I have been reading biographies this year. I read A. Scott Berg’s book on Katharine Hepburn and having really enjoyed it, I picked up his biography of Samuel Goldwyn.
As one of the most prolific independent producers in the history of film, Sam has a special place in cinema. Some quick things you pick up about Goldwyn are that he was a tyrant, he had a heart, he was deeply committed to his craft and while not always the nicest guy, he did appreciate the good work people did for him.
Sam made smoleans off his films and paid for them all himself. He put his name, his money and his company on the line with every movie he made. His wife was crazy every time he took out a bank loan in the beginning of his independent producer career, but he always did ok. He had a gift for knowing what the movie going public wanted to see.
Since Sam was the boss, he could go out on a limb, spend millions of dollars on a movie and have it tank because he didn’t have to answer to anyone. All he did was find material he liked and did the best he could with what he had. By not being beholden to a corporate parent, he could make a Danny Kaye musical and follow that with something not so universal like Porgy and Bess.
Today, with the exception of MGM (for the time being), all the movie studios are owned by a corporation. Corporations have to make a profit and have to increase their profit every year or speculators on Wall Street will say bad things about them, the stock buying public will become scared witless and a massive sell off of the company’s stock will occur hurting the financial position of the company.
So how do you keep your company with tons of profits coming in? A) make more money, B) cut costs or C) both.
This is why hand drawn animation is no longer being done in the United States. With Disney’s Home On the Range, traditional hand drawn animation has left the building. Disney believes that the reason that their animation efforts have tanked at the box office is because people hate hand drawn stuff and only want to see computer animation, like Pixar and PDI do. They forget that Tarzan and Lilo and Stitch both did great in their releases and made tons of money for the company while both being primarily hand drawn.
Interestingly, what most of the CG movies have had that a lot of Disney’s recent films have not had is something Disney had in abundance in its early days: heart. When you watch Buzz and Woody in Toy Story or Shrek and Donkey in Shrek, you watch because they used good writing and clever gags to make you feel for the characters and that makes you want to watch them again and again. While Tarzan was more of an action romp, Lilo and Stitch had heart to spare. When Lilo is shunned by her friends when she tells them of the maladies of her homemade doll, my heart completely went out to her. She became real and all I wanted in the end was for that little girl to be happy.
Her being CG would not have enhanced that feeling at all.
Anyway, back on topic: Disney’s bad script decisions have made the animation division seem like a lead bathing suit. Take the poor scripts, animators who make very nice wages thanks to their union and a company with bottom-line-itis and you get massive layoffs and an all out conquest for the golden fleece.
This lets you cut both your expenses buy completely decommissioning a whole department and it allows you to ship what little hand drawn stuff you have left to cheap Korean animation mills. Granted, the stuff out of those animation mills isn’t the best in the world, but in Disney’s mind, it doesn’t matter since its not CG no one cares.
So, I have told you what the problem is, but what can be done to reverse or stop this trend? The short answer? Nothing. As long as large corporations hold the keys, they will be beholden to Wall Street and will have to have year over year profit increases. The long answer is still grim, but there is a small chance for hope. The current crop of animators and animation students have to not give up on their art form. They have to find idea people to come up with several excellent scripts and they have to band together and create at least three hand drawn masterpieces. This is a task so great that all who take it up are destined to fail, but at the same time, as long as someone out there is trying, slaving and pouring their soul into a hand drawn project, they keep the medium alive.
It’s a war to keep an art form from dying, a struggle to keep a form of expression from lapsing and a vain attempt to squeeze one last feat of brilliance out of a medium that is capable of so much more than live action or CG.
Fans of this art form need an army to fight for them. They need animators who refuse to give up and who will go to their desks and draw.
Artists, we need you, now more than ever.