5 Things I Realised After Reading Joe Strike’s Review of BroNYCon

 

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have a My Little Pony image in the library already.

Over on AWN, Joe Strike has posted a review of BroNYCon, the get-together for fans of, yes, My Little Pony that took place at the end of June. The entire thing is very much worth reading whether you’re a fan of the show or not. It’s a positive, neutral look at the  show and the community that surrounds it as well as a description of the event itself. I found the article quite intriguing on a number of levels; here’s a few things I realised after reading it.

Fans Are Fantastic

Every show needs fans, a fact that is well-known and well-documented countless times over the years. Fans are however, finnicky. Just because a network throws globs of money at promotion, etc. doesn’t mean that fans will necessarily follow. When they do though, the signs are very good indeed.

Bronies are no exception. They watch the show, they buy the merchandise, they discuss it, the expand the universe, they write fan-fiction for their own amusement and they ultimately put a lot of money into Hasbro’s coffers. So do the target demographic of kids, but their purchasing power pales into insignificance in the face of grown adults.

Devoted fans like Bronies are what every show needs and desperately wants but are notoriously tricky to conjure up out of the masses. My Little Pony now has its own convention. Surely proof that fans can make a big impact.

Good Shows Will Smash Demographic Boundaries

This is another aspect to shows that is often rarely discussed. Networks don’t like it when shows grow beyond their demographic because the effects are much more difficult to measure and hence plan for. Having MLP garner an adult audience is great on one level, but will that same audience feel alienated after the hype has died down or the network declines to tailor the show to them?

That said, many shows have smashed demographsic boundaries. The Simpsons, while ostensible aimed at an adult-heavy, primetime audience became immensely popular with kids. The reverse could be said of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with story arcs and characters that many argue are better than the bulk of adult-oriented TV shows.

Breaking though the demo barriers is only a good thing for a show. In the case of MLP, it gave the newest incarnation of a toyetic show a life of its own beyond the TV set.

Lauren Faust is Soooo Underrated

Lauren Faust and Craig McCracken are a creative powerhouse that together have worked on some of the most undeniably brilliant animated TV shows of the last 20 years. However Lauren seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to her own creations. Many animation fans know she worked on the PowerPuff Girls, but how many know she has her own girl-centric creation, Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls? How many own something from that? (Hint: this blogger is at least one).

That’s not to belittle Craig, he awesome too, but Lauren spells out the challenge pretty clear in this quote from Joe’s article:

And what about her dream project, the one she pitched to the Hasbro executive who instead asked her to reconceive My Little Pony? “The Galaxy Girls is the bane of my existence. It’s in stasis until I can do it right. I’m looking for the right partner who shares my vision for it.”

Here’s hoping an animated version sees the light of day soon.

Full Cast & Crew Support is Essential

Another thing that Joe’s article makes clear is that the cast and crew of the show are behind it 100%. They see it more than just a job, they see their success depending on its success, and if they can help it to succeed, they will! Voice-actor Tara Strong is particularly fond of her Brony fans, often tweeting to them and answering questions in addition to meeting them in person at cons.

A lot of TV shows rally behind their creator, such as Family Guy and Seth McFarlane, but others like Adventure Time and MLP focus on the team behind it rather than just one individual. This has benefits for everybody involved, and gives the all-important fans something even more to relate to.

Trust In Third Parties Is A Win-Win For Everyone

The one big thing that Joe’s article made me realise was the WeLoveFine and other outfits like it are perhaps the keystone in the link between a show and its fans. A quick cursory glance of the WeLoveFine website reveals more than a few famous shows have merchandise for sale there.

What makes companies like this so relevant is that they are simultaneously at the forefront of the fan movement while being actively engaged in the licensing/merchandise part of the network’s marketing machine.

Even better, WeLoveFine uses fan-made designs, running competitions with cash prizes. What better way to get fans excited than to give them the chance to have their very own T-shirt! The Hub naturally has to approve the design, but it’s a rubber-stamp process and basically eliminates a lot of risk involved with selling merchandise; let the fans tell you what they’d like to buy! Genius!

Apparel and clothing are very popular forms of merchandise because they let fans express their favourite show without permanence and with the ability to adapt to changing weather conditions; very important for temperate climates I assure you.

By trusting third parties and with careful monitoring, networks can ensure that they gain the best of both worlds. A fandom whose appetite for merchandise is fulfilled and a network who wishes to earn revenue from their content.

 

On The Topic of the Aul Sins of Piracy

 

What real ‘animation pirates’ look like

Via: All Movie Photo

Brown Bag Films CEO Cathal Gaffney recently published a piece in the Irish Independent with the terribly misleading title of “Giving Up Yer Aul Sins of Piracy May Protect Irish Jobs“. Far from being focused on “piracy” (although we’ll get to that in a minute), it’s a superb overview of the Irish animation landscape and how much it currently means to the Irish economy. Go read it now, I’ll wait.

For a long time there was a stigma of sorts around Irish animation being accepted in a serious way by Irish people themselves, and Cathal’s piece attempts to put paid to the idea that animation is a kiddie thing; a fun job with suitably “fun” revenues and rewards. Far from it, the Irish animation industry has grown from nothing to industry powerhouse through the smart use of international partners, tax incentives and their own creative talents.

While the article may not have a whole lot of meaning for readers abroad, if you want to know how Irish animation has gotten to where it is, there is no better comprehensive explanation.

Now, back to the “piracy” thing.

At the end of Cathal’s piece is this paragraph:

Piracy remains a real problem in Ireland and a threat to the growth of these companies. Piracy (of content and software) is not considered a real crime in Ireland but I wonder if the people who feel a sense of entitlement towards pirated content would feel the same if they knew it could cost Irish jobs. I believe the futile attempts at collecting the TV licences should evolve to see a tax on the ISPs addressing the wholesale theft of content.

It’s the only one in the entire article that deals with the subject and even them it seems tacked on (if you read the article you’ll see why the title is misleading).

The first question is whether “piracy” is a real problem in Ireland and whether it does threaten these companies. The country is only 4 million people and has a broadband penetration rate that trails the EU average quite significantly. Surely the UK market with 60 million people, a far higher percentage of people with broadband access, a common language and only a short plane ride away would be the bigger worry, no? Naturally the article isn’t aimed at British readers, but it seems unfair to pin the blame on groups who are likely to account for only a very small proportion of the viewing audience of Irish animation products.

We’ll come back to the sense of entitlement later, but the matter of how people would feel about “piracy” costing jobs is a delicate yet complex aspect to the whole problem. Unfortunately there exists a disconnect between what people view in their living rooms and how that content is actually produced. Yes, people who know people in the industry will be aware, but for everyone else, they are unlikely to know or even care where the content is produced. This is especially true in Ireland, where a significant chunk of televised entertainment is imported from abroad.

To further complex matters is the inevitable discrimination that exists when consumers are faced with a choice. In the case of televised content, is choosing to watch a British-made TV show considered wrong because it is at the expense of an Irish show produced with Irish labour? To extend the concept further, what if I get my coffee at Starbucks instead of the Irish-owned Insomnia Coffee or better yet, the local independent cafe? Am I a bad person for choosing the international chain over the national one? If I choose the national chain, I’m actively denying the independent cafe revenue.

And how do American animators feel about a show being broadcast in their country but is made in another? Since it’s taking a spot that could be occupied by an American show, that has a direct impact on the American animation industry and employment therein. Who’s to say which country’s industry takes priority? It’s an economic concept that is extremely difficult for many people to grasp, let alone for companies and governments to manage.

Coming back to the entitlement issue; it’s very, very important to distinguish between “entitlement” and “demand”. Entitlement is something that is something that people feel they are owed, such as clean air. No-one should feel entitled to free content. We have become accustomed to it, sure, but that vast majority of consumers have been proven time and again to be willing to pay for content.

Now whether their “demand” for content is being met is an entirely different matter. I freely admit that I downloaded the superb Nickelodeon show, The Legend of Korra from the good ol’ Pirate Bay but hear me out before you judge me.

Did I try to watch it online legally? Yes. I watched the first episode on Nick.com, fell in love with the concept and subsequently went back and watched the original Avatar:The Last Airbender series on Netflix. By the time I was finished with that, Nick had pulled the first couple of episodes of Korra from their website. So now I’m in a pickle. I can’t jump into the series halfway through, I’m not getting cable for just one show, and it will be quite literally years before the show is available on DVD or Netflix.

So what are my options here? How is Nickelodeon catering to my demands as a consumer? How are they extracting revenue from this loyal viewer? Are they favouring consumers over cable companies? The simple answer is that they are not on all three counts. I will in all likelihood purchase the DVDs when they are eventually released, but would I even consider doing so until I have seen the series? Probably not; it’s the same reason I declined to purchase the Avatar DVDs for a long time. I didn’t think I liked the show until I actually watched it.

So I downloaded Korra, I watched the episodes in glorious 1080p HD resolution as opposed to a compression-plagued Flash stream and I’m as big of a fan of the show as ever. Am I “entitled” to view the show? No. Is Nickelodeon “entitled” to my money for doing so? Yes! But only if they make it clear and obvious to me that they want it!

Lastly, Cathal raises the idea of a flat tax on ISPs to account for illegal downloading. (We’ll skip over the concept of the TV license; Americans would storm the Capitol if congress attempted to impose a tax on simply owning a TV). Besides the fact that collection agencies have been shown to act against artist’s interests again and again and again (that last one is just plain mean), it simply goes against basic capitalistic tendencies to forcefully divert money from the public to special interests.

The vast majority of internet users don’t engage in copyright infringement, nor do they engage with criminal elements who are actively profiting off stolen content. (That’s another important distinction; consumers who simply want to see and/or share the entertainment they love versus people who actively want to profit from it). It’s comparable to taxing car owners to offset the business that UPS and FedEx siphon away from the Post Office. Ireland isn’t France, if the Post Office has a problem, they need to compete. Be open later, deliver letters on time, offer services that UPS and Fed Ex don’t. In other words cater to consumer demand!

All the sectors of the creative economy are currently going though the wringer when it comes to selling their wares, but consumers are still the same. They want to see things, they want to read things, and they want (and will) pay for it. Will the fragmentation of the market affect the revenues to be earned? Absolutely, but there is little to be gained by simply pointing the finger at “pirates” and making everyone pay for something they might not buy in the first place.

What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments below.

 

Some Superb Secret of Kells Expression Sheets

Coming via the Art of Animation tumblelog are some wonderful expression sheets from the Secret of Kells. Much the same as the Kim Possible ones I posted a while ago, I love seeing these kinds of things because they give a great insight into a character and on a relatively ‘pure’ level; seeing as they aren’t moving or making an sound. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Brendan is a mischievous little scamp. The poses of him playing with Pangus Ban or Chrom’s Eye clearly show someone who’s having fun. All the same, the sheet with the candle portrays someone who’s clearly up to no good.

Compare them with Aisling’s sheets. She’s jsut as mischievous but in a much more playful and innocent way. The posing does much more work than for Brendan but the effect is the same. We can instantly tell she’s a decidedly more curious character than Brendan; hiding a certain amount but being open and honest all the same. Seeing these is getting me excited for Tomm Moore’s next feature; The Song of the Sea.

I’ll admit it, this one absolutely kills me 🙂

 

Paul Briggs on How He Made A Career in Animation

Over on his blog, Disney story artist Paul Briggs answers the question of how to make a successful career for yourself in the animation industry. I won’t repeat it here because you really do need to read the full post. However, suffice to say, hard work absolutely plays a part. Much more than just hard work, a deep desire and long-term goals can help get you where you to where you want to go.

To add on to Paul’s points, I can honestly say that luck also plays a factor. Although I hasten to emphasise that when I say luck, I mean to say that you have to be receptive and open to opportunities. Sometimes you may have to seek them out, sometimes the end result will be hardly connected to the decision that made it possible in the first place, but either way, if you can spot the opportunites and act accordingly, you will become an exceedingly lucky person.

I say all of this from experience of course. 🙂

How To Fix The Reasons Why So Many Shows Suck

Image used solely because of the corniness of Barney & Friends

Via Entertainment.wikia.com

Josh Selig over on the Kidscreen blog has a post entitled “Why So many Shows Suck“. He’s referring to pre-school shows mainly mind you, and his points make for good reading. Here’s the list, but I recommend reading his post for the rationale too:

1)  Too Many Cooks.

2)  Copycats.

3)  Laziness.

4)  Niceness.

Given these four points, clearly the best way to fix pre-school shows would be to tackle each point in turn.

Starting with the first one, too many cooks only really applies to complicated shows. In other words, one based on a property owned by one company, being developed by another and being actually created by yet another one (the studio). Add in a broadcaster and you really do have a lot of people trying to bake on pie.

At issue here is a lack of trust on the part of everyone. The people actually creating the show need enough room to be creative, but must be able to rely on specific instructions from the company they are doing the work for. Strictly speaking, if a studio isn’t directly contracted to a network themselves (a la Brown Bag and the likes of Disney Junior) then the network should be able to trust that the resulting product will be of acceptable quality.

Sadly there isn’t a lot you can do about copycats. People are, how can I put this nicely, idiots, and if they see a success, they will try to replicate it. The nice thing is that they make it obvious they are risk-averse. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it also makes it clear to anyone and everyone that someone was too chicken to try their own idea. Original ideas that succeed also tend to pay the highest dividends; something to always keep in mind.

Laziness is all over the place. It’s existed in entertainment since day dot and is unlikely to change any time soon. All I can say is those who actually put in a good effort are almost always rewarded.

Niceness is not a negative quality in a production. Far from it, it is desirable by too many people who have to go without it. Having said that, there is no reason why there can’t be a hierarchical production structure that isn’t also nice. Believe it or not, you can turn down people’s ideas and make them feel good about it. Walt Disney was a master at this (most of the time) and it worked wonders for him. There’s no reason to be nice for the sake of it only to see the project suffer.

5 Thoughts On The Dreamworks Ptch Announcement

Via: GigaOM

Late last week, DreamWorks announced their latest venture, a mobile computer program app that melds together photos, music, slideshows, mobility and sharing all into one. Christening it “Ptch” and taking a leaf out of just about every startup going these days, it is nonetheless unique to see a movie studio release an actual, honest-to-godness piece of software that apparently has nothing to do with their core business of selling movies and TV shows.

With that rather astonishing aspect to consider, here’s 5 thoughts on DreamWorks Ptch announcement and what it means.

1. DreamWorks must become a technology company

Amid over at Cartoon Brew muses about Ptch being a tool for DW to evolve in “different and unexpected directions” and he’s absolutely right. This is no doubt only the first salvo in DW’s shift from simple animation studio to an animation-centric technology company.

The unstoppable collision of art, entertainment and technology necessitates it. The future of DW as an independent studio is tenuous at best given the rapid shift in how content is created, marketed and sold. The traditional business model of box office grosses and DVD distribution is crumbling and it has clearly behooved Jeffrey Katzenberg to start looking in new directions (we’re told to expect an announcement within the next fortnight regarding distribution). Adapting a focus on technology will undoubtedly help in that regard.

2. The consumer approach is novel, if risky

DW isn’t alone in adapting a focus on technology, Pixar has long had a second revenue-generating division in its Renderman and associated software that are available commercially. The difference is that the Emeryville outfit is focused more so on the enterprise and business-to-business end of things. Sure, a regular consumer could purchase Renderman for their own use, but they aren’t the target customer.

DW, on the other hand, is gunning for the ordinary guy (and teenager) in the street with Ptch. While this can obviously create a large amount of value a la Instagram, it could also backfire as Google knows all to well with its ventures. Having said that, DW does have an experienced hand in Ed Leonard and the idea of Ptch itself does seem different enough from existing offerings that should give it a leg up in the marketplace.

3. There is of course an ulterior motive

While it is nice to think that DW is releasing Ptch as a nice little startup-esque service to gauge interest and provide something cool for consumers, the reality is naturally grounded in business. As Leonard himself explains in The Guardian’s excellent review:

Our DNA is rooted in content owners, so we’re trying to do this in the right way and make sure we respect content owners’ rights,” he says. “We really want this to be an opportunity for the content guys to make new revenue.”

If you read that right, you’ll get a hint that Ptch is more than just a pretty app, it’s a tool to gauge how DW can make the transition into the next generation of film marketing, i.e. directly to consumers. As Lenord himself notes in the Guardian piece, the notion of allowing users to download, remix and share their own creations using DW’s artistic creations is very much on the cards. (Read my post on something eerily similar that DW’s enterprise technology chief Kate Swonborg said a few months ago). Bear in mind that if that is the case, DW can stand to glean a lot (a lot) of really useful data about consumers that they can use to better their output.

4. What about the competition?

Leonard was smart in getting J. Katzenberg to agree to a separate business unit within the company as it gives them the necessary wiggle room that corporate structures don’t normally provide. Where does that leave competitors though?

Disney has long has trouble getting their internet strategy together (and apparently have a long way to go, if my efforts to watch the really cool Gravity Falls on Disney.com are any indication). Sony and Blue Sky haven’t announced anything yet but the former is likely to be hamstrung by the corporate parent’s influence and conflicting divisions (hey kids, remember the Walkman?) while the latter, as a division of FOX, may be too focused on being a studio to get into the technology game.

5. Good move/bad move?

Ultimately, this is an interesting, risky, unnecessary, innovative and potentially defining release for DreamWorks. The success or failure of Ptch will largely determine which direction the company goes in the near future. It’s existence as an independent entity won’t rest on Ptch, not in the slightest, but what DW learns from it will provide plenty of experience to enable them to make decisions with regard to it. If it succeeds beyond their wildest expectations, we may see DW start to emerge as the market leader, potentially overtaking Disney. If it fails, you can be sure they’ll have another crack at getting it right. Either way, its encouraging to see the company innovate with en eye to the future.

Some Finds at Artscape

Artscape is a huge, free art exhibition/performance festival here in Baltimore every summer and for many different reasons, this was the first year we were able to make it down and explore things. Despite the weather being very Irish (i.e. wet, oh so wet) there was lots of great (if overpriced) art on display. While there was not a lot of animation-related things for sale, I did stumble across the booth of David Burton, whose creations feature lots of toys the likes of which are most likely to be found in Happy Meals™. Here’s  a smattering of what he makes.

When Art, Pop Culture and Copyright Collide

Art, pop culture and copyright are three things I have an interest in, and when they all collide, we get awesome things like this piece by Aled Lewis which is currently for sale on Gallery 1988’s website.

Interactive Animation: The Bravest Man in The Universe

Animation continues to find its way into new and exciting projects (such as Ryan Woodward’s ‘Bottom of the Ninth‘) but also music videos as well. The latest (by way of Creative Review) is from musician Bobby Womack, whose released an interactive music video for the title track of his new album, ‘The Bravest Man in the Universe‘ by way of an app. It’s basically a regular music video but the viewer gets to determine how it plays out. Quite an intriguing concept that greatly increases a fan’s involvement with the music.

Here’s the official teaser trailer: