I’ll admit it, I enjoy the commentators on the A.V. Club simply because they exhibit a decent sense of humour as well as an above-average level of intellect for an internet community. When news broke yesterday of the new Powerpuff Girls CGI special was being made, things were made all the more interesting with the simultaneous realisation that superhero shows Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series were not announced as returning. Such news is not the purpose of this post however, instead, here is a selection of though-provoking comments from the article.
See, I liked Powerpuff girls when they were on. It was a good show despite seeming like it was only for girls.
But I didn’t start a goddamn movement.
Which begs the question, if the Powerpuff Girls were launched today, would they garner a similar cross-demographic audience as MLP does? Would the fact that the internet is far more developed today than in 1998 be the key difference? My vote says yes.
I was a boy in middle school, you damn well better not let on that you like anything the least bit girlly
So the question here isn’t so much that Sailor Moon appeals more to girls, but that genderisation deems it as the exclusive preserve of girls. What the hell is right with that situation? Who cares if a boy likes to watch Sailor Moon? The bigger question though, is why did middle school kids feel the need to “teach him a lesson” so to speak for liking the show he likes? Your comments are welcome.
I was working daycare, with four-year-olds, when PPG was still on the air. One day, I heard three of the little boys playing Powerpuff Girls. They weren’t playing any of the male characters, they were each one of the girls. They had no problem identifying themselves as Bubbles, Buttercup, or Blossom.
Seriously? Why is there no Adventure Time Swatch watch out there? Why can’t I buy them? Why can’t anyone buy them? Why hasn’t anyone thought of doing it yet?
Well, here’s a few reasons for someone to get on it.
Swatch Is Cool
Alright, yes, that statement is coming from a child of the 80s when Swatch was the watch to have. Cheap, cheerful and created solely as a tool to ward off the crushing Japanese digital threat that almost sunk the entire Swiss watchmaking industry, Swatch watches become the epitome of hautecouture for those wishing keep up with fashionable 80s taste.
Fast forward to 2013, and Swatch watches are nowhere near as ubiquitous as they used to be, but, they’re still being made in just about every colour/pattern imaginable and they still exhibit they same classic design that made them a worldwide icon.
Adventure Time Is Cool
This is already a given, right? The show has done wonders for Cartoon Network and continually manages to outdo itself. Besides that, we’ve noted here on this blog that the show has not only been superb at embracing its fans, but also embracing novel merchandising ideas such as T-shirt competitions and limited edition wallets.
On top of that, the show has a near-perfect cast of characters. This eclectic bunch appeals to a wide range of fans in all sorts of demographics and ages. Merchandise released so far has done well to either include most of the cast, or utilise them individually to great effect.
Why Bring Adventure Time and Swatch Together Though?
Ah, the real question. Why bring a style icon of the past together with a cultural icon of today? The answer is pretty simple actually; both things complement each other. Don’t believe me?
Adventure Time is known as a fun show with fun characters engaging in all sorts of fun adventures in the Land of Ooo. Swatch staked their brand on being the fun watch, the watch that was cheap and cheerful, the watch that stood out amongst a sea of boring digital timepieces. What’s wrong with bringing two fun things together?
They Suit Each Other
Swatch watches are famous for being brightly coloured, simple watches. Sure there are more sophisticated models, but your basic Swatch watch is about as plain as they come:
This plain style is just crying out to be adorned with Pen Ward’s creations. Tragically, I cannot create the mockups necessary to visually explain what’s in my head (please, any Photoshop wizzes out there who’d like to help out, be my guest), but imagine an orange swatch watch with an elongated Jake along the entire length of the band. His bellybutton could be the centre of the dial!
Also being of benefit is that fact that Swatch watches are practically indestructible thanks to their simplicity and are inexpensive enough to be suitable for kids to have. Not that we’re focusing solely on kids, but being inexpensive means that people are likely to buy more than one.
Yes, they would be desirable. Don’t pay attention to those old bitter folks who claim that Swatch watches were a fad. Ignore the notion that nobody wears watches any more because they can just look at their phones. Gloss over the fact that a Beemo Swatch watch may not be entirely accurate.
Watches have long been surpassed as the primary method by which people tell the time. Yeah we have phones, computers, clocks and so on, but such a mindset completely ignores the reason people still wear watches: their fashionable. Yes, that’s right, I said fashionable. They’re objects of fashion for men and women, young and old. Watches are a mainstay of the fashion accessory industries and that situation is highly unlikely to change any time soon.
If anything, an Adventure Time Swatch watch may help younger kids become interested in watches. After all, they’re cool looking and have their favourite characters on them, right? Even among older fans, ones who do remember Swatch’s earlier heyday, they would be a nostalgic item.
They would also play into the current trend of personalisation. IPhone covers, clothing, jewellery and plenty of other pieces of merchandise play on the idea of making a personal statement. Swatch has been advocating that marketing line for years; a range of Adventure Time watches would only be the latest incarnation of their corporate mission.
Just Make Them Already!
Cartoon Network is missing out on an opportunity to create a range of merchandise that it truly memorable, appeals to fans, and promotes the proliferation of Adventure Time even further into the public realm beyond its fans. Why they haven’t considered this already is beyond me. But hey, if they decide to take it up, and Ice Queen one is all I ask for.
What do you think? Would you wear an Adventure Time Swatch Watch?
David OReilly is infamous for the unique style of animation in his personal films and the particular brand of comedy that inhabits them. As an independent animator, David is a master at understanding how they become a brand onto themselves and he uses it to his benefit. Such a move is often the result of necessity but rarely is it pulled off with the pastiche that OReilly manages. With his latest venture, David illustrates yet again, how independent animators can engage with fans and earn a living at the same time.
OReilly has acquired an audience (or devoted mass if you prefer) through his short films and commercial works. These include the films Please Say Something, The External World and his initial foray, Octocat. Videos for the likes of U2 have heightened his public profile among non-animation fans too.
These fans not only provide an audience for every new thing that he creates, they also function as his makeshift publicity department. The advantage to this is that word of mouth is by far the most reliable and effective form of advertising even if it may take a while to reach large numbers of people.
Acquiring fans is one thing, but OReilly also manages to keep them, chiefly through continually honing, improving and experimenting with his craft. His reasons for not repeating himself bear remembering in this regard and his ever increasing profile within the animation industry is proof of that. They will culminate later this year when his episode of Adventure Time hits the airwaves.
Although fans are important to any independent animator, it is necessary to interact with them and continually present them with new and exciting material. The risk is that if you do not, they will move on to somebody else who does.
OReilly is only one Irishman however, and animation being the slow process that it is, it would be impossible for him to create new animated films constantly and within short time frames. Instead, he opts to create new animation when it is possible, and in between, keeps his fans happy and engaged through other, non-animated creations.
OReilly’s twitter and instagram feeds exemplify his unique sense of humour and provide the primary channels of engagement. They are a practically free way of maintaining his profile without any additional cost to himself.
David is also the master at engaging his fans in conversation through them. A clear example was his recent pondering of why critically acclaimed content garners tiny viewership on YouTube and yet videos of cats can garner millions. His response was as much genius as it was entertaining: he posted a video of puppies and then decried it as a despicable act for which he was truly sorry.
The result?Nearly 12,000 views but a ton of interactivity with fans as they eagerly entertained the notion that the video was ‘disgusting’ even though it clearly was not (click to enlarge):
The upshot is that OReilly kept his fans engaged and interested in him without having to revert to creating new animation.
The T-Shirts That Combine Fans And Content
The latest idea (and the one that prompted this post) was the recent announcement that David had designed 40 T-shirts. “OK, so what” I hear you say, “that’s not a big deal”. Well, no, it probably isn’t, but since he has decided to also sell them, it sort of is.
Why? Well quite simply, these T-shirts bring fans and content together in a way that allows OReilly to make money. Firstly, the T-shirts are a way of proving that he values his fans and secondly, they adhere to David’s unique style without the need to create new animation. The result is that you have happy fans, with a David OReilly creation and all without the need to create expensive, time-consuming animation!
Of course the true genius of these T-shirts is that they exhibit not only OReilly’s unique sense of humour (and his desire to lead a Comic Sans revival), but also his interest in animation too. Observe:
Needless to say, the use of these copyrighted characters would fall under the parody rule of fair use.
(no pun intended)
What is there to be gleaned from all of this? Well, a few things:
OReilly creates animation that garners fans of his work
He engages with his fans on a constant basis
He creates non-animated content as a way to satisfy fans until new animation can be created
The content he creates is exciting and of equal quality to his animation.
The result is that David OReilly succeeds at things where plenty of others fail. Yes, anybody can create a T-shirt and sell it online without much overhead, but simply offering T-shirts is not enough. Neither can you rely upon merchandise sales alone to bring in money or keep your fans engaged. Again, simply offeringit is not enough. David demonstrates that you must keep fans ‘primed’ for new content and when you deliver, it must be exciting enough for them to want to purchase it.
In addition, the T-shirts themselves are broad enough in appeal so that non-fans and people who may have never heard of him before will get to know him; i.e. they will grow his fanbase. Imagine that, growing the potential audience for your animated properties without creating any new animation. Genius!
Although by no means a model that can translate to any and all independent animators, what David OReilly conducts is a high-wire act that constantly entertains his fans, keeps them engaged and interested in what he’s doing. the result is that he can create merchandise that not only sells, but increases his profile further. He is a model for others to follow.
The Dead Homer Society always makes for thought-provoking analyses of the Simpsons and this post is no exception. Twins Sherri and Terri were the, dare I say, devious, twins that had no problem humiliating other characters from fellow kids like Bart to enterprising restauranteur Moe. This post looks at the characters and their many conniving actions during the show’s earlier series.
Lei Adeline over at Smart When Shouting has written an excellent post concerning the lack of female characters in Disney’s forthcoming ‘Disney Infinity’ video game/action figure play sets. The depressing reality that Lei breaks down is that the majority of characters available (at least at launch) are aimed primarily at boys:
While girls are certainly welcome to play, with elements from films like The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland available in token form, they are certainly not being encouraged to. The lack of properties aimed at them certainly serves as evidence of that, with the Princesses oddly absent, Tinkerbell and her gang nowhere in sight, and even Disney’s “cooler” or more “kick-ass” heroines like Rapunzel and Mulan seemed to have missed the cut.
Megan Ferguson’s Cool Teen Girl
COOL TEEN GIRL
she has a purple streak in her hair – WONT CONFORM !
She listens to bands with the guitar in it thats not acoustic – SO METAL
All her friends are guys – SNEAKERS NOT HIGH HEELS U GUYZ
dont mind me just poking fun at this weird trend in animated shows where theres this girl with dark hair and a purple streak whos suppose to appeal to the ’ edgy ’ teens lol.
Ah, the fine print. Almost nobody actually reads it, but when they do, surprises abound. Today, we’re taking a look at the recently announced Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Program; basically Nick’s effort to find new animated programming because whatever system they’ve used since giving Random! Cartoons the boot clearly isn’t working. However, we’re not interested in what kind of content they’re looking for, or even the reason why they’re doing it at all. Nope, we’re interested in the fine print, because the devil really is in the details.
What it Does Say
You acknowledge that there does not now exist, nor has there ever existed, nor will there exist, a fiduciary relationship between you and VMN. You requested this opportunity to submit your Material to VMN and you make this submission voluntarily and on an unsolicited basis. You and VMN have not yet reached an agreement concerning the use of the Material and you realize that no obligation of any kind is assumed by, or may be implied against, VMN unless and until a formal written contract has been entered into between you and VMN (if ever), and then the obligation shall be only as is expressed in the formal written contract.
Basically, we don’t have to pay you a cent until we sign a proper contract. A fair enough arrangement and pretty standard for this kind of thing.
You warrant that you are the sole and exclusive creator, author and owner of the Material, and that to your knowledge no one else has any right to the Material. You further warrant that no rights in the Material have previously been granted to anyone nor has the Material otherwise been exploited in any way. You believe your Material and its features to be unique and novel.
In other words, you are the only person who created what you submit, and you didn’t include material belonging to someone else. Again, that’s a standard thing. There’s a TON of fanfiction out there that networks won’t touch with a 10 foot pole simply because there are too many licensing issues to deal with.
The biggie (any emphasis mine):
However, you cannot and will not assume or infer from the fact that VMN will accept your offer to submit your Material to VMN, that VMN regards your Material, or any part thereof, as novel, valuable or usable. You recognize that other persons including VMN employees may have submitted to VMN or to others or made public, or may hereafter originate and submit or make public, similar or identical material which VMN shall have the right to use, and you understand that you will not be entitled to any compensation because of VMN’s use of such other similar or identical material. Subject to the foregoing provisions, VMN will not make any use of any legally protectable portion of your Material unless you and VMN have agreed in a writing signed by both parties concerning your compensation for such use, which compensation shall in no event be greater than the compensation normally paid by VMN for similar Material from comparable sources.
With this, Viacom are essentially attempting to preclude themselves from any compensation claims that arise from using an idea that is very similar to a submission. This is common for studios who might well get 50 submissions about a cat chasing a mouse. The kicker is the use of the term “legally protectable”. That is something that has to be hashed out in a court with a judge (usually) and doing that is certainly not a cheap thing to undertake. Although they mention compensation, do note that studios love to bend the rules about as far as they will go with creations and you can be sure that if you have a great idea, they will alter it just enough so that they don’t have to pay anything.
The really important clause:
You are executing this Release voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence from any source, and do so with complete understanding of all of its terms and effects, and every portion thereof. By signing this Release, you acknowledge that you have either consulted an attorney or have waived your right to do so.
Read that again because you may have missed it the first time around.
You are executing this Release voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence from any source, and do so with complete understanding of all of its terms and effects, and every portion thereof. By signing this Release, you acknowledge that you have either consulted an attorney or have waived your right to do so.
Did you get that? They’re basically telling you that if you haven’t consulted an attorney about this then you cannot do so further down the road. What that means is that if you find something about the release that you find objectionable, then Viacom (Nickelodeon) can say that you should have known better, leaving you up the creek without a paddle.
What it Does NOT Say
What the release does not say, and what is particularly troubling, is that they do not have any kind of time limit set out. In other words, nothing in the release precludes them from holding onto your idea indefinitely. They can use your idea ten years from now and it’s contained within the release that if they do “inadvertently” use your material, you have only 6 months to make a case.
That is troubling enough, but the release also fails to disclose how you can handle your creation outside of the program. Can you pitch it to anyone else in the meantime? What do you suppose happens if another studio decides to pick it up while Nick is still considering it? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before deciding to commit.
At the end of the day, these kinds of solicitations smack of a mix of ineptitude and desperation. Nickelodeon has easy access to many fine creators whom they can solicit from any time. Why the need to go to the general public for new ideas? I can’t help bu smell the reek of sleaziness that comes with filling people’s eyes full of stars (or dollar signs). If Nickelodeon were serious about soliciting ideas, they would be weeding the garden before looking to plant any flowers.
It’s not really something we tend to think about until a story pops up in the news, but IT security is a big issue nowadays with every kind of company exposed to differing levels of risk. Animation studios are no different; they are businesses after all. So what will happen when someone decides to hack into an animation studio and what exactly will they decide to steal? Here’s an idea.
The Reasons for Stealing
First off, it’s necessary to accurately describe what is being discussed. Contemporary hacking varies quite a lot depending on the nature of it as well as what the target is. The kind of large-scale, mass break-ins popularised by Hollywood and The Matrix are few and far between. Variants of the “smash and grab” as well as defacing attacks are more common but relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things.
So what am I talking about? Well it’s the kind of sophisticated hacking that contributed to the collapse of Nortel; that is, the kind that no-one even notices until it is too late.
The reasons why are simple:
Software is expensive
modern animation itself is expensive
everyone (and hence their data) uses the internet
the vast majority of animation is really just files on a computer
time is becoming an ever important factor in production schedules
The Motivation To Steal
It’s easy to speculate on why people steal but it’s often quite difficult to get down to the reasons why they are motivated to steal. Traditionally, animation studios were subject to [serious] theft of only two things: ideas and people. The former was perhaps most clearly evident when both Pixar and DreamWorksreleased films whose characters were ants (A Big’s Life and Antz). The latter came to light when Pixar and Lucasfilm agreed not to poach each other’s employees (resulting in an anti-trust lawsuit.)
With the growing complexity of animation (and hence, the growing cost) there will be those with a looser moral compass out there who will gladly exploit weaknesses in a competitor’s security. Again, I don’t mean that they will make such exploits known. The truly nefarious will gain access to a studio’s network, and gladly remain there out of site, quietly siphoning off whatever they feel they can get away with. Such activity offers the potential to steal far more than just animation files and data, but also information.
Information can, in fact, be far more valuable than any animation. Look at how it worked for DreamWorks with Antz; essentially giving them a leg-up with their CGI ventures. Imagine how valuable details on multiple films would be to a rival studio? Priceless is my guess.
What Will Be Stolen
So what will be stolen? Theoretically, any computer file stored or transmitted over a network is a target. In reality though, it will depend on who is doing the stealing. A small studio is more likely to go after files (rigs, backgrounds, etc.) A larger studio will be far more interested in ideas, concepts, etc. Studios fancying themselves as rivals to Disney would be thrilled to get a really close look at how Frozen is going.
Imagine if they could get as good a view as Disney employees get? Imagine they got a good look and managed to knock out a similar picture before Disney? All those knock-offs we see these days seem to be making money for somebody, just think how much they could make if they get there’s out first?
Basically, if it is on or transmitted over a computer network (or the internet), it IS a target. This isn’t fear-mongering, it’s a fact, and the more sober you are about it, the safer you will be.
Who It Will Be Stolen From
I mention Disney and DreamWorks as simple examples. The reality is that they already have well developed IT departments. More likely targets are smaller studios and independent animators. They simply do not have the budget to maintain a full IT department let alone one with a dedicated security division. They are ripe for targeting as many do work on projects for the big boys, and as such, can be just as valuable to the dedicated criminal.
Long gone are the days when if you wanted to steal something of value from an animated studio, you had to physically break into the place. Nowadays, you don’t even need to be in the same country to do it. Security is something that most people only play lip-service to until it is too late. Don’t let that be you.
Have you ever heard of a report entitled “Global Animation Industry: Strategies Trends & Opportunities 2012“? It’s a rather serious-sounding affair with a pretty serious price too, €5,350.00 (or $5,000.00…hey, wait a minute, that isn’t right, is it?). Click here if you have any doubt. The report is put out by Research and Markets who bill themselves as “the leading source for international market research and market data”. Basically they provide data for market research purposes, the gist being that you can just pay them for it instead of having to conduct it yourself.
The description contains some fairly bland and generally known information about the industry (“animation is increasingly used in video games, and movies are also increasingly reliant on animation and computer graphic special effects”) but also lists the chapters of the report.
Now while I was all up for reading and reviewing the entire report. sadly $5,000 would create a sort of a cash flow, uh, crisis for me in this quarter and for possibly a good few after that, so instead, let’s see if I can’t come up with my own report instead. I’ll even leave it here for you to read, free! OK, let’s go!
1. Animation Segments
When you think of “animation segments” what do you think of? If you thought theatrical, TV, web and so on, guess what, you’d be wrong hahaha. You see the report considers animation “segments” to be different types of animation. I.e. flash, 2D, 3D CGI and stop-motion are all considered different “segments”.
Hmmm, that doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Visual FX may get a pass because the nature of that work does differ from traditional animation. So let’s re-write these animation segments shall we:
Etc. (educational and so forth)
These are the technique’s main areas of proliferation. They are where you can expect to find it, and they are where you should consider when deciding to create animation.
2. Forecasting Animation Content Demand
This chapter looks at animation demand around the world. Needless to say, things have been on the way up for many years now. North America has a decent market driven by features and TV shows.
Europe remains a very strong market thanks to various indigenous cultures, languages and producers. Of note is the industry in Ireland which has grown from near nothing to worldwide powerhouse in the space of 20 years. Creators in France and Italy continue to produce works for broadcast at home and abroad.
Markets in the far east are a bit trickier to say (at least from my place in the world) but one would assume that markets there, being significantly more developed than those in the west, are staying the course for the most part.
As for forecasting demand? Moderate growth in all markets would be a very conservative estimate.
3. Future Developments
A bit vague this one, but again, it can be broken down into a few easily digestible areas:
Technology – Expect ever more reliance on technology in all aspects of the business; from design, to animation to distribution. Digital platforms will become ever more a part of the overall content strategy for all ages and genres. It would be wise not to discount the effect it will have.
Audiences – Audiences won’t change drastically in terms of size (a steady growth as mentioned above is most likely) but I predict a greater number of young adults demanding good quality animated content and who are currently underserved.
Revenues – As I’ve talked about before, the revenue model for all forms of entertainment has been upended by the internet. Traditional models of licensing to networks and broadcasters is disappearing and will likely be replaced by online viewing or pay per view in some form. Extracting revenues from audiences will command the successful creation and exploitation of a fanbase. That’s fairly tricky to accomplish but is not impossible. Either way, it is how things are going.
4. Animation Software Market Landscape
Much is given to the kinds of software that are available (there’s an entire section dedicated to plug-ins) but the gist of the matter is that software will continue to proliferate, but a gradual consolidation will begin to occur. Simply put, with an increase in complexity comes an increase in the amount of experience that is needed. More experience means higher wages. As a studio, it will become impractical to use software that is not in widespread use. The result is that the larger players (Adobe, Autodesk, Toon Boom, etc.) will corner the market. One will eventually get bought out.
You know what’s going to change here? Not much, besides the increased use of digital and online tools for collaboration. Having animators in multiple locations working concurrently is nothing new. It stands to reason that the traditional methods of producing animation will continue in the same vein that they already inhabit. Interestingly enough, ‘ink and paint’ is a section here. Must be a ton of traditional animation being produced somewhere…
6. Audience Dynamics
Because your audience is always moving, eh, eh? No? Oh well, Pixar is the poster child here for obvious reasons. Marketing and audience targeting get a mention, but c’mon, the easiest way to gain an audience is to simply create good quality content. Market research is a great tool, but it will only tell you so much, and it can so easily lead you astray.
Of note here is ‘Pixar’s Technological Advantage‘. While we don’t know what this section says, it is known that whatever advantage they did have has been eroded significantly since the heady days of the 1990s. While Pixar may continue to produce stunningly beautiful films, the competition has worked hard to catch up. Both camps are rapidly approaching photo-realism anyway, so on-screen advantages are mostly moot at this point. Interestingly though, DreamWorks has worked quite diligently to create and foster their IT platforms and software and they may hold an advantage over Pixar in ways that are not visible on-screen.
7. Economics of Animation
This one should be simple right? Make animation > sell for money > profit!
Things aren’t so simple though, and by the looks of things, the report goes into detail about licensing (pay to use my work), merchandising (pay to put my creation on your product), distribution (getting your work seen in different places) and exhibition (getting your animation on TV, DVD, etc). All of these require lengthy and costly negotiations and it’s well worth noting that even with the internet, these systems remain very much in place around the world.
That said, times are changing and it’s very much worth your while to keep in mind alternative options like YouTube and digital distribution. The report does not devote a section to it, but it is absolutely the single most volatile part of making animated content at the moment not only commands attention, it requires it.
Two sections are given over to copyright. Again, what they contain I do not know, but I’ve discussed copyright before and I would caution that relying on copyrights alone as a tool for extracting compensation or revenues is a false hope.
It’s just like any other business! Take in more than you spend, and make sure you have enough money to pay the bills as they arrive. Other than that, there really isn’t something in this section that you could not learn from a good business book down at your local library.
10. Animation Content Outsourcing
Ah, a contentious one this. Should you outsource? Are the cost savings worth the extra hassle? Which country should you outsource too?
These are all questions that will very much depend on the circumstances. It would be unwise to delve into them here.
The remainder of the report goes through different global areas such as Europe, the USA, Korea, Japan and so forth with sections on how the industries operate, how large they are, how they do business and so on.
The bottom line is, this report is only worth paying for if you wanted to set up a studio and had absolutely no idea what the heck you are doing. Is it worth $5,000? I don’t think so. (I could easily do a detailed blog post on each and every section with what’s freely available on the internet.)
What does the report prove? Why that there’s a ton of money in animation of course!
Would you pay $5,000 for a report like this? Explain why with a comment!
Nina Paley has jumped through so many hoops for her feature film Sita Sings the Blues that at this point, she may as well have her own circus. The latest tribulation was caused by, of all people, the National Film Board of Canada, who requested rights for referencing Sita in a film being made by Chris Landreth (amusingly, a bunch of Candians apologise for the NFB’s actions in the comments of the original blog post). Nina, fed up with having to fill out paperwork rendered useless by the Creative Commons license she placed Sita under promptly moved it to the public domain.
If you’re not familiar with Nina’s struggles to make Sita Sings the Blues, I highly encourage you to check out the FAQ page that details pretty much every aspect of the film. (The section of interest to today’s post is the copyright section a wee bit down the page.)
Long story short, Nina was forced to pay enormous sums for the right to use the music she wanted to for the film. The experience turned her into a free culture activist and resulted in her releasing the film online for any and all to view and share.
The Creative Commons License
Initially, Nina released the film under a Creative Commons license that permitted sharing and derivations provided attribution was given and that the resulting works were placed under the same license.
This particular license has numerous benefits insofar as it maintains the link between the work and the creator and ensures that their work is not placed under a restrictive license that runs contrary to the CC one.
Now that Sita Sings the Blues is in the public domain, anyone and everyone can see, share, remix, alter and otherwise do what they please with it without having to adhere to any restrictions. It was a regrettable final step that Nina felt forced to make though.
What Nina ran up against wasn’t so much that people didn’t want to use Sita or screen it, but that some of those that did, couldn’t see around the fact that they could without needing to go through the usual legal channels. The result was that they simply decided not to use it altogether.
That represents a significant problem for those of us who wish to see copyright reform. Traditional copyright is too severely restrictive in terms of permitting others to see and use creations but the CC licenses negate certain rights in favour of imposing others. I.e. you can use this film, but you must release your work under a similar license. That can turn a lot of potential users off as they may not share similar views on copyright.
This question of copyright is not unknown throughout the animation universe (pioneer Fred Seibertacknowledged as much a while back) but what is unknown is how to rectify it satisfactorily.
Creators naturally wish to be compensated for their hard work (because everyone has to eat) but the digital era has rendered traditional copyright much harder and prohibitively expensive to enforce. The result is that even the largest corporations fail spectacularly and even then that is after millions are spent on legal fees to fight infringements.
I use a CC license for all original content posted on this blog, but the written word is much easier to attribute than a visual image let alone moving animation or artifacts in the background.
With Sita Sings the Blues in the public domain, the regrettable result is that someone could take parts of it and place them under traditional copyright without needing to attribute Nina or even acknowledge her as the creator. Such a possibility harms her as well as her work.
What is needed is multi-layered system where there are various levels of restrictions placed upon works. Those who prefer traditional should receive it, but for a markedly reduced timeframe (say 10 years) with the possibility for a single renewal. Those that wish to let their work spread around a bit could use a CC-esque license but that is simpler than what we have today and with standard attribution methods. Lastly, the public domain should remain as it is because it is too valuable to lose altogether.
Believe it or not, the current system is far more complex than the one I just described and what results is that people cannot be bothered to navigate it. Attitudes play a part, although it is important to note that while plenty choose to ignore CC works because of restrictions, many more simply ignore copyright’s ones altogether; effectively rendering it a pointless idea anyway.
Creators need to be aware of these issues because ultimately, attitudes will change. Networks that decline to screen a film like Sita because of the lack of an “exclusive” license will have not choice; they will either be driven out of business or the playing field will be levelled to such an extent that competition will mandate it.
Creators must be willing and ready to adapt to whatever new system presents itself and to capitalise one it. Sita’s entry into the public domain is merely the opening salvo of the long battle over content that is about to begin.
Does copyright get your goat up or are you out to smite the filthy pirates? Let us know with a comment!
For those not familiar with Cyanide and Happiness, it’s a webcomic that often focus on black comedy and sardonic humour with a distinct hint of questionable morals. The series is a collaborative effort and has become one of the most successful webcomics since its launch in 2004. As with many creative properties of this nature, a move beyond the static world of comics and into the dynamic world of animation is a natural one that has been on the cards for some time. The difference is how the creators approached it and what they learned from the process.
The Traditional Route
Initially, the creators (Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin and Dave McElfatrick) ventured down the traditional avenue for developing an animated project: they talked to some TV networks. This tried and trusted method has been used by countless people since creator driven shows came back into vogue just over 20 years ago. As a result, this seemed like a sensible option. As Rob outlays:
…it feels kinda natural for us to get back into animation, because we all started out as amateur animators when we were kids. Because of that, over the years we’ve built up a wealth of ideas that don’t really work as comics; they need to be animated.
However, what the group discovered as they jumped through the many negotiation hoops was that the way networks operate and how the web operates are entirely different. As Kris explains:
We walked away from the first two due to rights and creative control issues.
As you may be aware, when a network acquires the show, they assume control over it. The vast majority of the time, they will hire the creator to ensure that his or her vision makes it to the screen. This arrangement benefits both parties and almost always passes without incident. However, anyone who is familiar with the saga of Ren & Stimpy and John Kricfalusi will know that creators are merely an employee on their own show and can be removed by the network for almost any reason.
The C&H guys weren’t too comfortable with this. They inhabit a realm (the internet) where the creators have complete and total control over what they create (although not necessarily how it received or distributed.) Not liking the idea of losing control, they have started to look at alternatives to this traditional route.
The Alternative Route
As with many similar projects over the last year or so, haute couture site Kickstarter is mentioned as the likely platform from which they will launch the alternative series. Although that aspect is an indicator, it is what they hope to actually produce:
We’ll be using Kickstarter to raise money for production. We firmly believe the entertainment industry is changing, and the Internet will eventually become the only way people watch shows.
This route will involve raising funds, deciding on what exactly to produce (length, no. of episodes, etc.) no details of which are available yet. Nonetheless the move represents only the latest in a wave of properties that have become popular on the internet and have shown a reluctance to relinquish some of the freedoms that the platform offers.
Why Their Decision is Significant
While it is tempting to brush off the C&H decision as merely the latest in a long line of internet phenomenons whose creators are unwilling to bend to the demands of traditional business models, that isn’t the case. The decision to go the alternative route was not rushed by any stretch of the imagination. Rob:
The four of us traveled to LA twice, and spent many more days in phone calls with over a dozen networks. A few of the discussions got pretty involved, lasting months and even years.
…we’ve been negotiating a Cyanide and Happiness TV show with a cable network for a while now. What you guys may not know is that this is actually the latest of three TV show talks we’ve been in. We walked away from the first two due to rights and creative control issues. We thought that we could settle those issues in the third deal, but things didn’t quite work out as we hoped.
Today, we are letting you all know that we’ve officially walked away from this TV deal as well, for similar reasons as the first two.
Oftentimes web success stories receive a bit of a drubbing for their propensity to misunderstand traditional models, but not the C&H guys. To their credit, they understand where the networks are coming from:
Every single one of these deals, after much back and forth, eventually came down to the same basic problem: Television networks don’t want to take much risk when it comes to new shows. Nor should they have to. It’s entirely their investment; we’re just the writers. This manifests itself in a lot of scary ways when you read a typical TV contract. Stuff like giving up the rights to existing characters in order to feature them in the show, no final say on what gets removed or changed, even potentially being fired as writers from our own show. Not to mention the fact that good shows get cancelled all the time.
What is interesting though, and something that they picked up on while undertaking the entire adventure, is that they realised that what the networks were attempting to produce and what the C&H guys felt they needed to produce were too entirely different things:
As Rob notes, TV networks undertake a significant amount of risk when it comes to a TV show. They must invest a lot of time, money and resources and the payoff will not become known until vast amounts of all three have been spent. In a capitalistic society, risks like those are generally undertaken with the acknowledgement that whatever rewards (or pitfalls) that are to be had belong to the person or entity undertaking the risk.
That’s a fair arrangement that has underpinned the nature of business in free economies since day dot. The C&H guys simply discovered the entertainment version and what it entails, read: giving up the rights to your creation.
What makes their decision significant is that they also realised that they don’t need a traditional network to get an animated Cyanide and Happiness series off the ground (Kris):
We’re starting to realize that TV as an industry just isn’t compatible with what we want to do with our animation: deliver it conveniently to a global audience, something we’ve been doing all along with our comics these past eight years. That’s just the nature of television versus the Internet, I suppose.
Why You Should Pay Attention
The developments that are about to happen would be significant anyway, but you should pay particular attention to them for the following reasons:
This WILL Set the Pattern For Future Projects
Plenty of people have run successful [animated] Kickstarter projects. Plenty of people have created successful animated web series. However, we are about to see how someone can successfully leverage a successful existing property into a Kickstarter project into a web series.
What the C&H decision will do is cement the pattern for creators wishing to create their own animated series. Plenty of animators are trying their hand but few consider the following:
the need to be a goal-oriented creator
the need for a fanbase to build with
the knowledge that a demand for an animated series exists
the huge amounts of energy needed to create a series
With a successful campaign and series, expect many to mimic Cyanide and Happiness. My money is on creators needing to (not having to, needing to) develop a fanbase prior to attempting an animated series. Even those that have pulled off an entirely new series, such as Cartoon Hangover’sBravest Warriors have not been shy about leveraging any connection to an existing, successful property and its fanbase (in this case, Pen Ward and Adventure Time.)
In contrast, the Cyanide and Happiness guys practically love their fans. As Kris explains:
We firmly believe the entertainment industry is changing, and the Internet will eventually become the only way people watch shows. Especially the people that make up our awesome fanbase. The Internet is already the largest network, available when you think about it. Why go anywhere else?…..The prospect of doing an uncensored, unaltered Cyanide and Happiness Show and giving it directly to the fans is an incredible opportunity. We’re really excited to see how far we can take things.
Look at that! They actually considered their fans in their decisions. They anticipated that if all their fans are already on the internet, why go to TV just because?
That represents the other facet to the emerging internet generation: the desire not to alienate the very fans that support them. Take heed, because fandoms created on the internet have been known to desert their favourite things when they feel they are being unnecessarily trodden upon. Digg is (and should be) the poster child for this.
Lastly there is the audience itself. It’s widely acknowledged that they are moving not so much online as they are acquiring content from the internet. The television set remains the dominant screen when it comes to consumer’s entertainment source but how the content gets to that screen is changing.
Services like Netflix, Amazon, Boxee and others are shifting audiences away from a schedule-based viewing regime to an on-demand one that conforms to consumer’s unique schedules. A Cyanide and Happiness show broadcast on a cable network may have had the potential to reach millions, but if the show’s fans mainly congregate online whenever they choose, it is quite unlikely that they will switch to tuning in at a particular time.
The decision to remain online serves the needs of the C&H audience and won’t hinder the show’s ability to reach new fans either, seeing as the people most likely to start watching are already online. Sooner or later, those new viewers that reside on the fringes will be brought into the fold.
What this proves is that it is foolish to chase after an audience you only think you need. This consideration of the audience beyond the fanbase will dictate how and where new web series’ emerge and proliferate. This is the biggest one to keep and eye on because it is, as of 2013, the only one that does not have a recognised strategy behind it.
Last weekend I decided to watch the film Treasure Planet. I hadn’t seen it before being, well, outside the target audience when it was released back in 2002. I started on Saturday evening and, well, had to give up after just under an hour. I made sure to finish it the following morning, but I couldn’t help but notice that the film proves what can happen when you rest on your creative laurels.
The Film’s Faults
As far as I was concerned, Treasure Planet is caught between a rock and a hard place. It came well after the storied Disney Renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s and was also made 7 years after Toy Story brought the storytelling bar to a whole new level of sophistication.
The visuals are stunning, but it was far too obvious that CG was in use everywhere, even where it wasn’t necessary. OK, I get it, you can use CG in a traditionally animated film, but the use was gratuitous in far too many circumstances and does nothing to advance the plot or improve the viewing experience. This is the film’s more egregious error; eye candy for the sake of eye candy. Yes, Beauty and the Beast did the same with the ballroom scene, but at least that had never been done before. By 2002, Disney films had a legacy of being visually stunning but always within the reason that it added to the viewing experience. In the case of Treasure Planet, having a CG prop fall of the table does not add to the viewing experience. In other words, CG was nothing new and couldn’t be relied upon to sustain an audience’s attention on its own. Miyazaki does it right; CG so subtle, you never notice it.
The plot of the film is nothing remarkable save for the fact that it places Jules Verne’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in space. As mentioned above though, Pixar had already exhibited a knack for creating superb stories from elemental parts and proved that a complicated and outwardly sophisticated story isn’t necessary to make a great film. Treasure Planet follows in the footsteps of previous Disney films, but by 2002, audiences were being wowed by a different style of story emanating from Emeryville that has persisted ever since.
Let’s just say that Disney’s hit songs were missing from their films long before Treasure Planet was released.
This, at least for me, was the most disappointing aspect to Treasure Planet. TV Tropesidentifies Treasure Planet as the film where Disney reacted to shifting market forces. Giving the characters a darker subtext (read: a dysfunctional family) was their way of becoming more identifiable with audiences. In addition to that, the remainder of the cast while complex in their own way, are never given a chance to shine; instead being slaves to a plot that dictates their roles. Case in point is Captain Amelia, who undoubtedly a strong female character (albeit with a verystiff upper lip), is nonetheless rendered useless in the latter part of the film. In a similar vein are Morph and B.E.N. who serve no purpose except as catalysts for the plot. All in all, the characters in Treasure Planet offer nothing exceptional outside of the film.
First and foremost, it has to be noted that by 2002, the feature animation landscape had changed, and by changed, I mean moved on. Pixar hadn’t so much shifted the goalposts as they had moved to another field entirely. Their storytelling combined with the CGI animation had won over audiences before Treasure Planet’s debut.
In a similar manner, DreamWorks’ Shrek gave audiences the send-up of Disney films that they never knew they needed. Suddenly animated films could be full-blown comedies rather than serious dramas.
Both these shifts leave Treasure Planet looking somewhat dated and belonging to another time, which undoubtedly it does.
Treasure Planet is far from a terrible film. Plenty of talented individuals worked on it for a long time and it is always disheartening to see an animated film fail to find success. However, the film proves in more ways than one that if you fail to progress creatively, someone else will rise up and overtake you.
Pixar has been quite successful are constantly upping their game, but even they are in danger of falling into tried and trusted routines (read: sequels) and stand to lose should someone else catch them unawares.
Treasure Planet should serve as a warning that even with everything going for it, a film that presumes success can, and most likely will, fail.
Time for another roundup of week links I read this week and that you should too!
Oskar Fischinger: the animation wizard who angered Walt Disney and the Nazis
The Guardian has a fairly detailed look at the life of artist and proto-animator Oskar Fischinger. He is perhaps most remembered to animation people for his early (and albeit, short) role in the creation of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor segment of Fantasia.
Murphy’s Irish Stout Commercial From the Late 1990s
Thanks to Danny Spencer for the tipoff, here’s a commercial for Murphy’s Irish stout that’s well, not very Irish looking.
They don’t make ’em like they used to, do they?
Danger Mouse: Natalie Haynes’s guide to TV detectives #23
Another one from the Guardian, our favourite James Bond-esque rodent comes in at no. 23 on a list of TV detectives. A quite detailed article that details exactly why the show is so good and remains popular after so many years.
This list may stray a bit wide of the mark (were the Care Bears really a girl cartoon?) but there are a few shows on it that did manage to cross the gender divide. I’m currently making my way through number 3, which probably makes it not much of a secret any more.
A Skin-Tight Totoro Full Body Spandex Suit
And now, this blog presents to you some nightmare fuel in the form of the ever-loveable Totoro: