Tube: The Next Generation Animated Film

Discovered yesterday, 7 hours too late to contribute, this is nonetheless the Kickstarter project that was made for me*.

Animation with substance. The crowd funds it, the crowd owns it. Tube is the experimental production of a 3D animated short about the dream and failure and achievement of immortality. It’s also a love letter to free software and open culture that marks their convergence with independent filmmaking.

As the almost polar opposite of the Kickstarter project mentioned earlier in the week. Tube is not only a slick, well thought out campaign, it also has all the hallmarks of the next generation of animated films in concept if not in content.

For you see, the goal of Tube isn’t just to create an animated film, it’s also to release everything (and I mean everything) under a Creative Commons license after production is finished.

“Surely that’s no big deal” I hear you say “loads of independent animators have released their works under Creative Commons licenses”. Ah, true, however this is a full-blown animated feature. On top of that, it’s entirely open source; that is, once production has wrapped, all the sets, animation, sounds, rigs, etc. will be freely available for anyone to use and modify. Watch the video if you haven’t done so already, it explains everything.

What a significant idea! What animation studio do you know is willing to give away all their tools after a film is released? None! Need a CGI subway car? Sorry, you’ll have to either build it from scratch, or why not re-use the one from Tube? Thanks to the CC license, you can do the latter, and modify if for your needs, all without paying a cent.

Why is this so significant though? Why does should you even pay attention to a diverse group of animation and free culture geeks harp on about making a film and then giving everything away? Well, it’s a massive pointer to where content is eventually going. In other words, Tube is a very early prototype for the animated films that will eventually come.

Think about it for a second. The group is requesting donations. Why? Because making a film has (and will) cost money. Unless loads of people are willing to give up a lot of free time, films will require money to be spent in order for them to be made in a timely fashion. Secondly, and this is the really salient point, The point is to make something entertaining, not exploit audiences. The animators are still compensated, they aren’t reduced to working for free; highly ironic considering many artists in studios working on massively profitable properties continue to whittle their lives away at the studios’ pleasure. Also, because it is released under a Creative Commons license, the film will go on to further assist and benefit anyone and everyone.

So where is this going to end up? Well, eventually, films will only be financed as far as time spent, in other words, if rigs, sets, etc. are freely available, the only thing that will cost money is making them move the way the director wants them to, in other words, the actual animation itself. And with only that and various post-production work to pay for, animated films are likely to become much more common and freely available.

Crowdsourcing will also become much more widespread. Instead of studios coughing up the money themselves and keeping any profits in return for the risk, they can simply crowdsource the funding, pay the animators to make the film and build a solid reputation off of their products. All this doesn’t preclude making profits, in fact, if the filmmaking model is simplified, there are even more opportunities available to make money; as mentioned last week, merchandising will always be there.

On top of all that, the greater proliferation of these kinds of films there are, the greater the quality will be. I can’t wait for the day when an independent, crowd-sourced, collectively animated film wins critical appraise.

*Yes, I am an open source junkie, in part because Steve Jobs set the price of the PowerBook way to high for me, so instead I turned to Linux and haven’t looked back since.

 

The Ritual Of Renewing TV Shows Is Obsolete

The Animation Guild blog has been reporting over the last few weeks and months as the various McFarlane shows on FOX waited for the venerable “renewal” notice. They finally came this past week with everyone returning in the autumn. The only thing that made me think about all of this is that the process for renewing a show is hopelessly obsolete.

Why do studios and networks wait for a certain date before “announcing” whether a show is coming back or not? Oh yes, they have to decide whether to continue a show or not, but there seems to be this almost perverted ritual where networks come forward to say what the story is. Of course good shows get renewed a the drop of a hat and bad shows get the axe immediately. However, it’s the shows on the bubble that get run through the wringer.

Having said all that, this process will soon disappear. Online viewing has much better metrics than traditional broadcast or cable metrics and once it is firmly established, it will be much easier to gauge audience sizes. Indeed, networks may find that just because a show gets low numbers on first broadcast, it may have substantial numbers viewing it after the fact. Why on earth FOX and the rest aren’t using Hulu to its full advantage for this kind of stuff is beyond me

If viewer numbers hold up fairly well in the off-season, then surely a show should continue, right?

To go a step further, why even have “seasons” at all? Sometime in the foreseeable future, that concept will also disappear. Hopefully then, orders will be continuous with no need to have crews get shuffled around to save costs.

All in the future though, unfortunately.

A Kickstarter Campaign Too Far?

Randall Monroe just could not have gotten the timing of yesterday’s XKCD comic any better:

Yes, this comic is relevant to today’s post as I recently discovered over on the animation subbreddit, a campaign to do almost exactly what the XKCD comic above purports to do; that is, use Kickstarter to raise money for a pitch of the real product.

The campaign in question is being initiated by Daran Carlin-Weber whose currently (?) an animation student in Pennsylvania.

Being the smart lad that he his, there’s a trailer/promo pitch for the campaign:

So it’s actually pretty good, in fact it should be something that is right up a network’s alley given the right circumstances. Described thusly:

“Summer Rec” follows the lives of the college-aged staff at a dreary, under-funded, suburban Meadowlark Recreation Center. It specializes in its “Summer Rec” program, something supposedly fun for ages 4 to 14, weekdays from 9 to 4. The target demographic would be the Adult Swim viewing crowd. It’s loosely-based* on experiences I had as a counselor at a recreation program in High School.

Daran’s got his ducks in line with the description in that he knows who he’s aiming the show at. Again, that’s a good start and with a pitch video, Daran’s got a heck of a lot further than a lot of people get with pitches (in that they don’t even get off the drawing board). In addition, we’ve also got a rundown of the cast as well as what the pilot episode will be about.

So with a well thought out concept, cast, pitch video pilot script and animatic, why on earth is their even a Kickstarter project at all? Weeeeeeeell, that’s where we get to the sticky part:

“Summer Rec” is a passion project I’ve been working on for over 2 years now and I’m hoping with your funding to be able to give back to the people who made this project possible for me to produce. Those fantastic folks would be my voice actors, my musician, and my co-writers, who have given me their invaluable time and talents for free thus far. I dunno, I think they’re pretty worth it heh.

Well, now that part is fair enough and throwing a bone to your friends when they’ve given you a hand is a grand thing to do. Except it’s not generally something you would ask strangers money for. Moving on:

Also, I am in a bit of a pickle. My trusty computer that has stuck it with me through years of animating finally crapped out on me and I am in desperate need of a new computer. I have been animating the pilot on my girlfriend’s computer for the last couple months and you can just guess how thrilled she is about that. Heh… hmm

Soooooooo, he needs a computer, and the Kickstarter funds will provide it, right? Ehhhhh, no. Not that there is anything against him getting a new computer, we’ve all been there at some point. It isn’t a fun experience and it really can throw a spanner (or wrench for the Yanks) in the works. However, again, it’s not something that you would solicit funds for. Props for the honesty though.

All the additional money will go towards things such as submission fees to film festivals, ASIFA memberships, producing presentation DVDs and also, funding us personally taking the pilot to the 2012 Ottawa International Animation Festival and Television Animation Conference. All additional money will go towards making sure this is the best damn pilot it can possibly be!

So the money will basically fund the cost of pitching the thing. Again, this is a fair enough assumption. Being in the hills of PA that are shockingly close to where the future wife is from, pitching a TV show in person is going to require some travel/effort/money on his part.

However……

I’m having a seriously difficult time justifying my support for a number of reasons:

  1. Why ask for money after the fact? There’s some perfect pitch material already made! And a little bit more effort (and a few dollars) could get a really nice pitch packet/bible made.
  2. The wonders of the internet means that you don’t necessarily need to travel in order to make pitches. OK sure, it helps, but getting eyeballs on your content should be your number one goal. The more people that are aware of your idea, the easier it is to improve it and hone it for a real pitch.
  3. Speaking of which actual animation is waaaaay more advanced than most networks look for in a pitch. Again, it helps, but most studios/networks like to see either a pitch bible, or in Frederator’s case, storyboards. The extra effort looks good, but isn’t a guarantee of a pickup. having said that, it can hone your animating skills.
  4. Running a show takes a lot of effort, ability and trust. Networks unfortunately don’t tend to give unknown entities a budget and a crew and a promise of delivering a show. John K. was a seasoned animator and Nickelodeon still couldn’t get him to deliver episodes on time.

So I can’t back this project. It’s a Kickstarter project too far. It’s a superb idea and a great concept and is proof positive that Daran has real talent but $7,500 to fund a new PC and travel to Ottowa? [deep breath] No, sorry.

Daran wants to work for Titmouse though, and he seems like a perfect fit for the studio. Do any Titmousers (Titmice) out there know of any openings or where he could even submit his reel? If so, perhaps they could get in touch with him and give him a leg up.His resume is here for the curious.

In the meantime, check out Daran’s final school film, Cheromanchequois and Daran, if you read this man, check out my buddy Dave’s book Animation Development: From Pitch to Production. It tells you all you need to know about getting a show off the ground. You can even find it at the library!

 

 

 

7 Reasons That My Life as a Teenage Robot is Undervalued

It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my very favourite animated TV shows, but it would seem that it’s in the company of many other shows that are also my favourite in that never seemed to catch on with the mainstream crowd (like Futurama, Dilbert, etc.). So why is this so? Here’s a couple of reasons why My Life as a Teenage Robot is currently undervalued.

1. The Plots Are More Complex Than They First Appear

One of the things levelled at the show is that the stories aren’t overly complex; that they’re too simple and pale in comparison to some other shows out there. Well, that is certainly the case, but it is on purpose. The show just happens to be one that doesn’t rely on overly complex stories and is none the worse for it. It’s a fun show, not an epic one like say, Avatar. There is some continuity with the likes of Vexus and the Space Biker Gang that plays out over the seasons, but the stories themselves are complex in how they are resolved. Jenny doesn’t rely on her abilities near as much as you might think.

2. A Kick-Ass Heroine Is Still Quite Rare In TV Shows

We’re starting to see more of these (Korra being the latest) but a lead female protagonist is still a rarity in TV shows, especially animated ones. My Life As A Teenage Robot helped break the mold, and with a robot at that! Jenny is a very strong character that shows how it is possible to avoid the most egregious of stereotypes and still maintain her identity (and a few laughs along the way).

3. The Strong Emphasis On A Cohesive Show Design

One of the things that initially attracted me to the show was it’s sheer focus on design. The creator-driven shows of the 90s are well known for their focus on a strong sense of design; harkening back to the cartoon modern shows of the 50s and 60s, where style was the be all and end all of a show. MLaaTR continues the trend but does so with a heavy emphasis on Art Deco. While it isn’t as strong or forward-looking as Carlos Ramos’ The X’s, it does complement the show nicely and it is great to see one of the revolutionary 20th century styles used to effectively; giving the show a modern, contemporary look but retaining the appearance of class. It’s no coincidence (or hinderence) that the use of Art Deco also echos back to the vintage cartoons of the 1930s like Felix the Cat and even more so the Fleischer Bros.

4. The Use of Colour

This is a topic that will necessitate a full post in the foreseeable future, but needless to say, the show made excellent and effective use of colour that puts it on an entirely different level compared to other shows. It’s something we haven’t really seen since.

5. The Subtle Jokes

Yes, they are in there, and they’re even more subtle than you can imagine. While this may not do much for some, it’s the fact that they are just as knowing as the more blatant examples that makes them funny.

6. The Not-So-Subtle References

The Return of Raggedy Android - note the Hubley reference

Like just about every show that came along after The Simpsons, MLaaTR has its fair share of pop-culture references. These are much more blatant that the jokes but are nonetheless entertaining. Chief among them is Wizzly World and Uncle Wizzly, and all-too noticeable nod to Disney World and Walt Disney. Besides that, there are also plenty of nods to super heroes (how could there not), other TV shows (Samurai Vac anyone?) and Japan and Japanese culture.

7. The Cast

Not to go unnoticed are the voice cast. There are your usual suspects but two stand out in Candi Milo doing a great turn as Mrs. Wakeman and the late Earth Kitt who brings a surprising performance as Queen Vexus with a perfect menacing undertone.

5 Predictions For The Future Of Animation

Yesterday, Michael Sporn posted an article from a 1969 issue of the magazine ‘Film in Review’ entitled “Tomorrow’s Animation: It’s Technique and It’s Content Will be Revolutionized”. It’s quite the interesting article, even more so because, as Michael rightly points out, it was written well before most of the current media landscape was even conceived! Besides, I love history, and I always get a kick out of old articles that somehow attempt to predict the future.

This one though, managed to get it mostly right. Here’s the 5 things it pointed to that would cause great change:

  1. Animation has become an international activity and is no longer the monopoly of Hollywood.
  2. The development of computer-generated film will alter the form, as well as the content, of film animation.
  3. Animation is no longer an arcane profession limited to animators
  4. In addition to supplying entertainment in theatres and on television, and advertising spots for TV, animation has become an essential teaching aid in education and industry….
  5. The four foregoing causes engender a fifth: animation is no longer looked down upon as the poor relation of live-action filmaking.

Pretty impressive, eh? It may have taken a few years for all of them to have come to fruition, but it is safe to say that animation today is much, much different from the late 1960s.

So with that in mind, could we pinpoint 5 causes that are at the forefront of animation today that will have a bearing on how it develops in the future? Let’s have a go.

 1.Economics will force a return of shorts

The way the internet and viewing habits are going, the short is likely to return to prominence as a form of entertainment. They may have been rendered obsolete by a wide variety of causes (chief among them the end of the package films) but in an internet age when viewing habits generally favour short-form content that can be turned out quickly and cheaply, the short is ripe for renewal.

2. Mature animation will become even more widespread

Blocks like [Adult Swim] have shown that mature animation has a place in western entertainment. In the years to come, as teenagers now turn into adults, expect them to continue to demand animation to satisfy their needs. Mature animation will continue to proliferate the entertainment world and will continuously improve in quality too.

3. Economics will kill-off the expensive animated feature

Toy Story 3 had a budget rumoured at around the $300 million mark. In the years to come, that will be an exorbitant amount of money to spend on a feature, even one with as much recognition as Toy Story. The economics that will force a return to shorts will also severely impact the budgets of feature animation too. Animated films can and have been made on a shoestring for a long time, so it should be expected that we will see some truly great films made for much less than the hundreds of millions that major studios throw at them.

4. Merchandise will become the primary revenue source

Merchandise is already a major form of revenue generation for animated films (both big and small), however, expect it to form a much larger share of the pie as the digital revolution eats away at the traditional streams. Cinemas will continue to exist and TV will never go away, but when people get used to viewing content for free, it will become ever harder to persuade them to part with their hard-earned cash just to simply watch something; at least at the cinema, you get a giant screen and sound loud enough to set off seismic meters.

5. Animation’s stature will equal that of live-action

Yes, it kind of echos the number five from the article, but that one only went so far as to say that animation would not be seen as the ugly sister of live-action. I firmly believe that animation will come to be seen as the equal of live-action in terms of skill and variety. Right now, we’re seeing an epic shift in how animation is perceived. No longer is it simply “for the kids”. Live action directors like Wes Anderson and Gore Verbinski have shown that there is a sincere interest on the part of live-action directors to embrace animation as a creative technique. We can look forward to a lot more cross-pollination in the future.

Does The Amazon Studios Offer Even Make Sense?

Last week there was a suitable amount of buzz around the internet as Amazon, erstwhile behemoth retailing company, began soliciting ideas for original programming for its fledgling Amazon Studios enterprise. However, as Brown Bag head Cathal Gaffney was quick to tweet, the offer doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not for a studio like his. But do they make sense for anybody?

From a creator’s standpoint, the deal could be quite good. An immediate $55K for your effort and a cut of merchandise sales thereafter. That’s not too shabby in the grand scheme of things and will probably placate the majority of independent creators.

However, the fact that there are a number of unknowns about the deal is concerning for a number of reasons. For example, who will produce the content? Animation is animation, but all studios are not created equal. At least with the major networks, you know that they will likely use their own studio for the production, or use a high-quality sub-contractor if need be. With the Amazon deal, nothing is mentioned. Assuming they want to keep costs down, that has the potential to mean the bottom of the barrel could be producing things.

Secondly, there is, as Cathal points out, not much incentive for traditional, established studios to submit. Outside of having a great idea, there is nothing else in the deal for them. Most studios want someone to pick up there idea, but they also want the opportunity to produce that idea and generate revenue for themselves. The Amazon deal doesn’t do that, which is a tough sell when your business needs a recurring revenue stream, not just a shot in the arm.

In fairness though, Amazon are quite upfront about the deal and have a comprehensive Q&A page that lays out a lot of the details in clear language. There seems to be a lot less chance that people will get swindled if their good faith is to be believed.

Overall, the Amazon initiative is a positive direction in terms of the new era of content creation that is currently dawning on us. Much remains to be seen, and its likely that most of the content will be from individuals and small independents, but I’m decidedly curious to see what ideas Amazon chooses to pick up. Will they be similar to the current offerings or will we see a bold internet company take a step in a different direction. Only time will tell.

Must Watch: PBS Off Book Documentary On Fan Art

The PBS web channel Off Book has created a superb video that looks at and discusses fan art. Yes, we all know it exists, but this excellent documentary takes a quick 10 minute peek into why people make fan art, and what are the results.

The first surprise? There’s a lot of animation-related fan art out there, but most of all, it uses Adventure Time as one of the lead examples; lest we forget that connecting with fan art community is just one of the ways the show became so successful in the first place.

The 10 minutes of this video are well worth your time, and c’mon, share it around, It needs to be seen by way more than 27,011 people. 🙂

 

 

Essential Listening: The Talkin’ Toons Podcast

Via: Wikipedia

Voice-acting is one of my favourite parts of the animation business. Not so much because it’s the only creative aspect of the business that I have any hope of being good at, but because it really is a talent and skill that is often under-appreciated. Thankfully Rob Paulson (pictured above, left, with Maurice LaMarche) has made a long and fine career in the profession and is putting all that he has learned to good use with his Talkin’ Toons podcast.

Some episodes are Rob simply talking about the business and any advice he has (very worthwhile if you are even thinking about entering the business), but his guest podcasts, where he invites his friends and colleagues in for a chat are where the real magic happens. Besides the many, many pearls of wisdom to be gleaned, they are a superb insight into the world of an industry that doesn’t get a lot of coverage. There’s plenty of discussions about how people got started in the industry, why they like doing it so much, and also plenty upon plenty of what goes on when things aren’t being recorded.

Notable guests thus far have included Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Tara Strong, Grey DeLisle nd Phil LaMarr and I can safely say that at some point during each of those podcasts, I almost had tears of laughter in my eyes they were that funny.

Rob’s clearly put a lot of effort into the endeavor and I’m happy to say that it has paid off. With many more guests to come, it is safe to say that I will be tuning in regularly from now on.

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

This is a repost from February 2011 that is even more relevant now as FOX continues to desperately searches for a successor to their cash cow. 

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.