May 18 / Phil

Leo Baker brings animation lessons back to Australia – Part I

Leo Baker at Pixar

Leo Baker visiting Pixar as part of his world tour of animation studios

Leo Baker, animator of the Oscar-award-winning short film The Lost Thing, has just returned from a tour of seven countries on a Winston Churchill Fellowship.

His mission: to meet with animators, studios and educators from around the world and help bring some of the world’s best practices back to Australia.

In the first of this special three part Ozanimate interview series, we asked Leo about how governments and studios operate overseas, and if there were any lessons for Aussie animators.

In part two of our three part series, Ozanimate asks Leo about the business side of animation. How do budgets, distribution models and other market factors influence the success of animated content.

In our final portion of the interview, Leo speaks candidly about the state of animation education in Australia and what options local artists and directors have to further their careers.

For more details, check out the full Winston Churchill report into the animation industry. And visit Leo Baker’s blog for news and information on what he has been up to.

Ozanimate: The Canadian government has been the 100% funding source for the National Film Board for 75 years now, is that a model you’d like to see developed in Australia?

Leo Baker: Absolutely, could you imagine how many animators could be supported, showcasing new production endeavours? The National Film Board has been such a launching pad for emerging young animators and directors. Australia could totally benefit from a similar model.

Oz: Does government funding also imply government control of content to support a cultural agenda?

LB: For the National Film Board it does. They look for original ideas but with a Canadian cultural relevance. They also find this with international co-productions, establishing a theme of universality. I think this is good thing, and I think Australia could use a dose of developing some pride in cultural development. All of the countries with sustainable animation industries have animated many sovereign folk tales, or even just created themes that reflect their cultural identity -which people are interested in! Its not about control or agenda, its actually about keeping the content towards a national relevance. Additionally, I don’t think the Canadian government is asking a lot by this, to prove the relevance for their spending. In my opinion it’s a fantastic system, which was talked about by many people in other countries before I even got to Canada.

Oz: Recently, the Australian government announced a $250 million stimulus package to the car manufacturing industry. Do you think there should be similar concessions to Aussie films and animation studios?

LB: I think if such concessions were made it would an amazing stimulus indeed. I think it would need to be properly managed though. A sustainable industry wont be fixed by opening the floodgates on funding, but a healthy, steady supporting scheme will. If the funding could support successful TV shows, and several feature films lined up to bubble away in succession, the industry could be steered strong quite quickly.

Oz: Is there room for sustainable small to medium-sized animation studios in Australia?

LB: There most certainly is room for small to medium sized studios in Australia because jobs are not always suited for the same sized company. The overall factors affecting sustainability impact studios of all sizes. Some are small, some are large. Smaller studios can also group together on larger projects, the modular nature allows for lower overhead burdens for each company module during leaner times.

Oz: In your report you quote Adam Elliot as saying that “Animation is the most bankable form of film making”. Do you believe that, and if so, why do you think the Australian film making community has struggled?

LB: I do indeed believe that.

Look at the statistics for successful animated production. All of the top grossing film franchises of all time are either animated, or associated with animation.

It has so many avenues for revenue; merchandising, interactive and game expansions. The characters don’t age so the brands can be kept alive for as long as writer can keep writing about the concept.

It isn’t magic though.

Ideas need to be solid and then invested in, like any other business venture. I think the stumbling block is that the Australian industry is not as on top of the trends of production and animation is still under the hindering misconception that it is primarily for children, which is a lesser market.

Oz: Despite several high profile Australian animation success stories, like the Oscar-winning The Lost Thing, Harvey Krumpet, and the critically acclaimed Mary and Max, you seem to think Australia is punching below its weight in the Animation industry?

LB: Yes I do, but I think it is better defined as the successes being mere spikes against much adversity. The primary adversity being the difficulties (or perhaps reluctancy from investors) to acquire adequate funding. I believe this comes back to the potential of the medium not being realised.

Oz: Adam Elliot says he’s earning more money being paid to speak about animation than he is to actually animate. Teaching animation is often more lucrative than practising. Any ideas why this might be?

LB: There is no doubt that we have talented people here. A more sustainable industry would better support these people through home grown projects that keep the field active. Adam gave me permission to say that he earns more money talking about animation, as a means of highlighting the difficulties he has found.

I think it’s quite silly that Australians are happy to celebrate victory once it has been achieved, but aren’t particularly interested in supporting new ventures for striving towards new successes.

That concludes part one of our special three part interview series with Leo Baker.

In part two of our interview, we talk about business models within the entertainment industry and how distribution over the internet is changing the face of animation.

2 Comments

leave a comment
  1. George Siosi Samuels / May 18 2012

    Thank you so much for this! This is quite important. I’ve been harking on about this myself recently, because there are so many opportunities for animators outside of traditional models. I’m eager to read the next article!

  2. Animation Garden / May 18 2012

    Thanks for recording and sharing this interview series.

Leave a Comment

*