If you’re interested in animation, you’re probably already familiar with Cartoon Brew, one of the Internet’s best places for news, features and (sometimes heated) debates on both independent and mainstream animation. The Brew’s editor-in-chief, Amid Amidi, author of numerous books on animation and owner of the site after the departure of its other founding member, Jerry Beck, has agreed to talk to us about European animation, industry journalism and the future of Cartoon Brew.
Nadia: What do you think about European animation, compared to the American industry? What should European animation learn from the success and mistakes of mainstream US animation?
Amid: The big advantage that European animated features have is their lower budgets. Why is that an advantage? The benefit of smaller budgets is that it allows for more risk-taking and experimentation. The major American producers have their hands tied because their films cost between $100-200 million. To ensure a return on their investment, they have to create formulaic and safe tentpoles for the global market and can’t risk offending any segment of the filmgoing audience from three-year-olds to eighty-year-olds. That’s a tough situation to be in creatively because it doesn’t allow for new or creative ideas to emerge. Many European film producers make the mistake of trying to replicate the Pixar/DreamWorks formulas on smaller budgets, and those films always suffer by comparison because they look cheap. The most successful foreign film producers are those who embrace their small budgets and use it to their advantage to create animated films that would be impossible to produce in the United States, like “Persepolis,” “Triplets of Belleville,” “Ernest & Celestine,” “Waltz with Bashir” and the “Kirikou” series.
Amid: Obviously, the Internet provides countless educational resources and software can be easily acquired for animating, but this kind of individual learning doesn’t necessarily contribute to the establishment of a healthy industry. A thriving local animation scene needs schools, studios, institutional support, and other supporting elements like festivals and websites where community can be built and knowledge exchanged. This lack of infrastructure is currently a major hurdle in many countries where individuals want to develop new animation scenes from scratch. While I can’t speak about Romania’s specific situation, it’s a positive sign that Bucharest already has the international animation festival Anim’est.
Nadia: It may be just nostalgia, but while growing up in the 90’s it seemed that I was contemporary with a wave of creativity in animation (especially the original series from Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon of those days). How do you see the current times for the animation industry? Is it on an upward or downward trajectory?
Amid: Most definitely upward, especially during the last five years. The progress is difficult to observe though because the best work isn’t on one or two TV channels anymore. Twenty years ago, an American viewer could turn on MTV’s “Liquid Television” and attend a Spike & Mike festival to see a reasonable sample of the world’s best animation. Today, there is far too much amazing work being produced to be contained in any single place. We update Cartoon Brew every few hours and still struggle to cover everything. The work is spread out all over the Internet, and it’s being produced in schools and studios in dozens of different countries. Fantastic work is being produced in CGI, hand-drawn, stop-mo, VFX, mo-graph, for interactive platforms, projected onto buildings, with new experimental techniques, everywhere. Seemingly every day I’m introduced to a new artist or studio that I didn’t know about. It’s truly an exciting time to see the art form grow and thrive as it is right now.
Nadia: What can industry-focused journalism do to help the animation environment thrive?
Amid: It’s crucial for industry-focused animation sites to focus on the diversity of animated productions because the mainstream media covers only a tiny spectrum of corporate-produced animated films and TV series. On Cartoon Brew, we cover all the major stories, but we have equally extensive coverage devoted to independent filmmakers, students, experimental projects, and classic animation. With more animation being produced than ever before, there is an urgent need to curate content and help make it easier for audiences to discover quality work.
Nadia: You are well known for being very opinionated and occasionally controversial in your editorials. Would you be harsher on poor graphics or poor storytelling when writing a review?
Amid: Weak storytelling is always the biggest hurdle. It’s even more difficult to accept a weak or generic story when a studio spends $150 million on a film. Money can buy production values, but it can’t buy storytelling that impacts a viewer and affects them emotionally.
Nadia: How did Cartoon Brew change with the departure of Jerry Beck?
Amid: When it was just the two of us, readers knew exactly what to expect from the site’s editorial content. Since I bought the site, I’ve hired four new regular columnists as well as numerous guest contributors. The new writers have brought fresh perspectives that have really changed the tone of the site. Cartoon Brew has more of a fearless, independent attitude than ever before, but also a vast range of new writing, with unique articles like The Milt Kahl Head Swaggle, Max Headroom and the Strange World of Pseudo-CGI, and The Five Most Mentally Unstable Ladies of “Venture Bros.”, which would have never appeared on the old Cartoon Brew. The response to the new writing has been phenomenal, and we’ve enjoyed record-breaking levels of traffic and user engagement throughout the spring, so expect to see the site continue to evolve in this direction.
Photo: Cartoon Brew