Happy Birthday to Mr. Ralph Bakshi!

Thanks to Jeaux for reminding me that today is the birthday of the one and only Ralph Bakshi. The influence of this one guy are still being felt today and his impression on younger animators is undeniable (thanks to Mr. John K.)

It’s fair to say that although he never had any excessive commercial success, the animation world would be a heck of alot poorer it wasn’t for him. Happy birthday Ralph!

International Animation Day and Disney Princesses

In case you hadn’t noticed, today is International Animation Day and thanks to the TAG Blog, here is the official animation by Simon Streatfeild:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnjgKQAvvLw]

On a different note, below is a picture I came across while checking my Tumblr dashboard yesterday afternoon,

Via: The Disney Princess

Some-one out there has created pictures centring solely on the negative aspects of each princess’ tale. If you read them, you’ll see that most are taken way out of context and none take into account the personality of each character.

The image above on the other hand, displays some very strong and encouraging traits (the exception being spoiled). Some of them (such as brave, artistic, defiant, independent, adventurous) are certainly traits that I would expect any female to have.

The important contrast between the opposing images is that one side heavily reinforces a point of view that completely removes the story and setting from the equation. The other focuses strictly on the personality trait that best describes the character.

I know I may be comparing apples to oranges (in fact, I probably am) but I would much rather consider the characters in the positive light. How about you?

The Mythical Banned Episode

Via: The Golem Universe

During a quick perusal of my favourite bookmarks this morning before I began typing this, I read a remarkable post over on Fred Seibert’s Blog concerning a “banned” episode of the hit show Dexter’s Laboratory. Apparently even Fred didn’t know about it, so he called up the one and only Genndy Tartakovsky (someday maybe I too will have a famous person in my phonebook [sigh]).

As it turns out, it does exist and wasn’t broadcast because of the amount of (bleeped) swearing. Now what the swear words were, I do not know. I doubt they were the really serious kind although they probably weren’t suitable for a an audience of children.

Which leads us to the whole mystery of so-called banned episodes of shows. Why would an episode be “banned”? Why would the creators even be allowed to make the episode in the first place, if there is even a slight chance that it wouldn’t make it to air?

It’s hard to tell. Sometimes a script will appear OK but once it is finished, it might seem worse. A more likely culprit is that the people directly supervising the show are fine with it but once someone higher up sees it, they might use their superior executive powers to veto its broadcast.

Some people wonder how a company can afford to lock-up these episodes, especially considering that animation is not the cheapest form of production. The reality is that one episode does not a series make and the company will often take the hit because if the episode were broadcast, it could face untold fines from the FCC. Remember the whole Janet Jackson SuperBowl™ incident? Yeah, we all had a good laugh at that in Europe; the lawsuits are still ongoing over here. That pretty much speaks for itself.

The rumour-mill also seems to have this ability of elevate such episodes to near mythological status among fans. Titbits of information here and there is often interpolated to mean that it is the most awesome episode ever in a holy grail kind of way. Of course once these episodes eventually make their way onto the airways or internets, they are of no better quality than the ones that were broadcast.

The interesting thing is that when people call a show or episode “banned” today, they really mean that it simply wasn’t broadcast by the network. This is not the same as being banned. In the past (and especially for those poor folks in a non-free country) a banned piece of property or information meant that you were not supposed to have it under any circumstances and you were likely facing some jail time if you were caught.

Ditto for many old cartoons considered “banned” today. A few examples come to mind in the form of Coal Black and De Seben Swarfs, which is due for potential release next year, Song of the South, which is not really considered “banned” but is widely known to be a regrettable reminder of the past for the Walt Disney Co. Contemporary examples include the aforementioned Dexter episode as well as numerous South Parks and Family Guys.

Another aspect to consider is that all of these were withdrawn by their respective studios/parent corporations. None were deemed by the government to be offensive (although during the war years, the government did air concerns about the vulgarity of some of the shorts emanating from Hollywood and Termite Terrace).

In the grand scheme of things, “banned” episodes of TV shows are rareity, although they are far more prevalent in the US as a result of the diversity of the population and the relatively strict nature of broadcast regulations. Sometimes they really are worth trying to see, but it is good to remember that they are often over-rated and have often hidden away for good reason. Having said that, I kind of would like to see Dexter cursing now 🙂

It’s (Almost) International Animation Day

Via: ASIFA

Yes, it’s ,today,  October 26th!

EDIT: I got confused this morning (easy to do at 6am), ASIFA-East is holding their event tonight, the day itself is on Thursday, October 28th.

So, what exactly is International Animation Day? Well, it’s organised by ASIFA and its aim is to celebrate the anniversary of the first public performance of Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique in Paris in 1892. The reason for such an occasion is as follows (from ASIFA’s website):

Such a celebration is an outstanding opportunity to put the animated film in the limelight and make this art more accessible to the public.

As part of the festivities, ASIFA-East is holding a screening of Prescott Wright films this evening at SVA in Manhattan starting at 7pm.

The purpose of the day is to help foster awareness of animation as much more than just cartoons but as an expressive artform comparable to its live-action counterpart. It’s sad to say, but there are many, many people who thin that animation stops at Mickey Mouse or Pixar. Little do they now what kind of wonders can lurk underneath the surface.

In addition to celebrating animation, the day also offers an opportunity for anyone to learn about animation and its techniques. ASIFA actively encourages organizations to help promote the artform and to teach about the more technical aspects of animation production.

So what are you waiting for? Sit back, relax and enjoy your favourite animated film today or go out there and teach someone all about it!

Working From Home or In A Studio: Which is Better?

Being in the civil engineering profession, I am blessed/cursed in that I generally must conduct my affairs in the office. Our use of CAD software, large files and the overall collaborative nature of the work often necessitates working closely with co-workers. There is, however, the rare opportunity for working outside the office, such as a visit to a project, or making a delivery/pickup of plans. There is also the rare-as-hens-teeth days when I am able to telecommute.

Now granted, I only live 10 minutes from the office (5 if I hit every traffic light just right and ignore the speed limit on the Beltway) so its not that big of a deal for me to travel to work every day. Last week (and by extension, this week) have been one of those high-pressure, “I need it yesterday” kind of fortnights, and as a result, I had to do some work on Saturday morning.

Through the magic of Netflix Citrix, I was able to do everything from my computer at home. I could have stayed in my pyjamas but I opted for the more mature choice of tracksuit bottoms.

Long story short, the whole experience got me wondering as to which is better: working at home or in an office environment. For studios (and companies in general) there are certainly many advantages to having employees work off-premises. Money can be saved from rent, equipment, electric, heat (if a smaller office is used), coffee, etc. For the employee, there is the option of working in your pyjamas, getting a cup of tea whenever you feel like it, and (if it is available) of working hours that suit them.

Freelancers have known about the many benefits for years now. In fact, a large minority of artists whose blogs I follow tend to be freelancers who work at home, and they all enjoy it!

That is not to say that working from home is for everyone, it does come with its own set of disadvantages after all. For example, in the modern digital age, if your computer decides it just can’t take it any more and gives up when the deadline is tomorrow, you have to be your own IT department or its your neck on the chopping block.

A studio offers the social atmosphere that makes an office and enjoyable place to work. There is the comradery, collaborative element and the ability to collectively inspire each other. At the same time, there is also office politics to consider and if your boss is a bit of an eejit, being as far away from them as possible is preferable. Yes, sadly there are people out there who have absolutely no business being in management and yet they do exist.

At the end of the day, it will come down to personal taste as much as the willingness of the project manager to let you work remotely. For some projects (such as The Secret of Kells) it worked wonders as everyone was talented and experienced enough to simply get on with the job with the direction given from Ireland.

With the increase in internet speeds and the proliferation of cloud computing and so forth, it is more likely that companies (especially smaller outfits) will seek to lower overhead costs by allowing employees to work at home, thus shifting heating, electric and plant costs to them. Ideally, everyone should be given a choice as to which they prefer.

So, the real answer is: neither. Both systems play to equal strengths and weaknesses and both have their champions. Personally, I like the interaction with co-workers. Your mileage may vary.

Why Laugh Tracks Are Unnecessary in Cartoons

Via: Connexions

So last night I sat down to listen to a CD called Bugs Bunny at the Symphony. Which, as you might expect contains various orchestral music from Bugs’ Looney Tunes shorts in much the same style as Bugs Bunny on Broadway. All I can say is that it’s great to hear the scores being played by an orchestra, especially with all the modern digital mastering an all that.

As I was listening to the music (which I was also simultaneously playing in my head), everything started to fall apart when I realised there was a laugh track included. Now, its my understanding that the CD is supposed to be a live recording of Bugs Bunny on Broadway and as a result, audience reactions are included because, well, the audience reacts to the shorts as you would expect them to. What bothers me is that, well, its a CD! I can’t see anything and its really difficult to laugh when your only cue is the music.

I recommend you check out the CD if you like the music of the old shorts (and who doesn’t), which is nothing short of sheer brilliance.

But enough of that, today’s topic is about laugh tracks and why cartoons in general don’t need them. two things first though: being European and therefore cultured (I kid, I kid) I must say that the whole idea of a laugh track is rather ugly. I once watched Everybody Loves Raymond and I could’ve sworn the laugh track came from a different show as I didn’t hear a single joke the entire episode.

Secondly, there is the good kind of laugh track, which is one where the reactions are those of a real audience who is watching the show. As far as I know, this type is rare in the US but is commonly used by the BBC for their sitcoms. It’s a much superior version in my mind and produces much more realistic results.

So why is it that you don’t really see cartoons with a laugh track (any more)? Well for one, cartoons are inherently more visual than live-action shows. Sure, there are some wordy puns and one-liners, but for the most part, we get a laugh from seeing characters get hit over the head. That signal replaces the need for an audio prompt.

Cartoons, especially those aimed at a younger audience, employ this to great effect and have done so for many years. Although the humour in those does tend to be a little bit more direct so that even kids can understand what’s going on.

Shows for older folks have also escaped mainly as a result of creator’s insistence (The Simpsons) or just because it was felt to be unnecessary. Live-action shows include a laugh track because they were (originally) broadcast live in front of a studio audience. Animation has never had that luxury (as pointed out to Homer, live cartoons place a terrible strain on the animator’s wrists).

My theory that because we know animation cannot be conducted “live” we therefore don’t expect to have a studio audience participating in the broadcast. An exception was The Cleveland Show’s recent “live” broadcast, although in that instance, it is clear that the show’s setting has been changed in order to be reminiscent of the old prime-time shows of yore.

The Flintstones is a lone exception as it does contain a laugh track (although from my own viewing experience, only some episodes/seasons do). I’m sure the reason it is included is so that the show felt more in-line with the live-action shows it attempted to copy and back in the 60s, that meant including a laugh track. As you may have noticed, this makes the show seem somewhat more dated than it should be.

I like to believe that the main reason cartoons and animation don’t usually have laugh tracks is that they contain a higher standard of comedy than their live-action counterparts. The lead-in time for animation means that everything must be planned out in advance, writing an animated show requires a different set of skills, the ability to drop an anvil on a charcter and have him walk away and the ability to design your show to fit your needs al combine to collectively result in an altogether different and higher brand of comedy. One that can safely and reliably dispense with the need to tell its audience when they heard a joke.

What Makes Film Festivals Cool

Via: Azrael’s Merryland

This coming Wednesday sees the start of arguably the most important festivals for animation lovers in North America. Every year, Chris Robinson and Co. put together the Ottawa International Animation Festival and if you’ve ever read The Animation Pimp (either online or by the book) you’ll have an idea of how much effort goes into making everything run like clockwork.

There are tons of reasons why festivals such as Ottawa are such fun to attend. For starters, you are exposed to lots of new and interesting films that you’ll probably never see down in your local cinema. If you’re artistically inclined, that may pay off handsomely in the form of inspiration. If you can’t draw a straight line, well, you saw some really neat films that will hopefully inspire you in other ways.

Besides the actual content, festivals offer a rare opportunity for animation professionals to socialise. Now I am aware that animators do socialise outside of festivals (for some reason I always seem to meet them at a pub) but never en masse. While this can certainly have its disadvantages, it is safe to say that the ability to meet a wide range of friends, both old and new, far outweigh the brevity of the event.

Meeting fellow animators is enjoyable in itself and I’d be lying if I said that it was all purely for fun. The animation industry (especially outside of Burbank) is heavily reliant on word of mouth. In other words, its more who you know than what you know. Although this may seem frustrating at times, its only as difficult as you make it for yourself. Festivals are a great opportunity to go out and meet some other professionals. Heck, its the same for any industry, plumbers seem to have conventions all the time. Why? So they can build relationships in an industry where a lot of guys work independently.

Larger festivals such as Ottawa (and Annecy in France) may also have a studio presence. This development in recent years is beneficial to both camps. Animators want a job and studios want to find good talent. Putting the two in the same place is a match made in heaven. However, you should not discount smaller ones, such as the ASIFA-East festival simply because a major studio is not present.

So far, I’ve never heard anyone say they went to a festival and had a horrible time. They’ve often been tired, hungover, sick or incapacitated in some way, but they have never said they regretted going. Plenty of people (myself included) regret not going for all the reasons above and more.

If you don’t attend, you can make up all the excuses you want, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. Festivals are guaranteed to bring rewards and can often accelerate your progression up the career ladder, if you play your cards right. With that in mind, you don’t have much to lose now, do you?

Is It Really the End of Creator-Driven Cartoon Shows?

Via: The Terror Drome

Amid over at Cartoon Brew has written an excellent and well thought out editorial on the decline of creator-driven shows. He pretty much hits the nail of the head when he says that the glory days are over, with the current crop of shows on The Hub as well as the upcoming Nickelodeon show based on the Sketchers shoe line ushering in a new era of corporate assembly line properties. While I believe that this is certainly true, there are a few important things to consider that I suppose are too long for a regular old comment.

Firstly, The Hub is a brand new channel, competing in a market where the competition is fierce (albeit friendly enough for the live-action shows). The Cartoon Network has struggled as of late, relying instead on a desperate (?) push into live-action shows that is highly unlikely to edge them into the number two spot.

In the face of all this, The Hub is attempting to establish itself as yet another competitor. Based on the old ratings for Discovery Kids, it has a hell of a hill to climb if it is to reach any kind of meaningful market share. With that in mind, the overarching influence of its toyetic line of shows should not be overestimated.

Secondly, although the new shows in question are established, they have been somewhat irrelevant for at least the last decade or so. As a result, they way as well be starting from scratch in terms of audience.

Will kids even care what these shows provide? My guess is probably not. Anyone who grew up on 80s cartoon fare seems to have a rose-tinted view of them nowadays, but when you actually sit down and watch the likes of the Snorks, He-Man, etc, etc. and compare them to what we have now, they can’t hold a candle to the likes of SpongeBob Squarepants.

Which brings me to another point. The yellow sponge has been so successful for two reasons: the show is creator-driven and Nickelodeon was very careful and clever in how they marketed the show (including cashing in with a theatrical film at the peak of popularity). These two things acted as a kind of synergy and together have ensured that the show has stayed in the minds of the public for over a decade. Nickelodeon is surely aware of this and their continued production of creator-driven shows (such as T.U.F.F. Puppy and Fanbuy & ChumChum) should serve as a reminder that such shows are still being made.

I do not see all of this as an end of the creator-driven era however. Talented animators will continue to emerge from schools and obscurity. Creator-driven content wil continue to be made either for TV or otherwise. Amid is right in pointing out that there will continue to be fragmentation of the viewership as a result of the internet. This does not, however, preclude that people will stop wanting to watch animated TV shows.

Someone will come along and figure out how to make money doing it. I can understand the natural anxiety about the disappearance of traditionally animated shows in favour of flash, but I think that is being overly pessimistic. Hollywood didn’t disappear as a result of television (although it took them a heck of a long time to figure out why people actually go to the cinema) and television is unlikely to disappear as a result of the internet, at least in the short term.

Amid’s article is refreshingly honest in its sincerity and the comments on the post are surprisingly full of hope for the future. Far from the end, I believe we are entering a new and exciting chapter in the story of short-form animated entertainment. The beginning way be tough, but we will all warm to they story once we’ve all settled into it.

Anomaly Appraisal: The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

Via: Uncrate

This book was launched around this time last year (wow, time flies eh?) and at the time was the result of a considerable amount of press exposure for the simple reason that nobody from FOX or The Simpsons themselves would comment on it. Of course the logical excuse offered up was that an ‘official’ history will come along at some point which will naturally contain all the official stories and anecdotes.

This book however, is the unofficial version, replete with warts-and-all tales from inside and outside the show. For a loyal stonecutter’s take on the book, I suggest hitting up the Dead Homer’s Society for their review, which is refreshingly realistic in its synopsis.

John Ortved should be commended for putting together a tome that combines more first hand accounts of the show than any I care to remember. In contrast to Planet Simpson, which I posted about last week, which was a much more existentialist view of the series and its characters, this book looks past all that for what was going on behind the TV screen.

The book very much follows the shows own timeline, from pre-conception to the present time (well, 2009) so sa you can expect, the climactic, exciting stuff is in the middle, not the end. Ortved lays out in some detail the conflicts and fall-outs that have been the reality behind the greatest TV show ever made. Although he rightfully points out money and egos as being the main ingredients, he does present the facts in a reasonably fair and balance way. In other words, he doesn’t take sides in the war.

I loved reading first-hand accounts from people involved in the show, from writers, to the voice-actors all the way up to Rupert Murdoch himself. Although I found the transcript form of the book weary at first, it became a much easier read in the end (more on that later). The sheer number of stories (both humourous and otherwise) from these folks are gold to a Simpsons fan such as myself.

The book is excellent overall but there are just one or two areas where I was disappointed. Firstly, Ortved’s own writing is quite lacking in the fact-checking department. The biggest one I found was getting Binky and Bongo from Life in Hell mixed up.

Besides the factual errors, the book seems to have this dark overtone. In more than one occasion I found footnotes that were gratuitously politicised. Personally I don’t really care, but please, I’m reading a book about a funny show, there’s no need to bring up your own politcal leanings for the sake of it.

Lastly, there is the discussion about certain folks on the show. While I have mentioned above that Ortved stays pretty impartial to the infighting, there is a substantial imbalance in how he meters out praise and scorn. For example, David Silverman gets one mention whereas Al Jean is single-handedly ridiculed for allowing the show to decline over the last decade. Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t, but I firmly believe that you should meter out praise much more than criticism.

Overall, this is a must-read for any Simpsons fan. It helps set the frame of the Simpsons as an institution of American culture and helped me to see the show in a new, more compassionate light.

Quick Note: Mr. Warburton Recommends Directing Animation by David B. Levy

Apologies for the short post today but that’s because you’ll want to head on over to the weblog of Mr. Warburton (Genius) to hear him sing the praises of David’s new book all about directing animation. In typical Warburtonese you can read how awesome the book is and why you should buy it (as if you needed any reasons to buy it).

Look out for a full review here in the near future.

Why You Should Listen to This Podcast With Voice-Actor Scott McNeil

Via: Wikipedia

First of all, who is Scott McNeill? Well, if you think he looks Australian, then you are correct, he was born there, much the same as my good chum Mr. Elliot Cowan. Certain folks out there will be familiar with his work in Tranformers (as Bumblebee) whereas others may know him from the literally hundreds of anime shows that he has done over the years. I discovered him through his work as the paranoid emo alien Stork on the Nerd Corps. series, Storm Hawks.

Scott’s an incredibly talented, genuinely funny guy who is a real character in his own right. He’s a veteran of the industry and has this podcast is chock full of insightful., witty anecdotes from his time in the Vancouver scene. He also makes some excellent, decent points on the use of celebrity voice actors and he throws in a few horror stories for good measure.

The podcast contains plenty of discussion about the nature of the animation industry in Vancouver and how it differs from that of it’s California neighbour. Scott also has plenty of tales of how he managed to get his break in the industry and how he manages to keep a full schedule in an industry where unemployment lurks after every project.

It’s also great to hear from such a down-to-earth character talk candidly about life in an industry where some of the heaviest hitters rarely seem to get a similar chance for discussion.

The podcast was originally part of the A3U (Ages 3 and Up) series that has sadly vanished from the interwebs hence the lack of a link back to the source. It’s just over an hour long but I can guarantee you there is hardly a boring minute in the entire thing.

Click here to download the mp3 instead.