Sunday, October 27, 2013

The New John Lasseter*

Guess who?

"Titan A.E.'s failure was the price of admission for the rest of my career," admits Chris Meledandri, the founder and CEO of Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind one of the year’s biggest successes, Despicable Me 2, which is poised to clear $900 million worldwide.

"Looking back, I don’t know if it was a blessing or a curse that I didn’t get fired," he said, speaking Saturday at the Visual Effects Society's annual summit at the W Hollywood. "It was very painful and very lonely. [Colleagues] think failure is contagious. On the flip side, I had lived terrified of failure." ...

Addressing the volatile state of the industry, he warned that the animation community "releases too many films and there’s not enough room. They are going to cannibalize each other; we are already seeing that. We are also competing against the big live action films." ...

To face these challenges Meledandri asserted that "quality storytelling is our only safety net."

"It starts with characters, and audiences leaving the theater feeling a bond with the characters," he said. "We start with strong characters and build the movie from there. That not to say we don’t struggle with story — that’s the most challenging part." ...

Meledandri hits on an obvious point about animated features: successful producers build out from the characters who populate the piece. And if the characters are ciphers in the underlying material being adapted, they had better damn well be un-ciphered. This was true of the dwarfs in Snow White, the mouse and elephant in Dumbo, and the dogs in 101 Dalmations. Also true of the leads in Toy Story, the zoo animals in Madagascar, the ogre in Shrek. If the characters aren't compelling, you are mostly nowhere. (Plot is generally secondary.)

Woolie Reitherman explained it to me thirty-five years ago: "You don't have a movie star putting this stuff across, Steve. You have a drawing. So you better damn well have the drawing doing something interesting, and being interesting." ...

True then. True now. (Even if the drawings have become CG images.)

As to how many animated features released in a calendar year are too many, I don't really have an opinion one way or the other. Probably it's a good idea not to release a cartoon every other week, but short of that, I don't know. When you have a movie people want to come and see, they'll come and see it. Nobody ever says: "All these damn live action movies are cannibalizing each other!"

This season, audiences were interested in seeing yellow minions and Pixar monsters, but not DreamWorks snails. Go figure.

*As John Lasseter was the new Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Jeffrey Katzenber was the new Walt Disney, etc., etc. ...

3 comments:

David said...

"he warned that the animation community "releases too many films and there’s not enough room. They are going to cannibalize each other; we are already seeing that."


I totally disagree that the animation community "releases to many films" . The problem is in what he points out in the next sentence : most of the mainstream animated films being made "cannibalize each other" . It's not that too many films being made , it's that too many of the films are the SAME type of film , same story structure, same stock set of characters , same approach to character development and acting .

Steven Gordon said...

The "too many animated films" comment needs to be more specific. Maybe too many animated films that are released are "family films" targeting the exact same audience. Just as if there are too many action/adventure live-action films released in a short period of time they also fight for the same audience.. When this type of thing happens it's not even guaranteed that the best one (or the one with the most compelling characters) will always win. Sometimes it's just the first one released after a drought or the one that has the best ad campaign...
Good doesn't always translate into the biggest audience.
If animation can survive with numerable features in a short time period it will have to follow the "live-action model" and not all be the same basic picture for the same basic audience.

Steve Hulett said...

I've always felt that saying there are too many animated films is a cop out.

Sure, if you have five animated features back to back with wise-cracking animals, that might be a couple more than you really need. But as I say in the piece, NOBODY ever whines that there are too many live-action films.

If you have different animated features of different types, people will come to see the ones they like, no matter how crowded the field. Gravity is mostly an animated film (though media numbskulls shrink from calling it what it is), and we can all agree it's doing really, really okay at the world box office.

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