Sad Jetsons: Depression, Buttonitis and Nostalgia in the World of Tomorrow
The Paleofuture blog at the Smithsonian takes a look at one particular episode of The Jetsons wherein Jane suffers from depression and attempts to get away from it all. The post makes a link between the show and the debates that were taking place at the time (1962) about recreational space in America. It’s an interesting post and one that illustrates how animation can reflect on the unnoticeable changes in society.
If you like movie posters (and who doesn’t), I cannot recommend Eddie Shannan’s Film On Paper enough. This week, he posted the awesome one above for Princess Mononoke. He posts just about one a day so it’s well worth becoming a regular follower.
As part of a school assignment, Canadian Franco Égalité, was asked to come up with a character design. He chose Samurai Jack but decided to explore what it would have been like if it was a female in the lead character role. His creation, Samurai Kiyomi is what resulted. Be sure to click through to visit Franco’s blog and the rest of his awesome work.
Copyright is another recurring theme of this blog for the simple reason that we are in an era of rapid and destructive copyright reform. Technologies such as the internet are redefining the role and even extent of copyright as a business model tool. Creation and distribution are some areas where copyright reform is an issue but the presence of the concept in fan art is another important area. Today’s topic comes via Crunychroll (stay tuned for a separate post on them next week) and concerns the shutting down of a Sailor Moon fan art book on Kickstarter by publisher Random House.
The Copyright Issue At Hand
Yes, I know we discussed it just yesterday, but here, Kickstarter plays the opposite role in the debate. Instead of the creators hoarding copyright, it is they who need to be concerned. In this instance, the copyright on Sailor Moon (at least in manga form) is held by Kodansha Comics (the US subsidiary of the Japanese company). What’s interesting though, is that the DMCA takedown noticefiled with Kickstarter was not issued by Kodansha, rather it was by major publisher Random House who are merely the distributors in this saga.
The Kickstarter project in question was an attempt to print a collection of fan art for this extremely popular series and had a few famous names attached (Adventure Time crew member Natasha Allegri stands out). As of writing, the project has been suspended and no appeal appears to be forthcoming.
Here’s an example of why there isn’t much of a doujinshi scene in North America, particularly not in regards to print doujinshi.
For the unitiated like myself, ‘doujinshi’ is what Wikipedia calls“the Japanese term for self-published works, usually magazines, manga or novels. Doujinshi are often the work of amateurs, though some professional artists participate as a way to publish material outside the regular industry.” In other words, a combination of fan fiction and fan art.
So as is often the question here on the Animation Anomaly; who does this hurt? It isn’t so much the fans; they will adore Sailor Moon regardless, but rather its the people on the fringes who may be fans of the artists and subsequently discover Sailor Moon (either in manga or anime form) through this book.
Why The Copyright Aspect is Problematic
Despite the apparently strong case, there is a number of issues with this it. First of all, why is the distributor of the manga filing the complaint? Surely it should be the copyright holder (Kodansha), right? Random House is merely the middleman that gets paid on a per-unit basis and whose profit should be a set markup on each. The copyright holder should be the one filing any DMCA takedown notices as they are the stakeholder that the law is designed to protect. If middlemen like Random House have a problem, they should take it up with Kadansha instead of being able to act on their own initiative.
The other concern is that there is a strong fair use case (via parody) for the artwork. They are clearly non-official and although I can’t find any details to confirm, it’s quite likely that the book’s creators made it clear that they are not officially associated with either Randorm House or Kadansha.
The End Result
The unfortunate conclusion is that this hurts everyone. The creators obviously since they can’t share their awesome artwork with fans, but also the publisher too. New fans could have been brought into the fold and possibly become purchasers of the manga collection.
In an additional twist, a new version of the anime is slated to hit the airwaves later in 2013. Surely every attempt to build public awareness of this should be treated with care. Again, this comes back to potential fans on the fringes being missed because they never had a chance to interact with the fan art book.
This blog hasn’t been shy about Kickstarter in the past. It’s a great service and one that enables independent creators to fund their creations in an efficient and relatively risk-free manner. Of interest to us is the animation-related projects (naturally) and with the recent success of the Cyanide & Happiness campaign, there has been much to celebrate in that regard. That said, as with any successful service, the big boys eventually come knocking and that’s where the problems begin when it comes to determining who owns Kickstarter projects once their funded.
Backers Are Technically Investors
Think about it, if you put money towards something (tangible or not) you’re really investing in its success. Projects that aim to create a physical object generally offer said project as the reward for backing. Projects concerning content also tend to offer the content (or access to it) as rewards because (naturally) people who back something want to be able to see it too.
The problem is that content projects generally depend on lots of people watching it. Those lots of people won’t be backers, they’ll be members of the general public who heard or read about it from somewhere else. Since they have nothing to do with the original Kickstarter campaign, that essentially makes the original backers investors instead of donors. Concepts such as ownership of the completed works and the nature of any copyrights associated with them have so far gone unaddressed in many Kickstarter campaigns despite the fact that they are often a sore spot in traditional models.
How This Becomes Problematic
The impetus for this post comes from Dara Naraghi who commented on the recent Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign. If you are not familiar, the gist is that major studio Warner Bros. ‘told’ the series creator that if they could raise $2 million, the studio would consider a feature film. Needless to say, that target was blown away within hours (its at $4 million as of writing).
Dara however, sees a massive problem :
First of all, allow me to congratulate Warner Bros. for being so incredibly generous to “allow” people to give them free money, with absolutely zero risk to the studio. What great movie making folks they are. And secondly, if the phrases “met with the Warner Bros. brass” and “they agreed to allow us to take this shot” make you feel confident that the movie studio is obligated, ethically and legally, to make this movie, then you’re either the world’s biggest optimist, or stupidest investor. Seriously.
He’s right too, but the problems extend far beyond the above attempt to make a film. In the past, if you put money towards a project, you were also (generally) entitled to a share of any profits generated (its one of the founding theories of capitalism). With Kickstarter, no such guarantees exist. Essentially once a film/series is funded, you (the backer) are no longer entitled to anything beyond what you were originally promised, and even then you may be left in the lurch.
Under certain circumstances, such a scenario is acceptable though. Think an independent animator who just wants to get their film onto DVD, or the comic artist who wants to publish a book.
Those kinds of campaigns are different though as the content has already been created. The projects this post is concerned about are the ones whose goal is to fund the content itself. Problematic insofar as content tends to live on for quite a while and can generate revenue for decades after they are created. Is it really fair to the people who paid for it to see the money raised go straight into the pockets of the creators who essentially put up nothing besides the idea? (If you disagree, please by all means add a comment below.)
How This Can Lead to Abuses
While many people freely donate/invest knowing this, where it could potentially become a problem is when larger players get involved. Projects like the Cyanide and Happiness one are done by individuals with a strong connection to their fans and who gladly give the content away for free afterwards, but what if a major studio (such as Warners) did the same? Do you think they would make it freely available afterwards? Nope, not a chance. What about the money they would make from it, would that be distributed among the people who donate? Again, not a chance. Heck, Hollywood studios are already notorious for not even giving out the money their contractually obliged to. What hope to thousands of individuals have?
Naturally if you only throw $25-50 at a project chances are you won’t be too put out, but some campaigns have donors who pledge $10,000 or more! That’s certainly not a pledge but a true investment; even more so since they often come with a ‘producer’ credit.
How To Mitigate For Abuses of Kickstarter Backers
As you can probably tell, the issue here isn’t people receiving nothing, or people receiving little but rather people seeing their generosity taken advantage of. Independents keep this in mind, but larger studios certainly won’t. If Warners receives the Veronica Mars Kickstarter money, rest assured it will disappear into the black hole of development hell. Why? Because it’s 100% profit for them and having $4 million in their hands is worth a heck of a lot more than a potential $100 million box office.
The simplest and most effective way to mitigate is to simply let the content created roam free either in the public domain or (more sensibly) under a Creative Commons license. Put simply, the latter does not prohibit creators from making money, but does not preclude investors from enjoying and sharing it either.
What Do You Think?
Lastly, I want to hear what you think. Time pressures meant I was unable to contact and query the people I wanted to before writing this post, so I’m eager to hear what you think. Would you feel cheated/angry if a Kickstarter project made lots of money after you backed it? How about being told you can no longer enjoy it thanks to copyright restrictions?
Leave a comment below and feel free to share this post too!
The Yowp blog is a favourite of this blogger because it not only does an excellent job of dissecting many, many early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, it also manages to dig up plenty of the associated marketing and promotional material related to them as well. A recent post concerned the celebrations of Yogi Bear’s ‘birthday‘:
Sure, the company began with the deals you might expect—for comic books, toys and records. And it grew from there. But a couple of promotions from the pre-Flintstone era at the studio (which is the focus of this blog, though we stray a bit) are admirable considering the coordination that was involved in pulling them off. One was Huckleberry Hound’s presidential run in 1960 (which combined comic books, cereal offers and personal appearances). The other is the Yogi Bear birthday party of 1961.
Driven By Data Not Desire
In today’s multi-media, web-enabled and YouTube-driven mediasphere, marketing has become a true science. Sure, advertising legend David Ogilvy knew as much back in the 50s, but even he always emphasised the art of marketing and advertising as being the most important element.
Google has since perfected the data-driven approach, wherein data on consumers is gathered and analysed until useful information is extracted. This information is then either used by Google itself, or sold to others for their use in advertising. Such trickery is superb at learning a consumer’s habits and also exploiting them.
The Decline of Social Marketing
The problem with data driven marketing and promotion is that it focuses much more on the individual rather than the collective. Just think about Yogi’s Birthday parties; they were designed to bring people together.
The feeling of being part of a community remains a very strong driver of viewing habits and fandom in general. The feeling that we are part of a group that shares similar tastes is far and away the biggest factor when it comes to how we determine which shows are our favourites.
Fans and fan-dominated social events (like conventions) are distinct from the kind of events that this post is talking about though. The former are geared towards existing fans whereas the latter are geared much more to potential fans.
Today, many of these potential fans congregate in the online space, either on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. Such platforms are much more efficient and, from a studio or network’s perspective, much cheaper to advertise on than a physical event.
The problem is that as we head ever further towards a future where there is a screen for each individual, there will be a tendency to ignore the physical space in preference of the virtual one. On an adult level, this may not be an insurmountable issue, but for kids especially, it could spell disaster.
That’s not mere fear mongering either. Animated features in their current form depend on the social viewing experience of the cinema. If kids grow up preferring smaller screens with content tailored to their desires, what do you think that will result in?
Finding the Solution
Viewing content will always be social on some level or another. The challenge will be how to do so when technology that permits people to watch any time any where is the norm. Will it still be possible to gather a group of people together to watch something? Large events like the Super Bowl will be fine, but what about smaller animated TV shows? How about getting kids to watch shows in groups at home, will that become a challenge too?
All these remain somewhat of a mystery at this point in time, but one thing is for sure, if we do not find a solution, it will make for some radical changes to animation.
What would you do to stimulate social viewing of animated programmes? Leave a comment below with your idea!
One of the truths about success is that the impulse to fiddle with it always overrules the wisdom of leaving it alone. No sooner has an animated show achieved critical acclaim and commercial success than ideas are hatched to parlay that success into something else. Today’s topic represents the epitome of the concept of ‘brand extension‘, where a successful brand in one area is transplanted into another. Think of the Disney cruise ships as being an extension of the theme parks. The former plays off the positive public image of the latter despite no real connection to it besides a common owner.
The proposed Equestria Girls animated TV show is just such an extension. It takes the wildly popular My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and attempts to transplant it from a show based on ponies to one based on human characters. The move is being spun as a celebration of the toy line’s 30th anniversary and will take the form of a series.
Why Equestria Girls Raises Concerns
So what’s the deal with it; why should it matter? Well, brand extension is inadvisable for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that the very hope that customers will follow has been proven again and again to be false. This belief can even be a double-edged sword in the case of a poor extension attempt. Not only is there the risk of failure, but also the risk that the contamination can spread back to the originating brand.
In the case of My Little Pony, this could mean that if audiences reject Equestria Girls, then they may also stop watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, buying the associated merchandise and attending the various conventions. So far, both The Hub and Hasbro have been extremely accommodating of fans (despite some hiccups) but this attempt was clearly initiated without any concern for them.
Why Its Being Attempted
Efforts like Equestria Girls are often symptoms that studios or networks are becoming risk averse. In other words, they don’t want to take the chance that a new venture may fail so they rely instead on variations of an existing success story. The risk is certainly lower, but the risk that the brand itself will wear out quicker is a major conern.
At the time of writing (March 2013) the MLP brand shows no signs of slowing down, but the inevitable slowdown is coming sooner rather than later. The Hub (or rather Hasbro) is sowing the seeds for the efforts to keep the brand afloat with Equestria Girls.
We’ll have to wait until later this year to find out how things go, but as of now, Hasbro is willing to take a chance with their most valuable property.
Can you really call this a review? I don’t know, because a true critic would tease out the good points from the bad, leaving the inevitable conclusion up to the reader. I cannot do that however, for the simple reason that From Up on Poppy Hill is a film that you must see, regardless of whether you think you will like it or not.
Studio Ghibli has been turning out films that in all honestly, put Pixar’s best to shame. The irony of course is that for their unashamed, un-commercial style, Ghibli’s films are phenomenally successful at the Japanese box office. It is a testament to the studio’s pool of talent that there is a distinct lack of sequels in their library; a feat that Disney maintained for many decades until it caved to the inevitable pressures of short-term growth forecasts.
From Up on Poppy Hill is the latest in that long line of films to reach Western audiences as an official release. Much respect and gratitude should be given to New York-based distributor GKIDS for having the desire to bring yet another film to our shores that many in the business would consider too far outside of what could be considered a commercially viable release.
The film comes with an attachment in the form of yet another Ghibli trademark. In this case it is the surname Miyazaki and unique for the studio, both father and son are on board. The past experiences of both men on the son’s directorial debut, Tales From Earthsea, have been mended, and From Up On Poppy Hill is the result. The elder, Hayao, wrote the screenplay based on a popular manga series by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsur? Sayama while the younger, Gor?, undertook direction duties.
The result is a curious film insofar that it retains the usual Ghibli ‘look’ but dispatches with the customary fantasy element, relying instead on a very real and heartbreaking problem that stemmed from the Japanese involvement in World War II.
The film does much more than simply portray a series of events. Rather, it grants us privy to a series of dramatic and emotional revelations for our heroes: Umi Matsuzaki and Shun Kazama. We see the calamity behind their first meeting and the subsequent bond they form and nurture.
It is this bond that forms the backbone of Umi and Shun’s story and while it gets a bit uncomfortable, the struggles that both characters face in coming to terms with reality make for some very emotional scenes, especially for Umi. She embodies the strong female protagonist that is common among Miyazaki films, but Gor? manages to make her vulnerable in ways that, say, Princess Mononoke is not. It must be said that the levels of emotion that the film managed to evoke from this blogger have not been equaled by any Western film from the past 15 years.
While it is easy to decry the presence of a substantial plot (about efforts to save a dilapidated clubhouse on school grounds), that is to miss the point of the film. Both Miyazaki’s have made known their nostalgia for a period in modern Japanese history when the shackles of the past were giving way to the optimism of the future. Such a transition period was fraught with many struggles. From Up On Poppy Hill conveys such struggles through its dual plots; that of Umi and Shun and their efforts to save an old, dilapidated clubhouse; the Latin Quarter. We see the characters in both plots attempt to reconcile actions from the past with an unknown but optimistic future.
Naturally the animation itself is superb. Once again, the notion that traditional 2-D, hand-drawn animation is no match for CGI is proven to be nothing but bluster and false promises. The Latin Quarter is beautifully rendered for the messy pigsty that it is and the lush colours of a Japanese summer manage to leap off the screen without obscuring our heroes.
The soundtrack adds a delightful level of joviality and comedy to proceedings too.
In the end, From Up On Poppy Hill returns to the humbler roots of such films as Kiki’s Delivery Service where the character’s experiences and reactions throughout the film are much more important than the plot itself. You won’t watch Poppy Hill to see whether the Latin Quarter is saved, you will watch because you want to see what becomes of Umi and Shun. Their innocence belies a complicated past and their reaction to, and reconciliation with it are what makes From Up On Poppy Hill such a wonderful film. Make an effort to see it when you can.
While such systems are capable of projecting the most vivid colours in a flawless manner, I found that they completely destroy the viewing experience. Why? Well animation is created as individual drawings that when shown 24 times a second appear to move and ought to be presented in that manner.
Using traditional film, that is fine; the technology relies on only displaying one frame ever 1/24th of a second and requires our brain to fill in the rest when the screen is blank between frames.
With digital projection, we lose that; it is clever enough to project each image without the gap. The end result is that I am not watching a film, I am watching a very high-definition video on a very large screen and when you project a technique like traditional animation using such technology, the result is that ever movement is so clearly defined that it doesn’t move smoothly, it shudders.
This shuddering didn’t ruin the film for me, but did leave me pining for a good ol’ strip of celluloid that would have been darker and not as sharp, but at least I wouldn’t have to be fooled into thinking I was watching individual frames projected onto the screen.
Chris Oatley is constantly beating the drum of optimism and in his latest post, he breaks down the latest developments for all levels in his trademark soft-spoken manner laced with his genuine concern for others. If you haven’t already read Chris’ post, now is the time to read it, ponder it and act on the lessons contained within.
How TV has Replaced Animated Films as Disney’s Biggest Brand Ambassador
If you had to guess who sells more family saloons (sedans) in Europe between BMW and Nissan, you’d probably guess the latter right? Well as it turns out, a BMW 3-series is actually more ‘exclusive’ than the ‘mainstream’ Nissan Primera was during the last year of that model’s life.
The same is ocurring over at Disney right now. Feature films used to be the main engine of the Disney empire. They drive toys, TV series, even Broadway musicals. All that has changed however.
The Variety piece outlines how television is now the primary driver behind most Disney products. Phineas and Ferb are the ones being noted as cleaning up shop but plenty of other Disney Channel properties lend a helping hand.
All this means that features, for 80s years the recognised pinnacle of animated entertainment, are being shunted into second place in executive’s minds. You should read the article to gain an understanding of how things will progress within that company for the next couple of years.
Fantasia Program Recap
Michael Sporn has uploaded some beautiful scans of the booklet that was handed out at the premiere of Fantasia. In addition to the gorgeous design, the booklet features the credits that are not included in the film itself.
Why We Bother
Josh Selig over at the Kidscreen blog has a great wee post where he ponders the question about why those involved in animation put up with it in spite of a litany of obstacles.
Fans Gone Wild: The Brave Little Toaster
Fans and fandom are a favourite topic of this blog so it is with some amusement to learn of the extents of some fan’s devotions. From the FLIP blog comes this piece about a fan (namely Ian Knau) who figured out the design to the compactor from The Brave Little Toaster and even made detailed plans. If only every animated film had such devoted fans!
Another unremarkable Friday? Ha! Not a chance. Today, the 22nd of March, actually has a fair bit of animation history to it; more than one would expect anyway. What noteworthy events happened on this day? Let’s take a look.
Stuart Heritage recently wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian on the topic of a Danger Mouse reboot for the 21st century. Although slightly tongue in-cheek, Heritage manages to nail down the finer points of such an effort and why it just might work if done right:
And then there’s the question of the reboot itself. The word conjures up catastrophic images of a humourless, jerky CGI rodent, possibly in a baseball cap, possibly called Dangamouz, battling the forces of evil with the power of industrial dubstep. Sometimes this tactic can work – both He-Man and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been the recipients of darker updates, and they were arguably better than the originals – but it almost definitely won’t with Danger Mouse.
The notion of rebooting an old kids cartoon from the 1980s is nothing new and past successes would surely embolden anyone looking to take it on. The question is though, do we even deserve a Danger Mouse reboot?
First of all, what do I mean by ‘deserve’. Surely that question was answered in the Simpsons episode “The Itchy, Scratchy and Poochie Show” when Bart confronted Comic Book Guy about being “owed” entertainment, right? Weeeeeell, no. As consumers, we do deserve to be entertained. That’s our demand, and plenty of times, producers do a great job of satisfying it. However, plenty of other times, they do not.
The risk involved in creating a new animated property (TV show, web series or otherwise) is immense. There is plenty of success to be had if you pull it off, sure. But what if it’s not?
Bad entertainment can leave a sour taste in your mouth for years, decades even, in the same way that great entertainment can bring back a flood of nostalgia many years after the last viewing.
Danger Mouse would play off of this. The original series is steeped in nostalgia for many many people who grew up with it but when viewed today, the show is rather crude compared to modern standards. A reboot would keep the characters and premise intact but would update them to appeal more to today’s tastes and hopefully bring a whole new generation into the fold of a great animated property.
Why don’t we deserve a Danger Mouse reboot? Well as much as consumers deserve to be entertained, they also deserve to be entertained in an innovative manner. Hollywood has been rehashing the same formulas for decades but every iteration is done so in such a way as to appear new. Think of Danger Mouse’s inspiration, James Bond. Practically every film is the same and yet they keep making more because they keep finding ways to innovate just enough to make it appear fresh.
In the context of Danger Mouse, it would be tantamount to admitting that the concept of a British mouse who’s a secret spy must depend on a property that is nigh-on 30 years old and that has had no significant activity since it ended production in 1992.
Are we, as consumers, deserving of such a situation? No! We should be deserving of new ideas or twists on the concept of a British spy. Throwing an old idea in new wrapping is insulting on many levels but it’s a situation that keeps on happening. Now yes, you could argue that many consumers are all too happy to lap reboots up but that misses the point. Plenty of the consumers that enjoy the reformulated content are the very same consumers who will drool at the thought of a new episode of Mad Men or become slaven devotees to whichever new show is on HBO.
Yes, Danger Mouse would be aimed at kids, but kids are voracious consumers of anything that’s sold to them as being ‘new’. Why should we, as adults, force our nostalgic memories on them? Why shouldn’t we create something that bestows its own nostalgia on them? I believe we should, and be all the better as an industry for it.
Would a Danger Mouse reboot ruin your childhood? Let us know with a comment!
First of all, a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Remember, Guinness is Irish; corned beef and cabbage is not.
On this day last year, we took a look at the Irish animation industry and where it stood, so it makes sense to do an update after another eventful year.
Overall, the industry has gone from strength to strength. Output is up as is employment and the number of players in the industry. Not content to rest on their laurels, various studios have either sprung up or expanded into the gaming and mobile sectors.
In the televised sector, many players continue their success from last year. In addition to Cartoon Saloon and Brown Bag, Boulder Media continues their winning streak with The Amazing World of Gumball. JAM Media recently opened a second office in Belfast to further their presence in the market. Caboom continued their strong streak from last year and have plenty in development too.
Telegael has expanded their capabilities with the construction of a dedicated stop-motion studio that will produce series for Irish and foreign markets. Monster Animation rebranded as Geronimo Productions and their latest series, Planet Cosmo is currently teaching astronomy to kids all over Ireland and further afield!
As the industry in Ireland matures, it has naturally branched out to touch other industries where animation plays a role. Video games, in particular those for mobile and tablet platforms, have seen an influx of animation studios who realised that their skills were just as applicable to interactive forms of entertainment as it is for passive ones. Kavaleer continues their success in this area and Brown Bag also has their eye on it as they recently announced the creation of a ‘digital division’ to handle properties the area.
The Irish animation industry is in good shape for 2013 and should look forward to another successful year of growth. That said, challenges lie ahead that will have to be at least addressed. Chief of which is the creation of a tax break for animation production in the UK. With the potential loss of their cost advantage, Irish studios may have to get innovative to attract work.
The pace of the transition to digital distribution continues apace and although things are not as advanced as they are in the US, they soon will be. The proliferation of online content (either through YouTube or other services) spells trouble for business models that rely solely upon the traditional methods of funding.
As of writing, no Irish studio has embraced the online model completely despite the fact that large audiences are already there. Perhaps 2013 will be the year an Irish studio pulls a Frederator and gets their own content up and available for worldwide viewing.
Otherwise, the Irish animation industry remains in great shape for 2013. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m outta here for obvious reasons 🙂