The Hub, Hasbro and Shezow

logo-hub.png

The LA Times ran an article on My 28th by Joe Flint that’s pretty much all about The Hub; well The Hub and parent company Hasbro….and the former’s latest show thrown in for good measure. We’ll get to Shezow in a minute, but what the article brought up in a more important way, was the nature of the relationship between the network and Hasbro. Of all the kids’ networks, only the Hub is owned by a parent that also produces toys, and that makes things extra tricky.

The Network

The Hub is a youngster and has faced an uphill battle since it launched:

Launched in October 2010, the Hub has barely registered a blip in the highly competitive kids’ TV marketplace. It has a few minor successes including “My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic” and “Transformers,” but overall its ratings are tiny. Among kids 2 to 11, the Hub’s primary target, it averages 56,000 viewers a day, according to Nielsen. Disney and Nickelodeon each average 934,000 kids in that group.

Finding a runaway success in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the network has worked to expand it’s offerings of original content and Shezow is simply the latest in that effort.

So far so good, right? I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day and the fact that the Hub has managed to get going with a small but fairly devoted following suggests that it’s continued growth is secured. However, there is the small matter of the owner of the entire operations and how it interacts with the network and studio.

Hasbro

The giant that is Hasbro was, for a long time, simply a manufacturer of toys, both licensed and original. The Hub is their first real foray into entertainment and so far, has spent $450 million between acquisition and investment in the Hub and its associated production facility, Hasbro Studios. The former has yet to turn a profit, but losses are narrowing.

Given this level of investment, Hasbro has exerted higher than normal levels of control over the Hub. This is where things get really intriguing for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that you have an established company moving into an industry that they are sort of familiar with but have never got their hands really dirty. They’ve invested a lot of money and some people have their necks on the line.

One would naturally expect that some experienced hands would be hired and given the freedom to do what they do best: develop great content. Well, that’s sort of been the case.

Lauren Faust left My Little Pony for conflicting reasons depending on who you ask, but interference from Hasbro executives appears quite commonly in rumours. That’s not all though. The LA Times article notes that Hasbro controlled the Hub’s own website before relenting.

Both of these play into the larger role that Hasbro seems to have: they want a top-down approach to content.

Back in the 1980s, there was a marvelous/terrible regime whereby animated shows were driven by toys. That is, existing toy lines were shoehorned into an animated half hour and sold to kids as a way to boost toy sales. Fair enough. But then Nickelodeon discovered that if you let animators do their thing, they could completely obliterate the competition with original content! SpongeBob Squarepants is the ultimate and best example of this: a creator-driven show that has sold billions of dollars worth of merchandise. In other words: the show drove toy sales, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, Hasbro doesn’t see things this way, and instead of using the bottom-up approach to content and merchandise, has decided to go in the opposite direction by dictating which content the Hub is permitted to make and broadcast, all in the name of synergy:

Several former Hub and Hasbro executives, who declined to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the matter, charge that shows that performed well for the Hub but weren’t in line with Hasbro’s toy sales objectives have been canceled or had their episode orders reduced.

Those shows include the cartoon “G.I. Joe Renegades” and “Family Game Night,” a program in which kids and parents play life-sized versions of Hasbro games. The former was canceled because Hasbro did not have a doll that went with the show on the shelves of stores, these people said. The latter had its episode order cut when board games became less of a Hasbro priority.

Such claims led to the inevitable denials:

Hasbro President and Chief Executive Brian Goldner denied those assertions, saying programming decisions are “up to Margaret and the team.” Loesch said those moves were made for “business and budget considerations” and not because of pressure from Hasbro.

“They do not tell us how to run the business,” Loesch said. “They of course share with me which of the properties they think would tie in best with their strategy, which is a win-win for us.”

All I can say is, yeah right. CoughEquestriaGirlscough

When companies pour nearly half a billion dollars into something, it is impossible for them not to meddle on some level. Besides, if they can, well, bump their quarterly numbers up by 0.005% if they tell the network to do this or that, guess what? They will do it!

We haven’t even discussed how Hasbro bans ads for rival toy companies’ products from the Hub, but you should be able to figure that one out for yourself. If it isn’t evidence of overzealous control, I don’t know what is. At least Disney sidesteps the issue completely by not running any ads at all.

All this makes it all the more interesting as to how Shezow came to get picked up.

Shezow

This Australian/Canadian show has already been broadcast in both countries with success and will come to the Hub on June 1st, 2013. It revolves around a 12 year old boy, Guy, who basically turns into a superhero. So far so normal, right? Well the twist is that turning him into a superhero also turns him into a girl makes him feminine in appearance:

Via: The Hub
Via: The Hub

This twist is something new for an animated kids show and while it raises some very good points about genderisation, kids and socially-mandated gender norms (which is definitely a topic for another post), it also doesn’t appear to fit in with Hasbro’s ‘plan’ at all.

So, will it survive? That’s the simplest question, but furthermore, why doesn’t Hasbro adapt the merchandise to the content instead of the other way around? Is it because it retains the entrenched ways of creating merchandise that have been part and parcel of toys since the dawn of television? Or is it because the company really believes that it can do better than the other networks that have all embraced creator-driven shows?

We’ll have to wait and see.

Annoying Orange Slapped With Lawsuit

Another day, another show getting hit with a lawsuit. This time around it’s the YouTube/Cartoon Network hit Annoying Orange and the person suing is, uh, an advertising agency of all things. Yes siree, they are suing because Annoying Orange allegedly infringes upon their idea for a public service commercial for the North Dakota DOT featuring, you guessed it, a talking orange.

Via: The NY Daily News
Via: The NY Daily News

Judging from the picture above, there’s a ton of similarity there. I mean they’re both oranges, right? On top of that, both have mouths, real human mouths that move just like normal human mouths do! Only one adds the eyes, but their irrelevant to the lawsuit apparently.

Yes, I’m being slightly sarcastic, but it’s hard not to, especially when the similarities are far outweighed by the differences. Sure, both are talking oranges, but how many times have we seen that over the course of time. Talking fruit isn’t new, and neither is putting a face on them for that matter.

Furthermore, the nature of the content is completely different. One is a serious campaign for public safety, the other is about entertainment and only entertainment; there’s no safety message there!

So is there any sort of a case here at all? Is this something that creators need to pay attention to or concern themselves with?

It’s unlikely, and here’s why: a talking fruit is not original in any way shape or form, the same goes for putting human mouths on things. It’s a classic technique that has certainly seen use in television for at least a couple of decades. Combining the two surely doesn’t count as anything close to being ‘creative’ under copyright law.

Furthermore, there isn’t a trademark issue either; especially since the client for one of the oranges (the North Dakota DOT) is a public entity; clearly distinct from the private owners of the Annoying Orange. Even besides that, the name of both videos are technically purely descriptive and couldn’t come under either copyright or trademark anyway.

What to glean from all this?

Well, as Steve Hullett over at the Animation Guild Blog points out, there’s a lot of money emanating from one of these videos while the other gets zilch. Readers of this blog ought to be smart enough to figure out why a lawsuit would be filed.

DC Goes The Direct Route for SBFF Merchandise

Via: Zazzle.com
Via: Zazzle.com

There has been on-demand merchandising available on the internet for quite a while now. CafePress was once the most common, but in recent times, they’ve seen a bunch of competitors emerge offering either specialised products like T-shirts (such as WeLoveFine) or simply better quality products (like Redbubble, etc.) What all have in common is the DIY approach. Essentially there are standardised items and then your name/logo/graphic is printed on according to the customer’s preference. It’s been used by independents and smaller studios with success, but larger players seem to have held off, until now.

DC Comics Gets Involved

Via: Zazzle.com
Via: Zazzle.com

The news recently emerged that DC Comics (erstwhile appendage of the Time Warner conglomerate) had established a presence on the merchandise site Zazzle featuring characters from the Super Best Friends Forever series of shorts by Lauren Faust.

The list of products is quite long and includes much more than your standard fare like T-shirts and mouse pads. There is stretched canvas art (a respectable upgrade from a poster), a pet sleeve and even stamps!

Via: Zazzle.com
Via: Zazzle.com

Why Now Though?

It’s perhaps surprising that a large entity like DC hasn’t gotten involved in something like this before. It’s natural given large companies preference for dealing with established merchandise players for reasons of connections and profit.

The reason that DC is doing so now is down to how on-demand merch retailers like Zazzle represent a way of extracting the dynamo effect of merchandise from shows/shorts that couldn’t necessarily sustain regular merchandise that would be sold in stores.

The short duration of the shows is certainly one factor, but so is risk. DC/Warners/CN had no idea how they would be received and rather than tie up capital for months with a high probability of failure, it makes much more sense to simply make it as customers demand, even at the expense of higher per unit cost.

Where They Stumbled (Slightly)

The only place where DC missed the mark was timing. They should have had this set up even before the first short aired. It’s great that stuff is available now, but they’ve missed the swell of interest that accompanied the shorts’ broadcast on TV.

Frederator have this down pat having had Bravest Warriors merchandise available on welovefine well in advance of that series debut on YouTube last year. They’ve since significantly expanded the range to include characters and quotes that have resonated with fans.

A Merchandise Model For the Future?

We should certainly hope so. If anything, it would be nice just to see other DC shorts merchandise too [coughAmethystcough]. With a little fine tuning, it would be possible to get on-demand merchandise up and running for any animated property and use it as a way to not only drive sales, but also to sustain interest for longer periods than current merchandise models permit.

Brony and Fan Escapism Through Animation

A normal example of fan expressionism via Equestria Daily
A normal example of fan expressionism via Equestria Daily

Where does the line between fandom and serious escapism lie and what risks do fans undertake by crossing over it? The Brony phenomenon and its popularity brings a contemporary focus to this topic.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

When it comes to fandoms and the properties on which they are based, there is always a range of levels when it comes to deovtion. There is the casual fan who watches occasionally, the more serious fan who will watch devotedly and may/may not buy the DVDs when they come out. From there, it’s a pretty quick graduation into serious fandom, where watching is not only considered mandatory, it is considered the gateway into further show discussion, which can consists of much more than just character and plot theories, but expand into philosophical musings on things like the deeper meanings behind the show to backstories for the characters. Fanfiction also comes under this grouping.

Even those top level of fans are capable of separating their fandom from their daily lives however. From there, we slide into a degree of fandom where the distinction between the universe within a show and the real world become quite blurred.

Just to note, cosplay doesn’t fall under this; it’s a method of expression and an outlet for creativity that resides either within the confines of conventions or photo shoots. That said, there exists fans for whom it is considered acceptable to either replicate, or mimic many characteristics of a show of character in their daily appearance who would.

So if regular fandom is one side of the coin, what is on the other?

Escapist Fans

Again, I need to emphasise that the line is a blurry one, and it’s easy to mistake an escapist fan for a very serious one. Escapist fans operate on a much deep psychological and physiological level. For them, their chosen show/film, is so much more than a source of entertainment, it is, in effect, a potent source for some, most or all their morals, decision-making and outlooks in life.

Escapist fans engage in much more than simple roleplay, cosplay (see above) and displays of their affection. Rather, they act and behave in ways that display heavy degrees of influence by the show(s) in question. They respond (or fail to respond) to problems and conflicts in ways that are based upon characters in the show. Again, this can occur in varying degrees/levels and even the vast majority of fans engage in a “what would X do if…” discussion. What this post is concerned with are the fans who base every dilemma on what a character would or would not do.

The Blurry Borderline Between Normality and Escapism

So where exactly does the borderline lie, and how can we tell when it’s been crossed? In the case of bronies (just to pick an example, but plenty of others exist out there), escapism would be somewhere in and around the point where My Little Pony becomes more than just a show. When we cross into looking at the show for advice and guidance, that’s when we’re either very near or over the line.

The influence of shows on kids and younger people in general has been known about for decades. Kids reenacting scenes, quoting characters and creating their own adventures has been part and parcel of televised entertainment and toys since the dawn of television. The introduction of various educational and informational programming (what it’s called in the US, but similar programmes exist around the world) were intended to ensure that kids not only took away the correct meaning from a show, but were also able to make a connection between the show and real life but still be able to draw a line of distinction between the two.

Where escapist fans inhabit is an area where there is little if any distinction between a show and reality. Sure the characters do not exist in real life, but they may as well given their influence.

Where Escapism Becomes a Concern

Escapsim itself can be a concern on many levels, but for most people escapism is temporary. It lasts only as long as they watch TV, play videogames or read a book. Temporary escapism can be beneficial; helping people relax and whatnot. It can be social too, in the case of Dungeons and Dragons. Where it becomes a concern is when it infiltrates real life and potentially affects a fan’s ability to function in it.

Coming across this Mashable post by Jessica Goodman, I read these few paragraphs:

“Our generation has a lot to deal with in life,” Marlow said, “We’ve had to deal with the cruddy-ness of progress, the changing economy. The early two-Ks have a gutter of pop cultural gross-ness. It’s post-9/11. Everyone’s been diagnosed with chronic depression, ADD, an eating disorder.” She paused and touched an emerald streak that stood out against her dark hair. “We like to pick up and go to a different world.”

….

With the growing popularity of Pixar movies and adult-oriented cartoons, it’s become easy for people her age to “extend our adolescence,” said Marlow, especially online. Her first fandom love was Harry Potter. A tattoo on her left forearm pays homage to Severus Snape, one of the series’ main characters.

While the part about escapism as a method of dealing with reality is a concern, her declaration that Pixar films and cartoons are a method for ‘extending adolescence’.

Look, the lure of youth and its presence in animation is as old as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (look up Michael Barrier’s excellent Hollywood Cartoons if you are in any doubt) and the emphasis on youth within the wider [American] culture is almost overwhelming. However, using animation as a tool to extend the immature and quite frankly, suffocating period known as adolescence is certainly an example of the kind of escapism mentioned above.

Anyone looking to extend their adolescence should realise that succeeding in the real world demands that you leave that period of your life behind. Sure you can keep your hobbies and interests (on a different level of course) but if you are relying on an animated show to sustain whatever exuberance you feel into adulthood, you will be in for a rude awakening.

One cannot but worry that escapist fans (especially younger ones) will face an even tougher time getting to grips with life than others. Plenty of geeks already inhabit their parents’ basements (and I’ve met plenty of them) and it is always sad to see a person invest more in an entertainment property than with real people.

Escapism at its deepest level certainly does permit a fan to withdraw from reality and inhabit a world that is comfortable and friendly (this includes online forums by the way) but it does so at the expense of their social responsibilities and connections. Conventions only come around so often and last for so long. Online forums and message boards provide communication and friendliness, but there remains the physical disconnect that will never be able to be replicated over a telephone line. Content itself is only so much and lasts for so long and one can only extract a finite amount of meaning from it.

Where Creators Play a Role

Needless to say, without creators, there is no content and without content, there are no fans or fandoms. The question is, what, if anything, can creators (individual and otherwise) do to either assist and promote social interaction by fans and ensure that escapism retains an undesirable taint?

Personally, it comes down to emphasising the temporary nature of entertainment and how it is certainly capable of playing a role within a fan’s life, but should remain a relatively small one. When content starts to dominate someone’s life, they are in trouble not matter what age they are.

Escapist fans who define who and what they are by a singular TV show have essentially sold themselves to whatever corporation creates it. Such people and those who tolerate it, contribute, in a meaningful way once they are numerous enough, to a degradation in overall society and a decline in overall quality of life, including their own.

Week Links 20-2013

An interesting collection of week links this week!

The State of the VFX Industry and where do we go from here

The Thinking Animation blog poses a number of questions relating to the VFX industry and the ongoing attempt to organise it in some way. They’re worth thinking about because similar issues will affect the animation industry at some point in the future even more so than they do already.

An Independent Success

Mark Mayerson has his usual measured approach to his analysis of one animator’s success on YouTube. He’s right on the money when it comes to merchandising too, but I disagree that YouTube is the level playing ground it once was. The rise of professional channels makes them gatekeepers by another name. Why make your own animation when you can try and pitch it to one of them?

Disney Dreamscapes

Sibley_PotC Chess

Brian Sibley has up on his excellent Disney blog some lovely artwork from the book The Art of Walt Disney World. Visit for the post, stay for the archive of fantastic Disneyana.

‘Epic’ a decidedly derivative, if colorful, new animated film

The website Sound on Sight has a review of Blue Sky’s latest film ‘Epic’ which, while not overly positive, does contain this nugget of a paragraph near the end:

It wasn’t that long ago when we were lucky to get one animated movie from a big Hollywood studio a year; once, it was as much an event to go to a Disney movie as it is to see the next superhero blockbuster. Now, you can’t go two months without a studio-released animated movie, making each of these movies a little less special. Epic has impressive enough animation—and the 3D isn’t terrible, though a climactic action sequence set in a darkened landscape is fairly diluted through the format conversion—but it feels like the umpteenth version of the same Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey, and done in a way that’s forgettable instead of fun.

More signs of an animation bubble?

Tweets of the Week

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/StupixAnimation/status/336512428521164800″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/boylebob/status/336864882999832576″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/le_bibo/status/337472416924176384″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/PigtailPals/status/337601766659088384″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/Cowkitty/status/337636511065456640″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/amymebberson/status/337795239358107649″]

Lastly…

I love Avatar: The Last Airbender and I love the handiwork of Mike Maihack. What better than when both come together:

Mike Maihack_Toph

Why Was The Steven Universe Pilot Not Left Online?

Via: Cartoon Brew
Via: Cartoon Brew

I’m asking this in a deadly serious tone, the pilot episode for the upcoming Cartoon Network series Steven Universe slipped online the other day, but was quickly yanked before anyone really knew what was going on. The episode itself (notto tease you any further) looks extremely promising with some lovely animation in addition to a superb cast of characters.

Why CN Should Know Better

The reason I pose this question is because Cartoon Network (of all networks) should know what wonders can be worked when a short is posted online in advance of the main series. The reason is simple, they’ve been here before with Adventure Time.

Yes, the original Random! Cartoons short was posted online after being broadcast on Nickelodeon. While many felt the short was too weird for a proper series, viewers disagreed and the numbers quickly racked up into the millions. Naturally this gave serious weight to the notion that there was demand for a full series and Cartoon Network dutifully picked it up after Nickelodeon’s exclusivity clause lapsed.

Needless to say, the show is one of the most popular animated TV shows of the past five years and has been the cornerstone of Cartoon Network’s audience growth.

Why Steven Universe is a Case of Deja Vu

So beside the obvious reason why a short would leak online (hint: people like to watch stuff), why would CN pull it ever so quickly? While they naturally want to keep things under wraps as long as possible, that’s pretty much gone to seed now that the cat is out of the bag so to speak.

If anything, Adventure Time proves that keeping a short online only adds to audience anticipation for the full series. Now as a network executive, wouldn’t you rather have a large audience waiting in rapt anticipation than to have to pay for advertising and marketing to accomplish the same result?

Steven Universe ought to be available online, even if it differs from the final product. It never hurt Adventure Time and it is unlike to hurt this show. Quite simply, Cartoon Network have to realise that they are in competition with web series now as well. Bravest Warriors is surely proof of that, and by hiding content away, they are doing themselves no favours at all.

Pixar’s Selective Sequel Problem

Is this not the most badass poster you've seen for this film?
Is this not the most badass poster you’ve seen for this film?

Pixar. No studio has been as influential over the last 15 years and no studio has had as many consistent hits as the one from Emeryville. They’ve even been notable for an aversion to sequels that makes their competitor DreamWorks look positively addicted. However, we’ve already seen three Pixar sequels and are about to see one more this summer. Almost every one Toy Story 2 has brought calls for Pixar to stop. Claims that they bring down the studio’s much vaunted integrity have gone unheeded as the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory was announced earlier this year.

Pixar’s Selective Sequel Problem

So just what is Pixar’s selective sequel problem? Well, The Pixar Times recently highlighted it with a tweet:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ThePixarTimes/status/335181933984219138″]

The flames of this haven’t exactly been dampened as of late with director Brad Bird continually proclaiming his openness to a sequel provided he finds a story that fits.

So why does Pixar face such a dilemma with its sequels? It basically comes down to the fans.

Why Fans Are Two-Faced When It Comes To Sequels

Fans are a studio’s best friend but also their greatest enemy. The former is because they fork over money but the latter is because they are often blinded to the need to create content that attracts viewers outside of the fanbase.

This conflict manifests itself particularly in sequels and movie series. The simple reason is that fans form their own expectations and can be left disappointed should a sequel or latest film in a series fail to live up to their expectations.

The problem is compounded by the need to be profitable, which necessitates making films that attract the largest audiences possible; a situation that can put studios in conflict with fans, who will gladly proclaim their love for an original film, but gleefully scorn and deride a sequel that has, essentially, been made specially for them.

Pixar’s Special Case

In Pixar’s case, many of their films are self-contained stories that, being never intended as the jumping off point for subsequent films, wrap all plot points up by the time the credits role. Any sequel put out by the studio has relied upon creating a wholly new plotline distinct from the old one.

This has (in addition to the studio’s declared practice of not making sequels) meant that fans, having witnessed the descent of the Walt Disney Animation Studios into a sort of viscious circle of sequels confined in direct-to-video hell, are quite vocal in their concern that Pixar be lead down a similar road. Toy Story 2 was saved from this by Lasseter et al and was long considered the anomaly in the Pixar cannon.

Consequently, whenever the studio has announced a sequel (be it for Toy Story, Cars or Monsters Inc), it has been greeted with a curious mixture of elation and dismay.

So the question is, why are fans dismayed at the announcement of, say, Finding Dory (with its oh-so-imaginative title) but are seemingly clamouring for an Incredibles 2?

The Curse of the Superhero

The fault can be laid at the feet of the very genre that the Incredibles is based on; the superhero.

Superhero comics have been around for almost 80 years with many titles lasting decades. Pretty much every (good) superhero film has been only the first in a series or part of a trilogy. The idea that someone would make one and only one 120 minute film within the genre is, well, alien!

The blame can’t be levelled at fans however, superhero tales lend themselves extremely well to recurring stories and their ability to last for so long without becoming insanely repetitive is a testament to their strength as characters.

With all that in mind, it’s natural for fans to see a sequel to Pixar’s (thus far) lone superhero film while lamenting sequels of other stories.

Should there be a sequel? Ah, a tough question to answer. This blogger sees The Incredibles as a family film first and a superhero film second. Creating another film based on the family unit and the strife within it would be a very tall order. Basing it on the superhero part risks lowering its stature so that its defining qualities are erased in the quest to equal or better other superhero films.

To make an Incredibles 2 or not, what’s your call?

The Powerpuff Girls, Blessed Ignorance and Fan Pigeonholing

Powerpuff GIrls-Bubbles

The Powerpuff Girls continues to exude an influence over American animation and beyond. Such a success was the original show, Cartoon Network brought it back for a one-off 10th anniversary special. Not being able to leave well enough alone, they’re dipping into the pot again with another, CGI special coming out in 2014. Undoubtedly popular and influential, the show also made pariahs out of certain fans.

Ben Mitchell has posted a great review/analysis of the show over on British animation site Skwigly that is personal but at the same time, hits the spot when it comes to the show:

I suppose we were the Bronies of our generation. After a few minutes you either got it or you didn’t – that alternately beneath or above the surface of innocuous kids’ fare there was something a lot more clever, sharp and self-aware going on. Little tells such as the passive-aggressive asides the show’s narrator (Tom Kenny) would make, or the blink-and-miss-them double entendres and obscene sleight-of-hand sight gags all cultivated a general sense that the folks behind what you were watching were up to something not nearly as innocent as the squeaky voices and bright colours would have you initially believe.

All these are qualities that the show has become famous for. However, fans of the show (when it was being broadcast) were expected to follow certain, well, expectations:

Such was the lament of all Powerpuff Girls fans who didn’t happen to be preadolescent and female. The world just didn’t understand, nor could they without giving it the hours of semi-drunken attention I’d had by that point.

Which in essence is the very issue the show has had to struggle with since it first began. Yes, it featured three female protagonists and was overly sugary, but it wasn’t overly girly. Not to use that term as a perjorative, rather I mean it didn’t conform to the usual notion that shows with girls and heavy dose of pink needed to be aimed at, or exclusively enjoyed by, girls.

The show garnered a large fanbase spread among all sectors of society, but ran into the problem that shows before (and since) have had to come to terms with: the show appears to be better suited to girls, therefore it is only suited to girls.

Fans of the show know the truth, but impressing that on others is a tough sell. Is ignorance to blame? Certainly in a partial capacity it is. Plenty of people form opinions on things they haven’t seen and form subconscious policies on them as a result. That means that if they think or believe that the Powerpuff Girls is a girly show, then they are much less likely to conclude that it isn’t, even if they’ve watched it. It’s not impossible, but the odds are high that they won’t.

The issue extends to fans themselves as well. Become known as a male fan of a supposedly female-oriented show, and opinions and biases are immediately applied to you.

It’s an unfortunate human nature, and it’s one that is hopefully starting to change in terms of animated content. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the subsequent Brony phenomenon (coincidentally another show that Lauren Faust worked on) has shown that there is the potential for fans to be more open about which shows they enjoy without having to justify it to a higher standard than previously.

Can you name any other examples of shows where fans could be unfairly stigmatised?

The Blockbuster Backlash Is Coming

Via: KidFocused
Via: KidFocused

It’s been on the horizon for quite a while and yet is rarely discussed even though it has the potential to wreck the entire industry. It’s been discussed here of course, but in the grand scheme of things, the good times will seemingly never end for movie studios. Yessiree, the blockbuster has become the king of all movies over the last few years and shows no signs of slowing down. That’s a problem though, because the question now isn’t so much whether the industry will crash, but how far it will fall.

The Current Blockbuster Bubble

The New York Times had an article last week that looks at the current situation:

Steven Soderbergh, the much-admired filmmaker, delivered a blistering critique of the phenomenon at the San Francisco International Film Festival a few weeks ago, bemoaning studio executives’ lack of imagination and their fixation on big-budget franchise films. “Cinema as I define it, and as something that inspired me, is under assault by the studios,” he said. He likened the big studios to “Detroit before the bailout” and worried that the hegemony of the blockbuster is “a trajectory that I think is pretty difficult to reverse.”

But his warning may have come too late for this summer, when the studios seem to be headed over a blockbuster cliff.

….

With its acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and, last year, Lucasfilm, Disney has spent billions to acquire others’ intellectual property, and what Disney hopes will be the foundation of generations of future blockbusters. Whether this bold bet ultimately pays off remains to be seen, but Marvel under Disney has gotten off to a strong start. “Disney is basically 100 percent blockbusters,” Mr. Creutz said, not counting films it distributes for others, like DreamWorks Studios. “There are a few exceptions, but when they’ve invested in the big event movies, they’ve come out pretty well.”

Essentially, Hollywood studios see blockbusters as being more expensive but embodying less risk than if they made many films for the same price. The logic is sound, but only if you’re the only one doing it.

What’s Causing Things to Crack

Blockbusters are everywhere now, there’s practically one every week. Sure there are losers just as there are winners (John Carter being the recent example), but even those can come close to breaking even thanks to both foreign receipts and home media sales.

The concern is that with such large budgets at stake, studios will narrow their range in an attempt to maximise both the size of the potential audience as well as how much money they can hope to extract from them. Hence, the recent rash of comic book-based films and a heavy reliance on franchises such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter.

Inevitably, we start to see the same kinds of films popping up week after week; Thor last week, The Avengers this week, Iron Man 3 next week. Notice a pattern? Animated films aren’t immune either. Large budget efforts from pretty much all the major players mean that parents (the prime targets for animated films) are getting close to being over-stretched.

The Consequences of the Fall

So there’s no doubt that the crash is coming. What we’re seeing is an increasing number of hands dipping into the same pot. That can only last so long, and since gold rushes always result in people being empty-handed, the only question is how many, and how badly?

First of all, cinema attendance will drop. If you discount all the fanboys who’d show up regardless, that leaves single people and families. The former will undoubtedly continue to visit the cinema; they’ll just look for alternative films. The latter will just flat out look for cheaper alternatives. That isn’t a snide at cinema’s or ticket prices, just economic realities. Kids don’t particularly care whether the content they view is brand new or not. Parents make that decision and something on DVD is a lot easier on the wallet than a trip to the omniplex, especially if you’re tired at shelling out for the same kind of movie with the same kind of jokes week after week.

So if consumers start to look for alternatives, what’s the impact? Well, films aren’t made in a day, and large blockbusters can be in production for a year or more. Imagine if you’re a studio with a full slate of films in production that suddenly no-one wants to see; you’re pretty much up the creek for about a year or so, aren’t you?

Large studios are therefore the one’s most likely to get tripped up. They’ll be a few tough quarters that Wall St will undoubtedly penalise them for. Smaller studios may be OK, but they will find it difficult to both infiltrate large cinema chains and pay the necessary marketing budgets to attain a profitable release.

Rock Bottom

For the purposes of this post, rock bottom is going to hit animation harder than anything else. Animated films take longer to plan, longer to produce, and carry budgets that dwarf most live-action films. That puts them in the crosshairs for cuts, especially if they don’t bring in the moolah.

Animated films are not immune at their traditional homes either. They only survived the 80s at Disney because Walt continued to cast a very long shadow over the studio. It’s hard to see anyone in that place batting an eyelid at shutting an unprofitable division now though.

So what’s the worst-case scenario that we’re facing? Well, expect severe cutbacks at all major houses. Expect Disney to yank on the rope around Pixar’s neck harder than it’s ever done before should that studio’s films start to lose traction. DreamWorks is a target for FOX and the smaller players (all subsidiaries) will most likely get shuttered.

What’s important to take from all this is that the major animation studios bar DWA are all subsidiaries of parent corporations. Animation is not a prime driver of their business and employment within those divisions is a function of profitability (both local and corporate).

This isn’t to scaremonger either, it’s a fact of capitalistic life. If people stop buying a product, there are consequences up and down the supply chain.

Will animated films survive? There’s no doubt about it, but budgets will be much, much smaller. More will be done with less (in all respects) and we will likely see fewer releases from fewer players. (Who those will be, I leave up to you.)

Rebuilding Advice

The simplest way to approach a crash like the one we are facing is to do more than simply look at where we went wrong. An over-reliance on a narrow range of content? Sure. A false belief that throwing enough money at a production will make it profitable? Absolutely. But what else can we analyse?

Are we making films in the right way? Are we making money from them in the best manner? Huge box office grosses make for great opportunities to crow on the Monday morning news but they’re a on-shot deal. A hit is great, but a miss is disasterous.

What will need to be done isn’t hard or complex, but will have to be done in earnest:

  • Make more for less. Instead of one $300 million picture, why not six $50 million ones?
  • A greater variety of stories: Instead of attracting the largest possible audience, attract a varied one instead.
  • Don’t bore consumers with franchises. The risk of failure is less, but the risk of burnout is higher; and the latter will never become apparent until it is too late.
  • Vary the style! CGI is a singular style and has been done to death for the last 10 years.

Lastly, all the above pertains to studios. What about the animators on the ground? The bottom line, vary your skills and be prepared financially as best you can. There is still time to prepare. News of layoffs has only just begun, not peaked. Get those personal projects going and practice your hustling skills. We’re in for a tough couple of years.

Pepper Ann Visits a Comic Book Shop

The comic book page below is one that I stumbled across on Tumblr (now brought to you by Yahoo!). Pepper Ann is sadly a bit of a forgotten TV show. Not because it was terrible, or the animation wasn’t up to scratch, but mostly because it’s been somewhat erased from any TV schedule and has never had a home media release.

The show was often not afraid to undertake social or personal themes and in that regard it remains a bit of a trailblazer. It also had a very unique lead protagonist (being not only female, but also an almost- teenager replete with all the usual almost-teenage problems). Although I’m not as familiar with the comic as with the show, the page below highlights not only some of the scenarios that Pepper Ann faced, but also how the show decided to tackle many serious social issues. In this instance, the relative insularity of a comic book shop.

pepper ann_comic book shop

Week Links 19-2013

Besides the one big story this week, there were plenty of others too.

In ‘Scope (2084) and Regular (2079)…

Via: A. Film L.A.
Via: A. Film L.A.

Hans Perk has begun a series of posts on Lady and the Tramp that will be worth your time reading but this introductory post also includes something else. Yup, Lady and the Tramp was in production during the 1950s, when the feature film industry was undergoing an even greater metamorphosis than it is today. Television was luring audiences away from cinemas and something had to be done to entice them back. One notion was 3-D, a gimmick that fared about as well then as it has today. Another development was the introduction of the widescreen format. Lady and the Tramp got caught in the transition that resulted in a number of changes to the film. Hans will be looking at the changes that will sure be of interest to anyone with an interest in animation history.

Art vs Marketing 2013

Emily_Lunanko_Cow

Artist Emily Lubanko takes a humourous look at where art and marketing intersect and why the results are often so, well, crappy. The above image is where we start but things quickly take weird and hilarious turns as various marketing folks chip in their two cents on the project:

When you work data-first instead of story/message first…some really kooky nonsense can occur. Just because the “data” says something doesn’t mean you have to automatically go with that flow.

2D O.D.’d

Steve Moore over at the FLIP blog has this excellent analysis of why traditional 2D animated films have all but disappeared from mainstream release in the US. Hint: too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

Cartoonists and animation experts weigh in: the new Merida doesn’t HAVE to look this way

Via: Gagging on Sexism
Via: Gagging on Sexism

The big story that seemed to be everywhere this week was the redesign of Merida into something that many felt was inappropriate. There was plenty of analysis (like this and this) and even her creator Brenda Chapman weighed in.

That said, Rebecca Hains did a great job of laying out exactly why the change was an important issue that needed to be discussed and this post of her’s (disclaimer: quotes your’s truly) points out that the issue wasn’t that Merida’s design was changed, but rather how it changed. She also includes a few (funny) visual aids for comparison purposes.

Tweets of the Week

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/DrGMLaTulippe/status/334155812664659968″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/fionachill/status/334290910294720513″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ThePixarTimes/status/335181933984219138″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/VertMB/status/335740170286534657″]