How To Find Inspiration

Don’t ask me! Hahaha. No seriously, not today anyway, I’m coming up short!

While this morning might be a tough one for me to write a post, that’s just because I don’t have the time to spend hunting around for the necessary spark that will ignite the fire under my butt and get me to write something. The good news is, if you do have the time, inspiration can come from just about anywhere.

Thanks to the internet, there are literally millions of places you can go for inspiring ideas or topics without leaving your desk (or lap). I follow (literally) hundreds of blogs and they are always a source of thought. Be it straight out ideas or discussions on a topic that can lead me in another direction.

If you’re not too much into that, how about a book? If that doesn’t work, why not head to the mall, or down to the local park or whatever. I find that people watching can be a fascinating hobby. With so many people in the world, it can be fun to try and think up exciting stories for the stranger who walks past you (just don’t think aloud as they pass, they might start to form their own opinions).

Creativity is a skill that sometimes has to be honed. for me, I sometimes need to see what else is out there before I can get myself going, other times I already have something ready to go. You may have a totally different way of getting up and running and that’s fine, as long as you don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re doing good and you actually aren’t.

The point is, when people say they can’t find inspiration, that is often a way of saying that they haven’t really tried, or if they have, been looking in the wrong place. You can avoid this mistake by finding what it is that inspires you on a consistent basis and utilising it to the max.

The Academy Awards And Betty Boop

This is a short and sweet post because I’m flat out between homework assignments today.

The Academy Awards

This is it, the night of nights
No more rehearsing and nursing our parts
We know every part by heart

Those are, of course, lyrics from the opening theme to The Bugs Bunny Show although they are appropriate because tonight, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will broadcast their annual awards show also known as the Oscars.

While Toy Story 3 is up for Best Picture, it won’t win. Its just not the right kind of film. In the Best Animated Feature category, everything I’ve heard and read about The Illusionist says it should win. My money is on How To Train Your Dragon however.

As for the shorts, I haven’t seen any of them so there’s no point commenting.

And that concludes the Oscar coverage for another year!

Betty Boop

(hat tip to Jerry Beck for bringing it to my attention)

Poor Betty, apparently no-one really knows who owns her 🙁 A recent court case failed to determine the proper owner of the original certificate registered by Max Fleischer thus denying his heirs ownership of the character (trademark-wise).

This is an excellent example of how complex and notoriously confusing copyright laws can be and how they can be used as a weapon rather than a tool. I’ve written about it before if you want to get familiar with the basics in regards to animation.

 

 

 

Weekly Weblink: Why Cleopatra in Space Is Awesome and Why You Should Read It

Cleopatra in Space coverEven though this is an animation blog, the link between comics and animation is obvious. So it’s not surprising that I dabble a wee in the other side.

Cleopatra in Space is the creation of the very talented Mike Maihack. While I could (and do) recommend checking out his regular blog for tons of awesome illustrations and sketches (I have three on my walls here at home) it is his current work that I am focusing on today.

Cleopatra in Space is Mike’s latest webcomic that focuses on, you’ve guessed it, Cleopatra. It’s not set in ancient Egypt however, but far in the future (hence the ‘Space’ part of the title). With her sidekick Kenshu, she gets into all sorts of mischief that require quick thinking and lots of blasting with laser guns.

What I like best (besides Mike’s excellent handiwork) is the fact that the characters are well-rounded and believable and their flaws make them easy to relate to (c’mon, we’ve all gone through the trials and tribulations of school at some point).

Cleopatra on MondayMike has been putting up one page every Monday and the always get my week off to a great start. He’s up to chapter 2, page 32 so there’s plenty of stuff to read back through but not enough to put you off doing so (you can always start from the beginning). So head on over and start reading now. You will be rewarded for your efforts!

Do You Know How Many Hoops A Storyboard Has to Jump Through?

I sure didn’t, and the answer surprised me. The snapshot below is taken from the storyboard for the Adventure Time episode “Guardians of Sunshine” which was recently posted over on the Frederator Blogs. Study it for a minute before continuing.

Guardians of Sunshine Approval boxesYup, that’s nine steps in total before the episode goes into actual production. Is it too many or too little, I don’t know. Although being on a mainstream network, I’d say that this is about as complicated as you can get before crossing over into feature films.

Of course, smaller and independent works won’t have near the same number of steps but it certainly struck me that just the storyboard alone would have to go through so many levels of approval just to get into production. It’s certainly another sign of the complexities of animation!

Would You Eat At A Place Like This? I Sure Would!

Tip of the hat to Pat Smith over at Scribble Junkies for alerting me to the really cool artist that is Timba.

When you think about it though, Hanna-Barbera did a really good job with the marketing for the Flintstones. In fact, you could argue that after more than 50 years, the very existence of products like Fruity Pebbles, vitamins and so forth is testament to the longevity of the show.

The art is awesome though, isn’t it? A part of me now really wishes there was a burger joint called Fast Freds…

Joe Murray is Moving In New Directions And So Should You

Via: KaboingTV.com

Joe Murray (erstwhile creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo) has announced that his fledgling online TV network, KaboingTV, will make its grand premiere on March 11th. In case you didn’t know, KaboingTV is Joe’s attempt at creating an online TV station devoted solely to cartoons and also passing more moolah back to the creators.

Why is all of this important? Joe, for all his track record in producing hit TV shows, is moving in an entirely new direction. Heck, in one sense he is being a true pioneer. Some people have tried to do what he’s done (and been successful too) but none have done so with the specific aim of mutual benefit and comradeship.

Joe is not resting on his laurels and has actively searched out new ideas and potential sources of income when he hasn’t been making cartoons. There are tons of people out there who would never in their right mind take on what Joe has. It’s just not in their nature, and that’s fine. We can’t be an entire nation of Warren Buffetts (although I sure could use the kind of money he has).

I’m not saying that you need to go out and repeat what Joe’s done (for starters he’s already beaten you to it), just that actively toying around with new ideas, any new idea, will reap rewards. Maybe not initially, but down the road. It’s kind of like me and the MBA. I’m not going to see the payout immediately, but I do expect to see a difference maybe 10+ years down the road, when I am in a better position to use the knowledge I’ve learned.

On the flip side, you don’t even have to come up with a new idea at all, just engage in something you don’t normally engage in! For animators, this could mean attending a life drawing class, learning a new computer program, exploring the fun (or serious) side of your creativity. You have no excuses for not doing so, and in the end, there are great benefits to be had.

What Everyone Ought To Know About Movie Promotion

A movie lobby card (an old form of promotion) via: Retrospace

Most people believe that the cost of a film is whatever the studio says it is. It might well be, but as I learned in my managerial accounting class, what counts towards that cost can  be hard to determine.

For example, what about the people processing the payroll for the set designers, does that count as a cost? The answer is no, it doesn’t because it is considered overhead, in other words, those people processing payroll would be doing it even if the film wasn’t being made.

How about the actors? Well clearly they are a large part of the cost of a film and if the project didn’t exist, they wouldn’t be paid. So, yes, they are a cost to the film.

What about promotion of a film?

You would figure that into the equation, right? I mean, if you make a movie, you have to sell it somehow, and you can’t turn a corner without seeing an advertisement for a film these days. Besides, if the film wasn’t made the cost wouldn’t be there, right? Yes, that’s right. So it would make sense to include the cost of promotion into the cost of a movie, wouldn’t it? Again, yes it would. Except herein lies one of the tricks of the movie business that the public at large is not familiar with or aware of.

For you see, promotion isn’t handled by the studio, it’s handled by the distributor. Never mind that they are usually one and the same (think Disney and Buena Vista), the fact is, for the vast majority of mainstream releases, the cost of promotion is handed off to the books of the distributor, for which they normally receive a 35% cut of the box office gross.

What is the effect of all this? To make costs appear lower of course! Most large movies have a promotional budget in the range of half to three times the film’s cost (how it makes sense to spend more promoting the film than it did to make it is beyond me). So basically, a $100 million movie could cost anywhere between $50 million and $300 million in promotion by the end of its theatrical run.

So when you hear about a film raking in more than it’s cost at the box office, that just covers the studio’s cost, not the promotion. The end result? Films appear much more successful than they really are. Huge box office grosses are often a facade that masks the real cost of a film.

The truth never hurts, and I believe that if studios were more upfront and honest about the cost of a film, i.e. acknowledging the promotion costs more clearly, then they would be in a better position to operate effectively. Sadly, in Hollywood, everyone wants their share of the pie, and will engage in shady tactics like those mentioned above to make themselves appear stronger than they really are. In the end though, the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and he always get’s called out in the end.

And You Thought Educational Films Had To Be Boring

Not so! Thanks to Brad Caslor and his tribute to the classic cartoons of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Follow Bob Dog as he hunts for that next big career break all to the tune of some classic doo-wop.

I’ve seen this film before but thanks to Will Finn for reminding me 🙂

Five Reasons Why The End of The Simpsons Will Be The Deathknell For Animation on FOX

Via: Hulu

Over the last 20-odd years, The Simpsons has come to be the most successful TV show ever created. In an industry where plenty of shows don’t even make it to the end of their first season, and the numbers that make it beyond the single digits is extremely rare, the fact that one can make it into its third decade is exceedingly rare.

As a result, the longer the Simpsons remain on our TV screens, the more likely it’s ultimate demise will contribute to the collapse of the dominance of animation on FOX.

Below are the five reasons why this is so.

1. Brand Recognition:

Over the last 20 years, the Simpsons has become a brand in their own right. There are Simpsons toys, clothes, sweets, figurines, records, you name it, it has been Simpsonised at some point. What is sometimes overlooked is that it is the success of the TV show that has driven the demand for these products. Millions saw the show in TV and then bought the merchandise they saw in the shop.

Without the weekly reminder that market is sure to suffer a bit. Now keep in mind that I am referring to new episodes. Re-runs remind viewers of the show’s existence, but they tend not to remind them of good times, not encourage them to buy new products.

2. Brand loyalty

The Simpsons as a brand has phenomenal loyalty, so much so that it was able to transgress a brief period at the beginning where it reached proportions normally reserved for ‘fads’. Simpsons fans are famous for their devotion to their favourite show. Of course, it helped that the show was very well written, and more often than not outshone everything else being broadcast at the time.

Once the series ends, however, that loyalty will begin to (slowly) disappear. It will start off imperceptibly, but gradually, we’ll start to see less and less merchandise, more websites and fansites that are update less frequently. People will remain loyal and devoted, but the majority of fans will move on to other shows, or their tastes will change as they get older. Before you know it, all that will be left is a smattering of hardcore fans who hold on to the glory days and maintain that nothing will ever top their faith in a show from the 90s.

Convincing those many fans of the Simpsons that another show is of equal or better quality is a goal that is akin to convincing people that a tax raise really is a good thing. It can be done, but it’s an uphill struggle if ever there was one.Which leads us nicely into…..

3. Inability to replace it

FOX has known for quite a while that no show lives forever and eventually a replacement will have to be found. This is a perfectly reasonable assumption except for one thing: they haven’t found one yet.

It’s not for lack of trying though. Plenty of attempts have been made over the years to try and at least find something that can come close to attracting viewers of the Simpsons and slowly weaning them onto a different show. Pilots, season fillers, live-action, they’ve all been tried without success and still the problem remains.

Family Guy is perhaps the closest the network has come but since it returned from hiatus a few years ago, it is nowhere near what it used to be and currently attracts a far more narrow demographic than the Simpsons did at its height. The same goes for the other McFarlane children, they all share similar traits that prohibit them from ever reaching the largest audience possible.

4. It’s Still Good

Although I tend to agree with plenty of what the loyal Stonecutters over at the Dead Homer Society have to say, in the grand scheme of things, The Simpsons remains a very well written show. Especially in light of all the other “sitcoms” and “comedies” that the various networks put out during the week.

5. Changes in management structure

Last but most certainly not least, the Simpsons could never be repeated because FOX as a network has changed. When the Simpsons were first broadcast, the creators were given a wide berth when it came to content and biting the hand that feeds them. The simple reason for this was that the network needed ratings and ad revenue, and allowing the producers a bit of leeway went a long way in letting the show find it’s place in the TV world.

Since then, FOX has become successful, and much more mainstream as a result. I can’t foresee a show being given similar leeway (and a share of the merchandising) ever again. It just won’t happen. As a result, we’re unlikely to ever see a show like the Simpsons grace our screen again.

Conclusion

When the Simpsons eventually does get sent to the great big TV in the sky, it’s highly unlikely that a show such as Family Guy will manage to retain many of the Simpsons loyal fanbase and as a result, is more likely to falter when left to carry the network by itself. Once that happens, it seems probable that animation, as a driving force on the FOX network is doomed.

Weekly Weblink: Dant Santat

Dan Santat blog bannerDan Santat (click through to see the hilarious fake album cover)  is a name you may not be immediately familiar with. He’s created the Disney cartoon, The Replacements, and he’s illustrated a ton of books (some by others, some by himself). With all that on his plate, it’s easy to see why I am recommending his blog for you to follow.

Being the independent type. Dan is superb in expressing the viewpoints of such a career. A recent highlight was his post about a job offer from none other than Google, and whether or not he felt his career should go down that road.

He posts in a very conversational tone, as if he’s there with you and simply reading aloud his mental thoughts. That makes for easy and enjoyable reading.

On top of all that though, is the ton of great art he posts. Being an artistic type, how could he not? There are recent works, upcoming books, gallery exhibits. visits to and from friends (old and new) and of course, recaps of various literary events that he’s attended. He also post the occasional window into his work methods, including building a scene, and the many tricks and shortcuts he uses to save time.

Besides all that, there are also links to his portfolio (for which you are richly rewarded), his books and TV show.

Dan updates fairly regularly and his posts are always a delight to read.

From the Kidscreen Convention to Walt Disney In One Blog Post

I’m kinda stuck for words this morning and I’m not sure why. There have been plenty of developments in the world of animation this week. Namely the annual Kidscreen gathering in New York City, which I can only assume went well from the various facebook and twitter updates I have read. I would attend myself, but at over a thousand dollars, it’s money I just don’t have at the moment.

In these days of course that is not as big a deal as it once was. the internet has greatly opened the animation industry to both outsiders (yours truly) and prospective animators. The result has been the greater proliferation of animation (and talk of animation) throughout the entertainment industry and beyond, from the use of flash to make TV shows to the many hundreds of short series that broadcast only on the web.

The web has facilitated the opening of animation as an industry and artform although sometimes you find that there is a this latent fear of being open about what you do. “Do all your work in secret”, “Don’t tell anyone what new projects your working on”, etc. Entertainment is a notoriously secret industry, where there is this constant fear that someone is always listening to steal your idea and get a leg up on you.

While this can be true, look at the likes of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and DreamWorks’ Antz. Both are movies about ants. Both were released about the same time. Which one do you remember most? Exactly, quality matters much more than getting out first, at least most of the time it does.

Pixar may be king when it comes to CGI features, but it was not until this year that their main rival were considered to be on a similar level, and all it took to achieve that was a good quality film with a straighforward plot and a strong set of characters.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m in the middle of Bob Thomas’ biography of Walt Disney, and it’s been a extraordinary read, especially the chapters from 1930 to about 1950. In those 20 years, the studio was on a  bit of a roller-coaster ride from the highs of Snow White to the lows of the aftermath of World War II. Yet through it all, Walt had a saying for dealing with competitors:

We can lick ’em with product

The same holds true today. Any successful animated film (both from the big boys and independents) has been successful because it is well-made. Not necessarily animation-wise, but on the whole. Good plot, good characters, good animation. All three combine to make a fantastic film.

This post has been all over the place (and thank you for sticking through it). If ever there was a window into my mind, this post is it. I’m always thinking about animation in one form or another and it just so happens that it can go from the Kidscreen summit to Walt Disney in the 1930s just like that.