Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lucasfilm Animation to go?

So shit got real. No sooner had an article gone up regarding the end of The Clone Wars TV series than an official announcement was made. But things are getting decidedly worse, with reports coming out that the Lucasfilm Animation department is to be disbanded. These are likely to be reliable, as they are coming from the same sources that warned of the cancellation a few weeks ago.

After these new developments, around the Internet fans are now starting to question whether Disney taking over Lucasfilm was a good thing. This is why I initially advised caution in my reaction to the Disney takeover. Lots of fans shouted out about how great it would definitely be, but the truth was no-one knew exactly what would happen. But it seemed best to me to wait, and bear in mind the causes for concern rather than assume everything would be great. 

But let’s backtrack to the official announcement. Hero of the fans, key creative mind and Supervising Director of The Clone Wars Dave Filoni said that a few episodes from Seasons 5 and 6 that went unaired were already finished or nearly finished. That these would deal with unresolved issues (such as Order 66) and make it out some way – it was speculated perhaps as extras on the DVD/Blu-ray releases or as straight-to-video releases. The latest rumours suggest that this content will not make it out at all. Even if it did, the word is that key characters in the series such as Captain Rex have no resolution in the existing episodes. 

There is no doubt that it is a shame that The Clone Wars has ended. But with reports of layoffs now show suggest that not only is the creative team behind it being disbanded, but the entire Lucasfilm Animation department is too. Lucasfilm Animation has shown just what can be achieved with the right talent and movie style production values, and has raised the bar for what can be achieved in television animation. For it to disappear would be a huge shame, especially since the plan is rumoured “to place future Star Wars TV projects in the hands of [Disney’s] existing television operation”. This sort of contradicts a bit everyone who went around saying it’d all be fine because of the hands-off approach Disney had taken with Pixar and Marvel, doesn’t it?

This is bad. Disney TV animation has been known for being very good at churning out focus group planned, mass appeal product (and awful straight-to-video movies for years), but not for creating ground-breaking animation. There is a notable difference in quality from something produced from one of Disney’s film animation studios to something produced from Disney’s TV animation studios. With Lucasfilm Animation, despite it being for TV, The Clone Wars was matching the quality of the movies – the same models were used for the starships in the TV show as were used in the prequels.

It makes sense from Disney’s point of view. They have animation departments already – Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar as the flagships – so why do they need another in Lucasfilm Animation? But this is the problem with the Disney takeover. It means that if animated Star Wars adventures can be produced cheaper by their own animation departments, then going down that route will be more profitable for the shareholders. When George Lucas was the sole owner of Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries, he could do as he pleased – no doubt he wanted a comfortable life, but he also cared about making quality TV and film. If The Clone Wars was an expensive project, then so be it – he had no-one to answer to but himself.

So now that the gloss has worn off the Disney take over, and reality starts to set in, fans need to get vocal about how they feel. If Disney are acting with this haste to close down Lucasfilm Animation, who knows what will be next to go (LucasArts isn’t looking very safe)? Or what might they tinker with next? Is ILM safe from Disney’s interference (for the film industry’s sake let’s hope so)?

Fans of The Clone Wars should surely mourn the end of that series. But also be aware that the story is bigger than that one project, and the whole way that Lucasfilm is run could be at stake.

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