UK animation industry 'at risk'
Published: 28th Feb 2012 03:11:44
The British animation industry, which has spawned favourites from Bagpuss to Bob the Builder, is at risk of terminal decline, leading animators have warned.
Animation UK, a lobby group backed by prominent studios, has met Chancellor George Osborne to urge him to introduce tax breaks in next month's budget.
They have told him the industry is at a "critical tipping point" and could disappear from the UK within years.
They say foreign tax breaks and other factors make it cheaper to work abroad.
Animation UK said their meeting with Mr Osborne was "positive and productive".
It follows a warning from Wallace and Gromit animators Aardman, which said it was considering moving production overseas because it was too expensive in the UK.
In France, government funds and tax breaks account for almost 20% of production budgets, while Irish tax relief is worth up to 28%. In Canada, tax credits and other public support accounted for 47% of budgets in 2009/10.
Here, leading figures of the British animation industry explain why they believe it will be a struggle to ensure future children's favourites are made in the UK.
Anne Wood co-created Teletubbies and Rosie and Jim. Her latest animations, The Adventures of Abney & Teal and Dipdap, made their debuts on CBeebies last year.
Asked whether she would be able launch a production company if she was starting out today, she instantly replies: "Couldn't do it. Wouldn't be viable.
"When I started, I was one of the first independent companies and we made for Channel 4. You got your full production costs plus a production fee. Now you're lucky to get 15-20% of your production costs and you have to go out and find the other 80%."
The BBC is the only British broadcaster left that spends significant sums on new programmes, she says. "You've got all of these extra channels but the money for content has gone down."
It is cheaper for TV channels to buy programmes made in countries with tax breaks or in the US, she says.
"We are then abandoning ourselves to North American culture because in North America it's such a big market, so people can make their money back in their home market and let it come over here cheaper."
Ms Wood's company Ragdoll tried once to outsource animation to India, where labour costs are lower, but describes that as "a complete disaster" because she had less control over the outcome.
"You lose the confidence and you lose the flair. We have confidence and flair in the UK and that is what's going," she said, adding: "I'm deeply concerned that that heritage and wealth of talent is being eroded to the point of almost disappearing."
Chapman Entertainment created Fifi and the Flowertots and Roary the Racing Car, and director and co-founder Andrew Haydon says three developments have conspired against UK animators.
Overseas tax breaks make it cheaper to make programmes abroad, TV stations are paying less for shows while demanding an increasing share of the profits, and the recession means revenues from toys, books and DVDs are down.
"If you put those three together then it just doesn't make it work," he says.
Of the company's creations, Fifi and the Flowertots, Roary the Racing Car and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion have been animated in Altrincham, Cheshire, with Little Charley Bear made at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire.
The desire to retain the same styles of animation means there is an "overriding need" to keep those shows in the UK, he says.
But the company's founder Keith Chapman, who created Bob the Builder, has been taking new ideas to producers in Canada.
"With brand new ones you'd be slightly mad to be doing it in the UK without a tax break or some sort of benefit," Mr Haydon says.
"If we do something that's new, it will be a co-production and it will be an overseas production."
Cosgrove Hall was an animation institution, making classics including Danger Mouse, The Wind in the Willows and Chorlton and the Wheelies in its Manchester studios.
It was shut by its owner ITV in 2009, but the studio was recently resurrected by its founders, the late Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove along with entrepreneur Francis Fitzpatrick.
So at a time when the rest of the industry is talking doom and gloom, why are they going back into animation?
Mr Fitzpatrick replies: "Sometimes when things are difficult, the flip side of that is that no one else is starting so there's massive opportunity."
Their new flagship show Pip! will be made in Manchester, he promises. But the UK has "a big hill to climb" to compete with countries like Canada, Ireland and France, he says.
"If you spend £1 in Ireland, you will get an immediate tax return of 28p. A French production company can attract up to 70% of the funding [from the government].
"It's very challenging [in the UK]. Yes it is viable, but it would be so much better if it was on a level playing field.
"If there was more government support, I think you'd find more Thomas the Tanks, more Peppa Pigs, and the upside of that is massive boosts in revenues to the exchequer."
Animation trio Astley Baker Davies are best known for creating Peppa Pig, which is broadcast in 180 countries.
Phil Davies and Mark Baker started their careers making short films for Channel 4, which closed its dedicated animation arm in 2002.
"The directors of tomorrow had natural homes to go to in short film-making when they left college, and that seems to have completely disappeared now," Davies says.
The firm's shows, which also include Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, are made at their base in Regent Street, London.
"We have a piece of bespoke animation software that we use to animate our series, and without that we just couldn't afford to do it over here," Davies explains.
"Before we would have needed 100 or 120 people. Now we've got 30 people. As film-makers we want to be in work and making something, so it's a matter of finding new and novel ways to carry on with production."
Davies says he knows "many, many people" who have been lured to countries like Ireland and Canada and his company has been offered "fantastic deals" to move production abroad.
He has resisted so far because "it's fantastically difficult to animate at arm's length". But he adds: "The next series or the next film that we do? I think the jury's out."
Curtis Jobling, who designed Bob the Builder and created Frankenstein's Cat, describes himself as a "freelance creative", coming up with ideas for shows.
But in recent years he has turned to writing books because it was too difficult to get animation ideas off the ground.
"I was trying to get my shows picked up and developed by studios but I was getting a great deal of feedback from producers saying they'd love to work with me, but they can't because they've got a limited budget to work to," he says.
"Rather than looking overseas I've actually concentrated on the publishing side of things. I've been writing novels for the past couple of years and it hasn't been as attritional as developing animations can sometimes be.
"It is sad when you hear about people going overseas to find work. It's people throughout the industry - jobbing animators, right the way through the production process, to designers and the people who come up with the concepts.
"I know a couple of people who do a similar role to me, coming up with ideas for shows, who now just work out of LA. They've gone over there and they don't bother knocking on doors in the UK any more."
At 07:57:33 in SportOlympic medallist Wendy Houvenaghel has announced her retirement from cycling after pulling out of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow because of injury.
At 07:56:40 in WalesA new police investigation has been launched into unlawful pension salary supplements paid to the chief executive of Pembrokeshire council.
At 07:55:35 in BusinessChina has detained five people as part of its probe into a firm that allegedly supplied out of date meat to fast food chains, including McDonald's and KFC.
At 07:52:15 in SportPlymouth Raiders have signed 6ft 6ins American David Evans for the 2014-15 British Basketball League season.
At 07:50:43 in SportWelsh 110m hurdler David Omoregie ran the third fastest time in World Junior Championships history as he qualified for Wednesday's semi-final.
At 07:41:52 in EnglandA pair of Amur leopards, which are said to be the rarest big cats in the world, have been born in Leicestershire.
At 07:22:53 in WalesUp to 68 jobs are being created in Torfaen by a company which helps other firms procure goods and services.
At 07:17:22 in SportEx-Commonwealth Games champion boxer Jamie Arthur says Wales should have had a reserve in place for Fred Evans if his participation was in doubt.
At 07:11:43 in WalesThey are traditionally places people go to borrow books, but public libraries also play a crucial role in community life, a Welsh assembly inquiry heard.
At 06:49:24 in Northern IrelandThe Old Mill building in Crumlin, County Antrim, has been damaged in a fire.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. UK animation industry 'at risk' [Online] (Updated 28th Feb 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1414584/UK-animation-industry-at-risk [Accessed 23rd Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
China has detained five people as part of its probe into a firm that allegedly supplied out of date meat to fast food chains, including McDonald's and KFC.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
A pair of Amur leopards, which are said to be the rarest big cats in the world, have been born in Leicestershire.
Ever wondered how much your local hospital pays for incontinence pads, medical wipes or surgical gloves?
The Queen will formally open the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later in front of a 40,000 crowd at Celtic Park.