Innovation in Tech in The Animation Industry
In recent years the animation industry has been the beneficiary of groundbreaking developments in technology, with even smaller companies gaining a foothold in the industry, thanks to the economies of scale offered by the relevant technological innovations. From the point of view of investors, the animation sector is a growth industry and, as such, there are opportunities for significant returns, even from startups.
In the past, animation has relied for success on developments in technology. The advent of the cinema was one such development, without which audiences would never have seen the classic animated features associated with Disney such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, from 1937. In the 1990s, the change over from 2D to 3D animation represented a significant jumping-off point for the industry. Developments in 3D have allowed animators to offer audiences as realistic a depiction of characters and scenery as possible, and 3D has also impacted on live-action features, with one of the better-known examples from the earlier days of 3D technology using computer software being the frighteningly realistic dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park series.
Motion capture technology has allowed filmmakers to impose animated objects onto live-action scenes. Motion capture works by recording the movements of a human actor using sensors attached to their bodies and then using the captured movements to create a computerized model that can subsequently be inserted into scenes in a film. Without motion capture, audiences would not have experienced the character of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance. Motion capture has also been used in animated features to depict characters in a more realistic fashion. High-profile examples include the 2009 version of A Christmas Carol, with Jim Carrey, and The Adventures of Tintin, from 2011.
Of particular note have been developments in markerless motion capture. The difference between markerless technology and the original forms of motion capture is that markerless systems do not require the subject being filmed to wear special equipment such as sensors. Instead, computer algorithms enable analysis of multiple streams of film and the identification of human forms. Those forms are then broken down into constituent parts for the purposes of tracking. Previously, technology such as sensors was needed for the tracking process.
Developments in animation technology have had a major impact not only on output but also on the actual industry itself, in terms of its composition and how companies finance themselves and gain a foothold in the sector. Digital technology has proved disruptive across a whole range of industries, allowing smaller startups to make a disproportionate impact on the marketplace and gain the sort of traction that, previously, only the companies with better resources could hope to do. This trend has been replicated in the animation sector, with smaller companies enjoying success in what have turned out to be phenomenally successful and high profile projects. For instance, Oregon-based Laika is the small animation studio behind recent animation hit The Boxtrolls. Previous features from the studio, Coraline and ParaNorman, were both nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category, in 2009 and 2012, respectively. Laika’s success is based on a combination of old-style, handcrafted techniques with cutting-edge technology, allowing it to innovate and deliver feature films that have a different look to some of the other animated features out there. Undoubtedly, its independent, relatively low-key status allowed it to take risks that more established studios, expected to deliver hit after hit, might not necessarily be able to do. Using digital processes, rather than relying merely on the hand-drawn techniques associated with such animation pioneers as Walt Disney, means that studios can operate on a much smaller scale, with fewer animators, than they were in the past.
The animation industry will continue to benefit handsomely from technological innovations. The industry may not find itself immune to the attractions of 3D printing, with students, for instance, already embracing 3D printing as a means of completing animated projects on fairly limited budgets. Separate from technological innovations, the economics of filmmaking in general may well be to the benefit of short features as well as content distributed across the Internet. This could have interesting implications for the type of smaller animation studios already making an impact on the industry as the points of entry into the sector become more scalable than they have been in the past.
The animation industry is poised for continued growth and development, with technology underpinning its future success. For investors in the animation sector, this is an exciting time.
The following article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.