Editor's Notebook: May 1997
Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate student, I volunteered to transcribe an oral history interview with Hans Richter, one of the pioneers of European avant garde cinema, whose career dated back to the 1920s. One of the comments that stuck with me all these years was about an offer he had to make an advertising film. As he considered himself first and foremost an artist, he refused. Later, after seeing the resulting film, he was so delighted that he changed his mind towards working on such films.
Today, with the likes of Spike Lee making commercials, the specter of selling out has long since vanished; this has been especially so for animators, as early on advertising films became an integral part of the animation mainstream. Thus, the commercial studio run by Julius Pinschewer in pre-Nazi Germany was certainly one of the most important in that country's animation history, employing the likes of such artists as Oskar Fischinger, among others; Fischinger, in turn, supported his experimental work by working on commercials, including the first one to employ marching cigarettes (well before Lucky Strike did in the US in the early years of TV). (The key role advertising films have played in helping establish animation in Norway is vividly illustrated elsewhere by Gunnar Strøm's discourse on "Fumes From the Fjords.")
In the United States, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) probably had his professional introduction to animation via advertising films, long before his books were adapted to the screen and he wrote the original story for Gerald McBoing-Boing. With the coming of television, commercial studios liberated many animators from dependence on a few theatrical studios as their almost sole source of employment; in fact, spot houses came to dominate the New York animation industry in the 1950s. It was an era when such studios as UPA and Hanna-Barbera set up major commercial operations and which is still looked upon as a Golden Age of American Animated Commercials.
Today, with the worldwide toon boom going on apace, commercials no longer play as dominant a role in the global animation community; nevertheless, it remains a fertile ground for creativity. In the US, this can be seen by increasing use of independent animators and designers by such companies as The Ink Tank, J.J. Sedelmaier, Klasky Csupo, Duck Soup and Acme Filmworks. At the same time, digital studios like Blue Sky and Rhythm & Hues use their commercials as a means to push the boundaries of CG animation. With the proliferation of new TV channels around the world, many of whom are advertiser supported, animated commercials would seem to have a very long life ahead of them.
With this issue, I am stepping down as Editor of Animation World Magazine to devote more time to various personal projects, including The Animation Report, the industry newsletter I edit and publish. It is not a decision I took lightly, as editing Animation World Magazine has been a wonderful experience, which enabled me to both explore the heady possibilities of publishing on the Internet, as well as establishing an exciting new journal of news and opinion.
Before departing, I would like to offer a few observations about Internet publishing. When I was first approached about this assignment in late 1995, the conventional wisdom held that none of the old rules for putting together a print magazine really applied to online journals. After all, given the nature of computers, readers probably had little tolerance for articles of more than a few hundred words. Needless to say, we ignored this sort of opinion and realized that Internet publishing gave one the freedom to publish longer articles without having to worry about printing costs. (As it turns out, the most popular article in the first issue was Barry Purves' "The Emperor's New Clothes," a delightful essay on computer vs. stop-motion animation, was one of the longest we ran in our early months.