Friday, January 18, 2008

Can This Problem Be Solved?

Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew has an excellent essay talking about Tex Avery's last days. For me, the heart of the is piece is this quote:
"Granted, an artist always has the option of charting their own course as an independent, but the fact of the matter is that an industry which consistently fails to recognize the value of the people working within it is an unhealthy industry that cannot be expected to advance or prosper."
That is exactly the problem. The people running this industry are incapable of understanding the nature and scope of the talent they employ. The few who do are incapable of capitalizing on it in any way that hasn't already been done. That's why there are so many recognizable clichés in animation. Take a look at Paul Dini's animation feature template and try to figure out if you should laugh or cry.

Every studio I have ever worked in (or walked through) has had more talent at the desks than it delivered on the screen. Every artist in the business recognizes this. How many can say that they are doing the best work they are capable of, even accepting the confines of their current deadlines?

In 1978, former comic book artist Bernie Krigstein said the following:
"I think what has happened to comics is a kind of diagram of what must happen to artists and creative people in a society where things have to be produced that cost a lot of money, and that need a lot of machinery to produce them, and that need a very complicated distribution system. It's almost inevitable that the artist, who is the fountain, who is the original impulse for all this product, it's inevitable that he should become an employee, because of that almost irreconcilable conflict between the people who are putting money into it and producing the object and the individuals who are creating it. And because of the dominance of the economic power, the artist has to be a vassal, just an instrument. Now frequently an artist is able to get through all the interstices and the unfilled cracks in the system, and then their work... will create a sensation. But as soon as it becomes part of the distribution system, as soon as the wheels start locking together and everything works smoothly from the production and distribution point of view, then the [replacement artists who can produce the work the way the system wants it done] become important. Because they can manufacture the products, they can manufacture what's needed. So every now and then a great system, like Hollywood, will permit an individual, a brilliant creative person, to inject a little lifeblood into it, and then, all too often, that person is crushed... whether he's aware of it or not. The only way to confront this kind of situation is for individuals to be permitted to produce their own stuff. And Hollywood, for example, allowed individuals to work, and there was a little renaissance of movies. The European studios, when they had small budget pictures, because the total control was in the hands of individuals, were able to produce good things. But as soon as this thing reaches a wide market, as soon as it becomes a marketable commodity, the creative person is no longer needed. He doesn't fulfill any important function in this great engine. This is my pessimistic view of the situation of the artist in our society, and I don't know how that problem can be solved."
(Paul Dini link via The Beat. Krigstein quote via Steven Grant.)


Thad said...

I think the problem lies solely in the business end, not the artists' end. What we need are more producers and entrepreneurs with an idea of how to use the art form to its full potential.

Anonymous said...

we need a paradigm shift. the industry has ossified with bureaucracy. it costs to much money to take risks, meaning too many cooks get into the kitchen to try and ensure the soup will be okay, making it bland and bad. we're a creative bunch, we should be able to come up with a new way to do things. find a way around the gatekeeper's to the audience. forget the blockbuster. find a way to do it cheaper so it can be a unique truth, and doesn't have to appeal to everyone to be profitable. the system's broken, find a new way to do things not based on it.

J Lee said...

The sad part is the industry execs seemed to recognize the problem they had in the late 1980s, when there was a revolt against the type of TV animation that Hanna-Barbera/Fimlation/Ruby-Spears had churned out for the previous quarter century. The work turned out in the early 90s may not have been in the same league as what came in the 30s, 40s and 50s, but at least they were trying to address the issue in some way.

Today's execs seem to think the solution is simply to throw a bit of attitude together with some sort of combination of anime, flash or CGI animation design, and that's enough to satisfy the target audience. They don't care if the personalities are interchangeable and therefore completely unmemorable, as long as it fills up 22 minutes of airtime, they're happy.

Will Finn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Finn said...

that Kriegstein piece is really salient. Every single word applies today, as much as ever.

"the industry execs seemed to recognize the problem they had in the late 1980s, "

Well, yes and no. IMO what brought about a brief revival in the late 80's is that Bakshi and John K muscled through a real celebration of actual cartoon animation on TV (MIGHTY MOUSE) right around the same time when Spielberg and Dick Williams muscled ROGER RABBIT into theaters. Quality-starved audiences recognized the difference and demanded higher standards again. The schlockmeisters like Filmation couldn't compete and went immediately out of business. But it was the audience that made the difference clear to the executives; if those projects had not made lots of money and won critical acclaim, the execs would have ignored them.

That was twenty years ago though. Now there is such diffusion of the audience that it seems unlikely that anyone can draw the attention that MIGHTY MOUSE and ROGER RABBIT did again. In the meantime dull TV shows and bland movies succeed randomly enough (though not spectacularly so), so the execs are not likely to do much about it.