This blog focuses on historical overviews more than contemporary news from the animation scene, but here's a new development that I think is worth talking about.
Save UK Animation - also known as Animation UK, I don't know the full story behind the two names - is a campaign founded recently by Those Scurvy Rascals creator Oli Hyatt.
The March 2010 edition of the Royal Television Society's Television Magazine covered the campaign:
The UK TV animation industry could be extinct within five years if the amount of production outsourced to such countries as Ireland, Canada and France remains at its present level. This is the warning from leading British animators who are meeting in London this month to step up their campaign to introduce tax breaks for domestic TV animation.A story about the campaign was later posted on the Guardian website on 30 May 2010:
UK animation is at a “tipping point: it either survives or dies”, campaigners warned in a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph. They want the British Government to extend the Film Tax Credit to animation companies working on TV programmes to ensure local producers can compete against overseas animation companies, where tax breaks range from 28% in Ireland to 65% in Canada.
“It’s not that we’re against a free and open market. If you want to go somewhere such as India or Korea to get the cheapest animation, then fine,” says Oli Hyatt, co-founder and head of development at animation company Blue-Zoo, one of the campaign’s leaders.
“What’s frustrating – and, we believe, a threat to the entire industry – is when work is taken off you not because you’re not up to the mark creatively or because you are too expensive, but because a rival production company in Ireland or Canada has government backing and you don’t.”
But it isn’t just inequalities in the tax regime that pose a threat to Britain’s TV animation producers. Quoted in the select committee report, Ragdoll Productions’ founder, Anne Wood, blamed broadcasters for slashing budgets. This is a trend that extends across all animation output, including programming for older TV audiences, British Animation Awards director Jayne Pilling believes.
“Withdrawal of TV funding of animation for short films is the biggest area of change – and greatest sadness – for British animation. Channel 4 was responsible for a British animation renaissance in its early years, with short films funded for adult audiences, which led others, notably the BBC and S4C, to follow suit,” she says.
What broadcast funding does now occur is an exception rather than the norm, Pilling adds. She cites the recent example of Peter and the Wolf, the British animation that won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2008.
The film was rejected by more than 90 producers, broadcasters and financiers until interest from Channel 4’s music and arts department finally persuaded other investors to climb on board.
Even then, the 32-minute, stop-frame model animation of Prokofiev’s 1936 orchestral classic was produced in Poland, albeit with a predominantly British production team.
“Today most, if not all, broadcaster commitment has fallen away because of the financial challenges of a multichannel world, schedulers’ uncertainty about just what to do with animation, and the dominance of set running times and familiar programme formats,” Pilling claims.
Wallace and Gromit, Bob the Builder and Pingu are going in to battle as leading lights of Britain's animation industry prepare to campaign for government support for UK-based talent.On June 5 the story was picked up by Walletpop:
The industry, creator of classics such as Bagpuss, Mr Benn and Thomas the Tank Engine, is seeing talent lured overseas by lucrative tax breaks. And they complain that work is being outsourced to studios in the Far East. Earlier this month it emerged that a film produced to showcase one-eyed monsters Wenlock and Mandeville, the mascots for the London 2012 Olympics, was produced in China.
Animators including Blue Zoo Productions, Chapman Entertainment, Nickelodeon UK, Wallace & Gromit creator Aardman, and HIT entertainment, home to Bob The Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine, have banded together as Animation UK, to try to revive the sector's fortunes. They plan to lobby the Treasury, as well as culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and culture minister Ed Vaizey, calling for similar tax breaks to those already available to the film industry.
Their new campaign, Save UK Animation, launches in a couple of weeks' time but it is marshalling its forces ahead of the coalition government's emergency budget on 22 June. While in opposition, both parties talked of the need to support the creative industries, and Save UK Animation is compiling a dossier on the economic value of the industry to bolster its case. Bernard Cribbens, the voice of the Wombles in the early 70s, is patron, and Mark Field, Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, is also actively involved.
And earlier on The Telegraph ran a report on the campaign, emphasising the involvement of Rolf Harris:
[W]hen the teams behind Wallace and Gromit, Bob the Builder, Pingu and Thomas the Tank Engine warn that they could be fleeing these shores for the Far East where they'll be treated a lot better by the tax man, then we really do have a serious situation.
Because the people at Aardman, Blue Zoo Productions, Chapman Entertainment and Nickelodeon UK who produce these brilliant programmes for kids and adults truly do have talent. With more than half the 5,000 people in the industry are aged under 35 and importantly, about 70% of the jobs are based outside London.
And while the global animation industry is worth around £200 billion, the UK part of that is only valued at £120 million. That's despite the huge Brit legacy in the genre and multi-award-winning talent such as Aardman's Nick Park.
Together, the UK's animation companies have begun a new campaign, Save UK Animation to try to put pressure on the Government to provide tax breaks in June 22's emergency budget to keep our talent here and offer incentives to those who invest in it.
Disgracefully, a film produced to showcase mascots for London's 2012 Olympics was made in China, a simple case that highlights the problems our homegrown animators face.
One of the greatest cartoons in history, The Simpsons, has long been produced in South Korea to keep its costs down. How long before we see Wallace and Gromit, In The Night Garden or Thomas the Tank Engine head the same way?
Harris, who turned 80 last week, said: “I feel I have an empathy with those working in animation, probably because my first job on television was drawing cartoons and, later, one of the most fulfilling programmes I did was ‘Rolf’s Cartoon Club’.Save UK Animation is in its early days and currently has no official website, although a few updates have been posted on Blue Zoo's Twitter. Here's hoping the campaign soon becomes as vocal as its elder sibling Save Kids' TV.
“It saddens me to learn from my friends in the animation industry that business is disappearing overseas, due to lack of Government support here. There is such a rich heritage and wealth of talent in animation in the UK.
“Many other countries give tax support in this area and it’s a great shame that more isn’t being done here in the way of tax incentives to match those given to the film industry. Let’s enable the home grown UK animation businesses to compete internationally.”
Animation production in England has fallen from 84 per cent to 28 per cent in the last five years, although the world’s animation industry has risen to an estimated 70 billion pounds, according to Screen Digest.
Harris, is patron of the newly formed group Animation UK, a new campaign to preserve British animation, joins a growing call to protect British children’s programmes.
One per cent of the 113,000 hours of children’s programmes broadcast last year were new commissions made in Britain, according to a recent report by the House of Lords which expressed concern at the increase in imported programmes on British television.
Oli Hyatt, chairman of Animation UK, “As a child, I used to love Bagpuss, The Magic Roundabout and The Wombles. As a country we are great at producing children’s animation. But over the last five years, over 50 per cent of the industry has dissapreared because it is so much cheaper to commission animators outside of the UK, like India and the US. Unless some action is taken, here’s a real risk of British animation disappearing altogether, which would be a big loss culturally and economically.”
The organisation has called for tax breaks, like those in Ireland and Canada, and a Government-backed animation fund.
UPDATE: The campaign now has its own site, AnimationUK.org.