Dan Santat on Breaking Into The Business

Dan Santat is a cool guy. Besides creating the Disney show The Replacements, he’s also a full-time illustrator with many books (both personal and c-created) to his credit. He recently talked with Rob Sander’s over at the Picture This! blog about his creative process and how he got his start in the business. Here’s the really important part:

Rob: What three things have you learned that illustrators breaking into the picture book biz need to know?

Dan: First of all, I have to start off by saying is that I hate networking and meeting art directors and trying to solicit my work. Personally, that experience for me feels like it’s less about wanting to get to know someone and more about trying to get something from someone for work and the whole experience feels insincere. I took the route of trying to expose myself as much as possible on the internet. Share your work with every site you can, and be consistent. So, my first piece of advice would be that if you’re not working on a paying job then just keep working to grow your presence on the internet. Just keep making art and be consistent about it. It’s that simple.
Second, you should share that work. Post it on your blog or Tumblr account be consistent about posting something every week. It’s the consistency as much as the quality of the work that keeps people coming back to see what you’re doing.
Third, I would advise a person to really focus on their art not for the sake of making a buck, but instead to fine tune your style until it really speaks about how you think and do things. If every illustration you do is money driven and you constantly find that you’re asking yourself, “Can I sell this?” then you’re not being true to yourself and your work is suffering because of it. When you constantly worry about being able to make a decent career in the arts many folks tend to rely on imitating the big names out there who are making a big splash with their work. More often than not, their own work suffers because it is derivative.

While Dan is primarily an illustrator, the quote I’ve plucked could be equally relevant to animators, especially those just starting out or are still in school. It’s funny how a lot of what Dan says is common sense, but is still overlooked by a lot of people.

Animation Magazine on “What Animation Means To Me”

Animation Magazine turns 25 this year, and as part of the festivities, they’ve asked a bunch of people within the industry to reply to the phrase “what animation means to me”.

They’re all good responses, but the one by Hans Perk stood out the most to me:

Since my 14th year, animation has always been first priority. All other events, including personal, have evolved from my first interest, and I have never regretted it. I have had the good fortune to have my work be my hobby and to befriend my heroes. Who could ask for more?

Sometimes its good to get a wee reminder of why we indulge our interests.

Derivative Animated TV Shows

You may have read the LA Times article from the other day that talks about a shift that’s currently underway at the Disney Channel. The interesting thing is that it included (all the way at the end) this quote from Jerry Beck:

“Before Eric got there, [Disney Channel] had a couple of mild hits, like ‘Kim Possible.’ They were doing derivative things. They were following trends,” Beck said. “Now, they’re leading trends.”

Now I don’t necessarily agree that Kim Possible was derivative, perhaps as a kind of show it was, but there’s been nothing like it since, and it still remains a rare, female-protagonist, show.

That notwithstanding, Jerry hits the bullseye with his point that creating derivative shows will not get you very far. We’ve seen it time and time again when a show get big and a whole host of imitators follow. It happened with The Simpsons and the only shows to last more than a season or two were FOX’s own.

So when it comes to animated TV, do networks tend to follow trends rather than make them? The answer is emphatically, yes. That is by far the less risk option. However, as SpongeBob SquarePants proves, creating a trend can lead to a very long (and insanely profitable) property.

Some Choice Quotes From The 2011 Disney Annual Report

Disney has finally managed to get their 2011 annual results online, and as always, it includes letter to sharholders and the necessary financial documents as well. Seeing as this is something that animators and animation fans would not normally read, let’s see what kind of stuff they’re saying in there. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to DreamWorks as soon as they get it online)

It kicks off with this piece of marketing fluff:

 Fiscal 2011 was a year of great accomplishment for The Walt Disney Company, marked by creativity and innovation across our businesses globally, record financial results and numerous important steps to position the Company for the future.

In other words, we did our job the same as always and hope to continue doing so in the future.

From there we get to this statement:

Our financial and capital strength has allowed us to make important near and long term investments, two of the most significant being Pixar and Marvel. Animation is the heart and soul of Disney, and since becoming part of the Company nearly six years ago, Pixar has greatly advanced Disney’s animation studio with incredible creativity and technological innovation as well as bringing us beloved new characters, magical stories, and an unprecedented number of hit movies. With Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, we have just begun to mine Marvel’s rich roster of characters and stories, and leverage them across our businesses to create all-important franchises.

I’m quite curious as to why a deal made 6 years ago needs to be included in the annual report like it happened this year. It also basically admits that animation at Disney was broken beyond repair.

Moving along:

And nearly 20 years after its debut, last fall’s extraordinarily successful re-release of The Lion King in 3D reminded us of the magic of Disney storytelling and how it touches people’s lives generation after generation.

I’m sure the fact that you’re still in business helps in that regard.

There’s the new releases:

 Two new animated features debut in 2012, starting in June with Disney-Pixar’s Brave, featuring a feisty heroine on a grand adventure in the Scottish highlands. Then, in November, Disney Animation Studios brings us, Wreck-It Ralph, a journey across the arcade through every generation of video games.

I’m just trying to imagine Bob Iger saying “feisty heroine”.

From there, we move into the 10-K, a substantial document that lays out the company’s business, how it does business and how it was conducted over the past year. It’s a lot of boring numbers for the most part, but there are still a few nuggets in there.

On the Disney Channel in Russia:

On November 18, 2011, the Company acquired a 49% ownership interest in the Seven TV network from UTH Russia Limited (UTH) for $300 million. The Seven TV network will be converted to an ad-supported, free-to-air Disney Channel in Russia.

On the company’s theatrical business:

We generally produce and distribute live-action family films and full length animated films.

So here, finally, after 23 pages do we get to animated films. What this represents is just how far down the list of priorities animation really is for the company (the TV stations and theme parks came first don’t you know). This should be a reminder that for Disney, animation is only a small part of doing business, despite what Bob Iger says in his letter.

Then there’s the risk factors (emphasis is their’s):

The success of our businesses is highly dependent on the existence and maintenance of intellectual property rights in the entertainment products and services we create.

The value to us of our intellectual property rights is dependent on the scope and duration of our rights as defined by applicable laws in the United States and abroad and the manner in which those laws are construed. If those laws are drafted or interpreted in ways that limit the extent or duration of our rights, or if existing laws are changed, our ability to generate revenue from our intellectual property may decrease, or the cost of obtaining and maintaining rights may increase.

The unauthorized use of our intellectual property rights may increase the cost of protecting these rights or reduce our revenues. New technologies such as the convergence of computing, communication, and entertainment devices, the falling prices of devices incorporating such technologies, and increased broadband internet speed and penetration have made the unauthorized digital copying and distribution of our films, television productions and other creative works easier and faster and enforcement of intellectual property rights more challenging. There is evidence that unauthorized use of intellectual property rights in the entertainment industry generally is a significant and rapidly growing phenomenon. Inadequate laws or weak enforcement mechanisms to protect intellectual property in one country can adversely affect the results of the Company’s operations worldwide, despite the Company’s efforts to protect its intellectual property rights. These developments require us to devote substantial resources to protecting our intellectual property against unlicensed use and present the risk of increased losses of revenue as a result of unlicensed digital distribution of our content and sales of unauthorized DVDs, Blu-ray discs and other products.

With respect to intellectual property developed by the Company and rights acquired by the Company from others, the Company is subject to the risk of challenges to our rights in intellectual property by third parties. Successful challenges to our rights in intellectual property may result in increased costs for obtaining rights or the loss of the opportunity to earn revenue from the intellectual property that is the subject of challenged rights. The Company is not aware of any challenges to its intellectual property rights that it currently foresees having a material effect on its operations.

While this essentially lays out why it is important for the company to be able to control its content (and thus charge money to do so), it does not take technological an societal advances into account, and as an investor, this rearward looking view should be of some concern.

The rest of the document is filled with lovely numbers and ratios that I would love to share but would ultimately bore you to death with.

Once DreamWorks gets their 10-K up, we’ll have a look at that, and compare Disney with a “real” studio.


In Praise Of the Flaws of Hand-Drawn Animation

Over at the Dead Homer Society, they regularly run discussions of recent episodes. With the recent broadcasting of the 500 episode, the discussion included NoHomers.net contributor Zombies Rise from the Sea, who had this to say about the animation on the show and where it’s been going these last few years:

Hand drawn animation is like an art, to insist that people want cleaner HD animation is just shameful. It’s like we don’t appreciate flaws in work, we want everything to be robotic.

While this is aimed more at the Simpsons than anyone else, it is true. The fact that Flash and CGI animation can create much more “perfect” visuals does not result in a superior picture.

Viewers may notice the flaws in traditional, hand-drawn animation, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who believes that such flaws ruined the viewing experience for them.

Animation Is A Genre

At least it is according to the New York Times:

At the box office, animated films, which have recently been Hollywood’s most reliable genre, have fallen into a deep trough…

Animation encompasses many genres which is why it should not be considered one. It is part ignorance, part misinformation, but there are very few, if any excuses for such a sweeping generalisation an artform.

Besides, the films have been “reliable” because they’ve been good and have more often than not out-performed their live-action counterparts, not just because they are animated.

A Sharp Reminder of How Animation Is Perceived In Some Quarters

On Friday, Tim Cushing over at Techdirt posted a piece that discussed another article by Jeffrey A. Tucker in which he discussed Disney’s Tangled and the political allegories of the film. With me so far? OK. One facet that Jeffrey touched on was how ideas/stories can be, in his words, turned into 2.0 versions, that is to say, be remixed and improve upon the original.

Both are great articles and I encourage you to read them both, but it was in the Techdirt article’s comments where a flame war seemed to break out. Now I do not condone flaming or trolling, but sometimes it brings out the true nature in folks, poking the beast as it were.

Anyway, reading down the comments, I came across one that epitomises that particularly nasty attitude that seems to linger around animation sometimes:

What kind of grown man calls watching children’s Disney movies a “pleasure”? Seriously, do you have the intellectual capacity and interests of an 8 year old girl?

It refers to Disney, but then they are only one of the many that the comment could apply to.

There are eejits everywhere and, much like the guy who called me an asshole on Friday after I apologised for taking his parking space, it says more about who its coming from than who it’d directed at.

Does it really matter that a grown man finds watching Disney movies a pleasure? Why should you even care? They’re good films and being the free society that we live in, can’t anyone enjoy them? How about the way such a statement insults all the fine people who worked on such a film, do they have the same, limited capacity?

It’s disheartening to be reminded that people like that exist. Sadly, the very nature and behind-the-scenes nature of animation leads to that kind of attitude because some people are incapable of separating what they see on screen from how things are actually created. Well, that and the fact that they believe that something needs to be ‘grown-up’ in order to be considered entertainment.

Just How Low Was the Cartoon Nadir of the 1970s and 80s?

Via: ComicMix

Just ask Joe Barbera:

I can’t even have a character throw a pie in someone’s face anymore.

Or how about Bill Scott (of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame):

Hyperbole is so out, which seems strange to me because animation in itself is a hyperbole medium.

That’s pretty low. In fact, it was so low, that the only way TV cartoons could go was up, which they did, thanks to the Nicktoons.The funny thing is, people look back on these shows with such nostalgia, you wonder whether they’ve got some rose-tinted glasses on!

How Animators Should Be Managed

Hayao Miyazaki imageVia: Collider.com

According to Hayao Miyazaki:

I am an animator. I feel like I’m the manager of a animation cinema factory. I am not an executive. I’m rather like a foreman, like the boss of a team of craftsmen. That is the spirit of how I work.

And that’s the way it should be. Craftsmen only need a light hand to guide them and someone else taking care of client-relations, budgets and the like. There is no reason to micro-manage someone who knows what they are doing.

If only more studios were run this way, just imagine what things would be like…

Like Sweeping Up The Latrines

I’m in the middle of reading the biography of Walt Disney by Bob Thomas (which I highly encourage you to seek out if you have not done so already) and came across this quote from the man himself.

I was making conversation with a guy who asked me, ‘Goin’ to California?’ ‘Yeah, I’m goin’ out there.’ ‘What business you in?’ I said, ‘The motion-picture business.’ Then all of a sudden, ‘Oh, is that right? Well, I know somebody in the motion picture business. What do you do? I said, ‘I make animated cartoons.’ ‘Oh,’ It was like saying, ‘I sweep up the latrines.’

While it is safe to say that animation is not viewed in nearly the same way now, there remains a whiff of it here and there. There are still plenty of people out there who look down on an artistic career with derision, or even pity.

There are plenty of examples out there of people who have worked hard and carved out a full career for themselves in animation. The shame is, the public at large were, and still are, surprisingly ignorant when it comes to the people who make their, often-times, favourite films.

Joe Murray On Balancing Art and Business

A short and sweet post today but that should not detract from it’s meaning. Over on his blog, Stephen M. Levinson has posted this great quote by Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life:

Most artists would just prefer to paint, draw, play, create all day without a thought of how they are going to pay the bills. But that is not reality. The trick is to pay the bills while keeping your individual spirit as whole as possible.

It’s an absolutely spot-on observation on how animators have to combine art with making a living. Joe should know, he’s been in the position of having to do it himself, and so far he seems to be doing OK for himself.

I know myself, when I graduated from university, no-one told me anything about running a business or even how to manage my money. Thankfully my uncle gave me one or two excellent books by Ric Edelman on how to keep basic tabs on your money and where it goes.

Finding a job in animation is tough, becoming a success is even tougher and being a continual success is near impossible, but it can be done. Having even a basic business knowledge can be a huge benefit, and the library is full of excellent guides and textbooks on business. You don’t need and MBA to be a success, so take Joe’s advice to heart, and learn how to balance your art and your bills. It might be a little painful now, but it will pay off in the long run.