Is the Animation Iceberg Melting?

It’s a rather quaint title borrowed from a book that happens to be required reading this semester:

Long story short, it is a fable of instigating change within an organisation filled with bodies that are quite resistant to change, until they are convinced otherwise. The lesson at the end is that the penguins, having been convinced to leave their established, unsafe iceberg, must now adapt to the annual moves necessary to sustain their colony. The key lesson is that it is hard to instigate the change and it takes effort to establish it in the routines of normal people (or in this case, penguins.)

And this has what to do with animation?

Well, it actually has a lot to do with animation. Studios are organisations and often they must adapt to change or instigate it themselves in order to survive into the future.

Walt Disney faced this challenge when he moved his facilities from Hyperion Avenue over the hill to Burbank. The top down nature of the move resulted in some grumbling and, in a way, led ultimately to the strike of 1941.

Such dramatic moves are rare within the industry, but change occurs frequently on a smaller scale. Leading the change within organisations often falls to managers and executives, but how many of them are effective in their leadership?

Consider the recent controversy surrounding Merida and her ill-advised transformation for her ‘coronation’. Such change seemingly emanated from the Disney organisation and when it was not well received, there was nary a leader in sight to apologise or announce the change back to the CGI model. What does it say about Disney that not a single person too charge of the brouhaha?

Could you easily say that studios today lack effective leadership when it comes to change? Are they managing the (undoubtedly) negative perceptions that recent layoffs have had? How could they turn such negative vibes into positive ones? It’s not impossible. There are examples of companies instigating layoffs that resulted in workers that were actually happy to leave and go on to bigger and better things.

So who is the animated leader in the United States today? Who is the one man/woman who is instigating and leading change within the industry? Who sees the need for the necessary changes that the industry and studios within it will have to undertake in the coming months and years?

Can you name them?

2 Comments on “Is the Animation Iceberg Melting?

  1. I don’t think animation needs a single leader and that you’re letting the past situation dictate the future. Individual companies need good leadership for sure, but it’s best to have multiple innovators so that there’s a cross pollination of ideas. If you look at Soyuzmultfilm in the 1960’s, you’ll see how having a large number of different traditions allowed them to create some extraordinary short films. Look at the film There Lived Kozyavin and you’ll notice how it combines influences from multiple shorts like Shareholders and The Man in the Frame. The moments in the industrial area have outlined art like in Shareholders and the general look is more reminiscent of The Man in the frame with all the elegantly rendered suits. That’s how animation ought to work; people largely separately come up with new artistic and technical ideas. Then these ideas are combined until there’s something new created from assembling them together. But just as importantly, people who start from a common source of influence need to break away from each other and find their own paths.

    So it’s three basic pieces.

    New Ideas, Convergence, Divergence.

    The last part, divergence, can be the trickiest because it means giving up what you’re accustomed to to do something different from what somebody you’re close to is doing. The reason that the mainstream feature animation industry is suffering today is the lack of new ideas and the lack of willingness to diverge from old ones. They’re doing better on the convergence front, as Paperman demonstrates.

    I think that capitalism in general, or at least capitalism as its practiced right now discourages new ideas because they usually don’t make money. As for convergence, there’s forces going both ways. The fact that people migrate heavily from company to company encourages convergence but things like copyright tend to work against the free combination of ideas. Divergence results when two people with the same knowledge are able to split apart and go their separate ways. The internet makes that much more difficult nowadays regardless of the economic system.

    That’s about how I understand things from this sort of vague combination based perspective.

    I suppose to comfort those who were laid off, some speech about how there’s other possibilities might work well. You don’t want to give a speech that’s too inspiring, however, or everybody will wisen up and want to work somewhere with more creative freedom and they don’t have to work on endless sequels.

    • Wow, thanks for a very informative comment GW 🙂

      We had to watch a TED video in class the other day entitled ‘When Ideas Have Sex’ and it was a great illustration of what you talk about insofar as the sharing and distribution of knowledge and how it benefits everyone in the long term

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