Consolidation of Animation Studios

Animation, being an industry the same as all the other ones (per se), has gone through the usual rounds of consolidation over the years. Like most new technologies, it starts off with one or two guys in their basement or garage who then grow into small business who then either grow large, get bought by an established company attempting to cash in/expand into the market, or, they merge with competitors.

The established studios were (with the exception of Disney) at one time or another independent studios. Perhaps the most famous of all, Warner Bros, started off as Schlesinger Productions before being sold. The same goes for the Fleischer Brothers’ studio, although in contrast, they were eventually forced out by the management at Paramount. Interestingly, Walter Lantz was the exact opposite, having been established as Universal’s animation unit before being spun of by Lantz and going on to find fame with Woody Woodpecker.

Do such consolidations and acquisitions improve the industry as a whole? There are certainly economic benefits to be gained by merging or having a corporate parent. However, often once a studio is bought, creativity can become stifled and interference from above can lead to devastating results.

The overall health of the parent company can be an issue to. Mr. Warburton remarks in the book Animation Production: From Pitch to Production by Dave Levy (him again!) that at one point when he was pitching to Hanna-Barbera, the executive he was working with clearly had no idea what animation was, furthermore, he was part of a revolving door at what was Turner Networks but was being merged with Time to form the disaster that was to become Time Warner AOL. History is being repeated as we speak with Pixar. Even now, the influence of the folks in Burbank is being impressed upon the Emeryville studio in terms of what he next couple of features will be.

There is another option that is fortunately being quite successful and that is the independent studio paired with an established Hollywood one. Two great examples are Dreamworks and Blue Sky. The former has a deal with Paramount and has been very successful over the last decade or so even if they tend to squeeze every drop out of their properties. Blue Sky on the other hand, while similar, has a deal with FOX and while it has had slightly less success (relying quite heavily on their Ice Age series) it has released some decent movies such as Horton Hears a Who and the anticipated upcoming film, Despicable Me.

TV animation is somewhat more diverse as a result of lower budgets. Independent studios have had numerous successes over the years. be it A.K.A with Ed, Edd & Eddy or Marathon with Totally Spies. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the more interesting animation can be found on the small screen, where experimentation carries less risks and the audience is of a somewhat narrower demographic.

My point is that studios consolidating can be a good thing, especially if it is good for the industry as a whole. Poor management can devastate a studio and its output. As corporations continue to try and find their way in the new media age, animation may prove to be a key battleground that will be interesting to watch.

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