How to Train Your Dragon 2: When Animated Films No Longer Appear Animated

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has been one of the most anticipated films of the year. The massive sleeper hit that was the original, made out quite well back in 2010 thanks to its brilliant blend of story, animation, and character; setting a new bar for a DreamWorks film and proving that they had the chops to match Pixar if given the chance. Fast forwarding a few years, and after viewing the sequel, I came away with the feeling that although inferior to the original, there was something else that bothered me about How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Does Pixar Really Have a Technological Advantage?

There’s an annual report called the Global Animation Industry Report: Strategies, Trends & Opportunities. I wrote about it last year, but since there’s a new report for 2014, I’m writing about it again. While the $5,000 price is a bit too steep for me, you can view the contents online for free, and that’s where one sub-heading picqued my interest: ‘Pixar’s Technological Advantage’. While that may have been true many years ago, does it still hold up?

Using The Croods to Explore Necessary Changes In Key Art

Marketing and promotional art is a key piece of the entertainment puzzle and has been a feature of the promotion business since long before film. Film posters are an art in and of themselves, but as Bill Cunningham points out in a guest post over at Truly Free Film, they haven’t kept up with the times.

Why Is Animation Like Software?

Software seems like a funny thing to compare animation to, doesn’t it? After all, one is mostly recreational and the other is, well, mostly utilitarian. Yet there are many common traits between the two, especially now that both are expected to be given away for free. Thankfully, someone has already figured out a way to make money from software.

DreamWorks Are About Much More Than Their Features

Scott Mendelson is quite prolific on the animation front this weather. First he qualified his statement that American feature animation is, for all intents and purposes, a genre. Secondly, he’s written a rather substantive piece (again for Forbes) on DreamWorks Animation and their “complicated legacy”. Is he right though? Here’s a look at why DreamWorks legacy is actually about much more than their films.

AwesomenessTV Proves Its A Winner


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.


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?

What Should DreamWorks Do Next?


It’s been a rough couple of months for DreamWorks Animation. If it wasn’t the poor performance of Rise of the Guardians, it was delays in development and most recently, the job losses resulting from each. In essence it’s a cash flow problem. Guardians didn’t bring in enough to keep the studio going along a the pace it originally planned. Borrowing the money would be costly so the unfortunate situation is that the release schedule has been dialled back and people have been let go. Many media and blogs focused on those aspects, but few were asking what DreamWorks should do next. Here’s a few hints.

TV is Still King But So Is Original Content

As much as the death of TV is plastered on the internet, the medium is still very much alive. In fact it’s still far to big to ignore. The TV properties of Disney continue to prop up the film studio and until they don’t TV screen across the globe will continue to be central to any large studio’s strategy.

DreamWorks has made efforts to get its films onto the small screen. First it was The Penguins of Madagascar and recently it’s Dragons: Raiders of Berk. Both shows have done well on their respective networks and DreamWorks seems keen to continue to idea of spin-off shows. Heck, it did Disney no harm at all back in the 90s.

What DreamWorks should do though, is create an original TV series. They have the talent at their disposal, what better way to keep them busy and productive than to have them branch off into TV series? For one, they could crank out programmes much faster than feature films. Two, you can be sure plenty of networks around the world would jump at a DreamWorks TV show. And lastly, the revenues would help bring in revenue; not just from licensing fees, but from merchandise as well.

Sure, it’s a crowded TV market, but DreamWorks would be far and away the largest presence given that both Disney and Viacom (Nickelodeon) have their own networks. That fact would work in their favour.

Mobile Will Become More Important

The studio is off to a decent start, what with the tie-in with Rovio for The Croods, but what else are they doing in the mobile sphere? Well, they’ve got this augmented reality app that makes movie posters move. It’s a nice idea but ultimately a bit gimmicky. The studio’s Ptch app is a much better approach, but there’s been no word yet on where that app will ultimately lead for the company.

No matter who you talk to, the keyword is ‘mobile’. DreamWorks needs to figure out a concrete plan for the platform and what it intends to offer. Games are a no-brainer and Ptch is a great starting point, but where else can the company leverage its content on people’s phones and tablets? Netflix is clearly part of the solution, but the company could also look into leveraging the vast store of IT knowledge it has at its disposal. Just imagine a DreamWorks-created 3-D rendering app and you’ll get the picture.

Shorts Will Return

In my post predicting the future of animation, I state that shorts will make a comeback. To clarify, that’s not completely individual shorts but rather those along the lines of the classic Looney Tunes. In other words, a recurring set of characters in a wide variety of plots.

The reason is simple: in conjunction with the shift to mobile platforms discussed above, shorter content will become popular again. If you consider the limited periods of time that people spend on mobile devices, it makes sense to produce content on a 7-8 minute scale rather than the traditional 11 or half hour scale.

Cartoon Hangover is giving this idea a shot and they’ve done OK with it overall. Bravest Warriors could have tighter stories but on the whole, the shorts work for the YouTube generation. At the other end of the scale, the Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld shorts clock in at just over a minute each. Theoretically ideal for mobile, but ultimately too short for substantial storylines.

DreamWorks hasn’t really created any shorts outside of the extras on its DVDs. It would be nice to see them throw some [more] out there either as promotion for the films or as sidelines to the TV show. They could easily do it and the payoff would be substantial.

The Theme Parks Will Pay Dividends

Remember those theme parks that were announced a while back? Stop snickering! Just because they’re going to be situated in New Jersey and Russia is nothing to laugh about. Sure Disney has the theme park gig down pat, but they’re only in a few select markets (the US, France, Hong Kong and Japan.) DreamWorks is betting that with smaller, indoor parks, they can grab customers from a smaller area, but ultimately have them visit more times throughout the year, especially in the winter.

The parks are also in areas where Disney is not; Russia being the principal one. DreamWorks movies do quite well there, so it makes sense to head to that country first. The risk may be more than in western Europe, but the potential rewards are huge given Russia’s rapidly growing middle class.

The only downside to the theme park idea is that the dividends will take years to reap.

Technology Is The Silent Winner

As mentioned above, DreamWorks has a great store of computing knowledge acquired historically from the PDI divsion and also through the technology that the studio itself has pioneered. The company has been moving in the technology direction for some time, and it make sense to continue down that road

Pixar has long done the same, selling and supporting its Renderman software as a side business to the animation. DreamWorks appears to be slowly doing the same, but it might be time to become more overt. Consider how Amazon went from being just an online retailer to an established technology firm thanks to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) division. The company basically realised that they could sell the technology they used to power their website and profit from it. DreamWorks could and should do the same.