Tuesday, January 24, 2012

 
Cooking Yourself a Digital Dish

I felt compelled to post this for the 1.2m young people in the UK currently trying to find work.

I spent 6 years indirectly researching in one form or another, how populations in developed countries, were going to evolve and compete in a global economy. I arrived at the following 6 minute statement:

Question:
How do you convince an apple grower that apple pie would be good for their business, if neither farming exists nor indeed knowledge of what a pie is?

Answer:
Make one

Question:
How do you convince a strawberry picker that Jam could be great for their business if they've no idea what Jam is, added to that, glass hasn't yet been invented?

Better Answer:
Give them the tools to play and the technology to experiment with.

To draw an analogy, digital is now at a similar stage to when our ancestors first discovered fire. Before that moment all food was consumed raw. As the idea of passing heat through food took hold, our ancestors would have experimented with different food and discovered what food types worked well and which badly. Raw food eaters would have cited examples of blackened inedible food as proof that fire and raw food should never be combined. Pickers may have protested that fire was useless because it destroyed the delicious fruit they collected.

Gradually however and despite numerous disasters, communities of cooked food eaters would have faired better than picker communities and peddlers of raw food. This combination of play (experimentation) and technology (fire) exposed our ancestors to explore a significant and important part of their world with granular fidelity; resulting in communities a third more energised, evolving over Century’s and extending their repertoire to fire pots, blow glass, forge steel and generate steam.

“Digital is the catalyst for disruptive change now, as fire was for our ancestors then! Fire enabled granular level manipulation of the physical world and exacted a profound change on human existence, the contribution digital will make on the human journey is equally seismic, the effects of which will be equally profound and predicted to last as long.”

It’s here that we now find ourselves. Digital technology is comparable to fire used by our ancestors to cook food. It is the ingredient when added to land, labour, capital, people, ideas and things required to meet un-met demand, create new markets, new products and new jobs.


… a few economic tenets
The underlying governance for businesses in developed countries is driven by a persistent need to reduce costs, increase productivity and minimise risk; it’s not governed by a job creation criterion. Jobs are a bi-product of increased productivity, as this reduces the price of goods, leaving more money in the pockets of you and me, which we are then encouraged to spend on more goods, thus creating more jobs. Regretfully these new jobs are only created if they promise increased efficiency.


These are the same forces which dictate new products, will only be created if there is an un-met demand in the market and if they promise to increase value for the producing firm. Often profit margins are so small on new products, that sometimes profit can only be realised if the cost of workers is kept low. This means labour intensive industries will seek out new ways to keep the cost of employing people as low as possible including automating production altogether.

However for many companies, this often means creating jobs abroad in developing countries, as further job creation in this country is no longer efficient for growth. What this amounts to is very little, or no room for new entrants, at least not until a major firm in the market goes bust. It’s a bit like the comical story of working 50 years for a firm, with little or no chance of promotion, waiting, until 104 year old "Mr Worthing" either retires or dies.


… why industry is as it is
The majority of established UK businesses are based on 300 year old industries. Through decades of invention, innovation and reorganisation they’ve reached the 21st Century as efficient as they can be. They are rooted by physical laws and limitations; primarily based on a process of converting resources of relative abundance into naturally scarce and sometimes artificially made scare goods. I’m going to be bold and suggest that November 2008 was the date when we witnessed the end point of 300 years of how post-industrialised countries have conducted business, in a singularly physical world. The transitions from physical to a predominantly neurological economy began in the 1970’s but I think 2004 to 2008 was the final tipping point.


Established industries that evolved pre-digital carry a "legacy"; derived from years of hard fought relationships combined with complex systems; cemented in acculturation of familiar repertoires and known outcomes. Their “systems” are costly to sustain and are often deliberately expensive in order to minimise competition from new entrants, due to high barriers-of-entry, defined by an elite minority: Similar by degree to raw food communities, legacy industry business models require that “food be consumed raw” to survive at their current size and format! Digital threatens to break how they make money; restructure their “form-factor”, or in other words, alter the size, scope and reach of individual firms; alter who or what represents an “elite” and is set to significantly change several other business assumptions and practices.

In the past individual hunters may have hand picked the best raw food source and been held in high regard for their knowledge and courage but enter livestock farmers. Pre-fire meant specialists of raw food preparation were critical. Post-fire suggests previously inedible items, could be safely eaten but more importantly, communities were not entirely dependent on a minority of elite hunters for their survival: Neither could raw food preparation specialist easily argue the importance of their role, or credit themselves the outright point of access to the final product.

Legacy industries have been great hunters, how do we persuade them to become great farmers? Isn’t it about having the confidence to "grow" more value then any one company or individual can capture, or convert into a sale: Maximising the area from which to harvest from, even if by doing so, directly benefits your competition? It’s a subject certainly worthy of another blog post.

At best, legacy industries don’t know how to grow a neurological economy, or are reluctant too. At worst they will pursue change through legislation to try and prevent the adoption of “cooked food” and will not stimulate change that threatens to break the methods they’ve adopted to make money, or positions others like the wood chopper, fire-starter, potter, cook, musician, storyteller or dancer between them and the point of consumption, without directly receiving revenue from this new economy

Pickers will not instigate change because they are confident that fruit taste just great as it is; but without the discovery of fire, experimentation, play and subsequent cooked food, apple pie and strawberry tarts would never taste as good.

Just like light from a flame can be used to illuminate raw food but not cook it, evidence suggests that legacy economies, are using digital to reveal their products and services, in new areas, previously too niche, too risky and too “dimly lit” to justify expenditure before now. Offering the smell of cooked food, promises something delicious but this deception may also be used, to simply mask a serving of the same uncooked offering. It seems then that digital outcomes for the 21st century require thinking throughout the entire organisation and as a nation.


… starting from today, a version of “work” for many of us
Individuals and communities independently exploring digital technologies, represent a tool of relatively low involvement for legacy businesses to experiment, explore and play with digital, at minimal risk and cost implications to them. Then it’s up to those individuals and communities to either package and sell the result of their exploration, experimentation and play indirectly to those legacy industries, or look to directly commercially exploit their discoveries themselves.


Both semi-skilled and professional White-Collar workers face sections of their job initially outsourced to parts of the world where labour costs are cheaper, call centres being the most obvious example. Secondly and some may argue of greater concern is, as UK firms pursue greater efficiencies, automation from Machine-to-Machine exchanges will reduce employment even further, think automated supermarket check-outs, automated shelf-stacking, un-manned train station ticket offices, driverless trains, voice recognition enabled word-processing, airport baggage handling etc. Considering that this list is expected to accelerate over the coming years, possibly outpacing our ability to compete directly, suggests we recognise aspects of production that humans excel at and describes an idea better represented in figure1, 2 and 3.

figure.1

figure.2

figure.3

The Luddite Fallacy argues “machines will make human labour obsolete”. Historically however this has not been the case. Technology has enabled fewer people become more productive and cost effective. Thus growing the overall economy and creating new and unique jobs for humans in other industries. But what happens when machines become the "worker"? I wonder how much 18th century industrial Britain would have resembled that described in history books, if technology like the Spinning Jenny or Watt’s Steam Engine within 50 years, had become as smart as the “job(s)” required; whilst getting cheaper every two years but still continuing to improve, with a perceptible and quantifiable increase in quality every four years; possibly halving capital investment every five years?


… we all have to start from where we are
Part of the solution is skilled workers have to know how to create their own little bit of “fire” and learn how to “cook their own food”. It means a future whereby just knowing a craft will not be enough. Traditionally this has been a possession of the Working Class, conducting their daily tasks through direct instruction, exchanging tangible, often manual skills for paid employment. It seems the working class now live in places like China, India, Vietnam and Brazil doesn’t it? So called “Semi-skilled” and “White Collar” workers don’t belong to the working class anymore, they are now part of the “Creative Class” represented by workers; often university graduates, who will need to create work for themselves.


It will require workers, investing time to organise themselves and build heterarchical not hierarchical connections and professional networks; developing entrepreneurship and lastly knowing how to code: For not knowing how to program in the 21st century, will be like not knowing how to read and write in the 20th. Just as our ancestors produced cave paintings, then speech and later writing, programming is the next evolution in the human journey and expresses our compulsion to exchange ideas and communicate enabled by cheap, easily accessible and readily available tools. Knowing how to program however is more profound than just another chapter in the history of human communication.

The act of programming is actually about accessing a raw resource and manipulating that resource to produce something with value added. Comparable to how a furniture maker manipulates wood to make a chair or a seamstress manipulates cotton to manufacture a dress. A programming language is imbued with the fundamental properties required to make derivative goods and programming is the discipline necessary to manipulate those properties... "Programming is the new Crude Oil of developed nations!"

Departing further from our fire analogy for just a moment longer, remaining in the physical world of tangible goods, if an equivalent entity to programming existed in the physical world, with enough skill, our furniture maker would be able to manufacture the timber frame of a house, sculpt a wooden statue or build a boat, not to mention other types of wood derivatives, with the same efficacy as any producer with a capital investment dedicated to any of the markets specific to this list. Unburdened by physical limits such as a boat yard, or precision tools, timber availability and subsequent price fluctuations, our furniture maker already well rehearsed in the code to make wooden goods, could if he so wished, learn the programming language for cotton, ceramic or metals relatively quickly.


… it’s all about weaving together a physical and neurological “fabric”
What will make programming so remarkable is when humans learn to weave the neurological world consisting of sensors, actuators, photonics, Internet protocols, and virtual products currently experienced in web space as apps, games, video and documents via devices like personal computers, games consoles, television and smartphones in the main, directly in to the fabric of the physical world. Not everyone will be able, inclined or competent enough to program to the same standard as a Google software engineer, just as I’m not convinced that everyone has the innate ability to write as well as any leading author of novels or poetry, all of the time or even some of the time.


That’s not to say that a hair-dresser in Bolton shouldn’t strive to learn how to program, despite maybe never possessing the aptitude to programme professionally, in the same way not everyone who learns to read and write needs to become a professional writer. I'm convinced that our reliance on 300 year old industries cannot continue. Although I humbly admit that these are also the same 300 year old industries, who own the vast majority of intellectual property rights required for new growth. I am also convinced for growth in developed nations to occur, there needs to be a cessation of a tendency for industry separateness combined with access to intellectual property held by a few, made available to many, considering that a great idea, that magnificent thing, could come from just about anywhere.

Might not a hairdresser from Bolton who programs albeit not as well as a Microsoft software engineer, code a pair of scissors that not only cuts hair beautifully but produces analysis about her customer’s mineral deficiencies, cholesterol levels and who incidentally may have just popped in for a perm, is spiking data that she’s pregnant…with twins. Now that’s what I call something for the weekend madam!

Despite the possibilities for Programmers from non-traditional sources participating in a neurological world, learning how to program in its current form is not easy and often feels like one is rubbing two sticks together for an awfully long time before things begin to smoke let alone ignite. So if you agree with the assumptions made in this post, the big challenge facing developed nations has to be how to teach programming and make it relevant to the majority.

It’s not because UK industry needs it; free-market economics will seek out efficiencies regardless, whether here, overseas, people, machines or total automation. No, we have to find a way for actors, archaeologists, historians, sales assistants, writers, artist, mathematicians, beauty therapist, philosophers, journalists, engineers, musicians, economists, hairdressers and builders play a part in a future dominated by digital and help individuals become producers and not just digital consumers serve up there own example of a digital dish.

The original Channel 4 thread can be found here.

The cause was championed and vigorously lobbied by Ian Livingston, Alex Hope and NESTA

In January 2012 Michael Gove, Minister for Education rose to the challenge

Now go and watch "The Matrix" again!


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

 
Hacking through Celluloid’s Language & Mythology
The Future of independent Animated film Distribution.



Introduction & Abstract
The purpose of this thesis is to document and describe my personal journey which was to create and distribute a twenty-five minute independently produced 3D animated film pilot. For this reason this paper will not be written in a particularly academic style but will be more in keeping with the tradition of journalistic reportage, as it is my assumption that the essence will be better conveyed. The time frame covered begins in 2001 until 2007. Using the title Production, Validation & Defense as a strap-line, research was conducted not only from within the film industry but from complimentary artistic fields where independent production is valued: Such as Fine Art production and the music industry. The structure of this thesis is divided into four sections. Section one identifies why animated film making deserves scrutiny at this time, regarding not only current practices but how in the future traditional models and methods may need to radically change. In section two techniques employed for gaining greater insights, familiar to research methodologies and the relevant wider epistemological viewpoint are described and compared. In the third section evidence of how findings from research methodologies helped garner relevant information to support proposals and recommendations documented in section four.




Certain objectives exist within this commentary which I would like to explore. The overriding concern is of the future and what it may bring to animated content creators, in particular independent animated film producers. Within this narrow area of debate a roadmap is emerging incorporating how future business models, community’s, stakeholders, sponsors, gatekeepers, and to some degree emergent technological communities may fit together. The chances of completing a creative project successfully is increased when the route is known or familiar. It is not always possible to thoroughly map events beforehand but sufficient knowledge and experience often provide a reasonable starting point from which a suitable framework can evolve. Established pipelines for film content creation acted as my particular source for helping formulate a re-evaluated pipeline constructed from key areas: concept, pre-production, production, post-production, place, product, pre-promotion and stakeholders Illustrated in figure 1. The core of this research focuses on only one of the main objectives and that is to get seen. Because future avenues for independent animated film are undefined I have chosen to adopt traditional terms like distribution for now. Distribution in this context is defined as path-finding a sustainable route to market utilising opportunities existing technology affords. It is not my intention to define a new taxonomy on animated film but to contribute to the ongoing dialogue. This commentary however is not espousing a strictly technologically deterministic view which interprets technology in general and communication

figure 1.


technologies in particular as the basis of society in the past, present and future. Determinist’s are of the opinion that technologies such as writing, print, Television and more recently the computer "changed society". In it’s extreme form the entire character of society is seen as being determined by technology: Human factors and social arrangements are seen as secondary. I shall invite you to share with me a more holistic standpoint in contrast to the reductionist viewpoint, which offers cause and effect relationships as the sole motivator to change. From this standpoint reductionists attempts to "singulate" events resulting in mono-causal as opposed to multi-causal explanations. By its very nature it offers independent variables which appear free from influence of social, historical, financial, mythological, cultural etc. modifying variables. However a "holist" interpretation of events proceeds from the whole and relationships are presented as non-directional or better still non-linear. It is holistic to assert that the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts!




The artist and economist Hans Abbing uses the example below to illustrate how rising costs in the arts are offset by increasing audience size which eventually reduce costs. I shall use the same example to better explain the holistic approach to this paper. Electronic amplification was probably introduced in much the same way as louder instruments were in classical music a few centuries earlier. Classical musicians had to make themselves heard at noisy gatherings, just as the first jazz and pop bands had to play loud enough to heard above noisy bar and pub venues. In the case of classical music, louder instruments would suggest larger venues, which in turn suggests larger audiences. So society must have gone through some form of sustainable socio-economic change. In the example of jazz and pop musicians it would suggest that a philosophical shift and or an alteration in cultural attitudes had to have occurred to now consider live music appropriate and desirable outside of the acoustically sympathetic traditional music hall. The notion of artistic innovation accompanying technical innovation is highlighted in the case of the human voice. Singers in noisy pubs could have relied on classical operatic training. Amplification however obviated the need to develop a booming voice, indeed the softest and most intimate voices became part of new musical styles. A perhaps unforeseen consequence of amplification is that personal characteristics of each singer’s voice can be retained and appreciated by both small and large audiences. Artistic uniqueness emerged as a result, given the same song; take for example the difference in interpretation between Lou Rawls and Michael Jackson.



On a government level the UK film industry is perceived as being culturally valuable. This is reflected in the UK Film Council; a government backed lead organisation for the British Film industry. Established by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport and formally launched in April 2000. As well as providing an integrated strategy for the development of the film industry, UKFC also aims to promote the enjoyment and understanding of cinema to as wide an
audience as possible across the UK. These aims are pursued through grant in aid and the distribution of National Lottery money. Animation however despite worldwide popularity does not share nearly the same level of status. Why? The table below highlights box office gross for all animated feature films released in the UK between the years 2004 and 2006.

table1.



The figures in table 1. show animated films screened in the UK, over two years generated a staggering £151 million just from box office ticket sales. This doesn’t begin to describe the revenue generated from merchandising rights such as toys & T-Shirts. Neither does it include world-wide box office till receipts not to mention DVD sales and computer game rights. The majority of animated films in this period were developed and produced with Hollywood backing. Finding distribution can often be a problem for British film-makers as this sector is dominated by the big US brands, which are predominantly allied to the Hollywood studios. Securing a box office hit tends to require a serious amount of investment. For example, the Film Distributors Agency (FDA) found that there were 425 films released in the UK in 2004, with a £158 million spend on advertising. A further £124 million was spent on prints. In 2005 the FDA claimed that film releases in the UK had increased to 467 with Print and Advertising (P&A) to exceed £300 million. From this total almost £166m was spent on advertising. However half of the number of film releases to cinemas across the country went out on fewer than 50 prints each. But the figures that cause most alarm and acts as the core motivator for writing this paper is reflected in table 2. below.

table 2.


Table. 2. suggests that the cost burden is hampering the opportunity to see many of the films via theatrical release. This statement is quantified to some extent when you discover that the top nine distributors took 95% of the market in 2004 in the UK and Republic of Ireland. While the "Other 52 Distributors" released more than half the films, their share of the box office only amounted to 5%. UK distribution continues to be dominated by Hollywood, and the figures But it can’t just be about money can it? This thesis by way of induction specifially tackles some of the issues surrounding independent animation and UK distribution and why the conditions are emerging for industry wide change. For these changes to occur film makers will need to find new ways to be seen in same way musicians discovered new ways to be heard after the introduction of amplification.



In 2001 one of my colleagues sent out a link to a website featuring animated films. One title called "RustBoy" stood out head and shoulders above the rest it was remarkable, it looked stunning! There wasn’t a great deal to see, just some stills and a handful of storyboards. The most amazing thing was, it had all been created by one man, a British Illustrator called Brian Taylor. As more and more people opened the link the atmosphere around the studio became electrified. I was inspired and wished that I had the skill to do the same. One year later I wrote a 12 minute script. But it wasn’t very good. I spent a further two years reading about plot structure, character archetypes, cinematography, art direction, mythology, lighting, project management and how to write a memorable script...I checked on the progress of RustBoy. Official animation sites had now picked up on his film. He was giving interviews too! (http://www.animwatch.com/)



In 2004 exhausted after six years at Electronic Arts, I decided to take some time away from computer game development. I finished my script which I’d edited down from forty minutes to twenty-three minutes. A minute for titles and a minute for credits and five minutes for advertising, "that should take me up to thirty minutes of air time" I thought. Why twenty-five minutes? Because traditional broadcasters what something they can schedule. I had some money and lots of time. If I wanted to make this film I needed a pipeline, from concept though to distribution. Mapping out a high level production plan I set about looking for a path...While in a bookshop one afternoon I saw something very exciting. Quite by accident I came across a book on the making of Rustboy. It sat on the shelf next to the making of Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and the art of Walt Disney. Here I was looking at a book of a film that I hadn’t even seen yet, and feeling now more than ever that I really swanted to see it. Rustboy had received some funding. Brian Taylor was following his dream full-time now...Meanwhile


Over at Ealing Studio’s in West London some friends of mine from Electronic Arts were still working on Britain’s first independently produced 3D animated film, "Valiant," which was scheduled for completion by December 2004. It cost £40m with a production team of ninety-five. Vanguard Animation was the name of the production company set up to produce Valiant and then a further two more animated films. (I can remember emailing my friends at Ealing Studio’s asking for a job on the next feature). Vanguard Animation was a division of Vanguard Films and was bigger than I thought as they had offices in Los Angeles and New York. Disney planned to distribute the film in North America, under the Buena Vista banner and Odyssey Entertainment in the UK would be handling international distribution. Disney also held worldwide merchandising, soundtrack, and video game rights as well. Further research revealed stakeholder involvement. IDT Corporation, a subsidiary of IDT Entertainment, Inc. Who are a multinational telephone, and technology company, was investing in Vanguard Animation. Other stakeholders included Ealing Studios, Odyssey Entertainment, UK Film Council, Baker Street Media Finance and Take Five Film Partnerships.



A company called ERA sold the Valiant team roughly six hunderd processors to build a render farm and almost one hundred artist workstations. It was the biggest render-farm in the country. For clarity rendering is the process of computing, pixel by pixel, one or more 2D images from 3D scene data, from the viewpoint of a simulated camera. Put simply before Computer Generated Imagery (CGi), traditional animation involved hiring literally hundreds of rendering artist. Their job was to ink detailed line drawings which had been previously created by animators. Characters, fore-ground objects, mid-ground objects and back-grounds had to be hand drawn using special paints on acetate film or glass. Since the dawn of the micro-chip however and mathematical algorithms, the "inking" process is now handled exclusively by intense computations. The easiest way to appreciate rendering is to compare it to printing. Not on paper as a single image but as individual files in a sequence of images.



Render-farm nodes


While talking with the salesman at ERA we costed rendering by the hour to be about £200. In total somewhere near £3m must have been spent just on rendering We discussed at length the posibility of rendering my twenty-five minute attempt but quickly discovered that out of all the Soho FX’s and animation houses there wasn’t one licensed for 3rd party rendering or with free storage capacity to manage such a task. I had to find out whether a small render-farm needed to be produced to service independent animators around the country. There was rendering support for small producers but costs were high because they only had 80 processors I would have neede anything between £20- £37,000 for twenty-five minutes. Historically gaining access to a render-farm has been difficult. Remaining in contact with someone who worked for one of the Soho animation houses was still possibly the best way to get your film made, but only if it short, say three minutes in length. So I delved deeper and I contacted over 200 animation production companies 38% showed no interest in the concept of rendering support. However 62% of company’s did display a genuine interest in rendering support. Contingency of this nature has not been widely available to independent studios in the past. So directly targeting this group was very important.



An animation group based in Sheffield will not necessarily meet an animation team in Wolverhampton They are prevented by logistics. Compare this to a soho based studio that is a member of the Soho.net. community. Half the production team buy coffee at the same shop on a Monday morning and drink beer on Friday in the same bars. Where this support network really comes into it’s own is at rendering. Rendering isn’t an exact science. certain routines will cause the most powerful machines to chugg! So as a contingency, studio’s have a few extra processors dotted around the studio, which he can call upon in and absolute emergency. However, sometimes even this won’t be enough to get the job rendered on time. So the casual drink on a Friday is extended back at a competing studio’s render queue manager and the processor intensive job has suddenly found it’s way on to the FTP Server. Two previously competing effects houses have found it mutually beneficial to help each other out.



The technological communtiy in this case the Soho FX houses existed in this climate because Mental Images develop and own Mental Ray(tm). You need to purchases a mental ray license if your main output packages include Softimage XSi. or Maya. What many of the resellers of Mental ray products fail to tell you is the standard end users license agreement prohibits anyone from actively advertising or legally making any financial gain from a render farm to 3rd party users. In other words if it’s your intention to advertise as a commercial render-farm, Mental Images want to strike a different deal with you, which happens to be much more expensive. So the way studio’s work around this is to only make rendering available to friends in the industry. this means they don’t run the risk of getting "found out" by mental images (because they will sue.) This has created a closed shop: if you’re in you’re in, and if you’re out you’re out! Consequently such a business climate has become a barrier to entry for small scale independent 3D animators and film-makers to break in. Pixar had the same dis-agreeable terms when they entered the rendering market. However after Hewlett Packard n June 2005 located at Hewlett Packards Bristol division, HP and Alias announced a new 500 node render-farm (maybe around 1000 processors).



The service used a fully internet based infrastructure called Utility rendering. Providing animation houses round the clock pay-as-required access to rendering resources, customers bid for render time on-line via an "ebay" like bidding system. This system was used by Dreamworks who produced Madagascar using HP’s pipeline but was never rolled out to the rest of the industry. However IBM in America after seeing the results of Valiant decided to copy HP and set up an on-line "On-Demand service via "RenderRocket" (www.renderrocket.com) without mental-ray or Pixar.

Rendering an independent 3D animated film is now possible. (Technically) Now let’s get it funded and get it seen!


I remember sitting through a seminar hosted by Film London looking into available grants and finding funding from the film agencies. I’d prepared a very high level production plan of areas I knew in time I needed to cover. I had logo’s and org. charts and...everything...except understanding.

















Everything was going well until I said the word commercial... "Like Wallace & Gromit" I enthused. "I’ll match the funding from private investors" but the words came out like tumbleweed. OK I thought if they wouldn’t help me fund my crazy idea maybe they’d help me get it seen. "If I got a 35mm print would you be able to help me attend festivals?" Before that point I had no intention of going anywhere near a film festival let alone rendering anywhere near that kind of resolution; I knew how big these files would be. But the conversation had landed in a ditch. I’d blown it the moment I used that filthy word, commerciality. If I’d been paying attention I would have seen the signs. The team from the agency talked about dance groups and films about artist installations and recording sculpture over time. Animations were being funded by the Arts Council but they weren’t the kind of films that would go to video or broadcast without first placed under an art centric umbrella. I realised something else too. The funding path your project took had a correlation to the path your projects distribution would also take. The goal that was encouraged even though it generated huge cost was for theatrical release. Alternative routes to audience seemed to be discouraged. Distribution seems to consider three variables. Length - as in how long does the film run for. Funding - Is your film funded by Business Angels or government agency - Style & Content - Is it a commercial venture or does it have cultural merit.



The department for Culture Media & Sport work to a framework called the Cultural test for British film. To qualify for tax relief a film has to score more than 50% of the total score of thirty-two. Are government agencies afraid to fund something that could be commercially successful? Would it not be easy to place a clause in any agreement stating something like - If you make more than the grant offering from film proceeds then the film-maker is duty bound to pay a percentage back to the government, or something along those lines. Sociologists speak of Cultural capital, Social capital and Economic capital. Cultural capital refers primarily to incorporated abilities and dispositions. for instance - the culture of the English is their reserve. Social capital refers to present and potential resources that arise from a network of social relations. Reputations often symbolise the possession of social and cultural capital. Unlike Economic capital, social and cultural capital cannot easily be bought, sold or exchange. (Hans Abbing 2002). Are government’s guardians of a nations Cultural Economy? If new and aspiring film-makers who display little or no interest in commerciality and prove that through their work, will they indeed be rewarded with grants? The Film Distributors Agency (FDA) in its representations to the government and the UK Film Council it recommends increased priority to P&A (print & advertising) spending. This it claims would help specialised film find it’s audience. I wonder if the specialised films spoken of are the types of films that the government funded organisations want to encourage. The FDA also tackles the issue of unreleased British films. While it is estimate that more than half of the films produced in the UK every year fail to secure a cinema release, FDA believes this is not so much a distribution problem as a question of quality.



My Future Animated Film
This section is structured around marketing services framework (Keith 1960) and will use the headings


• Product
Incudes both the core beniefit (main reason for the consumer’s interest in acquiring it) and supplementtary services related to acquistions, delivery and consumption (Lovelock & Wright, 2002)


• Price
Includes financial costs as well as nonfinancial outlays or risks i.e waiting time, mental or physical effort, sensory experiences


• Place
Includes how the product or service is acquired at physical locations e.g Retail park, Home delivery, High street shop, TV. internet or combinations of listed.


• Promotion
Promotion refers to the communication of informational messages of persuasion about the product via media (e.g. broadcast, print, the Internet) or salespeople (Lovelock &: Wright, 2002).


• Process
Process consists of the steps in the service creation and delivery experience, that are performed by the service provider, or indeed the customer and can be considered an extension of a product or service.


• People
In the services-marketing combination, people usually refers to the employees or individuals who deliver the service.


• Physical Evidence
Physical evidence includes all tangible and visible aspects of the organisation associated with image and perceived quality of the product or service (i.e., related to the product, packaging, or promotion).


• Productivity.
In the services marketing literature, productivity is defined as how efficient and effective an organisation is at us- ing its resources and producing value for the customer.



Alongside these headings are tied six major reasons consumers desire to be online (Kerin, Hartley, & Rudelius 2003)


• Convenience


• Choice


• Customisation


• Communication


• Control


• Cost


At the beginning of this paper a link between amplification of singer’s voices and the distribution of animated film was made. This derived from a third source, that of my professional acculturation. Having spent the last fourteen years immersed in computer game development I began to experience a separation of some core industry values. Fundamentally the video games industry’s understanding of itself is based from a technological imperative. My attempt to reconcile my reductionist view of technology coupled with witnessing the effects the games industry culture has had on me and my colleagues raises the question of value: such as when does the effects of technology stop adding value? Correlation between technical developments in the games industry and animated film are not directly comparative, so further insights were required from an alternative source. Just how much technology has shaped video game development is clear to see. However producers of game content are facing customer led expectations similar to that experienced by creators of Art. Art consumers demand that quality is constant but consumers will only be prepared to pay up to a certain amount. If the amount consumers are prepared to pay still does not match the cost of production then traditionally, governments act as cultural stakeholders and government backed subsidisation of the arts fill the cost gap. When technology is no longer helping to reduce costs or increase productivity but contributes to increased cost that industry is stricken by a cost disease. The following paragraphs help to explain how the cost disease in video game development has managed without government subsidies.



The computer games industry is used to technology driven change. Since I enter into the industry in 1993 I have developed skills employed on the Amiga through to the Playstation2. Computer game development is a unique marriage between art and mathematics which for many years was a struggle to make efficient and cost effective. By the time Playstation2 arrived processes involved in game development successfully transitioned to meet the new expectations that the hardware provided. Team sizes grew, competencies expanded along with costs. It was felt that rising cost could be offset if production values were raised to justify an increase in retail value and if the traditional user base was expanded upon also. Firms concentrating on a services & marketing business model consisting of eight Ps: the four Ps in the traditional marketing mix of product, price, place, and promotion, and four additional Ps of process, people, physical evidence, and productivity (Lovelock & Wright, 2002) could potentially exploit Intellectual Property and economies of scale.



With the release of new hardware such as Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation3, attitudes to the type of product suitable to sustain the increase in cost, associated with productivity could no longer rely on a Playstation2 strategy. One of the methods for increased profitability developing for the Playstation2 was to tie game content with Hollywood films. In this climate original content without an already existing fan-base or affiliation to a blockbuster film would rarely succeed in the market place. With an increase in cost, coupled with the licensing business model of Sony and Microsoft it’s difficult to imagine where originality will come from. Which led to me to at least recognise, that recent console developments, sold on the back of high definition and not "killer applications" is not very favourable to developers for a number of reasons. First increased cost caused by bigger team sizes employed to program and produce art assets, and longer production pipelines for art creation and integration all have to be met by the developer. Secondly products would have to sell considerably more units than they do now to make a profit. Suggesting, as discovered with the Playstation2 the importance of mainstream culture particularly blockbuster films. Thirdly originality cannot emerge without a substantially high, High-Definition user base in place first as sufficient numbers are needed to reach Density Dependence and a necessary degree of legitimisation. Technology in the case of recent developments in computer games appear to potentially hinder the growth of game content via the console route with only the very biggest firms able to compete in that space. Despite the reasons stated, publishers have invested in costly technology to develop multi-million dollar projects for PS3 and Xbox 360. By comparison, Wii has a low-cost development platform similar to the company’s last console, GameCube. The spiralling cost of development will lead to fewer platform-exclusive titles. However that may not be the case for the Wii. It may that the radical controllers produce radical games. Developing games for the Wii would appear to be less expensive than for the XBox 360 or the Playstation3 as the latter devices offer high-definition graphics. The technological community has shrunk, the barrier to entry for the remaining community members has raised, consumer sponsorship has a considerable outlay for membership consisting of a console retailing at £300 and HDTV at £600. It is downloadable games and content that threatens the market. This has already begun, to a degree, but the ability to buy full games has yet to develop. Music CD singles have taken a serious hit, movies are on the way and games WILL be next.



From the assumption that technology has to benefit an industry in several ways before that technology is adopted, I realised that film making is suffering from a similar industry wide reductionist technological view. But where computer games have no long standing cultural economy there is a very strong cultural ownership toward film, similarly to that of music. The cultural ambassadors preserve the separateness and inherent value stored in music and film as Art; kept apart from that of commerce, profit margins and cost. But the underlying catalyst to change is the same for music, film and games. Amplification provided a method of distribution for singers. As live performance singers were able to distribute their voices to a larger audience of sponsors. Further discoveries such as recording emanated from the benefits of amplification.
The majority of independent British films, 55% in fact of all films distributed using traditional methods, only contributed to 5% of total box office receipts. This suggests that the traditional route via theatrical release is not benefiting this specific group of developers. Calls to increase government level funding in print and advertising have been unrequited. Indeed subsidisation on this level would prove too costly and difficult to implement; on what criteria would a film chosen for increased P&A be judged and by whom? Producing a 35mm print for theatre is an unnecessary burden for a majority of film-makers. Similar to the burden now faced by computer game developers of Playstation3 and Xbox 360 titles. The funding framework for many of these films is both grant and privately maintained. The nature of grants obliges film-makers to certain commitments such as filming in a certain location, or inclusion of particular content must be representative of a particular community. Community representative films would benefit from a community level mode of distribution such as Internet downloads and later from internet assisted broadcasting. Therefore the internet will act as an amplifier for eyes, so to speak.



But isn’t this already happening?


figure 5.



Figure5 is an extension of the process diagram shown in figure1. It maps the stages of development in a clockwise direction from concept at the 7 O’clock position and ending for now at the 4 O’clock postiion.For the remainder of this thesis I will be focusing on processes concerned with Product and Place illustrated in figure6 & 7.


















The concept of the traditional film festivals is above all else a festival which champions the manifestation of film-making communities. Getting a film into film festivals is how you get noticed in the cinematic community; it acts as like a very expensive calling card. Festivals are where people who really know and live cinema get together to celebrate cinema. The belief for independent film-makers is, attend a festival and it’s possible to attract the attention of somebody with money who could potentially make my next, "even bigger and better" filmic dream, or maybe just maybe Steven Spielberg will see my work. However scurrying in the shadows distributors go to find products they would like to invest, in bringing to "mainstream cinema" and DVD video distribution. Sifting through the huge quantity of film festivals worldwide that match the genre of animated film I quickly discovered that the majority of screening submissions only accepted films on 35mm print. So including press packs, shipping of print, posters, flyers, video screenings, accommodation, taxi fares, application fee and food I would looking at costs of around £4,000 for attendance to just one festival. Independent film-makers before the arrival of the internet viewed entry into this very exclusive club as an essential cost. Amidst the high art and romance, traditional film festivals in reality act as a barrier and a warning to all those wanna’be upstart film-makers. In order to pass through the festival barrier and beyond one needs a combination of monetary, cultural and social capital as well as some luck. This barrier is managed by members of the profession through cost and who profit from limited membership. Its existence depends on authorities who have the power to institute the barrier and regulate passage through it. This authority is not anonymous; it is in the hands of known institutions or individuals. This authority rubber stamp new entrants to the community and through the process of modifying pipelines to distributors, raising, lowering, or removing a certain barriers, it often also controls membership figures. (Hans Abbing 2002).



One of the most important developments in the UK cinema market recently has been the evolution of a government led initiative called the Digital Screen Network (DSN). Through the UK Film Council (UKFC) and the British Film Institute (BFI). £12 million of National Lottery money was raised to put the most up-to-date digital technology in 212 cinemas (on 240 screens) across the UK. The rollout began in September 2005 and is expected to take until spring 2007 to complete. In return for this, the cinemas will have to set aside a set amount of time for specialised screenings, while the UK Film Council will also contract from each cinema a certain allotted screen time. The idea is designed to widen the range of films available to cinema-goers and, in particular, to improve access to specialised (or non-mainstream) film. As I mentioned earlier the high cost of 35mm celluloid film roughly around £1,500 per print is creating an unnecessary cost burden. The digital technology will work alongside the standard 35mm projector and will give the exhibitor greater flexibility in the films that are shown. The DSN should help British films reach a broader audience, particularly outside London, as well as providing opportunities for encouraging community driven content. (BFI, 2006)


As seen previously with the music industry, the increase in illegal downloads is a sure indicator that films over the Internet will be the next big thing. There are already a number of companies making a move into this market, with BSkyB’s PropellerTV online rental company LOVEFILM - CinemaNow - Film-On - IFilm.com in particular perform as an online film festival adopting the stance of gatekeeper of internet released film, selecting and rejecting content, while AtomFilm.com mimic the role of distributor. Shooting People and iBBC, service customers with independent film and mainstream programs respectively; via streaming video content similar to but better than, the buffering system currently used by YouTube. The deliver of on-line filmic content could be beneficial to the British film industry for a number of reasons. As well as giving people a legitimate option to piracy and opening up another revenue stream, it should lead to a much wider range on offer, as has been seen within the music industry, thus broadening the audience considerably.



Distribution by Download and Internet Assisted Broadcast
Downloads are also the perfect outlet for short films but bandwidth speeds will need to get faster and servers will find it hard to keep up with demand, particularly if this method becomes popular. Coupled with streaming content such as TV-on-demand and High Definition film and Television the current infrastructure of the internet may crack under the strain. In the case of digital music distribution, unauthorized consumer peer-to-peer (P2P) file trading has become one of the most popular Internet activities. The number of files at any one time on peer-to-peer services is now estimated at 1 billion, compared to 500 million in June 2002 (IFPI, 2003). At speeds of up to 1 Mega-bytes-per-second customers described that music files can take anything from one minute for a popular song to several hours if there are few sources available. As a method of sharing large files, downloads of one gigabyte can take anything from twenty-five to fifty hours to complete. In order to further expand the use of the Internet as a tool for leisure, faster connection speeds are required along with direct customer access to the source data. The following speeds are needed for the type of applications listed;




• 130-300 kilo-bytes-per-second - audio streaming and high-speed multimedia browsing
• 500 kilo-bytes-per-second - video conferencing
• 1 Mega-bytes-per-second - 3D graphics and peer-to-peer (P2P) working
• 2 Mega-bytes-per-second - real-time films
• 8 Mega-bytes and above - high-definition television.




Consumers will be more willing to take a risk on unknown content if their cost investment is small. If everything has to be downloaded before it can be consumed only the best marketed will be considered by "passing trade". However content that has invested time attracting a community of sponsors beforehand as is the case with Brian Taylor’s Rust-Boy will enjoy a fan base and an enviable retention of loyal customers. They in return will receive by post their very own special box set DVD plus a letter of providence and an engraved key-ring or maybe a mouse mat! I’m in danger of straying off into another study, that of business models and promotion…



Blinn’s Law states "For every increase in processing power, what results is an increase in quality not time saving". I don’t claim to have the solution for the potential issues of distribution by download, bandwidth or latency this goes beyond the scope of this research. But my recommendation is something I’ve labeled Internet Assisted Broadcast. It’s based on how an animation render-farm works. A single computer contains the content and acts as a control point. In this case the control point would be a server containing films, games and music etc. From this point the server machine sends instructions to the "blades" on the render-farm in packets. They in turn execute the commands and ping a "I’m done, can I have another" response back to the control machine. All the passing back and forth generates a single frame of animation in seconds which would take a single machine hours to compute alone. – In its simplest terms that is pretty much all there is to it. So adopting the same principle Internet Assisted Broadcast would use the now obsolete Public Call box location points dotted around the United Kingdom. Instead of phone booths entertainment pods could be erected. Powered by both wind-turbine and solar panels Entertainment Pods would behave like a vending machine for entertainment.



Each Pod would perform a subordinate role similar to a "blade" in a render-farm and mimic the protocols of Peer-2-Peer software. So in effect a Pod in Somerset could request a packet to a Pod in Newcastle which has just finished sending a packet to Inverness. The control point would in fact consist of several host servers containing content from independent and mainstream producers. Content would be sent to the relevant entertainment pod client for customer retrieval via insertion of the special USB type key, received through the post on sign-up.



"It would be just like having the biggest video rental - game retailer - record shop in the world on the corner of almost every road across the UK". Customers subscribe - deposit funds online - order the film they want from the online catalogue - so by the time they’ve put on a coat and walked across the road to the Entertainment Pod, the film will be there waiting for collection. Indeed back in 2002 British Telecom had originally planned to turn obsolete PCB’s into Wi-Fi points capable of a one hundred metre signal – providing Wi-Fi enabled users and mobile phone users in particularly an alternative method of content retrieval. Internet Assisted Broadcast would provide a business model that media industries are used to and feel secure with, and Pod’s may possibly even act as broadcast points, enabling TV-on-demand for homes within specific catchments. I’ve not doubt vandals would destroy a fair few apparently AT&T in America had to spend $5 million each year just to repair vandalised telephone kiosks - and customers possibly wouldn’t use them in bad weather! But if consumers could grab film for £1.50 or a song for 50p it surely beats the 1billion illegal P2P downloads content creators currently face.



Conclusion
This thesis has in part mapped, some of my potential journey as an independent creator of animated films. The good news is I have a pipeline from concept to distribution. However figure.8 illustrates that there are still many areas of that journey left. For instance how can a firm make money from the content it produces, when said content is so vulnerable to hackers - easily pirated and circulated? With the increase of P2P usage doubling in one year the climate is ripe for a secure transaction model for content distribution. In the same way Pay-pal provides a secure environment for monetary transactions. I conclude that this paper has ended very differently to how it started. If I’m honest I didn’t really expect to end up where I have. It seems that my next assignment needs to focus on exploration of future business models including methods of customer attraction and retention. In 2001 there were more than 97,000 public call boxes in the UK together with more than 58,500 operator-managed payphones (payphones that look very similar to PCB’s but which are located on private land). The information contained in BT’s reports are extensive which go beyond the scope of this paper but are nevertheless worth further investigation.


figure.8



Tuesday, October 10, 2006

 

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