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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Drawing ‘Em In

When it comes to covering the inside skinny on television and film, trade publications such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter reign supreme.

In the realm of animation, it’s trade publication Animation World Magazine, an online Web site where animation and special-effects professionals turn for news and information.

The site has piggybacked on the amazing resurgence of animation, which for decades had been relegated to Saturday morning cartoons and traditional features such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Then came Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” which in 1989 revived the moribund art form, the same year the wildly popular “Simpsons” TV show hit the airwaves both of which preceded the groundbreaking computer-generated imagery of “Toy Story” in 1995.

Ron Diamond, a veteran animator and producer, and his business partner Dan Sarto saw an opportunity. One year after “Toy Story” became a megahit, they posted their first issue of Animation World Magazine online.

“Back then there weren’t many people publishing on the Internet, but we decided to go online and bypass print altogether; not just for cost reasons but because animators are always ahead of the curve when it comes to exploring new technologies,” Diamond said.

Diamond and his partner were pioneers, and their timing couldn’t have been better.

The so-called Disney Renaissance not only guaranteed that films like “The Lion King” were virtual money-makers, but it opened up the industry to a host of independent companies, such as Pixar Animation, which produced “Toy Story” and later was bought by Disney.

Moreover, the insular world of animators who hand drew two-dimensional figures had suddenly been opened up to tech-savvy artists just as comfortable with a complicated computer program as pencil and paper.

Today, computer graphics include far more than CGI. There is motion capture and visual FX, a technology that creates realistic landscapes for both live-action and animated fare. More recently there’s been a major push toward 3-D. And so, too, has evolved Animation World Magazine.

Today, Animation World Network Inc. & #184; which operates out of a Sunset Boulevard office building in Hollywood, publishes the Animation World Network portal (AWN.com), the flagship Animation World Magazine (mag.awn.com) and the visual-effects portal VFXWorld (VFXWorld.com).

Other offerings include an animation industry database (AIDB.com) and a global animation business directory covering animation-related businesses, software and hardware companies, production styles and techniques, and schools and educational programs. In addition, there’s an international jobs database where people can post resumes and producers can search for job prospects.

The ad-supported business is lean, employing just 10 full-time workers augmented by a worldwide network of freelancers. The company won’t release revenue figures, but the partners claim the business is profitable.

“It is the Google of animation when it comes to getting information and keeping up with the latest developments in styles and technology,” said Kali Fontecchio, a freelance animator and a recent graduate of El Segundo-based Otis College of Art and Design.


Diamond, 50, has had a long career in Hollywood. In 1979, before he was even out of college he founded a distribution company that specialized in animated short subjects. He attended UCLA where he received a B.A. in 1980 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1982. He later worked as a producer for both live action and animated films.

Diamond has parlayed the success of Animation World into several businesses. He is executive producer and founder of Acme Filmworks LLC, which produces animated TV commercials for companies such as United Airlines and Hilton Hotels.

But Diamond actually spends most of his time scouting talent at film festivals eight months a year, leaving the daily tasks of managing the magazine and the Web site to Sarto and the staff. He produces what is known in the industry as the “Animation Show of Shows,” a 90-minute reel of animated shorts.

“I’m not necessarily looking for the most cutting-edge or innovative animation,” he said. “The most important thing is that the work is imaginative and unique.”

After gathering up about a dozen of what he considers the best animated film shorts from dozens of film festivals across the globe, Diamond puts them all together in one 35 mm film reel that he personally takes around to the top film, video game and special-effects animation studios in North America.

You can’t buy a ticket to this show, but if you’re within the inner sanctum of the animation world at places like Disney-Pixar, DreamWorks or George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, then you’re invited.

The “show” has garnered Diamond widespread notoriety among top Hollywood studio executives and animators worldwide, but Diamond claims that he doesn’t make a dime from his “Show of Shows.”

Still, his knack for being able to pick some of the best animation has certainly garnered him goodwill among independent and up-and-coming animators.

“The greatest thing about Ron is that he takes your reel to the places where the top people in the business are working,” said Chris Landreth, a Canadian who won an Academy Award for the 2005 animated short “Ryan.” The short was one of several animated works that Diamond had chosen for his reel long before it was nominated for entertainment industry’s highest honor.

Some of Hollywood’s studio executives who are in charge of developing talent and guiding the process of creating feature-length animated films have come to depend on the annual “Show of Shows” not only to find new talent but for inspiration.

“We spend so much time with our heads buried down in our projects that we depend on Ron to show us what’s going on outside the studio and around the world,” said John Tarnoff, head of artistic development and outreach at DreamWorks Animation.

Diamond said he has a feeling he’s got the next Oscar pick on his “Show of Shows” reel that’s about to make the rounds next month, but he’s keeping mum about it.

He may just be right. Of the nine shorts that have been nominated from his “Show of Shows” reels, four have won an Academy Award.

Animation World Network Inc.

Headquarters: Hollywood

Founded: 1995

Core Business: Internet-based trade publication

Employees: 10 (same as in 2007)

Goal: To be the No. 1 destination and authority for all news and information about the animation and special-effects industries

Driving Force: The growth and technological advances in the animation and special-effects industries

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