How Difficult is it to Set Up an Animation Studio Today?

Via: Cartoon Brew
Via: Cartoon Brew

A while back I published a rather sarcasm-filled piece that highlighted the apparent ease with which someone felt that you could get an animation studio up and running. Quite simply, the source explained things in a far-too-easy manner. Today though, we’re taking a more serious approach to how difficult (or rather, how easy) it is to get an animation studio up and running in 2013.

What IS An Animation Studio?

The first thing to consider is exactly what counts as an ‘animation studio’. We’re long past the point where a true studio was a group of artists working in a shared space on projects of a certain duration. With modern technology, it is very much possible to be a one-person studio or to operate in a virtual studio environment separated from colleagues by thousands of miles.

Let’s say though, for simplicity’s sake, that you wanted to set up a ‘traditional’ studio; i.e. a shared space housed in a building that people commute to. Is that still a realistic goal or has that ship sailed thanks to costs?

It’s hard to say, but there is certainly still a lot of value (monetary and otherwise) to having everyone in a single place at the same time. Marissa Meyer is famous for eliminating Yahoo’s telecommuting policy and forcing people back into the office.

Are the costs still significant? Yes! However, that is not to say that they are insurmountable. In reality, they are no more expensive than for any other office, and cheap space should be easy to find no matter where you are.

Are they Still Viable in the Internet Age?

One of the complaints about the internet age and its effects on content is that it simply doesn’t pay enough to make an investment in a studio worthwhile. That seems like it’s true, but in fact, it has little to do with how much the animation itself pulls in as it does how much total money the studio brings in.

Productions may or may not be revenue spinners in the way they have been through licensing and so forth, but they are still the primary generators of revenue for any studio. The goal is to get a number of them going at the same time so that revenue streams are relatively stable over a prolonged period of time. In such instances, a traditional studio should be absolutely viable in the internet age.

Why They Have To Start Small

Everyone starts a studio with grand ambitions. While Disney never seemed to display them, it is fairly certain that he knew how big his studio would eventually become. He started with only a handful of people churning out shorts at breakneck speed and barely managing to break even in the process.

History is littered with plenty of examples of studios that started out big and failed entirely. Don Bluth leapt from Disney and started into his own features. He ultimately failed. DreamWorks very nearly suffered a similar fate; bolting out the gate with blockbuster films that were identical to what Jeffrey Katzenberg had produced at Disney. Those nearly brought the studio down before it caught a break with Shrek; a cheap film that made a lot of money. In the end, that studio had to shrink before it could grow.

Any new, startup studio, needs to start small. How small? Well in one of my Animation Scoop pieces, I theorised whether it would be possible for a feature film to have a genesis in an animated GIF. It would be a long and winding road for sure, but the concept is certainly possible given the right tools and people.

In a more realistic sense, short or very short films would be the ideal starting point; growing as the audience does. One big hit ought to be enough to spur production on a second, concurrent series. Once that’s in place, you can really get going in terms of improving the quality of the content and the amount of effort that goes into it.

Will Features Remain the Ultimate Goal of an Animation Studio?

Features have long remained a goal for animation studios for the simple reason that they exemplify and personify a significant amount of effort. Shorts and TV series are different beasts, but they do not seem to represent the marathon that is feature film production. The glamour and allure of Hollywood, the Academy Awards and vast profits seem to remain the goal of many who enter the business.

That isn’t to say that features will disappear; far from it. However new studios will have to find a way to produce top-quality features that are economical to make. If revenues from other areas of the business are steady, then that shouldn’t be a problem, but betting heavily on a large production would be unwise,

Will Anyone Ever Topple Disney?

Sure, someday someone will figure out a way and do it. Pixar nearly did but they let themselves get bought out. Given another few films, they could easily have toppled Walt’s studio as the animation studio to beat.

So what are you waiting on? Get out there and found your studio!

6 thoughts on “How Difficult is it to Set Up an Animation Studio Today?”

  1. It’s not that hard if you treat it like the business it is. While Walt was pushing the creative envelope, his brother was shoring up the company making savvy business deals in the background. So really, starting up a studio is realistic and viable, but not by an artist alone (unless he is business savvy). It takes shared responsibility on the creative AND business side. Even a small animation takes 100’s of thousands of dollars and managing that type of cash on a 6-12 month basis takes people who know what they are doing. So go do it… as a team. it is a LOT of work but IT IS fun in the long run…

    1. That’s absolutely right; cash flow problems are the number one killer of any new business, and it does take a business mind to handle that in a suitable manner.

      I’ve heard it said that if it wasn’t for Roy, Walt would have driven the company into the ground in an instant. He was very lucky in that regard that someone was there to keep him in line.

  2. This is all good advice and, hopefully I’m on my way to having an animation studio! I’ve been making animated shorts for the past few years, and I collaborate using Instant Messanger! Sometimes I get ahead of myself in goals and think more like an artist instead of a businessman, but when I ever make a mistake, I gotta step back before I could move forward again.

  3. Benedict from Shrewsbury

    I’ve got forty quid, a red biro and half a jar of coffee, who wants to set up an animation studio?

  4. This article is helpful in more ways than one. As someone who does want to start an animation/film studio of his own, it does well in explaining how animation studios today can still have a place in the digital age. And yes, you don’t have to have a big budget to make an animated feature film.

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