the artist themselves have to be at least OK – if not happy – to see their creation treated in this way.

From a festival management point of view we always go into the process looking for a wonderful piece of artwork from an artist whose work we love. But as the logistics of the festival begin to bite and the demands placed on the delivery team start to take precedence this devotion to the artwork morphs into a creative cage fight to ensure that that imagery does the best job in its multiple incarnations of ‘selling’ the festival.

For an artist, this handover moment must be a little like giving your child the keys to the family car for the first time and waving them goodbye as they roar off down the street.

And so, while this wonderful ‘first gen’ version of Nina’s MIAF 2024 imagery is leading the way we thought we would ask her a few questions about how she created it and how she thinks it will speak to MIAF’s values and its core message as a festival that – first and foremost – celebrates animation as an artform.

It may be the obvious question for us to start with, but it’s the essential one for any artists beginning a project as well. We wanted to know where the ‘kernel’ of the idea came from… it’s not like she received a particularly detailed brief from MIAF HQ!

“Like any good artist, I went through an idea-generation phase when conceptualising the artwork for MIAF 2024. The beginnings of all my artworks take form through messy graphite sketches in various notebooks I have lying around. Since my style is heavily character-based, I knew I would be exploring the anatomy of the human form. One batch of ideas came from the principles of animation itself. The ability to create the illusion of motion through still images will never lose its novelty to me, and this notion inspired an artwork that could capture this process. I was reminded of smear frames from cartoons I’ve seen extracted and posted online – showing the faces of beloved characters distorted in uncanny ways. To me, it’s like seeing the underpainting of a portrait, there is something raw and unconventional about them. As an artist and animator, I love to see the animation process unravelled in smear frames – and so I landed on my final idea”.

Good answer – that’s what an artist who is also an animator brings to the table in this process. Speaking of which, we wanted to know what Nina thought makes a ‘successful’ poster for an animation festival?

“I think a few different disciplines came together to execute this poster design – be it graphic design, illustration or animation. Most importantly, with any poster design, I hope to spark some sense of curiosity in the viewer. As an animator, I want to capture the essence of fluidity and motion”.

This was the time to ask her about the colour palette choice though. That was the element of the draft design that in a lot of ways was the most different than anything that has preceded it – and arguably the thing that would see it stand or fall as a piece of hard working ‘marketing’ artwork.

“The limited palette has more to do with the process of creating the illustration. While making this poster, I deliberately attempted to work outside of my artistic comfort zone. Most of my artwork has a fairly flat and simple appearance, but this time I wanted to achieve a realistic render. The best way to study tone and lighting for beginners is to work in greyscale and overlay colour later. Through this process, I discovered that a simple gradient would be most effective over the black-and-white image”.

And finally, when Nina’s draft design hit the table we knew we loved it, we knew it worked, we knew we could make it work over the course of the festival, we knew it was ‘right’…. we just didn’t quite know why. So we asked Nina what she thinks links the artwork of her poster design to what she thinks animation is all about?

“Animation has the capacity to be anything, it is the ultimate expression of creative freedom. Image, sound and movement unified and unbridled by the lens of a camera/realistic representations of reality. Through this, we hold a mirror to the human experience, we connect and we tell stories. I have never felt a greater sense of awe, wonder, or being known than when I watch animation. With my artwork, I hope to depict the surreal and unique qualities that animation can offer”.

Sounds good to us. Thanks Nina – you pulled off MIAF 2023’s artwork with a stopwatch hanging over your head but as we gear up for MIAF 2024 you’ve brought a fresh, fascinating wholly new look and feel to the way the festival is going to step out and face the world.