|"From the creators of:" Disney and Pixar are big selling points, but the directors rarely get a mention|
in animated film marketing. As opposed to what we see in live-action.
When you hear about an animated film, you don't hear who's directing it but rather the name of the studio that's doing it. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, among others, are studios that sell their films through the power of their respective brands but who rarely name the human talent behind the projects. For the record, I don't condemn that practice as people have come to expect a certain level of excellence when they hear a new film is coming from Pixar or Disney, but I think that this kind of anonymity has contributed to the general disregard that animated films are an "easy" thing to do; leading to not taking the people behind them seriously.
While I think it is impossible to know every single person that has worked on a film (animated or live-action), the director is usually a very visible face, but, in animation, that face is still hidden by the power of the brand. When was the last time you heard something like "From Academy Award Winning Director Brad Bird?" However, in live-action, the names of famous directors are always mentioned in all marketing material (Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro, etc.). Even high profile animation directors like John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Ron Clements, John Musker, etc., who have directed many popular animated films, are not as widely recognized as their live-action counterparts.
|These CalArts graduates, now animation directors, have generated over $26|
billion at the worldwide box-office. Yet, to general moviegoers, they're relatively
unknown. (Credit: Vanity Fair)
Passionate fans obviously recognize these people and then some, but if you ask the average moviegoer who directed The Little Mermaid, few will know the answer. The same can be said for The Incredibles, Toy Story, The Lion King and others. People will certainly know the films and the studio that released them but not the directors or other people behind them. When you ask "who directed Pacific Rim?" Most people will say Guillermo del Toro.
This anonymity practice is nothing new. Walt Disney employed it all the time. When he made animated films, his name was the one that people recognized and, up to this day, that practice still continues. I'm not questioning Walt's talent or vision - which were spectacular - but not many people know who the "nine old men" were, and certainly wouldn't be able to identify the names David Hand or Clyde Geronimi if their lives depended on it.
Nowadays it's exactly the same. The movies are built by the studio's prestige but there are no names in the promotional ads. In all Pixar films you can see the slogan "From the creators of..." but never something like "From Pete Docter, director of Up and Monsters, Inc., comes Inside Out". It's not only Pixar, all the studios employ the same strategy. Even the little ones like Laika. I distinctly remember when Coraline was being released, the slogan was "From the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas" and most people still think, to this day, that Coraline was directed by Tim Burton (and they think Nightmare was too). Burton is an exception to the rule mainly because he has done many popular live-action films and his name sells. However, I don't see any harm in including animation directors' names in the marketing. You can say "From Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3" and people will go because it's a Pixar film and related to Toy Story 3, which is one of the most popular films of all time. I'm not saying we should disregard the publicity strategy currently used, rather, make a few tweaks here and there. It's perfectly okay to put the studio behind the film and the director's name on the posters. I don't think that will hurt the marketing at all. It may even improve it. This is not about fame, but about fair recognition. Both Up and Toy Story 3 were nominated for Best Picture but neither Docter nor Unkrich were nominated for Best Director. Why is that? Because people do not quite grasp how an animated film is made and, by hiding the people who work on it, the situation just worsens. When they see an animated film, the Academy and the general audience see the studio but not the people.
|"A company is like an enormous clock. It only works if all the little cogs mesh|
I love how film is a collaborative process, but I also think that some level of individuality has to be considered, because otherwise it all just looks like cogs in a big machine. The directors, who are responsible for putting everything together and guiding an entire team of people to work towards a unique vision, should be recognized for their efforts. Yes, they are given the Best Animated Feature Award but, in the end, most people remember the film that was awarded and not the directors. (How many people can name the directors of Frozen? Not many I'd guess.)
Animation has always struggled to be taken as more than just "kiddie-fare" or a different genre from live-action. Many efforts have been taken to change that perspective, but one pivotal thing is to start recognizing the people behind these films. They should be not only recognised by their peers, but by the general public, so that when you're talking about a film and you say the name Henry Selick, people will know who that is instead of just scratching their heads. Recognising the human talent is the only way for the medium to blossom into a better future.