Outlook 2017: Calabash - Animation's threats, opportunities & uncertainties
Issue: December 1, 2016

Outlook 2017: Calabash - Animation's threats, opportunities & uncertainties

Sean Henry is an Executive Producer at Calabash (http://calabashanimation.com) in Chicago. The animation production studio is known for its award-winning work for the advertising and entertainment industries. Here, Henry looks at the threats presented by a global workforce, as well as the segment’s opportunities and uncertainties.

All things considered, 2016 was a mixed bag for the animation industry. In the advertising world, we’ve seen an increased demand toward more branded content produced directly for the Web and social media. In addition, broadcast TV spots have tilted toward more artistic and design-driven styles of animation, as well as visual effects. So there’s more work out there in general, with the higher-end TV spots offering creatively-challenging concepts. 

There’s also potential for great opportunities in both VR and AR, and animation studios like ours have a huge role to play in creating immersive worlds that engage and entertain. But like every new technology breakthrough that comes out, studios, production companies, agencies and brands are collectively trying to figure out how best to capitalize on it. Many hurdles remain to mass adoption, but there is already a lot of good content being made and I expect that 2017 will see some huge steps in that direction.

All of which is great and very exciting. But as I said, it was a mixed bag, and the other half of the bag includes significant competition globally, shrinking budgets and a trend toward agencies and brands building their own in-house post production studios.

Animation talent is traded globally via the Internet with ease in every category: in education and training, in hiring studios and talent, in production and project management, and in final delivery of picture. Besides facilitating national and international friendships and business relationships, this fluid exchange of talent puts animators in increasingly direct competition with literally every other animator on the planet.

Additionally, the tools we have to create animation are powerful, fast and affordable, but the production workflows can still be very complex. Advertisers of course have a need for speed in getting concepts onto the screens of their choice as quickly as possible. That’s when confusion sets in over why some kinds of animation can be done in two days by one guy with a laptop at home, while other animation styles take weeks and require teams of artists. 

So there’s plenty of good work, but scorching competition to get it; lots of challenging opportunities, but endless uncertainty for anyone working in animation. The nature of the market requires the studio do all things well: assess the viewing culture, manage business, pursue relationships, make artful and timeless designs, leverage novelty, master technical programs, work speedily and manage expectations — all for lower budgets.

We’re optimistic that we can assess and respond to these trends shaping the animation landscape. Whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, 2017 promises to be an exciting and transforming year for animation overall.