Animation Articles 05-2020

A selection of the best animation news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week ending February 2nd, 2020.

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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 🙂

Ireland: Animation Nation

This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending an evening organised by the Irish International Business Network and Animation Ireland at the Irish consulate in New York City. It was an enjoyable evening and an excellent opportunity to meet many of those from the Irish industry who were in town for the annual Kidscreen summit.

Among the many highlights of the evening was seeing the reel with which Ireland is being pitched as the ‘Animation Nation’. Given the proliferation of studios over the last 15 years, it is not surprising that the animation industry is now an employer of note in a country of only 4 million people:

The focus of the event was much more on the business side of things than the creative one and it was clear that the studios present are well aware of the changes currently taking shape in the media landscape and the many challenges that will come with them.

That said, it was great to see that they all have a deep passion and commitment to animation that will hopefully bring them many successes in the coming years.

On The Topic of the Aul Sins of Piracy

 

What real ‘animation pirates’ look like

Via: All Movie Photo

Brown Bag Films CEO Cathal Gaffney recently published a piece in the Irish Independent with the terribly misleading title of “Giving Up Yer Aul Sins of Piracy May Protect Irish Jobs“. Far from being focused on “piracy” (although we’ll get to that in a minute), it’s a superb overview of the Irish animation landscape and how much it currently means to the Irish economy. Go read it now, I’ll wait.

For a long time there was a stigma of sorts around Irish animation being accepted in a serious way by Irish people themselves, and Cathal’s piece attempts to put paid to the idea that animation is a kiddie thing; a fun job with suitably “fun” revenues and rewards. Far from it, the Irish animation industry has grown from nothing to industry powerhouse through the smart use of international partners, tax incentives and their own creative talents.

While the article may not have a whole lot of meaning for readers abroad, if you want to know how Irish animation has gotten to where it is, there is no better comprehensive explanation.

Now, back to the “piracy” thing.

At the end of Cathal’s piece is this paragraph:

Piracy remains a real problem in Ireland and a threat to the growth of these companies. Piracy (of content and software) is not considered a real crime in Ireland but I wonder if the people who feel a sense of entitlement towards pirated content would feel the same if they knew it could cost Irish jobs. I believe the futile attempts at collecting the TV licences should evolve to see a tax on the ISPs addressing the wholesale theft of content.

It’s the only one in the entire article that deals with the subject and even them it seems tacked on (if you read the article you’ll see why the title is misleading).

The first question is whether “piracy” is a real problem in Ireland and whether it does threaten these companies. The country is only 4 million people and has a broadband penetration rate that trails the EU average quite significantly. Surely the UK market with 60 million people, a far higher percentage of people with broadband access, a common language and only a short plane ride away would be the bigger worry, no? Naturally the article isn’t aimed at British readers, but it seems unfair to pin the blame on groups who are likely to account for only a very small proportion of the viewing audience of Irish animation products.

We’ll come back to the sense of entitlement later, but the matter of how people would feel about “piracy” costing jobs is a delicate yet complex aspect to the whole problem. Unfortunately there exists a disconnect between what people view in their living rooms and how that content is actually produced. Yes, people who know people in the industry will be aware, but for everyone else, they are unlikely to know or even care where the content is produced. This is especially true in Ireland, where a significant chunk of televised entertainment is imported from abroad.

To further complex matters is the inevitable discrimination that exists when consumers are faced with a choice. In the case of televised content, is choosing to watch a British-made TV show considered wrong because it is at the expense of an Irish show produced with Irish labour? To extend the concept further, what if I get my coffee at Starbucks instead of the Irish-owned Insomnia Coffee or better yet, the local independent cafe? Am I a bad person for choosing the international chain over the national one? If I choose the national chain, I’m actively denying the independent cafe revenue.

And how do American animators feel about a show being broadcast in their country but is made in another? Since it’s taking a spot that could be occupied by an American show, that has a direct impact on the American animation industry and employment therein. Who’s to say which country’s industry takes priority? It’s an economic concept that is extremely difficult for many people to grasp, let alone for companies and governments to manage.

Coming back to the entitlement issue; it’s very, very important to distinguish between “entitlement” and “demand”. Entitlement is something that is something that people feel they are owed, such as clean air. No-one should feel entitled to free content. We have become accustomed to it, sure, but that vast majority of consumers have been proven time and again to be willing to pay for content.

Now whether their “demand” for content is being met is an entirely different matter. I freely admit that I downloaded the superb Nickelodeon show, The Legend of Korra from the good ol’ Pirate Bay but hear me out before you judge me.

Did I try to watch it online legally? Yes. I watched the first episode on Nick.com, fell in love with the concept and subsequently went back and watched the original Avatar:The Last Airbender series on Netflix. By the time I was finished with that, Nick had pulled the first couple of episodes of Korra from their website. So now I’m in a pickle. I can’t jump into the series halfway through, I’m not getting cable for just one show, and it will be quite literally years before the show is available on DVD or Netflix.

So what are my options here? How is Nickelodeon catering to my demands as a consumer? How are they extracting revenue from this loyal viewer? Are they favouring consumers over cable companies? The simple answer is that they are not on all three counts. I will in all likelihood purchase the DVDs when they are eventually released, but would I even consider doing so until I have seen the series? Probably not; it’s the same reason I declined to purchase the Avatar DVDs for a long time. I didn’t think I liked the show until I actually watched it.

So I downloaded Korra, I watched the episodes in glorious 1080p HD resolution as opposed to a compression-plagued Flash stream and I’m as big of a fan of the show as ever. Am I “entitled” to view the show? No. Is Nickelodeon “entitled” to my money for doing so? Yes! But only if they make it clear and obvious to me that they want it!

Lastly, Cathal raises the idea of a flat tax on ISPs to account for illegal downloading. (We’ll skip over the concept of the TV license; Americans would storm the Capitol if congress attempted to impose a tax on simply owning a TV). Besides the fact that collection agencies have been shown to act against artist’s interests again and again and again (that last one is just plain mean), it simply goes against basic capitalistic tendencies to forcefully divert money from the public to special interests.

The vast majority of internet users don’t engage in copyright infringement, nor do they engage with criminal elements who are actively profiting off stolen content. (That’s another important distinction; consumers who simply want to see and/or share the entertainment they love versus people who actively want to profit from it). It’s comparable to taxing car owners to offset the business that UPS and FedEx siphon away from the Post Office. Ireland isn’t France, if the Post Office has a problem, they need to compete. Be open later, deliver letters on time, offer services that UPS and Fed Ex don’t. In other words cater to consumer demand!

All the sectors of the creative economy are currently going though the wringer when it comes to selling their wares, but consumers are still the same. They want to see things, they want to read things, and they want (and will) pay for it. Will the fragmentation of the market affect the revenues to be earned? Absolutely, but there is little to be gained by simply pointing the finger at “pirates” and making everyone pay for something they might not buy in the first place.

What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments below.

 

Some Superb Secret of Kells Expression Sheets

Coming via the Art of Animation tumblelog are some wonderful expression sheets from the Secret of Kells. Much the same as the Kim Possible ones I posted a while ago, I love seeing these kinds of things because they give a great insight into a character and on a relatively ‘pure’ level; seeing as they aren’t moving or making an sound. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Brendan is a mischievous little scamp. The poses of him playing with Pangus Ban or Chrom’s Eye clearly show someone who’s having fun. All the same, the sheet with the candle portrays someone who’s clearly up to no good.

Compare them with Aisling’s sheets. She’s jsut as mischievous but in a much more playful and innocent way. The posing does much more work than for Brendan but the effect is the same. We can instantly tell she’s a decidedly more curious character than Brendan; hiding a certain amount but being open and honest all the same. Seeing these is getting me excited for Tomm Moore’s next feature; The Song of the Sea.

I’ll admit it, this one absolutely kills me 🙂

 

Even More Irish-Themed Annecy Films!

So I feel like a bit of a doofus for missing this last week when I posted the Matches short, but thanks to great animation website On Animation who posted them earlier this week, you can see the entire series of Irish-themed Annecy 2012 films!

As I mentioned in the original post, the films play on both the cultural and political spheres of Ireland and they do so with comedy for the former and logic for the latter, pointing out that even though there are two sides to the island, they are still one island and one people.

Very well done and highly polished by the students of Gebelins, these siren films are a series to remember.

Now that you’ve watched all of those great shorts, here’s one of the actual competition films, the hilarious 80s cartoon spoof, Space Stallions!

 

The Annecy Siren Film: Matches

The 2012 Annecy Film Festival is currently under way and the focus this year is on Irish animation. My twitter feed is currently jammed with tweets from folks either at, going to or complaining that they are not at, the festival. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see renowned animation school Gobelins tackle one of the more devastating aspects of life in Ireland over the last 40 years; that being the Troubles, in their siren film for the festival.

 

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?

NO!

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 State of Irish Animation in 2012

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

Irish animation has been on a roll the last few years as the combination of a strong talent pool. entrepreneurs willing to take a risk, continuous production demand, excellent products and a little help from the government in the form of tax incentives has made the country a very favourable one to do business in. In other words, the hard work continues to pay off.

Production now extends across the entire content landscape, from shorts through TV all the way to feature films. This growth has caused the industry to continue its expansions and growth at a time when the Irish economy as a whole has been struggling (to put it lightly).

No one studio seems to have eked out a significant lead as the larger ones have managed to succeed by going in different directions. Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon hit it right out of the park a few years ago with The Secret of Kells. As of 2012, development continues on their much-anticipated next feature, Song of the Sea.

Brown Bag Films has cemented their position as the studio to watch on the international stage. Besides announcing the sale of their first original series, Happy Hugglemonsters, they’ve also maintained their production series The Octonauts. Now employing over 100 people, Brown Bag have seem poised to continue their growth for the coming year.

Besides these two well-known outfits, other studios such as Jam Media, Kavaleer Productions (which recently celebrated 10 years in business), Boulder Media (currently winning accolades for their work on the Amazing World of Gumball), Telegael, Monster Animation and Caboom all continue to propel the industry to worldwide attention and admiration.

Noted newcomers this year include Giant Creative which has marked themselves out as a crowd to keep an eye on over the coming years.

Perhaps the largest sign that Ireland is making waves in the animated seas is the fact that this year’s Annecy festival will have a central focus on the country and what it can offer. Big things are expected to be announced come June.

Overall, the outlook for Irish animation is extremely positive for 2012 and beyond. Here’s hoping next year’s post will have even more good things to say.

Giant Creative Starts Setting Out the Goods

About a month ago I featured a short film by new Irish animation outfit Giant Creative, well since then, they’ve rolled out a whole slate of shorts. They’re a mix of films, tests and actual production work, and they’re all worth checking out.

Today though, I’m posting my favourites.

Caution, the one below contains nudity!