To get it out of the way right off the bat, I think YouTube is ultimately done for, at least in its current form. The massive scale and complexity of the service don’t bode well for it in the long-term. At least Netflix has narrowed its focus to a fairly small number of high-quality productions, and building a reliable distribution service. YouTube is like a blunderbuss; spewing content in every direction in the hope of hitting the mark. It’s worked so far, but it isn’t going to work forever.
It took long enough, but animation is just about everywhere you, and (among younger generations at least), is immensely popular. Many have long looked with envy at Japan with its ubiquitous anime and pined for a similar scenario in western markets. Their prayers may have been answered, but the reality is far from expectations. Animation has become a commodity, and with that it has lost its special place in the minds of consumers and fans alike. The question is, what happens now, and where does the industry go from here?
The year that was 2014 was a great one in many ways for animation in all forms, and yet for all the successes, there were still a few concerns. Here’s some personal thoughts on the year that was, and a few more on the year ahead.
Yesterday, Michael Sporn posted an article from a 1969 issue of the magazine ‘Film in Review’ entitled “Tomorrow’s Animation: It’s Technique and It’s Content Will be Revolutionized”. It’s quite the interesting article, even more so because, as Michael rightly points out, it was written well before most of the current media landscape was even conceived! Besides, I love history, and I always get a kick out of old articles that somehow attempt to predict the future.
This one though, managed to get it mostly right. Here’s the 5 things it pointed to that would cause great change:
- Animation has become an international activity and is no longer the monopoly of Hollywood.
- The development of computer-generated film will alter the form, as well as the content, of film animation.
- Animation is no longer an arcane profession limited to animators
- In addition to supplying entertainment in theatres and on television, and advertising spots for TV, animation has become an essential teaching aid in education and industry….
- The four foregoing causes engender a fifth: animation is no longer looked down upon as the poor relation of live-action filmaking.
Pretty impressive, eh? It may have taken a few years for all of them to have come to fruition, but it is safe to say that animation today is much, much different from the late 1960s.
So with that in mind, could we pinpoint 5 causes that are at the forefront of animation today that will have a bearing on how it develops in the future? Let’s have a go.
1.Economics will force a return of shorts
The way the internet and viewing habits are going, the short is likely to return to prominence as a form of entertainment. They may have been rendered obsolete by a wide variety of causes (chief among them the end of the package films) but in an internet age when viewing habits generally favour short-form content that can be turned out quickly and cheaply, the short is ripe for renewal.
2. Mature animation will become even more widespread
Blocks like [Adult Swim] have shown that mature animation has a place in western entertainment. In the years to come, as teenagers now turn into adults, expect them to continue to demand animation to satisfy their needs. Mature animation will continue to proliferate the entertainment world and will continuously improve in quality too.
3. Economics will kill-off the expensive animated feature
Toy Story 3 had a budget rumoured at around the $300 million mark. In the years to come, that will be an exorbitant amount of money to spend on a feature, even one with as much recognition as Toy Story. The economics that will force a return to shorts will also severely impact the budgets of feature animation too. Animated films can and have been made on a shoestring for a long time, so it should be expected that we will see some truly great films made for much less than the hundreds of millions that major studios throw at them.
4. Merchandise will become the primary revenue source
Merchandise is already a major form of revenue generation for animated films (both big and small), however, expect it to form a much larger share of the pie as the digital revolution eats away at the traditional streams. Cinemas will continue to exist and TV will never go away, but when people get used to viewing content for free, it will become ever harder to persuade them to part with their hard-earned cash just to simply watch something; at least at the cinema, you get a giant screen and sound loud enough to set off seismic meters.
5. Animation’s stature will equal that of live-action
Yes, it kind of echos the number five from the article, but that one only went so far as to say that animation would not be seen as the ugly sister of live-action. I firmly believe that animation will come to be seen as the equal of live-action in terms of skill and variety. Right now, we’re seeing an epic shift in how animation is perceived. No longer is it simply “for the kids”. Live action directors like Wes Anderson and Gore Verbinski have shown that there is a sincere interest on the part of live-action directors to embrace animation as a creative technique. We can look forward to a lot more cross-pollination in the future.