May 25 / Phil

Leo Baker talks about the serious business of animation

Sustainable animation business model

Sustainable animation business model

In the second part of our special three part interview series with Leo Baker, the animator of the Oscar-award-winning short The Lost Thing, we get down to business.

Big business. Small business. And how animation in Australia needs to become a sustainable business.

With the closures of studios like Team Bondi and Dr D Studios it demonstrates that even creating high-quality, critically-acclaimed work does not guarantee success in this industry.

After visiting seven different countries on a Winston Churchill Fellowship to find out how the rest of the world does it, Leo believes he has some insights into the problem.

Ozanimate: The sustainable animation model in your report shows that consumer demand for animated entertainment is a key driver in a healthy cycle. Is there enough demand for animation in the Australian market?

Leo Baker: I certainly think there is. Most people I know are happy to say how they love Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks films, as well as programs like The Simpsons or Family Guy on TV every night. These are all imported productions. Yes they are well made, with a well established following through mega marketing and familiarity, but the point to the question was demand (which would include consumer ‘interest’ in the material) which exists for this content.

I can’t see why the Australian TV stations can’t get behind fostering a ‘prime time’ Australian animated sitcom – with well written humour and cultural content appealing to either a broad or adult specific market. Let’s not forget that the projects can be sold abroad too, expanding the market and demand. Investment is required to crack the initial consumer following, like any TV show or film, but its just about accessing the interest which is already apparent, in my opinion.

Oz: Low-budget so-called “mini-major” films like Hoodwinked, District 9, and Despicable Me were made for $15 million, $30 million and $79 million respectively and well-and-truly made back their comparatively small budgets at the box office. What does it say that Mary and Max only had a budget of $8 million?

LB: I think primarily it says that Australia doesn’t have comparable abilities to match those budgets through the usual avenues of funding. If we had closer endorsement figures from bigger studios, investors and funding bodies then perhaps we could match those budgets.

Government funding for films will never be able to match the funding of established films studios. Many Australian films, including Mary and Max, rely on this entirely. Other sources of investment would certainly make a big difference. It all starts with an awareness of the potential (of the medium). That’s the main point I wanted to illustrate in the Winston Churchill Fellowship report.

Oz: Online is obviously going to be a big future channel, what do you see is lacking in Australia’s ability to deliver content online?

LB: I don’t think Australia is lacking any ability to deliver content online. Obviously the new national broadband network will support this greatly. Like any internet problems in Australia, remote rural areas may not be as well equipped due to being outside the network. Let’s not forget that Netflix started as a mail order DVD rental company, and still supplies that service.

The infrastructure for an online ‘on demand’ entertainment system in Australia is due to land anytime soon. It just depends whether we will have our own system, like Bigpond movies, or wait for the proven overseas companies like Netflix to set up here.

Oz: Your Oscar-winning short The Lost Thing sounds perfect for that sort of online distribution. It took me by surprise to hear that iTunes does not have any ability to provide distribution for Australian short films. Did you get any sense why, or whether this would be addressed?

LB: Absolutely no idea. Utterly baffled.

That concludes part two of our interview series with Leo Baker.

Editor’s note: After originally posting this article, we’re pleased to report that iTunes have made The Lost Thing available for download. So go grab a copy!

If you missed it, check out part one of the interview where we talk about government funding and the role of studios in the animation industry.

For Leo’s full report, check out his fellowship report.

One Comment

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  1. Dan / Jun 13 2012

    Great interview and great reading about the business side of Australian animation!

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