A former actress, founder of Cartoons Underground, a power organizer of a global award-winning non-profit female empowerment organization, SheSays, Vicky is one of the most dynamic people you will meet. At 21 she received her certified elephant driver’s license (Mahout license), crossed the Arctic Circle at 23, had breakfast with the creator and director of The Minions, Kyle Balda at 25. Over the past five years, Vicky has worked in the digital space, in Asia and Europe, across different fields such as SEO, social media, public relations and in 2017 she was also a finalist for the Women Leading Change – Rising Star award.
How did Cartoons Underground begin?
Myself and my co-founder, Patrick Smith started it in 2012. We’d known each other for several years from NYU Tisch Asia where Patrick was a professor of animation. He is also the Director of MTV Daria, amongst other things. He came back after his summer vacation and we met for a beer and he suggested starting an animation festival in Singapore. They have a lot of them in New York and across America – cool vibes and a chilled out atmosphere where you can watch cool stuff. There was nothing like that in Singapore. Back then I was doing event planning so I knew venue owners and he knew lots of famous people and students who wanted to showcase their films and he suggested I became the festival director.
It was quite incredible, in 6 weeks we managed to put together a festival, we did a Kickstarter campaign, sourced a venue and films and arranged press coverage. I was so worried that no one was going to show up but in first year 250 people came to Home, now Canvas. It was so full, people were standing on the side of the road trying to look in. We had directors present and a Q&A and we even had original comic work by Bad Dog on the walls of Home that had appeared in Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine.
I have always done art since I was young and used to paint a lot with watercolours. I was also a colouring assistant for a short animated film called Moonchild by YY Chen and Sarah Chong. I’ve always enjoyed animation and from my perspective, everyone loves watching cool stuff they wouldn’t normally see and having a drink and eating some popcorn. We are never too old for animation.
Cartoons Underground has become the largest animation festival in in SE Asia. How is it different from other festivals?
We tried to create an experience outside of the cinema that brings a lot of different people together. At the festival, we interact with artists, talk to directors, we have a lot of art students coming and also studios who want to discover young talent so it’s a great platform for people to get exposure. The festival also tries to include everyone, not just artists. We want it to be casual and very accessible as an enjoyable cinematic experience. You have to pay a lot of money for a lot of the other animation festivals in Asia and you also need to be an animator. For us it’s about discovering content from the local and international scene. There is a big appetite for animation and the festival experience here.
What has running a festival taught you?
Stuff never goes as planned! It is important to have a really good team because it allows the festival to get bigger and for me to source more content and new venues and partnerships. The bigger the team, the bigger the network and you can increase the audience and the studios and eventually also get sponsors.
In your role as Festival Director, what are your main responsibilities?
As Festival Director and Founder, I’m basically like a project manager. I have to ensure that submissions are coming through and that they are being reviewed and make sure everything is on tracks with deadlines. Film submissions come in at the start of year and then we do other fringe events throughout the year. I also work with all our partners; from our judges, to sponsors to our event partners and plan everything out to ensure that it runs smoothly.
What can we expect from this year’s festival?
This year we received our biggest number of submissions; more than 1,500 films from over 90 countries! That is three times more than last year so you can really expect a great line up. We have curated 21 films over three programs. This year we have two international programs; one called Different Worlds, exploring different types of reality in life and the other A Word Please and that explores thought provoking topics. Our third program is our first ever Best Singapore Student’s Animation. This year we also have our second Golden Durian award, which is voted for by the audience, and we have Best Director, Best Film and for the Singapore category we have the Best Singapore Student award. We are also partnering with Mi5chief Makers for the event who create a lot of interactive digital experiences. We will have animation projected on the building and the audience will be able to create their own animation experience with an iPad.
Why is it important to have audience engagement as part of the festival experience?
Engagement is so important, so the audience is not just passive. At our festival, you can meet the directors, find artwork, explore the Kult gallery and create your own animations. We really wanted it to be an immersive experience so I think that’s another reason why it is quite different from other festivals. We want to be able to open people’s minds to art, animation or just through talking to people you wouldn’t normally. By exploring what people are trying to convey in their work, there is also an element of self discovery and that attracts people to come back to the festival. Now, we are being recognised internationally by partners wanting to share content with us and through sponsorships so we are getting that recognition outside of Singapore.
What do you love about what you do?
Meeting new people and especially meeting new artists that have dedicated so much time to their craft. It’s very interesting to see what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve.
What part of your role is the most challenging?
I think the most stressful part is the timelines and managing my own stress which is self imposed because everything always coming together in the end. Gin and tonic and having a good team and the right partners makes that process easier. Most of us have been doing this for a long time now – we have worked with Kult cafe and program directors for five years and Mi5chief Makers for three.
What animation artists or venues should we look out for in Singapore?
There’s a couple of artists who are very young but doing their own thing and created their own films that I like. Our Co-Program Director, Jerrold Chong, is also an animator. Him and his friends, Mark Wee and Jiaying, they get commissions to create for independent films. They are a great example as have all have day jobs but still do this for events like the Singapore Writer’s Festival. If someone is new to animation and to Singapore, there are great places to check out like Kult Gallery and the artist Mojoko who did a great GIF festival last year.
What’s next for the future of Cartoons Underground?
Next year we are looking to do an international expansion in different marketers, we are not sure where yet but we are looking at Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
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