Animation Fans Beware: NFT Scams are Coming Your Way

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are the buzzword/fad/hot thing of the moment. FOX’s recent announcement that they were working on a show using the technology proved an inspiration to others but can the technology and the hype surrounding it be used to scam fans? It’s easier than you may think.

What is an NFT?

The gist is that since computers can create infinite perfect copies, art loses its inherent rarity factor. Enter the blockchain, essentially a glorified ledger that contains entries for each piece of art with a corresponding entry for the name of the ‘owner’. The ledger is structured such that everyone can see the entries and can therefore agree on the validity of the entries. It’s like a copy of the Mona Lisa; everyone knows the original is owned by the Louvre. An NFT takes that principle and applies it to any piece of artwork (or other ‘asset’); anyone can possess a copy, but only the buyer is listed as the agreed-upon owner.

How is This Related to Animation?

Selling the assets of shows and films always seemed like a sort of afterthought for studios. Indeed, many times they were considered waste to be disposed of. (For the life of me, I cannot now locate a link to the story of the entire, yes the entire, set of thousands of production cels from the Back to the Future TV show being put up for auction).

Enter Non-Fungible Tokens and their promise to allow creators to once-again exploit the rarity factor of their art without having to risk the exposure of having their art out there in limitless quantities.

Blockchain Buddies

Although FOX announced an NFT-based show a while back, Blockchain Buddies seems to be the first actual animated show to get out there with the technology. Per AWN:

The project will be a first of its kind interactive animated project, with NFT holding community members empowered to shape the future of the creative universe.

In other words, the show creates NFT assets that are purchased by fans. Those fans are then given some sort of say in how the show progresses. This is very similar to the approach that FOX announced with their project and a good indicator of the direction creator see NFT projects developing.

NFT Positives

There’s a few positive aspects that I see to all this. The first is that it strengthens the bond between creators and fans. The latter gain a vested interest in the show, and creators can rely on their fans to guide the show in ways that keep them engaged and therefore maintain viability.

The second is that it shifts animated shows (and films, etc.) away from the consumerist approach to merchandise. Instead of cranking out mass-produced physical items, support is reduced down to a small number of relatively high-cost NFT assets. Fans thus gain more unique things to treasure.

NFT Negatives

If there are upsides, there has to be downsides and they illustrate how NFTs can be a double-edged sword. Bringing fans closer to the creators will make conflicts both more inevitable, and disruptive. If creators want to go one direction and fans want to go in another, who has the final say? Do creators need a ‘Code of Conduct’ for fans?

In tying the value of a show to quote/unqoute ‘assets’ there is a possibility that the life-span and indeed the shelf-life of shows becomes smaller. As new shows arrive using similar NFT value propositions, older shows are likely to lose value and ultimately become worthless. What happens than? When a show relies on a market as an intrinsic indicator of its value, what happens if the bottom falls out of the market for a particular show? What if fans rebel en masse and collapse the market for a show?

In business, companies must follow certain rules and regulations pertaining to the relationship between the ownership of the business, and the management who run it. NFTs are unbridled by such worries; people who buy an NFT are not considered an owner in the corporate entity that actually owns the show. (Such is my hunch.)

The Scam

NFTs are new, but scams and frauds are not. How this affects animation and animation fans is through a microcap fraud. From the US government:

Fraudsters often use emerging technologies or industries – including Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and digital assets – to entice investors as part of a fraudulent or manipulative scheme. For example, they may publicly announce a development that is intended to affect a company’s stock price. Or they may promote a company that claims to be developing products or services relating to the latest news events or trends.

Here’s an example:

Via: @rasp@raru.re

The image above is typical of the scam. It promotes all the benefits of buying in; even providing links that from first glance provide credibility. Clicking on the YouTube links brings you to something very different however. Animation-based NFTs frauds emphasise a community-based, common-interest, vested-ownership in a TV show or film. Yet placing them under a harshly critical light exposes the fraud. They are not simple sales agreements (exchanging money for goods or services), they are investment vehicles that require the exchange of money for an economic asset (the NFT).

Investing vs. NFTs

Disclaimer that the below is not intended to be, or should be interpreted as, financial advice. Always consult a registered financial advisor prior to making any investments

Investing is not for the faint-hearted and serious investors will always undertake their due-diligence before committing to an investment. That due-diligence is a thorough and intensely critical look at the investment being offered, but also its potential relative to other investments. For example, if you’re thinking of buying stock in The Walt Disney Company, you want to be really sure that the value of the stock is going to go up, but you also want to be really really sure that stock in Netflix isn’t going to go up by even more. Smart investors hedge their bets and buy stock in both companies.

NFTs on the other hand…

They’re more like investing in magic beans. Could they sprout a giant beanstalk? It’s possible. Can you sell or trade them to someone else? Sure. What happens if you buy the beans and nothing happens AND you can’t sell them? ¯\\_ (?)_/¯

Trust, or The Lack Thereof

Buying into an NFT-based show is akin to a rigged hoop-toss game at a carnival. The prize is right in front of you but only the game operator knows whether you can actually win or not.

The landscape is littered with failed Kickstarter projects as it is. Even major networks cast ideas and pilots aside all the time. Buying into an NFT animated TV show or film comes with ZERO guarantees that you will actually receive what is promised. Trust is wholly on the side of the fan which is why the traditional models of studio/broadcaster financing that’s firewalled from consumers is necessary. NFT-based funding runs roughshod over this; regardless if it’s a legitimate corporation like FOX, or a conman on the internet like in the images above.

Conclusion

I dislike the idea of NFTs although the original idea for community-verified ownership remains interesting. I also fail to see enough upsides to exploiting NFTs to create a show. People have found an interesting way of financing their shows and run their cons that skips around necessary laws and regulations. There are similar benefits and pitfalls to simply creating a company that owns a show and inviting fans to by shares. Of course that requires red tape with stiff penalties for fraud. NFTs are, for the moment, free of such government oversight and will wreck havoc until brought under regulation. In the meantime, caveat emptor.

Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series finally on Blu-Ray!

Better late than never, the seminal anime TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion arrives on Blu-Ray at last.

Fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion have it relatively lucky (at least in Japan and the US), where the show and its films have been given numerous home media releases down through the years. The release that I happen to own is the Platinum Collection which was definitive at the time but shows its age in 2021 and hearkens back to a time when you pretty much had to buy DVDs in order to watch anime, and special features were almost always an afterthought.

Thankfully, GKIDS and Shout! Factory have created not one, but three collections for the Eva fan: the Ultimate Edition, the Collector’s Edition, and the Standard Edition. All three are a sincere attempt to appeal to all types of fan from the dedicated all the way down to the curious casual.

The Ultimate Edition

Unfortunately the Ultimate Collection sold out the day it was announced so unless there is an expansion to the limited quantity of 5,000, you are unfortunately out of luck.

The Collector’s Edition

The Collector’s Edition arrives on December 2nd and, while less featured than the Ultimate Edition, nonetheless packs a punch:

The NEON GENESIS EVANGELION Collector’s Edition is a deluxe 11-disc set presented in a rigid case, containing a 40-page book, 8 art cards, the Official Dub and Subtitled versions, and the bonus Classic Dub and Subtitled versions. The Collector’s Edition set contains over seven hours of bonus features including animatics, TV commercials, music videos, Japanese cast auditions, trailers, and more.

The Standard Edition

The Standard Edition, while lighter still, is no slouch and Shout! Factory were kind enough to send a review copy:

The Standard Edition is an essential five-disc set that will contain over five hours of bonus features, including animatics, TV commercials, music videos, and more.

This set is the closest to my own Platinum Collection but is by far its superior. I can say with satisfaction that it’s a joy to see Evangelion finally available in HD! All the detail, all the effort that went into the hand-drawn animation is finally allowed to shine and in its original 5:4 aspect ratio too. A 5.1 channel soundtrack also adds an extra level of enjoyment to the show that it lacked before and if you’re a purist, the original stereo tracks are included as well.

Both EVA films are also included, which is a great benefit given that they are usually separated from the series and in the case of End of Evangelion, are required viewing to feel you’ve seen the complete series.

The extra features are a very nice touch. So often with older films and (especially) TV shows, there is a dearth of material to work with with the result that the release’s producers have to rely on retrospectives and other gimmicks to pad it out. Fortunately nothing could be further from the truth here. There’s plenty of original content to choose from and I personally enjoyed the animatics as they offer an insight into how the show actually came together. With over 5 hours on the Standard Edition and even more on the Collector’s and Ultimate editions, they will please fans and entice non-fans further into the series too.

The only aspect I was disappointed with is that, as an [ahem] older fan that first viewed the series with the original English dub featuring Spike Spencer, Allison Keith, Tiffany Grant, et al, I would have to opt for the pricier Collector’s Edition. This is understandable as licensing isn’t free and it is unlikely to be a consideration new fans or those that live and die by their Japanese subs. That this trivial matter is the only negative aspect of the whole release is telling of the quality of the sets.

All in all, this is a timely release that will allow Eva fans to fill in the hole in their collection that the original TV series and films occupy.

The Collector’s and Standard Editions in Blue-Ray, in addition to a digital download are available from the GKIDS store: https://store.gkids.com/pages/neon-genesis-evangelion

The Simpsons x Balenciaga: More Confusion than Art

It came out of nowhere: The Simpson family and friends walking the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week for Spanish house Balenciaga.

The entire scenario is a bit of a head scratcher and gives pause for thought. The first is that holey moley, the Simpsons is still relevant!? Much like old rockers still cranking out songs while never getting anywhere near the top 40 on Billboard let alone Spotify, the Simpsons remains, and is also available for hire! This isn’t the shows first ‘collaboration’ or cross-over and it’s unlikely to be the last. It does, however, speak volumes to the stature the Simpsons continues to command after more than thirty years.

The second thought, is that this special, 10-minute long episode is, appropriate? Yes, it’s a one-off and it’s a commercial, but it’s new content beyond the usual episode. It has a runtime more in line with contemporary online attention spans too. It’s also something I advocated the show do and ditch the half-hour episodes that cannot hope to keep pace with the times.

Lastly, it’s a curiously fashion-forward collaboration for the Simpsons; a family and town famous for wearing the same clothes almost all day, every day. It isn’t the family’s first dabble with high fashion however. In the Season 7 episode ‘Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield’, Marge famously bought a Chanel suit at a consignment store (that was less famously discovered by Lisa):

The theme of the episode is very much about class struggle as Marge discovers her new suit imbues her with social climbing powers the likes of which she’d never known before. Nonetheless, the episode is keen to emphasise that high fashion and the trappings it embodies do not come cheap.  When Marge blows the family’s savings on a new Chanel gown to impress members of a wealthy country club she becomes aware of the sacrifice she is about to make her family undertake and the hard choice that entails. So it’s therefore amusing to see a family with humble, working class roots ham it up on a Paris catwalk wearing clothing that costs an arm and leg.

It’s easy to dismiss the piece as a gimmick because it was an integral part of Balenciaga’s show. It’s just hard to see what relevance it has to either the show or the fashion house outside of the context of the catwalk. Twitter is ablaze with hype and praise, but beyond that…? The Simpsons does not dictate fashion trends, and Balenciaga does not influence the show’s writing style or humour. The whole thing is memorable, but even fashionistas have already moved on (Paris Fashion Week continues as of writing).

What is the lesson here? Is it that The Simpsons is still relevant? Is it that the show sees new avenues to remaining relevant through stunts like this? Or is it a sign of the changing times; when media is less about relating to its viewers and more about selling them a desirable yet unobtainable lifestyle?

It’s hard to say.

Animation Fashion: Watches, Kimono and Makeup

Fashion and animation go quite well together don’t you think? The former sees no shortage of inspiration from the latter, and the latter is rapidly expanding its fashion sense in recent years. It’s no surprise therefore, that articles on the topic of animation-related fashion come up rather frequently so here’s a few recent ones to check out.

Out Now! Coraline and Boxtrolls on Bluray DVD combo

New from Shout! Factory are Bluray editions of Laika’s films. Up first are Coraline and The Boxtrolls!

It’s hard to believe that Laika’s fantastic stop-motion films have been coming out for over a decade with very few imitators. Yet that’s positive, because those films retain their uniqueness amongst a vast array of superhero films and by-the-numbers animated comedies.

Now, with advances in HD media and so on, four of the studio’s films are getting proper BluRay releases with lots of lovely features. Up first are Coraline and The Boxtrolls which are out today (August 31st) with ParaNorman and Kubo of the Two Strings to follow on September 14th). Instead of pondering the films themselves, this review will be for the features that are completely new for both films.

However, it would be remiss to not mention how good both films look in HD. The level of detail that’s visible, which adds more to the viewing experience than you’d think, is incredible and if you haven’t seen both films in a while, be prepared for a few surprises. Returning to Laika’s early films after such a long time makes for a breath of fresh air all over again. They hold up exceptionally well and it is a credit to the artists and crew that they exhibit a truly timeless quality compared to such contemporaries as ‘Monsters Vs. Aliens’ and even ‘Up’.

Both boxsets are similarly styled and you get DVD and Bluray versions of the film along with a glossy booklet on each film. The extra features revisiting the puppets and their test footage are all new for home media. For students and fans, they are a true in-depth look behind the scenes that in conjunction with the other features from previous releases, are the kind of things that Netflix simply doesn’t offer. If you have any appreciation for stop-motion, you will want to check them out.

Both Coraline and Boxtrolls are out now on DVD/Bluray from Shout! Factory.

NOTE: I’ll get some images up as soon as WordPress cooperates.

‘Dreambuilders’ Review

Just about out now from Shout! Factory, ‘Dreambuilders’ is definitely one for the kids, but that’s actually OK.

Minna’s life is turned upside-down when her dad’s new fiancée and her daughter move in. Her new stepsister, Jenny, turns out to be horrible and Minna is very frustrated. She wants her gone! One night, Minna discovers a world behind her dreams, where the whimsical dreambuilders create every fantasy and nightmare we endure nightly on their theater stages! Minna also finds out how to manipulate Jenny’s dreams. But interfering with dreams has dire consequences … and when Minna goes too far one night, Jenny can’t wake up anymore. Minna must enter the dream world one more time to face the nightmare she has created in order to save Jenny and her new family.

‘Dreambuilders’ will struggle to hold adults’ attentions but it’s the kind of film that kids will love because they’ll focus on what’s important. Two half-sisters who are more like chalk and cheese can stand in for any sibling relationship with its ups and downs. The animation isn’t Pixar-quality but then which kid ever notices that, let alone complains about it? The story is engaging and although the first half of the film trots along at a leisurely place, it gradually quickens towards the climax. Only the dialogue seemed to be lacking with characters struggling to get their feelings across without sounding mealymouthed. The cast of characters is diverse and for Jenny in particular, touches on a very real factor in many kids’ lives that is rarely if ever shown in children’s films.

Overall ‘Dreambuilders’ is an interesting take on some well-trodden ideas that will keep younger viewers entertained with its daring adventure. ‘Dreambuilder’s is available from Shout! Factory on August 24.

Quick Notes: Shrek & Fox’s NFT Hype

This is just a quick note on two topics that I can’t let pass by but which I don’t have enough to say to warrant a full post.

Shrek


It’s 20 years old and no, I can’t believe it. The film came out just at that awkward point in your life when you’re too old for kids stuff and a bit too young to appreciate more mature fare. I went to see it anyway and I’m glad I did.

The Guardian posted a review by Scott Tobias that’s decidely unflattering but it misses the point entirely. Yes, Shrek doesn’t look so great in hindsight given everything it spawned, but at the time it was groundbreaking.

For the decade prior, all that audiences had were Disney’s renaissance and Pixar’s golden age and that’s not really a choice. Almong comes Shrek with two very important qualities: 1. it goes in the opposite direction and, 2. it mercilessly pokes fun at Disney’s films.

That second aspect was something new to most audinces which made it incredibly fresh while painting the old classics in an entirely new light. Disney themselves had to admit as much and produced films such as Disenchanted and Tangled in the years following Shrek.

From this vantage point, the films holds up rather well. It’s place in animated history was assured a long time ago (despite Mike Myers’ atempts at a Scottish accent).

FOX Hypes an NFT show

Yup, I’m scratching my head too. The news was announced at an upfront which probably tells you everything you need to know.

If you’re reading this post, it’s already too late to get into NFTs. The hype train sailed over a month ago and it sure isn’t going to hang around for this show to be produced.

As for the entire concept, I sort of get it? I think FOX is placing a bit too much faith in the idea that fans will pony up for exclusive content and bragging rights to owning pieces of a show. Cels and original art has been around forever and owning the only copy of something is quite a bit different from owning a receipt that says you own it.

It’s all part of the broader attempt to exploit the value of digital goods which by their nature, have no real value since they can be infinitely and perfectly replicated for extremely little cost. NFTs are just the latest trendy way of doing so. I don’t hold out much hope that this show is described in the future as groundbreaking.

Pixar Employees Learn the Hard Way that their Films Aren’t so Superior

Lots of films go straight to VOD in light of the COVID pandemic, but Disney made a point of upcharging for the latest blockbuster releases. With new Pixar films being released without an upcharge, some employees are upset at their apparent downgrade in status.

Aeons ago (OK, five years ago), I wrote a somewhat incendiary post for Jerry Beck’s Animation Scoop where I argued that Pixar’s films were not the stellar, unimpeachable magnificence they are marketed as. My argument was they while their initial films were, the industry soon caught up. With a rash of sequels [then] scheduled to be released, I pointed out that Pixar’s films were, for all intents and purposes, average films designed to appeal to the broadest of audiences and make the most money.

The responses were, well, not in agreement to say the least.

Fast forward a few years later, and Disney announce that the soon-to-be-released ‘Luca’ will be released on Disney+ but crucially, will not command an additional fee on top of normal subscription charges.

This isn’t sitting well with Pixar employees:

In many ways, this tweet speaks to the ego of cinematic filmmaking. When only a select few films got made let alone receive a cinematic release, those films are seemingly ‘better’ than ever other.

With times a changing, Pixar’s latest and greatest find themselves on the same playing field as every foreign, independent, and two-bit animation studio out there. Does this devalue their work? No, but it clearly stings to realise that you’re not creating superior films based on some grand, artistic purpose that the cinema ordains upon its releases. Instead you’re creating a film that’s just a flash-in-the-pan along with a million others. Vying for attention down in the televisual muck in a dogged, scrappy fight that will never end.

Such feelings are also somewhat disingenuous. Feeling ‘demoralised’ is one thing, but to be so at a time when many of Pixar’s former colleagues at Blue Sky are out of a job and looking for work?

Another flake falls from the facade to reveal a bloated ego filled with hubris and Pixar’s reputation tarnishes a little further.