During the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI) I attended a panel about boutique animation studios in Toronto. These studios are essentially the indie developers of the animation world. Boutique studios often do contract animation work for bigger companies and commercials in order to make enough money to fund their own personal works, which is exactly how indie developers work. At the panel there were five studios present: Tinman Creative, Tendril, Solis Animation, Rune Entertainment, and Style5.TV. They talked about everything from how they got their start in animation to how they keep going.
On the subject of how they got inspiration to start doing animation Brett Jubinville of Tinman Creative said that his drive for animation came from not wanting to work at a boring job. He said that his father once made an off-handed comment about not being able to remember the last 30 years of his life – Jubinville said that the statement scared the crap out of him. He didn’t want to work at a boring job for the rest of his life. Animation was his way of achieving this goal. Sam Chou (from Style5.TV) said that big pictures such as Jurassic Park inspired him to go into animation. He even had an opportunity to work with the same machines that were used for Jurassic Park. He joked that it was a definite highlight for him.
Starting a new studio, however, is as tough as you can imagine. Small studios often face many risks and struggle a fair bit in their formative years (and even in their later years, too). Leslie Solis (Solis Animation) stated that the biggest stress in starting a new studio is keeping people employed. The livelihood of many is based on the success of the company. He continued by saying that the industry is a very opportunistic one: once you lose an animator or another team member it may be hard to hire them back because they may have already been picked up elsewhere. Talent is definitely hard to come by and that rings true especially in the highly specialized field of animation.
The most interesting part of the panel to me was when the studios began discussing how they measure success. Paul Wollenzien of Rune entertainment expressed that people need to understand that in the creative world, success is usually measured differently than in most industries. Success, according to him, is measured by growth alone – be it financially or creatively. To me, that’s a beautiful mindset to have because it allows for constructive failures to happen. Often times, when money is the only indicator of success, many creative things die because they’re not profitable. What Wollenzien suggests is that there is a benefit to be had through growing creatively, because if you have grown creatively but failed financially, you still have learned something and can improve your work, doing a better job the next time. Your skills will never become invalid if you keep reaching higher.
It’s clear to me that there are many great animation studios right here in Toronto. I had no idea such great talent lives right here in the city. These boutique studios are the folks who are pushing animation past its limits to create new and wonderful things. The boutiques are the ones that take a lot of risks (and subsequently, sometimes rewards) for their work, making them a group that are very heavily invested in themselves. This type of ethic leads to creations that are engaging and awesome to watch. Thank these studios for bringing new ideas to the table!