The Enemy of Animation: Ignorance

To be fair, you could say that ignorance is the enemy of just about anything, but consider for a second how it affects animation as a whole.

The Issues

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that there’s simply too much information in the world for one person to know it all (that didn’t stop me from trying when I was younger though). It’s impossible to know too much, but it’s completely possible to know too little.

You may not need to know how to correctly design a curve in the road to enjoy life, but would your enjoyment of a film be enhanced if you knew more about how it was made? The answer points to yes thanks to the mandatory making-of videos that are available for just about every piece of entertainment out there.

That said, how many people amongst the general public know how an animated film is made? Not many; heck there are people in the industry who don’t even know how it’s made. One smiles at the story of the newly arrived executive at Disney who asked to see the “retakes” of a particular scene.

Thankfully Jeffrey Katzenberg did his homework and the industry is all the better for it, but how many other people don’t know even the basic facts behind creating animation?

I would go so far as to say that the problem is endemic and seriously undermines artists’ ability to function as well as supressing the quality of the industry’s output.

The Results

What ignorance results in has been on view ever since animation became a commercial enterprise. Plowing through the creative and technological obstacles without disregard has resulted in more than enough poor quality content being produced over the last 80 years. Plenty of Disney’s early competitors made that mistake and you’re well aware of how popular they are nowadays.

Today, ignorance manifests itself in many forms. Much more than the poor quality of content that’s out there is the disregard for the efforts that goes into it. I’m sure you’ve all seen something like this:

Via: Alikigreeky
Via: Alikigreeky

We can blame CGI for the expansion of such notions in recent years, but they are proliferating at a speedy rate. Pressures at the lower end of the budget scale are putting artists into increasingly tight positions in regards to their work and their ability to carve out a successful and fulfilling career.

Do costs have something to do with it? Sure they do, but on a deeper level is an ignorance of how animation production relates to unit costs and output levels. A client who expects a 1 minute animated commercial to be made in a week is clearly ignorant. What sucks is that they will attempt to find someone to meet his deadline rather than educating themselves on how much time it actually takes to make it and adjusting their schedule accordingly.

TV shows and features are no different save for being overseen by people acutely familiar with animation.

The Solution

Solving the ignorance problem is easier said than done. Animation is far from a solely entertaining technique but the vast majority of animation is designed for entertainment purposes. Education is clearly the key to solving the problem but raises issues of its own.

Whom do you educate? Besides those within the industry and devoted fans familiar with how it works, it’s a complicated task to nail down who needs to know more about animation.

Let’s start with those within the wider entertainment industry itself. God knows I felt for both Michael Sporn and Amid Amidi when they appeared on a Fox News segment and were asked questions that any 5 years old with access to Google could tell you. That episode simply illustrated in a perfectly clear manner how little most people know about animation. The questions posed served to ‘educate’ viewers on animation but ideally should be common knowledge already.

Educating those within the wider entertainment industry should be a priority followed by those within the industries reliant on animation in some way shape or form. Advertising ought to be the big one; too many executives know next to nothing about a creative technique that makes their bread and butter. They should be followed by the general public. Documentaries on animation are not lacking, but focus much more on the creativity rather than the large mass of skill behind it.

In a way, I’m reminded of the Reluctant Dragon; entertaining sure, but it also served to educate the wider public about the many stages that are involved with making an animated film.

The Payoff

Lastly, what is there to be gained from all this time and effort?

For one, we’d see a larger uptake of careers as parents, no longer able to claim ignorance, see careers in animation in a much more favourable light. Producers would better understand what goes into making animation and executives (TV, film, ad or otherwise) would be better able to plan out their schedules and budgets with artists getting a fairer deal into the bargain. Lastly, the public at large would better appreciate animation on a level comparable to the way it discusses and analyses a live-action performance; c’mon, everyone has an opinion on the acting in the latest blockbuster, but they could barely discuss the movements in the latest Pixar hit.

How would you tackle the widespread ignorance of animation? Would you take a more convention approach or prefer something innovative?

AwesomenessTV Proves Its A Winner

AwesomenessTV

About a year ago, I pondered which animation-based YouTube channel would succeed. Still later I looked at whether or not AwesomenessTV was the prototype for YouTube channels. I wrote at the time that:

If AwesomenessTV can create a viable funding model and retain an audience, we might have a winner on our hands.

As it turns out, I was right! The company has just been snapped up by DreamWorks Animation for at least $33 million.

The deal is an important one for a number of reasons but the chief one to take away is that this is a serious investment in terms of both audience and talent on the part of DreamWorks.

On the talent side, AwesomenessTV has a subscriber base of 14 million 500,000 up from a comparatively paltry 11,000 in just 9 months. That’s truly explosive growth and it’s natural that DWA will want to have a front row seat in that. Secondly, acquiring the team behind the channel will ensure that its growth is imbued with the same hands that have guided it so far. A wise decision on the part of DreamWorks.

The audience side is where the real investment is though. With 14 million consumers and a direct line to them, DreamWorks stands to exponentially increase its exposure. The hidden fact is that you can expect a lot of data to flow up from those subscribers which leads us nicely to the truly intriguing (and overlooked) aspect to the deal.

Teenagers!

Yes, teenagers! AwesomenessTV is aimed directly at them and I will eat my hat if the vast majority of their subscriber base aren’t in their awkward years or damned close to them. You know which other animation studios actively court teenagers? None! Disney tends to ignore teens in favour of the more moldable tweens, Nickelodeon doesn’t put a profound effort into anybody above the age of 12, Cartoon Network is just about the only network that has a presence in the teen market thanks to [Adult Swim], but they have no theatrical film division. Oother large-scale animation studios like Sony, Blue Sky, etc. play similar games; they all cater to younger audiences only.

Is Jeffrey Katzenberg subtly attempting a coup d’état of sorts of the teen market with animation? It’s certainly possible. AwesomenessTV has a history of animated content and animation is what DWA is good at, so it would seem reasonable to see the former leverage the high quality content of the latter and for both to grow their audiences as a result.

Going even further, you could parlay those teenage animation fans into adult animation fans. That’s not a far stretch especially given that the animation age ghetto currently occupies the very age group that AwesomenessTV caters to.

How will it pan out? It’s hard to say, but I was right before so can only hope that I’m right again 🙂

Your thoughts?

Help Shape The Future of Animation Paper

The Future of Animation_1

Next in the series of papers I’m writing concerns the future of animation. It’s a topic that’s wide open at its extreme, but can still be boiled down into a few precise concepts based on developments in other areas of the media landscape. If you don’t mind, I’m going to pick your brain with a few notions about where the paper might dive into.

The Two Sides of Animation

Animation can be divided on the simplest level into two areas: production and consumption. The paper will look at both sides and the various forces that will affect animation as it inhabits them. Essentially, they are both sides of the same coin, but they will not experience the same changes. What will cause shifts in one, will case opposite shifts in the other. Here’s the outline as it is currently.

Animation Production

  • Smaller studios putting content out on a more frequent basis
  • Greater emphasis on speed, new episodes every two weeks at most
  • Overseas operations will become more important
  • Greater input from the audience
  • streamlined studio operations

The following questions are posed:

  • Competition will increase but how can studios ensure they remain at the top for sustained periods?
  • In the Golden Age, studios put out one short every two weeks, what kind of cost pressures can studios (and animators) expect to face?
  • Speed will become paramount and production is likely to shift overseas in at least some capacity. What exactly will that capacity be?
  • How can a studio codify audience input? Even more important, how can they measure, interact and learn from it?
  • Larger studios will undoubtedly downsize even further, what positions can expect to get the axe?

Animation Consumption

  • Short form content; <10 minutes with the half-hour show obsolete
  • Animation everywhere; no distinction between online and airwaves
  • Features remain but on much tighter budgets
  • Emphasis on timelessness
  • Platform “exclusive” content
  • The social dimension

These pose the following questions:

  • Just what will the internet’s preferred content length be?
  • Will small outfits on YouTube be able to compete with cable networks?
  • How will features adapt to a rapidly different revenue market?
  • CGI dates notoriously quickly, how will the style of animated content change to imply a timeless quality?
  • Should animated content aim for platform “exclusivity”?
  • Will social viewing help or hinder new animated content?

Please feel free to answer any of the above questions or even pose your own. Animation is changing and it’s only right to plan ahead.