I’ve been very lucky to have been in the animation industry since the mid-1980s, and I have lived through my share of big disruptions — most of them having to do with new technologies. What’s going on today is as significant as anything I’ve seen before, but it’s being driven by a whole new set of forces.
Here’s a quick survey of trends in the animation landscape that have me pretty optimistic about the future.
Technology is vanishing
By “vanishing,” I don’t mean going away; I mean disappearing from view. I’ve always said, “When technology can disappear, that’s when creativity can really begin.”
For the past 20 years, feature-film animation in particular has been an arms race of studios like Pixar and DreamWorks trying to out-engineer each other to deliver high-end character performances and visual effects that no one had ever seen. As a result, studios spent tens of millions of dollars becoming, essentially, IT companies with teams of creators producing stories to demonstrate their latest breakthroughs. Now, thanks to simpler, more intuitive tools, technology is becoming less intrusive in the creative process and animators can finally get back to doing what they love: telling stories.
New distribution platforms are driving demand
The explosion of new outlets on cable, over-the-top and online, is creating unprecedented opportunities for animated content in a wide range of styles, genres and formats. Netflix has found an audience for all kinds of quirky original animated programs, and its competitors are following suit. Cable networks are pushing the envelope in all kinds of ways, as well.
These new channels are opening up the world to artists and studios. Now anyone can create a compelling story in their basement and the world will have a chance to see it. And if it finds its audience, it can be as big as any studio release. Never before has that been possible.
Digital imagery is invading the physical world
If you love animation and digital imagery, you’re no longer limited to watching it on a screen. It’s spilling out into the world around us on mobile devices, augmented and virtual reality headsets, immersive smart spaces, holograms, giant flat panels and who knows what’s next?
The thing is, most of those hardware innovations are still waiting for their “killer app” — that must-have content or experience that pulls audiences to the new ways of experiencing stories. I firmly believe that animation and visual storytelling is going to drive those killer apps, particularly in VR.
Globally distributed workflow is transforming teamwork
The idea of a global distributed workforce isn’t new to most businesses, but it’s somewhat new for animation production. Sure, offshore outsourcing has been happening for years, but animation, at its best, is massively collaborative. Teams have to collaborate and share their ideas to help a story reach its full potential. Until recently, the connective technology hasn’t been up to the task. Now, at last, the cloud makes a lot of those limitations obsolete. It doesn’t matter if your teammate is sitting at the next desk or in Seoul, Dublin or Mexico City. And that means…
New voices are joining the conversation
All these trends are lowering the barriers and cost to entry for upstarts around the world. That means we’ll be hearing from lots of people and perspectives that haven’t been part of the animation industry before. In a world where creativity is the coin of the realm, that means we’re all going to be a whole lot richer.