A Response To Amid’s Post Concerning an Animator’s Brand

Amid over at Cartoon Brew has an insightful post that looks at Spike Lee and how he has managed to create a personal brand around himself and his company. Its a good post and Amid raises a number of questions. Rather than detailing it in an über long comment, I thought it best to write a full post instead.

How do Spike Lee’s thoughts fit into today’s animation world, where selling one’s creation to a TV network is often considered the pinnacle of success?

This a good point, although it really does raise the question of why selling to networks is considered the pinnacle of success. Surely the pinnacle would be to get a theatrical feature released, no? Perhaps it is, but that really is an uphill battle all the way if ever there was one and only a very select few ever actually achieve it.

Things are changing though. TV series are (slowly) disappearing, or at least becoming less prominent. In the near future, we’ll see a lot more branded online networks. Some will be personal brands and others will be more reminiscent of traditional networks that take pitches and so forth.

So as far as I see it, animators will more than likely have to get a personal brand together in order to be successful on their own terms. Plenty of them have already done so, like PES and Xeth Fineburg, so the concept is hardly new.

Is giving up control of one’s creation a prerequisite for success in our industry, or can artists who own their brands carve out successful careers?

That ties in nicely with the point above insofar that while that may be true today, where networks normally demand control in exchange for funding, the future is likely to be radically different. If you create, distribute and manage your own content via your own website, then you CAN control your own work.

Artists have also proved fairly apt at this already. Think of Bill Plympton’s Plymptoons or again, PES. Success can be measured in many ways and owning your own brand and success (in the generally accepted sense) are not mutually exclusive.

Can an artist sell a creation to a corporation, but still maintain the integrity of their personal brand?

This is a tricky one, mainly because it’s necessary to define a “personal brand” and what exactly would undermine its integrity.

Taking a simple example, if you were an animator who sold an idea to a network but they requested you change a few things like the language, or the tone, or the jokes, if you did, would that undermine your brand? What if they requested changing, say a minority character into a white character and you did. If you’re a member of that minority, is that selling-out?

The reason I bring these examples up is that they illustrate how difficult it can be to determine whether a brand is being undermined or simply making the right decisions. Determining the integrity of your brand will depend on how exactly your brand is defined.

At the end of the day, many people conclude that when you accept a project for money and money only, then you have undermined your brand, because that is supposed to stand for something, to give people an instant impression of your content and creation. By “selling-out” you undermine that immediately.

All of this rests on the creator whose brand it is. It is up to them to decide whether it is good practice to sell an idea and lose control. Artists like Bill Plympton decided not to, and they’ve managed to build an incredibly strong brand because of it. Bill decided not to participate in Disney’s Aladdin because he felt it would ruin his brand and in so doing, created the gold standard for decision-making against which all others will be judged.

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