The Art Department Festival: Moving Forward & Creating Together

Read our interview with Playgrounds, organizer of the festival and conference The Art Department. Learn all about the festival’s mission, impact on the artist community and program highlights for 2023.

Playgrounds is an institute and platform that connects and forms international creative communities within the fields of illustration, animation, games, digital design and art. Their goal is to increase creative self-confidence, skills, knowledge and inclusivity within the creative industry.

Describe The Art Department (TAD)?

Playgrounds: The Art Department focuses on art and design for film, animation and games. We dive into the creative process and put a spotlight on artists that are responsible for the creation of world, characters and stories. 

Throughout the years, we had the pleasure to welcome on our stage industry greats, such as: character designers Carter Goodridge (Despicable Me), Loish (Horizon Zero Dawn), Peter De Sève (Ice Age), Borja Montoro (Moana); and, amazing concept artists, VR heroes and world builders like Jama Jurabaev (Ready Player One), FX Goby (Back to the Moon) and Santa Monica Studios (God of War), among others.

The idea of a festival dedicated to the design process of film, animation and games was something brewing in our minds for a long time, but the opportunity to actually make it happen arose in 2017. The regular Playgrounds Festival was undergoing a rethinking and updating process, so we felt it was also a good time to experiment with more niche content. Thus, we decided to create a festival dedicated to putting the spotlight on artists with a pivotal role in the pre-production and design stages of filmmaking. 

TAD Team

Right from our very first edition we were surprised and overwhelmed by the positive reactions this format was met with by both audiences and artists. There is a certain magical cohesion and support The Art Department community oozes – a very special vibe all people experience attending this event. We just fell in love with this atmosphere and, seven years down the road, we can no longer imagine ourselves without this wonderful festival.  

TAD’s impact on the creative community:

Playgrounds: To this day, for a lot of people “filmmaking” means a script that is being brought to life by a director with the help of a camera and some actors. Few would go as far as adding production, sound, editing, make-up, costume or vfx to the mix. Other roles, even less so. But in reality, there is actually so much more work being done by such extremely talented people. And if that work would not be there, you would get a totally different experience as a viewer. However, if you are not one of those lucky few artists who can freeze a frame in a film and say, “I did this element,” it can be a bit nerve-wracking. It can feel at times that if the work is not seen or heard, then it’s less important. Which, of course, within the industry and artist community we know not to be true. But we still need to remind ourselves of this.

So in this sense, The Art Department wants to acknowledge the process and creativity in all shapes and forms. As well as the visionary minds who push things forward and imagine worlds and characters who look and feel different from each other, so for instance, when you are seeing Dune it doesn’t feel like you are seeing Star Wars. Whether you designed one of the most charismatic protagonists in an animated feature or you designed an item from the costume of one of the secondary characters, the artistry is still there, the design process is still there, the vital role to the story is still there. And The Art Department festival wants to celebrate this. 

We aim to create a space where artists don’t feel pressured to do more in order to be seen and acknowledged by others, but to get inspired to develop themselves more in their particular field or role. Because every job in a film, animation or in the design process of a game, is important.

And, like with every Playgrounds event, we also want to create a bridge between artists that are just starting out or might still be studying, and professionals in the industry. Our festival also offers portfolio reviews, an art market, a talent stage, exhibitions showcasing the design process from sketching all the way to finished product, and so many networking opportunities. We take pride in the fact that we often bring guests that are very kind and approachable, quite frequently okay with sitting down for a chat or a drink and sharing insights on a particular subject, open to answer questions. We try to create a safe space for our visitors where they can feel comfortable with the fact that they are still developing themselves as artists, still learning, still looking for new things to try out.

A TAD experience Story:

Playgrounds: An eye-opening experience for us happened during the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns. We first organized two online festivals which we streamed on Twitch and it was quite amazing to see a lot of written (and thus graspable) feedback in the chat about how our events helped people feel connected again, and feel that they were not alone and that they could still meet, interact and chat with their peers. 

From this emerged the idea of organizing in 2021 The Art Department World Tour – a 24 hours streaming online marathon showcasing talents from all over the globe. And again, this got us connected with a lot of people that would not normally be able to attend our physical events. Many were so grateful for the chance of enjoying the insights, demos and artist talks online, from their comforts of their homes.

The World Tour put us in the position to actually curate our most diverse program up to that point. We realized there are so many talented artists in places like the Middle East, Oceania, Asia and South America. Of course, this was always somewhere in the back of our minds. But now, these artists were suddenly right under our eyes. Artists that created under completely different circumstances. With a different aesthetic or storytelling style than what we might be used to, coming from a different cultural background and facing different challenges. Our audience appreciated so much the diversity, appreciated feeling represented by the artists in our line-up, felt that we were ‘talking a language’ they could finally relate with. 

Credit: Godwin Akpan

So, starting with the World Tour, we put in much more conscious efforts into programming a diverse line-up. And that was just the first step. The second step was bringing some of our World Tour guest artists to our actual physical events in the Netherlands and Germany. Thankfully, we were able to do this one as well (we even have some World Tour artists part of the 2023 line-up). The third step cannot be disclosed yet but it’s coming and it will be VERY exciting.

While there are many stories out there about artists benefitting from attending our festivals, we think it’s also important to show how we ourselves grew from creating these experiences. How it changed us (we think for the better), and how at The Art Department the flow of inspiration runs both ways.

It’s not just about what we give our audiences, but it’s also about how our audiences inspire us and push us to become better. How, at the end of the day, whether fully established in the industry or fresh out of school, whether visitor or organizer, we can all grow and develop more by attending The Art Department. 

Festival highlights planned for 2023:

Playgrounds: There are SO many exciting things we have prepared for this year’s program. We will once again organize two festivals, one in Eindhoven (The Netherlands) on 20&21 April and one in Berlin (Germany) on 13&14 May. 

Curt Enderle, Production Designer

In Eindhoven we will be joined by the legendary animator, James Baxter, who has worked on close to every animation that brightened our childhood; Curt Enderle – production designer for the freshly Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature: Pinocchio; illustrator, art director and author of children’s books, Beatrice Blue; visual development artist, Angela Sung; as well as animation studios 2Veinte and Le Cube. Also joining us are Atey Ghailan, founder of Envar Studio, as well as digital artist Godwin Akpan, one of our World Tour guest we are so delighted to be able to meet in real life. There are really many more artists join us, you can check our program so far.

Credit: Zeen Chin

The line-up for Berlin is in no way less exciting. We’ll have on our stage illustrator and concept artist Zeen Chin; character designer and art director, Max Ulichney; Star Wars creature designer, Gustav Hoegen; concept artist Johnson Ting; and, film and story artist, John Nevarez, known for his works on films like Coco, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and The Angry Birds Movie, to just name a few.

An overview of our Berlin line-up until this point can be seen here.

Throughout the years, panel discussions have become quite a thing during The Art Department. This year, we are already able to confirm panels in both Eindhoven and Berlin featuring the ever-amazing Dutch ladies: Loish and Iris Compiet.

The Art Department 2023 also comes with some new features. In Berlin, we will be hosted by a new and extremely awesome location: Alte Münze. In Eindhoven we are setting up The Artist Studios – a place to watch artists create right under your very eyes, being able to ask questions along the way.

The Art Market is making a come-back this year in Eindhoven: bigger and greater! It will also include a book corner where artists will sign their art-books. And of course, we couldn’t have a proper TAD fest without portfolio reviews, demos and the super cozy Procreate lounge where people can get the best tips from experienced creators. 

We still have some minor blocks to put in place, still some program announcements in the works, the timetable to publish online, but it’s always good to keep an eye on our website and socials for updates.    

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