How the animated film landscape will look in the next 20 years (Part 1)

Blog, On Animation
January 14, 2015
Have you ever read an article from the 1960’s which tried to predict the wonders of the future? We’ve all had a substantial giggle at the unfulfilled prophecies of living on the moon, or having a whole eight computers gracing the entire globe. Well get ready to laugh, computer-starved moon dwellers, because I have some of my own predictions about what the future of animated film will look like, both here in Australia and for the general industry.

1. Internationally, Australia will continue to be known for VFX animation and nothing else.

Let’s face it. When you think of animated films and the studios that make them, you probably don’t think of Australia. At least not at first. Or at eleventh. But one area of animation Australia can lay vague claim to like a Crowded House album is visual effects, due largely to the international success of Australian CGI studio Animal Logic. And while I hate to single out individual companies as being representative of the whole country, with credits including animation and VFX for films such as The Lego Movie, Happy Feet and The Great Gatsby, it’s not hard to see why they’re a key identifier when people talk about Australia’s place in animation. When an established company starts being internationally recognised for consistent quality work in a particular field, an association develops with the location of production. When I think of 3D animated film, I largely think of the US because of Pixar and Dreamworks. When I think of stop-motion animation, I think of the UK because of Aardman animation. When I think of 2D animated film, I think ‘Sweet Jesus, I miss 2D animated film’. Given 20 years, Australia too could join the ranks as the go-to thought for VFX animation.


2. 3D animated films will experiment a lot more visually

In the last 20 years we’ve seen constant advances in the technology used to create 3D animation, but arguably little exploration of visual style. So homogeneous is the look of the blockbuster 3D film that much of the general public cannot tell the difference between a Pixar and a Dreamworks film, let alone a lesser known studio. Can you imagine confusing a cartoony stretch-and-squash Looney Tunes film with a flamboyantly elegant Disney Princess movie? Of course not. Besides spotting the iconic characters, Warner Bros and Disney had two recognisably different 2D animation styles—and least, that is how we’ve come to see them over time. search expired domains . CGI technology is much younger than its 2D counterpart, and it’s only recently that we’re beginning to see some new artistic looks and experimentation coming from some of the more well-known companies. Take a look at this trailer from the upcoming Peanuts movie, or this short film from Danish company Tumblehead and tell me they look anything like Frozen. Hopefully, this is the kind of variance we’re headed for. I for one look forward to a future where we have access to a multitude of aesthetically diverse 3D films, which we can of course view in a hovering space-cinema being run by futuristic robot overlords with whips. Ah, what a fine future that will be.

3. 2D animation will die off (maybe, possibly, sort of.)

Dear reader, I have a confession to make. 2D animation is the topic I most desperately wanted to write about in this article. It is the animation format I know and care about the most. And after spending an extensive amount of time researching the current state of 2D animation, it is the topic I can’t decide on a damn thing to say about. When I first developed the outline for this blog article I was optimistically going to call this section ‘2D animation will claw back into niche popularity’. I vaguely had in mind several quotes from Disney execs and the like which I knew I’d seen floating around the internet, and which I knew stated they were open to creating some 2D features if the right idea came along. These quotes would be the cornerstone of my prediction for a future 2D comeback. But as I began to track down these quotes, I slowly came to a horrible realisation. No, the quotes weren’t imaginary. They were very much real. And very much from almost ten years ago which, in the technology-dependent field of animation, is practically a whole different era. Instead what I found were several more current, pessimistic articles quoting big company animators all saying they had no plans for 2D animation in the future. Clearly, in my desire to see hand-drawn animation back on the big screen I had deluded myself into thinking there was plenty of perfectly legitimate proof out there that 2D would be staging a comeback soon. In my disappointment I went to soothe my woes by reading a few articles from animation websites. Wherein, of course, I entirely changed my mind again.

4. 2D animation will live on (sort of, possibly, maybe.)

I was reminded by these articles that there are already a number of amazing independent and foreign 2D animation features currently being released (granted, in limited locations), including Academy Award nominees ‘Song of the Sea’ (Cartoon Saloon), ‘Cheatin’ (Plymptoons) and ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ (Studio Ghibli). Speaking of Studio Ghibli, it’s hard to ignore the effect the beautifully hand-drawn films of the Japanese studio have had on Western audiences in recent times. Given the relative lack of choice of animation styles available in mainstream Western media, it is not difficult to see the gravitation toward Ghibli’s style as an audience’s cry for more hand-drawn animation, and more differing kinds of stories being told with the medium in the future. Furthermore, amazing things are already being done with independent 2D animated features with little to no executive funding or resources, such as Bill Plympton’s above-mentioned ‘Cheatin’ which was completed with funding through Kickstarter. As animation tools and technology become more accessible and affordable to the everyday public, it seems clear that the future will see an increase in the types and amount of 2D animated content being produced, whether or not anyone is actually watching. I’m not overly optimistic though. Looking ahead, I imagine the major market for 2D animation, much like now, will continue to be a niche for animation fans and kids who don’t like the look of 3D. But really, it only takes one surprise smash hit (or one unexpected train wreck) to change consumer demand. Look at how the Atari E.T. game almost single-handedly destroyed the video game industry in the 80’s. Look at how My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic single-handedly increased public use of the word ‘brony’ by about a billion percent. The rapidly changing nature of technology means the media industry is hard to predict at the best of times. Surely this is even more true for 2D feature animation, which currently seems to be in a state of limbo. The most I can dare to predict at the moment is that 2D popularity over the next 20 years will ebb and flow, and any strong popularity will be owed more to a well-written plot, word of mouth and lucky timing than to executive meddling and demographic targeting.

Conclusion

Looking at these four predictions, you may see a theme. All of the above points expand on things which we are already beginning to see happen. Uninspired predictions maybe, but at least I won’t look like a fool in 20 years when none of these things come true, because they were at least based in some kind of reasonable evidence. Animated film is a fickle industry, and with the increasingly frequent highs and lows of film success and the proliferation of streaming services it can be difficult to envisage any kind of solid future for feature films at all. Of course, in the space of the next 20 years a brand new animation technology or process could come along and blow us all off our ergonomic hoverchairs, making our almighty robot overlords stop whipping us for a few brief moments to shake their heads at us in disdain. Got your own predictions for the future of animation? Let us know! We’re keen to hear from you.