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By Allen White | August 22, 2001

The animation industry, like most corporate sectors, has been negatively and visibly impacted by the current recession economy. So when many of these portfolio-bearing young artists, some just out of school, came here to jump-start their careers by showing off their work, they instead found many fewer receptive eyes than in years past. And many of the industry players so visible at the party had only attended the opening, and were nowhere to be found.
Although there were convention offices run by such industry giants as Nickelodeon (“SpongeBob SquarePants”) and Klasky-Csupo (“The Simpsons” and “Rugrats”), notably absent were most of the other big players, such as Cartoon Network, MTV, Warner Brothers, and Disney. Eager twenty-somethings who had shelled out from 25 to 45 dollars to have a crack at the big boys were visibly bewildered and disappointed by the lack of large, monied, corporate presence. Smaller production outlets that did rent offices often found themselves overwhelmed by young talent desperate for work. One studio, Wild Hare out of Atlanta, looked at portfolios out of sheer politeness even though they had no need for animators. They finally posted a notice announcing a portfolio-review moratorium.
The larger studios that did review work set definite limits, and stopped taking appointments on the second day of the Expo, leaving the folk who missed the first day feeling cheated. I also heard grumblings of dissent from the smaller production companies present. In previous years, a separate exhibition room had been available in which companies could simply rent an affordable table upon which they could display their work, and they were promised the same again this year. But due to low turnout, there was no exhibit room, and many companies were forced by the Fest into the more expensive option of renting an entire cabana in order to fill out the poolside area.
Despite the visible financial problems, the industry plods on. Animation is still an enormously popular medium, and due to the presence of Flash animation online, it has even undergone a renaissance. In a WACFest panel about developing content for multiple markets, Steve Ramirez, VP of Marketing and Business Development from San Francisco-based animation house Wild Brain noted that in order to make money with online animation, Web-based animation needed to have a real-world adjunct. He pointed out that there needed to be a tie-in to an existing show or network, as online animation by itself could not make money in a vacuum. Wild Brain, for example, has a sweet deal with Cartoon Network to provide brilliantly conceived online content for the Cartoon Network Website.
This year’s demise and reincarnation of, a popular Website that showed original Flash-based animation, neatly illustrates the necessity of actually making money. Although Icebox had legions of fans, particularly of the notorious and hilarious race-baiting cartoon “Mister Wong,” they showed their animation for free. Their business model seemed geared solely towards generating income by merchandising their characters on T-shirts and coffee mugs. After their initial failure, they have returned in a new incarnation, and now only show pilot episodes of their cartoons in hopes that people will buy an entire series on DVD.

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