Monday, May 23, 2011

The Up Trend

And the Mojo notices:

... Including grosses from late 2010 movies Tangled and Megamind, animation has contributed over 12 percent of box office earnings so far this year. ...

Wrap your head around that for a minute.

A handful of animated features now accounts for over one-tenth of box office revenue. Compare this to a couple of decades ago, when animated features were sad little outliers that made a few bucks for Disney. Which the rest of the motion picture industry studiously ignored.

My, how the landscape has changed. Now, every conglomerate in the entertainment universe is clawing its way into the animation horse race -- Disney, Viacom, Universal, Time-Warner, Fox News Corp. The reasons' simple. In 2011, when you get an animated extravaganza that takes in $150 million during its domestic run, industry wisdom says that the movie has under-performed.

Take, for example, last year's Megamind, from DreamWorks Animation. It made $148.5 million stateside, and $25 million more than that total overseas. And a short while later, stock analysts rolled out to proclaim the film a "disappointment" and the reason they were downgrading DWA as a stock buy.

Not every animated feature is a major blockbuster, nor can be, given the varying quality levels of product. (We offer, as Exhibit Numero Uno, the Weinstein's sequel to Hoodwinked, which sat on the shelf for the better part of two years and is now in release because animated features are white hot as commercial entities. Happily, movie studios play odds, not certainties. And long-form cartoons are better bets than many features with live actors.)

Over the past two years, TAG's membership rolls have steadily grown. This isn't because our organizing has reached a fever pitch, or companies have gotten altruistic about "going union," or Southern California has recaptured all the overseas work. It's due to the fact that animation has become a safer bet for making money than most genres of live-action film. And so the labor market for artists, animators and technical directors trends ever upward.

Nobody, of course, knows how long this direction will last. California entertainment employment has changed a lot over the past five years. Live-action movies have shifted to other states and other nations. CGI work has mushroomed in India, New Zealand and other places. But the fact remains that L.A.'s animation work force continues to grow, and as long as the world's audiences keep flocking to the movies of Pixar/Disney, Blue Sky Studios, Illumination Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation, peak employment is not yet in sight.


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