CGI. It’s a format that has literally taken over the movie business ever since Toy Story burst onto the scene all the way back in 1995. Today, three companies, Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony dominate the market. How did this come to be and what does the future hold for each of them. Read on as I do a bit of crystal ball gazing.
In order to understand the status quo, a knowledge of market economics is needed. I highly recommend The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries and Trout. An excellent book, it outlines exactly why which companies are on top and why they will stay there.
It is important to note that Pixar was the one that started it all off in 1995 with Toy Story. An excellent film that achieved a dramatic amount of international success. It has been debated ever since its debut as to whether that success was due more to the film’s story or the animation itself, being the first feature-length film to be created entirely using computers.
The fact remains that the headstart Pixar got has enabled the studio to create and maintain a formidable market share and become a perennial nominee for Best Animated Feature Oscar.
As any entrepreneur will tell you, it is impossible to create a market and keep it all to yourself. It may have taken 3 more years, but Dreamworks got in on the act with Antz in 1997. This film also garnered substantial success and has spawned no less than four sequels! Since then, Dreamworks has strived to emulate Pixar in terms of animation quality, although Jeffrey Katzenburg apparently believes in a higher output, currently pegged at 3 every 12 months than the more relaxed schedule up the road in Emeryville.
This leaves Sony. Definitely the late bloomer among the majors, it didn’t release a feature until 2006’s Open Season. Since then, they have released two more but have remained firmly in third place behind Pixar and Dreamworks.
The point I’d like to make, is that Sony is perhaps the studio to watch over the medium term. Their breakout hit of last year, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, proved that you don’t need a better product to beat the competition, just a different one! Both Pixar and Dreamworks have gone for the straight story that’s simple enough for kids with some adult humour thrown in for good measure, but then along comes Sony with a flat-out cartoon that knocks the other films for six.
One of the 22 Immutable Laws is that eventually, every market become a two horse race, and no-one ever changes positions unless something exceptional happens. In terms of animated CGI films, this would mean that Pixar remains on top, Dreamworks behind and Sony in third place. Unless, Sony can corner the market for cartoony CGI films, in that case, Dreamworks has a lot of hard work to do.