ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 3.10 - January 1999


Executive Talk: 1999 Predictions

compiled by Heather Kenyon

As the Millennium approaches, we asked key industry figures to predict the trends, and biggest changes and events in animation that 1999 will see. The results were surprising. While animation is booming, a shift in the work load is coming. The future is looking bright for feature films, new technologies and co-productions, but if you are an artist working in animation in the US...you might want to brush up on another trade...

Max Howard. Photo courtesy of DreamWorks LLC.

Max Howard
Producer
DreamWorks SKG
In terms of the industry, I think we are going to see the continued use of animation with live-action films. In Titanic, the public has little idea that animation is such an important part of the film. They aren't aware of the animation talent behind the scenes, servicing the live-action industry.

As we go into the 21st Century, we are going to see animation used as a technique for storytelling diversity, rather than perceived as films for children only. This trend started awhile ago with films like Beavis and Butt-head Do America, but it is going to take longer for the public to realize the medium's expanded range. In 1999, a lot is going to happen to change this. More animated television programming is going to be made into feature films and that in itself is going to give us diversity for two reasons. One, animation will now have high-end and lower end fair, just as in live-action. Another is more adult animation programming will make itself to the big screen. This is really going to spur the on-going acceptance that animation isn't just for children. It is strange to speak of The Prince of Egypt and Beavis and Butt-head in the same sentence, they are only related because they share the same technique of involving animation, but they really demonstrate these trends. These films have different price points and are made to target different demographics but it is okay, they will all do well and if they do, that will give everyone confidence to diversify even more. That is what is so exciting about the future.

Marie-Line Petrequin. Photo courtesy of Igel Media.

Marie-Line Petrequin
Managing Director Animation & Development
Igel Media
It is highly interesting to see how children's programming and children's channels develop worldwide in such different ways due to the different conditions in the media and politics of each country. 1999 will tell us more about this issue. 1999 will also reveal the challenge of Fox launching The Boyz Channel and The Girlz Channel. To me, this promises to be one of the most interesting events we will experience in 1999. Until now, there has been the observation that boys watch more TV and that they are the ones with the remote under their control. Now we may finally have the chance to learn more and find out if this is true. It also seems that anime has a chance in many countries and with different target groups. Also, neglected animation techniques are becoming "in" again. With this artistic trend, animated features and shorts are gaining popularity and interest from broadcasters. This is a counterpoint to the last years where there was a huge need for long-running, half-hour series for 8-14 year olds. Europe has become competitive in the world market and there will hopefully, be a big exchange of programs, selling as well as buying.

Sander Schwartz. Photo courtesy of Columbia TriStar Television.

Sander Schwartz
Executive Vice President and General Manager
Columbia TriStar Television Children's Programming
The biggest change in the animation industry in 1999 will be a stronger trend toward producing more and more elements of television animation outside of the United States. Presently, virtually all television animation production work is performed in Asia, primarily in Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, China and the Philippines. However, given the expansion of the business and the intense competition for animation talent, the costs of producing the pre-production elements have risen dramatically, and as a result, much of that work is beginning to migrate to Canada and overseas, to take advantage of greater cost efficiencies and lower wage scales.

An additional factor contributing to this trend is the continued fragmentation of audiences for network, cable and syndicated television programming in general, and for television animation in particular. While the number of animated shows has increased due to the increased number of distribution outlets, the fragmentation of the audience has put strong downward pressure on license fees at the same time. As a result, producers must find ways to produce ever more distinctive programs to garner an audience with dwindling revenues to finance the production. Twenty years ago we saw animation production move overseas to take advantage of lower costs in order to meet the realities of a changing marketplace. Today, we are seeing pre-production move in the same direction -- out of the country. This represents a significant change in the way we produce our shows, and the effects of this change will be felt by the indigenous industry next year, and for many years to come. It will affect the quality of our shows, and the livelihood of the talent pool of animators working to produce it within the U.S.

Bertrand Mosca. Photo courtesy of France 3.

Bertrand Mosca
Responsible for Children's Programming
France 3
(Also available in French.)
1999 will be marked by a profusion of animation programs, even more innovative and fascinating. Animation, in full bloom on a global scale, has offered over the last years a competitive bidding of quality, whether on the level of concepts, graphic style or technical feats.

At France 3, where our time devoted to children's broadcasts is unfortunately not too extensive (22 hours weekly), we enjoy an embarrassing number of choices to feed our programming needs, in both our role as a purchaser when we stroll the aisles of international trade fairs, and as the European leader in the production of animation. I can only rejoice at this state of affairs that obviously permits us to diversify our broadcast offerings more and more.

The novelty of 1999 will be above all the common appearance on all French channels of a recent animation genre: the multi-targeted comedy series, one which addresses itself to a new tendency and from now on occupies a place on the broadcast schedule of France 3, with such shows as Space Goofs, The Razmokets, and soon Catdog, Dumb Bunnies, Oggy and the Cockroaches... Other new directions tested out in 1998 will prove themselves and become generally available in 1999, notably 3D animation with improved potential, combining new technical skills with fresh scripting concepts.

One of the great events of 1999 will be the Annecy Festival, which will be attended by Japanese producers, who are Guests of Honor. This meeting of France and Japan could cement a rough exchange of expertise in the realm of animation. The big sale of 1998 was one of our co-productions, The Misfortunes of Sophie, which moreover presages a possible further collaboration between our countries.

In 1999 France 3 will continue to support international animation production, and quite particularly European animation, which continues to strengthen its image. It is by paying attention to animation worldwide that we can offer our television viewers the best programs.

Brad deGraf. Photo courtesy Protozoa Inc.

Brad deGraf
President
Protozoa Inc.
From the performance animation perspective, we're seeing a major increase in the development of shows utilizing live CG characters, driven primarily by the maturity of the medium and its acceptance among producers and writers. Because of the relatively rapid production process, we expect to see that development actually result pretty quickly in shows on the air.

In addition, because there is a growing experience base with the process, we expect higher quality shows and ideas, as well as a wider variety of formats and approaches. More specifically, multi-character storytelling, as opposed to simple virtual host uses, is a direction that will move the process into more mainstream acceptance.

We also see the Web as a powerful tool for building audiences outside of the normal, slow process of development for television. Since the architecture of the Web can be very 3D friendly (and we expect it to be this year), 3D characters should spread easily in that environment.

Toper Taylor. Photo courtesy of NELVANA Communications, Inc.

Toper Taylor
President
NELVANA Communications, Inc.
1999: More Exhibitors, More Productions, More Adult Programs
There are more U.S. kids channels being launched in 1999, creating a whole new demand for programming -- which should mean continued economic growth for NELVANA both in production and library placement. These new services are relying heavily on the last of the virgin libraries -- such as CTW's Sesame Street on Noggin, and the Henson/Hallmark libraries on Odyssey. That means existing services will begin feeling the pinch for programming in 1999 -- Nickelodeon, for example, will lose the last of the Warner Bros. library as it goes to the Cartoon Network. This is great news for intellectual property creators, such as NELVANA, around the world. Now all we need is the economic outlook in the foreign marketplaces to improve so co-productions become more financially viable in 1999; both Germany and Asia collapsed as strong co-production territories in 1998, due to Nickelodeon's retreat from the major European territory and the economic crisis in Asia respectively.

Traditional broadcast networks will launch more prime-time animation than ever before in its history as executives realize that cartoons are not a novelty, but rather a popular artform that can deliver ratings success and help differentiate one network from another. Some will fail, but ratios of successes to failures will certainly out perform live-action, so the boom in adult animation will not wane.

Istvan Erkel
Marketing Manager
Varga Studio
Although I am not really good at making predictions, I still think I can safely forecast an exciting year for all of us working in the animation industry. 1998 has been a pivotal year in animation. The current boom has reshaped audiences' perception of animated programs, hence the growing amount of animated television programs, home videos and even feature films.

In 1999, the biggest change will be in the field of feature films. The success of recent features will prompt other studios to enter this facet of the market. Rugrats proved that relatively low budget films based on successful TV series can have a significant piece of the cake as well. I also expect additional CGI features and even TV series. We will probably see even more animation on television, and the direct-to-video market will continue to grow as an increasing number of families buy tapes while the market potential is still unfulfilled.

The growing number of television channels, however, means that there are very few channels now that can finance a production by themselves. Even American companies are turning toward other areas (mainly Europe) to co-finance their needs. As big studios are forced to cut back on their overheads, subcontracting and co-production will be even more important in the future.

The absolutely overwhelming amount of animation may, however, carry some great danger in itself. Mediocre products are flooding the market and audiences could turn away from animation. It is a clear warning that must be listened to, as ultimately, it is the customer who decides the future of the animation industry.

Ron Rocha. Photo courtesy of DreamWorks LLC.

Ron Rocha
Co-head of Feature Animation and Associate Producer of The Prince of Egypt
DreamWorks SKG
Because 1998 was the year of successful animation with films like Mulan, Antz, A Bug's Life, and The Rugrats Movie, the animation market is going to be looked at in a completely different way in 1999. The wide variety of these successful films guarantees an even greater variety of films in the future. We are not going to be seeing only the typical fairy tales. Animated features will change both artistically and storywise.

For us at DreamWorks, as we move forward we are really going to be concentrating on further integrating traditional animation with computer generated animation. We made a great start with The Prince of Egypt, making the CG blend so seamlessly to create environments and worlds with more depth and which allowed the camera to move how it has never been able to move before. Animation has always been limited to the movement of the camera. However, now with technological advances, we can move the camera more like in a live-action film. In fact, we can move beyond live-action in cinematography, lighting and shading due to the natural progression of technology. Computers are processing faster and are cheaper. Combine that with amazing, creative software developers and that is going to produce some never-before-seen effects. This will add a sense of realism and heighten the tension and storytelling possibilities in the fantasy worlds that we create in animation.

Claude Berthier. Photo courtesy of Toon Factory.

Claude Berthier
Chairman
Toon Factory
I think there are two changes taking place in the world of animation that will start to make a difference in 1999. First, over the last few years we have seen takeovers in the US market which mean that the major broadcasters now have their own animation studio in the same group. ABC with Disney and DIC; CBS with Nelvana; Family Channel and Fox with Saban; leaving only NBC, who does not do animation, unattached. Where does this leave the US independents? Trying to get a syndication deal which doesn't add anything up front to their production budgets.

The independent studios must continue and strengthen the trend toward international co-production with Europe and specifically with France, the strongest country in this domain. In a well structured co-production, Toon Factory for example can bring 50% of the production budget to the table.

The second change will be the consolidation of exploitation means. We have long seen the coordination of a cartoon series launch with a corresponding toy line. We have not yet seen the simultaneous launch of a cartoon concept with CD-Rom and video game as the basic commercial props. I think this must be the next step as the technical link here is even stronger than between cartoons and toys.

Heather Kenyon is editor-in-chief of Animation World Magazine.


Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.


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