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Toons of the 2000s: Top 5 Most Influential People in Animation

Animation is an art form. It taps into parts of the imagination you might not have thought possible. It effectively creates the illusion of life, and when done properly it is capable of evoking a vast array of emotions. While animation is still largely considered fodder for children, this decade has seen noticeable progress towards securing its place in our society as a valid storytelling medium for all ages. 

Today we celebrate those who pushed the animation medium ever closer to mainstream acceptance, helped to preserve and make others aware of animation history, and were at the forefront of change with the discovery and exploitation of new distribution channels.  

But before we hit the Top 5, let’s touch on some of those heavily involved in the industry this decade who warrant an honorable mention: 

  • Trey Parker and Matt Stone: They’re the brains behind one of the most successful prime time animated series to be created for adults. Trey and Matt are no holds barred, equal-opportunity offenders. Though South Park premiered last decade, the show still managed to provide biting societal commentary throughout this one. As a secondary accomplishment, they have continuously topped themselves in presenting show content sure to make their audience squirm uncomfortably in their seats. The show has received multiple Emmys, a Peabody Award, our love, and our disgust.
  • Brad Bird: Engagement. Morale. Believing the impossible can be done. Brad Bird is known for his hands-on approach in fostering creativity amongst his animation teams. The results of this common sense modus operandi may be seen in fine films such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
  • Bob Iger: The current CEO of The Walt Disney Company had his work cut out for him right from the start. He replaced a volatile predecessor who had become a public relations nightmare and alienated those he did business with both within and outside the company. Iger spearheaded change with the repair of the company’s relationship with Roy Disney, brokering the purchase of the critically and financially successful Pixar, naming John Lasseter and Ed Catmull as the heads of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, and most recently, the acquisition of Marvel. 
  • Seth MacFarlane: With three shows – Family GuyAmerican Dad, and The Cleveland Show – to his name, it’s safe to say that MacFarlane has been quite prolific in the area of prime time animation.
  • Gen Fukunaga: President & CEO of FUNimation and one of the most powerful people in the North American anime industry, he built his colossal distribution company from a single license and then maintained the company’s place of prominence while many of his competitors folded. 
  • Hayao Miyazaki: His star has been rising for 25 years, but it’s only in the last 10 that Miyazaki broke into the American mainstream. To many, his most memorable accomplishment is Spirited Away, the story of a girl forced to grow up when she finds herself lost in a dream world. Released in 2002 in the United States, the film won anime’s first (and so far only) Academy Award, finally breaking the decade-old American stereotype of Japanese cartoons as violent, pornographic affairs for sweaty man-children.

Without further ado, we present toonzone’s Top 5 Most Influential People in Animation:


5. Masao Maruyama
Chief Creative Officer, Studio Madhouse

Why He’s Here: If Studio Ghibli is home to the reigning monarch of Japanese anime, then Madhouse represents the generation ready to inherit the throne – and Masao Maruyama is the kingmaker. Nearly every Madhouse project of the last 10 years – whether a mass-market hit like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or a niche series like Kaiba – bears his fingerprints. Maruyama has a proven eye for talent, keeping the cash flowing and assigning work to some of Japan’s most exciting up-and-coming directors, including Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda, and Masaaki Yuasa. In an industry now too often characterized by formulaic otaku pandering, Maruyama is rewarding artists for taking risks. Of course, that those risks have sometimes reaped huge commercial rewards is an added bonus.


In the United States, Maruyama has been a major supporter of the Otakon
anime convention. He’s famed for his affable personality, eagerly
chatting with fans and taking young animators under his wing. Maruyama got his own start as an animator at Mushi Production in 1965,
before leaving in 1972 to help found Madhouse with Osamu Dezaki,
Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Rintaro.

Other films and series of the last decade on which Maruyama has been credited, as producer or for “planning”, include: BECK, Black Lagoon, Chobits, Death Note, Gunslinger Girl, Millennium Actress, NANA, Paprika, Paranoia Agent, and Tokyo Godfathers. Without Maruyama, a few of these projects might still have reached us, but we’re certainly glad he was there, if only to make sure they did.

 

4. Bruce Timm

Executive Producer



Why He’s Here: If Bruce Timm’s only contribution to this decade was redefining the superhero genre in animation through Justice League and Justice League Unlimited that would still be significant. Instead, his impact increased exponentially as he became the face of Warner Bros. Animation’s DTV efforts and mentored emerging talent within the company. He had a hand in the growing success stories of Glen Murakami and James Tucker, pulled Dwayne McDuffie from comics into regular animation writing, and seems to be grooming people like Lauren Montgomery, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Sam Liu to go far in the business. He’s become the decade’s animated equivalent of Miles Davis or Muddy Waters: a talented artist in his own right, who also helped to launch careers of numerous others in the field. Like Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi before him, Timm seems to be training the future.


3. Jerry Beck
Animation Historian and Preservationist


Why He’s Here: While developing, producing, and distributing new animation is important to fostering interest in the art form, it is equally vital that we preserve and bring awareness to the medium and its history. Jerry Beck has, by far, been the most significant contributor in that regard. Beck has been the driving force behind the restored, remastered, and uncut releases of classic animation on DVD through the Popeye the Sailor, Looney Tunes Golden, and Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon collections. As if those were not significant enough a contribution, he has been prolific in the print medium, authoring the Tom and Jerry Mini-Classics book, The Flintstones Mini-Classics book, The Animated Movie Guide, Pink Panther: The Ultimate Guide to the Coolest Cat in Town!, The Hanna-barbera Treasury, The Art of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons!, Animation Art: From Pencil to Pixel, the World of Cartoon, Anime, and CGI, Ultimate Looney Tunes, Outlaw Animation: Cutting-Edge Cartoons from the Spike and Mike Festivals, and The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons.

2. Fred Seibert

President, Executive Producer Frederator Studios

 

Why He’s Here: Seibert has been a major player in both traditional media outlets through Frederator Studios and the internet via Channel Frederator. Even if you’re not familiar with his name, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a show he’s played a role in developing: Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and Courage the Cowardly Dog. Current decade output from Frederator Studios includes The Fairly OddParents, My Life As A Teenage Robot, ChalkZone, and Fanboy and Chum-Chum. Look for the debut of Adventure Time with Jake and Finn on Cartoon Network in 2010.

Other credits to his name include the creation of the Nicktoons Film Festival (2004), an annual event celebrating and showcasing original animated shorts from all over the world, and the founding of Frederator Films (2007), a production company focused on making animated theatrical pictures for older audiences. Not only has he had a hand in developing numerous hit series and bringing awareness to the art form, he’s also helped to establish the Internet as the next frontier of animated cartoons through Channel Frederator. He’s one of the pioneers of capitalizing on the Internet as distribution channel. While there have been some minor controversies surrounding this venture with regards to payment for films shown, the impact cannot be understated. 

 


1. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull
Chief Creative Officer and President of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios


Why They’re Here: Through Pixar, Lasseter and Catmull changed the landscape of feature animation. They created critically acclaimed and financially successful 3D CG films, and they unintentionally played a role in 2D’s fall from grace with an industry-wide misinterpretation of the medium as the reason behind their success. After an uninterrupted string of hits, they even supplanted Disney as the dominant studio. Lasseter also acted as the liaison between famed Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki and Disney; his efforts brought us Spirited Away and earned Miyazaki an Academy Award.

 

Prior to the studio’s acquisition by Disney, Lasseter and Catmull were already players of great significance in the animation industry. With this latest step in their careers as the Chief Creative Officer and President of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, it becomes very difficult to argue that they warrant anything other than the top spot on this list. There are no two people more powerful or influential in the animation industry. 

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