VFX and the Rise of Animated Features

by Graham Edwards

Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Animated features are on the up. What’s more, the bonds between animation and visual effects are growing ever stronger.

Today, the British Film Institute announced a new partnership with Aardman Animations, the UK studio that created Wallace and Gromit and The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Under the scheme, three filmmakers or filmmaking teams will be funded for up to two years to encourage development of new animated projects, with dedicated support from the The BFI Aardman Animation Development Lab.

Ben Roberts, BFI Film Fund director, said:

“The beauty of animated features lies in their ability to combine great artistry with commercial ambition. This all comes at a cost, and so the development opportunities are limited. Tapping into that Aardman brain to work in depth on a small number of carefully chosen projects from promising filmmakers, is a great opportunity for us to move some exciting and commercially appealing work closer to a reality.”

According to Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman Animations:

“Feature animation is the ideal medium for filmmakers. It allows us to reach the widest possible cinema audience, in terms of age and demographic, without compromising our standards or patronising our viewers. It offers magnificent scope for the fundamental film skills of cinematography, design, editing and performance. And as filmmakers we can win over audiences not only through humour, but also through deep emotion and visceral excitement.”

The news comes hot on the heels of Cinesite’s recent announcement of its move into animated features. Comic Animations is the new animation arm of the visual effects facility, which has branches in London and Montreal. Cinesite’s first animated short Beans picked up a gold award at the AEAF animation awards, and was awarded the opening slot in the 2014 SIGGRAPH Electronic Theatre.

The first feature to come out of the Cinesite/Comic Animations stable will be the comedy fairy tale Charming, directed by Ross Venokur and produced in association with 3QU Media, a new CG-animated feature film production company headed by John H. Williams (producer of Shrek and CEO of Vanguard Films and Animation) and Henry F. Skelsey (Managing Partner of Fulton Capital Management LLC).

"Charming" one-sheetCinesite Managing Director Antony Hunt commented:

“The deal with 3QU Media is the perfect fit for our overall animation strategy. They are wonderful partners and their slate of films are ideal projects for us.  Feature animation is a natural extension of our talent and infrastructure.  This deal is an important step in Cinesite’s overall strategy to create world class animated feature films and to develop our own creative intellectual property via Comic Animations, which we established to develop a slate of original animated films.”

John Williams added:

“We are thrilled to be part of Cinesite’s major commitment to getting into the animation feature space. We believe Charming can be a big commercial success and we hope this will be the beginning of a long time feature animation association between 3QU and Cinesite’s super talented artists, technicians, and production team.”

Nor is Cinesite the only visual effects company to flex its animation muscles. In April this year, Double Negative and Elizabeth Murdoch launched Locksmith Animation, the UK’s first dedicated high-end CG feature animation studio. At the same time, Dneg’s Feature Animation Division was opened, led by ex-Dreamworks Associate Producer, Tom Jacomb.

Matt Holben, Double Negative co-founder and CEO, said:

“Animated feature films are an exciting next step in the development of Double Negative. We recognise that whilst there are synergies with VFX it requires a different approach. We are thrilled that Tom Jacomb has joined us to develop our new division. We are excited by the long-term potential of feature animation and are determined to build a sustainable pipeline of work.”

The Boxtrolls

As far back as 2011, Industrial Light & Magic  were applying their VFX skills to animated features, with the critically acclaimed Rango. Last year, Disney proved itself on top form with the popular Frozen. And LAIKA’s current release The Boxtrolls – a hybrid animated film driven by stop motion and heavily augmented by CG and visual effects – is riding high at the box office.

Has there ever been a better time for animated features?

Watch out for the new Cinefex blog article on The Boxtrolls – out next Tuesday.

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