When was the last time you sat down to watch television and didn't
see an advertisement for an animated feature film? In recent years, cartoons
have been a big hit on the big screen.
There seems to be a large number of producers tapping into a market that
had previously been at the disposal of a select few big-name production companies.
What has caused this rush to produce cartoon flicks and how long will they
continue to be in demand?
The Rise to Popularity
"They [production companies] started to see it was profitable," explains
Maureen Furniss. She is the editor of the Animation Journal. According to
Furniss, producers began to realize that Disney wasn't the only company who
could put together an animated feature.
But it's not only about how much money there is to be made. It's also about
how much there is to be saved.
"The lower-cost, higher-performance tools have let more people produce
animated features and shorts -- as opposed to a few well-funded major studios.
And the independent animated feature may cost less than the independent live-action
film," says Andy Johnson, a producer and animator.
"But even that is thrown upside down as...equipment gets better and cheaper."
Aden Rimbey of the Quickdraw Animation Society feels that cutting costs
is being taken too far in the production and animation industry. "Studios
will buy the equipment they need to get the film, then get cheap labor. They
are not paying as much for the craftsman who knows what he is doing."
Not only is there money to be saved in the animation industry, but there
is also a great deal of money to be made. Kung Fu Panda, an extremely successful
animated film, made $600 million in worldwide box office profits, for example.
As long as people continue to flock to movie theaters to see cartoons,
producers will continue to make them.
When computers first came on the animation scene, they were used to create
a few minutes of film footage. Now, they are being used to make an entire
full-length feature film. Advances in computer animation have given animators
the ability to make characters more lifelike and scenery that makes viewers
feel they are looking at a real place.
Some argue that technology is taking away from the creative process. Others
feel it provides more opportunities. Rimbey confesses that animators have
come to him saying "they feel more like a cog in a machine than an artist.
The creativity is still there, but artistic expression is not as expressive.
It is all the same."
Furniss, on the other hand, feels that technology provides "tons and tons
of opportunity," particularly when it is coupled with classic artistry. "There
are new techniques, plus a resurgence of interest in old techniques, such
as 3D models," Furniss says.
In bringing down the cost of animation production, technology has also
made it possible for smaller companies to compete with larger ones. Also,
according to Furniss, there is more being done at a student level. "There
is definitely growth," says Furniss. "Some major film festivals that were
held every other year now are being held annually."
Effects on Those in the Field
Johnson cautions that although jobs are available, this career is still
hard to break into. "It's who you know, not what you know, that is the determining
factor. There is growth opportunity for non-glamorous jobs, such as corporate
Even while creating jobs, the success of animation has caused a shortage
of positions in other sectors. Technicians and actors, for example, have fewer
openings available to them. "A lot of things are being taken over by the computer,
so there is a shift in available jobs," says Furniss. "People have to keep
up with the times."
The most noticeable change brought about by technology and the success
of cartoon films is that it has brought small production companies into an
arena that was once occupied by a few large companies. "I definitely see a
trend moving towards that," says Johnson. "Some of the larger houses are closing
or laying people off after a film is done."
Johnson says that "boutique studios," where one or two people with a few
computers do the work, are becoming more common.
Furniss feels that animators shouldn't discount what they can learn by
working with others. "Animation is an art and a craft. There are many things
Into the Future
With changes happening so rapidly in this industry, what might the future
hold for cartoon films?
Rimbey hopes that animators will look to the past for inspiration. "People
are going back to classical techniques incorporating the digital, because
they see the creativity that has been lost."
Furniss agrees that the focus should not be on technology alone. "They
[animators] need to work on traditional skills, like painting and modeling."
Could it be possible, with all the advances in computer technology and
television, that the movie theater will become obsolete? "I don't think so,"
says Johnson. "There is still the movie experience -- an experience you can't
get from the web or television."
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