BBC Breakfast News carried an item this morning which claimed the UK animation industry is under threat, due to productions shifting overseas to countries that offer government incentives for animation companies.
The news story, which can be watched here on the BBC website, warned that government subsidies and tax breaks for studios in countries such as Ireland, France and Canada, mean large-scale, animation production in the UK "no longer makes economic sense."
In Ireland, animation productions are able to benefit from a 28% tax break, whilst in France a 20% tax credit can be claimed for animation productions.
Although slightly alarmist in infering that the UK animation industry is 'dying', the news item didn't touch on the wider contexts behind why "the amount of animation produced in the UK has almost halved in the last five years." Other factors, such as CITV's large-scale, production budget cuts over the past decade, or the fact that "commercial budgets in the broadcast sector have been coming down for quite a long time anyway," have inevitably had a knock on effect on the volume of production in the UK, according to Andy Guest, Commercial Director of Birmingham animation studio, The CharacterShop.
Work on the feature film Sarila, some of which was due to be produced by The CharacterShop, is now due to be done in Mexico, whose government offer subsides to such productions. "We were going to do about 20% of the film, the lighting, rendering and compositing, but they're now going to get that done in Mexico where the Government will give subsidies and grants in order to attract work into the country," says Andy. "So now the film's going to be 60% Canada, 20% France, 20% Mexico and 0% UK."
Although the Department of Culture argues in the BBC piece that "Tax breaks would be unfair for the rest of the TV industry," the initial findings of NESTA's report on the UK games industry suggest that state intervention is needed to secure the future of the British games industry; "The tax credit would boost publisher investment in the UK video games sector…" and "kick-start original IP development and encourage experimentation with new business models," says the report.
The key to boosting both the regional and national animation sector however, argues Andy, is to focus on increasing the overall volume of production, "There's that many graduates coming out of colleges and so few jobs for them, the Government needs to do something to increase the volume of animation that's produced in this country.
"If they could fund internships, training programmes, etc, that would be great, but what its really about is increasing the volume of production in the UK, rather than increasing the capabilities of staff. The industry will staff up to do it; the people will be there, its just about getting the work there.
"So if the Government could do what France and Canada do and subsidise productions – i.e. if you can raise 50% of the production budget, the Government will come up with the other 50%, if they pick the right projects and they're commercially successful, they'll get the money back. It's a no brainer really."
A more detailed interview feature with The CharacterShop will appear on www.animationforumwm.co.uk in the coming weeks.
What do you think? Should the UK provide similar subsidies for the animation industry as are being proposed for the games industry? What tangible help would your animation career or business benefit from? Post your thought in our discussion board on Facebook.