The Place of GIFs in the Animated Fandom

Yes, you can probably guess who this is and what show she’s in. It is of course Mabel from Disney’s Gravity Falls and she’s doing something that’s pretty popular at the moment, that is, starring in a GIF. Now we all know they’ve been around for a while (25 years in fact), and they’ve since been elevated to a new art form with Cinemagraphs, but why are they so popular with fans? That’s what this post aims to find out.

You can see them for just about every show and film currently going all over the internet, although Tumblr remains a popular haunt with whole blogs devoted to the filetype; here’s a Gravity Falls example. They don’t seem to do much besides recap a particularly funny part of the show or a singular joke. A lot of them often include subtitles for what’s being said, since the GIF format lacks any sound. They don’t do much besides loop some animation, right? Yes, but that isn’t why they’re so popular.

If you think about fandoms and the activities they tend to engage in, the GIF makes a perfect addition. Fans like to discuss shows, sure, but more importantly than that, they like to discuss particular points about shows, i.e. favourite scenes, action shots, romantic embraces, and so on and so forth. A static image says a lot, but a GIF like the ones below say a lot more:

When you view them in that light, the spread of GIFs (and rash of poor ones) is much more understandable. The impetus for this particular post came courtesy of Anil Dash, whose love of GIFs is well-known, and who linked to an interesting article over at The Content Analyst where the use of the GIF as a content tool is discussed. The topic there was new reporting methods (the recent London Olympics in particular) but the point was that GIFs are becoming increasingly prevalent for reporting and discussion purposes.

For the animated fandom, it would appear that they are already ahead of the curve and are in fact, blessed by the limitations of the GIF format. Think about that for a second; GIFs must be relatively short (because they are downloaded, not streamed), they must be well made (because they are looped and a poor one is jarring to watch) and since they lack any sound, they are saved from being turned into annoyances or mini-AMVs.

They also serve as an important connection between the fans and the studio. Yet again, Adventure Time leads the way as the show’s tumblelog often gets in on the act, posting GIFs from the show as well as fan-made ones like the one below :

And here’s an example from Neon Genesis Evangelion, showing the transition from rough through to final animation.

Again, the value in the connection goes both ways with fans gaining from a feeling of importance, and the studio gaining from fans actively filtering and selecting their favourite scenes. All of this drives the engine that is the show and keeps it running.

In fact, you can find GIFs for plenty of old stuff too. Heck, I same across this GIF from the too-perfect-to-succeed film The Thief and the Cobbler:

What does that tell you? Well it should show you how awesome the animation in that film is. The visuals are gorgeous to be sure, but only when they begin to move does the real magic begin.

So what can we conclude from all of this? That GIFs are an important part of fandom of course! Long may they continue to proliferate the fandom landscape.

An Impossibly Cute Short Called Amare by Katarina Antonic

Amare by Katarina Antonic is the kind of animation that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Gorgeous colours, lovely animation and a great set of characters. Bravo Katarina!

 

Check out the making of!

And check out here portfolio and blog! (click to embiggen)

Whoa! Holy [redacted]! Give me a minute to find my jaw that just fell on the floor!

Suffice to say, I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg here 🙂

A Response To Amid’s Post Concerning an Animator’s Brand

Amid over at Cartoon Brew has an insightful post that looks at Spike Lee and how he has managed to create a personal brand around himself and his company. Its a good post and Amid raises a number of questions. Rather than detailing it in an über long comment, I thought it best to write a full post instead.

How do Spike Lee’s thoughts fit into today’s animation world, where selling one’s creation to a TV network is often considered the pinnacle of success?

This a good point, although it really does raise the question of why selling to networks is considered the pinnacle of success. Surely the pinnacle would be to get a theatrical feature released, no? Perhaps it is, but that really is an uphill battle all the way if ever there was one and only a very select few ever actually achieve it.

Things are changing though. TV series are (slowly) disappearing, or at least becoming less prominent. In the near future, we’ll see a lot more branded online networks. Some will be personal brands and others will be more reminiscent of traditional networks that take pitches and so forth.

So as far as I see it, animators will more than likely have to get a personal brand together in order to be successful on their own terms. Plenty of them have already done so, like PES and Xeth Fineburg, so the concept is hardly new.

Is giving up control of one’s creation a prerequisite for success in our industry, or can artists who own their brands carve out successful careers?

That ties in nicely with the point above insofar that while that may be true today, where networks normally demand control in exchange for funding, the future is likely to be radically different. If you create, distribute and manage your own content via your own website, then you CAN control your own work.

Artists have also proved fairly apt at this already. Think of Bill Plympton’s Plymptoons or again, PES. Success can be measured in many ways and owning your own brand and success (in the generally accepted sense) are not mutually exclusive.

Can an artist sell a creation to a corporation, but still maintain the integrity of their personal brand?

This is a tricky one, mainly because it’s necessary to define a “personal brand” and what exactly would undermine its integrity.

Taking a simple example, if you were an animator who sold an idea to a network but they requested you change a few things like the language, or the tone, or the jokes, if you did, would that undermine your brand? What if they requested changing, say a minority character into a white character and you did. If you’re a member of that minority, is that selling-out?

The reason I bring these examples up is that they illustrate how difficult it can be to determine whether a brand is being undermined or simply making the right decisions. Determining the integrity of your brand will depend on how exactly your brand is defined.

At the end of the day, many people conclude that when you accept a project for money and money only, then you have undermined your brand, because that is supposed to stand for something, to give people an instant impression of your content and creation. By “selling-out” you undermine that immediately.

All of this rests on the creator whose brand it is. It is up to them to decide whether it is good practice to sell an idea and lose control. Artists like Bill Plympton decided not to, and they’ve managed to build an incredibly strong brand because of it. Bill decided not to participate in Disney’s Aladdin because he felt it would ruin his brand and in so doing, created the gold standard for decision-making against which all others will be judged.

What About Apprenticeships in Animation Instead?

So there was a bit of a furrow last week as a post by Brodoof on Tumblr concerning the various “Art Institute” colleges run by the Education Management Corporation made the rounds (itself brought on by another story of an Art Institute teacher facing termination because he refused to comply with a policy to require students to purchase books). Anyway, it got me thinking about animation and education and whether or not it is being taught in the right manner. That is to say, is a degree or other kind of formally taught certification the best or even right approach to take and would apprenticeships work instead? Let’s look at the facts.

Animation Isn’t A Formal Skill

Now when I say ‘formal’, I mean in the very strictest sense. You can go to school and study animation. You can be called an animator by the studio or Guild and have a cert to prove it. But in the legal sense, there is no such thing as an ‘animator’. I draw this conclusion because as a civil engineer, that is considered a formal skill; one that is legally recognised when you become Chartered, or a Professional Engineer (PE) in the States.

Why even mention it? Well as the recently departed Tissa David once famously said, “Animation is….animation.” Absolutely anyone can be an animator, or a concept artist, or a background artist or a prop designer. Yes, you need the artistic abilites and some experience before you can make a career out of it, but the point is; you do not need a formal, legally recognised qualification to become an animator.

Now this isn’t to look down the nose at our favourite technique, but it does lead to the next point.

Certifications Are  Worth Much Less Than What They Are Sold At

If you receive a formal education in animation, you normally receive a sheet of paper saying as much. This piece of paper is accredited by someone so it guarantees a minimum set of skills to potential employers. So why are they almost worthless?

Well, this is America, where a degree from CalArts is ostensibly the same as a degree from another art school but in reality, the two aren’t even close. Pile on top of that the fact that portfolios are also a must for any graduate, and you have system that more or less cranks out graduates but leaves them little notion of what to do next. (I’m keeping in mind Elliot Cowan’s advice to graduates that quite frankly, should be known to them before they even receive their mortarboard.)

The real issue here is that employers like to see degrees and certs because it gives them a quick and dirty way of classifying job candidates. “You want this job? Sorry, you need a bachelors. Why? Because we’re too lazy/understaffed/pressed for time to properly grade you based on your employment history/portfolio.” This leads nicely into the next point.

Climbing the Ladder With Experience

Experience counts for a heck of a lot in the job market. Naturally graduates have next to none, so their options are extremely limited.. However, plenty of people (in fact, most of the really successful people) start at the bottom and work their way up the old-fashioned way. It’s tougher than slogging through 4 years of school, but the results are just as good for those who truly work at it. Once you get even a short way up the ladder, experience takes precedence over education in any job application.

Moving Away From The Current Approach

The current method of hiring a team for a project and letting them go once it is over is tremendously inefficient. Think of all the hiring and firing that must go on for such a system to function. How many man-hours and HR resources are spent acquiring workers, potentially training them and then letting them go just to repeat the cycle again.

Now think of the old days, when someone might enter the door of a studio and stay there for 20, 30 years or more! That’s unheard of today, but that person not only acquired a ton of experience over the years, they were normally pretty eager to share it to! The same practices continue today, but it is hard to build a rapport with someone if they are switching jobs every few years.

So what’s the solution?

The Proposal

The solution is a return to apprenticeships. The notion that younger animators and artists are trained by the older ones is a tradition that has dated back centuries. It might be tricky to implement, but there are numerous benefits for all involved.

 Why People (and Studios) Benefit

Firstly, the people. That should be obvious. Learning in a practical setting from someone who’s worked in the industry for years can’t be overlooked.

Secondly, studios benefit because they have a set of young artists who are trained and familiar with the studio setups, systems and methods. This is a priceless asset to have. Think of all the know-how that remains within the studio!

However, some sort of formal system for all of this to work. There needs to be set, recognised steps in the process so everyone knows where they are, how far they have to go and what is expected of apprentices. Furthermore, there needs to be mutual recognition among all studios for the system and its skills. Why do this instead of keeping everything in-house? Well the days of the career job are long gone. People will move around between studios as a result of the nature of the business. Wouldn’t it make sense if they all agreed on common skills to have? They stand to benefit too as they will be able to quickly tell what skills animators have.

Ah, but I hear you say, isn’t that what a degree does already? Well yes, but the difference is you must go to school for a couple of years and then start working. Sure, the likes of Disney run summer apprenticeships, but they are too short. Think about the old Disney days, when students might have worked during the day, gaining practical experience and then attended night classes to learn the finer techniques and concepts.

Conclusion

Art in any form is an astonishing skill to have. It’s an innate skill as much as it is a learned one, but with the recent controversies about art education, it makes more practical sense to acquire or hone skills based on an apprenticeship approach. At the end, not only will apprentices have the skills, they’ll also have the personal relationships, the work experience and a qualification to prove it all.

Mike Maihack Creations That Should Be Animated

It crossed my mind a few weeks ago that the webcomic Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack is perfect for an animated series. So it got me thinking, what other original creations by Mike would be worthy of an animated version? It also got me wondering how me manages to create such cool art whilst living in Florida, but that’s probably a post best left to another day. 🙂

Ninajsaurus

Ninja’s are awesome. Dinosaurs are awesome. Two awesome things have to make an awesome combination, right? It would be like Samurai Jack meets The Land That Time Forgot! EDIT: Ninjasaurus is by Jason Horn but Mike’s are is cool nonetheless.

Cyborg Girl

Mike draws plenty of these cute characters that somehow manage to meld sci-fi and cuteness into one. Surely that’s a unique proposition for a TV show?

Steampunk Librarian

Although steampunk continues to reside on the periphery, films like Hugo seem to indicate that it’s becoming more mainstream. How about capitalising on that with a steampunk librarian? A different book every week perhaps and libraries are always awesome.

Cleopatra in Space

Clearly the obvious one (because it has a whole story and universe ready to go), Cleopatra in Space is basically the original Cleopatra as a teenager zapped forward in time to “far, far, really far, far future”. It’s a bit of a no-brainer when you look into it: action, adventure, space, kick-ass girl, talking sidekick cat and Egyptian references to boot! Although we’re only on chapter 3 at the moment, the series continues to excel thanks to Mike’s tireless efforts. Personally, I think it would make a great TV show or even a feature film. For the moment though, we’ll just have to be drip-fed by new strips every Monday

 Honourable Mention: Supergirl and Batgirl

Although non-original, Mike’s take on the duo is similar to Lauren Faust’s effort but switches the personalities around and is infinitely cuter.

 Honourable Mention: 80s X-Girls

This one caught my eye the other day. It has potential and both heroines and the 80s are in at the moment…

The Avatar Character Comparison – Sokka

Continuing our series of posts on the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, we’re taking a look at Sokka this week. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead.

Sokka is the odd man out in Team Avatar for the simple reason that he has no bending abilities. That does little to distract from his character however as he is forced to bring a whole different set of abilities and skills to the series.

Continue reading “The Avatar Character Comparison – Sokka”

Paranorman Review: A Good But Not Great Film

Last night we went to see Paranorman. Admittedly I hadn’t read or seen all that much about it before heading in (which is unusual but it happens) so while I was prepared for a Coraline-like experience I was pleasantly surprised, although not along the lines I thought I would be.

The Plot

Paranorman is at the end of the day, a simple film. There isn’t anything super complex or layered that will confuse the kids. It’s reminiscent of the old-school storytelling that existed before Pixar. That is to say, there are little detours from the goal that is made explicit early on. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that per se, but it does mean the audience doesn’t have to think for themselves; a feat that helps connect them to the film.

The jokes come fairly thick and fast throughout the film with a strong emphasis on the physical side. Plenty of laughs were had from both the young and old in our screening at various points although it was disappointing that the writers decided to go more for the low-brow end. It’s a tad disappointing because what bones they did throw to the adults were not near as subtle and therefore as clever as something Pixar or even DreamWorks is capable of putting out. (Let’s just say the “Witchy Wiener” sign has a missing ‘W’ and that it’s downhill from there.) That’s all well and good but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone felt it was necessary to make up for something else.

The film is also fairly heavy on the rhetoric both political and cultural which was something I was not expecting. Points about ‘fitting in’, ‘being accepted’ and ‘facing your fears’ were all rather blatant and in-your-face. Again, this ran the risk of detracting from the story and probably would if you were more inclined towards that kind of thing. It all got plenty of laughs of course, but it added little to the film or the characters and in hindsight feels a bit unnecessary.

The Animation

What can I say, the animation is stunning. Laika have taken stop-motion to new heights with Paranorman, The sets are wonderful; large, lush and vibrant with a quirky, goolish theme. The Massachusetts setting could not have been replicated better. A nod should also go some of the posters in Norman’s room the hilarious retro horror flick titles and opening scene.

Characters move with sublime smoothness. It’s a wonder that stop-motion can create such movements that are on par with CGI if not better. No doubt it is helped by the 3-D printers and a bit of CGI FX along the way, but at its core, it’s a testament to the skills of the animators. While the film did have some CGI, it was only complimentary and for stuff that would be very difficult to do in stop-motion anyway. Is it getting too close to CGI? I don’t think so but Paranorman doesn’t make the lines any clearer at the same time.

The Characters

Overall, I was disappointed by the characters. They were all a bit flat save for Norman. Some stereotypes were naturally employed, but at the same time, it would have been nice to see a bit more depth to the likes of Mitch or Courtney instead of having them fill stock roles (or in the case of the latter) embody tropes like this, this and this.

Norman is great character with a lot of weirdness to him that makes him a great character to watch but leaves him as the odd one out amongst his friends and neighbours in more ways than one. It isolates him and it feels that those around him are brought into his fold by force.

If anything Paranorman’s characters are devoid of the backstories that they really need. We get a hint of one with Uncle Prendergast but everyone else is just, there, existing without much rhyme or reason given. If there is a major failing in Paranorman this is it. The emotive reasons to like the characters beyond Norman barely exist (and in the case of the townspeople, downright don’t exist). As a result, the characters are a bit flimsy and are unlikely to provide inspiration beyond the film.

Conclusion

Overall, Paranorman is a very enjoyable film that will keep you entertained for the hour and half but will not leave any lasting impression outside of the animation, which is gobsmackingly stunning.

Paranorman: A Hearty Recommendation To Go See It

Pic is relevant seeing as some annoying person really did answer their phone during the screening.

Via: Filmofilia

A full review is forthcoming but in the meantime, you should go see it to. It not only met but exceeded our expectations as it must have done for the little kid who gave a hilarious running commentary throughout.

Sintel: A Blender Open Movie

A while back I wrote about the Tube Open Movie project and I’m happy to report that it is simply the latest in a series of similar projects. Sintel is a short film that was funded by the Blender Foundation as a showcase for the software’s capabilities. Enjoy!

 

 

Is CGI Really Animation, or is it Puppetry?

Via: MattTrailer

CGI and puppetry. They aren’t as mutually as exclusive as you might think. One would think  that CGI is animation first and foremost, right? It certainly shares a lot of history with our favourite technique, but its continued development and technological improvements seem to be pushing more towards the realm of puppetry.

A great analysis by Lei Adeline over at Smart When Shouting takes hard look at the similarities and the distinctions between the two camps with a conclusion that the reliance on puppetry (especially with motion-capture films like Ted) will spur audiences to better connect with them than films leaning more towards traditional animation.

I agree with Lei insofar as their is a distinction between animation and puppetry that does require audiences to relate in different ways. Animation is inherently “imaginary” whereas CGI (particularly live-action hybrid films) are inherently attempting to make things “real”, as a puppet is.

So is this advancement of CGI to be considered a potential pitfall? I would say not yet anyway. Pixar has become successful by focusing on distinctly non-human characters with which there is much more room for traditional, ‘cartoony’ animation (look at Presto as an example). Heck, even in the Incredibles, Elastigirl was anything but a puppet. However, with other studios and even Pixar itself focusing more on human characters, it is inevitable that they will move towards using puppetry as a base for their characters.

This is sad in many ways, not least because the wonder of animation is in making characters move in a life-like fashion while creating the movement one frame at a time. In exchange for this weakness in the production process, we get some wonderful walking cycles (and in the case of the Nine Old Men, some eccentric ones too).

The worry is that characters will have a propensity to move in more predictable ways, like real actors rather than animated characters. Although it should be noted that Flint Lockwood in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs was animated with the Muppets in mind, he was the exception, even in that film.

I still cringe whenever I see Flash animation where the characters move on hinge points unnecessarily. A nod of the head sets off a motion that somehow ropes in the rest of the characters body. It drives me daft that such antics are what we are potentially heading towards.

Traditional animation is freedom from such “rules” in that the animator has complete control to do as they pleased (relatively speaking of course). That freedom is seen in every movement (even the bad ones or the screwed-up ones) and adds an extra dimension that puppet-CGI eliminates.

It remains to be seen how things will eventually turn out. Maybe we’ll see CGI animation technology advance to the point where it too acts in a more traditional manner. But until then, CGI is still on the fence.

Long Term Implications Of The Dreamworks and FOX Deal

So by now you’ve surely read the news that DreamWorks has agreed to a deal with FOX to distribute their theatrical releases for the next 5 years. While that that creates a lot of relief it’s also worth pointing out that the deal is only for 5 years, which as I can safely tell you, isn’t a lot of time at all. So if we think long-term, what will it mean for DreamWorks and what will happen once those 5 years are up? Here’s a few thoughts.

Even 1% Will Benefit DreamWorks

Although Jeffrey Katzenberg didn’t get a cut in the fee he pays to FOX, he did get a concession in the online/streaming department. This concession of 1% will pay dividends over the coming years as more and more content moves online. The studio already has a deal with Netflix and you can expect similar moves onto other platforms to follow suit. Getting a discount will give them the extra space they need to eek out that competitive advantage over Disney and others.

The Terms Aren’t Ideal, But They May Not Matter In 2017

The terms are far from ideal in overall terms, but in reality, DW is simply playing for time. Come 2017 the theatrical distribution landscape will be markedly different; mainly thanks to the likes of Sony passing out free digital projectors to cinemas. With that in mind you can anticipate that the costs and risks associated with distribution will be different too, and it may come to pass that DW can self-distribute or at least be in a good position to bargain hard with FOX if the deal works well in their favour until then.

Blue Sky Stands To Benefit Too

There’s been some hubbub about the future of Blue Sky in all of this, but to be honest, they can stand to benefit too. They are wholly owned by FOX so there’s no way they’ll be allowed to wither while an independent party makes off with the big bucks. If anything, it should get renewed interest from FOX and perhaps a bit more leeway to produce riskier movies instead of the latest Ice Age installment. Hopefully, FOX will see that calculated risks often pay off nicely, just as they’ve done for DW. It may just take the odd situation of FOX people actually handling them to realise this.

All-in-all, it’s exciting times ahead for everyone, including Disney.