More of the Same

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Posted by Charles on November 05, 1999 at 23:45:45:

The following article was sent to me recently. I'm told that it appeared in the Los Angeles Business Journal on November 1st. It was written by Ann Donahue. To make my point more effectively, I'll include my comments in brackets.

"Big-Time Animators Get Entrepreneurial"

To look at their resumes, David Niles White and Ron Tippe seem like two guys who are deeply entrenched in big-name animation.

White produced the pilot for "South Park" and set up a digital animation studio for the show's creators. He then became top executive for digital animation at Film Roman, which produced "The Simpsons", "King of the Hill" and "Family Guy".

Tippe produced the animation for the movie "Space Jam" and has worked on projects with Dreamworks SKG, Warner Bros., Walt Disney Co., Universal Studios Inc. and Industrial Light and Magic. [Ok... so where does the writer get off on calling these guys "big-time animators"? What did they animate?]

But the very system that spawned White and Tippe also convinced them that the studio way of animation is too bogged down in expensive, time consuming projects.

White and Tippe recently founded Digital Character Group in Culver City, an animation studio that will focus on smaller digital animation projects for television, film and the Internet.

"Part of the good thing about having come from the big studio system, we learned how to fight the good fight," said Tippe, senior vice president for creative affairs. "If you go to any of the major studios with a good idea, it's going to take months to get an answer back. They have huge production pipelines, they have to take certain considerations legally, they are inundated with properties, and in house they have lots of properties of their own. To act on something, it's going to take a major studio a year and a half or two years. [Really?] We've made five deals in the past three weeks."

White and Tippe declined to elaborate on the projects they have underway, noting that a formal announcement of "some real fun stuff" is planned for Nov. 7. [Aw, c'mon guys. Don't keep us on pins and needles.] They are working on one feature film, two television projects, three Internet sites, a collaboration on a theme park and a series of commercials.

Tippe said the focus will be on smaller-budgeted projects, significantly less than the $100 million animated films produced by the majors. "We're lithe, and studios can't move on their feet quickly," White said. [You are lithe, but artists are lither.]

But other considerations may make it a rough road.

"In animation, there are only three things you've got to be worried about: distribution, distribution, distribution," said Jon Cantor, an attorney who works within the computer animation industry. "If they are going into the video and Internet market, they are going to have to get companies behind them that have distribution capabilities...and right now, the major studios are the ones that have that." [Someone should tell this expert about "Blair Witch". Besides, when was the last time anyone had to go to a major studio for permission to set up a web site?]

Cantor doesn't believe that focusing on small projects will be enough of a draw. "Unless they've got some technological widget that nobody else has, they're just going to to be just another house," he said. [What kind of house, counsel? Do you mean an animation brokerage house? Can an artist be officially classified as a widget?]

White said the company intends to rely on contacts at the majors for distribution. "We will still be distributed through the networks and the studios," he said. "We still have all those contacts that I made in television and Ron in film, and we intend to use them." [That's good to know. Stay in touch with the ol' gang. Maybe you'll get an answer within that 2 year time span you were talking about earlier.]

Another draw is the work atmosphere they are trying to create. Artists will have the option of coming to the studio to work or staying home and sending their work to the office via computer. [Gee, thanks. An artist free work environment in an animation studio. What a novel concept.]

"We don't believe in telling the artists "Here, draw this picture and when you are done, come back and draw another one for us," said White, president and executive producer. [Common ground. I'm in agreement. We don't believe in being told what to do anymore by people who can't draw to begin with.] "We've been very blessed with a lot of folks coming up to the door and telling us they're happy to leave the factory environment." [Yes, that is a blessing, isn't it. Jumping from the frying pan into the fire.]


I wonder when journalists are ever going to get around to talking to real animation artists about what's going on in this industry.

This is a perfect example of a point I've been pounding home ever since this web site went up - positioning. A new industry is emerging and the old one is in transition. Many studio executives, formerly a part of the old way, are setting up shop and thinking that things are going to be just like they were, only in smaller, comfy-dumfy work atmospheres, all the while conveniently ignoring one stategic element. You can set up all the animation companies you want, but it won't do you any good unless you've got yourself artists who know how to create content - and the future of new media will be content driven.

Even the non-creative entity sees the writing on the wall. If artists don't position themselves properly to compete in this new arena, we can expect the same old thing. An industry controlled by everyone else but us. Historic opportunities like what is going on in entertainment happen only once in a generation, if at all during that time span. For artists to see themselves as nothing more than work for hire labor for the non-artist start-ups that are beginning to appear, then we deserve what we get.

Nobody is better positioned than we are for the new media. Keep this in mind as you encounter those who need you much more than you need them.

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