What A Year! What A Future?
I don't think we will see another year like 1998 for a long time. What has made this year so spectacular, besides the expansion of animation into primetime television, has been of course the feature films. The Herculean competitive efforts between the major animation studios that produce these films have pushed the medium to new levels -- and not just artistically and technically, but also in the public's eye. The Prince of Egypt is commendable for presenting a difficult, complex subject using animation and was the perfect film for the year's finale. It is a testament to the fact that, 'Yes indeed, animation has grown up.' It is no longer a medium to tell only children's stories and fairy tales or be confined to television. In fact, I heard someone the other day at a theater call the film a "cartoon" and I thought it sounded strange! I know it is a cartoon, and there is nothing wrong with cartoons, but the recent string of animated features seem to demand a grander title due to their contributions to our industry.
While animation is earning the respect it deserves on the big screen, several of our articles mentioned a few troubling trends on the little screen. The fragmentation of audiences across a wide number of channels is reducing the amount of revenue available to produce shows. Meanwhile, cable continues to expand with channels like HBO Family and the beefing up of the Odyssey cable channel. In "Executive Talk: 1999 Predictions," Sander Schwartz relates what could be a very scary course for many U.S. animation artists. With lower budgets and sky-rocketing pre-production costs, pre-production could start to move outside of the United States in significant amounts. Today, it is a luxury if television programs get to do layouts here in the States -- could more phases of pre-production be moving to studios in Asia, Canada and Europe? This could lead to great opportunities for artists in these regions, but it will be ironic if in the future the U.S. has a very small number of television animation artists because our corporations have created a system of fragmentation in the hopes of competing for a profit. Indeed, it will be even more ironic if savvy U.S. viewers stop watching the programming due to lower production standards.
The fragmentation of audiences also brings about a globalization of shows. A recent example of this is Bob and Margaret, which is being shown on three networks in three countries simultaneously, with each pitching into the budget. Part of me likes this a lot. Let's see some new, interesting different programming from other countries. However, it does create a sort of disturbing global culture. Just the other day, I was discussing with Derek Lamb the future possibility of children watching the same cartoons on worldwide networks. Will this lead to the extinction of individual cultures and storytelling techniques? Something to ponder as we approach the year 2000 with an army of satellites and a narrowing number of media conglomerates with global reach...
In 1999 you will be seeing some changes in Animation World Magazine. Every month we will focus on a region that supports the theme of the magazine. So, for instance, the stop-motion February issue will have a special focus on the U.K. city of Bristol. We will also be featuring more, shorter reviews of new books and television shows, as well as films on the festival circuit.
This is also the first issue that Amid Amidi has taken on the complete duties of Associate Editor. Amid comes to us as the Publisher/Editor/Designer of the magazine and web site, Animation Blast. Don't worry Blast fans -- the Animation Blast will continue. We are all confident that with his fresh insight and background, Amid is going to be a valuable addition to our staff. We were sorry to see Wendy Jackson leave after making a significant, almost three year, contribution to Animation World Network. She has moved on to a life of freelance writing and publicity work. She will also pursue teaching. We wish her great success in the future.
Happy New Year and Until Next Time, Heather