Britain's getting animated again

Britain's getting animated again

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Wednesday, 1st April 2015

Birthplace of Wallace and Gromit, Bob the Builder and Peppa Pig, Britain is the home of some of the word's most recognisable animations.

But in 2008 the recession and increased controls on advertising on children's TV brought a perfect storm to the industry; sending iconic shows abroad where tax credits and government subsidies made production cheaper.

Bob the Builder moved to the United States, Thomas the Tank Engine went to Canada and Noddy was shipped over to Ireland.

"We were getting feedback on pitches that said 'your budget is cheaper, your work is better but if we go to Ireland we get the tax break and it becomes cheaper than you'," recalls Oli Hyatt, Chairman of campaign group Animation UK.

"We looked at unemployment rates and whether people were starting companies and it looked like if nothing was done the UK business would disappear."

Animation UK led the fight against this bleak prediction by lobbying for a tax credit to loosen the belt on the industry.

Following Chancellor George Osborne's passionate pledge to keep Wallace and Gromit in the UK and the introduction of a tax break in April 2013, the industry has gone from strength to strength.

In 2014 alone, 22 domestic and inward investment kid's animations began initial stages of production and this weekend we will be treated with a much-anticipated CGI remake of Thunderbirds.

"Since the tax break started the companies producing animated shows have seen their turnovers nearly double," explains Hyatt, "that says to me there's twice as much work as there used to be."

"Without the tax break I doubt we'd have made Ruff Ruff, Tweet and Dave," adds Tony Collingwood, director of Collingwood & Co whose animation was one of the first to go into production.

"It's moved the industry from the brink back in the right direction."

That direction is homeward bound. A recent Olsberg SPI and Nordicity report on the impact of tax credits said animation production spend had risen from £´6m in 2011 to £u1.7m in 2013-14 - a rise of 11%.

"It's moved the industry from the brink back in the right direction"

One of the more prominent new shows is Tiger Aspect's Mr Bean series, which began airing in February.

Ten years ago the original series was shipped out to Hungary for production. Now, the Head of Comedy, Pete Thornton, boasts how the new version was made "in the building where I'm actually sitting."

The improvement has been so marked that the industry now faces a shortage of animators, something Creative Skillset are addressing by levying 0.5% of production spend for graduate software training.

However, another obstacle still faces the industry as that the number of UK broadcasters commissioning animation remains small.

"Yes it's great we have got a tax break, yes it's great we can do it more in the UK but it doesn't mean we've got more homes to get the commissions," comments Tom Beattie, Mr Bean producer and Tiger Aspect's Head of Animation & Kids.

CITV, CBeebies and Milkshake are airing content and Sky has presented itself as a burgeoning home having announced its Christmas 2015 commission of Fungus the Bogeyman. But producers are still insecure about long-term interest.

"They're broadcasting, yes, but how much are they going to put in next year?" asks Collingwood.

For him commissioning cold feet is not so important now that online platforms are available.

"When we talk about the terrestrial channels spending more money you could say we're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and really we should just look to Google, Amazon Prime and Netflix as the new carriers of the flag."

This is an avenue many producers are already dipping their toes into. Collingwood reveals he's researching how to monetise on YouTube, and Beattie points out that Mr Bean clips have yielded over two billion views, making the platform an alternative marker for British animation.

Although there remains insecurity, it's clear British animation is gaining ground, so where can it look to now it's rediscovered its feet?

For Thornton, Hyatt and Beattie, the potential lies in adult cartoons.

To date broadcasters have been reluctant to commission British series when they can choose from an abundance of popular - and relatively cheap - US shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy.

But Beattie believes the time is ripe to buy British.

"We have the comedy chops, we have the animation skills so it's just having that confidence from broadcasters that we can produce a comedy show like The Simpsons that travels worldwide."

And if the American shows are anything to go by, getting it right can bring huge rewards.


By Rebecca Stewart


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