The rise in popularity in using technology for animation has brought about a subsequent explosion in creative output. For decades, animation was the preserve of a few who had the right resources and location to do it. That’s all changed though, and while today anyone can create, produce, and distribute animated content, many offer only excuses as to why they’re efforts do not produce results.
Yesterday, I was treated to a screening of an independent animated feature film called The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead. Written, directed and animated almost single-handedly by Australian Elliot Cowan, it’s a film that I’m still mulling over in my head the next day; a good sign if ever there was one. I’m not going to comment on the film itself just jet, however, the entire project has prompted some questions of my own on independent animated films in general and especially those done by one man bands or very small studios.
- If Elliot can make a feature, why do so many others either fail or never try?
- Is perseverance the key to finishing an animated feature?
- What’s the general gameplan for what happens after the film is made if there even is one?
- What’s the ‘secret sauce’ to making related merchandise that sells?
- Why is financing so ridiculously complicated, and costly for even small budget films?
- Have characters in general become too complex in animated features?
- Should independent films even worry about targeting an audience?
- Are traditional promotional/marketing channels already dead or merely dying?
- Why are international sales such a formidable barrier in the age of the internet?
- Are 35mm prints dead for technological or cost reasons?
Multiple engaging week links today!
Homer Simpson isn’t a positive role model for kids? Eat my shorts…
David Mitchell over at the Guardian has this thoughtful piece about whether or not one of the greatest character ever to grace the TV screen is a bad role model for kids. Well worth a read for the infractions from certain quarters.
The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead: Q&A with Elliot Cowan
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls trailer – on the hoof? More like on the hooch
Another one from the Guardian (this time by Stuart Heritage) but which occupies a much higher position on the sarcasm scale.
Next, in a scene that definitely wasn’t added because Hasbro knows that a lot of the My Little Ponies: Equestria Girls revenue will come from adult male brony fetishists, Twilight Sparkle gets down on her hands and knees and lets her dog mount her. Silly Twilight Sparkle! On this planet we put string around our dogs’ necks and … no, wait, that’s playing into the bronies’ hands too. Disregard.
You should definitely read the whole thing, which does a great job of illustrating the marketing/executive farce that is Equestria Girls.
Mike Boon Animation Alphabets
Via Animated Review are a series of alphabets featuring animated characters. Here’s the Simpsons one, but there are many more.
Trigger’s Little Witch Academia Blu-ray Offered in N. America
This announcement may be the one that finally gets me around to buying a Blu-Ray player; something I’ve resisted so far for no particular reason.
However, there’s more to this than a simple home media release:
The anime will come in a collector’s edition on Blu-ray Disc with an original soundtrack disc and a 112-page art book with storyboards, sketches, character art, and illustrations. Video extras include a 66-minute making-of video that chronicles fledgling studio Trigger‘s journey to create Little Witch Academia for the Anime Mirai 2013 program. The disc will have the Japanese soundtrack with English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese subtitles.
Is anyone in any doubt about the ability to sell this given a.) the quality of the film itself and b.) the sheer breadth of material thrown in for the fans and nothing more?
This is what we talk about when we mean catering to fans. The price is currently unknown, but even at $50 it will be worth it.
Coming Soon On Tumblr
Nope, I don’t know either. But I am intrigued from a business model standpoint as well as a story one.
UPDATE: Thanks Ryan!
— Ryan Gallagher (@ryangallagher) June 22, 2013
Tweets of the Week
Looking forward to Monsters U. this weekend to find out what traumatic events turned Mike and Sulley into monsters. #therewillbeblood
— Andrew Farago (@andrewfarago) June 17, 2013
"We would have got away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids." – Microsoft.
— Graham Linehan (@Glinner) June 20, 2013
Sir Nick Park. How has this not happened yet?
— Nathan Wilkes (@Nathan3DWilkes) June 20, 2013
I'm not sure I want to pay to go to Monsters University. Are there scholarships available?
— Josh Weinstein (@JElvisWeinstein) June 22, 2013
Fewer week links than normal today; it’s been a busy week.
Elliot Cowan on Film Making
The New York-based animator continues production on his feature film and comments on the process thus:
Making a film is like deciding to adopt an orphan from some war torn, strife ridden corner of the world. At first it seems like a great idea. There’s a lot of energy and excitement of what’s to come. Then after a while it starts waking you up screaming in the night, and freaking out in company.
Shitting all over your regular plans and costing you more than you expected.
Eventually you want to avoid it but you can’t, because if you do it’ll wither away and die and by now you feel some responsibility for it.
And people keep asking “How’s the film? Is it doing well?”.
So you stick with it, through the exhaustion and late nights and drama.
One day it grows up and it heads out on it’s own and you’ve either grown to love it or you never want to see it again.
Hopefully Elliot loves it, as will everyone else 🙂
Warner Brothers sued for unauthorized use of Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat
Ars Technica (amongst others) reports on the lawsuit being brought by the creators of Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat against major Hollywood studio Warner Bros. The issue concerns the use of said cats in a video game published by them and created by 5th Cell.
It’s still at an early stage and some aspects of the complaint are slightly dubious but expect Warners to settle this one fairly quickly. The central issue of copyright infringement should serve as a reminder that the onus is on creators to defend their work.
‘Rise of the Guardians’ Rebounds for DreamWorks Animation
I’m putting this down as yet another reason to not believe most of what you read from mainstream sources. As it turns out. Rise of the Guardians has done better on home media than expected and raising profits at the independent studio.
Tweets of the Week
Lastly, Disney Princesses as Sailor Senshi
Having travelled the world, Australian animator Elliot Cowan is well-placed to offer advice, and his latest blog post is no exception. In it, he details no less than 19 things that graduating animation students should do now that their structured life of goofing off studying has come to an end.
There is next to nothing I can add to this excellent post that is more than worth your time reading, whether you’re a fresh graduate or not, but suffice to say, doing something is better than doing nothing.
All-round nice chap Elliot Cowan, known to his legions of fans around the world as the creator of Boxhead and Roundhead, has embarked on the formidable task of creating a feature film featuring the quirk duo.
Below is the video he recently posted detailing how exactly he manages to squeeze making a film into his already hectic day. Besides making us all appear instantly lazy, it’s all done in Elliot’s very affable Australian way.
Don’t forget to stay up do date with the obligatory Facebook page!
For animators, the standard showcase of your work is often the showreel, which is perhaps even more important in this modern, digital age. The advent of YouTube, etc. has made it stupidly easy for to create and upload a showreel of your experience and creativity and with good cause too. The ability to be able to broadcast yourself worldwide for free should never be underestimated.
So without further adieu, here’s Nichola Kehoe’s showreel for 2011:
Nichola by the way, is a young Irish animator who clearly has a fine career ahead of her.
What’s so good about the showreel? Well it adheres to a few gold standards:
- It’s not too long, clocking in at just under a minute. This isn’t iron-clad, but no 15 minute compositions please.
- The music isn’t distracting (no Swedish goth metal to clamour for your attention)
- It displays a variety of styles, which proves she’s not just a one-trick pony
- It’s new. It displays recent stuff, not stuff from 5 years ago or from college that may no longer be relevant to your abilities or even the kind of work you’re looking for.
For comparison, also check out the showreel of my good compadre and Australia’s other favourite son, Elliot Cowan. It plays by a slightly different set of rules than Nichola’s, but it still adheres to the basic ones; not too long, a variety of styles (including personal stuff) and relatively recent in age.
Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is one of those films that I must have seen when I was younger. I was smack in the middle of the target audience at the time and I definitely did see Aladdin when it came out mere months before/after.
Yet I had forgotten about it for years until last week when I was at Wal-Mart. Having picked up a bicycle seat (as you do), I strolled past the DVD section. Lo and behold! There was a $5 bin stuffed to the gills with DVDs.
Since I like animation in all shapes and forms, I have become accustomed to rummaging through such bins because you never know what you’ll find. Naturally I came across Fern Gully. For $5? How could I not! So I did, and the other night, I watched it.
What can I say? It’s a decent enough film that left me pleasantly surprised. The animation is superb with plenty of lovely traditional animation and hand-painted backgrounds. There’s also some 3-D CGI that is as good as anything Disney put out at the time. Hans Perk (of A. Film L.A.) did some animation, as did Ralph Eggleston. So it seems that at least a few famous folks were involved in making this film as beautiful as it is.
The plot is fine, if somewhat generic. Sure, it plays on the whole ‘environmentalism’ fad that was happening at the time (remember this was the early 90s) although it is quite believable in the context of the setting. The script itself is slow. A large portion of the movie is devoted to the main characters travelling around the world they live in. It may be a side effect of the short running time (80 mins) that leaves the actual plot to do with Hexus as something of an afterthought.
The music (as excellently composed by Alan Silvestri as it is) is now rather dated, as is the film itself. Besides the music, the big giveaway is the language. “Tubular” and “bodacious” are just two and are far from the only examples. Yes, this film is very much from the late 80s/early 90s.
Indeed, Fern Gully has company in this regard. Tangled walks the very same, fine line that divides a film between being timeless and being time-framed. I have no doubt that in ten years, Tangled will look much the same age as Fern Gully looks today, unfortunately.
As for the characters, they are certainly likeable. There’s nothing wrong with that except that their development is cut short by the running time. They are the usual motley crew that inhabited animated films before Pixar came along. I.e. the smart one, the good-looking dumb one. the hangers-on, the hero, the villain. Nothing makes most of them stand out from the crowd. Having said that, I did find two characters who did.
Crysta, our protagonist, is by far the most interesting of all the characters. There is a lot on her shoulders (as we learn throughout the film) that weighs upon her mind. She is strong character that is determined in her ways while at the same time caring for the bewildered human (Zak) who has literally fallen into her life.
She has that happy-go-lucky charm that imbues all the virtues of a good female character while being assertive enough in her ways to avoid being labelled a pushover. Look at the screencap below.
Now there’s a great shot. The crossed arms, the lip-bite and the dozens of eyes staring out just scream the inquisitive nature of our heroine. How about another one:
I’ve seen that face literally dozens of times. She does exactly that with my face as well and every time it makes me wonder whether I’ve missed my calling as a clown.
Crysta is the most developed of all the characters, so much so, that without her, the film would be indubitably more boring.
The second characteris given some criminally short screen time. That would be Hexus, voiced by the one and only Tim Curry, who manages to bring out so much of the sleaze and evilness in the character, it makes you wonder how awesome the film would be if he’d been given more screen time.
Tim Curry provides a superb balance to Robin Williams who hams it up as Batty. Hexus is effortlessly sublime to Robbin’s lunacy, which is far more abrasive than his other performance of the year as the Genie in Aladdin. Of note is something Brad Bird posted over on Cartoon Brew a few years ago (how I manage to find these things I do not know):
Very few people remember that Williams was also the voice of a key character in FERNGULLY that same year and it didn’t help the film’s boxoffice.
Sadly it didn’t, although the film is no worse for it. Williams is given a wild script but it is clear that he was not given the same freedom that he was for Aladdin, where the character of the Genie was so dependent on him being who he is.
Interestingly enough, Fern Gully is set in Australia and was partially produced there. As such, I asked Australia’s favourite son and my good chum, Elliot Cowan what he thought of it:
Fern Gully is an enormous pile of shit that is about as Australian as Abraham Lincoln.
So The Secret of Kells it isn’t. That should not detract you from seeking Fern Gully out though. You will be rewarded by a lovely looking film with some very 90s songs that may provide a bit of a respite from all the CGI that is being thrown your way these days. Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest is available at Wal-Mart and Target for the low, low price of $5 (plus tax).
To win, all you need to do is answer a ridiculously simple question posted on the competition site before the April 5th deadline.
Now, I need to start clearing some space on the walls for the impending addition to my art collection 😛