The big picture
An industry in which the UK excels
Over decades the industry has delivered home-grown productions filled with outstanding characters and stories – from Yellow Submarine by way of The Snowman, Wallace and Gromit, Bob the Builder and The Gruffalo, to Peppa Pig and Shaun the Sheep. These productions and many more have established the international reputation of the UK as one of the greatest creative and commercial producers of animation – across film, TV and advertising.
Today the animation sector in the UK is growing fast, but if that is to continue the pool of experienced and talented animation producers needs to grow too. In an increasingly complex and competitive market the role of animation producer is critical to getting a production off the ground – securing the finances, ensuring that the creative vision of all those involved can be realised on time and on budget and that the final product is promoted and distributed successfully to maximise impact.
The landscape of the industry today
The most recent research on the animation industry across Europe demonstrates that the UK is a key player in that industry and that industry tax breaks introduced in April 2013 have also attracted substantial overseas investment, particularly from US studios and directors wanting to work in the UK.
Within Europe, the UK and Ireland form the largest market for animated feature films. The UK is one of the main European producers of feature animation and in the five years from 2010 to 2014, it topped the list of European countries when it came to attracting international audiences for its productions.
In that period, UK success was due in particular to the popularity of Gnomeo and Juliet (Rocket Pictures), Arthur Christmas, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (Aardman Animations) and Paddington (Heyday Pictures).
Again within Europe, the UK is also an important market for the production of TV animation series. The UK is home to many children’s channels that broadcast throughout Europe, including US companies Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. While on its three main domestic children’s TV channels – CITV, CBBC and CBeebies – more than 80% of animation output is locally produced.
A vibrant sector
The animation industry in the UK today is a vibrant sector to work in with more than 4,600 highly skilled people currently in employment – an increase of more than 50% over the past ten years.
People are employed across a range of roles including production assistants, storyboard artists, riggers, designers, editors and producers. The industry is split at around 40% female and 60% male, and in the production side of animation there is a higher proportion of women than men.
Animation production studios often produce work for a range of clients across advertising, film and television. Some studios specialise in one area, particularly children’s media, which is the largest area of the industry. While many of the studios can be found in London, there are more and more studios to be found around the UK, particularly in areas such as Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
Studios tend to work in 2D CG (computer generated) animation, 3D CG animation, stop frame animation and 2D hand drawn animation, with most offering a range of techniques and styles to suit the needs of the production. A few studios also provide service work to other creative industries to diversify their revenue streams, providing visual effects, animated content, live action or interactive content production.
Download the Creative Skillset Employment Census of the Creative Media Industries (2012) for more information about the changing composition of the animation industry's employment patterns and geography.
Convergence has increasingly blurred the lines between traditional and CG animation and visual effects. With the rapid developments in technology, CG animation has grown to be one of the biggest areas of the global industry.
Since Toy Story (1995) – the first fully computer generated animated feature – the impact of CG animation has revolutionised the production processes for all animated content.
As well as in fully animated features, computer animation has become more prevalent in the special effects of live action features such as Avatar (2009) and Gravity (2013), which broke new ground in terms of computer animation – and involved expertise developed in the UK.
But CG animation is also seen on TV in children’s pre-school series such as The Octonauts (2010) and The Hive (2010) as well as in commercials and computer games – and the UK animation industry is making a major contribution to its development.
In recent years there have been several developments that have enabled the industry in the UK to flourish and almost double in scale, enabling the establishment of more production studios across the UK – but also creating the demand for more talented and experienced animation producers able to rise to the challenge of these new opportunities.
Investment in skills and talent
To meet the needs of an ever-evolving industry, the UK government is investing in skills and talent development through the provision of the Skills Investment Funds via Creative Skillset. It has done so since 2013 when the tax breaks were introduced to help grow the industry. This funding is matched pound for pound from contributions from the animation industry, in recognition of the importance of investing in the workforce to keep the industry thriving.
The introduction of tax relief for animation productions in 2013 has meant that more companies are able to produce UK originated shows in the UK, rather than outsourcing the work overseas. This has been a real boost to the industry, which had previously been suffering from competition from overseas studios that could offer cheaper labour and tax relief incentives that the UK could not compete with.
The tax relief has also brought more international work-for-hire animators and more animation productions to the UK, particularly from the US, and with these productions has come more inward investment. In 2014, 22 animation productions were produced in the UK with a total production spend of £37m.
Download the BFI's research report Film and other screen sector production in 2014 for a more detailed financial breakdown of the Animation industry's production during 2012-2014.
The tax breaks have had a huge impact on programming that is usually only part-funded by the broadcaster, in that it enables us to produce in the UK. As a result of this happening I have opened up animation studio Eye Present, as a joint venture with Squint Opera."
Genevieve Dexter, Founder, Serious Lunch (UK kids TV: Boom or Bust?, TBI Vision, 30 June 2015)
Since 2010, around half of the animation produced for UK television broadcast was produced in the UK. In Broadcast Magazine's June 2015 article Tax Credits fuel cartoon boom, it was reported that more than a quarter of the animated series being launched at Cartoon Forum 2015 were from UK or Irish companies – signs that the industry is flourishing.
However, there has been a diminishing investment in children’s media by broadcasters across Europe. This is particularly felt in the UK where the spend from public service broadcasters has fallen dramatically over the past decade, even though these channels tend to favour national productions.
Download PACT/The Ragdoll Foundation's 2015 report Children’s television – a crisis of choice: The case for greater commercial PSB investment in Children’s TV for further information about recent UK PSB investment in children’s TV programming.
These days producers of animated children’s series have to be more entrepreneurial and explore new sources of financing, such as merchandise licensing and on demand services. They are increasingly looking to emerging platforms, with the general feeling that linear broadcast television will soon become a thing of the past as consumer habits change.
Specific on-demand and subscription services, such as Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Sky, are not only acquiring existing properties but are also launching dedicated services for children and producing original content. New digital services like the YouTube Kids App and Azoomee are bringing targeted content for children direct to the user’s smartphone or tablet in recognition of changing consumer habits and the increasing sophistication with which children access digital technologies.
Where previously the US has ruled the older age range and the UK has ruled pre-school, with the new platforms there is more opportunity to make more shows for older children. There are also fewer rules all the time about the format, the narrative structure and the length. It is really exciting to be able to break conventions through the different platforms"
Jamie Badminton, Creative Director, Karrot Entertainment
Also there is a developing appetite for artistic animated features in the European market, which can be seen in the recent success of Irish co-production Song of the Sea (2014) produced by Cartoon Saloon that has received rave reviews and an Academy Award nomination.
The challenge for producers is to develop new partnership and financing opportunities for animation productions and to that end they need to attend key industry events and film festivals, such as Children’s Media Conference (CMC), MIPCOM, Kidscreen, and the Annecy Festival. These events give producers the opportunity to hear from publishers and other producers and the potential to meet people they might be able to develop new projects with.
Kidscreen, CMC and MIPCOM are great spaces to network and also to see what else is going on in the industry and how people are doing things … The great thing about this industry is that people are really open and willing to share experiences."
Lucy Murphy, Creative Director and Head of Content, Azoomee
A brief history - key events
The Post Office’s GPO Film Unit produced public information films employing experimental animators such as Len Lye, Lotte Reiniger and Norman McLaren to convey ideas in an engaging visual style.
Hungarian migrant John Halas set up a studio in the UK producing commercials and propaganda films during WW2 with his wife Joy Batchelor. Halas and Batchelor produced the first British animated feature, the seminal Animal Farm (1954).
The popularity of television gave rise to the production of many children’s shows. The Adventures of Noddy (1955–) helped launch the first night of ITV – and is a property that has been revived several times since. The end of the decade saw the first stop motion series Ivor The Engine (1959) produced by Oliver Postgate’s Smallfilms which returned to TV later in the 1970s
More stop motion series such as Trumpton (1967) by puppeteer Gordon Murray and The Clangers (1969–1972), also from Smallfilms, proved to be very popular with family audiences. In 1967 the arm of a successful US production company, Film Fair London, was set up – that would go on to produce The Wombles (1973–75, 1998–99) and the first series of Paddington (1975–1986) among other work
In 1968, London based company TVC Animation produced Yellow Submarine, a psychedelic feature based on the music and characters of The Beatles that became an international success. It inspired much surrealism in animations that followed, such as the collaged title sequences for Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969–1974) by Terry Gilliam.
This decade saw the creation of well-loved character Morph by Aardman Animations for children’s series Take Hart (1977–1983), Bob Godfrey became the first British animator to win an Oscar with his short Great (1975), and dramatic feature Watership Down (1978) was released to much acclaim. 1976 also saw the setting up of Cosgrove Hall which would go on to have a number of successes in the 1980s: Danger Mouse (1981–1992, 2015–) now just returned to CBBC, Wind in the Willows (1983 feature, 1984–1988 series), The BFG (1989) and Count Duckula (1988–1993).
During the 1970s and into the 1980s, animation courses were established in films schools and art colleges fuelling a boom in animation directors, and particularly women directors including Candy Guard, Kayla Parker and Petra Freeman who have between them produced many significant short films.
Popular children’s series such as Danger Mouse and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (1984–) were acquired by US networks Nickelodeon and PBS respectively, enabling them to reach new audiences abroad.
In 1982 Channel 4 television launched and for many years supported experimental work by animators such as Joanna Quinn, the Quay Brothers, Mark Baker (one of the creators of Peppa Pig) and Phil Mulloy. It also launched commercially successful projects such as The Snowman (1982) and Aardman Animations’ first Wallace and Gromit film, A Grand Day Out (1990), which were both Oscar nominated and BAFTA winning.
In 1988, Walt Disney Productions set up a studio in the UK to animate classic feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, employing many British animators on the production.
1990s and 2000s
This period saw a rise in animation aimed at an adult audience with shows like Crapston Villas (1995–1997), Bob and Margaret (1998–2001) and Monkey Dust (2003–2005) airing after the watershed. And there was the Animate! scheme, producing experimental shorts for broadcast on Channel 4 from 1990–2009.
The BBC launched CBeebies in 2002, heralding in a new era for children’s television. While Channel Five’s Milkshake commissioned new programmes including Peppa Pig (2004–), a property that now airs in more than 180 countries and the latest revival of Noddy (2005–2007).
During the 2000s Aardman Animations produced several features with DreamWorks Animation from the US, including Chicken Run (2000) and Flushed Away (2006). In 2002 Warner Bros produced Tim Burton's Corpse Bride in the UK, in 2007 Twentieth Century Fox produced Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox and in 2010 Disney produced Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie – all major studio investments in UK talent made at 3 Mills Studio.
There have been several well-received animated features including co-productions Arthur Christmas (2011), Gnomeo and Juliet (2011) and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012). All have brought inward investment to the UK and been successfully circulated to international markets.
Recent notable UK productions
Click on the productions below to see more information:
Sarah and Duck (2013–present)
Produced by Karrot Entertainment (UK) for BBC Worldwide
Winner of the BAFTA: Best Pre-School Animation 2014
Honda: Hands (2013)
Brand campaign film
Produced by Nexus Productions for Wieden+Kennedy (London)
Winner of two Silver Lions for Visual Effects and Sound Design, and a Bronze Lion for Corporate Images at Cannes Lions
Produced by David Heyman (Gravity, Harry Potter franchise)
Nominated for the BAFTA: Best British Film in 2015
In June 2015, it ranked as the highest-grossing family film ever released by a non-US studio (Variety.com, 14 June 2015)
Pre-school series for CBeebies
Produced by Acamar Films in the UK and Brown Bag Films in Ireland
Won Best Writing in a Children’s Television Episode from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award and was nominated for the BAFTA: Best Pre-School Animation 2014
The Bigger Picture (2014)
Directed by Daisy Jacobs and produced by Chris Hees at the National Film and Television School
Oscar nominated in 2015 and winner of the BAFTA: Best British Short Animation in 2015
The Children of the Holocaust (2015)
Animated documentary series
Produced by Fettle Animation for BBC Learning
Nominated for the BAFTA Children’s Awards: Learning Secondary in 2014 and winner of the RTS Yorkshire Centre Animation and Visual Effects and Made in Yorkshire Awards 2015
Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Produced by Aardman Animations, StudioCanal and Anton Capital Entertainment
In 2015, it made £13.7m in UK box office sales alone
Click on the titles below to see a list of useful links:
- Animation: BFI Screenonline
- The Lesser Spotted British Animated Feature, Jez Stewart, BFI
- UK Box Office sees 10% increase in ticket sales, BBC News (Shaun the Sheep stat)
- Guardian article about Pact report
- Tax credit fuels cartoon boom, Broadcast, 25 June 2015
- UK kids TV: boom or bust?, TBI Vision, 30 June 2015
Information and data
- History of British Animation on Wikipedia
- Creative Skillset Employment Census of the Creative Media Industries (2012)
- Skills Investment Fund (SIF)
- Information about the tax relief on the BFI website
- Info about investment brought to the UK economy in 2014
- 'Film and Other Screen Production in 2014' (BFI Research and Statistics) report on the BFI website
- Paddington stats via Focus on Animation report, European Audiovisual Observatory Report 2015 -
- Pact report on children’s TV crisis