It was all about the package and not the final product. That’s what has been wrong with children’s animation until quite recently, says Simon Armstrong of Ticktockrobot in Brighton. The problem was partly to do with the sheer ubiquity of CG. “When 3D animation started to become more affordable, there were a lot of children’s programmes using it – and badly,” Simon says.
The good news is that indies and commissioners are paying attention to core content once more, Simon believes. “I think the honeymoon period of 3D is at an end. People are looking back to the roots of animation, illustration and storytelling, not the medium.”
The influence of independent comics can be seen in popular kids TV shows such as Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time
However Oli Hyatt of London studio Blue-Zoo says children’s animation in the UK has suffered creatively from dwindling slots and lower commissioning fees, as well as overseas competition.
“People have to find a solution to meet a budget, rather than producing the best solution,” he says. “This often means that a show is 100 per cent planned around a merchandising platform, not around a viewing platform. New technology means it’s cheaper to make ‘standard CGI’ animation, but I think people need to understand how to really push the technology creatively to create new looks.”
Current preschool favourite Olive the Ostrich by Blue-Zoo uses elements created by primary-school children, plus the voice talents of Rolf Harris
Returning to the 2D versus 3D debate, Armstrong feels that if something is being created in 3D now, it’s generally for the right reasons: “Shows such as Transformers Prime or Star Wars: The Clone Wars require fast-paced action and dynamic cameras. They are also done extremely well. If it’s about charming characters and calmer storytelling, traditional techniques are being used, such as Rastamouse.”
One indication of which way the wind is blowing that Ticktockrobot is now signing up 2D artists like illustrator and printmaker Graham Carter. The studio has already worked with him to create animations for a Pinocchio-inspired gallery show in Brighton called Me, Marionette. Another is the current popularity of shows influenced by independent comics (such as Adventure Time) and the sorts of character art popular with creative adults (such as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, or Camp Lazlo – which owes a debt to the work of Jon Burgerman).
Unsurprisingly, many of these shows are commissioned by the US Cartoon Network, whose Adult Swim network has tapped into these forms for a grown-up audence.
Animation trends 2012
4) Children's TV animation rediscovers its craft roots