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  • Liam Gilbey

10 Predictions for the Animation Industry in 2022





Here at Cut the Mustard, we're always interested in the future, and what it brings for the world of animation. Defined by ever-changing technology and skills, it's an exciting industry at an exciting time, and we're looking to put ourselves out on the line and make 10 calls for our predictions for animation this year, 2022. Let us know what you think, if you agree or disagree!

One - A 2D resurgence.


This might be wishful thinking from a 2D hand-drawn studio, but looking at trends over the last few years, it's clear that 2D is making something of a comeback. Not that it was ever really gone, but the early 2000s to Present has seen most mainstream animated movies be CG animated, and the 2010s saw that 3D pipeline find it's way into animated TV more than ever.


However, in the years since, 3D has very much found a comfortable place in terms of it's aesthetics, with Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and the like finding a universal style, at least in children's motion pictures - we've moved away from the rough-around-the-edges early 00s, and the more experimental late 00s (motion capture films like the Polar Express or Beowulf have come and gone) and as the realism-meets-cartoon style has found it's peak, it has grown too familiar.


Because of this, we're seeing more mainstream moves back to 2D, as seen in the rise of studios like Cartoon Saloon, schemes like SparkShorts at Pixar as well as their pre-movie shorts. The rise of 2D certainly ties into some later points on this list too, so we'll loop back around to 2D.


Two - More hybrid styles in major movie releases.


Along the same vein, we can see 3D mainstream movies moving away from one another stylistically and being more experimental once again with styles and presentation. The most obvious example of this is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which has made such significant waves in the animation industry and the way 3D movies look.


Credit where it's due, this 3D/2D hybrid style could be seen in many works much further back (notably 2012s Paperman by Disney), but you can see how popular the blended style is becoming through projects like The Mitchells vs The Machines or Arcane being big hits this year and with more on the way, the lines between 2D and 3D are blurring, and the projects being put out by the big animation studios are becoming more diversified in style after hitting somewhat of a technological plateau - see Pixar's latest output - the stylised character designs of Luca or the upcoming Turning Red, to the super realism of the environments in Soul or Lightyear.


Three - NFTs Implode.


This may be a controversial one for many of you, but this time last year the word NFT did not exist. It's since taken the art world by storm, and many find themselves split on their opinions surrounding NFTs. Cut the Mustard is still impartial on the subject (and only just grasp the surface of the concept ourselves), but regardless of our take, we predict an implosion of the trend to happen sometime soon. Cryptocurrency and NFT spaces are inherently bad for the environment, so as the climate crisis worsens more pressure will be placed on NFT sites that are not 'clean' or 'green' NFTs.


Regardless of the environmental concerns, NFTs are currently an unregulated market, which is great for early investors in the system, but for those looking to make a living in the coming years will find themselves struggling and devaluing the entire system at the same time. Like the downward spiral we've often seen with some cryptocurrencies, the more people that want in, the less money it's worth, and the same will happen with NFT circulation as the amount of work is diluted.


The crypto industry is still a very rogue financial market, so we predict within the next few years for (at least here in the UK) Governments to more heavily monitor, tax and regulate crypto, in part to stop the amount of theft and money laundering NFTs are being used for, but also to help the flow of money, which will be a nail in the coffin for NFTs.


It's still early days, so we're welcome to be wrong on this one, and theoretically the movement could flip the entire art industry on it's head and put power in the hands of the artist, but right now NFTs put the power in the hands of the seller, and we see the above points making the movement fizzle out.


Four - The Work From Home revolution


Coming up to two years since the COVID pandemic began, I don't think anyone would quite have guessed the impact it would have had on our world, especially our working world. Working from home is nothing new, so no need to go over it here, but it is worth mentioning how it might change the way we do things in animation in the years to come, and what it might mean for levelling the international playing field in terms of where animation costs and where it's made. As it's easier than ever to commission animation from anywhere in the world, the standard across the world levels out, hopefully leading to a place where it doesn't matter where your animation is made.


This is especially important for the growing African and Asian animation sectors, the former just beginning to grow, and the latter historically used to finish Hollywood productions for a fraction of the price. As the animation industry de-centralises, we predict a world where your wages are not restricted by your location, but defiled by your skill. This is likely going to effect individual countries as well, as for the UK we'll see a spread of new studios and skilled workers outside of London, and more importantly for the US, where animators will not need to travel to the one state ruling 90% of the animation industry.


Seeing East Coast studios like Blue Sky be shut down was a bad sign, but with remote work leading the way for the foreseeable future, we can see networks of remote animators linking up and setting up larger studios in less common areas, without the need to be in a western country or major city to make that possible.


Five - Industry unification


Last year we've seen a prolific rise the fight for worker's rights, and we believe that's barely scratched the surface for animators. The whole of the western world has been having something of a revolution from workers, especially in the US. Some may know this as 'the big quit', 'antiwork' or 'the big resign', but 2021 has had more resignations than ever before, as workers have taken the time working during the pandemic to realise their value and fight for the pay, hours and rights deserved in today's world, especially in one where automation is growing and the world's richest people have had their best two years in human history.


This has certainly trickled into the animation industry, with many fights from the Animation Guild and beyond for fair pay across the board for many roles in the industry to get what they deserve. California is the most prolific area for unions in animation, but seeing that spread across the border to Canada is important to, as animation hotspots like Vancouver often have animators work for far less than their neighbours due to a lack of unions to protect payrates in the industry. Across the world grassroots unionisation movements are happening, and the most prolific example right now is the movement for animators in Japan. Famously underpaid and over-exploited, Japan has a history of monumental talent but low wages - movement for better pay has been snowballing for years, and now even politically the Government recognise the national talent for the art and the need for better living qualities. As I write this, NYC-based Titmouse has unionised! Talk about timing!


Six - Adult Animation on the rise


Isn't animation just for kids? Everyone working in this industry has for sure been asked this question at one point or another by a loved one. Nothing gets us so frustrated (with 'Animation is a genre' being a close second). As time goes on (and streaming services continue to up the amount of animation we see commissioned a year), we're seeing more diversified tones, genres and audiences in animation, beyond the holy grail 7-12 category that animation was previously reserved for on TV.


Channels like Adult Swim have been leading the charge on this for years, and are creating mega franchises like Rick and Morty, to smaller, more experimental animation content pushing the medium forward. While adult animation was previously related to the crude but enjoyable humour of South Park, Family Guy or similar comedy shows, we now have anthologies like Love, Death and Robots, dramas like Anomilisa and comic book epics like Invincible. Adult animation has always been here, but it's reaching new corners of entertainment we haven't seen so mainstream before.


We can predict the UK to get it's own equivalent to Adult Swim also in the near future - Channel 4 has already experimented with animation for shows like Dead Pixels, and as streaming services get the UK interested in international experts for that audience, mainstream TV in the UK will be soon to follow.


Seven - The streaming wars continue


It might be the most obvious of our predictions, but the so-called 'streaming wars' will continue in full force, and that means both good and bad things for animation. Generally, there's more animation on your screens than ever before, and more high-quality, TV level animation being made than ever also.


It's a great time for those looking to be staffed on shows as there's more demand for animators (until the bubble pops and there's more animators than jobs), and even more of a great time to be a showrunner or someone looking to have their story brought to life. There is a risk that as the number of services rise (and the number of traditional channels has not fallen), the overall quality of these shows could fall, though there isn't too much worry for that right now.


As streaming services like HBO Max come to the UK, we'll potentially see some local content in new places, like how Apple TV commissioned Irish studio Cartoon Saloon to create Wolfwalkers.


Eight - Technology for all


Every single animator, big or small, has looked at a subscription based software model and groaned. Software is a huge barrier to entry for many, and in years past the free alternative has not been enough to learn industry-ready skills. In other words, the animation industry relies upon your finances to even get started, and something that stands in the way of students wanting to improve their craft. But we predict that changing and, to be fair, it's already begun.


Taking a look at programs like Blender, we can see how free, open-source software has completely changed the industry for amateurs and professionals alike, with easily available, customisable software making animation easier to do, learn and use in any context - we've even seen Blender be used for feature films! And we predict this trend to continue.


With free software for some aspects of the industry not being quite up to professional standard yet, it's only a matter of time (given the open source nature of many of these softwares) before they become industry ready, which will in turn level the playing field dramatically for animators across the globe, and may even move studios onto free software, making it easier to recruit, train and hire for future projects. It's in the benefit of everyone that animation is accessible, as it raises the standards and raises the output of content we see on our screens, big or small.


Nine - The Metaverse isn't ready yet


Another word any of your non-creative friends and family were sure to bring up over the holidays was likely The Metaverse, hoping you'd know something about it. What is it exactly? We're not sure Meta themselves know, and the snazzy, look-into-your-future demonstration feels very much in the same vein as Google Glass, the HoloLens or Project Milo. If you remember any of those, you remember a ground breaking technology sure to change life as we knew it. Only, all of them have gone quiet and all but died off in recent years, and while we don't predict the same for the metaverse, we do think that's a strong possibility.


VR and AR experiences are not close enough to reality to be anything more than a fun and unique experience, perfect for projection work or gaming, but living your everyday life, not so much. Implementations are currently being lead by those with reason and money to invest in the system, so right now you'll only be able to use Metaverse for a multitude of ways to shop and buy and be advertised to.


Similar to NFTs, without regulation, the Metaverse has a strong possibility of not gathering any interest or falling into self-parody, either or spelling an early grave for the system. We'll see some more shiny tech demos for sure but nothing more - come back in five years for our full judgement.


Ten - Cut the Mustard - best new animation studio?


Well, obviously! It's a big year for the studio, growing and investing in new skills and technology to bring us into the future of animation. The UK creative industries are worth billions, and animation continues to be everywhere you look in every aspect of your life. We've been making better, bigger and bolder animation month on month, and we hope to blow your socks off with our little corner of the internet hopefully growing into something magnificent and authentic. Watch this space.


Agree with any of our predictions? Disagree? Mad about our take on NFTs? Here in 2023 and looking back on our successful or failed predictions? Let us know, and drop us a comment or head to our socials for your hot takes or reaction to our hot takes.

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