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I’ve been thinking a lot about competition in animation. A while back people were sharing their animation school stories on Twitter. A thread that came up in my feed was the competition at schools. It’s made me think about my own experience. Some people thrive in that environment, others can get crushed by the pressure. I don’t think I’m either, I’m not a very competitive person.
Animation is both an artform and a business. I think this is where competition comes from. Art is rarely competitive, business is. In business it’s important to beat back the competition and get ahead. Art doesn’t work that way, art is collaborative. Art is better when we come together and create something. This is how negative competition can ruin productions and studios. When artists start competing with each other it undermines the work being done. Without collaboration ideas cannot grow projects stagnate.
I think there’s a different form of competition that can serve both the artistic and business needs of animation. It’s a powerful business strategy and fulfilling life practice.
Successful artists and businesses don’t compete directly. They look for gaps in the market and where they can be successful. In the book the Blue Ocean Strategy the authors, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, detail how successful companies manage to find gaps in the market. Instead of going to the highly contested red oceans they find a new category where they are able to dominate unopposed. Just because competition exists doesn’t mean you have to join.
This can apply for your career as well. Most artists spend their time trying to get the few very competitive jobs at high status studios and agencies. When really successful artists become a category of one. When Disney or Dreamworks needs Peter de Sève to do designs there’s only one Peter de Sève. That’s why he’s been a designer on probably every major animated film for more than a decade. Finding that niche isn’t easy. Early in your career it makes sense to take any job you can. Always try to find who you are, what you can contribute. This way you fullfill both what you want from your art and what the business needs.
Not competing works for stories, pitches and series. The Film and Television business might think it wants more of the same, the big successes are often the new frontier. The most remarkable works are genre defining. Lord of the Rings defined fantasy for the next 60 plus years. Star Wars didn’t just copy space opera, it became the de facto space opera. Finding a category or genre to exploit is where the big successes are.
If everyone is fighting over there. It might be the time to look elsewhere.
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