Animation Articles: May 3, 2020

A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 3rd of May, 2020.

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7 Key Takeaways From Katzenberg’s “Thoughts On Our Business” Letter

You may already be familiar with the topic of this post; an internal memo written by Jeffrey Katzenberg back in1991 while he was still at Disney. In it, he analyses the movie business as it was then with particular emphasis on how it relates to Disney and their way of doing things. Have things changed much in the past 20 years? Nope, not one bit. Here are 7 key takeaways from that letter and why they are more relevant than ever.

1. The Blockbuster Mentality – The idea that you want a film to get a big bang right out of the gate. Katzenberg ins’t in favour of it, yet every studio continues to do it.

2. People will continue to go to the cinema provided they are given the right incentives to do so – This is too often lost on the owners and studios who think people go to the cinema just to see the latest releases.

3. “The Floor” – A concept that he discusses in regards to blockbuster films that are calculated to make a certain gross based on the content and whose in it. No doubt John Carter had a floor that was used to justify its expense, but as that very film proves, floors are a concept and nothing more.

4. Being big today means little if anything – Katzenberg talks a lot about the film Dick Tracey. Apparently it was big at the time and made a decent amount of money, but have you ever seen it? I haven’t, I doubt most people today remember it very well. It goes to show that a film that makes a quick buck will be just that, whereas a film that stutters out of the gate, like Alice in Wonderland (the 1950s Disney version) can last a long time and bring in almost 100% profit for decades to come.

5. Kids movies aren’t just for kids – Sadly there are still too many people, both inside and outside the industry who believe this.

6. Marketing & Testing – I’ll let the direct quote speak for itself:

There is an unfortunate tendency to think that when a film does great, it’s because it’s a great film. But when it does poorly, it’s because of poor marketing. While this logic is convenient, it can be empirically disproven.

7. Rules – Discipline is all important to maintaining your success.

Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Folly of Faster Technology

Via: PC Mag

Yesterday, at the Techonomy conference, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg revealed that through technological developments, the studio would soon be able to animate in “real-time”. This statement has got a decent amount of attention from the relevant media, but just how accurate or true is it?

While Katzenberg is keeping the details close to his chest, it’s safe to assume that he is referring to the rendering part of the process. In other words, the part where the computer has to crunch a lot of numbers to get things to look how they’re suppose to look.

This has been a time-consuming process since day dot. Heck, even in the old days, you had to wait for the ink and pain department to colour your cels before you could even begin to visualise how the characters would look on screen.

However, what Katzenberg is hoping to achieve is the ability to animate and render at the same time. This is not an impossible goal. However his statement does seem to ignore how technology has developed over the last 60 years or so.

That is to say: it never really gets any faster.

Why? Because new more impressive software is always coming out that pushes hardware to its limits, just like its supposed to.

Take for example Toy Story. We all know it took a year to render or something like that, but just imagine, I could theoretically render Toy Story on my home computer right now, and there’s a good chance it wouldn’t take me a whole year to do so. So why don’t studios take advantage of technological developments and create films that take advantage of shorter render times?

The answer is simple, who wants to see a movie that looks like it came from the mid-1990s?

Which is precisely the problem. As long as studios continue to push the boundaries of what they can produce, there will always be the same constraints of time.

The only way this will change is when someone comes out with a new way of creating CGI animation that does away with the rendering altogether.

Until then, we’ll have to continue waiting.

Who Will Lead Us Now?

You already know who this post is about, even before you’ve started reading it

That’s because Steve Jobs really was a leader.

I may not have bought any of his products, or even agreed or liked his way of doing things (too locked-down, too expensive) but that’s not to say I didn’t have a lot of respect for him.

Clearly the animation landscape would be very different if Steve Jobs hadn’t taken a bit of a gamble back in the 1980s. Which is the reason for today’s post:

Who will lead us now?

Plenty of people are calling Steve a “visionary”. Yes, he had vision, but he was much more of a leader. He had the ability to envision things, but he also had a huge ability to get others to work towards that vision with passion and excitement.

That’s why Pixar is such a success. While Steve undoubtedly got a good pitch of sorts from Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, ultimately, he could see that the technology they were developing was irrelevant to the story potential that Lasseter offered the output. Steve guided them towards their first deal with Disney, and was instrumental in helping them re-negotiate it after the success of Toy Story.

Steve’s position on the board of the Walt Disney Company (and largest individual stock holder) ensured that that firm took a slightly different approach to online content than the other Hollywood studios. That’s no easy task.

As of right now, there is no one, clear individual who could be said to be a true leader within the animation community.

There are plenty of leaders such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and Fred Seibert and  Ed Catmull is probably the closest thing to Jobs in light of his determination to see Pixar make animation instead of hardware. Although they are all leaders in a different capacity than Steve.

We need a leader because they can see the way forward. They may not know for certain where they are taking us, but at least they’re willing to take a bet on it. That can’t be said for the vast majority of people, which is why leaders are so rare.

A new leader will emerge, that is a certainty.

Until then, we’ll continue to inhabit the aimless space that’s left behind.

RIP Steve


What DreamWorks Artists Do After Dark: The Documentary

You may remember hearing a while back about a project called Moonshine. It’s basically a book of art collected from various DreamWorks employees that they created outside work hours.

Well, as a follow-up to the excellent book comes this short documentary which looks at the artists themselves and how they create their work and what inspires them.

Directed by Alexis Wanneroy & Christophe Lautrette it’s well worth 6 minutes of your time today.

J. Katzenburg Places A Smart Bet on Netflix

The latter half of 2011 hasn’t exactly been very kind to either DreamWorks or Netflix. The former saw it’s stock slide after poorer than expected first quarter results and the latter has been taking a hammering from just about everyone after they raised prices and then announced that they were splitting their streaming and DVD services across two separate companies.

Despite these setbacks, things keep moving along which leads us to yesterday’s announcement that DreamWorks has agreed to make it’s entire catalogue available on Netflix starting in 2013.

While there’s not much to say about the deal itself (you can read the entire press release or Variety’s take on it for the details), the very fact that it was made is significant for the simple reason that DreamWorks is the first major studio to sign directly with Netflix.

Until now, that major studios have treated Netflix almost like an annoyance that keeps reminding them that the media landscape is changing beyond their control. Collectively, they’ve tried to keep as much of their content off of Netflix as possible. Heck, they’ve even tried to keep DVDs off the service by instituting the pointless 28 day delay for new releases.

DreamWorks is the first to realise that they can stand to benefit from simply having their content available for people to see. New releases from Disney will likely disappear from Netflix as the Starz deal expires in Marc, and if that’s still the status quo come 2013, DW will be in a market where it’s main competitor is not.

This is the kind of innovation DreamWorks needs to invest in if it is to continue to exist as an independent company, indeed, I called for it just a few months ago when Paramount broke off talks to continue their distribution deal.

The proliferation of Netflix on mobile and TV platforms also ensures that DW’s content is everywhere they are and reaches the largest audience possible. It doesn’t matter if the quality is not top-notch, the convenience factor of being instantly available will override that in a heartbeat.

A lot of industry folks will be watching these developments very closely because if it turns out to be mutually beneficial to both companies, you can expect a lot of similar deals to follow.

DreamWorks MUST Remain Independent: The 7 Reasons Why

 Via: Wikipedia

Although DreamWorks Animation is already independent, it does distribute it’s films through Paramount, who in return, collect a fee from the gross receipts. Such an arrangement has worked well until now, just one short year away from the end of the current agreement.

There has been a lot of talk about DreamWorks being either acquired or selling itself to a larger corporation as a way to ensure its survival. Of all the big guns, only Warner Bros. seemed likely as they don’t already have a theatrical animation division but the noises from inside that company suggest they are not interested. The question is: Why would DreamWorks feel the need to be part of one of the larger studios anyway? The answer is money, but instead of analysing that reason, I offer you X reasons why the studio must remain independent.

  1. Katzenberg is not a quitter. He built DW up from nothing and I doubt he would like to sacrifice his independence to be under the boot of a board of directors again. He’s taken the company this far, there are few reasons why he can’t take it further.
  2. When you’re number 2, you try harder: Yes, it’s an old Avis slogan, but it rings true. If you’re number 2 in the market, you will try harder than the leader when it comes to your products. DreamWorks isn’t quite there yet, but last year’s How To Train Your Dragon was infinitely superior to Toy Story 3.
  3. It’s been done before: Back in the late 40s, a relatively small animation studio lost their distribution deal with RKO. They managed to haul a distribution team together and form Buena Vista. A distributor I think you all should be familiar with.
  4. An independent keeps everyone on their toes: As an independent, you have to do your best every time.That means others must compete on at least the same level of quality. If one player ups their game, everyone must. Corporations have a habit of getting comfortable in their shows which can lead to a stagnation of quality.
  5. The money is in the long tail: Walt Disney himself knew it was better to create a good film that would be popular for a long than one that would be a flash in the pan. Good films make money for decades after they’ve been paid for. DreamWorks can rely on this for income provided their films are up to scratch (see point 4)
  6. It’s a tougher road , but the ultimate rewards are better: No-one likes to take the hard road, it’s more work for what appears to be less reward. However, that burden of responsibility will ultimately result in a stronger company as everyone shares in the responsibility for success.
  7. It affords more freedom to experiment: Right now, on the cusp of the digital revolution, DreamWorks has the freedom to go in directions that were never possible before. As an independent, it has the freedom to try and experiment with new distribution and sales models to see if they work. DW can has the chance to become the industry leader in the digital age, an opportunity that should not be passed up.