Dramatic British Animation Lagging Behind the Americans?!

Coming via The Belfast Telegraph, British animation legend Nick Park (of Wallace and Gromit fame) has this to say about his country’s animation output as of late:

The director of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the only British film to claim the Best Animated feature Oscar, told the Radio Times that filmmakers might need to up the “schmaltz” factor to earn better results. “We need to tell our own stories, rooted in our own culture, but do it with the equivalent emotion of Hollywood,” he said.

“Billy Elliot did it, and The Full Monty, but I don’t think we have it yet in animation.

He has a point. Recent theatrical successes have been mostly comedic and although they are British, only Wallace and Gromit could be said to truly represent British culture; Pirates was more international in scope.

Something along the lines of The Secret of Kells is what British animation needs. Something relatively dramatic but with a very strong relationship to the culture which it is based on. Something comparable to a 21st century Animal Farm if you will.

Where is Richard Williams when you need him?

A British Commercial With More Bouncing Boobs Than Anime

Naughty animated commercials are nothing new, but they were supposed to be all in the past, right? No place for such smuttiness in the enlightened age…or so you thought!

Unabashed sex or just some animators stretching their arms? Either way, this animated commercial for British insurance website Confused.com manages to fit more  bouncing boobs and a not-so-discreet wink than any that have gone before.




Let’s Talk Tax Credits

OK, taxes, boring I know, but it’s a pressing matter for animators in the UK. It’s also a topic that’s come up from time to time over here in the States, as places like next door neighbour Canada create incentives to get studios to move up north.

So the reason for this latest round of noise-making is that the British government is considering a tax break for “drama productions” that cost a certain minimum per hour of screen time. The thinking goes that with such a break, more productions will begin shooting in the UK thus contributing to the economy.

Animators contend that their industry would be more effective at keeping jobs in the country and, according to the Guardian article, would keep content on a more local level.

There’s nothing wrong with this, except that the reasoning is a bit flawed.

Basically, Ireland, the UK’s neighbour, offers tax incentives for animation production. The reasoning is is simple for this one: Ireland didn’t have an animation industry, so in order to get one jump-started, the government offered companies a tax break in return for taking the risk of setting up in a relatively unknown country (animation-wise).

The UK already has an established animation industry. It doesn’t need to effectively subsidies companies’ risk in setting up production there.

So what’s the real issue here?

Well, why set up shop in the UK, when you can go next door to Ireland, write off some taxes and get you series done for less. Right?

Will tax incentives in the UK change this scenario?

The answer is maybe.

Tax incentives will bring the cost of production in the UK down, but that is not a guarantee that productions will move there. It also creates another problem in that it hides the real issue: costs.

Naturally with their tax incentive, Ireland can operate on a lower cost basis, but, can you continue to operate on an incentive-based structure forever?


Incentives are meant to be temporary, or rather, short term. Long term reliance on tax-breaks and incentives can defeat the purpose. For example, let’s say you introduce a tax break for animation. After a while, another country introduces a tax break that brings their costs below yours. Now what do you do? Another tax break? Suffer the consequences? Give up?

Tax incentives mask the real cost of doing business. Yes, taxes may be higher here or there, but at the end of the day, they should be factored into the cost of doing business in the first place. Exchange rates will also factor into the equation, and depending on where you go, they may have a bigger bearing on costs than taxes.

If costs are your problem, then perhaps it is wiser to try and bring them down first, no? By doing so you will increase your competitiveness and not have to worry about it running out.

Besides, if you operate as a low-cost producer, you will always have to be the low-cost producer. Ireland has shown that they can move beyond low-cost with through their superb, home-grown content. Britain has a great track record in creating content. Perhaps they need to rediscover that talent.

What do you think? IS the UK really in need of a tax credit, or should it try other things first?


The End of Animation in Britain?

Yesterday, I read with dismay on Cartoon Brew that the British government, with its current Tory-led cabinet, has decided not to renew the grants and other funding it had made available to Animate Projects, a group who sponsored various animation projects at all levels of the spectrum.

A study put out by the Royal Television Society last year highlighted that Britain has become increasingly incapable of competing with other countries on just cost alone! The main issue they cite is that said other countries (namely Ireland) have benefitted greatly from government tax breaks that have caused productions that would have been made in Britain move elsewhere. As an Irishman, you can easily guess on which side of that argument I fall on.

Should governments subsidise an industry? That’s a political hot potato which you won’t find me discussing here, but I will say that for a market as large as Britain (both culturally and commercially) there is little or no excuse for the government not at least encouraging animation as a viable artform. Other European countries do it, we just don’t see the results very often due to cultural differences.

Is there a bright side to all of this? Can there be a bright side at all? Perhaps it is not clear now and the shock of the announcement is still being felt but I think animation in Britain is in need of a rebuilding of sorts. I find it hard to believe that here in the US we get such excellent animated shows as The Simpsons, et al while in Britain there is almost nothing in comparison (correct me if I’m wrong). That country has been putting out top-notch live-action programmes like The Office so there are no excuses when it comes to animated shows of the same quality.

I think we need to see more action on the part of broadcasters (I’m looking at you, Channel 4) to help encourage a change in attitudes to animation that we are starting to see over here in the States, i.e. that it is not just for children. The success of the likes of The Secret of Kells in the US is proof that the cultural and geographical divide is not so great that it cannot be bridged.

Ultimately, the closing of a program that helps people discover and nurture their creative talent will only serve to homogenise the workforce to the detriment of society at large although it almost certainly does not bring the curtain down on the rich and quirky history of British animation. Now is not the time for moaning, it is time to pick ourselves up and carry on.