Read about LAAF artistic director Sean Lennon's picks for the festival in last week's Cult Stars column.

Wednesday night, the third not-quite-annual Los Angeles Animation Festival opened at the Regent Showcase. The free event was essentially a preview of what's to come over the next few days, with trailers of upcoming screenings, introductions to the LAAF team and sponsors and a live performance from local rock band Nylon Pink. Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants as well as the Ice King in Adventure Time, was the event's emcee.

But last night's festivities set the stage for more than just the animated action that will take place on the Regent Showcase's screen. It was a mixer, with animation students and industry professionals milling about the theater, drinks in hand, talking shop and maybe posing for a photo with Shrek. Songs from vintage rock bands like Love and Electric Prunes accompanied Chuck Jones' classic Bugs Bunny-Elmer Fudd “Hare Tonic,” which played muted on repeat before the presentation. This was a true animation party that embraced the odd, funny and psychedelic while touching on the industry's history and diversity.

Credit: Liz Ohanesian

Credit: Liz Ohanesian

“We celebrate the past and showcase the future,” says Miles Flanagan, who co-founded LAAF with John Andrews.

Both Flanagan and Andrews have spent a lot of time working in the animation industry; beyond that, they're big fans of the art form. LAAF is, Flanagan says, “absolutely 100 percent a labor of love.”

Flanagan contends that L.A. is the center of the animation industry, and it's hard to disagree with him. Greater Los Angeles is home to everything from smaller studios, like Hollywood's Titmouse offices, to the Burbank campuses of Warner Bros. and Disney. Animation departments draw students from across the globe to both art schools and larger universities. Even L.A.'s gallery scene is frequently filled with artists who work in the industry. Flanagan, Andrews and their team have organized an event that captures the size and scope of the region's connection to animation.

Miles Flanagan and John Andrews of LAAF; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

Miles Flanagan and John Andrews of LAAF; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

The last LAAF was a smaller, indie-oriented gathering at Cinefamily in the fall of 2010. This time around, organizers aimed bigger with a larger venue and screen, plus a few flicks from the major studios. On Sunday, the festival is hosting a special screening of Shrek, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the landmark feature's Academy Award.

But LAAF isn't just about the big films. It also hosted an animation contest and selected entries will screen through out the weekend. Although LAAF received a worldwide selection of entries, many of the contestants were local students.

“We're trying to build up from the local schools,” Andrews says. “At the end of the day, what we really want is the presence of the local community.”

Flanagan likens the duo's approach to the festival to Los Angeles itself. Just as L.A. is a metropolis consisting of many neighborhoods, so does the animation industry consist of many smaller communities. “What we do with this festival is take all of these small, animation communities — all these independent animation communities — and we bring them together,” he says.

Nylon Pink at LAAF's opening party.; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

Nylon Pink at LAAF's opening party.; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

This year's festival will showcase everything from the work of indie auteur Bill Plympton to YouTube hit Dick Figures to anime classics Akira and Grave of the Fireflies to the adults-only collection of Spanish animation Dos Rombos.

“It's an international festival, but it's based in L.A.,” says Flanagan. “By the very nature of L.A. as the center of entertainment, it encompasses the world.”

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