And the highest-grossing animated project of 2011 is…

The year isn’t over yet, but barring a record-shattering gross by Tintin or Happy Feet 2, we already know what will become the highest-grossing animated project of 2011.

Drumroll, please. . . and the film is . . .

. . . actually, it’s not a film at all. It’s a videogame:

Activision’s release of the videogame “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” last Tuesday ranked as the biggest launch of any videogame in history. Within its first 24 hours of release, the game sold 6.5 million units in North America and the UK, earning $400 million dollars and well on its way to over $1 billion. “We believe the launch of ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ is the biggest entertainment launch of all time in any medium, and we achieved this record with sales from only two territories,” claimed Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision. By contrast, the all-time single-day movie gross record belongs to the latest installment of Harry Potter, which took in $91 million earlier this year.

Some may cry foul about comparing higher-priced games to movie ticket prices, but videogames have always cost more, and it has been only in the last few years that they have consistently challenged the dominance of feature animation grosses. Activision’s accomplishment provides an ideal moment to reflect on the growing influence of game companies like Activision and Electronic Arts on the animation community as a whole.

Some ideas to consider:
* Animation has become an integral component of contemporary games in a way that it wasn’t twenty years ago, and the quality of a lot of game animation surpasses anything you’d see in an animated TV series (not to mention some features).

* Using similar toolsets and production pipelines, game creators have achieved success by pursuing a vastly different aesthetic sensibility than traditional CG features.

* More animators in the US are likely employed in the gaming industry than are in feature animation.

All of this points to a paradigm shift taking place throughout the animation industry in which gaming is emerging as the preeminent form of cartoon entertainment. The effect that this will have on feature animation–the medium’s most prestigious format–remains to be seen over the next few decades. Perhaps animated features will begin to look more like games (an idea that filmmaker Robert Zemeckis has promoted) or perhaps they’ll push further in the opposite direction. It’s about to get interesting.