Our Animation Industry 2024 Predictions -
It's been an interesting year for animation. We've seen some genre-defining films come out, huge companies take downturns, and a general lull for the industry. What trends and events do we predict for the year ahead?
1 - Top 5 of the year
While last year's top 5 films were pretty easy to predict both financially and critically, this year's is a more open race. In no particular order:
Kung Fu Panda 4 - a sequel to a well-received franchise with the original cast returning, this one is sure to be a box office hit. Plus, given it's coming out 8 years after the last instalment, it's soon enough to not fall into the 'legacy sequel' camp, with films of that label having less of an impact than they first did when the concept was new 5+ years back.
Inside Out 2 - With both Disney/Pixar and sequels in general being viewed in a more cynical light (and the cinema-to-streaming gap shrinking) this could be a surprise flop (especially with original director Pete Docter not involved in the same capacity), but given the reception to the first one and the strength of the concept, we think it'll do fine.
Transformers One - This franchise has released 7 (!!!) live-action adaptations in 16 years and arguably never reached its true potential. With an animated adaptation coming this year with a huge cast and clear faith from Hasbro, we believe this one will be a top 5 financially.
Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim - A 2D animated, anime-inspired Lord of the Rings movie? Sounds great. With anime as a medium growing internationally every year, we don't think a non-Ghibli anime film is ready to blow up the box office, but the style of a famous Western franchise is sure to do great. There are some rumours that it's been created to keep rights, but hopefully, the talent involved outweighs any potential Hollywood politics.
Despicable Me 4 - After the Mario movie has recovered Illumination's rep from being simply 'the Minions studio', we're excited to go with this newest Despicable Me. All so far have been solid but nothing revolutionary (and the latest Minions was a step up above the first) so the quality could go either way, but the characters are sure to pull in an audience.
Outside of that, if Mufasa makes even a 10th of the first 'live-action' Lion King, it'll be a top-grossing animation of the year. We don't have much faith that Garfield will be Chris Pratt's second animated success in two years. We're hoping the R-rated Sony and Gendy Tartakovsky film Fixed does well simply to reward Sony's commitment to experimenting.
2 - The industry slow continues (but there's hope)
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way - the industry has been in a slow place right now. Layoffs, a lack of business and cancellations are very common right now, and the crisis has affected everyone from freelancers to Disney themselves. We think many things have pushed towards this: The SAG-AFRA strike, the multiple wars across the world affecting world economies, and a general post-pandemic shift in both viewer habits and opinions on Hollywood and capitalism in general. Things are not all bad - it seems a lot of indie productions are thriving (more on that later) and there's been a push-back to the seemingly unlimited power streamers possessed in the late 2010s.
With more freelancers than ever and lots of talk across all industries about pay and workers' rights, we think we're entering a new status quo for the creative arts. Unfortunately, like any growth, it will come with pains and challenges to get there. It's impossible to predict the way world politics go, but hopefully, the strikes being over (and successfully negotiated) the growth that brings can carry the industry through to a more economically viable time.
3 - More cross-media companies
More a consequence of the former point than anything, the slowing of the industry and the economy as a whole will see more company mergers across the creative industries. With early 2023 having a large number of mergers and studios diversifying their works (for instance, NFT brand Doodles acquiring Golden Wolf), we'll see this trend continue, mostly with animation studios moving into software or games alongside their core offering. We'll likely see more studios pivot towards singular brands, IPs or characters to bunker with the industry slowdown - supplementing the gaps in the industry with other forms of money like merchandising and more sales-based purchasing while the service-business model becomes more competitive.
4 - The Indie Revolution
Despite the tough spot the industry is in, people are watching animation more than ever, it's just how that's changed. The service industry in the middle struggles in an economic downturn, and Hollywood at the top has lost trust in its viewers and workers (and grossly overspent). However, at the bottom end of the industry, the indie animation scene is blowing up. Usually reserved for only the most dedicated animators looking to make it into the industry with a short or pilot (or just animating for love), they are high risk and low reward, usually at the expense of your own money and labour. However, with widely available free or cheap software that you can use practically anywhere (Procreate Dreams is a few updates from being an industry game-changer), as well as widely available tutorials, classes and online communities means that being an individual making your stuff is now easier than ever.
While the freelance game may be slow, the indie scene is very much alive, and with artists and companies diversifying their income, creating a film (even very short form), building its fandom and selling merch is a viable career path, and with today's kids spending more time on YouTube than watching traditional TV, the audience is there. Just look at The Amazing Digital Circus, which was released barely three months back and has 200+ million views, merch for sale and a huge fandom, based on just one episode. In ten years, the next generation of animators won't want to make the next Simpsons, they'll want to make the next Hasbin Hotel.
5 - Physical Media comeback
An extension to last year's prediction of the same topic, the cancellation of shows and deletion from streaming services will turn people away from streamers (with rising prices and the addition of ads even on existing tiers) and further towards physical media. generally aligning with today's teens using social media in a different way than Gen X or Millenials have traditionally used it (Focusing more on private online spaces, rather than public ones) and a 90s/00s nostalgia wave will lead towards more physical media, from DVDs of your favourite films (perhaps disks are almost seen in the same way as vinyl, especially as streaming and social media have reignited and rejuvenated older media in a way we never could before) to plushies straight from the creator of your favourite web animation, the future is physical.
6 - AI
The buzzword of the year, and at this rate, the buzzword of the decade. As we said in last year's post, it's ultimately too big to pin down into a 250-word list entry, even if we're just talking about its effects on animation. In the last year, AI has begun to take jobs, change the way we work and generally rethink work and how we live our lives. On the flip side, things are not so apocalyptic anymore, as AI becomes a part of our everyday lives. The industry is still split on how to feel about it; some studios have embraced the change, while others take a defiant stance against it. Just as the computer replaced paper as a medium but not the skillset required for animation, AI will be the same. It's another tool, helping, automating and creating shortcuts in animation, but not replacing it. Even as more video and animation AI generators spring up, we predict the industry will find ways to utilise it while still retaining human creativity and work first.
If anything, creative studios will embrace AI in other areas of their business, speeding up and automating tasks like admin, communication, HR or finance, allowing studios to spend more time with animation itself. Perhaps that's a naive view of the topic, and in two weeks a new animation-ready engine may be released, but with so much up in the air (and the inevitable change in copyright and content laws necessary to safeguard creators and regulate these engines) the creative side of the industry will remain intact, with AI the new generation's equivalent to After Effects when it first arrived on the scene.
7 - The anti-AI films
Regardless of anyone's thoughts on AI or its uncertain place in the industry going forward, one effect we can most certainly expect in animation is a rise of anti-AI films, from independent shorts to big studio films in the years to come. We don't mean anti-ai in terms of themes (though there will be many) but anti-AI in their technique, whether that's embracing physical paper or cel animation, to more mixed media and stop motion approaches. Further than that, we think animation on a fundamental level will move into the more exaggerated - perhaps we'll see a rise in slapstick, Looney-Tunes style humour to show what animators are capable of (and push away from anything more easily replicable by AI, like rotoscoping or realistically-proportioned characters) or perhaps we'll see a more scrappy approach, which puts the process at the forefront; imagine the Spider-Verse construction lines effect, but times ten.
8 - 'Invisible CG' in movies
While we're a 2D animation studio, and therefore Hollywood VFX is not exactly our wheelhouse, it's clear to see a trend emerging for 'invisible CGI'... whatever that means. With 2022's Top Gun: Maverick being praised for its 'no CG' approach, the line was pushed even further with this year's Oppenheimer. Comments by Nolan on capturing explosions practically somehow mutated into an idea that the entire film was without VFX, which simply isn't true. In a year where the curtain was pulled back on the VFX industry's poor working conditions and crunch culture, it's not helpful at all for the public to turn on the industry without knowing the true extent of its work in modern-day filmmaking. With recent attention drawn to the work VFX artists do to not be noticed, hopefully, the language revolving around CG in movies changes from how impressive the big dragon is, to how seamless the imagery complimented the movie, whether that's to not be noticed at all, or to stand out and capture our attention.
9 - The Great Disney Reshuffle
Not to hang onto Disney's word for everything (especially after featuring them last year), but the House of Mouse is the forefather of Hollywood animation after all, so what happens to them does affect the rest of the industry. With a reshuffle last year and a badly performing 100th anniversary this year, we imagine we could see Disney go into lock-down mode to protect their assets. While this won't affect anything in animation this upcoming year (as there'll be productions finishing up), we can imagine a smaller slate in the next few. Of those releases, we imagine they'll follow the same path as Dreamworks is currently taking: one tentpole film, based on a known IP, a sequel or a spinoff, and another, cheaper film to push forward their unique ideas in a more condensed format. Given the layoffs at Pixar and the poor performance of their pandemic films in their limited cinema runs, we can see Pixar even moving to release films directly to Disney + (Like Dreamworks is doing with Netflix) while the parent company re-shuffles and recovers any potential losses as viewing figures shift.
10 - Cut The Mustard
And once again rounding up the end-of-year predictions with a look ahead for the studio. 2023 was not our favourite year... and from our talks with other studios, many share our feelings. Still, this is a period of transition, and we firmly believe the changes in technology, culture and the way we consume animation are leading towards a bright new future for animation and the creative arts. We can't promise 2024 will be a golden year for the industry, but tough times bring innovation. For any animators who have made it through the year, just graduated or worked on a short, we all deserve a pat on the back. If you've made it through these tougher conditions, just imagine what you're capable of once the industry is back in full swing!
In the year ahead we'll be making our 3rd Lock-In, travelling the country for even more events and Networking than before, and pushing towards making more films, shorts and pitches to spread into new areas of the industry. We're continuing to work on some amazing and one-of-a-kind projects for unique clients, with our continued focus on the charity and sustainability sector. 2024 is already shaping up to be a year full of some great works.
What Animation Industry 2024 Predictions do you have? Let us know.