Animation Toons In to Industry, Draws Readers

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The folks at Animation Magazine here work with what is arguably the most colorful collection of characters imaginable--most of them figments of someone's imagination.

Each month, the 14-year-old magazine publishes upward of 80 pages of news and feature articles about the animation business, which in recent years has grown by leaps and bounds worthy of a cartoon superhero.

Publisher Bill Buck and editor Sarah Baisley attribute the magazine's growth to a number of factors, including the popularity of animated films and TV shows such as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "The Simpsons" to name just two aimed at a baby boomer generation that doesn't view cartoons as kid stuff.

"A lot of the people making buying decisions at movie studios and broadcast networks today are baby boomers who were raised on animation like 'The Flintstones' and 'The Jetsons' and Rocky and Bullwinkle," Baisley said. "They've seen how successful adult-oriented animation can be too. They see that animation can be a successful way to make money."

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Jan Cox, vice president and chief operating officer of Hollywood-based QuickBand Networks, said current generations have grown up with TV "so animation as a daily TV serving is normal to them."

"That's one reason you see animation like 'South Park' that is oriented toward adults," said Cox, whose firm distributes animation, documentary films, music videos and other types of entertainment.

She said the Internet has also been a boon to toons. "Animators can dream up a character, invent the world the characters live in, and stories about them, and then distribute the stories themselves over the Internet," Cox said.

Cox said other factors boosting the animation industry include advances in computer technology and the increased use of animation for special effects in movies, TV shows and commercials.

Animation Magazine is produced by a staff of 12 at the magazine's Agoura Hills office in a business park next to City Hall. The walls of the office are lined with framed copies of the always colorful covers, along with copies of industry directories the magazine publishes, posters of animation festivals, cartoon characters and the like. Halls and offices are cluttered with boxes and filing cabinets.

"We've been part of the boom in animation," Buck says, apologizing for the clutter and explaining that the magazine is outgrowing its space.

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The magazine's growth has mirrored that of the industry, according to Buck, who said animation was still pretty much a cottage industry when Animation was launched in 1986.

Buck said owner Terry Thoren started Animation as a fan newsletter to support an annual animation festival. The newsletter gradually evolved into a magazine and began monthly publication in January 1996. That's also when Buck changed it from a fan magazine to an animation industry business publication for animators, production studios, companies that develop software animation, students who want to get into the animation business and TV and movie executives who want to buy animation.

Buck said the magazine's circulation of 11,000, which he hopes to boost to 25,000 by the end of 2002, is partly paid subscribers and partly "controlled" circulation. Controlled circulation copies are mailed free to those who request the magazine and who fit a reader profile designed to appeal to certain advertisers.

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Animation doesn't disclose revenue and profit figures, but Buck said advertising sales revenue was up 20% in 1999 and circulation is up significantly.

Burbank-based Advantage Audio which specializes in sound for animation, advertises in Animation magazine because it "pinpoints the animation people we're trying to reach," owner Jim Hodson said.

"It's probably the best known magazine for reaching the animation industry, for us, because a lot of producers and directors read it, and those are the people who buy our services," Hodson said.

Baisley said the magazine's mission is simple in concept: to keep everyone in the industry informed about what they need to know.

But the rapid pace of change in the industry makes that difficult.

New computers, new computer software, new companies entering the business and a host of other changes are tough to keep up with, she said, because all of these changes have different impacts on animators, suppliers, artists, production managers, editors, those who produce music for animation, post-production houses, broadcasters and film distributors who buy animation, and others in the industry.

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Cox, an Animation subscriber, said she relies on daily entertainment industry publications for "blockbuster announcements and breaking news," but subscribes to Animation for more detailed news and in-depth articles about trends in the industry, which she said is changing so rapidly that nobody can keep up with it.

The pace of change, in fact, has astonished Baisley, a marketing and public relations veteran of the animation industry who spent years with Hanna-Barbera and Film Roman before taking over as the magazine's editor in 1996.

"After 17 years in the industry, I thought this job would be a snap, but just about the time I took over was when things started to change at an amazingly fast pace," Baisley said.

Baisley said the magazine has been helped by a relative lack of head-to-head competition. Other entertainment industry publications produce special issues on animation, and computer graphics magazines are competitors, but the industry hasn't produced a raft of business-oriented animation magazines, she said.

"Most of them are fanzines," she said, adding that the closest to a head-to-head competitor is Kidscreen, a Canadian magazine.

Producing cartoons and other forms of animation once was a prohibitively expensive prospect requiring legions of animators laboring by hand at a studio that had the formidable finances required for such a venture, Baisley said.

But with modern computer technology and the Internet, almost anyone who wants to can dream up characters and become an animator, she said.

Besides creating a bigger animation industry and more potential Animation subscribers, the Internet's ease of distribution provides solace for animators, who generally ask little more than a chance to create their stories and characters and send them out into the world, Baisley said.

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She said animators tend to have a practical jokester streak worthy of any cartoon character, and most animate more for love than money.

"Animators love what they do," she said. "They work at it all day at their jobs and then they go home and work on projects of their own or take on freelance work. When they're not doing that, they're going to animation conventions and expos. They're always thinking about animation."

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