An animation studio is a company producing animated media. The broadest such companies conceive of products to produce, own the physical equipment for production, employ operators for that equipment, and hold a major stake in the sales or rentals of the media produced. They also own rights over merchandising and creative rights for characters created/held by the company, much like authors holding copyrights. In some early cases, they also held patent rights over methods of animation used in certain studios that were used for boosting productivity. Overall, they are business concerns and can function as such in legal terms.
- American studios
- Direct to video market
- Ownership trends
- Japanese studios
- OAVOVA market
- Animators contracts
- Animation specialities
- Firsts in animated feature films
- Corporate social responsibility
Currently there are about 201 animation studios dedicated to the production and distribution of animated films that are active. Few are actual production house where as others are corporate entities. Many of these animation studios help with the fulfillment of animation works for big brand names and have carried out outsourced projects including Nemo.
Winsor McCay was widely renowned as the father of the animated cartoon, having converted his cartoon strip Little Nemo into a 10-minute feature film, co-directing it along with J. Stuart Blackton, released on April 8, 1911. However, the idea of a studio dedicated to animating cartoons was spearheaded by Raoul Barré and his studio, Barré Studio, co-founded with Bill Nolan, beating out the studio created by J.R. Bray, Bray Productions, to the honour of the first studio dedicated to animation.
Though beaten to the post of being the first studio, Bray's studio employee, Earl Hurd, came up with patents designed for mass-producing the output for the studio. As Hurd did not file for these patents under his own name, but handed them to Bray, they would go on to form the Bray-Hurd Patent Company and sold these techniques for royalties to other animation studios of the time. The patents for animation systems using drawings on transparent celluloid sheets and a registration system that kept images steady were held under this firm. Bray also developed the basic division of labor still used in animation studios (animators, assistants, layout artists, etc.).
The biggest name in animation studios during this early time was Disney Brothers Animation Studio (now known as Walt Disney Animation Studios), co-founded by Walt and Roy O. Disney. Started on October 16, 1923, the studio went on to make its first animated short, Steamboat Willie in 1928, to much critical success, though the real breakthrough was in 1937, when the studio was able to produce a full-length animated feature film i.e. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which laid the foundation for other studios to try to make full-length movies. In 1932 Flowers and Trees, a production by Walt Disney Productions and United Artists, won the first Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. This period, from the 1920s to the 1950s or sometimes considered from 1911 to the death of Walt Disney in 1966, is commonly known as the Golden Age of American Animation as it included the growth of Disney, as well as the rise of Warner Bros. and MGM as prominent animation studios. Disney continued to lead in technical prowess among studios for a long time afterwards, as can be seen with their achievements. In 1941, Otto Messmer created the first animated television commercials for Botany Tie ads/weather reports. They were shown on NBC-TV in New York until 1949. This marked the first forays of animation designed for the smaller screen and was to be followed by the first animated series specifically made for television, Crusader Rabbit, in 1948. Its creator, Alex Anderson, had to create the studio 'Television Arts Productions' specifically for the purpose of creating this series as his old studio, Terrytoons, refused to make a series for television. Since Crusader Rabbit however, many studios have seen this as a profitable enterprise and many have entered the made for television market since, with Bill Hanna refining the production process for television animation on his show Ruff and Reddy. It was in 1958 that The Huckleberry Hound Show claimed the title of being the first all new half-hour cartoon show. This, along with their previous success with the series Tom and Jerry, elevated Hanna's animation studio, Hanna-Barbera Productions, to dominate the North American television animation market during the latter half of the 20th Century.
In 2002, Shrek, produced by DreamWorks and Pacific Data Images won the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Since then, Disney/Pixar have produced the most number of movies either to win or be nominated for the award.
Direct-to-video animation has seen a rise, as a concept, in the Western markets. With many comic characters receiving their versions of OVA's, original video animations, under the Westernized title of direct-to-video animations, the OVA market has spread to American animation houses. Though the term direct-to-video carries negative connotations in the North American and European markets, their popularity has resulted in comic characters ranging from Hellboy, Green Lantern: First Flight and Ultimate Avengers, to television shows such as Family Guy and Futurama, all releasing direct to video animations under the animation studio moniker. DC Comics have even unveiled their own direct to video studio, producing animated movies for the sole purpose of sale in the direct-to-video market, under the name DC Universe Animated Original Movies. With growing worries about piracy, direct to video animation might become more popular in the near future
With the growth of animation as an industry, the trends of ownership of studios has gradually changed with time. Current studios such as Warner Bros. and early ones such as Fleischer Studios, started life as small, independent studios, being run by a very small core group. After being bought out or sold to other companies, they eventually consolidated with other studios and became larger. The drawback of this setup was that there was now a major thrust towards profitability with the management acting as a damper towards creativity of these studios, continuing even in today's scenario.
Currently, the independent animation studios are looking to ensure artistic integrity by signing up with big animation studios on contracts that allow them to license out movies, without being directed by the bigger studios. Examples of such co-operation are the joint ventures between DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures and that of Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox.
The first known example of Japanese animation, also called anime, is dated around 1907, but it would take until 1956 for the Japanese animation industry to successfully adopt the studio format as used in the United States. In 1961, these productions began to be aired in the USA. Toei Animation, formed in 1956, was the first Japanese animation studio of importance, and saw the reduction of animators as independent anime artists.
After the formation of Toei Animation Co. Ltd. in 1956, the Japanese studios churned out minor works of animation. But with the release of Toei's first theatrical feature, The Tale of the White Serpent released in October 1958, the animation industry in Japan came into the eye of the general public.
The success of Alakazam the Great led to the finding of artist Osamu Tezuka, who would go on to become the father of Japanese manga with his brand of modern, fast paced fantasy story lines. He became influenced by Hanna-Barbera productions of the late 1950s and made Japan's first made for television animation studio, Mushi Productions. The success of the studios' first show in 1963, Astro Boy, was so immense that there were 3 other television animation studios by the end of the year and Toei had opened their own made for television division. The greatest difference between Japanese studios and North American studios was the difference in adult themed material to make way in Japan. Tezuka's thought that animation should not be restricted to kids alone has brought about many studios that are employed in the production of adult themed adaptations of classic stories such as Heidi (Heidi, Girl of the Alps), One Thousand and One Nights and The Diary of a Young Girl and many more.
In the 1980s, animation studios were led back to their theatrical roots due to the success of Hayao Miyazaki's film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which led publishing house Tokuma Shoten to finance a new animation studio, Studio Ghibli, which would be used for the personal works of Miyazaki and his close friend, Isao Takahata. Many of Ghibli's works have become Japan's top grossing theatrical films, whether in live-action or animated form.
The market for 'OAV's or 'Original Anime Video' later the acronym would be better known as 'OVA' meaning 'Original video animation' as the term 'OAV' could often be misunderstood for 'Original Adult Video', began in 1984. These are basically tended towards the home video market, while not tending to the television or theatrical audience as such. They refer to those movies that are launched as direct-to-video releases and not meant to be released in theatres. Video productions can run from half an hour productions to well over two hours. They require that premise or story be original in order to be counted as an OVA, though sometimes, the story can be derived from a longer running manga or animated series. As the OAV market is not adapted to the rigours that are faced by television shows or feature films, they have been known to show gratuitous amounts of violence and/or pornography. Some OAV's have registered such strong acclaim that they have been remade as anime television series as well as theatrical releases.
Since most new OVA's are derived from other animated media, many animation studios that have previously worked on animated series or movies, and adaptations of Japanese manga, have now entered the OVA market, looking to capitalise on the popularity of their flagship shows. Studios participating in such circumstances include Production I.G and Studio Deen. This market is mainly aimed at 25- to 40-year-old adults in Japan.
Although there are permanent/full-time positions in studios, most animators work on a contract basis. There are some animators that are considered to be in the core group of the studio, which can either be as a result of being there since the inception of the company or being talented recruits from other animation studios. These are the more secured positions in an animation studio, though the studio might have policies with regard to possible tenure of animators. Since studios can hire animators on a work for hire basis nowadays, many artists do not retain rights over their creations, unlike some of the early animators. The extent of these copyrights is subject to local intellectual property rights.
The animators must also be aware about the contracts laws and labour laws prevalent in the jurisdiction to which the animation studio is subject to. There have been numerous legal battles fought over the copyright of famous franchises, such as Kung Fu Panda and SpongeBob SquarePants. This has come about as a result of the clause in Copyright contracts that states that an idea cannot be protected, only an actual piece of work can be said to be infringed upon. This means that though the animators may have forwarded ideas to the animation studios about certain characters and plots, these ideas alone cannot be protected and can lead to studios profiting on individual animator's ideas. However, this has not stopped many independent artists from filing claims to characters produced by different studios.
Certain animation studios may have certain specialties in a certain kind of animation. They can be, but not restricted to, the following:
Based on the work for which animators and studios are contracted, there are various projects on which animation studios might be asked to perform. They can be, but not restricted to, the following:
Many of the aforementioned projects are done on a contract basis with other parties and are may not be directly used by the studios for sale, distribution, etc.
Firsts in animated feature films
Throughout the history of animated studios, there have been many firsts with regards to technology and techniques used to produce better graphics and innovate on already existing techniques. Some of these can be obtained from the following page- Firsts in animated feature films.
Corporate social responsibility
In an attempt to keep their image as fun, wholesome family entities, many animation studios are currently setting up arms for conducting activities related to Corporate Social Responsibility. Though many studios are still waking up to the possibilities of branding under these initiatives, the Walt Disney Company has already set up many programs in order to cement its image as an entity that is socially responsible.
Among the many programs initiated by Disney are the annual Enviroports (i.e. environmental report) that Disney now publishes yearly to keep its shareholders in touch with exactly how it attempts to optimize the company's operational impact on environmental issues such as reduction of waste, fossil-fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improved eco-system protection. This has led to appreciation by many third parties such as the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and Reputation Institute, which ranks Disney 2nd in a Corporate Social Responsibility Index, with a score of 81.33, devised in 2010. The report also establishes that Disney has improved its performance year-on-year and is second on two out of the three categories listed for measurement. The CSR activities of The Walt Disney Company can be found here The Walt Disney Company#Corporate social responsibility.