“Visual Creator” Sues the BBC for £2m for Copyright Infringement

Images (with apologies) via the UK Daily Mail

Here we go again. This time from the UK, where Michael Mitchell is suing the BBC for copyright infringement over a show called Kerwhizz, which he claims is based on his idea, Bounce Bunch. From the Guardian article:

 Michael Mitchell told the high court on Thursday that he was shocked in 2009 when his daughter noticed that three characters in the CBeebies show Kerwhizz bore “striking similarities” to his own cartoons.

Mitchell suggested that the BBC copied the characters – known in the show as Ninka, Twist and Kit – after they were uploaded to his own personal website in 2004…….

……Mitchell claims the Kerwhizz character “Ninki” was derived from a combination of his two characters Simrita and Jomo, that “Twist” was copied from his character Charlie and that “Kit” is a version of his character Yana. Outside court he told journalists that he had sent the characters to the BBC directly as a proposal package in October 2007, but had been rejected.

So, judging from the two pictures at the top, is there a case for infringement, bearing in mind that it focuses only on the three human characters in Kerwhizz?

The similarities are obvious:

  • they’re human
  • they’re kids
  • wearing brightly coloured spacesuits of some kind
  • wearing headband microphone
  • of multiple ethnicity

The only problem is that these traits can’t be considered under infringement. Why? They’re too ubiquitous and easily conceivable. The closest thing would be the brightly coloured suits but even then giving characters their own coloured clothing is nothing new.

Presuming that the similarities are generic enough to be precluded from the case, the next avenue open to Mitchell is to prove that the BBC used his show as a direct influence for creating Kerwhizz.

Now this is where it gets interesting, because Mitchell sent an unsolicited package that was rejected. As most studios will tell you, they send any unsolicited idea back unopened to eliminate precisely this scenario. The BBC should have been smart enough to do this, so this route can probably be rejected.

That leaves only the fact that Mitchell posted the Bounce Bunch online at some point prior to the launch of Kerwhizz. What form this took is not specified. Was it development art or full animation? Does it make a difference? Probably not. There seems to be enough difference between the shows themselves that Mitchell focuses only on the characters.

The really tricky aspect to this development is whether or not Mitchell can prove conclusively that someone from the BBC in the same department that created Kerwhizz saw or had access to the Bounce Bunch page.

This could be next to impossible to prove and the details are still sealed in court documents so we won’t know for sure until judgement, but I would hazard a guess that Mitchell doesn’t have the substantial proof he needs.

It’s always disheartening when you feel that someone else has copied your design (not idea, remember you can’t copyright those), especially a corporation as large as the BBC, but that does not preclude them from coming up with similar designs, although I would argue that even then, substantial differences exist.

In this particular case, if there really was any chance that the BBC ripped Mitchell off, then a settlement would have been reached by now.

It’s unfortunately just another example of why animators and developers need to be aware of the nature of copyright and what it does and does not cover.

Wool and Pencils in Stop-Motion Loveliness

Found via Dark Roasted Blend, this stop-motion commercial for natural gas makes clever use of wool.

Found via Reddit, this music video for Australian musician Hudson uses a lot of pencils.

David OReilly & Tomm Moore on Pixar’s Brave

Just a while ago over the twitter-waves

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/davidoreilly/statuses/136888431501524992″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/tommmoore/statuses/136890423162576897″]

Dan Schier Distills the Essence of a Crafting A Career

You may remember a post by Daniel Schier (a.k.a. Waveybrain) from earlier this year where he talks about how to get started on your career in animation. It’s a very good post and well worth your time reading if you have not done so already.

However, the one part that stuck out for me was the following:

One thing you may learn as I have, is that predicting where you’ll be is futile.  You’re better off living in the moment while aiming for your goals.  But, having goals and taking the right steps to attain them has been pretty key for me.

This is the 100% absolute truth. You can try to map out a career (think Carton Banks’ master plan of his life) but in the end, circumstances are constantly changing, and you may end up spending more time trying to plan around them that you neglect where you’re currently at.

Daniel’s right in that you can’t predict where you’ll be either. I certainly couldn’t. Five years ago if you’d tolf me I would be where I’m at today doing what I’m doing I would have probably laughed at you (in a good way). But that’s the truth. Life has a habit of throwing challenges at us that can pull us in different but ultimately satisfying ways. Don’t be afraid to take those challenges on you will probably surprise yourself with what you achieve.

Having a goal is an absolute if you want to have a career. Saying you’d like to work in animation is one thing, but what if you said you wanted to become a feature film director. Well now you have the necessary direction to know that you first need to get either the education or experience together and then to hone your craft while playing the political ball game. In time, you’ll be well placed to helm a feature.

Without a plan or goals like these, you might well flounder in a lower position, and animation becomes a ‘job’ rather than a ‘career’.


Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Folly of Faster Technology

Via: PC Mag

Yesterday, at the Techonomy conference, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg revealed that through technological developments, the studio would soon be able to animate in “real-time”. This statement has got a decent amount of attention from the relevant media, but just how accurate or true is it?

While Katzenberg is keeping the details close to his chest, it’s safe to assume that he is referring to the rendering part of the process. In other words, the part where the computer has to crunch a lot of numbers to get things to look how they’re suppose to look.

This has been a time-consuming process since day dot. Heck, even in the old days, you had to wait for the ink and pain department to colour your cels before you could even begin to visualise how the characters would look on screen.

However, what Katzenberg is hoping to achieve is the ability to animate and render at the same time. This is not an impossible goal. However his statement does seem to ignore how technology has developed over the last 60 years or so.

That is to say: it never really gets any faster.

Why? Because new more impressive software is always coming out that pushes hardware to its limits, just like its supposed to.

Take for example Toy Story. We all know it took a year to render or something like that, but just imagine, I could theoretically render Toy Story on my home computer right now, and there’s a good chance it wouldn’t take me a whole year to do so. So why don’t studios take advantage of technological developments and create films that take advantage of shorter render times?

The answer is simple, who wants to see a movie that looks like it came from the mid-1990s?

Which is precisely the problem. As long as studios continue to push the boundaries of what they can produce, there will always be the same constraints of time.

The only way this will change is when someone comes out with a new way of creating CGI animation that does away with the rendering altogether.

Until then, we’ll have to continue waiting.

Seven Superb Title Cards From My Life as a Teenage Robot

The other day, I cam across the blog of Steve Joseph Holt, a rather talented artist whose worked on some of your favourite cartoons from the last decade or so. Long story short, on his portfolio, I noticed that he was responsible for a couple of title cards for My Life as a Teenage Robot.

So of course, I couldn’t resist going back and looking through them all and I once again realised how awesome they really are. I mean, fair play to Fred for insisting upon them on all of his shows, and then following up with an entire book devoted to them.

Anyway, here’s 7 of the best from the entire series’ run.


The Return of Raggedy Android - note the Hubley reference
Daydream Believer - surely a reference to The Monkees

The Wonderful World of Wizzly – perhaps a reference to…oh, we all know who it is.

Teen Team Time
Dancing with my Shell - Don't you just love the subtle use of the clef symbols?
Girl of Steal - A great play on a familiar title
No Harmony With Melody - There's only one great reference, but it's done twice.

Please Watch This Video And Answer the Poll

I came across this video on tumblr yesterday (thank you potatofarmgirl), and as a fan, I felt somewhat obliged to watch it. You should too, then read on.

The notes on tumblr all circled around the description of “epic” and “awesome”, and while the video is exceptionally well done, is it legal?

[poll id=”6″]

[poll id=”7″]

What do you think? We’ll do a follow up with a discussion next Saturday.

It’s Time To Stop Making Lists of Top Animated Films

Yoinked from Animated Review’s Top 100 Aniamted Movies post

Let’s be honest, animation is not a genre. It is, as Richard O’Connor calls it, a technique, and a marvelous one at that. It encompasses as wide a range of genres as live-action, so why do we keep seeing lists of top animated films and not much else?

OK, sure, we see lists of top films all the time, but lists of live-action genres seems to be much more prevalent than animated ones. Granted, there haven’t been as many animated films made over the years, but that in no way precludes people from making them.

For the record, I’m not against general top/favourite lists, it’s just that when it comes to animation, people can rattle off their favourites but when it comes to being a bit more specific, classifying films as Disney or non-Disney is about as specific as you’ll get from most folks.

A potential theory is that animated films tend to be classified as just that. You rarely see an animated film being described as a comedy or a horror, etc, etc. Yes, this is much to do with who makes them but there is no reason for an animated film to be confined to “animation” and not much more.

Let’s see more lists that get into specifics. Like a top 10 of action animated films, or a top 20 of romatic/love stories.

Animated films are squeezed into one category all to often, by both studios and the public alike. Let’s try and separate them out so that we can hopefully see them for what they really are.

The Animation Hub’s “The Last Train”

Found by way of Toon-in (lots of nice animation videos on that site by the way), The Last Train is the first (?) product of The Animation Hub, a joint-venture between the Irish School of Animation and Trinity College Diblin’s Graphics, Vision and Visualisation Group (GV2) and the recently established animation studio Giant Creative.

Not only does it look fantastic, the music gives it a really scary undertone that is still quite rare in animation. There’s a lot packed into just over a minute, but suffice to say, it’s all very entertaining.


Martin Goodman on The Lightening Rod that is Spongebob Squarepants

Via: Dr. Toon on AWN

Martin Goodman has an interesting post over on AWN entitled “Society and its Discontents”. In it, he discusses the fact the animation is merely a product of the culture from whence it came and as a result, interacts with it on many differing levels. Below is an excerpt from the post:

Once produced and seen, it [animation] takes its place in the enormous mosaic of our media and is consigned a definitive niche by the consensus of both the public and we, the critics.

For example, animation undergoes a process of “branding” in which it becomes a definable commodity. A simple example: there is today a subset of animation called “Classic Looney Tunes”. I have no idea what this really means, since many of the most beloved Warner shorts were actually “Merrie Melodies”, and shorts bearing this title continued to be produced by the studio until its final days. “Looney Tunes” today means both the characters that originated at the Warner studio and the cartoons both past and present, featuring them. Another example is Nickelodeon: It is both a network and a brand, with economic endeavors separate from its televised fare.

Thus, we have a confluence of culture, economics, politics, and demographics to consider whenever we analyze a particular piece of animation. The way in which these factors interact is an important consideration for you future critics (Of course, you can forego all of this and simply watch cartoon films and shorts for the enjoyment of it, and that’s fine. Consider this a “think piece”)

I agree with pretty much everything Martin has to say. Animation is indeed a product of the culture that created it. Pretty much any cartoon ever made is an example of that! It’s also forms part of out very complex and intricate cultural landscape, that is almost a given at this stage.

Where the post gets interesting is when it starts discussing the various allegations made against Spongebob Squarepants. Mark promises to go deeper into some of the controversies in his next post, but there’s an important aspect to the whole scenario that I think is a simpler explenation for everything:

Spongebob is a winner.

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants the loveable man-child of a sponge is a winner. He’s been on the air for a decade and continues to rake in the cash for Nickelodeon.

SB (as we’ll call him for the duration of this column) rivals The Simpsons in popularity and longevity, and like them, has a generational crossover audience that seems to span every demographic.

“So what?” I hear you say. “Fair play to him” is what Irish people would say. However, plenty of people look at that success and are either reviled or jealous because of it. Such feelings can inherently obfuscate (fancy word for obscure/contort) otherwise rational views towards a show.

In a way, it’s very similar to the various patent battles surrounding smart phones. Android is racing past Windows and Apple in terms of market share and features so both parties are going after it with the patent guns blazing. It’s not because Android necessarily infringed, it’s because it’s easy to go after the clear leader.

Just think of the guy who tried to sue (how he’s eligible for a Wikipedia page, I do not know) because he though Stephen Hillenburg stole his idea for a talking sponge. The evidence to the contrary is on my bookshelf in the Nicktoons book, where there’s a comic Hillenburg created in 1989 featuring a character called “Bob the Sponge”. Any lawyer worth their salt could have seen that your man didn’t have a leg to stand on, but he decided to sue anyway, and lost, big time.

He’s been the most popular cartoon for kids for the last decade. He’s wildly popular in all respects so just that simple fact will make him a target. You can bet that if our favourite yellow sponge had stuttered to three or seasons we wouldn’t have heard any of the controversies, past, present or future.

Having lived in the States for just about 4 years now, I can safely say that although there is very real cultural and societal recognition for those who get ahead or are successful, there is also a sector that sees that success and attempts to undermine it or take it for themselves by using the legal system for their own ends. Back home people would just begrudge you, that’s just the Irish way,

All this goes back to my series of posts on why animators need to be aware of the legal implications of their work. It’s a minefield out there and you have to have your wits about you if you are going to successfully navigate it.


Disney? Partnering with YouTube?

 Via: Animation Magazine

As was announced yesterday (although I can’t find the press release because, well, their a wee bit behind on updating their website) Disney has agreed to partner with YouTube to create custom content for the streaming website. This is interesting on a couple of fronts but mainly because it seems to run counter to what the company as a whole has been saying in regards to the internet.

The main media outlets have discussed the deal and what it will cover but what about the details, the nitty gritty. There’s a lot of talk about “interactive content”, “family-friendly videos”, “user-generated” and so forth but at the end of the day, what does that get you?

This is where animators need to pay attention because it’s easy to get swept up in the rush to interact with your customers. There’s no right way to do it, but there are plenty of false leads out there.

For Disney, sure, this interactive partnership is a great idea, but unfortunately its likely to be dead in the water if it can’t get other divisions of the company behind it. Case in point, the film studio. If the company is trying to engage fans, they would be much better off to allow fans to use the original source material but as we all know, Disney videos get yanked from YouTube barely after they make it up.

This seems to send a mixed message. On the one hand the company is attempting to engage with consumers but on the other, its trying to push them away. This is the unfortunate result of a large conglomerate having different parts moving in different directions.

Animators need to look at such behaviour and be able to do so in an objective manner. Which direction would you choose? Is it better to trust your fans or lock up your content? Plenty of you out there are extremely reluctant to put your films on YouTube. That’s grand, but unless you’re Bill Plympton, you’re only hurting yourself in the end.

As for the Disney/YouTube deal, expect to see a bit of content come out but it will be hamstrung by the former’s corporate guys from ever using some of the more valuable material. Expect the entire thing to die a quiet death in a few years (or not).

All in all, it seems YouTube is the big winner here. Having a name like Disney attached is sure to give them the leverage they need to strike more deals. Keep an eye on them.