Why not make animations?

I’ve spent the last week making hand-animated games for a game jam. Why not make an animated movie? Why not present my material as cartoons? Meaning what a child means by cartoons: animated shorts; as opposed to what an artist means: sequential art.

You gotta admit, this looks better than Peppa Pig:

My answer is complicated, which is why I’m putting it up here.

“Animation, by necessity, is a team sport, and the fewer people with input into my work, the better I like it.”

Bill Watterson, Cartoonist of Calvin & Hobbes

The first issue is what an enterprise animation is. Since the dawn of the medium, making it pay has been a struggle, and successive answers to that struggle have brutally slaughtered their forerunners.

Disney does not make their money on their animated features. They make their money on theme parks and cruises and television shows and budget live-action family movies. And always have. Animation houses that have pushed the cutting edge have also always operated a handspan from bankruptcy. From Pixar riding on Steve Jobs’ back until it could ride on Disney’s, to Veggie Tales betting the house on Jonah and losing it, this has pretty much always been the way of things.

Don Bluth joined up with Disney because he wanted to be part of a family friendly animation exercise. Disappointed to discover the Mouse was no longer the bastion that Walt built, he struck out on his own.

His life story goes like this: Found an animation studio. Make a masterpiece. Go bankrupt. Found an animation studio. Make a masterpiece. Go bankrupt. Over and over again. And thus we got An American Tale, The Secret of Nimh, Anastasia… Don Bluth repeatedly going bankrupt.

So much for the big boys. What about the little guys? Hannah Barbara did alright for a little while by cutting corners. Using tricks like re-used cycles, and characters designed to be animated in separate pieces. They were able to keep things more or less barely profitable for a while doing TV animation in this way… until the rise of the Saturday Morning Toy Commercial. Not only was funding G.I. Joe cartoons with G.I. Joe toy sales more viable than selling cigarettes with Flintstones, it straight up put Hannah Barbara out of business.

We are reaching an age where this cut-throat financial reality for animation is finally starting to ease back. Not in 2D animation, to be sure. If you draw pictures by hand, you are competing with guys who send their work to be in-betweened by sweatshops in Korea. And they own the advertising channels. You don’t. But 3D is starting to become cheap enough that a one- or two- man studio might be able to do something with a little love and a lot of care. Pixar and Disney still ride the cutting edge, inventing new technologies with every film. But Illumination plays it safe and puts out comfortably profitable (if soulless) minions sequels.

But animation is still a team sport. You need writers. You need animators. You need musicians. You need voice actors. And you need someone who is able to bully a bunch of creatives into all pulling the same direction without breaking them.

I have animator friends. I hope to try a team project or two. But I have also worked on a team project or two, in game development, and it’s not especially to my liking. To overcome that would require a project that is just as inspiring to me as any of mine, but on which the rest of the team, most of all the taskmaster, is also wholly sold.

I am, to some degree, self-doomed to have limits on my impact imposed by my insistence on lone-wolf antics. But for me, the reward of doing my own thing is usually worth the price of those limits.

Also, I’m a Jack of all trades. I’m an okay writer, but I can also draw. I’m an okay artist, but I can also program. On a team, for a team sport, I’m not good enough to pull my weight. You want a specialist.

Now, as lone-wolf operations go, children’s books are extremely viable (to produce; not as a business). Small indie games can be viable. And, to bring things back around to Jump the Shark:

If I can produce game cutscenes, I can produce animations. Animations that, I have already claimed, are better than Peppa Pig.

So, I can, as a one-man team, using machinima as a shortcut, create short animated movies for YouTube, or even short interactive moves and upload them on itch.io. And I intend to. It’s not something I have immediate plans for. I need a specific project where the result will be worth the effort. Right now, I have kids’ books that are more urgent and important before I can devote active thought to the idea. And because of my ADHD and my team-aversion, there’s a maximum amount of complexity such a project could have before it would be impossible for me to complete.

At the same time, as I work on my games and books, the resources I have available to do this increase. The difficulty goes down. The probability that something comes out increases.

It’s just not to a point yet where I can make promises.


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