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On Technique and Tweens: The Latest in Animation Trends

Charles Falzon, President of Gullane Entertainment, details the current trends in the animation business and warns to choose your animation technique carefully and never underestimate those tweens!

Charles Falzon.

From its earliest incarnation as simple drawings photographed in sequence to evoke a sense of movement, to the sophisticated rendering capabilities of today's computer generated imagery, animation has undergone significant progression and advancement fueled by both artistic and technical innovations. But whether it's the beautifully hand-drawn animation cels that come together to create the classic artistry of a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the cleverly crafted lumps of clay that tell the amusing tales of Wallace and Gromit, or the ingenious, albeit straightforward, presentation of Captain Pugwash in 3D, animation styles are often determined by the content and environment of the story it's trying to convey.

Is There Only CG?

While the latest hit animation series may fuel a number of similarly styled programs, such as the recent deluge of anime style series that are currently bombarding children's programming schedules, we at Gullane prefer to focus on the style of animation that is best suited to the property we are developing. However more often these days, we're seeing a shift from the Japanese anime style of animation (Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z) to more sophisticated computer generated imagery or CGI techniques.

Among the many benefits of CGI animation are reduced costs and efficient production schedules, not to mention the form's multi-dimensional abilities and lifelike textures, colors and properties. CGI also offers a flexibility to blend various animation styles with live-action, while also providing a sense of interactivity or connect-ability for the audience. CGI styles can range from the crisp, cold look of early video games and the futuristic look and feel of ReBoot, to the softer, warmer look and feel of Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs.

Advancing technologies and desktop workstations have combined to make CGI more affordable as well as more accessible. When you factor in broadcasters' decreasing licensing fees, reductions in advertising commitments and the consolidation of the licensing and merchandising marketplace, more affordable animation programming becomes increasingly attractive to producers.

The Tweens

But before jumping on the CGI bandwagon, today's animation producers need to consider the sensibilities of the property they are developing and the tastes and perceptions of their target audience. The children that comprise our audience are not only more sophisticated than previous generations, they are also uniquely connected to what their peers perceive to be hip or cool. And those perceptions change as quickly as the wind. That said, there is also the growing "tween" demographic group. These are the 11 to 14 year-olds that are being so expertly marketed to by the music industry. Picture the audience at an *NSync or Britney Spears concert and you've got a picture of this unique demographic group.

The added attraction of developing animation programming for this group is that if you can attract these 11 to 14 year-olds, their younger siblings come along for the ride. The challenge however, lies in the fact that it doesn't matter if your animation program is delivered via 3D CGI, traditional cel, model animation, claymation or any combination of the above.

What matters most to these kids is the story -- is it engaging, is it entertaining, is it real -- and whether or not they can relate to or care about the characters. We made the decision to use model animation in depicting the tales of Thomas the Tank Engine, for example, because it upheld the integrity of the original art contained in the published stories. Often, selecting an animation style that conveys a similar look and feel for a property first introduced in another medium, such as a storybook, will convey a sense of familiarity to the young viewer. Simpler forms of animation can also provide a greater focus on the story and characters, elements, which can often be overshadowed by CGI's special effects. Special effects may grab the attention of many young viewers, but special effects alone are not going to keep them watching. It is the connection to the story and characters that will convince them to come back.

What we have been able to determine, through extensive market research and focus group testing, is that this specific demographic group likes to laugh, especially at parents, teachers and other figures of authority. They also relate to a more modern family environment, with fallible adults and heroes that are often less than perfect. And the protagonist for every story needs to have some redeeming or at least interesting characteristic. One-dimensional characters, regardless of how they are animated, just don't make the cut.

Does This Make Sense?

There is also a fear among loyal cel animation proponents that CGI will eventually replace traditional forms of animation. While on the surface this may appear to be the case, I for one believe that the technology aids the advancement of all animation. Rather than replace traditional animation styles, CGI can be used to enhance the art form by combining hand-drawn character cels with computer-generated backgrounds or other applications of both forms.

So before you decide on which form of animation you'll use to tell your story, try to imagine your project in your mind. If the concept is culled from an existing toy or book, examine it in its original form and try to determine if a particular animation style lends itself to the property visually and/or seems like a natural fit. Does the concept have the capacity to play on more than one platform? Determine the overall brand strategy for the property and then try to ascertain which style of animation comes most naturally to the execution of that brand strategy. And above all, remember the golden rule that there are no rules.

Charles Falzon's career in the film and television industries began over 20 years ago in the Export Sales department for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. From 1977 to 1982, he was instrumental in expanding CBC's distribution reach, and played a key role in the formation of CBC Enterprises. After a successful term as Sales Executive with MCA International, Falzon moved to New York to join D.L. Taffner Limited as Vice President of International Operations. In this capacity, he managed the company's international distribution and co-production activity. In 1987, Falzon, together with a group of Toronto entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, formed Producers Group International, a diversified communications and studio facility company. As President of the entertainment division, Falzon was instrumental in establishing the company as a top producer and distributor. Four years later, in 1991, Falzon created Catalyst Entertainment Inc. Under Falzon's leadership as Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst established itself as a prominent Canadian production and distribution company both domestically and internationally. Today, Charles Falzon holds the position of Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst Entertainment, the founding Chairman of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, and is President of Gullane Entertainment, an international family entertainment studio, with interests in television, publishing, licensing and live events.