The challenges of illustration-led animation

The AOI are increasingly aware of illustration-led animation – where a specific illustrator’s style is chosen to create the assets for an animation – and possible further use of still images from the animation, and the challenges this can pose in licensing negotiations. We asked Chris Page, Owner of Jelly London about his experiences.

There you are, I got it out of the way early. Filthy, nasty, dirty…Content. I don’t know anyone who likes that word, but it’s a fact that if you are creating images or telling stories creatively these days then you are some kind of content creator. Now excuse me whilst I go and wash my mouth out.

When Jelly was founded in the early Noughties, we had a vision that we would create great illustration, design and animation and would attempt to do all three with equanimity – we’d not put a stress on any one of those disciplines but to try and produce all three equally well. It took a while for clients to understand what we were up to, but then came the age of Content and suddenly… we fitted right in. Now we represent illustrators, designers and animators and it seems we are a “Content Production Company” of sorts, even if we don’t like the title.

This freedom to work across disciplines is liberating in a lot of ways. When we are asked “Can you make that move?” the answer is usually “yes”. But these new-found production freedoms have also created some new confusions. Not in the artwork creation, but in the rights negotiation that goes with them. The purchase of Intellectual property (IP) rights for static illustrations is largely a tried and tested formula. Organisations like the AOI have been around for a while and have established clear and concise guidelines that illustrators (and their agents) can follow. It always helps to have the information to prove to a client that there are precedents that set parameters for the industry to follow, and there are now plenty available.

But what happens when you are asked to make it move? This is a relatively new field for a lot of illustrators and it is important that we, as an industry, set up and follow similar guidelines as those created for stills so that we have the same precedents to follow. Unfortunately some of the clients who are commissioning animated imagery are not always accustomed to having rights discussions, which means that the procedure can be a complex and delicate one.

It is important to remember one simple premise throughout any negotiation: The original image belongs to YOU the creator. The client is only purchasing the right to use it – or to reproduce it – and that still applies if that image is moving or animated. That means that any estimate or invoice needs to clearly state the usage agreed – and have a value that specifically relates to that.

Let’s talk also about source files. For those of you who are less experienced the ‘source files’ are the original working files that you have created (normally on your desktop) in order to produce an animation. These should never be given away. I can’t stress this enough. At Jelly we are constantly asked by our clients to deliver source files on completion of a project. The answer is always a firm, polite No. Again, the client has paid for a film or a delivery file, but not all of the background files that created that final piece. Those are a separate issue. “But we just want to tweak it in-house” is the usual throwaway reason given. However, that is future income for the animator who created those files and should be treated accordingly. If you are a freelance animator working in-house then you will have signed a different kind of contract and the files will automatically belong to the agency or production company you are freelancing for, but for the rest of us, guard those files with your life.

Should you wish to negotiate to sell them to the client, then do so with extreme caution. How many “tweaks” and “versions” will you be passing on for that one-off fee? The ability for the client to create new versions of your work? That could buy you a lot of sandwiches…

Most importantly in all negotiations – both rights and source files – it’s important to be open, honest and above-all consistent and to refer to the appropriate professional association and their experts. As soon as you feel you’re getting out of your depth then contact them, they will always help if they can. The AOI have some new resources relating specifically to this area exclusively available to members.

And don’t forget, like it or not, we are all Content Creators now.
Just don’t tell your Mum.

Illustration Monkeys Gone Wild by Alex Tait of Jelly

18th June 2018

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