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Not your grandparents Saturday morning
Calling all animaniacs
box cartoon
"Box Forts" is an animated entry created by students at the University of Central Florida.

Savannah International Animation Festival

When: Saturday, April 13, 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m.

Where: Coastal Georgia Center, 305 Fahm St.

Cost: $5 per block screening; $25 full pass

Once upon a time, cartoons could only be seen on Saturday mornings. You got up early and got your own Rice Krispies while your parents slept in and you watched Johnny Quest, Jem and the Holograms and reruns of Tom & Jerry until golf came on at noon.

It was never enough.

Finally, the cable TV geniuses realized that cartoons were good for every day at every hour, and they filled the space with not only your favorite cartoon characters but Japanese animé, stop motion claymation and other kinds of artful animation.

If you were an animated character yourself, your head would have exploded, possibly with blue goo and a circulating cadre of songbirds.

Instead, you just have your mind figuratively blown every year as the world of animation continues to carve new cliffs of creativity.

The latest and the best of the bunch can been seen at the Savannah International Animation Festival on April 13 at the Georgia Center. Think of it as the ultimate Saturday morning cartoon fest, with a few grown-up surprises.

"This is our fourth year, and we are screening 39 different animated shorts from 14 countries," says Hal Miles, a SCAD professor who founded SIAF with his wife, Nancy. "There are some serious standouts."

Miles points to Sleight of Hand by Australian filmmaker Michael Cusak. Billed as a film about illusions, it follows a man who "yearns to know his place in the world ... when sometimes it's better not to know."

"In my opinion, this is one of the best stop-motion animation pieces ever created," Miles says.

He also singles out Box Forts, a compilation created by students at the University of Central Florida, and Vengeance + Vengeance, a gaming love story directed by Mark Chavez, who worked on special effects models on the feature blockbusters Elf and the Chronicles of Narnia. Currently a professor at Nanyang University in Singapore, Chavez is flying into to Savannah to speak at SIAF.

While the festival showcases the ever-popular formats of stop motion and cute characters, it also showcases experimental animation. Referred to by Miles as a "gem of the festival," Lost & Found portrays a mesmerizing transformation of colors and textures directed by Academy Award-winning animator Joan Gratz. Known for pioneering the technique of claypainting, Gratz was the lead animator in the recent kids' hit Paranorman.

SIAF's keynote speaker is another industry giant, digital animation pioneer Jan Carlee. (For reference on how long Carlee has been in the animation business, he worked on TRON. The first one.) He also contributed to Ice Age and Shrek 2, but the Emmy-winning animator doesn't have to travel far for SIAF: He teaches animation at SCAD.

What began as a little gathering in 2010 has blown up like ACME dynamite: Over 1400 attended last year's SIAF, and Miles expects similar numbers once again. The festival has temporarily shortened from two days to one, allowing the Miles to prepare for bigger things on the neon-colored horizon.

The couple has been making headway on the future of the Animation Hall of Fame (AHOF). The festival serves as a fundraiser for AHOF, a high-tech venue that will archive and preserve the 30,000 pieces the Miles have acquired over the years along with other important animation-related materials for future generations. The vision includes a film studio, library and an IMAX theater.

In addition to the screenings and lectures, SIAF hosts an exhibit of AHOF's historic animation memorabilia, curated from the Miles' enormous collection. This year it will include new acquisitions from Dave Hand, the son of Disney animator David Hand, who directed Bambi, Snow White and Fantasia.

After contacting the Miles through their website, Hand has donated his father's complete archives to AHOF, including stills, original Disney drawings and other items representing animation's early history.

"It was a pretty big coup, to say the least," says Nancy Miles.

Hand now sits on AHOF's Board of Directors, and news concerning the forward momentum of the Hall of Fame will be announced at this year's SIAF.

"We're keeping it under wraps until the festival, but I can tell you it's going to be very big," says Hal.

There's more: In 2014, SIAF will have the longevity to become sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. What that means is the winner is automatically put on the qualifying long list for Oscar nominees — a pretty big deal for a lil' 'toon festival from Savannah.

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