Search Results for: Kells

Why Is Common Sense Being Ignored in Animated Features?

Budgets for animated features have been rising consistently for the past decade or so. While large blockbusters at the end of the 20th century struggled to top $100 million, today’s efforts often top 3.5 times that! This rapid rise has been accomplished mainly thanks to the superb commercial performance of animated features at the box office. So why then is common sense missing from the production process of such films?

A Theory on Government Subsidies For Animation

It’s currently a hot topic among animation circles, and especially their cousins in the VFX industry. Yes, government subsidies are contentious no matter what side of the debate you’re on. Those for, argue that they retain jobs and industries in countries (or regions) that would otherwise lose them to cheaper competition. Those against, argue that they entice companies to slide from country to country and region to region as subsidies are created and retracted. Subsidies are a form of support from government, but today, I’m proposing support of a particular kind.

Little Witch Academia

Via: Random Curiosity
Via: Random Curiosity

This past weekend, I watched the short film Little Witch Academia, which I enjoyed immensely. (It’s stunning to think that it packs more action and character into the same amount of time as an episode of any TV show.) What piqued my interest in the short in addition to the animation was how it was funded.

Yes, Little Witch Academia was created by a studio called Trigger and although a group of ex-Gainax animators were involved, the short itself was the product of many young animators who were the recipients of a grant from the Japanese government.

The grant itself is entitled ‘Young Animator Training Project‘ [link]. Essentially, the Japanese government endows a certain amount; in this case 214.5 million yen (about US$2.27 million), which is distributed among four studios. These studios in turn create projects such as Little Witch Academia with a staff of young animators who essentially learn on the job. The goal of the project is that training as Japan has seen an increase in animation being sent overseas.

Why Not Direct Government Subsidies?

Many people see direct government subsidies in the form of tax relief as a great tool for creating demand. While that is certainly true (one need only look at Ireland to see an industry grown from scratch thanks to a healthy subsidy), subsidies themselves can only go so far. They can lower production costs, but they do not address the causes for them to be so high in the first place (that’s usually a macroeconomic concern.)

Moreover, direct subsidies are inherently risky because they are susceptible to undermining. Don’t believe it? Look at British Columbia, a state that had generous government subsidies for VFX and animation but is now seeing such work leave thanks to a larger subsidy being offered in Ontario and other jurisdictions.

Direct subsidies also do not, on their own, either increase work or skills. The rise in work they bring in certainly do, but tax relief itself does not spur creativity or the desire to create new content.

Why Indirect Government Subsidies Are Better

Indirect subsidies are essentially efforts like the Young Animator Training Project. They are governments putting money into animation, but rather than attempting to ‘pull’ demand, they ‘push’ it. Consider the following points:

They Can Focus On the Problem

Indirect subsidies can be meted out in a specific manner. They can be targeted at specific areas or problems that direct subsidies are only so good at accomplishing. They can focus on specific skills, ages, genders and regions. Once a problem is identified, an indirect subsidy can be created and applied quickly. In Japan’s case, work was going abroad and young animators were getting neither the training or employment they needed.

For many in animation, cost is a considerably concern. However, costs are only relative insofar that they are related to supply. It’s a complicated issue, but generally, clients will pay for skills they can’t find anywhere else. Indirect subsides can improve skills and mitigate this concern.

They Can Fund Things That Otherwise Would Never Be Made

Unfortunately, commercial studios are notoriously risk averse; hence the reason we had so many Shrek movies long past the series’ use-by date. With studios unwilling (or unable) to take risks with creating content, governments can step in to fill the void. Practically every country in the world has some sort of commission or council that funds film projects. While many of their projects live up to the stereotype of permitting artsy fartsy content to come to fruition, they can also give more mainstream content the extra helping hand it needs.

The Secret of Kells was one such project that, while not overtly art house in nature, it did receive assistance from both Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board) and the state broadcaster, RTÉ. Both entities receive their funding through public sources but they utilise it in order to create the best content possible. No-one, of course, would argue that the world (and animation in general) is worse-off because the Secret of Kells was released.

They Don’t Bet On Horses

In line with the point above is that indirect subsidies do not bet on horses so to speak. Direct subsidies anticipate a certain level of investment but they also cannot control who undertakes such activities. In that respect, they tend to be bets placed with public money. Just look at what happened in Florida with Digital Domain. It was a successful company that whittled funds from the State of Florida to build a studio with the promise of jobs. Said facility was built and jobs were created, but when everything went south, the results were catastrophic.

Indirect subsidies mitigate such risks by simply ignoring them. Instead of backing ventures that potentially turn a profit, indirect subsidies instead anticipate no profit being made; in other words, they eliminate the risks associated with the production costs. The difference is significant because production costs are the risk that studios undertake when producing animation. The reason is simple, they must carry their burden before earning them back through box office sales and so on. If grants can reduce or eliminate production costs, then studios have no reason not to produce!

This reduction in risk permits studios who receive them to be a bit more daring in their offerings; another reason why films from the National Film Board of Canada are so widely regarded.

Their Films Act As A Calling Card

To come back to Kells for a second, that film was utterly and unashamedly Irish in all aspects. It was rightfully recognised as being the ideal siren film for Irish animation which was only amplified by its Academy Award nomination. Films sponsored through indirect subsidies can accomplish this on a successful scale. As you might expect, such films generally tend to champion the source of their funding; Kells with Ireland, Little Witch Academia with Japanese animation.

They Can Incite Creativity

Direct government subsidies for animation bring in a lot of work, but do they necessarily incite creativity among the artists who work on them? Sure, American shows are popular abroad as well as at home, but The Simpsons has been animated in South Korea for over 20 years, and I have yet to see anything emanate from that country resembling Springfield’s first family.

Yes, cultural differences can be a sticking point for direct subsidies. What good does it do to local talent if the work all day on something they may not necessarily relate to? Would it not perhaps be better to have them work on something they identify with culturally and socially? Perhaps even something that could improve their cultural identity?

Working on something you identify with is much more likely to spur you to create something yourself. If you work on a film that permits you to put a bit of yourself into it and learn from it, you’re more likely to perhaps take on an independent film, right?

Conclusion

All the above isn’t to say the direct subsidies do not have their benefits, they certainly do. In Ireland’s case, an industry has been built up from near nothing! However, indirect subsidies can accomplish much more, in both the financial and creative sense. They are better for the industry on a range of levels and should be utilised more.

Let’s hear your thoughts on government support for animation! Do you favour one form over another? Should they be abolished entirely? Leave a comment below!

The State of Irish Animation in 2013

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First of all, a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Remember, Guinness is Irish; corned beef and cabbage is not.

On this day last year, we took a look at the Irish animation industry and where it stood, so it makes sense to do an update after another eventful year.

Overall, the industry has gone from strength to strength. Output is up as is employment and the number of players in the industry. Not content to rest on their laurels, various studios have either sprung up or expanded into the gaming and mobile sectors.

At the feature level, both Cartoon Saloon and Brown Bag Films have feature films in production. The former continues work on their successor to The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea. The latter is currently developing their first feature film, Nightglider with their US-based partner, Wind Dancer.

In the televised sector, many players continue their success from last year. In addition to Cartoon Saloon and Brown Bag, Boulder Media continues their winning streak with The Amazing World of Gumball. JAM Media recently opened a second office in Belfast to further their presence in the market. Caboom continued their strong streak from last year and have plenty in development too.

Telegael has expanded their capabilities with the construction of a dedicated stop-motion studio that will produce series for Irish and foreign markets. Monster Animation rebranded as Geronimo Productions and their latest series, Planet Cosmo is currently teaching astronomy to kids all over Ireland and further afield!

As the industry in Ireland matures, it has naturally branched out to touch other industries where animation plays a role. Video games, in particular those for mobile and tablet platforms, have seen an influx of animation studios who realised that their skills were just as applicable to interactive forms of entertainment as it is for passive ones. Kavaleer continues their success in this area and Brown Bag also has their eye on it as they recently announced the creation of a ‘digital division’ to handle properties the area.

The Irish animation industry is in good shape for 2013 and should look forward to another successful year of growth. That said, challenges lie ahead that will have to be at least addressed. Chief of which is the creation of a tax break for animation production in the UK. With the potential loss of their cost advantage, Irish studios may have to get innovative to attract work.

The pace of the transition to digital distribution continues apace and although things are not as advanced as they are in the US, they soon will be. The proliferation of online content (either through YouTube or other services) spells trouble for business models that rely solely upon the traditional methods of funding.

As of writing, no Irish studio has embraced the online model completely despite the fact that large audiences are already there. Perhaps 2013 will be the year an Irish studio pulls a Frederator and gets their own content up and available for worldwide viewing.

Otherwise, the Irish animation industry remains in great shape for 2013. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m outta here for obvious reasons 🙂

How The Academy Awards Screws Animation

So by now the winners have been announced and everyone’s done patting themselves on the back for another year. However, our coverage today has nothing to do with last night’s Academy Awards ceremony or even the winners and losers, rather it takes a look at how animation gets screwed by the Academy and those it has deals with. It isn’t pretty, but it’s the truth that will have to change before the technique is accepted with the respect that it deserves.

The Distributor

The first area where animation gets shafted is in the best shorts category. These impressive films usually receive (as part of their nomination) inclusion in a program that is offered to cinemas across the country around the time of the award’s ceremony. The traditional reason for this is natural enough; most cinemas won’t run the shorts individually so they are compiled and offered as a complete program that can be easily marketed and sold. That’s a fair enough deal and it offers the short’s creators the opportunity to get their films in front of the populace instead of just Academy voters and critics.

Such a fine proposition has existed for a number of years but this time around, something different occurred; all the shorts were made available online, and for free! The upshot was that many people took the opportunity to view the shorts. Paperman alone was viewed at least tens of thousands of times if not many more. The other shorts had similarly impressive numbers. Discussion was rampant online and off, as many fans and critics alike grasped the chance to see the films in a convenient manner.

All that changed on February 14th as a letter from Carter Pilcher of Shorts International was sent to the five respective nominees requesting that they remove the shorts from their official hosts. The letter itself is confusing as it initially states the obvious but falls back on that to ponder why the films were put online at all, since “Academy voters have other and better means of viewing the films.”

To cut through all the bullshit, what the entire fiasco amounts to is the Academy’s anointed distributor reacting to claims by its customers that their attendance is down because the shorts are available online. Business is business, but the people ultimately being sold for thirty pieces of silver are the animators themselves:

“Unlike Webbies or Ani’s, the Academy Award is designed to award excellence in the making of motion pictures that receive a cinematic release, not an online release,” Pilcher wrote. “This release of the films on the Internet threatens to destroy 8 years of audience growth and the notion that these film gems are indeed movies — no feature length film would consider a free online release as a marketing tool!”

No offence sir, but fuck you. Insinuating that animated shorts are even potentially below that of features is a smack in the face to those who create them. Shorts tell stories just as profound as features and attempting to justify their presence online as demeaning to them comes off as a rather desperate ploy.

Now all this isn’t to say that the cinema’s don’t have a legitimate claim, they very well might, but that is their problem for them to deal with. Trying to squeeze the distributor to get to the animators is a selfish act that is the cowards way of fixing things. People don’t go to cinemas just because they’re showing something, they go because it’s a social event and happens to have a 30-foot screen and other unique things that people don’t have in their own home. If you can’t offer something to compete with the shorts being on the internet, perhaps you need to look at what you’re doing wrong instead of trying to pin the blame on someone else.

The ultimate result of the shorts disappearing from the internet is that plenty of people who would have seen the shorts now cannot (we’re talking those living in the middle of nowhere and foreign countries, etc.) This castration of audience size stuffs animated shorts back into the realm of obscurity, and for what? So cinemas, the distributor and the Academy can put a few more pennies in their pockets while animators and their films get walked over at the one time of the year when they can benefit from all the publicity.

The Voting (and Voters)

As if animated films weren’t already getting screwed in some way by this years awards, along comes The Hollywood Reporter with an article that looks at how one voter casts his ballot as well as his thoughts as he does so. Under the title of An Oscar Voter’s Brutally Honest Ballot, we get an inside look at what happens when votes are cast. Most of the article is interesting enough, but as you would expect, the animated categories are where things start to heat up.

Take for starters the animated short category:

BEST SHORT (ANIMATED)

[Had not seen any of the films, but had heard good things about Paperman so he voted for it.]

Vote: Paperman

And that, is pretty much how a lot of other voters picked their choices as well. The audacity of it all is that this guy had not seen any of the short documentaries either but abstained from that category entirely as he had heard nothing about any of the nominees. Eh? Just because you heard good things about one of the nominated films, you decide to vote for that one? Not exactly fair now is it. This act immediately excludes all other contenders because Disney, as ever, is making a lot of noise about its films and ultimately has a good bit of clout to boot. Once again, animated shorts are screwed.

Now how about those animated features:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

“It’s a tough category because everything is mediocre. I’m definitely not voting for The Pirates. I’m not voting for Frankenweenie. Brave was unimpressive. So I guess it’s between ParaNorman and Wreck-It Ralph. So… ” [At this time, he assigned the screen-side of his iPhone to the former and the back-side of it to the latter, and spun it on his desk.]

Vote: Wreck-It Ralph

Now fair enough, the animated feature field is a bit average this year, but that does not excuse such behaviour. Perhaps we can telepathically read his thoughts on each of the nominees:

  • The Pirates – “not a hometown production, didn’t gain from its nomination or will gain from a win. No vote”
  • Frankenweenie – “Tim Burton? Yuck! Ugly dog + the undead = shite. No vote”
  • Brave – “Just another princess movie the same as the others that I’ll never vote for, even if it is by Pixar. No vote”
  • ParaNorman and Wreck-It-Ralph – “Fuck it, I’m bored just talking about these films. Let’s just pick one and get on with it”

It’s tempting to think that the guy simply has no interest in animation, which may very well be the case, but the problem is that if he’s not taking the animated categories seriously, then who really is? Judging by the winners year after year, it pretty clear that most voters simply pick the one that is the best/most well known.

A few years ago, The Secret of Kells managed to sneak in and during the nominee announcements, we had George Clooney proclaim for all and sundry that nobody had even heard of it. While such a gesture was surely symptomatic of how Kells won the nomination in the first place, it nonetheless revealed the truth that even serious actors didn’t see the animated feature category as something that rewards the best rather than the most obvious.

This voter’s decision making isn’t the worst part though, for the article reveals that the best picture nomination is by preference. In other words, you pick a favourite, second favourite, etc. Anyone familiar with such preferential voting systems knows that they tend to benefit the smaller players, as they can gain from picking up second preferences once the lowest nominees get eliminated.

How does that screw animation? Well the best animated feature category is a straight vote. No preferences. The result is that films win based on totals rather than averages, so even though Brave may have been everyone’s first choice, ParaNorman may have ranked higher among voters overall.

This placement of animated features on a secondary voting system provides even more proof that the Academy views animated features as a category to appease certain players in the industry [coughDisneycough] rather than a serious attempt to convey any sort of cultural approval as they so often claim the awards are.

Conclusion

Both of these practices should prove beyond any doubt that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not, and probably will not see animated as an equal. Their eponymous awards are sold as something that conveys honours on the best of the best, but they are really nothing of the sort. Why, as an animator (independent or otherwise) would you throw money and time at them in the hope of a payoff is beyond me. Until things improve, save your money and accommodate your fans; they’re the ones who feed you after all.

The NYICFF & Being ‘Suitable For Kids’

NYICFF 2013 header

It’s hard to believe that it is that time of the year again, but it is!. That’s right, the 2013 New York International Children’s Film Festival starts in exactly one week (Friday, March 1st). The festival truly is a fantastic experience if you’ve never attended. There are not only plenty of great films being screened, but there are also many workshops and activities for the younger viewers. Those viewer in particular, are who make the NYICFF a great experience.

Ernest & Celestine
Ernest & Celestine

The Goals of the Festival

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the festival’s screening for The Secret of Kells. I was there to meet director Tomm Moore and while it was a thorough pleasure to meet him, the surprise of the day was listening to the Q&A session that followed after the screening. The kids asked some very intelligent questions and the really drove home the point that the festival is much more than simply screening great films, it’s also about inspiring in kids the wonders of film as an artistic medium.

That’s the goal of the festival, and it manages to pull it off with a program that caters to all ages (some films are for 7 & up) with relative ease. That’s not the interesting part, what’s truly amazing (and what astonishes me every year) is that the program it puts together contains films that are not only suitable for kids, their suitable for adults too!

Hey Krishna
Hey Krishna

How The NYICFF Caters to Adults AND Kids

Those of us with an interest (passion even) for animation already know that animation that is suitable for kids is also suitable for adults. Unfortunately, (and certainly before Pixar’s time), there existed a widespread belief among the public at large that animated films were the preserve of the under 12s. That’s changed dramatically in the last 20 years as animated films have begun to cater more to adults through the use of subtle subplots and double entendre.

The wonderful thing about what the NYICFF screens though, is that while certain films do cater explicitly to children, plenty of other films aren’t as overtly aimed at kids.

From Up On Poppy Hill
From Up On Poppy Hill

The festival screens many Studio Ghibli films that are famous for shaming many ‘mature’ films with their quality but the Japanese studio is far from alone. This year Ernest & Celestine, The Day of the Crows and The Painting are just some of the features being screened that can enjoyed by adults and kids. The shorts lineup is spectacular as well. PES’ Fresh Guacamole makes an appearance as does Friendsheep; a hilarious short about a wolf having to work with his lunch.

Pinocchio
Pinocchio

Why That’s Important

It’s tempting to think that such broad appeal doesn’t mean anything; but it does. The kind of films the NYICFF shows aren’t just great films suitable for kids, or even great animated films, they’re just great films. That can do a lot for young, impressionable minds as they can see how cinema (and film) can exist in a much higher capacity than what Hollywood pumps out. Adults benefit too; spending their hard earned cash in something that has cultural and social benefits. So what are you waiting for, get your tickets now!

Only 14 Months Late, ‘A Monster in Paris’ Finally Reaches America

Amazon_A Monster in Paris BR cover
Via: Amazon.com

You may or may not be familiar with A Monster in Paris. It’s an animated film produced by Luc Besson that never seemed to make it to American shores despite a limited release in Canada (and a proper English dub too.) It was first mentioned on this blog nearly two years ago, and Irish animater Nichola Kehoe was exceedingly generous in providing a guest review when the film was released there in February 2012. Now, fourteen months after its premiere, A Monster in Paris finally gets an official US release.

The Facts

With thanks to Mike Bastoli over at Big Screen Animation, we learn that the film gets its release through the good people at Shout! Factory. They’re not being picky either, with both a 3-D Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack and a plain ol’ vanilla DVD being your choices come April 16th.

I’m excited for this film, and have been ever since the I saw the trailer above (and even more so since Katie Shanahan,  a.k.a. Kt Shy gushed about it after a Toronto screening). It looks fantastic and Luc Besson being the experienced director that he is, the story is sure to be at least competent in concept as well as execution.

Why The Heck Did it Take 14 Months?

Unfortunately, the film did not do great business at the box office despite being a hit with the critics (isn’t that always the case). Yours truly was even admonished by Digital Domain founder Scott Ross for suggesting the film was a model to follow. (It lost ~$10 million.)

In any case, no US partner was involved in the production. This alone would have made getting into that market a lot tougher. Yes, GKids has been known to take on independent foreign films with success. Why they did not do so in this case remains unknown, but their 2012 slate was quite a full one so it’s a possibility that A Monster in Paris simply didn’t get the luck of the draw.

Without a theatrical release, DVD sales are a steep uphill battle (no pre-existing public exposure). Shout! have a bit of a knack for precisely this kind of thing though (they released, and I have, DVD boxsets for the DIC series Sonic Undergound if that’s any indication). Discussions take a while and so finally, more than 14 months after its premiere, we’ll finally be able to see A Monster in Paris in the US without having to resort to ‘special imports’ or The Pirate Bay.

The Questions This Debacle Raises

From a fan’s point of view, it’s ludicrous that we’ve had to wait so long for a film. OK so there aren’t that many of us (or maybe there are, if Google search recommendations are anything to go by), but we do have money that we’d gladly give to see the film. I’m a patient man, but plenty of others are not, and by waiting so long, the producers may well have forgone some revenue. A $10 million deficit is a large amount, but getting some money back is better than none at all, right?

Secondly, what exactly has been going on in those 14 months? I doubt that the producers have been searching for a US distributor all that time. All signs seem to indicate that none was lined up before the film’s completion and all mentions of a US release end around the time of the film’s premiere.

Lastly, how does this delay benefit the studio that produced it? Not being in the US market until now will undoubtedly have hurt their revenues, and not just in the obvious ways. Yup, CGI filmmaking technology continues to develop a rapid pace, and a film released last year (let alone more than a year ago) is going to look outdated no matter how well it was made. By releasing so long after its production, it will run the risk of appearing to those unfamiliar with it (read: the general public) as an inferior, cheaper production than it really is. All told, it hurts the studio’s chances and opportunities for creating another feature film.

How To Ensure It Doesn’t Happen Again

Europe remains a productive creator of animation (both theatrical and otherwise), but I fear that in the case of A Monster in Paris, not enough effort was put into making the film available in other parts of the world. That’s not to say they didn’t try; the film was lip-synched to the English script, not the French one, but of course that won’t bring in revenue on its own.

The US market is massive, and complicated to boot. Unfortunately it is also dominated by a few large chains; chains that are cozy with the large US studios and would far rather show a film from one of those than a foreign, independent one. GKids has so many issues with them, that they almost always avoid them; favouring independent cinemas instead.

This situation is where a service like Tugg would come in useful, allowing independent players the ability to reach mainstream audiences without the cost of a traditional blanket marketing campaign.

Until then, April can’t come soon enough.

Would you have seen A Monster in Paris in the cinema in the US? Why or why not? Let us know below!

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld is Awesome (and More!)

Sunday is off-topic day; a chance to post something fun instead of the usual serious discussion and commentary.

Today it’s time to turn our attention to two things Brianne Drouhard related: the premiere of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld yesterday and a follow-up of sorts to another of her projects.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld

I haven’t watched Cartoon Networks itself in a long time (too much Johnny Test to be honest) but it the network is on a bit of a roll lately thanks to some seriously good shows. Although there are the big heavy hitters in Adventure Time and Regular Show, it’s nice to see that the devotion to quality is being spent on smaller projects too.

The DC Nation shows are one of them, but even more so than that are the shorts. Between Teen Titans Go! and Super Best Friends Forever there has been plenty of chatter on the internet about them and how awesome they are.

Now to add to those two comes a third, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld that was helmed into existence by Brianne Drouhard (a.k.a. Potato Farm Girl) and who had its first outting just yesterday. Here’s the official trailer for the short:

The full short is very cool, even if a lot is being squeezed into the 1 minute and 15 seconds. The animation looks great and although protagonist Amy doesn’t say very much, you get a good feel for what kind of character is through what she does say as well as her actions. To top it off, there are subtle nods to various shojo anime (Sailor Moon being the most obvious) but nothing that overpowers the source material or the characters.

Harpy Gee Facial Expressions

I’ve featured a few fantastic ones before, but these are related to something else that I posted a while back; namely Brianne’s idea for a show called Harpy Gee. Behold these lovely facial expressions for the titular character:

Via: Potato Farm Girl on Tumblr
Via: Potato Farm Girl on Tumblr

How To Stop The Digital Domain Failure From Happening Again

See the update/clarification at the end

The Problem

It’s almost a month since the word broke loose on an otherwise unusual Friday morning that Digital Domain was in very serious trouble indeed. Oh sure there were the warning signs of rough seas ahead, but on the whole, it appeared that the studio was simply in the middle of the kind of cash flow crisis that plagues any business. However the problems were a good bit more severe than even an emergency loan could fix.

Yup, cash flow was a big part of the problem, and a big part of the problem’s problem was the production of animated feature film, The Legend of Tembo. Now many questions can be raised as to how this production was the main part of the problem, but the gist of it is, animated features are still phenomenally expensive to plan, produce, distribute and maintain.

In Digital Domain’s case, Tembo sucked up capital, but it was still only in pre-production; hoovering up funds with nothing to show for it at all. In other words, Tembo was a dollar-shaped black hole. Now this isn’t to pan the production or anything like that. It’s the nature of the business; you have to saddle the costs before you get anything back, something that’s especially so for your first feature. All this combined with a drop in DD’s VFX business halted any incoming monies that were used to service the loan that was financing Tembo. Without either, the company collapsed.

The Solution

The solution to the problem of reducing the risks associated with such projects, funny enough as it seems, is to make cheaper films. Now cheaper in the context of DD’s problem means much cheaper than even they were attempting to do. Tembo was not an expensive film but by all accounts had already swallowed millions and was still in pre-production. Disney and DreamWorks on the other hand spend many hundreds of millions on their films (Toy Story 3 was apparently the most expensive to date at around $350 million).

The problem is that pouring many millions into an animated feature is a poor way to go about it. Features are naturally more expensive than TV episodes, but there is also a much larger risk involved. Studios can normally suffer one or two flops unless, of course, said flop was your first production. They’ve also been moving ever more towards films that are safe; sequels, series and the like in order to hedge those risks.

What the solution calls for is for cheaper features, or rather, features that don’t cost nearly as much money.

Proof? The Secret of Kells cost all of about €6 million (~$9 million at the time). A Monster in Paris was budgeted at around €22.8 million. Think about those numbers; the latter was produced for just over what Disney spends on pre-production alone. The former was made for about the same amount that they spend in coffee (OK, not really, but you get my point).

What I’m getting at is that there is a widening gap, a hole if you will, in the market for the budget feature to exploit. If you can knock out films for, say, under $20 million make and at least your money back, you’re doing pretty well, aren’t you?

Coupled with the new digital economic model and I’m afraid the days of the massively budgeted feature are rapidly drawing to a close. Snow White heralded a good 80 or so years of it, but in the near future such lavishly expensive productions will become even rarer than they already are. Alas Digital Domain discovered that too late.

Clarification: After a twitter conversation with Digital Domain founder Scott Ross, I need to clear up a few things:

  • The collapse of DD was about more than just the Legend of Tembo’s production and included many other factors that together contributed to the company’s collapse. I didn’t mean to imply that the film was sucking all of DD’s money, except that as the company’s first feature, it was absolutely using funds that would not see a return for some time and thus wasn’t doing DD any immediate favours.
  • My solution calls for cheaper features but I forgot to clarify that they are only one part of an overall realignment of how features are made. At present, they swallow up capital and labour for many years, thus contributing to their enormous cost. Cheaper features are more likely to take longer to make, but the payoff is that the resources used are spread out so that it is not necessary to devote an entire department of employees to a production. In conjunction with lower project costs, studios also need to take into account marketing, distribution and home media costs as well. A cheap film will likely have a lower marketing budget but that does not preclude a low gross. Great films will always be seen as word of mouth spreads. How to Train Your Dragon is proof that the concept is not as dead as many advertisers will have you believe. With home media, it is a similar situation. Cheaper films cannot afford the large marketing to support a widespread release, but the shift to digital media will reduce the need for such large expenditures and level the playing field.
  • My two examples of The Secret of Kells and A Monster in Paris were chosen form personal experience and knowledge. Both were from small studios and had vastly lower budgets. However despite neither being a box office success, their requisite studios survived thanks to the project’s low cost and the fact that they were not complete losses. A more realistic example would be Hoodwinked. A film but whose ~$8 million cost was earned back many times before culminating in a total gross of $110 million. Such films are proof that cheap films can succeed.
  • The overarching point of the post was to point out that expensive features can beget financial failures and that cheaper features can eliminate some of the bigger risks to a studio’s business.

If anyone needs any further clarifications, please post them in the comments below.

Thanks,

Charles

Tugg People To The Cinema!

Tugg logo

Tugg logo

Via: Indiewire

One of the things I recently discussed was the shift in the entertainment business from a ‘push’ model to a ‘pull model’. In other words, instead of creating content and enticing consumers to view it, you basically let the consumer tell you what they want to watch and create it for them instead. It’s all very simple to how Dell makes computers, i.e. they don’t make your computer until you actually order it.

So it came as quite a surprise to discover that there is a startup out there, going by the name of Tugg, whose business model is exactly that; to pull content and people into the cinema!

The concept is almost deceptively simple:

 how tugg works

It’s a pretty cool concept with a very basic (and almost shockingly underused) concept which is to basically sell the seats in the cinema beforehand, thus eliminating the risk of a loss in a screening. However Tugg is much more than a website to petition for a screening near you. It also attempts to act as a platform for the entire experience. Witness the soon-to-come ability to share events:

 

There’s even the option to attend an event organised by someone else, surely the icing on the cake for both the cinema and Tugg if they can draw in outsiders.

However perhaps the greatest part is the ease of setting up a screening:

 

Now you know that anyone can do it. Which is nice, because the risk to everyone is nothing. The cinema doesn’t risk renting a film that they can’t recover the costs on, you benefit because you can see films you like on a big screen and Tugg benefits because it’s likely either getting a flat fee from the cinema for the screening or (more likely) skimming money off every ticket sale and (probably) gathering info on viewing habits to sell back to the studios. Everybody wins!

This post is about much more than Tugg though, because the advantages of the site should play very well into the hands of animation fans. Why? The reasons are simple.

  • Animation from studios other than the large ones are rare in mainstream cinemas
  • Adult animation is continually shunted in favour of more profitable mainstream fare (both animation and otherwise)
  • Cinemas only care about bums on seats and they will gladly favour a screening with a sold out theater for an obscure animated film than a half-empty house screening the latest release.
  • Digital distribution already eliminates the cost of distribution so cinemas can cheaply screen films without having to pay the large handling fees of traditional film.

All in all it sounds like a sweet deal. Imagine the scenario; you want to watch, say, The Secret of Kells for your birthday. You go online, find a smaller cinema in your area (say a 50-100 seater). You set up the event in Tugg and invite your friends. Let’s say you get 35 people to come. That’s pretty decent, but now the social aspect of Tugg comes into play and people in the area learn that the film is playing. Now they want to come too! Suddenly your birthday party is much more than that, it’s about bringing people who share the exact same interests as yourself together!

So what’s the downside (you knew there had to be one didn’t you)? Well, as with anything and everything to do with the film industry and Hollywood, it isn’t simply a matter of Tugg or the cinema “renting” the film from the requisite studio. Yup, just like Netflix and every other company out there trying to innovate in the market, Tugg is bound by rights. What does that mean? Basically if they don’t have the rights to show a film, they can’t.

What does that result in? Why a limited selection of course! Now naturally we can expect it to grow over time, but as of now (September 2012) Tugg is showing just 25 animated titles ranging from A Town Called Panic to Alvin and the Chipmunks. So unfortunately we may have to wait a while before we can organise that retrospective on Ralph Bakshi.

The future looks bright though. If people can organise their own screenings of animated films, it would greatly increase the diversity at the local multiplex. That can only be a good thing for everyone.

The Top 10 Most Influential Living People in Animation

From time to time, you see lists for the most influential people in animation. However, a lot if not all of them include those of us that have departed this world for the next and in any case, Walt Disney is always on top. So today, I present to you the top 10 most influential living people in animation (in not particular order).

Bill Plympton

Being hip before it was cool, Bill has been an independent since before I was born! To be an independent animator is to be one hard working fellow. Continuously putting out witty and serious works, Bill is an inspiration not only for his films, but also for his master classes, festival and society appearances and the blog he co-writes with Pat Smith. All in all, Bill shall continue to be an influence on animators for a long time to come.

Ed Catmull

Let’s cut to the chase; CGI animation likely wouldn’t be around in the form it is today if it weren’t for Ed Catmull. A lot of people will give John Lasseter the credit, but it was Ed who saw the potential for computer animation long before anyone else. Today, Pixar sets the bar in terms of animation quality against which all others are measured. If that isn’t influence, I don’t know what is.

Matt Groening

Do you like primetime animation? Good, because while Groening might not be entirely responsible for the idea, he is certainly a large part of the execution. His success with The Simpsons has spawned King of the Hill, Futurama, Family Guy and just about every other attempt at televised mainstream animation that you can think of.That’s not small feat.

Gene Deitch

Just celebrating a birthday last week (as I write this), Deitch has worked on Tom & Jerry as well as Terrytoons although perhaps most notable (and the reason he’s here) is his work for UPA which continues to influence animation to this very day.

Glen Keane

After the 9 Old Men came Glen Keane, who is very much integral to the Disney look over the last 20 years or so. His art has helped shape many a young animator’s portfolios and he has been an essential link between the old Disney and the new. Although he has departed the Mouse House, it’s safe to say that Keane’s influence will continue to be felt around Burbank for decades to come.

Fred Seibert

Although Nicktoons kicked it all off, creator-driven TV shows didn’t get into full swing until Fred helped launch the Cartoon Cartoon series on Cartoon Network while head of Hanna-Barbera. Smash hits like Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo and the Powerpuff Girls are still viewed with awe. After those hits, Fred has continued to crank them out through the What A Cartoon and Random! Cartoons which launched even more hits for Nickelodeon (including my personal favourite). Moreso than that, Fred has been an innovator, moving into the online world with the prototypical series The Meth Minute 39.

Hayao Miyazaki

This one kinda goes without saying doesn’t it.

Bruce Timm

Think of a modern superhero cartoon. I bet you thought of one that Bruce Timm has his hand in didn’t you? If not, you can be sure that his influence exists somewhere down the line. Ever since Batman: The Animated Series hit the TV screens, it has been night on impossible to escape the look of Timm’s DC animated universe (DCAU). He’s still going strong so anticipate his influence to continue.

Tomm Moore

A young man in relative terms but The Secret of Kells went above and beyond what everyone expected and introduced a whole generation of people to Moore’s lush visual 2-D style. Although it isn’t seen very much yet, expect to see a lot of Moore’s influence in the years to come.

Ray Harryhausen

Still kicking around and remaining a considerable influence on special FX and stop-motion animation even in the face of blue-screens and CGI. Ray Harryhausen’s long career establishes his place on the list simply by being so long! In addition he worked on pioneering films such as Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad; films that continue to be studied today.