Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck. Buzz Lightyear. Fred Flintstone. For many, the names of these animated cartoon characters evoke warm and fuzzy childhood memories of home TV viewing, an outing to the theater to watch an animated film, or visiting an amusement park and experiencing a cartoon-themed ride. In fact, the world of animation today is far more than talking mice or toys that have feelings. It is big business – something that Israeli government officials and investors would be wise not to overlook.
Recently, this reporter spoke with Anne-Marie Asner and Amit Gicelter, co-founders of Animation Israel, an organization whose mission is to expand, support, and promote the Israeli animation industry as sought-after partners and service providers in the multi-billion-dollar global animation market.
Asner, who is based in California, has a background in finance, is the author and illustrator of the Matzah Ball Books series of picture books, and is a creator of shows in development with well-known entities such as The Jim Henson Company, GoldieBlox, and Zodiak. Her work with the organization focuses on show content and packaging, as well as incentives, international relationships, and global branding.
Gicelter is an award-winning producer, content creator, and founder of the Hive Studio in Tel Aviv. After more than a decade of working as an independent producer, he established the Hive in 2010 as a leading animation hub, with over 40 animators currently in service, at three different locations in Israel. Gicelter was co-producer of The Black Slide, a joint Israeli-British production that was short-listed for nomination in the Animated Short Film category for the 95th Academy Awards held in 2023.
“We think of animation as toys and ‘cute.’ We forget how much money we put into toys and ‘cute.’ It’s massive,” notes Asner.
In 2022, the global animation market was estimated at $270 billion, and it is projected to grow to $528.8 billion by 2030, according to Statista, an international data research firm. As evidence of the popularity of animated TV programs, four animated TV series – Bluey, South Park, CoComelon, and SpongeBob SquarePants are among the top eight series on television today.
Paw Patrol, a Canadian cartoon series about a young boy who leads a group of search-and-rescue dogs, generates $1 billion of revenue annually and is aired in over 160 countries in 30 languages.Where are most animated programs created? Asner says that although a significant portion of animated programs is produced in the United States, countries such as Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom have captured a substantial share of the work to create animated programs. While Israel has achieved fame in recent years for TV dramatic series such as Fauda, Tehran, and Shtisel, which are streamed worldwide, it has not yet reached similar heights in the animation industry.
“The live-action industry in Israel is already supported, is a known export and under the umbrella of culture,” says Asner. “It already has financing and is a known global entity.
“The animation industry is a separate industry. Animation is where there is the biggest bang for the buck – it’s quick to dub into other languages for international distribution, and it has massive licensing and merchandise potential – and Israel has fallen far behind in this space.”
Canada, considered one of the leading countries in the animation field, has been providing assistance to Animation Israel. Six months ago, notes Gicelter, the Canadian embassy in Israel hosted an event that focused on how funding and development for animation are conducted in Canada, and how it could be applied to Israel.
“Canada is doing an incredible job with incentives and investing in animation, and we wanted to share that information with the cultural funds,” he says.
In July, Asner traveled to Israel to co-host a second meeting with the Canadian ambassador to Israel, aimed at expanding the Israeli animation industry. Broadcasters, studios, and representatives of government ministries, including the Foreign Ministry, the Culture and Sport Ministry, and the Economy and Industry Ministry, were in attendance.
Lisa Stadelbauer, the Canadian ambassador to Israel, spoke at the event, saying: “Canada was pleased to host Animation Israel at our official residence in Tel Aviv last month. Canada’s animation industry is one of the best in the world, and many of our companies and artists work with animation talent here in Israel. “We hope to grow our relations in animation between our two countries, which is a $270 billion industry worldwide. We look forward to more cooperation in the future.”
Animation Israel works to create global connections and partnerships, one-on-one networking, and provide an Israeli presence at major markets and conferences around the world. The organization also helps to ensure that Israeli talent in the animation field is properly trained, offering expert training and master classes for workers in the field.
Animation Israel actively campaigns to obtain Israeli government support of rebates and incentives to encourage the growth of the local animation industry. Asner works with show creators to ensure that their ideas are ready for the global market, while Gicelter assists in the actual production.
“When other countries want to do service work with Israel or partner on original content,” says Asner, “they know that Animation Israel can steer them to the right partners. And it works in the other direction as well. When Israeli studios are looking to bring foreign service work to Israel or are looking for international partners to collaborate and co-finance new shows (since most shows are international partnerships), Animation Israel can facilitate those relationships.”
To date, Animation Israel has helped foster partnerships by sponsoring events with Disney Junior, Disney Television Animation, Canada-based Shaftesbury, and WildBrain, a well-known animation studio in the UK and Canada, among others.
Asner points out that the animation industry has had a positive impact on the leading countries in the field, noting that countries that have invested in the animation sector have averaged five-fold employment growth in the first five years, plus an ongoing return of investment of four to five times for each dollar invested. Of course, a great deal of money is also available in licensing merchandise and brand extensions.
With its prowess in both the creative and technology sectors, Asner says that Israel is strategically positioned to become a world power in the animation world.
Irene Weibel, a Los-Angeles based independent producer of animated projects for children, agrees. Weibel masterminded the first ever Canada-Israel Treaty co-production of an animated series entitled Summer Memories, together with A&N Productions in Israel and serviced by Gicelter. The series is expected to be released soon. “Israel has amazing art schools like Bezalel,” says Weibel. “The technical aspect of animation and the artistic aspect of animation are being home grown in Israel. Not every country has so much opportunity for young people to go into animation and learn about it in their own country.
“In a way, Israel is already investing in it without even knowing it because you have these amazing schools. On the artistic side, you have people who can do certain aspects of animation – everything from character designs to animating.”
Israeli animators and studios have provided service work for Disney, Mattel, and others on household name properties such as Muppet Babies, Barbie, Star Darlings, and CoComelon, and have developed original intellectual property (IP) for shows such as Nick Jr.’s Zack and Quack.
Weibel adds that unlike other countries, there are many parallels in storytelling between Israel, the US, and Canada. “It’s a natural fit for someone in Israel to write a story that can carry through. It works for the English-speaking world and translates well internationally, I believe. Israelis are good at the animation pipeline and pre-production, which is the writing and storyboarding.”
Among the international leaders in the animation world today, says Asner, are Canada, Ireland, France, and the United Kingdom. More than 16,000 people in Canada are employed in the animation industry, and 5,000 are working in the industry in the UK.
These countries and others, she says, have produced a significant return on investments from their countries. All have received government incentives that have boosted animation development and production.
For example, the government of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, provides a 44% rebate on any animation work done there, she adds. If the actual intellectual property is partially British Columbian-owned, the government provides a 51% rebate. In addition, regional bonuses are offered for production in certain areas of the country. Similar arrangements exist in most other countries, such as Ireland and the UK.
In Israel, a combination of government ministries opened a two-year trial, offering a 30% rebate on direct costs for animation projects created in Israel. The total amount available for film and animation projects is NIS 20 million, and animation is capped at 10% of that total. Gicelter explains that the fact that these incentives were not available until last year meant that few studios could be persuaded to send personnel to Israel to work on animation projects, and the 10% cap on animation is greatly limiting.
Ideally, say Gicelter and Asner, Israel’s government ministries should increase the funding without a cap, allow year-long applications, and, perhaps, add regional bonuses if work were to be done in certain areas of the country, such as Jerusalem.
Due to the shortage of funding for animation in Israel, there has been somewhat of a “brain drain” of Israelis from the animation industry in Israel. “I’ve gone to conferences in Israel and talked to so many young people who love this industry,” says Weibel.
“They are sad that they can’t work on shows that have Israel connected to it. The talent in Israel and the passion for animation are so strong. You have an amazing opportunity with Israelis because they have a love for animation, and there is talent and training.”
Asner and Gicelter concur, adding that the lack of a robust economic system for the animation industry in Israel has led to an exodus of animators, content creators, and writers. “We want to keep the best and brightest in Israel, and we want to bring more people in the industry to Israel. There is a huge component of economic tourism when you bring over producers, investors, and other people.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been one of the prime supporters of the initiative to assist the development of the animation industry in Israel. Gicelter says that the ministry has been supporting animation and the animation guild here for several years.
Says Nurit Tinari, head of the Cultural Diplomacy Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, “We take great pride in the remarkable journey of the Israeli animation industry over the past 15 years, building upon the significant milestone set by [the animated docudrama] Waltz with Bashir. Today, Israeli animation stands tall with a strong presence at international festivals and garnering recognition in the prestigious Oscar race for animated short films.
“In recent years, we’ve witnessed an exciting trend where animation seamlessly intertwines with various film genres, especially documentaries, enriching the cinematic language and captivating audiences worldwide. The ministry wholeheartedly appreciates the artistry and vision of our animators and Animation Israel, and we stand by their side as they continue to conquer new heights on the global stage.”
Can Animation Israel help tip the scales in favor of greater Israeli governmental investment in the animation industry? Will the next worldwide animated cartoon hit highlight Israeli culture and brand Israel as a world-class animation partner? Stay tuned.
This article was written in cooperation with the Israel Foreign Ministry.