Electroshock: An Amusing Character Analysis

By way of Broadsheet.ie, Electroshock is a short film in French directed by Hugo Jackson, Pascal Chandelier, Velentin Michel, Bastein Mortelecque and Elliot Maren, all working out of the Ecole Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques (ESMA, or School of Artistic Trades for those of use who prefer Anglais).

Besides being a slick CGI effort and an original take on the superhero tale, Electroshock is also interesting from a character perspective. Have a watch before we start the Electroshock character analysis:

What did you think? Pretty funny no? A nice bit of slapstick mixed with some drama of sorts always makes for a fun film.

Anyway, what did you think of the characters?

Electroshock movie characters

They’re an interesting bunch: the tough-guy sheriff putting on his best sales pitch for the object of his desires, the beautiful and sensitive Mady who has also managed to draw the attention of Buck, the lowly electrician.

Buck is the protagonist, he’s clumsy, he’s clearly got some low self-esteem and he’s very much on the low end of the totem pole when it comes to the ladies. The electric shock he receives from falling from the ladder opens a new facet of his character to us though. He’s also vengeful, cheerfully going about taking the sheriff down a peg or two as soon as he gets the chance.

Beyond that though, he puts forward his best effort. He attempts to do the right thing, we can see that he at least has some heart, but it is all for one reason: Mady. This is even more so the case after he sees her out jogging (in slow-motion of course). Are Buck’s actions selfless or selfish? Ultimately they’re selfish, but his selfless act of throwing himself in front of the truck to save little Niky is what eventually wins Mady over.

However, the sting is in the ending. A year later, and the photographs in the panning shot all but tell the story. Buck is really a [redacted]. He’s clearly a slob, Mady gives him the fourth degree for all his failings(they’re quite a litany), and what does he do? He slows down time to shut her up! Far from winning our sympathy, he’s earned our disgust instead. The six minutes it took him to earn it are completely wiped out in under 10 seconds as we instantly begin to see how Mady was royally duped (the closing shot says it all really).

From a character perspective, Electroshock is unusual in that it has us (the audience) turn against the hero. We’re led down the garden path only to be brought to the outhouse. Yet the short works, we get a laugh and for that we are guilted into pitying the girl. Clearly, you could never get away with this in a feature, but for a short, such a twist works quite well.

By the way, the Electroshock facebook page has a good dose of the concept and original art and is well worth having a look around.

In Praise of the BFI Spirited Away book

Via: Good Reads

Admittedly (and ashamedly), the Spirited Away book by Andrew Osmond published by the British Film Institute (BFI) sat in my cart on Amazon for quite literally years before I finally got around to buying it. I know, I know, but that’s just the way it happened.

In any case, the wait was absolutely worth it. Far smaller in size than I had originally imagined, its dimensions are no indication of the stature of the writing. Presented as sort of an overarching summary of the plot intertwined with details of the production and overarching themes, the BFI Spirited Away book serves as a comprehensive guide to one of my very favourite films.

Delving deep into the beginnings of the production, Osmond teases out the reasons for its very existence; why Hayao Miyazaki decided to make it when he did, and why it stands as one of his best films to date. Analysis comes in the form of the various themes (environmental and social) running throughout the film as well as focusing on the character of Chihiro and her development during the course of the film.

Osmond has done a fine job of conveying the sometimes complex traits of the film that have confused many Western (and Japanese) audiences since the film debuted in 2001. He also does quite a good job when it comes to the background to the film, and to Miyazaki himself, going into some detail about his career to date and how is personal experiences helped shape the film.

Overall, the book is a definite must-read companion to the film. It does an excellent job of stripping away some of the layers and, at least for myself, has lead to a clearer understanding of the film. You can buy it on Amazon and consider it the best $15 book you buy this year.

BOW TIE and Poe

Two video-related things this week; namely Michael Sporn’s Poe project and the BOW TIE series of shorts by David Levy.

Firstly, Michael Sporn’s Poe animated feature film Kickstarter campaign is ending tomorrow (Friday). He’s getting close to his goal so head on over and donate a couple of bucks. It would be a great sign of support for a truly independent feature film on a classic American author.

Secondly, David Levy has secretly* been releasing some short animated skits over on YouTube centered around a character called BOW TIE. As Dave says in his blog post on the videos:

…I used my evenings to record new cartoon soundtracks into my iPhone. When I got home I was ready to try out some new ideas and experiment with a blend of characters, stories, and comedy. A month later I had 4 minutes of original cartoons. And, to further connect it to my childhood comic books, I used a character that dates back to when I was 13 years old: BOW TIE.

They’re a great series that throws caution to the wind in order to engage in various, funny, existential scenarios and gags. Let’s just say I watched one and was immediately hooked. The lack of seriousness about them only adds to their charm. Check out the videos here, or head over to the channel to see them all.

*OK, it hasn’t really been secret, but some of us aren’t on Facebook believe it or not.

Visit the FLIP Animation Blog!

Admittedly the existence of the original FLIP Animation Magazine had completely slipped out of my mind until the other day, when I discovered the FLIP Animation Blog which is run by Steve Moore and Alex Williams.

While the original magazine is gone, thankfully the blog is here to take its place. The attention to detail is still very much intact and the articles are still as good as ever.Did I mention the updates are fairly frequent too?

FLIP is certainly an animation blog that is worthy of being in you regular blog-reading schedule.

Those YOOTOON Submission Requirements in Detail

So I was all set to write a post on the YOOTOON channel in general but Amid Amidi took care of that for me so instead, let’s take a closer look at those submission requirements shall we?

From the Tumblr submission page:

    1. Have fun! We want to see your style shine through your video.
    2. Make sure your video is set to UNLISTED on YouTube. Your video must be brand spanking new, not one you’ve previously uploaded.
    3. Videos should be 10 seconds to 2 minutes long.
    4. Only use licensed music or music that you’ve created. You can find free music online! If you use licensed music, we will need a copy of that license agreement.
    5. Please keep your video kid friendly to be eligible for submission. Get creative, but no nudity, swearing, bad stuff, you get the picture.
    6. Only submit your own original videos. If accepted, this video will be posted on the YOOTOON channel EXCLUSIVELY and CAN NOT be live on the internet ANYWHERE else, including your own Youtube channel.
    7. You must be over 13. If you are not over 13, please have your parent or guardian submit the video for you or have them contact us at: joinyootoon@gmail.com

Let’s break these down one by one:

1. Have fun! We want to see your style shine through your video.

Okie dokie, seems fair enough.

2. Make sure your video is set to UNLISTED on YouTube. Your video must be brand spanking new, not one you’ve previously uploaded.

So the video must not have been shown before. That’s OK too. A lot of few film festivals generally require that your film not be available online in order to be eligible to enter. In other words, it’s not a deal-breaker.

3. Videos should be 10 seconds to 2 minutes long.

Again, a straight-forward request.

4. Only use licensed music or music that you’ve created. You can find free music online! If you use licensed music, we will need a copy of that license agreement.

This is pretty much an indemnity clause. As you may well know, record companies love crawling YT looking for their unlicensed use of their content. Besides a quick DCMA takedown to YT, they also love to send legal nastygrams, sometimes extorting money in exchange for not suing you. With this, YOOTOON is basically saying that they won’t even consider a video without the proper licensing in place becaues of the potential legal pratfalls. Again, this is fairly standard.

5. Please keep your video kid friendly to be eligible for submission. Get creative, but no nudity, swearing, bad stuff, you get the picture.

OK, we get it; no boobies and F words.

6. Only submit your own original videos. If accepted, this video will be posted on the YOOTOON channel EXCLUSIVELY and CAN NOT be live on the internet ANYWHERE else, including your own Youtube channel.

OK, so this basically reiterates what was said above in addition to stating that the video can’t have been hosted anywhere else either.

7. You must be over 13. If you are not over 13, please have your parent or guardian submit the video for you or have them contact us at: joinyootoon@gmail.com

Fair enough.

Now, this is where it gets interesting because below those requirements, is another statement:

YOO retain all rights to your animated creation, we just own the particular video you submit. We want your idea to succeed! If it attracts an audience under the YooToon banner, we will provide the funding deemed necessary by YooToon to make more videos. If the idea REALLY takes off and goes viral, YooToon will strike a best effort deal with the creator to make the video into an online series! Imagine, you could be making an online series with Butch Hartman!

Now IANAL (I am not a lawyer) but this is most definitely an ill-drafted legal agreement if ever I’ve seen one. Let’s break this one down too:

YOO retain all rights to your animated creation, we just own the particular video you submit.

Any lawyer worth his salt could find fault with this. Who is “YOO”, he is not “you” because legal documents love specifc language. “YOO” is not specific, and could even be construed as being short for “YOOTOON”, thus making this clause a bait-n-switch kind of deal.

If it attracts an audience under the YooToon banner, we will provide the funding deemed necessary by YooToon to make more videos.

In other words, if the video is good, we’ll fund the promotion of it to an extent that we think is OK. Not sure why this is in the agreement, YT has the same basic thing in their agreement because that’s how YT makes money too! Surely no reason to call it out specifically for a channel, right?

If the idea REALLY takes off and goes viral, YooToon will strike a best effort deal with the creator to make the video into an online series!

Let’s isolate the key words here:

YooToon will strike a best effort deal with the creator

What is a “best effort deal”? Well, what that means in the context of YOOTOON is that they will make you an offer with the best intentions of hoping you’ll accept it. The gist is that “best intentions” can translate into “we hope you accept this offer, but if not, then we tried really hard to make it so that you would, and now that you don’t like it, we’re not going to offer you a different one”. In other words, we’ve fulfilled our side, you can take it or leave it.

That’s an awful lot of trust right there, because chances are, the agreement will be skewed in YOOTOON’s favour and there is little you can do about it.

Some of the particulars that aren’t described or mentioned include copyright. You can’t sign away your copyright unless the agreement specifically states so. I therefore find it hard to believe that the above agreement, where YOOTOON claims to own your video, would stand up very well (if at all) in court.

Secondly, it’s interesting to note about this channel is that it’s based on YouTube but accepts submissions through Tumblr. Yup, I haven’t quite figured that one out either because presumably, submitter’s videos will be on YT too. This adds an extra murky aspect to the whole scenario. Which license supersedes the others? YouTube because that’s where the videos are hosted? Tumblr because that’s where they were submitted? Or YOOTOON, because they are the channel’s owners?

It’s all a bit too much for a Tuesday morning before the first cup of coffee. So grab a cup and share your thoughts in the comments below.

And don’t forget:

Let’s be honest, this makes me think that Butch is siumply the frontman for the operation.

The 7 Ways Teenagers Want To Pay For Content

Nina Paley is well-known for being a bit of an innovator when it comes to the new “digital economy” partly as a result of the trials and tribulations she went through to get her feature film Sita Sings the Blues released. She’s also famous for her (some would say) radical view on copyright and its place in promoting the arts. She’s also been on the cutting edge of what some would call the “digital” economy as she has been able to make a living while giving her content away for free.

With so much talk about piracy and so forth going on right now, a lot of attention is starting to focus on the current generation of youngsters who are growing up having never known what life was like before the internet. The belief is that said generation will never want to pay for content because it can be provided gratis on the internet.

So, when Nina had a sit down with a bunch of kids aged 12 to 17 and talked to them about copyright, she asked them how they would choose to support artists whose work they liked. The seven points below are what she received in reply

  1. Donate buttons – with the qualification that they want to know as much as possible about where the donation is going. They said honesty and transparency are important.
  2. Kickstarter – They all knew about it (which was notable because none of them had heard of Flattr) and valued pitch videos that explained how the money would be used.
  3. Custom drawings
  4. Merch
  5. Physical copies
  6. Live Shared Experiences, including ballet, museum exhibits, and concerts. The event aspect was important; they wanted to be able to say, “Remember that one time when that awesome show was here…” They agreed seeing things in person is a more powerful experience than seeing things online, and worth spending more on. One said she would buy CD at a live show because “it reminds you of the show.”
  7. One said he would support artists by promoting their work to his friends.

Interesting, eh? The opportunities for exploiting a creation are much more varied than they may first appear. You don’t even have to become a “YouTube partner”! The answers are all well within any independent animators reach.

Keeping this in mind is important. The options are always out there but it’s up to the creator to exploit them wisely.

Character Sundays: Principal Skinner

The Simpsons is filled to the brim with fantastic, unique characters. Many tend to stand out because of their quirks, such as Sideshow Mel with the bone in his hair or [shudder] the crazy cat lady. Either way they’re all a complex bunch that have kept people tuning in for more than two decades.

One of the more interesting characters of the bunch happens to be Principal Skinner. Yes, on the surface he is the straitlaced principal of Springfield Elementary, but underneath, he is a fantastic example of what a character should be; that is, the sum of many parts past and present.

Skinner is first and foremost an educator and as much as he exudes a certain disdain for his students (one in particular), he always attempts to help and guide them. A perfect example is in The PTA Disbands, where we see Skinner and Bart reach a mutual admiration when one is removed from the post that made him the enemy of the other. We see a softer side to Skinner that was previously hidden and we see that as a person, he really does care about Bart, even if that care is not mutually returned.

School is the center of Skinners life. He always seems to be there and despite the madhouse that it appears, he seems to get a certain solace from it. He even manages to find love in Edna Crabappel. Outside of school, he seems to struggle as an individual; still living with his mother despite being (presumably) in his 40s or even 50s.

This is the Skinner we all know on the surface, but underneath, Skinner is much, much more complex than that. His position as principal of an governmental educational institution immediately marks him out in the Simpsons universe. Show creator Matt Groening is well known for his disdain of public education methods and numerous strips of Life in Hell have alluded to his less than enjoyable ride through the lower echelons of the educational process and his opinions on the methods utilised within it.

Skinner stands for everything that Groening hates about education. He is a by-the-rules kind of guy, a stickler for discipline and more than willing to punish students who fall out of line (Bart being the obvious one). Skinner is shown in Brother from the Same Planet being more than willing to cut music and arts from the curriculum in order to meet the annual budget. This would no doubt irk someone like Groening and anyone with a similarly creative mind.

However, that is not the only side to Seymour Skinner. The fact that he is a Vietnam veteran adds an entirely different dimension to the character. More than once, it is hinted that he has had his fair share of traumatic experiences while on duty. He states numerous times that he was captured and/or shot at.

With this in mind, there are sequences where we see Skinner get betrayed by the government. He gets looked over for promotion, is constantly hounded by Superintendent Chalmers and in Dog of Death we see exactly where Skinner lies:

One eraser? Well, I’m used to my government betraying me. I was in Nam. I served for three..”

Moreso than that, Skinner represents a character who was and is ultimately betrayed by the very government he almost died for and is simultaneously reviled by the public for it. A perfect example occurs in I Love Lisa, when Skinner has a flashback to the war:

Principal Skinner: [after having a traumatic flashback of Valentine’s Day in Vietnam] Johnny. Johnny! JOHNNYYYYYYYYYYYY!

To which Bart’s response is:

Bart: Cool! I broke his brain

As much as Skinner represents Groening’s hatred for education, he also stands for his view on the government and how it mistreats its citizens. In other words, while Skinner should earn our scorn for being an educator, he absolutely has our respect when it comes to how he has been treated in the past by those that should have done better.

Seen together, we can easily see that Skinner’s past (yes, even when he was known as Armin Tamzarium) embodies him in his current role as principal as he attempts to sheppared the students onto the right path.

The Lorax: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Last night we went to see The Lorax. Unfortunately it was the only animated film at the cinema and all I can say is that I really did have to sleep on it before writing this post.

Let’s start with the good. We all know it’s based on the book by Dr. Seuss, and that’s grand. Having never read the book, I went into the film with a bit of naivety but an open mind as to how it would pan out.

The set designs and backgrounds are the best aspect of the film. Yes, they’re unremarkable in the grand scheme of things, but they do at least lend a cartoony feel to everything; much the same as that other Dr. Seuss film, Horton Hears a Who. The colours may be a bit saccharine for some (we certainly weren’t prepared for it), but they fit in well with the environment, and the team did a fine job of contrasting the different scenes and eras.

The other standout thing for me was the score. Not the soundtrack (we’ll get to that below), but the score by John Powell, which leads a kind of joviality to the whole thing. Again, it’s nothing remarkable, but it fits the mood well.

I suppose the other good thing was that the kids seemed to like it, especially the one girl behind us who made everyone else laugh with her giggles.

Onto the bad. All I can say is throughout the entirety of the film, I couldn’t help but feel that bits and pieces were missing. By the end, I reckoned there was 20 minutes that were somehow missing and had either hit cutting room floor or were never written to being with.

The entire film seemed like it was going around in a tumble dryer with jumps here and there, back and forth and characters starting in one place and instantly ending in another. In other words, the film didn’t so much run as it was playing hopscotch.

Besides the jumbly story, there were gags to be had in every, single, shot. Now a comedy should have a joke in most scenes, with a sprinkling of gags to sweeten things up. The Lorax on the other hand, didn’t seem to think that was enough and proceeded to have a gag in, quite literally, every single shot. Be it something happening offhand to a character or a spoken blooper, the result was the same. It was OK for the first couple of minutes, but after an hour and a half, things were wearing a bit thin.

Lastly, the ugly.

Hmmm, where to start, how about with the voice talent. The big names like Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift certainly promised a lot (if you believe the marketing department at Universal) but oh boy did they fail to deliver. They didn’t stumble over themselves and roll off a cliff, no, they weren’t that bad. But if you like wooden voice-acting from people who aren’t famous for their [speaking] voices, well, The Lorax is right up your street.

Taylor Swift, as good great* a singer as she is, just can’t deliver a good vocal performance. It was flat, it was unmemorable, it was a waste of a role! The rest of the cast is similar. Danny DeVito is at least seasoned enough and with a distinct voice that enabled him to carry the role, but only barely.

As for the characters they were voicing, well, they were all terribly boring. Comparing Ted and another young protagonist, Hiccup, there is no comparison. Hiccup at least has depth, he actually has some motivation to do the right thing, for the dragons’ sake. Ted just want to impress Taylor Swift, and the best he can muster is to find a tree, and even then that’s practically done for him!

We learn nothing about him. He’s an axiom of a character, in other words, he is what he is. As is everyone else. Character development is minimal, even for the Once-ler, who has apparently learned his lesson but is for some reason dependent on Ted to fix everything.

The supporting cast are pretty much your usual, American pseudo-stereotypes:

  • Mum who’s the boss – check
  • Granny whose surprisingly active but uses a cane and is voiced by Betty White – check
  • Greedy businessman who’ll stop at nothing to keep his empire – check
  • Cute girl next door who main character has a crush on – check
  • Creepy, disgruntled old-timer who’s going to have a change of heart by the film’s end – check
  • Southern yokels in a Winnebago – check

Let’s not forget the myriad of supporting characters who imbue all the usual quirky traits that are by now seemingly mandatory for any CGI film. From singing abilities to one-trick ponies, they’re all there.

As mentioned earlier, the score is decent, but the songs were even more saccharine than the sets. Lavishly animated, they were over the top to say the least. Coming at supposedly appropriate points in the film, they were nonetheless distractions that didn’t really add much. The film could have been non-musical and it would have been the same.

Lastly, the particulars of the story itself is where the film really fell down. Besides jumping all over the place in the pacing, the story itself made maddingly little sense. The Lorax himself plays a relatively minor character; being missing for almost half the film only to show up again at the very end. The Once-ler servers as the protagonist for half the film before focus shifts back to Ted. Taylor Swift’s character says all of three paragraphs and appears in just about as many scenes and O’Hare is a villain who, quite frankly, does nothing of consequence.

In the end, we go back and forth from past to present before jumping around all over Thneedsville to plant a tree before the whole town turns against the bad guy, Ted gets his kiss and The Lorax shows up to give the Once-ler a hug.

Honestly, by the end, it’s hard to figure out quite what the hell I was watching for the past hour and a half.

Let’s Talk Tax Credits

OK, taxes, boring I know, but it’s a pressing matter for animators in the UK. It’s also a topic that’s come up from time to time over here in the States, as places like next door neighbour Canada create incentives to get studios to move up north.

So the reason for this latest round of noise-making is that the British government is considering a tax break for “drama productions” that cost a certain minimum per hour of screen time. The thinking goes that with such a break, more productions will begin shooting in the UK thus contributing to the economy.

Animators contend that their industry would be more effective at keeping jobs in the country and, according to the Guardian article, would keep content on a more local level.

There’s nothing wrong with this, except that the reasoning is a bit flawed.

Basically, Ireland, the UK’s neighbour, offers tax incentives for animation production. The reasoning is is simple for this one: Ireland didn’t have an animation industry, so in order to get one jump-started, the government offered companies a tax break in return for taking the risk of setting up in a relatively unknown country (animation-wise).

The UK already has an established animation industry. It doesn’t need to effectively subsidies companies’ risk in setting up production there.

So what’s the real issue here?

Well, why set up shop in the UK, when you can go next door to Ireland, write off some taxes and get you series done for less. Right?

Will tax incentives in the UK change this scenario?

The answer is maybe.

Tax incentives will bring the cost of production in the UK down, but that is not a guarantee that productions will move there. It also creates another problem in that it hides the real issue: costs.

Naturally with their tax incentive, Ireland can operate on a lower cost basis, but, can you continue to operate on an incentive-based structure forever?

NO!

Incentives are meant to be temporary, or rather, short term. Long term reliance on tax-breaks and incentives can defeat the purpose. For example, let’s say you introduce a tax break for animation. After a while, another country introduces a tax break that brings their costs below yours. Now what do you do? Another tax break? Suffer the consequences? Give up?

Tax incentives mask the real cost of doing business. Yes, taxes may be higher here or there, but at the end of the day, they should be factored into the cost of doing business in the first place. Exchange rates will also factor into the equation, and depending on where you go, they may have a bigger bearing on costs than taxes.

If costs are your problem, then perhaps it is wiser to try and bring them down first, no? By doing so you will increase your competitiveness and not have to worry about it running out.

Besides, if you operate as a low-cost producer, you will always have to be the low-cost producer. Ireland has shown that they can move beyond low-cost with through their superb, home-grown content. Britain has a great track record in creating content. Perhaps they need to rediscover that talent.

What do you think? IS the UK really in need of a tax credit, or should it try other things first?