Jamaica this week inched closer to positioning itself as a credible player in the global animation industry with the graduation of 45 newly minted animators under the “Animate Jamaica” project.
Jamaica’s Minister of Finance, Dr. Peter Phillips was very upbeat as he delivered the keynote address at the graduation ceremony for the first cohort in the certificate program at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston recently. Making reference to the US$220+ billion global animation industry, (which up to last year was enjoying an annual growth rate of approximately 9%), Dr. Phillips said, "We don’t need to get all of it, not even 10% of it, but we can get enough of it to seriously impact our current realities".
Minister Phillips described the graduation as “a genuinely path-breaking venture which carries with it so many national hopes and dreams”.
The initiative explores the possibilities of positioning Jamaica as one of the global hubs of animation with South Korea, India and the Philippines as a means of tapping into the significant creative talent of Jamaican youth and their interest in participating more actively in the global economy. Paradoxically, this pool of young talent is currently affected by high rate of unemployment in the local economy.
The seeds of “Animate Jamaica” were planted in June 2013 when the Government of Jamaica with the support of the World Bank Group and a suite of local and international private sector partners staged the Caribbean’s first full-fledged animation conference KingstOOn ‘in Kingston.
Jamaica today only has a few full animation studios. However, international companies are increasingly looking at Jamaica as a country of choice for outsourcing animation production, with a number of new contracts flowing in over the last few months. Existing animation studios need a constant and larger supply of professional animators to fulfil those contracts and expand.
With South Korea, India and the Philippines now shifting their focus to the generation of local content for their burgeoning middle-classes, a widening skills gap has been created to support production lines in North America and Europe.
Following KingstOOn, UWI-based Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) launched a partnership with local animation studio Reel Rock GSW and Canadian software company ToonBoom to recruit and train 45 young animators over a 6-month period in Kingston and Montego Bay.
By October of 2013 GSW had landed an international contract with a large French firm, creating the real employment opportunities for cohort 1 of “Animate Jamaica” who just graduated ahead of the start of the new production line.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites also speaking at the graduation ceremony said "Perhaps this holds the key to addressing the chronic underperformance of youth in our system. While they are still in school, we can begin to introduce them to valuable life lessons in an animated format to reduce boredom of the traditional classroom methods that often fail to engage our youth”.
The graduates include a significant number of students with financial challenges, and 70 percent of them have only high school education. Seventeen of the 45 graduates are based in rural Jamaica and will graduate later this week at the UWI’s Western Jamaica Campus in Montego Bay.
For World Bank Country Representative Giorgio Valentini, the value of this partnership lies in finding viable and sustainable national solutions driven by global demand for new industry hubs. “Today, we need to recognize not only the creative skills and dedication of all of you graduating from this first animation course but also the existing partnership between young people like yourselves, the government and the private sector in creating the space to launch Jamaica as an animation hub”.
"As the animation industry continues to grow, Jamaican youth are now well positioned to play an increasing role in its development with better skills," he added.
Next month, Silicon Valley will again cast its net in the region with a high profile forum bringing world class IT industry leaders to the award ceremony of a sister initiative, the Caribbean edition of Digital Jam 3.0. The event will provide another opportunity for the Caribbean youth to showcase their skills, compete for prizes and meet with potential employers.