The art of animation is a lot more than Saturday-morning cartoons. Just ask Terry Thoren; he’s one of the greatest enthusiasts of the form. The president of Expanded Entertainment, a company that assembles animated shorts, packages them into feature-length films, and distributes them across the country, Thoren likens his role to that of a great collector: ”It’s like someone who has a relationship with Van Gogh who happens to own the gallery where Van Gogh keeps making more paintings and they all sell,” he says. The onetime theater manager took over the International Tournee of Animation — a collection of the year’s best work from around the world — in 1985, and took it from a college campus phenomenon to a $2 million product that reaches 350 art-house movie screens and about 500,000 people a year.
Thoren, 39, developed his affinity for animation while running a kind of home-style film school out of his Colorado garage. Later, as director of the Denver International Film Festival, he saw one of the Tournees and realized that if he could convince the producers who had been running the show for 15 years to sell it to him, he could expand it into a money-maker. It took him five years of convincing. Thoren now works out of Los Angeles and spends about 13 weeks a year traveling to festivals and studios all over the world. ”Like a football recruiter, I go around looking for young talent, put together a team, and take it on the road,” he says. Thoren’s other projects include another yearly compilation (The Animation Celebration), a festival competition (The Los Angeles International Animation Celebration), his job as editor-in-chief of Animation Magazine, and developing a pilot for a syndicated TV series that will present the world’s best animation.
How does Thoren convert those who haven’t yet discovered the wonders of the art form? ”I tell them it’s like going to some world you’ve never been to before. And, unlike the real movies, if you don’t like the film you’re watching, sit tight — in five minutes there’ll be something new.”