Month: September 2011

5 Reasons to Love Really Old Cartoons

Via: Wikipedia

And when I say old, I mean old. Most of the Looney Tunes are far too new to be considered for this list. I’m talking about the old, old, incredibly old school* stuff that’s in black and white and probably didn’t even have sound when it first came out.

Why would you love these old “cartoons”? Here’s 5 reasons why:

  1. They’re uncomplicated almost to the extreme. No real character development or attempts at consistency. Heck, most of the time, the characters don’t even live in the same house between shorts. Why love this? It means you can enjoy them without any pretensions or worries about missing out on something, unlike say a TV series.
  2. They showcase a developing medium. There are errors aplenty but also plenty of experimentation and accidental discoveries. Ever wonder why cartoon characters often walk over the edge of a cliff? That was an accident that was never meant to happen. it survives to this day because it caused uproarious laughter from the audience. It all adds to the believability and luster and makes the films seem all the more human.
  3. They’re a great source of cultural history that spans the roaring 20s and the Great Depression; a fascinating period of American and indeed world history that hasn’t been equaled since. They capture the mood of the nation and as any Fleischer cartoon will demonstrate, the almost cult-like awe for modern technology and the supreme reign of the Art Deco style.
  4. The vast majority of them are in the public domain, so you can watch them just about anywhere. On your phone, on YouTube, even Netflix is catering to them as I spotted a collection of Ub Iwerks shorts the other day. The best part is that you can do it all without having to sneak around the torrents like a creature of the night. On top of that, there’s no shortage of discussion, analysis and commentary on them as either. You’re never tied to the ‘official’ version.
  5. Because they’re all from so early in the life of animation, many of the characters are slightly more [ahem] risque versions of themselves. Mickey Mouse for example is far more mischievous than he became after the war and many of the Fleischer’s cartoons celebrate the jazz-infused party atmosphere of the roaring 20s.

*Futurama reference

Character Sundays: Megara, Hercules’ Madam of Mystery

Something I haven’t realised in the year and a half I’ve been blogging daily is that I really do like looking at characters. I know for some, the animation is the most important part of a film, but for me, it’s the characters that can make or break everything. So, from now on, all Sunday posts will be character studies.

For me, the character of Megara is by far the most intriguing and ultimately the most interesting of all the characters in the film. It’s almost a shame she’s only a supporting character!

Today’s post is a partial re-post from June 2010 when I took a look at the characters of Disney’s Hercules.

Megara is our damsel in distress, although her distress is much more complex than at first sight. She is the romantic interest of Hercules although it takes a while for her to return the favour. Her relationship with Hades is revealed (too late in the film in my opinion) as one that she deeply regrets and results in her desire to help Hercules clashing spectacularly with her obligations to Hades. She is a character constantly in crisis and swings wildly between the Rock that is Hercules and the hard places that is Hades. She is a girl who was placed all her trust in two men (her former boyfriend and Hades) and ends up being betrayed bitterly by both. All of these aspects combine to make Meg the most interesting character in the film. Even though she is infinitely more flawed than the hero, it is she who we sympathize with the most.

As interesting a design as Hades is, it is the females in this film where the character design excels. Staring with Meg, who is an interesting mix of sharp edges and curves. Not being the typical Disney image of womanhood works in Meg’s favour. her clothes are plain, she is bereft of jewellery and her face is rather small.

That being said, the way Meg displays her emotions through her movements is unique in the film. She walks with a certain amount of contempt, perhaps because of the former rejection. There is no suggestion of promiscuousness, but rather that everyone except herself can see her beauty. Her eyes play a critical role in this as she often narrows them when talking to someone but opens them wide to show astonishment or happiness.

Meg holds herself in a way that suits her status as a betrayed person. Her arms are often folded and she tends to keep them to herself, with the exception of the garden scene and accompanying song where she lets herself feel much freer as she experiences the closest thing to happiness for the first time in a long time. Ultimately, Meg is the plain Jane girl that manages to capture the heart of the hero through a winning combination of both beauty and her character. Her design is a similar winning combination that emphasis that beauty is more than skin deep.

How Not to Get Your Favourite Show Un-Cancelled

 Via: Fred Seibert on Flickr

While there are a few cartoons could be said to have re-ingnited my passion for animation, one had a bit more of a profound effect than others. And while My Life as a Teenage Robot may have lacked the smarmy humour of SpongeBob Squarepants, it is nonetheless a great show. I mean, who doesn’t like seeing a robot girl kick ass within a universe where Art Deco is the prominent architectural style?

The series lasted just about three seasons on Nickelodeon before the network decided that it would not be ordering additional episodes. Officially the reason given was the low ratings however I would argue quite strenuously that having the show’s timeslot bounced all over the schedule couldn’t have helped matters either.

As is (almost) inevitable when a show gets canned, the fans (not I) reacted in the manner that is most common for TV shows; they created a petition:

To:  Nickelodeon

Petition to Save “My Life as a Teeanage Robot” from Cancellation. Note: My American-English is not good because I’m Italian…

“My Life as a Teenage Robot” is one of the most underrated Tvshows on Nickeloden. This TvShow is about a robot, Xj9 (a.k.a. Jenny), who wants to be a normal Teenage girl, hang out with friends etc. Brad Carbunkle is Jenny’s best friend. He’s your average high-school student; Brad’s younger brother, Tuck Carbunkle is often scared by robots, but he likes Jenny as a friend. Jenny’s “mother”, Nora Wakeman, is one of the best characters in the show: plus, she’s voiced by Candi Milo, she’s great.
Since Jenny was built to protect the Planet Earth, there’s an evil-alien empire, the Cluster, who wants to take over our world. The Cluster Queen, Vexus, is Jenny’s arch enemy.

“My Life as a Teenage Robot” won a few Annie-Awards too.

OK. I’m just saying this, WE MUST SAVE “MY LIFE AS A TEENAGE ROBOT”. It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation. We want a 4th Season. Alternatively, since the 3rd Season will be (maybe) the “Final Season”, I think we all need a “Series Finale” (Jenny & Brad ending up together, for example…).

If you are a fan of the show, sign this petition. If you don’t like Jenny and you don’t care about her, please sign this petition equally, because we need your help too. Alternatively, you can try to help the show with other petitions or sending E-mails to Nickelodeon.

Note: There are other awesome Nick-Toons who are going to be cancelled: “Danny Phantom” and “The Fairly OddParents”. Nick will just never learn.


The Undersigned

Now in fairness to the guy (or girl) English isn’t their first language so let’s cut them some slack for that. However, this petition still makes all the rudimentary errors that most fans make when crafting petitions so we’ll judge it on those.

Firstly, it completely and totally neglects to speak directly to the network. It reads as more of a plea than an attempt to persuade the network to change its mind. Anyone can call a show “underrated” but in the network’s mind, if it has hopes and dreams for viewership numbers and the show doesn’t make them, the show is considered “underperforming” and might be costing the company money as a result.

Secondly, giving a description of the show’s characters is superfluous at best. The network knows which show you are talking about and the only time such descriptions would ever be called for is when the letter discusses a show on another network.

Only in the third paragraph do we see the first hints that the show is worth saving in that it won a few Annie awards. A prestigious accolade in their own right, but the letter fails to tie those awards to anything meaningful. such as say, having an Annie-award winning show in your portfolio will draw more astute/affluent animation fans to your network thus increasing revenues on it and other shows alike.

Then there’s this line:

OK. I’m just saying this….

Well of course you are, that’s the whole purpose of the letter! It also alludes to the belief that the network doesn’t know what the letter is about, when in fact, if it were an actual letter, would probably be in the bin by now.

It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation.

While this statement may be true, it does nothing to further the cause. Upset fans of a cancelled show mean nothing to a network unless they can prove conclusively that their upsetness will affect the networks other properties. For example, if, when the show was cancelled, the fans also stopped watching other Nickelodeon shows and buying related merchandise, then the network would have a concrete reason to bring the show back. Saying your merely ‘upset’ will have no bearing on the network’s quarterly results and thus will be deemed irrelevant to the discussion.

However then we get to this line:

We want a 4th Season.

A flat-out demand! Well heck, I want a million dollars but it sadly isn’t going to happen any time soon. This line also comes off as being brash and unsympathetic to the networks position; something that you should be trying to achieve as much as possible.

The second to last paragraph pleads for anyone and everyone to sign the petition whether they like the show or not. Now this is problematic for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that it seriously blurs the lines between who really wants the show back and who’s just singing it for shits and giggles. Secondly, such practices make it extremely difficult to trust the numbers. For a show with as devoted a fanbase as MLaaTR, it’s likely that they aren’t too far off the truth. However, the fact remains that if there is any uncertainty in the data, more often than not they are presumed to be faulty and will be excluded from any formal analysis.

The last paragraph is more of a side note that states that other shows on Nickolodeon are being cancelled as well but it is the last line that’s the killer:

Nick will just never learn.

That one line single-handedly destroys the entire argument for the letter because it states that the network is doomed to repeating its ‘mistakes’. Why is this a problem? Well the whole purpose of a petition letter for a soon-to-be-cancelled show is to enlighten and persuade the network to change it’s ways in the hope that it will be more careful about cancelling shows in the future.

Bluntly stating that it “will just never learn” implies that the network is too stupid, dumb or ignorant to listen to advice. Which begs the question of why then, should it listen to this petition? If you already think I’m dumb, do you really think I’m going to value your opinion and judgement on matters? Of course not, you called me dumb!

Overall this is a pretty typical fan response to a hard business decision that plays on emotions rather than corporate common sense. A truly efficient letter would see the signatories sympathise with the networks need for viewers in order to keep ad revenue up and would emphasise the many ancillary benefits that the show brings to the network in terms of viewers for additional programs, merchandise sales, etc. Such a letter would do much to encourage the network to retain the show based on its actual merits, not the perceived ones.

This letter, for what it’s worth, isn’t all that bad, I mean, it did garner a few thousand signatures, many with individual responses to the show and how much it was loved. However, when it comes to influencing some executive in some far corner of Viacom’s vast headquarters in New York, it has zero potential and that’s why it’s not going to bring My Life as a Teenage Robot back from the dead.

(UPDATED) Some Handsome Cartoon Hedcuts To Start Your Day

Via: Randy Glass on Behance

Found via Reddit, here’s four hedcuts of the style that is popular with the Wall Street Journal. Created by Randy Glass, they all appear to be the real deal. In other words, there’s no digital explanation behind them so the skill is so much easier to appreciate.

Interestingly enough, even though these are animated characters that would traditionally lack the same level of details as a real person would, these portraits are given the same level of detail as a person and, in a way, almost makes them seem almost as real.

Either way, be sure to click through for the full series of celebrities as well as these four animated characters who managed to make it in there.

UPDATE: The man himself was kind enough to write in and has forwarded two more images that are currently not up on his Behance site; Remy from Ratatouille and Mr. Incredible. Thanks Randy!

Walt Disney World Abandoned? Surely not!

Via: Dark Roasted Blend

Ah but there must be some long lost corner of the Disney empire that has seen better days, right? As it turns out, there’s more than one!

I’m quite fascinated by abandoned buildings and the like, simply because they’re cool to look at and to see what happens after they’re outlived their useful life or are left for nature to reclaim.

Even so, I was quite surprised, shocked even, to come across  a post over at Dark Roasted Blend that purported to catalogue more than one location in the greater Walt Disney World resort that have seen better days.

The areas a group of Floridian urban explorers managed to access included:

  • Discovery Island
  • Imageworks (in EPCOT)
  • The “Pop Century Resort Hotel” erstwhile the oon to open “Art of Animation Hotel”
  • River Country Water park
  • An EPCOT tunnel
  • A former AT&T exhibit

The image at the top is by far just a teaser, you’ll really want to click through to see the entire set. It really is eerie to know that for all the glossy, perfect image that Disney represents, there are more than a few dark corners hidden away from the public. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just seems to suggest a dark undertone (downright scary if you read the part about the amoebas) to an otherwise wonderful resort.

Perhaps the best part? This is only part 1…

Should You Trust The Mainstream Media When It Comes To Animation?

 Via: Times Union Online

The quick and dirty answer is no, you shouldn’t. Over the years, I’ve found that animation is, in fact, located in quite a niche of the media and entertainment landscape. Plenty of people know what it is, they can name their favourite examples and they can also rattle off a few of the larger studios. However, when it come down to details, most people are helplessly lost and/or ignorant.

Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that the [mass] news media is no different. While it is easy to understand that they must cater for the lowest common denominator, that is not a particularly compelling excuse for laziness or just plain poor journalism.

An example popped out at me yesterday, but now is as good a time as any to bring up an appearance on FOX News back in 2009 by Amid Amidi (of Cartoon Brew) and Michael Sporn (of, y’know, Michael Sporn Animation). ostensibly. they were discussing the rivalry between Pixar and DreamWorks however calling it a discussion is perhaps taking things a bit too liberally.

I think the best way to describe it is that Michael was waaaay over-qualified to be there and poor Amid was simply trying to get the presenter to understand the real differences behind both companies. Either way, neither of them could compete with her as she clearly had no interest in discussing the facts of the situation for the benefit of the viewers.

Anyway, the second example was yesterday. Now this is by no means an isolated example nor does it represent the standard of the animation presence in the media. However, when one sees the title “How cartoons ruined our lives” they are apt to sit up and take notice.

Well, you would think so, except this is a fluff piece from the Times Union of Albany, NY. It’s not so much how cartoons ruined our lives as it is about philosophically trying to find the hidden messages that cartoons appear to send out.

Example 1: Wilma Flintstone

I remain frustrated that I can’t find a substantial beaded necklace for outfits that call for bold statement jewelry. Damn you, Wilma.

Example 2: He-Man

Spent childhood thinking She-Ra was He-Man’s girlfriend. Learned in adulthood that they’re twins. Trying to decide if I just wasn’t paying close attention or if growing up in the sticks gave me a warped perspective on relationships.

Example 3: Josie & The Pussycats

I still wish I were in a girl band. Also, taught me to dress inappropriately. What, you never wear a tail?

So, as you can see, it’s not a particularly interesting or funny piece, yet it was still published on the Times Union website. I’m not ragging on the author, God knows the papers have it tough these days, but why would you even allow something like this to be published?

It’s just somewhat disappointing to see animated TV shows and films treated with such disdain compared to live-action films, which are almost revered by the media as the bastion of American culture.

It partly goes back to the whole “cartoons is for kids” attitude but even the success of The Simpsons, Family Guy, etc. have done little to improve the impression of animation among middle America.

Thankfully, the proliferation of the internet means that you can read about animation all you want from the people who are actually involved in the industry as well as fans, voice-actors and one civil engineer.

Prologue: Applying the Toyota Production System to Animation

This isn’t any sort of official announcement per se but it is a wee peek on what I’m currently working on at the moment in between semesters. The last class I took centered on supply chain management and decision-making and one of the systems we studied was the Toyota Production System, a kind of ‘lean’ setup.

Long story short, we studied how the system was implemented in a hospital in Seattle and it got me thinking as to whether or not it could also be implemented in a studio environment.

Anyways if you’d like to see a copy of the (almost completed) first draft, just drop me a line at charles at animationanomaly dot com