Frame By Frame Does Exactly What It Says on the Tin

The proliferation of inventive Tumbelogs continues apace with the latest one I’ve stumbled across being Frame By Frame, which purports to do exactly that. However that is not all, because each shot also comes with it’s own little GIF to show everything in motion. See the example below:

There are many more like it with the posting schedule approximately every other day. Either way, consider this one followed.

PS. Obligatory link to my own tumblelog of awesomeness.

The A.V. Club Interview with Alex Hirsch

As the serious side of the funniest news organisation known to man, the A.V. Club somehow manages to remain a wonderfully rich source of entertainment news. Today is no exception as they posted an interview with the creator of one of the hottest animated TV shows around these days: Alex Hirsch of Gravity Falls.

The entire interview is well worth a read but what got me was this question and its answer:

AVC: Did you take any lessons from how Springfield has been built in the last 23 years apply them to Gravity Falls?

AH: [Laughs.] I think the No. 1 lesson I learned from The Simpsons was just that animation could be as funny as live-action. That animation could be funnier than live-action. That animation didn’t have to just be for kids. That it could be satirical and observational and grounded in a sense of character interaction. I think that’s really what got me excited about animation more than anything was seeing, “Oh my gosh! I love cartoons and these cartoons are also making my parents laugh and making me laugh.” As I grow older it makes me laugh more.

Personally, I find that a great observation of animation’s appeal within comedic entertainment. Animation is often seen as the ugly step-child but it’s much more than that. It’s an integral part of modern culture that The Simpsons is absolutely responsible for. I completely agree with Alex insofar that animation is funnier than live action on many levels and that it can be suitable for both kids and adults.

That’s one of the appeals of the technique; it’s so adaptable and accessible to all ages. Live-action often fails on both accounts and it’s a shame that it continues to get the lions share.

Win a Frankenweenie Poster!

Via: Major Spoilers

Yes indeedy it’s time for the first ever competition on the blog and I’m offering up one copy of what you see above. The poster is the real deal (double-sided and everything).

Thanks to Intervention for providing me with it 🙂

To win, all you have to do is simply fill in the form, answer the question and keep your fingers crossed!

The competition will run until Sunday October 7th.

And it’s closed! The winner will be announced tomorrow!

Tugg People To The Cinema!

Tugg logo

Via: Indiewire

One of the things I recently discussed was the shift in the entertainment business from a ‘push’ model to a ‘pull model’. In other words, instead of creating content and enticing consumers to view it, you basically let the consumer tell you what they want to watch and create it for them instead. It’s all very simple to how Dell makes computers, i.e. they don’t make your computer until you actually order it.

So it came as quite a surprise to discover that there is a startup out there, going by the name of Tugg, whose business model is exactly that; to pull content and people into the cinema!

The concept is almost deceptively simple:

 how tugg works

It’s a pretty cool concept with a very basic (and almost shockingly underused) concept which is to basically sell the seats in the cinema beforehand, thus eliminating the risk of a loss in a screening. However Tugg is much more than a website to petition for a screening near you. It also attempts to act as a platform for the entire experience. Witness the soon-to-come ability to share events:

 

There’s even the option to attend an event organised by someone else, surely the icing on the cake for both the cinema and Tugg if they can draw in outsiders.

However perhaps the greatest part is the ease of setting up a screening:

 

Now you know that anyone can do it. Which is nice, because the risk to everyone is nothing. The cinema doesn’t risk renting a film that they can’t recover the costs on, you benefit because you can see films you like on a big screen and Tugg benefits because it’s likely either getting a flat fee from the cinema for the screening or (more likely) skimming money off every ticket sale and (probably) gathering info on viewing habits to sell back to the studios. Everybody wins!

This post is about much more than Tugg though, because the advantages of the site should play very well into the hands of animation fans. Why? The reasons are simple.

  • Animation from studios other than the large ones are rare in mainstream cinemas
  • Adult animation is continually shunted in favour of more profitable mainstream fare (both animation and otherwise)
  • Cinemas only care about bums on seats and they will gladly favour a screening with a sold out theater for an obscure animated film than a half-empty house screening the latest release.
  • Digital distribution already eliminates the cost of distribution so cinemas can cheaply screen films without having to pay the large handling fees of traditional film.

All in all it sounds like a sweet deal. Imagine the scenario; you want to watch, say, The Secret of Kells for your birthday. You go online, find a smaller cinema in your area (say a 50-100 seater). You set up the event in Tugg and invite your friends. Let’s say you get 35 people to come. That’s pretty decent, but now the social aspect of Tugg comes into play and people in the area learn that the film is playing. Now they want to come too! Suddenly your birthday party is much more than that, it’s about bringing people who share the exact same interests as yourself together!

So what’s the downside (you knew there had to be one didn’t you)? Well, as with anything and everything to do with the film industry and Hollywood, it isn’t simply a matter of Tugg or the cinema “renting” the film from the requisite studio. Yup, just like Netflix and every other company out there trying to innovate in the market, Tugg is bound by rights. What does that mean? Basically if they don’t have the rights to show a film, they can’t.

What does that result in? Why a limited selection of course! Now naturally we can expect it to grow over time, but as of now (September 2012) Tugg is showing just 25 animated titles ranging from A Town Called Panic to Alvin and the Chipmunks. So unfortunately we may have to wait a while before we can organise that retrospective on Ralph Bakshi.

The future looks bright though. If people can organise their own screenings of animated films, it would greatly increase the diversity at the local multiplex. That can only be a good thing for everyone.

Four Insightful Articles From Animation History

By way of Sherm Cohen’s excellent blog, I learned of the truly fascinating Modern Mechanix blog. A site devoted to all those old magazines that said we would have flying cars and living on the moon by now. Anyway, Sherm has already posted a few articles on his blog but here are four more insightful articles from animation history.

View each article in their entirety by clicking on the images.

How the First Color Cartoons were Made

MOVIE CARTOONS Gain THIRD Dimension

The Fleischer 3-D backgrounds to be exact.

The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney

A massive (50 page) article in the National Geographic from 1963 that’s all about the man himself and the organization he built with his brother Roy. Quite literally a must-read.

Tron: Computer Technology Goes Hollywood

 

Explaining Layout in Plain English

As a non-animator, I sometimes tend to find it tricky to grasp some of the more technical aspects of the technique. Thankfully I can now cross layout off my list. While I did indeed have a basic idea of what it was and why it is necessary, DreamWorks layout artist David Badgerow has made it all the clearer to me thanks to his recent blog post. Well worth a read.

The Theatrical Animation Enemy: Mediocrity

OK, obviously “flash in the pan-itis” is a made up word, but mediocrity certainly is not, and it’s just as acceptable a substitute. So what do both words mean in the context of animation, why are they the theatrical animation enemy and what does it have to do with the industry right now? Let’s find out.

What is “mediocrity” as it relates to animation?

To start with what it is, mediocrity is basically exactly what you think it might mean: mediocre films, average films, middle-of-the-road films. Do note that this does not mean they are the film that everyone can enjoy, far from it, even the film that’s accessible for all ages can be far from ordinary.

What I mean is that we’re starting to see the kinds of films that we haven’t really seen before for the simple reason that not enough of them were being made. Looking back 30 years ago, you pretty much had Disney and, uh, not many others in the theatrical sphere. That meant of course that what was released was generally considered either good or bad with little middle ground.

Today, though, there are plenty of animated films studios (Disney, DreamWorks, Sony, Illumination, Blue Sky, Aardman (in the UK), Cartoon Saloon (in Ireland), even more in other countries) and they’re all releasing films every year. In 2012 we’re up to at least 13 (and that’s just the big ones in the cinemas). What this means is that we’ve seen the middle ground between the truly bad and the truly great open up and spew forth a rash of films that are, well, meh.

Films from the past few years that fit into this mould include The Lorax, Despicable Me, Flushed Away, Tangled (on the borderline),  Megamind and pretty much any sequel you care to name.

Why is it a problem?

Well, think about it! A good, really good film should stay with you for a long time after you leave the cinema. you should ruminate on it, contemplate its good and bad points and ultimately either like or dislike it in an informed manner. Films like those listed above, while generally good films, don’t tend to provoke strong responses outside of kids and overly-enthusiastic adults. Sure I like most of them (splurged for a Tangled poster even), but I honestly can’t say what it is about Despicable Me that forms my opinion of the film.

In contrast, say, with Brave, I can pinpoint exactly where it is in the film that my opinions come from (poor story, wooden characters but gorgeous animation). The same goes for any great film be it from Studio Ghibli to DreamWorks to Aardman. The point is that those films are burned into my noggin’, not simply threaded in front of my eyes.

Middle of the road movies provide quick and easy entertainment but God knows how the animation industry has struggled to free itself from the “babysitter” label for decades now. I don’t mean to say that every animated film produced has to be a work of artistic and critical genius, but it’s hard to look back over ten years of Shreks and see the uniqueness in any of them (the novelty of the original has long worn off, and the Disney parody it portrayed has become moot since they decided to start parodying themselves with Tangled).

Why is it the “enemy”?

Perhaps “enemy” is too harsh. What about “nemesis”? No, that’s even worse. Hmmm, how about “that melanoma that’s OK for now but will eventually get really ugly looking if you don’t treat it”? That sound kinda right, right?

What I mean is that mediocre films have to be tolerated, up to a point. If we let too many swamp the market, we set ourselves up for failure. Appealing to the broadest audience is easily done with boring films, but the problem is that they have no legs. Look at Disney, it’s still making (loads of) money from Snow White, and you know that that film was paid for many, many decades ago.

Now look at something like Shrek, or The Lorax. It’s barely ten years since the former and the latter has only just come out on DVD/download, but they barely blip on my radar any more. Why is that? Why have they sort of slipped into my subconscious into the “I saw them once, they were good, but I could stand to watch something else” place?

Now you could argue that continuous production of new content is necessary for employment and that the public wants to see new stuff, but that ignores the premise that the public always wants to see new stuff. They always have and they always will!

What does it have to do with the industry now?

The problem is that the industry as a whole is convinced that they are putting out the best movies they can. Unfortunately we won’t know for certain for a decade or two, but a great example can be seen in Disney output in the latter half of the 90s. Yeah the films were OK, good even, but they were mediocre films. Kids today know the Lion King, but can they name any of the films that came after it?

A focus on short term returns or profits may seem like a good idea but content (and copyright) last a lot longer. Why ignore all those potential future revenues? Walt Disney seemed to think they were worth it, certainly so when his films made a loss the first time out. He’s been proved right in the end. Who’s laughing now? (Hint: it may be Bob Iger).

The notion of a reaching a high bar is a noble one. Disney did it for a long time. Pixar came along and raised it again but too many films seem to be coming out that are happy with where that high bar is and are more than content not to reach for it. That’s kind of sad really. We should be seeing more films taking the risk and reaching for it. That’s not to say every film has to, but it would be nice to see at least a few more trying or appear to be trying. The alternative is a decade of theatrical animation that will be consigned to the history books.

The Suicide Shop – New Teaser

You may have already seen a teaser for The Suicide Shop, but here’s a new one (via the Toronto International Film Festival), replete with the final animation. It looks delightfully dark in a way that Tim Burton’s never quite been able to muster with his animation.

 

Why The Cinema Experience Needs to Change [repost]

Via: zizzybaloobah on flickr

This is a repost from November 2010 but a recent post by Mark Mayerson over on his blog brought it back to my attention. In it, Mark points out that the distribution models for movies is about to rapidly change, and not necessarily for the better as far as cinemas go:

Just like record stores have mostly disappeared and physical bookstores are suffering, movie theatres may be next.  While they won’t vanish entirely, we could be looking at a drastic reduction in the number of theatres.

It sounds scary, but it’s not unavoidable, below is my post where I outline how cinemas can improve their business, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of effort either.

Almost as if on cue, Brad Bird also tweeted this morning about the current design of cinemas and his distaste for their bland design:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/BradBirdA113/status/248420923210878976″]

What do you think? Does the cinema/movie theatre experience need to change? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

 —

The other night I went to see Harry Potter (which contained a surprise animated sequence). It was a rather unique experience because we didn’t go to our usual cinema. Sadly, the 7 o’clock showing was all sold out there (and likely overrun with rowdy teenagers to boot), so instead we had to find somewhere else.Thankfully, The Senator Theatre was re-opened just in time and it turned out to be about the same distance away from the house too!

All in all, it was a great evening and the film was fantastic to boot. Normally we drive up, park, get gouged when we buy our tickets, get gouged again when we buy the popcorn and then have the pleasure of watching 20 minutes of commercial content followed by another 20 minutes of advertising before the film finally starts.

At The Senator, we got our tickets online for less than usual with the popcorn being slightly cheaper as well, and there was no beating about the bush when the lights went down. We got a rating certificate and then the film. I hadn’t seen start that quick since I was at a sneak preview for The Simpsons Movie!

Throughout the evening, what struck me most was how much different it was from our usual cinematic expeditions. It was more like a special event, an occasion even. Granted, it was Harry Potter, so things were slightly more electrified than normal although that did not cloud the overall experience.

All of this got me thinking and it made me a wee bit sad to think that going to the cinema is no longer treated as something special. It is now a run-of-the-mill chore that is forgotten as soon as we leave the building. How did things become so bland and mundane? Let’s take a look back.

The Golden Age of Hollywood between the 20s and the early 50s was also the greatest era for cinematic entertainment in this country. New cinemas were popping up all over the country and changed the face of evening entertainment in the US.

The cinema owners knew this and realised that the best way to earn business was to have people come to their cinemas, and come often. They achieved this through competition, either in size, features, luxury or price. Often it was a combination of them all. Yeah, the studios may have block-booked timeslots and owned the cinema chains but they still had each other to contend with.

There was a time when you could go to dinner at the theatre and then go upstairs to watch the show. You might have even been able to enjoy a drink at the bar afterwards and your movie ticket would have been all of 25 cents. Even adjusted for inflation, this is cheap by today’s standards.

The point is that owners made going to the cinema an experience. They wanted attendees to feel special, that they were being offered a glimpse into the Hollywood glamour; customers responded in kind by dressing up for the evening. The result of all of this is that they came back, again and again and again. In 1930, attendance was 80 million people, or 65% of the entire population! Since then, audience numbers have declined to the point that barely 3% of the population visits the cinema on a weekly basis.

Why is this? Television certainly has its role to play. Why indeed would you drive all the way to the cinema, cough up your kids college fund and then watch a film with a guy on the left who can’t stop farting and a woman on the right conducting a live directors commentary, not to mention the kid behind you kicking your seat. When you think about it, you really would be much more comfortable at home on your own couch, maybe even in your underwear and being all the happier for it.

The point here is that today, cinema owners and movie studios are under a number of illusions when it comes to why people go to the cinema, which I will now dissect:

  • “People want to see it first” – I can download it at home before it even comes out (legality aside)
  • “People want to see it on a big screen” – I’ve got a 50″ plasma screen with surround sound at home and I don’t have to worry about someone blocking the view
  • “It’s affordable entertainment” – YouTube is affordable entertainment
  • “Its 3-D” – This is a tricky one, because I cannot see things in 3-D (bad right eye) and the third dimension has been bandied about twice in the past without success.

As you can see, there is actually very few reasons why any of us should go to the cinema. It’s normally an expensive, cold, noisy hour and a half with very little to show for it in the end. I haven’t even touched on the strip searches some chains have implemented to catch “pirates”. Talk about pissing off the people who are handing over their hard-earned cash.

Compare that to the golden era when customers were treated like royalty. The expansive architecture (check out Uncle Eddie’s Theory Corner and his comparison post if you don’t believe me) , the awe-inspiring theatre chamber, the men’s lounge (seriously, the Senator has a men’s lounge you pass through on the way to the bathroom) and the feeling that you are doing much more with your evening than watching a film.

That way of thinking has been lost in this country. Today, cinema-goers are treated like cattle, “get them in, get them out” is the order of the day. Patrons somehow “owe” the cinema the pleasure of their business rather than the other way around. Why has it come to this? Why is it that as a film fan, I am forced to make choices about whether it is worth my while going to see a film or not? I shouldn’t have to, and the entire industry is worse off because of it. I may be just one person, but if one farmer in Iowa is judged by the Supreme Court to come under Federal law because of the corn he grows, then I am certainly not alone.

Instead, would it not be better if going to the cinema were treated like the occasion it used to be? Instead of being given the Wal-Mart treatment, we were enlightened by our evening and as a result, are far more likely to consider patronising The Senator again (definitely once they get that bar open though). In the past, the addition of more screens, stadium seating and better sound were thought to entice people from their armchairs. Now it’s 3-D that’s been given another crack at the limelight, and it too, looks to falter again. All these things cost a ton of money, which could perhaps have been better spent on giving the customer something they actually want.

Hundreds if not thousands of cinema gems have been lost over the years, the victims of growing suburbia, socio-economic upheaval in their surroundings and a general apathy towards history in this country. The March of Progress, etc. etc. The oft-quoted response is that such buildings are “a dime a dozen”. Sadly, there isn’t that many left.

Is there hope for the future? Perhaps. Cinemas such as The Senator are dependent on two things: continued patronage and the uninhibited ability to show the films they want. I fully enjoyed my little slice of American cinematic glory. Its time we all did.

Things Were Serious Back in the Old Days

Via Didier Ghez’ excellent Disney Books blog is the original notice that Margaret Winkler took out to inform others in the business that Felix distributor Pat Sullivan was attempting to pull a fast one. Consider it the precursor to a full-page ad in Variety.