10 Predictions for the animation industry in 2023
One - The great AI debate
Perhaps the most obvious issue going into 2023, but with the sudden and popular arrival of Dall E mini and other easy-to-use, publically available AI image creators, somewhat of a moral argument has arisen in the art and animation world. What place does AI have in the industry, does it pose a threat to artists, and is it a form of theft?
This one isn't as easy to predict as last year's NFT implosion (which we were right about, just saying) because it's a wider topic with much more accessible reach. Don't be fooled - AI art is here to stay, it's just a matter of how mainstream it'll be. More powerful engines like Midjourney are already creating near-real renders with terrific precision, but there's still an element of uncanny valley about them.
The most worrying part of AI art is how it steals from existing art to learn how to create its own images. With a current wave of anti-AI protests on websites like Artstation, the debate is not going to end any time soon, and I could predict in the near future changes to copyright laws to forbid or allow usage for AI generation. Perhaps new jobs will arise for a new wave of artists, or ways for artists to be paid for their contributions to AI engines. Or perhaps the narrative on whether it is or isn't theft will change entirely, and all artists become part of the great, digital, ever-growing hive-mind. This one is perhaps too big to pin down, it can really go in any direction. Perhaps this one deserves its own blog post.
Two - Streaming vs Unions
Last year we predicted the continued rise of streaming and the industry-wide union wave spreading across the US and beyond would lead to better, artist-lead artworks.
And that looked like perhaps it was the case. Until it wasn't. A lot of streamers experienced a lot of cancellations over the last year. Netflix, which was quickly becoming THE place to work if you were an animator, experienced a loss in turnover which cascaded in a number of creator-lead, visionary shows and movies being canned, some at the last possible moment. Even worse was HBO max, which experienced huge losses, merged with Discovery and cancelled almost its entire catalogue of animation (and removed existing works from the service, which we'll get to). A huge hit for the industry and many many great creators, it perhaps can be seen as a response to the huge wave of unification, but it's more complex than that. The state of the world financially, the fallout from covid in the entertainment industry and the result of various industry accusations in the last few years also play a part.
It's a somewhat pessimistic view to see Netflix and co cultivate such a strong industry just to abandon them (especially taking into account Netflix bought quite a few international animation studios at the same time as cancelling many LA-based shows), but as more of the international world match up with California rates in today's international, hybrid working world, things like outsourcing will be thing of the past, and streamers will have an even playing field of creators to pick from, rather than just the cheapest.
Three - Short-form franchising
TikTok continues to dominate as the biggest social media platform in the ever-turning social media wheel. As such, the way we view content is also changing. This year more than ever we've created more verticle format films than ever before, as well as more films under a minute than ever before. This is sure to have implications on the way we watch original programming, and what kind of things we see on TV and beyond.
First of all, we predict a select few famous TikTok animators will have their characters and stories make their way from the phone screen to the big screen. Perhaps creators like JavaDoodles or Ketnips will find their way to bigger productions, just as YouTube creators like TheOdd1Out has found themselves this year. Or perhaps it'll go the opposite way? Maybe we'll see networks specifically adapting new and existing IPs to short-form social media formats. We actually predicted this a while back and designed an IP specifically for the verticle format (ahead of the times). We've already seen existing brands using the format well (check out the surprisingly fantastic Bratz TikTok animations) but seeing this adapted into long-form story is the step we predict.
Four - The Metaverse (still) isn't ready
Not really much to say on this one. I said it last year when at the end of 2021 it looked like the Metaverse was the new buzzword in the art and tech world and we stood by and said it's too early for it to have any real effect beyond some snazzy tech demos. In fact, so little has changed, we might as well use last year's predictions again. To quote ourselves:
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.
This one might be on the predictions list for quite some time, to be honest. See you next year, Metaverse!
Five - The great Twitter migration
While it might not sound like too much of a prediction for the animation industry specifically, Twitter is absolutely the social media centre of the industry, where updates, conversations, news, debates and announcements all come from. However, recent controversial changes from perhaps the world's current most controversial billionaire CEO has led to people leaving the platform. And with the downfall (or at least shakeup) of one platform, the growth of others is inevitable.
The question is where? A few similar sites have popped up (Hive is perhaps the most obvious), but whether they'll catch on as a brand-new replacement we're not sure - probably not. We can actually see everyone migrating back to Twitter as it's so well-established. Perhaps it'll be back to normal by the end of the year, or if it's changed so much, something like Hive might be just the thing people are looking for. it might seem tangential by comparison to the other stuff, but the combination of profiles, pictures, videos and bite-sized thoughts made it the perfect unofficial home of a creative industry. If you're in marketing, perhaps expect an uptake in Instagram and Facebook usage and an eventual return back to Twitter. Unless Mr. Musk decides to do something crazy (again) and perhaps the platform is dead and buried.
Six - Bob Iger and Disney's view of animation
If you keep up with the world's biggest animation studio / corporate super conglomerate, you may notice that Bob Iger has been re-appointed the CEO of Disney, returning less than a year after replacement Bob Chapek took the reigns of the house of mouse. It might just be one single position change, but when you're the biggest entertainment company in the world, one man can really change an entire industry.
During his reign, Iger successfully oversaw the accusations of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, as well as launching Disney + (and Hulu) and bringing Disney's in-house animations back to the forefront of entertainment, especially with a string of top-tier, award-winning features across the 2010s. Replacement Bob Chapek has been more of a reserved hand since taking over last year, but due to some businessy politics, the less popular Chapek was replaced by his own mentor Iger, returning to right the ship and find another replacement (despite Chapek being his original successor).
What does this mean for animation? Well, Chapek talked about animation as a medium exclusively for children, something animators didn't let go unnoticed. Iger helped launch the more adult animation arms of Marvel (who themselves have grown into a huge animation employer in the last year) and Star Wars, and to match with Sony's incredibly varied animation lineup in both tone and genre, it's easy to see Disney trying to capture that market too with Iger at the helm. He's also led most of their accusations, so seeing animated efforts from the new partnership with Doctor Who makes sense, or to be bold we could even predict a potential buyout of a struggling distributor like WB. Not that we're condoning Disney owning everyone, but it's easy to see this continue to happen for better or worse.
Seven - A resurgence of physical media
In the digital age, this may seem like a bad prediction to make, but there are a few factors that lead us to make this. Harkening back to the streaming service troubles, HBO max not only cancelled in-production shows but removed existing ones to stop paying fair royalties to their creators. For creators and fans, this will not stand. Some of these digitally hosted shows are featured exclusively online without any DVD media at all, so for now they are lost to time (or at least to a pirate website).
As COVID ushers over a sudden and perhaps premature 2000s nostalgia trip in the 2020s, we've seen culture step away from the minimalist trends of the 2010s, and back to something more maximalist. With the world stuck inside for the best part of two years, people are beginning to move beyond the digital world (likely matched with the changing face of social media, streaming and the somewhat troubled state of the world leading to the phrase 'doomscrolling' being part of the international dictionary) and back into the physical one. Animators are no strangers to physical media (art books anyone?) so despite all odds, we predict a boost (at least temporarily) in DVD sales. Who knew?
Eight - Stop Motion supreme
As of writing, we haven't seen Guillermo Del Toro's new stop-motion Pinnochio, but it's currently the number-one film on Netflix. Can we confidently say there will be a rise in stop motion based on this one piece of information alone? No. However, there are some factors at play to perhaps suspect things are looking up for the often-overlooked animation form.
In the UK, Aardman is going from success to success, moving into the TV world more than ever, and with both a Chicken Run and a Wallace and Gromit sequel on the way, it's beginning to feel like the early 2000s all over again. Didn't we also mention a return to physical media and a 2000s nostalgia trip? Sounds like the perfect recipe for these films to be a big hit with the current anti-digital, pro-physical movement (what better than a film with real physicality?).
This October we had Wendell and Wild, Henry Sellicks' long-awaited return to the world of stop motion since Coraline, as well as The House, a stop motion told in three parts with some very unsettling vibes. And while it's unconfirmed when it will release, Laika's next film Wildwood has announced it's cast and is years into production, so expect a trailer, if not a full release, next year. It could be quite the year for stop motion!
Nine - The year's top movies
And just for fun (and future hindsight) let's predict the top five grossing animated features of 2023.
Five - Nimona
Based on a comicbook by Lumberjanes and She-Ra creator ND Stevenson, Nimona is a film with a difficult history. Bought by Blue Sky, the film was almost through production when Fox was bought up by Disney and cancelled despite it's progress. Thought scrapped, the film has now been bought another studio and is going to be distributed by Netflix. We actually think this is going to be a sleeper hit for the platform - the strong fantasy elements, underdog story of it's production and strong LGBTQ+ themes all spell unexpected success in our opinion.
Four - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Another suprise entry, but this one has quietly been generating buzz for a while now - with a 'punk rock vibe' similar to Arcane or Spider-Verse and the backing of self-confessed superfans Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, a new TMNT feel might not feel like a top grossing movie, but we believe the focus on the fun and 90s vibe are going to be the right ingedients in a movie clearly made with care.
Three - Elemental
Another year another Pixar feature. While some could argue the studio are past their golden age, the studio still dominates awards shows and the box office. Once again bringing an imaginative and unique wold to life (this time home to people of the four elements) the story of Ember and Wade will be sure to succeed.
Two - The Super Mario Bros Movie
Now unlike the surefire success of Pixar, Illumination are a much more mixed-bag. After bringing us minion-mania in the 2010s, their non Despicable Me related films haven't been all that well recieved. Now with their hands on one of the biggest IPs of all time, the Mario movie sure looks fantastic, but whether the team (and the voice of Chris Pratt) can save this one we're not sure. One thing we do know is it'll make loads of money.
One - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
We doubt it'll be anything else. It has everything current cinema loves. Multiverse ✅ Marvel ✅ Mixed-Media 3D ✅ Generational trauma ✅ Killer celebrity cast ✅. We could go on. Brought by a talented animation team and the names of Ford and Miller, some of the most reliable names in animation right now, and you're sure to be onto a winner. Five years ago Sony barely had a place in the yearly animation race, and now they're the top dog. Who knew?
Honourable mention goes to Studio Ghibli's new movie How do you live? From none other than Hazao Miyazaki himself. Their first 2D film since 2016 and Miyazaki's first since 2013, it'll sure be a hit, but unfortunately their films never do too well internationally. A lot of his films have similar ideas, themes and character types, so whether it'll stick with audiences are another thing entirely. The only thing we can guarantee is it's beauty.
Ten - Cut the Mustard
We know, repeating last year's predictions by once again ending with news about us. How original. Either way, last year was a great year for us, but a difficult one too. It's fun to look back on last year's predictions to see what for us and for the industry did and didn't happen. We expanded our team roster, worked on some of the best projects we've ever made, and began moving outwards into new sectors (a lot of verticle and comic-based things this time around) that we could never have predicted this time last year.
However, both the world and the industry itself have faced tough times, and we've seen the effect with our friends and collaborators in animation and the wider creative industries. Still, we hold our heads high. Cut the Mustard has learned a lot in the last 365 days that we'll be carrying with us into the next. Our first lock-in, our first feature film pitch, talks, festivals, a range of clients and everything in between. We have lots more up our sleeve, so follow us on socials for updates, and get in touch if you're interested in collaborating.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know. Happy animating!