Monday, December 24, 2007

Five Reasons Why These Are the Good Old Days


1-Because TV series animation jobs have been back in the United States since the mid 1990s and despite upstarts such as India, show no sign of disappearing. Maybe with the dollar so weak, this can continue unabated. We could be the third world nation doing outsourced animation for other countries! How cool is that.. wait, that doesn’t sound so great… anyway, as we stand today, men and women are actually earning a living as animators working on television series. This hadn’t happened for nearly a twenty-year period prior to the 1990s. Back then animation on shows such as Scooby Doo was outsourced, only allowing U.S. animation artists to work as designers, layout, and storyboard artists. New cheaper means of producing animation such as Flash, After Effects and Maya have made this revolution possible.

2-Because when an artist creates a character for a network (again, since the 1990s), that artist receives participatory series bonuses and a piece of the ancillary action. A Nickelodeon insider told me that one successful creator has earned between 150 to 200 million dollars this way. In contrast, Scooby Doo was created in 1969 by employees of Hannah/Barbera as a work-for-hire, who only earned a flat weekly salary for birthing this still-successful franchise. Today, many creators are not only retaining a percentage of he spoils, they own their characters outright. The internet has put a “TV network” in the hands of anyone that builds a Web site and splatters it with original content. When internet properties prove themselves with gigantic amounts of hits, real TV networks take notice, putting the power right back in the hands of the creators.

3-Because Ralph Bakshi’s legacy of taking animation to not strictly G-rated kiddie fare has finally taken root. Love it or hate it, Ralph’s films have expanded this art form’s vocabulary and helped diversify its audience. Today his influence can be seen in everything from Adult Swim’s line up to independent features daring to tread beyond the song cycle of Broadway. Bakshi’s early features such as Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic explored the social, political, and sexual revolution. Persepolis, the most important animated feature this year, owes a far bigger debt to Bakshi than it does to another milestone film that’s now celebrating it’s 70th birthday, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. Whenever anyone tackles a subject that was formally taboo to the animated medium, they are pulling a Bakshi. The art form is all the more healthy for it, unless you’d rather the Chub Chubbs inherit the earth.

4-Because animation artists are exchanging ideas and information with each other as never before, largely thanks to personal blogs, and Web sites such as cartoonbrew.com, michaelspornanimation.com, michaelbarrier.com., and frederator.com. In the 1970s, budding historians such as Jerry Beck, Michael Barrier, and Greg Ford hunted for animated films in garage sales and laid the foundation for a serious discussion of this industry’s history. Today a provocative post on cartoonbrew might score 150 posted comments in the first 24 hours. The community is not only larger than ever, but is also interacting as never before. Through personal artist blogs, we not only have the ability to take an intimate peak at great (and future great) animation artist’s thoughts and work, but also are treated to a tour of their network of artist pals.

5-Because so many of the artists that I respect most are venturing into independent feature films that, again, would not have been possible without the cheaper production technologies of today. In the upcoming years New York Independent animation may be well represented in the Oscar’s best-animated feature category. Don’t be surprised to see indy features by such directors as Michael Sporn, Nina Paley, Dan Kanemoto, Tatia Rosenthal, and Bill Plympton taking their place alongside Pixar, Blue Sky, and Dreamworks. The day of the independent animated feature is finally here and it’s future looks bright.

3 comments:

Tiki Rox said...

This is a really nice nod to the past as well as an uplifting look at things presently, and the future of things to come.

It's nice to know that all our hard work on these shows can literally be shown to our families with things like TiVo or DVR....we can literally rewind and say....look ma! I animated that. I gave that character life!

Cliff G. said...

Right-on, Dave! I couldn’t agree more. The ability to create and distribute one’s own work is upon us for the first time in the history of this medium like never before. The low cost / entry point dynamic of D.I.Y. animation will unleash a flood of creativity, experimentation, and opportunity that will recreate the animation industry. We’re at the fetal stage of nothing less than a revolution in the distribution and control of content.

Right now we can see the faint images of this revolution on sites like YouTube, but what happens when the quality improves? How much can Internet connection speeds go up? The compression codexes improved? What will video on the Web look like in a few short years? Will it all be in HD-like quality?

Only weeks ago, YouTube started offering revenue sharing to its more popular contributors. This, in part is a response to sites like Revver.com who split the ad dollars with contributors by inserting ads at the end of the videos. Imagine getting paid for posting your animated short? It’s happening, and the model will improve as demand for content grows. While we’ve gotten used to seeing videos online, we are just starting to see video on cell phones, iPhones, and Blackberrys. This market is actually far greater than the computer viewing market.

At the same time, the computer is merging with the living room TV. What happens when on-demand becomes de rigueur? Amazon is offering downloads through Tivo. Netflix is starting to offer many films for instant viewing. AppleTv connects to YouTube.com as well as offering its library of Hollywood films and TV shows through iTunes.

Today, any musician anywhere can offer their music through iTunes, even without a record label contract. How long will it be before we can offer our own films on iTunes without the “help” of a major distributor and upload directly to iTunes? Apple will probably move quickly into this space to head off any competitors.

Until now, we’ve had to ask permission to have our creations reach an audience. We needed the television networks to finance and broadcast our stories and characters, only to lose control of the ownership of the property and share a disproportionate sum of the merchandising licensing pie. The number of outlets was limited by big media companies, who decided whether the world would see our work. Roger Daltry of the seminal rock band The Who recently said it best: “The record companies thought they were Coca Cola. But look where they’re at now. In fact, we’re Coca Cola. They’re nothing more than a bottler.”

So how different is this from the broadcasting industry? Will they be undone by the leveling power of technology just like the record companies? The Internet has often times been likened to the wild west. I believe it’s going to get a lot wilder.

David B. Levy said...

good comments guys.. I think we shouldn't underestimate the broadcast and big biz companies though.. because they have a way of adapting to new business models... even if they are late to the party.

As it is now, the goal of any internet property is to break onto TV. When that changes, the model will truly be new.