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Max Howard ‘Up In The Air’ – On My Way Home from Australia

Another very long flight, this time coming back to the U.K. from Sydney, the land down under.

International Animation Consulting Group

Once again taking this opportunity to write my blog on behalf of International Animation Consulting Group from 35,000 feet somewhere over the Indian Ocean as I return from a week in Sydney, where I was working with a local animation studio on their five-year strategic plan.  Australia has long been a favorite destination for me and I enthusiastically agreed to take on the lengthy, twenty four-hour journey to spend a week in one of my favorite cities - Sydney.

I used to journey here as a young aspiring theatre director and producer, touring with various classical plays.  This time was a first for me wearing an animation hat.  Despite all the years I worked for The Walt Disney Company, my interaction with studio in Sydney was minimal and never involved my needing to make a visit.

As my flight travelled across Europe, the Middle East and India, I started trying to think about countries that did not have an animation community and thankfully, my list was a short one and then, I thought it’s perhaps because I have not found the studio, rather than it does not exist!

Yours truly, atop the Sydney Harbor Bridge. A tourist

attraction not to be missed.

Animation studios are to be found everywhere, providing a universal language of art, transcending countries and borders effortlessly, just as my flight plows ever forward (once through the arduous and lengthy security process that is!)  Animation has journeyed all over the world, creating employment and opportunity.  Recognized as a communication tool, which is second to none.  And because of this ability to communicate, animation is found at every turn.  Not just within wholly animated content but in every other facet of the media industry.

If you want to communicate, think animation from TV commercials to every film and TV program.  Look for animation and you will find it. 

I used to say, the animation camera goes to places where the live action camera cannot. That is no longer true, the live action filmmaker creates amazing worlds and takes us to places we had never thought possible but ironically, the live action filmmaker can only embark on these journeys if the animation community leads the way. 

On this trip downunder, I had met up with my dear friend and longtime colleague, Barry Cook.  A masterful leader and director, now at the helm of the live action / animated feature, ‘Walking with Dinosaurs 3D’.   In the film, Barry is bringing a world to the screen long lost to us.  Well, the world is still with us and the long lost creatures that will be roaming around are being lovingly recreated to astonish us and provide more than a glimpse of how our world used to be.  Perhaps in millions of years from now, future inhabitants of our fragile planet will be trying to decipher what we did to become extinct!  No doubt, they will be using animation to visualize it though!

This love of and need for, animation is providing opportunity all over the world and as I roll into that long flight hypnotic state, staring aimlessly at the flight map provided on the in flight entertainment system, watching the miles literally fly by, I look down on these countries I am travelling over and marvel at the extent animation has travelled and the influence it can have.

Even as I sat waiting for the plane to rumble down the runway and lift off laden with a full load of fuel, I had just watched the safety demonstration as a fully animated little film.  Designed not only to inform, but also to entertain.  Where was it made, who conceived it, how were those meetings with the airline executives.  It must have been such an interesting process balancing entertainment with very real information that each airline is required to provide to its passengers.  Anyway, the result was funny and informative and proved once again the power of animation.  Not that this airline was the first to use this approach, I had seen similar successful attempts but it was good to see that employment in our industry has reached the very plane I am traveling on!  These long journeys are also great opportunities to catch up on some of the movies I had not been able to see.  Amongst the films that have been entertaining me are ‘My Week With Marilyn’, based on Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier’s filming of The Prince and the Showgirl’.  As a Brit now transplanted to America it depicted a wonderful clash of acting styles and a terrific insight into their respective approaches.  I was so taken with the film, I then watched the film on which it was based.  Thoughtfully, it was available on the ‘classics’ listings.  After telling you that animation is to be found everywhere, I am not sure there was any in ‘My Week With Marilyn’.  But I bet there was something!

I also tucked into The Lorax, another lovely film from the team at Illumination and McGuff.   International teams working together to broaden the number of animated features being made and demonstrating that an audience doesn’t mind how many films are made each year.  As long as they are good, they will line up to buy a ticket.

With just seventeen films eligible animated feature films for the Oscar last year there is still plenty of room in the marketplace, when comparing the output to live action.  Last year there were over three hundred live action films eligible for the Best Picture Oscar and by comparison, little more than a couple of handfuls vying for the Animated Feature Oscar.  

It is this quest by many studios to build on their local success and create a story that will can transcend the local market and perform successfully that keeps us busy and me, ‘up in the air’! 

Heading off to India in a couple of weeks to check in on the progress of ‘Saving Santa’, a film I am serving on as Executive Producer.  The terrific team at Prana are providing the animation under the direction of Leon Joosen.  Then off to Russia and the unique KROK International Animation Festival where I am delighted to be attending for the second year, this time, as a jury member.

So, until the next time I am, ‘up in the air’! 

Max Howard