Leading UK animators are warning against an exodus of talent if the industry does not get tax breaks like those enjoyed by animators in other European countries like Ireland and France.
The United Kingdom has a rich tradition of producing animated children's shows, like "Postman Pat," "Bob the Builder" and "Roary the Racing Car. But now the country's animators say they can no longer afford to make such high quality shows in Britain.
“It's genuinely impossible for us to compete against the rest of the world with all the incentives they've got,” said Oli Hyatt from Animation UK, an industry lobby group.
While the UK film industry enjoys state support, there is no such money available for producers of animated TV series. Many other European countries support their animation industry, providing at least 20 percent of production costs. Hyatt says that makes it impossible for UK animators to match their output.
“All we're looking for is for the government to give us the tools for us to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world. France, Ireland, Canada - there is funding available [there] to support animation companies,” he said.
Animation production in the UK has fallen by more than 50 percent in the past seven years according to Animation UK, and it is already becoming harder for new animators to find jobs.
The founder of Ragdoll Productions, Anne Wood, has had global success with shows like the "Teletubbies" and "In the Night Garden." She warns of an exodus of talent if the government does not help animators compete with the rest of the world.
“If I was starting now, and I was young, I would go somewhere else. And that's what the bright young are doing. I'm employing a young woman who's won 32 awards for her student film and can't get a job. Fortunately we can give some opportunity to her,” Wood told DW.
Last year Aardman Animations, the giant behind "Shaun the Sheep" and "Wallace and Gromit," announced they were considering moving abroad due to the UK's relatively high production costs.
Global hits like "Bob the Builder" and "Thomas the Tank Engine" have already left for places like California, Taiwan and China.
Against the grain
A few production companies go against the grain and are doubling down in the UK. One is Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatric, which has re-emerged after closing down in 2009. They are currently looking for a broadcaster for their new show, “Pip!”.
“It's quality, I suppose, that's why we're staying in the UK,” said one of the founders, Francis Fitzpatrick.
“We've got fantastic animators with global experience and global credit and we're passionate about what we do. But it is very difficult without the additional government support that's available for example in my home country," he added. "I'm from Ireland, and if we spend one euro on animation we get 28 cent back as a tax credit. France, where I'm currently living, has an even better regime. You could get nearly 60 to 70 percent [of the budget], if you throw in media funds as well.”
Threat to creativity
UK TV companies buying animation shows have dramatically cut the amount they'll spend on production budgets in recent years. They will typically contribute 20 percent of the cost, which means the animation production company must raise the remaining 80 percent through merchandise and global rights.
“I think it stymies the creative process,” said Phil Chalk, managing director at Factory Transmedia studios, makers of international hits like "Roary the Racing Car" and "Fifi and the Flowertots."
“People approach us all the time with some wonderful ideas. But we must say ‘hold on a minute, I don't think a toy company would like that,' so it does influence your creative decisions.”
The creator of "In the Night Garden," Anne Wood said there was another reason why the government should prevent an exodus of animation talent. With each major show moving abroad, the country loses another revenue stream, she argued.
“We have in the past been a source of export, Teletubbies exported all over the world, 'In the Night Garden' exported all over the world, other animations that other people have made have exported all over the world.
“If our cost base is eroded to the point where we can no longer continue, that is a quite considerable source of income that the government would loose,” Wood added.
The UK government is scheduled to present its budget on March 21. British animators will be watching to see whether the tax break they're hoping for will materialize. But faced with a record public deficit, the finance minister aims to save 95 billion euros by 2015. That means few are getting their hopes up that this support for the animation industry will come to pass.
Author: Lars Bevanger / ji
Editor: Cyrus Farivar