Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tiny Budget Toons

We've got the mega-budget, gigantor-grossing animated features like Wall-E, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and then we've got the wannabe features big-footed cartoons further down the budgetary ladder where they squeeze every nickel:

"("Igor" Director Anthony Leondis) wanted to have lots of costume changes for one character," says [executive producer Max] Howard, and that would have involved lots of extra animation the budget could ill afford, so a compromise was struck. The character's clothes do change a lot, "but it's just changing the textures on the same shapes. It's a clever way to get the costume changes and keep in the budget," Howard explains.

What's amazed me is the number of indie animated features now being done. There were thirty-five being peddled -- at thirty-five different price points -- in this year's American Film Market here in Los Angeles, and I'm thinking those numbers will be going up in future years.

I mean, how could they not? There's a worldwide thirst for these kinds of films, and though the standards keep rising, the talent and ingenuity at making them seem to rise along with the numbers of films being made ... if not the sizes of the budgets.

When one of the lower-cost indies breaks out, which will undoubtedly happen sooner or later, the creative universe will change in both good and bad ways.

In the meantime, Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky Animation appear to have locks on high-line, higher grossing animated features.


Anonymous said...

Good for them! More players in the markets, big and small, makes for a much healthier business long term. Animation is maturing! And it keeps those who dominate with their monopolies on their toes with competition. We all know what happens when an industry is reduced to just 'The Big Three.'

Anonymous said...

there was a break out indie film a couple of years ago. Hoodwinked. done for about 15M and grossed over 50M domestic alone. Animation was terrible but the story was good and the characters funny so it was still a success.

Fred Seibert said...

Not for nothing Steve, but "wannabe features"? Not fair, I think. If the film is produced, there's nothing wannabe about it.

Steve Hulett said...

"Wannebe features"? Not fair, I think...

Point taken. How about "wannabe ginormous hit"?

Anonymous said...

How about "Who Cares?" Max Howard wouldn't know how to produce a good film if it bit him in the arse.

Anonymous said...

Wannabe is an appropriate word. There are many studios who are wannabes. They want-to-be like the big three.

The reality is that most wannabes will fail and in the end after the dust settles you will still end up with the usual suspects that exist now. This is not about keeping the leading studios on their toes with competition its about creating quality period.

This is a business its not about making art. This isn't art for art sake. The bottom line is the bottom line and thats what it should be. We live in a free market capital system creating quality goods and services to make money. You either suceeed or you fail. It doesn't matter whether its a big studio or a wannabe you need to create quality but maintain it as well. Of course you need to have the viewing public to not only view your project but embrace it. You have to have your pulse on society. You have to be a purveyor of taste and maintain it.

A studio is only as good as their last project it doesn't matter how many successes or awards it has achieved in the past, thats in the past. It doesn't matter about the legacy of a studio. What are you doing right now today. Its one thing to achieve success its another to maintain it.

The only problem that I have with the leading studios is the fact that so many in leadership positions like directors, art directors, writers and producers who have been with their respective studios for so long some having spent their entire careers that you end up with group speak. There are no fresh ideas. Its too incestuous. Even folks in digital leadership positions like CG supervisors, digital supervisors and VFX supervisors who determine project conventions, processes and workflows and pipelines its all group speak.

I would rather have a person who has worked at many companies instead of just one. Depth and breadth of experience is important.

If the leading studios have a regular churning of people in leadership roles they can not only achieve success but maintain it. Just because a person was successful in the past doesn't mean they will be in the future.

Time will tell as to which studios are successful and who fails. I predict there will be some studio closures. This is a good thing. I would rather have fewer stronger successful studios than many unsuccessful studios. It doesn't make sense for a studio to remain just so people have jobs. A studio needs to be viable.

MBP said...

"We live in a free market capital system creating quality goods and services to make money."

A free market is no guarantor of a quality product - nor of good business practice. Not in animation, not in anything.

Back to basics - all you actually need to be a successful studio is to make payroll & draw some kind of profit. Tell a good story and people will want to hear it. Everything else, including medium, is secondary.

Anonymous said...

I never said that a free market means or guarantees quality if you go back and read my post I said the purpose of the free market is to make money.

In order to make money a business has have a product or service that people want to pay for.

In the case of an animation studio their objective is to make a quality product that people like and will pay money for.

When you say its back to basics tell a good story and people will want to hear it. Who is to say if its a good story or not. Just because a story is good to you doesn't mean the public agrees.

A successful movie is not determined by critics or how fresh it is on rotten tomatoes or input from preview screening audiences its determined by the public.

Making a successful movie is very difficult. You have to second guess what people like.

Achieving success is difficult, maintaining it is even more difficult.

MBP said...

I stand by my original assessment.

Not every story is going to appeal to everyone, but if you (speaking generally, not anyone specifically) don't know a good, solid, well structured story from a bad one then you don't belong in the story business.

Moreover, using "What will sell the most" as the departure point for writing a story is not just cynical, but a great way to write a mediocre story.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Magpie that from a basic standpoint if a person doesn't know how to put a story together then they don't belong in the business.

I am not being cynical by suggesting that folks use the criteria of what sells the most as a requisite of a good story. First off thats impossible to know and second you would never base you creative decisions on that criteria. The only thing writers and directors can do is what they feel is a good story that enough folks in the public agree with their creative decisions and make the movie a success. You want to make a movie that you feel will reach a wide appeal with the public.

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