Why isn't the UK making CG animated feature films?

05 September 2017

ACM SIGGRAPH LONDON Tech Talks 2017

We were delighted to take part in last week’s third annual London ACM SIGGRAPH TECHTALKS. Blue Zoo’s Co-Founder Oli Hyatt joined the Round Table Discussion on the final day, to talk about the hot topic that is Feature Animation in London and the UK.

Joining him was Tom Jacomb from Double Negative, Kim Keukeleire from Isle of Dogs, Eamonn Butler of Cinesite, and Dara McGary - also from Double Negative and who led the discussion.

The big question as always, is how the UK’s animation industry can compete with the US.

In this instance the focus was on film. Oli, predictably keen to encourage UK-centric thinking, immediately questioned the way we think about animated film as an American privilege.


‘‘How do we attract more animated features to the UK?’ is the wrong question. It should be ‘How do we make more of our own animated features out of the UK?’’


Oli believes the funding model in the UK is wrong, as animation is funded like a charity. Unless the work is culturally relevant, and won’t be used for commercial benefit, it won’t get funding from the BFI or similar. In other words, it ‘has to be guaranteed to fail’.

As long as the funding model remains the same, we’ll continue to be subservient to the US animation industry. ‘It’s the funding bit that’s missing for me, and that’s how we make a sustainable industry’.

Eamonn Butler discussed how the US business culture in relation to film isn’t yet in place in the UK, which could make the difference. Short-term investment loans simply don’t work here, and the films take too long to make.

Artwork from one our feature films in pre-production

(Artwork from one our feature films in pre-production)

New distribution models

The question was also asked of whether the new distribution models for animation (e.g. internet-based services like Amazon and Netflix) will change how we think about feature animation. Will the market be flooded?

Tom Jacomb is confident that the big studios won’t move away from that model, and all agreed that as long as the audience is right, and the studio knows who their target is, the features should be a success - regardless of competition.

Eamonn went on to highlight that the large US studios are able to produce multiple films, naturally giving them a better chance of success.

Back to investment, and Oli claimed that animated films are more investable than live action movies, however they’re possibly not perceived as ‘so cool’, and some work is needed to change perceptions with potential investors.

Animation is often related to children’s content only, and the value of what can be achieved is diminished. As Eamonn says, "animation is not always seen by the audience" (in cases where there’s CGI, or hybrid like The Jungle Book), therefore animation becomes identified as a seperate genre.

Shorts

The session rounded up with a conversation about short films. ‘We’ve stopped making short films’ says Oli in relation to the UK animation industry, ‘and this is how we used to tell stories’. Yet what funding pot would this fall into?

If we continue to invest in young, talented creators of content, and allow them to work with established studios to create short films (similar to Blue Zoo’s own Shorts Programme), Oli believes our creativity can conquer.


‘Get people telling stories. That’s how we’ll compete with Hollywood'.


To view the whole round-table discussion, please visit London ACM SIGGRAPH’s Facebook page here.