‘Has digital production and digital distribution (through Youtube etc) fundamentally altered animation?’
The world wide web is 25 years old today. Huge internet platforms – Facebook, Youtube and Google are now dominating the lives of millions. This presents enormous challenges for creatives, especially for media creatives like animators. Since the earliest days over 100 years ago, ours has been a broadcast model – we make animations in order to screen them (in cinemas or through tv) to broader audiences. As broadcasters, we spoke (through our films) and the audiences passively viewed. We rarely met or interacted with our audiences. The mechanism of commissioning and funding of our productions was usually professionally based, highly selective – even elitist.
Now, with digital production, we can make animations using cheap laptops, shareware software. Through the internet, we can distribute our videos instantaneously across the globe, reaching millions of viewers – if the videos prove popular (that popularity being determined by their success in (apparently) impartial search engines) … And our audience can respond immediately, messaging us directly with comments (good, bad and ugly). Even when our audience doesn’t contact us, their digital trails are gathered and fed back to us through Youtube Analytics, telling us who they are, where they were from, how long they watched, what device they were watching from – the data generated is endless.
But wait! 6 years old children can create videos (even animations) for the internet. Crazy Jihadists on a mountain in Yemen can create video for the internet (and can gain millions of followers too).
But has all of this digital and internet opportunity fundamentally changed animation? In conducting my first interviews with animation professionals, the consensus seems to be ‘no’. Animator Steve Woods is adamant that the practice of animation remains unaltered…
My stock answer is, the practice hasn’t changed at all. What I’m saying is that ehm, when a piece of technology is invented, or a new format is preferred, it tends to make other formats and technologies redundant, but that wouldn’t be the case in animation.
Steve’s argument, is that the craft of animation – even with the pervasion and cultural dominance of digital media and the internet – maintains a continuity. New technology and new digital or internet opportunities or challenges merely add to what Steve terms ‘the animation storehouse’…
And all the other technologies which were invented, like cutout animation, which is a very primitive form of puppet animation, and sand animation, or any other technologies which have come along, all add to the treasure house. You know, they don’t make the currency redundant, the previous currency redundant, it’s just more eh, treasure being added to the treasure chest that is animation.
There’s another danger too… As professional creatives, we imagine that it’s important that we bring our vision, often our very personal vision of the world to audiences and that we do this (if possible) over a sustained life-long career. Too much internet video is one-off, amateur, chancy, almost random. Internet creatives who pride themselves on search engine manipulation and the generation of multiple viral videos tend to manipulatively and slavishly play to established audiences. As creatives, we still cling to creative freedom, to the right to make statements which we want to make and which will find, surprise, entertain or move new audiences. There’s still a lot of work to be done, even if it’s merely adding to Steve Wood’s ‘treasure chest that is animation’.
BBC article on Tim Berners Lee and the 25th anniversary of the world wide web…