Festival History
Festival History

The History of the OIAF
Founded in 1975 by the Canadian Film Institute, and pulled together over a short nine months, the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) was born.

First held August 10 to 15, 1976, the OIAF created a gathering place for North American animation professionals and enthusiasts to ponder the craft and business of animation. It also provided their international colleagues with a unique opportunity to gain an appreciation for and access to the North American scene.

Many key players of Canadian animation banded together to help festival founders Bill Kuhns (who came up with the idea for a festival), Frederik Manter, Prescott J.Wright, Frank Taylor and the late Kelly O'Brien (who put it all together) organize North America's first event of its kind. The National Film Board of Canada, Radio Canada, CBC Television, and Cinémathèque Québécoise, among others, all had a hand in creating and building what is now North America's largest animation festival.

Canada's capital was a natural choice for an international animation festival. Home to animation innovator Norman McLaren, some of Canada's first private animation studios, and the former headquarters of the National Film Board,Ottawa's animation community provided a nurturing atmosphere for the fledgling festival.

Main events of the first festival included screenings of films entered in and out of competition, a Forum for the Future seminar, a NFB art exhibition, Oskar Fischinger; Raoul Barré, and Fleischer Brothers retrospectives; cut-collage and children's film compilations; hands-on animation workshops for young animators lead by Co Hoedeman, Peter Foldes, and Caroline Leaf(imagine!), plus the world premiere of Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto's first feature film Allegro Non Troppo.

Norman McLaren served as the festival's first honorary president, a tribute that has been bestowed to legendary animators like Frédéric Back (1984), David Ehrlich (2002), and Co Hoedeman (2004), among others.

The Animators Picnic, first held in 1976, became the social highlight of every festival, with animators – Oscar winners among them – fiercely competing for the best-carved pumpkin prize. Chez Ani, the nightly animators café founded by Co Hoedeman, at the second festival in 1978, continues to provide festival participants with a place to unwind, meet with friends old and new, and broker the occasional deal.

Since the beginning, the OIAF has put out a call for entries for films to compete for festival prizes, including the prestigious Grand Prize, the festival's highest honour. Given the growing number of entries received over the years, the popularity and need for the festival has never been in doubt. Beginning with just over 400 films at the 1976 festival, the number of entries received for OIAF '07 was a record-breaking 2,078 films, the most entries ever received by any international animation festival to date.

Of the entries received, approximately 100 films are chosen to compete in a variety of categories. Films not chosen for competition still have the opportunity to be seen during the festival by the industry's leaders. An additional 100 films are shown out of competition in showcase screenings.

Categories continue to evolve in order to reflect the ever-changing nature of animation. In recent years, the festival has shifted its award category focus from celebrating the art of animation to recognizing the artistry behind both independent and commercial work. Animated features were added to awards competition during OIAF 2002. The commissioned category was expanded to include animated adult and children television work for OIAF 2004.

Founded at the dawn of computer animation, the festival continues to display the latest in animation technology, while still celebrating the variety and talent behind so-called traditional animation. From the first computer-generated animation workshop led by National Research Council scientist Nestor Burtnyk in 1976 to the expansion of the New Media category from one umbrella to four sub-categories in 2004, the festival remains on the cusp of animation's cutting-edge.

To further meet industry needs, the OIAF organized its first-ever Television Animation Conference (TAC) in 2002, a chance for Canadian and international animation producers, broadcasters, and buyers to network, discuss industry issues, and do business. The two-day annual conference is held during the festival at the prestigious Chateau Laurier Hotel in downtown Ottawa.

Overcoming an office fire in 1999, a move to Toronto in 1984, then Hamilton in 1986, and incessant government funding cuts, the Ottawa International Animation Festival has proven its resiliency and maintained its relevance for over three decades. Always popular, hundreds of guests traverse oceans and borders to attend the event.

Today's OIAF thrives, providing a much-needed forum for filmmakers, producers, and animation fans to get together and celebrate this diverse and unique art form.

Ottawa International Student Animation Festival (SAFO), introduced in 1997 and held in alternate years to the larger OIAF, was created to provide a venue for student and emerging animators to draw extra attention to their work. Children, high school, undergraduate, graduate and first-time filmmakers were provided with a distinct venue to show their films, discuss issues, and meet other young filmmakers, animation educators, and industry representatives.

When the OIAF moved from a biennial to an annual festival in 2005, the student categories become a part of the main festival. The OIAF is committed to ensuring the animation profession benefits from exposure to outstanding creativity and originality of emerging work, and young animators gain access to the movers and shakers of their chosen profession.

In 2006, the Ottawa International Animation Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary with a number of very special events, including a Toon Town retrospective of Ottawa-made animation and a gala screening of Bruno Bozzetto's classic Allegro Non Troppo which had premiered at the very first OIAF in 1976. Lauded in the press and enjoyed by thousands of attendees, OIAF '06 not only paid tribute to the past but launched the Ottawa International Animation Festival toward more success in the years to come.

The last ten years have seen the Animation Festival grow in attendance and programming with the OIAF hosting an official film competition featuring the most interesting and original animated features from around the world. Short film competitions featuring selected films from over 2000 entries are shown to a growing audience of over 30000 attendees. There are at least three (3) showcase screenings featuring new animated works from Canada and the world, and up to eight (8) special programs that explore a wide range of animation styles and techniques and the work of today’s prominent animators. There is a variety of entertaining programs and activities curated for young children, teenagers and families.

In 2013, Genndy Tartakovsky, a 20 year veteran of the art, attended the screening of his latest work, Hotel Transylvania. Tartakovsky’s work and creations have been featured in a number of well-known animated franchises including: Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Sym-Bionic Titan. Tartakovsky has received an impressive 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and been awarded three Emmys for work on the series Star Wars: Clone Wars and Samurai Jack, both for Cartoon Network.

The 25th anniversary of the Disney classic animated film ‘The Little Mermaid’ was rereleased at OIAF 2014 with the original directors, Ron Clements and John Musker in attendance for a conversation at the St. Brigid Centre for the Arts. The Little Mermaid film helped revive the Disney franchise and marked the end of cell painted animation as it moved into the digital age.

In 2015, the Ottawa Arts Court studio hosted an art exhibit and all night screening featuring the work of acclaimed Canadian animator Michele Cournoyer, showcasing her stark animation addressing themes of addiction, sexuality and abuse.

A Japanese animator, Sarina Nihei, walked away with the prize for best independent short animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for her film Small People With Hats she made as a student. Nihei is a recent graduate from London’s Royal College of Art. She now lives in Tokyo, Japan.

Over the course of the last 40 years, the OIAF has produced innovative programming with spotlights on the Czech Republic, Estonia, a program with the theme of hip hop in animation, food and animation, Indigenous animation, the Not for Children program featuring artistic adult content, and Japanese anime, with a historical review of Japanese films from Astroboy to Studio Ghibli.

“We've got fan favourites from the big studios, Oscar winners, along with our usual assortment of quirky, provocative work guaranteed to confuse, inspire and maybe even get under your skin a little bit.” says Chris Robinson, OIAF’s Artistic Director.


“It's fascinating to watch the continued evolution and maturity of feature animation. Not only are films like The Magic Mountain and Adama tackling difficult political and historical subjects, but they're doing so using an intriguing mix of techniques. And even more conventional family fair like Possessed and Over the Garden Wall are approaching genres with an originality and diversity that is rarely seen in the feature world.”