Roundup: Manchester Animation Festival 2023

We elect the top five family and student events on offer

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Returning to the city next week, Manchester Animation Festival once again offers something for everyone. For fans of great animation, there’s an abundance of sneak-peek previews from big-name studios, with Aardman sequel Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, Netflix anime Scott Pilgrim Takes Off and Studio Ghibli’s beautiful-looking The Boy and The Heron leading the way.

Meanwhile, there’s an equal amount of vibrant and accessible events for families too, with international animated shorts, playful interactive workshops and hands-on animation events catering to kids big and small.

Of course, the festival also offers a wealth of networking and developmental opportunities for animation students, helping the talent of tomorrow to take their first steps into the industry at large. With so much to see, we’ve condensed the best bits down into one handy guide, highlighting the top five events for both families and students to enjoy.

Family Day

As with every edition, this year’s fun starts with a dedicated Family Day at HOME on Sunday 12 November. Here, you’ll find a range of events that are perfect for keeping the little ones happy without having to brave the dreary winter weather.

Start by heading into the venue’s cinema space for a free “box set” of BBC children’s favourites featuring the likes of Bluey, Hey Duggee and more. After that, you can let your kid’s imagination run wild by signing them up for the festival’s animation workshops. There are two on offer – one focusing on claymation and another exploring Lego stop-motion – and both are happily accessible for children aged five to nine.

Stay until the afternoon and you’ll find the Young Animator of the Year awards ceremony and a gloriously animated adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom to enjoy too, letting you wrap your weekend up on a cultural note.

Animating Trans Identities

If there’s one thing Manchester Animation Festival has become well-known for, it’s showcasing storytelling from different filmmakers from varying backgrounds, each with an unsung story to tell. This year, the event is shining a light on the trans experience by hosting a package of short films that inspect the fluid and ever-evolving landscape of identity in a modern world.

Divert, Delight, Defy: Animating Trans Identities will feature 14 shorts that each touch upon a different element of gender identity and trans life. From navigating new family dynamics and forging relationships to tackling ​​issues of transphobia and transmisogyny, this is an event as necessary as it is entertaining.

Those looking for more around this topic shouldn’t miss illustrator and animator ND Stevenson’s visit to the festival. He’ll be on hand to take punters inside the making of his neon-tinged LGBTQ+ friendly Netflix fantasy Nimona, which is available to watch now on Netflix.

Croatian Animation

Attend any Manchester Animation Festival and you’ll quickly realise that it’s an international affair. Each year, the event welcomes filmmakers (and their work) from all over the globe, and 2023 is no different, with this year’s line-up featuring 103 animated shorts from 26 countries.

Croatian Animation and the wealth of talent emanating from this corner of the world takes center stage at MAF 2023. To celebrate, the festival will host two different screenings – one celebrating the historical evolution of Croatian animation and a second marking the creative brilliance of its contemporary animators.

To top it all off, they’ll even be welcoming representatives from one of Croatia’s leading animation houses, Bonobostudio, to discuss their award-laden work to date and offer up an exclusive glimpse at their upcoming projects. Combined, this Croatian celebration is perfect for students and families alike.

Animated Connections Conference

Special preview screenings and super famous puppet guests aside, Manchester Animation Festival prides itself on its ability to connect students with industry professionals, helping to cement the future of the UK’s animation sector.

In addition to providing numerous networking moments and opportunities for experts to critique student portfolios, its annual Animated Connections Conference offers up a platform for educators and industry professionals to meet and develop new ways to work together to better prepare new talent for real-world employment.

Taking place at the Bridgewater Hall, this year’s conference looks set to be its biggest and most prestigious yet, with panels delivered by acclaimed directors and representatives of DNEG Animation, Locksmith Animation and awards-winning games company Cloth Cat.

If you’re an animation student looking to have your voice heard (and maybe even grab a coffee with a potential future employer), this is undoubtedly the place for you.

After more? The conversation will be continued later in the week when Disney’s Vice President of International Animation, Orion Ross, pays the festival a visit to discuss the UK’s booming animation sector and its internationally enjoyed output.

 Feature Films and Shorts

Once you’ve tried your hand at storyboarding and character design and soaked up all the educational elements that the festival has to offer, it’s time to dive into its big-screen goodies. Catering to anyone and everyone, the feature films and animated shorts featured at this year’s festival showcase storytelling on a big and small scale – with each just as impactful as the other.

While tickets for this year’s big-hitters, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget and The Boy and the Heron, may be sparce, its remaining features offer up equally unforgettable stuff. The filmmakers behind 2017’s immaculately animated Loving Vincent return with another visual feast in The Peasants; Chicken For Linda tells the personal story of a mother and daughter; and animated classic Fantastic Planet returns to the big screen to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Elsewhere, White Plastic Sky invites audiences into a dark future where humanity is forced to make a deadly bargain with nature, while Mars Express takes us off world for an interplanetary detective story involving sinister brain farms.

Combine all of these with the festival’s numerous student- and professional-helmed short film showcases, and you couldn’t really ask for a more animated week in town.

Manchester Animation Festival 2023 runs from 12-17 November, with selected festival content available to watch online until 30 November. Find out more here.

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