Comment of the Day: New Markets in Animation Comment of the Day: New Markets in Animation
Comment of the Day

Comment of the Day: New Markets in Animation

Yesterday we looked at new and emerging markets in animation. One commenter, Mike Rauch of the Rauch Brothers, was just as excited as I was, and calls this paradigm shift in animation “as big a deal as Gutenberg’s printing press.”

He writes:

I couldn’t agree more, Amid. A clearly new and fundamentally different avenue for storytelling is opening up. Some people write it off, citing projects that are all hype and no substance. There is plenty of that– old stuff painted up to look new and gimmicks with no real value. However, people with creativity and an open mind have a chance to help forge new paths.

We have to let go of the desire to create media that’s strictly meant for a passive audience. There will still be room for that, but interactivity is opening up brand new possibilities. That’s part of why I’m considering going back to school for a graduate degree in Interaction Design.

By actively engaging their audience through interaction, animation directors have the chance to make media that can connect more deeply with the audience through an immersive experience. The audience can become part of the story, moving it forward and perhaps even taking some role in guiding its development.

Interactive media also creates the opportunity for animators to tell bigger stories without having to produce a half hour TV show or a feature. The story can unfold across several media platforms, or through a combination of forms (writing, video, illustration).

I think this kind of storytelling will require interdisciplinary teams– information architects, graphic designers, programmers, animators, interaction designers, writers, sound designers, user experience designers, and so on. It’s going to take time to discover the possibilities. There will be lots of missteps. But this is something I think about almost every day and am really, really excited about. This is as big a deal as Gutenberg’s printing press.

This video has some interesting thoughts about new stories to tell:

  • It’s neat to see interactive music videos on the rise (& sometimes outside the 4:3 or 16:9 ratio) like the Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown video, or this new one from Au Revoire Simone:

    • Tom, Wilderness Downtown ( is a PERFECT example! My wife showed that to me originally. For those who haven’t seen it, it combines video footage with a Google street view of your childhood neighborhood. My wife was sitting with me while we watched. At the end you’re prompted to type a letter to your childhood self. My wife typed the letter to my past self as a message from her. I was so touched by the message she wrote that I teared up. A music alone never would have done that. But through bringing me in a personal way, the video upped it’s impact to a 10.

      Through interactivity the story got bigger. It became about me, my wife, our life together. It became more personalized, more powerful, and therefore more memorable.

  • Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like entertainment that requires interaction beyond hitting the PLAY/PAUSE FOR PEE button, and maybe dozing a little. I just want to sit there and watch while it does stuff. Is “interactive entertainment” really the future?

    • amid

      Frank, taking the time to write a comment on a blog doesn’t exactly help your argument that you don’t like interacting with your entertainment.

      In any case, kids born today have a much different relationship with technology than those who are over the age of 25. Animation is evolving in step with our relationship to technology.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Probably why people like me do find it a little hard to grasp this concept when all we had was simple storybooks to turn the pages by hand!

      • How about those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books? I had a dozen of those things. But I never enjoyed them as much as a good book.

        Between The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy and the “Text Adventure” version on the computer I think I preferred the book. I never could figure out what I had to type to get the babel fish in my ear.

      • i always loved the idea of choose your adventure books but i didnt like how the authors treated them. its always been referred to as a gimmick because nobody really wants to put the effort into them.

        honestly, i think interactive storybooks have potential to be really interesting if anyone’s willing to try.

  • Joris

    For me it seems that with interactive media, a sense of well balanced rhythm seems to get lost. You know, the feeling you have when having the right cut with the right camera angle at the right time.

    Funny enough, I have the feeling that the more interactive the media, the less you can empathize with the story. I think it’s the abstract relation between a spectator and a story is what makes it work.
    It almost seems like the “uncanny valley parabola”. The more realistic something gets, the less you can connect to it.

    A passive spectator is way easier to manipulate, and I think that’s the essence. Make your audience feel like they’ve just been through the most intense journey, even though all they did was sitting in a dark room while light being projected on a big screen.

    • joe micallef

      Storytelling at it’s essence is an interactive art form. In its post-industrial state, cinema is less so. But we are returning the art form to a nascent state: the story teller gauges the audience – and augments the story based on the spectator’s reaction (or lack of). The best stories are those that capture the imagination through direct human-to-human contact. This is where the art form is heading. Don’t get me wrong: I love going to the movies, but the best stories (in my opinion) are the ones told by friends and family, passed down through the generations. And why are they passed down? Because, the engagement was strong enough to be considered valuable. So, the best audience is not a passive one, but an engaged one.

  • member of passive audience

    As an animator I am excited about these new markets, as a consumer I am bored to death.
    I don’t think true artistic creation with substance and emotional depth goes well with interactivity, only very infantile one does. Even if you make a puzzle game out of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers – the image kinda loses its point. I think the marketers of this new trend try to picture the “passive” audience as “lazy”, while in my view one can’t be very appreciative and receptive if one just waits for the chance to interfere.

    (And writing comments is a very different kind of fun than manipulating pieces of artwork.)

    • joe micallef

      There are two definitions to passive:

      1. not reacting visibly to something that might be expected to produce manifestations of an emotion or feeling

      2. not participating readily or actively; inactive

      (I hate being the guy listing definitions – any can google this…)

      I think Joris was describing number 2.

      But as a story teller I want neither. I want a reaction, and I want participation.

      Participation has a broad scope: it can be a simple “ohhh” or “ahhhh” or can be a get-out-of-your-seat ebullience.

      At its most fundamental level, it’s what Norm Hollyn calls the “Lean Forward Experience.”

  • You’re commentary still doesn’t deal with the discrepency between the amount of profit between the “new” animation world and the “old” one. Unless you’re a teenager practicing Flash out of your mother’s home, you can’t make a profit on this new media. Budgets keep coming down.

    • amid

      Animated theatrical shorts operated on tight margins during the Teens and Twenties when the art form was in its infancy and the money wasn’t there. It takes time for any industry to take off. The artists at the London creative agency Bold Creative, who created the animation for “The Heart and the Bottle” iPad book, weren’t working out of their mom’s homes and likely made a decent salary working on the book. There’ll be many more such examples in the coming years.

      • This is a problem professionals in nearly every form of media are working toward solving. Some are failing, some are succeeding. My sense is that we’re at the brink of a shift where models for real success will begin to be more and more plentiful.

        I can’t say I’m a fan of the content, but these folks seem to have figured out how to make a profit: Red vs. Blue, Homestar Runner.

        There’s nothing saying the content has to be ugly or banal though. The door’s open for people to do something better. Take Simon’s Cat for example.

        For some good thoughts on what people will be willing to pay for, it’s worth reading Kevin Kelly’s Better Than Free. It’s not easy, and our traditional ideas about how to make money may not serve us as well in the future, but it is possible to make a profit.

      • I’m not surprised Homestar Runner has done well. HR’s animation isn’t great, but HR had a very fruitful creative period around 2002-04, when the Strong Bad Emails were in full force. Personally, I like HR, though its humour can be esoteric at times.

        Teen Girl Squad, Trogdor, Limozeen, Stinkoman 20X6 and Homsar, among others, came from the sbemails. I guess that’s a point for interactivity, in that Homestar Runner likely wouldn’t be what it is without sbemails becoming the jumping-off point for HR’s many spinoffs.

  • I see a great many people obsessively interacting with technology. It doesn’t get me excited other than in terms of where the money can be made through the increased outlets for my silliness. After recently deciding to aim directly for the common denominator I am all in favour of ‘interdisciplinary teams… information architects… interaction designers’ and in no way do I find those terms ostentatious… or, maybe just a little… not quite so bad as ‘refuse disposal operatives’ but you catch my drift

    Bring on the future… in my heart I am a luddite… in my role as mortgage repayer I am a chancer… sorry… prospective ‘information architect’

  • not news…video games have been around for decades

  • After seeing the Studs Terkel animated Storycorps segment for the first time today ( ) the opinion of one of the Rauch brothers has a lot more weight.

    Brilliant work.

  • The Gee

    Oh, Are they?


    Interactivity as a method is being played out in video games, like Barbara stated.

    There’s nothing new about that. In fact, quite often games are something which accompanies animated shows on various network’s and studio’s websites. So, those things are being made and have been since back when there was an interactive Quicktime movie of Johnny Bravo where you could choose-his-adventure.

    Being Engaging is probably the oldest form of interactivity.

    I get what new toys can be made, and with there being (yet another) attempt to Web TV-ize television, there will be attempts at getting more people involved with their entertainment beyond voting for some song or dance competition.

    But, that “Wilderness Downtown” video….it was like it was 1999 all over again. My guess is more people saw that now because back in 1999 when a lot of interactive entertainment was being put out fewer people saw those examples because they thought only geeks used the internet.

    Popularity on the internet doesn’t instantly translate into minting money. People want to think that it does. Obviously, live action video online can be produced quicker and more frequently than animation. That leg up will get live action on the highest of horses. Whereas, animation…we get ponies?

    Not every new avenue online is going to result in a new branch of the industry that is profitable for the producers and the people who actually produce the content. Too much of it will be just for show and people will take it for granted that they can get it for free.

    What really needs to be addressed (kicking the idea of FREEMIUM to the side) is how do you entice people to pay for something they believe should be free? That question would not only go to the audience but the producers/production studios/the monied people. Advertisers are paying premium online unless there’s a specific reason for them to do so…

    Is the idea to put out the cartoon and call it an APP? Sell it for a buck a short?

    • There are all sorts of things that have come before this moment in time that are interactive. Video games (which are really still fairly new) are certainly one of them, and they have gotten increasingly more interactive from their early days up to now (from Pong to massively multiplayer gaming for example). Interaction and play go hand in hand. Even something as simple as the back page of Mad magazine is an example of interaction. Obviously we should be looking back at forms that have come before that employed interactivity. It’s not as if interaction never existed.

      There are new things about what can be done today though. The web is where the most exciting possibilities lie. Creators can connect directly with audiences. Audiences can connect peer to peer. Collaborative production over the web is now a possibility for all sorts of endeavors. I like what they’re doing with Tim Burton’s Stainboy right now.

      The reason something like “Wilderness Downtown” wouldn’t have been able to get much traction in 1999 has probably a lot more to do with bandwidth than opinions about the audience. I remember spending interminable amounts of time waiting for Flash web pages to load. Quality online video with good playback is still pretty new. We’re only recently starting to break free of the chains of Flash video players. HTML5 will open up new possibilities and greater accessibility.

      Interaction isn’t just human to machine clicking and dragging. It has a human to human side too that involves communication and collaboration.

      • The Gee

        Yes, bandwidth and the fact that is video is a huge difference. The back end aspects of various google services driving it is the bigger difference. However,
        the thing is the form of the customizing the storytelling experience isn’t exactly sliced bread great.

        I don’t want to take this too far off the mark by emphasizing the importance of story but that’s what people want. The audience gravitates towards the good ones or the engaging ones. I guess they stories don’t need to be good or even complete in order for people to latch on and fill in the blanks.

        Aside from the interactive elements, the customized elements that might become pervasive are a way to break beyond niches. My gut feeling based on what I’ve seen is that it will possibly be driven by advertising (like product placement).

        That human side you mention…it always needs to be there. Your want to know more about the ins and outs of best practices of interactive design makes sense. But, the fundamentals are always the same.

        That said, the emerging markets still seem to be dominated by live action video and games. And, the mocap thing will potentially factor into that, too. I just don’t know how much animation, hand drawn and CG, will play in all of them, especially when it comes down to projects which require a quick turnaround.

        Obviously, that site which tells news stories using video game models tells the story badly (and that’s not just a translation thing) but they tell the story quickly enough. Red vs. Blue…they crank those out weekly, right?
        Does either one use production shortcuts which are desirable for the kinds of stories you want to tell? The kind that play off of the strengths you bring to the table?

  • Aside some videogames that are story-driven, dont the japanese are already there? Specifically visual novels The Hack. franchise was meant to be told in layers through different platforms (not that I follow any of these). Thats a nice case to study (tho I’d hate have to play a videogame to enjoy a story, pasive type here).