2016 was such a turbulent year that if it were an airline flight, the fasten seatbelt light would never have been turned off and drink service would have been suspended. And I didn’t get my complimentary bag of peanuts.
While the animation industry saw record box office returns, the studios themselves were rocked with layoffs, downsizing, buyouts, and offshore production.
As our engineers forged ahead with the construction of the Nimble Platform, we took a look around at the animation landscape. What were animation and effects studios, both big and small, doing well and what could use improvement? And more importantly, where could Nimble Collective fit in?
The first question we heard from people inside and outside the industry had us sit up and take notice.
In a year of record-setting budgets, box office receipts, and sheer number of animated films being produced, large-scale layoffs were still common in the industry. From a multi-round of layoffs from Dreamworks in 2016 to the literal shuttering of ARC Productions in Canada, studios across the board are feeling the financial pinch. While things aren’t likely to change much for the larger studios, smaller and independent studios are particularly vulnerable as under bidding for jobs is causing more and more studios to fold or look for other revenue streams. Many studios working on VFX or CG shots for feature films are looking at a 3% to 5% profit margin, and any delays, re-shoots, or changes can quickly eat into those razor thin margins.
Mass layoffs and shrinking profit margins are taking their toll on the working professionals as well as the up-and-coming creators. Talking with animation professionals and students at the CTN Expo, we heard the same concerns over and over about where the jobs are (or aren’t). As recent graduates and displaced veterans increase the size of the talent pool, coveted studio spots are becoming fewer and farther between. The lines for portfolio and demo reel review held by the major studios wrapped around the CTN vendor tent like a desperate boa constrictor hoping to squeeze a production job out of the bulky big top. In fact, the sheer volume of top notch talent on display at the CTN Expo hammers home the point that the studios have a vast talent pool to fish from, and those were just the folks who made it to L.A. for the event!
But it’s not all doom and gloom on the animation front. Nay nay, I say!
As was pointed out earlier, the number of animators, riggers, modelers, lighters, and all manner of animation professionals all across the globe is steadily growing. More and more production tools are readily available for the budding (and even professional) animator that allow for big screen quality on a shoestring budget. Big budget tools like the Adobe suite and Maya have embraced reasonable priced monthly subscriptions, and with free or open source creative tools like Blender, Krita, Renderman, Unity and more, the field is ripe for anyone with an interest in making animation.
This explosion of readily available tools has caused ripples of creativity to wash over the globe. A kid in Laos can download Blender and learn 3D modeling. A woman in Australia has an unprecedented number of online schools to choose from if she wants to learn animation. A group of friends can animate a funny, short video using ToonBoom and upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, Vid.me, Facebook, or any number of video distribution channels for all the world to see.
We are entering a golden age of global creators which means online collaboration is going to be more important than ever.
There are a growing number of “online collaboration” tools available to teams wanting to bridge the distance between team members. From file syncing and video conferencing, to chat channels and real-time markup tools that allow people to draw over images and make changes, the vast majority of tools offer many specific solutions, but none offer a closed system. You can cobble together a basic pipeline to allow your team to work, but things like permissions, versioning control, and file security are in the hands of the tool makers, if not the team members themselves.
When the Nimble Collective team attended Siggraph this year, we went with the goal of soaking up as much information as we could about cloud computing, distributed services, and streaming. While there was so much information to gather, after giving our own presentations on Nimble Collective and how we are approaching remote collaboration, we were pleasantly surprised about the validation we received about our own platform. Between sitting in on other presentations to hallway demos and discussions, our team came away from Siggraph with their heads just swimming with ideas and a turbo-boosted sense of purpose.
Having observed the animation landscape of 2016 unfold has made Nimble Collective even more sure that the vision we had for a virtual collaborative animation platform in 2014 is needed more now than ever.
Individual creators are looking for a place to meet with others to work on a project, hand in hand. Established studios are looking to save money on “brick and mortar” expenses, or even day to day necessities like rendering. Creators are looking for a community to interact with, where neophytes and professionals can mix and mingle to share ideas and inspiration. Being your own studio means more than cobbling together a hodge podge of off the shelf tools and calling it a day: it means having a destination you can access anywhere, at any time, on any device connected to the Internet.
So while the animation industry is currently experiencing quite a bit of turbulence, we foresee clear skies on the horizon. So recline your chair, partake of your complimentary peanuts (finally!), and enjoy the in-flight movie. We’ll be entering the cloud shortly.