20th Society for Animation Studies Conference at the Art Institute at Bournemouth, July 18-20, 2008

Animation Unlimited 2008 logoAnimation Unlimited 2008 is the name of this year’s Society for Animation Studies conference at the Art Institute at Bournemouth, which is in the English seaside resort town. The Society is very close to my heart, having founded the international membership organization in 1987 and served as its first president. SAS, I am happy to say, has survived very nicely without me, with my main duties these days is acting as Editor of its Animation Bibliography project.

This year’s conference kicks off with a keynote address by Esther Leslie, author of Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory, and the Avant-Garde, who will be speaking on “‘The Flux and Flurry of Animated Worlds — On Stillness and Hypermovement.” However, the core of the event will be papers presented by a wide variety of international scholars and filmmakers on various aspects of animation history and theory. For instance, the opening set of panels are devoted to The Simpsons and Japanese animation. Later that day, I will be talking about “The Movie Brat Generation and the Animation Renaissance,” while my co-panelists will be discussing “The Fleischer Advertising Cartoons” (Mark Langer), Shamus Culhane’s Woody Woodpecker cartoons (Tom Klein), and “Floyd Norman’s Story” (Musa Brooker).

Bob Godfrey Animation ArtOther panels will be devoted to the “Animated Documentary”  and “Interdisciplinary Currents in Animation Studies,” in addition to those on more traditional topics, including animation theory, digital animation and teaching animation. In addition, there are two other keynote addresses and the Art Institute’s Gallery will be hosting a “Bob Godfrey Retrospective Exhibition” from July 14-August 22. This exhibit of original animation art, by that icon of British animation, is being curated by Suzanne Buchan and draws upon the Godfrey Collection at the University of the Arts’ Animation Research Centre, at Farnham.

All in all, it is something I very much look forward to attending, especially after I had to cancel my trip to last year’s conference,  held Portland State University, in Portland, Oregon,  in conjunction with the first Platform International Animation Festival.

Blue Sky Tax Credits

Horton Hears a Who!In January, I commented on Blue Sky Studios’ announced move from one New York suburb to another, i.e., from White Plains, New York, to Greenwich, Connecticut. The main reason for the move was because of Connecticut’s lucrative tax credit program. It seemed to give Connecticut a successful animation house, proved again by the subsequent release of Horton Hears a Who! However, in the Please sir, can I have some more department, Blue Sky doesn’t seem satisfied with the original deal and, according to Connecticut newspapers, is trying to squeeze even more out of the state.

Such negotiations are probably not unusual, except that they do involve an animation studio, which is yet another indication on how far the industry has come over the past few decades. And to prove the point, the Muscatine (Iowa) Journal reports (here and here) that,

A family-owned animation company servicing the entertainment industry has moved to Winfield from Los Angeles after Iowa legislators created new tax incentives for film companies locating in the state.

The Iowa Film, Television and Video Project Promotion Program was passed in 2007 to provide tax incentives to attract the film industry, job diversity, and talent to the state. The Iowa Film Office of the Iowa Department of Economic Development operates the program.

“It created fertile ground for companies to relocate to Iowa,” said Stephen M. Jennings, founder and co-president of Grasshorse Technologies Inc. “It was the deciding factor in our transition to Iowa.”

Grasshorse, a digital animation and special effects subcontractor, is obviously not in the same league as Blue Sky, but the story was nevertheless picked up by Fortune Small Business (here and here), which noted that,

In recent years the economic corridor that stretches from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids has emerged as a powerful locus of economic growth, not only in film but also in computer simulation, bioengineering, and renewable energy. … The falling dollar helps Iowa companies compete globally, as do generous local incentives such as a state tax exemption on profits from overseas sales.

“A key factor,” says Jennings, “was being able to compete with animation studios in Korea and India.”

I suspect studios in Korea and India are not exactly quacking in their boots about what Iowa (or Connecticut) are doing. Small regional studios, such as Grasshorse have been around for quite a while, including several which have done work for major Hollywood companies. (For example, much of the animation for the animated The King and I and special effects for Independence Day were widely subcontracted out to smaller studios and individuals.) Though trying just to compete solely on a cost basis is something of a fool’s errand.

As to the situation in Connecticut, Greenwich Time reported on Friday, March 28th, that,

The chief operating officer of Blue Sky Studios Inc. was at the capitol yesterday lobbying lawmakers to support millions of dollars worth of financial incentives to move the company to Greenwich.

… The proposal, circulated by the architect of the tax credits, House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, has raised concerns because it would require lifting the annual cap on the credits from $15 million to $25 million.

Amann has said that although the digital animation production credits passed last year are open to all takers, the $15 million annual cap was tailored to attract Blue Sky for a 10-year commitment. The company underestimated how much it would need, which is why he wants to lift the cap to $25 million, Amann has said.

The New York Times, on Saturday, put the battle between New York and Connecticut in some perspective, reporting that,

With a proud film history dating back almost a century, to D. W. Griffith’s creation of a 28-acre production lot in Mamaroneck, Westchester County is increasingly watching production companies be lured across the border to Connecticut, which now offers them a 30 percent tax credit, compared with New York State’s 10 percent.

Since the Connecticut tax credit took effect in July 2006, that state has gone from playing host to the occasional film shoot (remember “Mystic Pizza”?) to attracting 66 feature films, television shows and commercials with a collective $400 million in production costs, the majority of it in the Fairfield County suburbs of New York.

At the same time, similar suburbs across the border in Westchester County have seen their film shoots shrivel. In 2006, Westchester was the setting for scenes from 14 big-budget features, as well as numerous independent films; last year, two movies were partially shot here.

The story goes on to say that even New York City, which has been somewhat insolated from these bidding wars, is starting to lose business to several other neighboring states. The state legislature will undoubtedly respond with its own set of incentives. I’m sure the film industry will be delighted. After all, it’s nice to be wanted.

An Aardman Chronology/Filmography

Cracking ContraptionsFilm historian Kristin Thompson is trying to compile a rather extensive chronology/filmography for Aardman Animations. The results so far have been posted on her and David Bordwell’s blog in hopes of filling in the blanks, so to speak.

The project arose as a byproduct of Thompson and Bordwell’s work on revising their Film History: An Introduction (which I use in some of my classes). She notes that,

In setting out to update the section on Aardman animation, I ran into difficulties pinning down the dates of certain television series or the director of a given short film. Indeed, I was quite surprised at the dearth of complete chronologies or filmographies for such a famous and important company.

She has, however, set some limits, indicating that,

Aardman has produced many ephemeral animations for station-identification logos, credit sequences, and websites, as well as perhaps hundreds of commercials. I’ve made no attempt to include commercials, apart from the Heat Electric series, which are available on DVD. The [list] primarily includes television shorts and series, as well as films.

As someone who has faced similar difficulties in compiling my studio filmographies, I must commend Thompson’s efforts, especially since it also includes an evaluation of Aardman films on DVD and the Internet.