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New Markets in Animation

Animation by Benjamin Arthur
Still from “Why Can’t We Walk Straight

In terms of opportunities and amount of work available, there is no better time to be working as an animator than today. More new avenues for animated content are springing up than ever before. For decades, the choices were straightforward: TV, features, commercials, music videos, and shorts. Today those limited number of options have been upended as every form of media and creative practice is somehow incorporating animation into its sphere, from news programs to architecture.

One area in which animation will play an increasingly meaningful role is publishing. While there have been a number of iPhone/iPad “animated” books, most have been of a simplistic variety requiring users to flip a “page” to watch a linear animated sequence. The next generation of children’s books will integrate animation in non-linear ways to create an entirely new and unique storytelling experience.

An example of this “second-generation” animated e-book is the iPad edition of Oliver Jeffers’s The Heart and the Bottle developed by London-based creative agency Bold Creative. I’m intrigued when I watch its trailer while recognizing that we’re only scratching the surface:

Let’s also not forget that least visual of mediums–radio. The Rauch Brothers have been translating Storycorps radio segments into animated shorts for the past few years, and National Public Radio is now regularly experimenting with animation. NPR commissioned Toxie by Stephen Neary a couple months ago, and yesterday, they premiered a new audio piece with animation called “Why Can’t We Walk Straight” which was animated by Benjamin Arthur.

What other new animation markets can you think of?

(The Heart and the Bottle link via Drawn; thanks to Madison Russell for the NPR link)

  • I know this may come as a shameless plug but I just finished animation on this app:

    Which can be purchased here:

    I haven’t developed a game for the iPad though the resources are much easier to work with, iPod Touch iPhone can be a hassle if you want it to be compatible back to the first gen or 3G phones. Over all that was the most tedious aspect in making the app.

    The animation was all done in Animate Pro.

  • Living Books 2.0?

  • Doesn’t need to be said, but the web itself is a hotbed of great animated pieces. Vimeo has a ton of great pieces but Youtube has its share, too.

    Plus, there’s Joe Murray’s upcoming KaboingTV site that could be quite the showcase for creator driven content. There’s a Facebook page for it up right now. It’s good stuff.

    It is a good time to be an animator or an animation enthusiast, you just have to think a bit smaller.

  • “For decades, the choices were straightforward: TV, features, commercials, music videos, and shorts.”

    I don’t think the list is all that different today, the new choices are just slight variations on the old. The delivery mediums are different but other than that…?

    The book looks novel at first, but it seems very similar in concept to the existing children’s book where things would pop up on each page, or you could move some cut out part around. Except now you can’t actually touch it.

    • amid

      All of the earlier choices listed above were linear experiences; animated e-books will be primarily non-linear interactive experiences. Also, whereas in the past, children’s books were sometimes turned into computer software or Flash games, there was always the hindrance of the mouse. Touch-screen gestures allow readers to interact with animation in a more physical manner, which opens all kinds of doors.

      Additionally, most earlier forms of animation were primarily entertainment-oriented that could be adapted for educational purposes. Today, the sole purpose for animating architecture or news programs is informational. In addition to fulfilling entertainment needs, animation will evolve in the 21st century to become what graphic design was in the 20th; a vital communication medium that connects us in unexpected and new ways.

  • YouTube’s partnership program has been pretty good to me. When I started out, I only had a few dollars a month, but lately I’ve been doing upwards of $300. It’s funny though, the videos that took me the most amount of time have not done as well as the simpler ones. Here is a link to my latest, obviously geared toward young children:

    I’ve experimented with a few different ideas with the YouTube cartoons that I would not have tried otherwise, including topical technology humor, like in this Thanksgiving video (a similar gag to what Tex Avery had done with characters interacting with hairs on the lens and all that):

    And interactive videos, like this one from Valentine’s Day:

    What is great about YouTube is that you can use their Insight software to see who is watching your videos, how they get to them, and even what parts of the video capture the viewer’s attention the most (or if they stop watching early).

    I would love to see advertisers start to hire animators to create videos like these rather than advertise on television or in print, and I think that as more of the world goes digital, that will start to happen.

  • majic

    I like the web as a great outlet too.

    If only we can make it a consistently profitable outlet…

  • 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:

  • I’m interested in making web animated shorts, but like webcomics, it’s hard to try to live off of these things or get any money out of it.

  • There are plenty of new outlets on the internet, but a lot of older outlets have dried up as a result. The difference is that the pay for animation is often in the HUNDREDS of dollars these day instead of the Thousands. It’s nearly impossible to live off the websites, unless you’re running them.

  • shawow

    “For decades, the choices were straightforward: TV, features, commercials, music videos, and shorts.”

    What about computer games?
    10 years of playing games with animated content made me choose a career in animation in 1996. There have been interactive cd-roms for educational and all kinds of purposes around for a while. Touching the screen makes all the difference? What about Wii controllers, guitars… Laser guns where introduced in 1985 – hindrance of the mouse?

    “… animation will evolve in the 21st century to become what graphic design was in the 20th; a vital communication medium that connects us in unexpected and new ways.”

    I like your vision of graphic design becoming more animated to further simplify and clarify communication (thinking street signs right now).

  • As promising as it looks, the new channels (as we may call them) in most cases aren’t aware of old skills like animation. TV graphic designers try their hand in AfterEffects style animation, architects move around Poser figurines, programmers revel in physics simulations without any sense nor reason. Meanwhile skilled animators don’t get paid gigs because “we do it in-house” or “why so expensive, isn’t the computer doing all the work” or, most of all, “we already spent the money on programming the website, we can’t afford to pay you just for moving things around”.

    The “old” channels at least had an idea of what an animator is capable of, how long it would take him, and that he needs special knowledge to do that. The “new” channels are, in best case, “uneducated”. They act as if a film producer would only calculate the money needed for renting a camera and doing prints, but forgets the director’s and actor’s wages.

    I don’t say an architect couldn’t do animation – some of them may, if they got the talent. And I’m all for fresh approaches in animation coming from graphic designers, comic artists, or whoever. But this “we do it in-house with whatever we may find, or let my nephew do it for a sundae” position really hurts. in most such cases the results will look amateurish and pathetic and will drag down animation as a whole.

  • I’m a big fan the news commissioning animation–it empowers their websites by luring new visitors, meanwhile engaging old ones. And it offers a take on the news that can be endlessly reblogged.

    One of the really appealing things about these new markets is that the creatives can call their own shots. We’re in uncharted waters where it doesn’t make sense to over-produce everything. The pipelines are smaller, the deadlines tighter. for me a gig for NPR turns into something extremely fun–a challenge.

    Tons of people at studios have side projects like these, and for most of us, I don’t really think we’re worrying about how we’re going to make money off of them. It’s a bonus incentive, but a day job remains my bread and butter.

    but hells yes, it’s an exciting time.

    • “One of the really appealing things about these new markets is that the creatives can call their own shots. We’re in uncharted waters where it doesn’t make sense to over-produce everything. The pipelines are smaller, the deadlines tighter. for me a gig for NPR turns into something extremely fun–a challenge.”

      Very true.

  • The Gee

    I don’t know why the comment I submitted yesterday, a direct reply to Amid’s [email protected] 2:22pm, didn’t make it through but….since then most subsequent comments have better made the points I tried to bring up, it may not matter that much.

    I will add this:
    –the new venues and avenues are greater wins for the audience than for the creatives, animators. The audience (which obviously we are all a part of, too) will get more options along with other forms of content to choose from.

    But, like others have pointed out: pay, turnaround times and quality are going to matter the animators. That’s where it goes from great to Say What? Last year I turned down 75 minutes of animation for a educational DVD that the client wanted to pay less than 5 grand for and which they wanted in 6 months. I was being bid against by a small studio in India (which I presume eventually did the job).

    I would caution against getting too excited about animation gaining traction in the News industry or for all forms of information. This is a go-go society, and the deadlines for news are short. For features, we’ll get latitude and longer deadlines. But, don’t be surprised if automation and 3dCG rule those roosts for short deadlines. Don’t be surprised if the quality sucks or is just adequate or MEDIOCRE–a word which would pop up on any other comment about the Modern Age with a lot of scorn attached.

    But that’s only going to be part of it. Some of it is going to be amazing. Personally, I find it exciting that as storytelling goes, cartoons, comics and animation are in a good place. The rush to adapt it to different forms isn’t entirely encouraging (Witness: “Mars Needs Moms” not looking like Breathed’s art). But, what we do–some better than others–others longer than some–is in a good place.The culture is more open to the good stuff.

    So, yeah. I’m optimistic despite that and a lot of other stories from the past decade. I have been optimistic for years.The thing is: these very observations have percolated about animation and online for just as long. It is a good time with a lot of upside and possibilities. And, every new development that opens doors works for the audience, at least. I just hope more doors with better rooms, or views or something, open up for all of the animation talent.

    But, don’t go off on an “It’s Gets Better” vibe without realizing not all that Glitters is Gold.

    Again, I’m optimistic, but, like with the fact that I’m copying and saving this comment just in case it doesn’t get posted like the comment I tried to post yesterday…I’m being cautiously optimistic and remaining enthusiastic for those who do well in the new opportunities.