More on the State of Feature Animation

My previous commentary elicited a response from Dale “Dawk” McFarlane about the rumor of Fox selling Blue Sky Studios despite the the success of Ice Age. He said, in part:

Ice AgeYour article on Ice Age and [Blue Sky] being put up for sale was very disappointing to hear. If YOU liked the movie — then WHY would they be selling this outfit? Are there ..ONLY big business decisions by corporate executives literally tearing apart the industry, and the resulting turmoil of great talent, having to scramble for the ... NEXT “executive-by-committee” decision? Just once, I would like to see a production company — owned, operated, and .. in power — not the executives, who show blatant disregard for the real power behind animation! I 'm still attempting to demonstrate my concept “actual gemstone cartoons” to some kind of powerful studio, but it looks like ... THEY can't see the forest-for-the-trees, and what chance do I have, when even a successful studio like the Ice Age folks get “canned”!??

While it may seem insane that 20th Century Fox would even think about selling Blue Sky, I really don't see such a deal really having a major effect either on Blue Sky or on the employment situation in New York. (On the other hand, Fox's sale of the Fox Family Channel to Disney did reduce the amount of original animation on what is now the ABC Family Channel.) If Blue Sky's next film does as well as Ice Age, the studio's future would seem secure for the next few years, whether or not Fox is the owner.

Come to think of it, given Fox's history with feature animation, selling the company might not be a bad idea. For instance, it did not have a film ready to go to capitalize on the modest success of Anastasia. This forced it to keep the staff of its Phoenix studio busy working on Bartok the Magnificent, a direct-to-video feature, before giving the go ahead to the ill-fated Titan A.E. (Ordinarily, made-for-video movies are are largely done using overseas studios, which had the effect of inflating the cost of Bartok.) Similarly, by the time Ice Age opened, Fox had not given the go ahead to Blue Sky's next project; one would at least think they would have had some sort of a sequel in the works, just in case. This sort of procrastination resulted in more layoffs at Blue Sky than was absolutely necessary.

The major Hollywood studios, other than Disney and DreamWorks, have never been comfortable with maintaining large in-house staffs to turn out animated movies. This sort of arrangement seemed a throwback to the studio system of the 30s and 40s. What they are comfortable with is filling their studios with independent companies, such as Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment (A Beautiful Mind), which may take on some of the development costs. I expect we will see some variation of this arrangement as the way many animated movies will be made in the U.S. in the years to come.

The advantage of such an arrangement is that it might increase the number of opportunities for individuals to pitch their own ideas. But do not expect such changes to speed the script-to-screen process, as one can easily see the term development hell more frequently applied to animation.

— Harvey Deneroff
April 24, 2002


2002 by Harvey Deneroff