Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I put forth the theory that 2D animation died of an overdose.
In the 1990's, 2D feature animation exploded, then imploded. Where a couple of studios used to release a feature every four years, the triple whammy success of An American Tale, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and The Little Mermaid set the stage for what is now commonly referred to as The Animation Renaissance.
Dozens of new features were given the green light as every studio in town joined the dance. DreamWorks started in 1994 with Jeffrey Katzenburg taking the knife Eisner stuck in his back and shoving it right down Big Mike's throat - to the benefit of the artists. Their salaries doubled, tripled, even quadrupled as the two studios competed for talent. In betweeners were getting paid upwards of $2700 a week. Top artists 15 to 20K.
The artists were also pushed harder than ever. Time tables went from one feature every four years to one every two years, then one feature each year. Carpel-Tunnel was a chronic problem, especially for assistants doing tight, careful work. Some still suffer the affects ten years later.
Studio money people had discovered a golden goose in feature animation. They could have nourished the goose and kept it healthy so it would lay golden eggs for a long, long time. But short lifespans in the executive ranks makes them want ALL the eggs NOW. So they forced it to lay more often. Eventually, a major animated feature was released every month - more than any parent could bear.
If you recall your high school economics, you may know the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility: demand for a product declines the more it is consumed. That first glass of water to a man lost in the desert? Most valuable. But by the tenth glass...eh! Not even Walt Disney's legacy could defy this law. As more and more features were cranked out, artists were taxed not only physically, but creatively. The stories suffered from sameness, then lameness. The films ceased to be special events.
Then Pixar came of age with Toy Story, and offered a whole new experience in an animated feature. Much like Western movies, 2D animation went out of vogue seemingly overnight. Then Disney did the unthinkable: they pulled the plug on hand drawn features. DreamWorks followed. After fighting each other for top talent and after investing years to bring their crews to the top of their game.....bibbidy bobbidy boo! Over.
If there's anything to be learned from the western genre: to be successful, future 2D animated features are going to have to generate from filmmakers, not boardrooms.