Week Links 25-2013

Better late than never but a tad short thanks to an extremely hectic week that left little time for reading.

A Skeptical Look at the Newest Disney Princess Film, Frozen

Bitch_Frozen

Hanna White over at Bitch Magazine takes this decerning look at the upcoming Disney feature. Even though it’s still early days, enough details have been released to allow for some critical analysis and this is certainly a good one.

100 Hour Weeks & Homeless

A detailed account of what a VFX artist has gone through in the industry. Well worth a read.

Tweets of the Week

 

Does Animation Face the ‘Meltdown’ Predicted By Lucas and Spielberg?

A while back during a Q&A at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg predicted that the movie business as we know it today is doomed to extinction. Their view is that video on demand will triumph and that the cinema-going experience will become a rare, expensive event on par with football games and Broadway shows. Are they right and what does it mean for animation?

Where Animation Fits Into Their Prediction

Animation is of course, quite expensive, or rather, it can be. While Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony and Blue Sky aim high with their films often coming in over $100 million (or $350 million in the case of the first two), they are a natural target for what Lucas and Spielberg predict.

It’s true that animated films have suffered as of late from the kind of tentpole mentality that has infected live action. Massively expensive films supporting long term franchises make good money and with the longevity of animation, you have a match made in heaven.

However, those big budgets rely on audiences coming to see them in droves, and as far as animated films are concerned, it (regrettably) means parents being hauled in by their kids. Which is fine until you end up with a situation like we are facing this year in that we have too many such films crammed into too little summer space. Nobody has managed to truly stumble just yet, but we’re not even halfway done and there’s still plenty more opportunities.

What Could Happen To Animated Films

If the prediction is true, the most logical outcome is either drastically fewer films or (more likely) drastically cheaper ones. We all know that cost is not a function of quality, but how will audiences respond to films that do not cost what they used to?

I’m reminded of A Monster in Paris, a film that was made for surprisingly little and which was exceedingly entertaining. It never received a theatrical release in the US although is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. A comment by someone from GKIDS over on Cartoon Brew stated that the film was a tough sell to theatrical distributors because although it looked more expensive, audiences would somehow connect cost to quality and therefore avoid it.

If animated films were forced to be made for less, would they all suffer a similar fate?

It’s unlikely, but a distinct possibility nonetheless.

Are Spielberg and Lucas Right About The Demise of Movies?

It’s easy to take them at their word, given their experience. That said, both have been responsible for numerous tentpole films over the years (Lucas especially) and while both decry them, it hasn’t stopped them making them.

More so than that, we’ve been here before. Back in the 1950s, television was supposed to be the harbinger of death for the Hollywood studios. Predictions ran that the entire industry would be decimated! What happened? Why nothing of course! TV eventually became the saviour of Hollywood studios thanks to broadcasts and licensing of their films.

Almost every studio managed to survive too, and prosper!

Is history repeating itself? Absolutely! Studios will figure out a way to make to new system work for them, and will carry on much the same as before.

Animation will no doubt adapt as well, and the hope is that we’ll have a greater variety of animated films to choose form too.

Did The Marketing Save Monsters University?

MU website

Currently doing quite well at the box office is Pixar’s latest effort, Monsters University. It’s currently certified fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes (77%) and has been popular with audiences. However, thanks to an article by Steven Zeitchik over at the LA Times, I received a bit of a revelation: just how much of the film’s success was down to the marketing?

How So?

If you read Zeitchik’s article, you’ll see that he attempts to find out if there is a link between a Pixar film’s rating with the critics and its financial success. (He concludes that yes, there is a correlation based on the quality of the film.) However, what really interested me was how Monsters University has bucked the trend.

It is only the twelfth best-reviewed Pixar film but has had the second biggest opening weekend. Of course that means nada in terms of overall financial performance, but here’s what grabbed my attention and forms that basis for this post:

On one level, that spread is a testament to what Pixar has been able to do with this movie on the marketing end. Even though “Monsters University” isn’t as strong, the company was able to use clever promotional devices to bring us in. And why not?  There’s nothing wrong with a studio ginning up a broad crowd-pleaser the critics don’t especially like.

Yes, The Marketing Was The Key

Pixar (and by extension, Disney) really pulled out the stops when it came to the marketing for Monsters University. Oh sure, there were the usual teaser clips, the onesheet posters and the usual smug game of wink wink with news outlets, but it was what they did differently that seemed to seal the deal.

From the Movie Marketing Blog:

The site for Monsters University is, what else, but a website for Monsters University, a college exclusively for monsters. Fictional (or real, your choice) Arthur Clawson founded the University, located in Monstropolis, in 1313. Today, Monsters University continues a tradition of academic excellence and the relentless pursuit of monster potential.

On the site you can apply for admission to MU, which boasts the top-scaring program in the country. Once admitted, you will have access to the Monsters University scream energy, door technology and business programs.

But don’t worry; MU isn’t entirely about academics. At Monsters University, you will enjoy a well-rounded collegiate experience full of clubs like Monsters UN and activities like, “Making Beautiful MUsic together.” Here are some of the other MU events you can look forward to if accepted.

Yes, they set up a real, fully-fledged website and had a lot of fun with it. You could create your own MU college ID, you could buy merchandise and on April Fool’s Day, the website got ‘hacked’ by ‘students’ from rival Fear Tech.

In a way, Pixar added a lot of value to the MU experience that did a lot to engage fans and consumers alike. Suddenly, the actual film itself was taking a backseat to all the fun and games of the whole concept of Monsters University itself.

That said….consider the alternative:

Would Monsters University have been such a success without the clever marketing?

If Pixar had done the usual effort with the marketing; posters, giveaways, Happy Meals, website with interactive games, etc. Would Monsters Inc. be near as successful as it has been? Would critics have given it a closer inspection with the microscope?

If one is to consider Monsters Inc sans marketing campaign, what appears to be left is an average Pixar movie and a very average story to tell. In essence, the disconnect between this film and the original could not be greater.

Don’t believe me? Monsters Inc. is pretty much the exact opposite of Monster University. The former relied on a superior story and concept with a normal marketing campaign and did solid business. The latter on the other hand, has a tired story married to an innovative marketing campaign.

Which is better to have? Ideally of course, you want a clever film and a clever marketing campaign. Such gems are hard to come by though , but when all is said and done, the marketing campaign is quickly forgotten only to gradually turn in up car boot sales in the years to come. The film, on the other hand, lives forever, and can deliver a lot of value to a studio in the long term (just ask Disney).

It’s hard to deny that the innovative marketing campaign behind Monsters University was the engine of its success at the box office. Without it, it’s highly unlikely that the film would have pulled in quite as much as it did. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the film holds up as the years wear on.

My concern? That a clever marketing gimmick obfuscates the requirement to produce a superb film.

The Banality of The Animated TV Show Press Release

Lolirock TV show poster

The above is the image released in announcement of Marathon’s latest animated TV show, Lolirock (which, by the way has no connection to what otaku fanboys think it does.) It’s a 52 by 26′ show (that’s 52, 26 minute episodes) that being bandied about the usual licensing markets. I have nothing personally against Marathon (besides the rather gender-bias of the show) or indeed what they create (there was a time when Totally Spies! was broadcast at a convenient time in my TV viewing schedule) but the press release announcing the series is about as banal as they come. Here’s some selected quotes:

On the protagonist:

LOLIROCK follows the journey of young Iris, a spirited teenage girl with a beautiful voice and an unending desire to help others.

On her destiny:

Three new friends are now bound together by their common destiny as magical princesses and their battle for justice.

What the boss thinks:

Vincent Chalvon-Demersay (CEO, Marathon Media) and David Michel (General Manager, Marathon Media) comment, “LOLIROCK is a fresh, contemporary take on what it is to be a girl today, infused with music and magical adventures and the all-important notion of justice in today’s teenage world. It’s a perfect companion piece to Totally Spies!, which has been so successful in this same space.”
Now all this isn’t to say that the show itself is as boring as these quotes suggest (it is, in fact planning on having real ‘bands’ in key markets to support it). Rather, it appears to be Totally Spies! but instead of spies, we have singers. That said, why does the press release read like such generic drivel? It’s supposed to sell the show!

Sexy Disney Princess Warriors And The Limit of Tasteful Fan Art

Stretching the limits of what this blog will cover animation-wise, the topic of today’s post nonetheless commands attention. We’ve all seen what fans are capable of doing to beloved characters for their own amusement. Heck, deviantArt is filled to the brim with established characters contorted into all sorts of different manners; anime-isation is a popular one among others. However, where does the limit of tasteful fan art lie and what harm can it cause? The topic of today’s post straddles that limit and challenges what some would consider acceptable.

Meet the Disney Princess Warriors

disney-warrior-princesses-1

Yes, (individual shots to follow), they are a sight aren’t they? (Thanks a bunch Geekologie!) While there is no denying artist Mike Roshuk’s artistic talents, one must nonetheless consider in what taste his creations lie. Are they classified as fan art? Absolutely; there’s little reason to see any legal conflicts with them. That said, where do they stand on the emotional and scale of good taste?

What They Produce

Disney Warrior Princess-2

There is a ton of blogs devoted to the portrayal of female characters in a diverse range of media (this one is a favourite), but it is video games that seem to be attracting the most attention as of late. If it isn’t the stature of girl gamers within the community, it is the portrayal of female characters in games that garners attention and provokes debate (or rather, harrassment).

While the obvious argument is that a lot of games are created to appeal to males (and rabid, hormone-addled teenage ones at that), that does not excuse the logic that the portrayal of female characters in either subservient or slave-like roles is necessary and even required to be successful.

Video games have been shown to have [relatively] minimal impact on player’s emotions and their ability to separate fiction from reality. There does not appear to be a lot of data regarding the impression that such games can have on their opinions however. If male gamers (and especially impressionable ones at that) are fed a constant stream of content portraying female characters in such roles, then there is the possibility that such views carry over into their opinions of girls and women in the real world.

Where They Subjugate the Characters

Disney Warrior Princess-3

Although this is less of a concern when it comes to animation and animated content (because you usually have to seek out the more depraved stuff relating to those), when the two cross over, we have the issue where characters representing a particular ideal are poisoned by a view of females that is completely the opposite.

The Disney princesses (horrible brand that they are) are a diverse range of strong female characters that have long represented the strength of Disney storytelling. Combining them with what represents the worst of video game storytelling seems to be an odd move for someone attempting to highlight their character strengths.

Why That’s a Concern

Disney Warrior Princess-4

Now obviously that is part of the reason for creating these pieces in the first place; the idea of contrasting character idioms and traits is a common one in the fan community. But what we have here is the use of some of the most well known characters of the last 100 years. It also destroys the characters for the joy of turning them into something that, quite frankly, denegrates them.

The recent Merida hubbub certainly highlighted the concern expressed in many quarters about the overlap that a teenage character like Merida occupies; ostensibly ‘mature’ on the one hand but appealing wholly to kids and tweens who are not.

These ‘warrior’ versions of Disney princesses, while clearly never intended or wilfully aimed at kids, would certainly be seen as being acceptable for teenagers. There is no nudity after all, and they’re certainly no worse than what many teenagers are seeing in video games and elsewhere.

Why They Are Concern for the Disney Princesses

I’m reminded once again of this:

Krisztianna how to draw super chicks

It’s by Krisztianna and highlights how simple elements of a character’s design can influence the character itself. Most fan art retaines a degree of respect for the character and their design. Sure it’s fun to try different styles but a central tenant of fan art is that the core of the character themselves is never compromised; if it is, you’re not really creating fan art any more are you?

It’s why we see so many fan-created original characters out there. Subjugating the actual characters to a ruinous extent is usually frowned upon, but creating one of your own is fair game for whatever you want.

In the case of these fan art creations, the legitimacy of the characters themselves is compromised and instead of something meant to illustrate the strong and forceful nature of the character, we have instead, models wearing artefacts that are merely reminiscent or alluding to something that is far superior.

 I’m curious to hear what YOU think of all this. Do you agree or disagree. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Week Links 24-2013

Multiple engaging week links today!

Homer Simpson isn’t a positive role model for kids? Eat my shorts…

David Mitchell over at the Guardian has this thoughtful piece about whether or not one of the greatest character ever to grace the TV screen is a bad role model for kids. Well worth a read for the infractions from certain quarters.

The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead: Q&A with Elliot Cowan

boxheads1-520

Elliot Cowan is in the process of making a feature film almost single-handedly. He discusses the much-anticipated project over on Zippy Frames in a very insightful interview.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls trailer – on the hoof? More like on the hooch

"And so the ponies get on with living life to its fullest, by getting hammered on generic-brand alcohol and inhaling strange gasses from balloons."
“And so the ponies get on with living life to its fullest, by getting hammered on generic-brand alcohol and inhaling strange gasses from balloons.”

Another one from the Guardian (this time by Stuart Heritage) but which occupies a much higher position on the sarcasm scale.

Equestria Girls has been covered on the blog here before, but this is an actual review that is more brutally honest than they tend to be:

Next, in a scene that definitely wasn’t added because Hasbro knows that a lot of the My Little Ponies: Equestria Girls revenue will come from adult male brony fetishists, Twilight Sparkle gets down on her hands and knees and lets her dog mount her. Silly Twilight Sparkle! On this planet we put string around our dogs’ necks and … no, wait, that’s playing into the bronies’ hands too. Disregard.

You should definitely read the whole thing, which does a great job of illustrating the marketing/executive farce that is Equestria Girls.

Mike Boon Animation Alphabets

Via Animated Review are a series of alphabets featuring animated characters. Here’s the Simpsons one, but there are many more.

Via: Animated Review
Via: Animated Review
Via: Random Curiosity
Via: Random Curiosity

This announcement may be the one that finally gets me around to buying a Blu-Ray player; something I’ve resisted so far for no particular reason.

However, there’s more to this than a simple home media release:

The anime will come in a collector’s edition on Blu-ray Disc with an original soundtrack disc and a 112-page art book with storyboards, sketches, character art, and illustrations. Video extras include a 66-minute making-of video that chronicles fledgling studio Trigger‘s journey to create Little Witch Academia for the Anime Mirai 2013 program. The disc will have the Japanese soundtrack with English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese subtitles.

Is anyone in any doubt about the ability to sell this given a.) the quality of the film itself and b.) the sheer breadth of material thrown in for the fans and nothing more?

This is what we talk about when we mean catering to fans. The price is currently unknown, but even at $50 it will be worth it.

Coming Soon On Tumblr

Zodiac Starforce

Nope, I don’t know either. But I am intrigued from a business model standpoint as well as a story one.

UPDATE: Thanks Ryan!

Tweets of the Week

 

Applying Andrew Reid’s Advocate Advice to Animation

Published a while back was a post over on Fast Company by Andrew Reid that’s all about fans, or rather, fans and influencers and the ease at which both are interchanged and confused. The concept of fan and fandom is often used on this blog, but when it comes to culture, it is harder to distinguish between fans and influencers because they are essentially one and the same. Nobody proclaims love for an animated property for the sake of influence unless they’re paid. Reid brings up many interesting points, but he also lists a few rules that animation studios would be wise to consider. Let’s Take a look.

What Fans Really Define

When we discuss fans and fandom within the confines of animation, we really mean the vast majority of people who just happen to like a particular show or film. In our minds, they are as much advocates as they are fans, and the vast majority of them accept criticism that is warranted.

While Reid uses the term ‘advocate’, it’s hard to see where such people fit into the world of animation. Jeffrey Katzenberg is an obvious advocate, but he’s clearly got something to gain by doing so. Can ordinary people be advocates for animation? Arguably, bloggers are to an extent, but where to draw the line between them and pure fans? It’s blurry, complicated and unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Coaxing Influencers, or Rather, Fans

Where Reid’s article is wholly appropriate to our cause is in the guidelines it gives to giving advocates a nudge, or the coaxing they need to be more efficient. For animation, (normal) fans would fulfil the role of the advocate. They’re quite accurate; let’s dive in!

Don’t fake the funk

Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog have been caught by this trap far too many times. Pixar is the role model; promising on, and delivering stellar films continually delight fans. Walt Disney was also aware of it; he aimed for, and demanded, perfection with every picture. The brand and company he built with the results are a testament to its mportance.

Never incentivize

How are animation fans incentivised? Well, freebies constitute and incentive and while it can fool kids, adults are wise. A once-off or exclusive is a form of incentive, and they can have similar results. Ever buy an item with an ‘exclusive’ or ‘limited-edition’ extra? That’s an incentive. A real incentive is something that a fan can truly value but it likely won’t substantially grow your brand or revenues.

Don’t sweat NPS

For an animation studio, feedback from fans is much more valuable.

Give them a voice

This is something that studios excel at relative to other industries. There are fan sites all over the internet, and corporate efforts like D23 illustrate how studios can get in on the act too and succeed. It also pays to listen. While you don’t have to blithely agree with everything you hear, fans can give honest feedback that can steer decisions and make them work in your favour.

Ambassador programs are underutilized

Do animation studios even have ambassador programs? Well, sort of. While they don’t have the kind of programs outlined in Reid’s article, they do utilize their characters as ambassadors t great effect.

Could humans fill a different void? What about adult fans? Consider again the service Tugg and its goal of setting up screenings that are essentially organised by fans for their own benefit. The link between it and this point is that whoever organised the Tugg event is an ambassador; they want to entice others to see the film they love. The fact that they are doing it honestly is what prevents them from being mere salespeople.

Animation studios could fo a lot more to have local fans advocate for them in some official way. (They’ve been doing it unofficially for decades with group screenings and conventions.) What could they be?

Concluding Remarks

Fans of animation are, in a way, essentially forced into being advocates thanks to the marginalisation of the technique in mainstream entertainment. Anything that can be done to help them from an official standpoint should.

The Disconnect That Leads to Industry Breakdown

Donald_chalkboard

Any industry is a complicated beast and animation is no exception. The skills in demand are constantly changing and nobody really knows where things are heading in that regard. Many still pine for the days when traditional animation was either hand-drawn or stop-motion. Today, CGI comes in a dizzying, vast array of forms and associated skillsets. How these skills are taught is something that has been discussed here before with this blogger advocating a return to apprenticeships in animation as opposed to undergraduate degree programs that teach skills that may be obsolete by the time students graduate. On a recent post on a related topic, commentator johnV posted a comment excerpted below:

I personally feel that the reason there are more CG films than Traditional Animation is because the lack of talent and the colleges that only teach CG animation. Before, the majority of animators were artists. They went to art school, not to an animation school. They knew how to draw, paint, sculpt, and create art. They learned animation from other animators while working in the animation studio. They knew the fundamentals of ART. John Lasseter said it himself, that all animators should know the fundamentals of art.

Today, most animation students don’t bother learning the necessary principles to creating art. Thus, they become button pushers. There’s not enough people who can do Traditional Animation anymore, because it’s not being taught. Animators who want to animate traditionally, have to teach themselves, watch Youtube videos, and read books. But there are no colleges for that anymore. There are a few that will teach a class or two, but not one that will have it as a degree.

And that’s perfectly fine for the colleges. Colleges are nothing more than a business, they use the technology and computer animation aspect to attract new students. They don’t care about the industry or what is the viable form of animation. They care that they fill seats in their class rooms, sell books and supplies, and charge an insane amount of tuition that the students will be paying back for a very long time.

And speaking of business, the major studios love button pushers… they’re easy to replace. Do you think that a computer animator has the pull and power of a traditional animator…. computer animators are a dime a dozen. A traditional animator is hard to come by. They can demand from their employers. So the studio prefers the control over the computer animators.

I’ve broken the original comment up for clarity, but let’s discuss all the very good points raised.

Learning the Art

Animation is grounded in art. It’s where the inspiration comes from and where it’s influence is felt. It is nigh-on impossible to completely appreciate animation if one does not have at least some appreciation or understanding of art in general.

So the question arises: should students be forced to have a solid grounding in art before undertaking a study in animation?

I would hazard that they should, animation can be taught, but appreciation requires coaching of the kind that education is supposed to provide in an ideal scenario. While many artists employed in studio’s today undoubtedly have artistic talent, we must consider those coming behind us as well.

Skillset Supply and Demand

johnV is right about a shortage of colleges not teaching traditional animation, but it comes back to the notion that a bachelors degree is something that affords the holder the ability to produce animation. That isn’t true, and plenty of the best animators managed to get by without any sort of formal qualification when it came to their animation talents.

In a way, we are seeing the flipside of what CGI went through 25 years ago. Back then, if you wanted to learn CG animation, you had to suss out the information for yourself; hardly anyone was going to teach it in a formal setting aside from a computer science degree.

Do we strictly need a traditional animation degree? Maybe not, but it is the lack of one that indicates how the skill faces a decline as old masters retire and their skills are lost to the ether.

College as A Business

Is college a business? Undoubtedly (at least in the US), it is, and we’re talking about more than the “for profit” colleges of the kind highlighted on Cartoon Brew a while back. Therein lies the disconnect between the education and the industry. Cathal Gaffney of Brown Bag Films has long bemoaned the skills taught by Irish animation programmes that are out of date compared to the ones he needs for the studio. The result is that he must source (more expensive) animators from abroad.

Do universities and colleges strictly care about whether or not what they teach matches what the industry needs? Well, why should they? Employment after graduation is the student’s concern, right? Whose to blame if they learned the wrong skills. Again, it comes back to schools teaching “animation”, a skill that, theoretically, should be universally applicable. Software is software after all and it can be learned or taught separate from the academic program.

We have long ago lost the close connection between studios and schools wherein there was co-ordination and cross-pollination between employees and students. CalArts is the utopian example, but others exist too. Today, employees, as disposable as they are, do not have the long-term relationship with studios that encouraged the notion of investing in oneself for the betterment of the whole. This leads to employees (to the delight of employers) acquiring a set of narrowly defined skills and relying upon them. Not only does this make them more disposable, it also tends to make them cheaper since they now compete against each other rather than everyone. Which leads us to…

Skillset Supply and Demand

Even a basic course in economics can highlight just what it is about supply and demand that vexes most people. They know that as supply increases, the price you have to pay for something decreases, but what if the supply is people, and the price paid is your salary?

In a purely economical situation, your salary will fall relative to the increase in demand. Any time salaries for animators falls, it isn’t so much because studios are trying to squeeze the extra buck (they are), but they can also get away with it because they can still find the labour they require.

CG animators are currently in demand, but there are also a lot of them. As johnV points out, they’re a dime a dozen, and unless you have something over and above what everyone else has, you’re expendable!

That said….a traditional animator may have a large skillset but not be in high demand. How much can they earn? Well, while price goes up with decreasing supply, it can also go down with decreasing supply if demand similarly drops. A traditional animator can hope to earn near nothing if there is no demand for their skills.

Where This Leads to Industry Breakdown

Where all the points discussed in this post tie together is that without sufficient co-ordination of skills, the industry from an employment standpoint starts to break down. We see studios close, artists laid off and production shifted elsewhere.

Colleges continually push students without any consideration for actual demand, that pushes salaries for existing employees down thanks to a larger than necessary supply of talent. We won’t even mention what unpaid internships do for the industry as a whole, but you get the picture.

On the other end, studios continually alter the skillsets they require leaving vast swathes of artists to either get with the program or get out altogether.

In the end, what results is an industry that doesn’t know what it needs and is incapable or producing it when it does.

The end result is breakdown.

Nickelodeon, Kids, Junk Food and Animation

Via: Cereal Facts
Via: Cereal Facts – It is this blogger’s opinion that this cereal ought to be banned for attempting to even resemble the taste of cookies.

Junk food + kids is a controversial topic that has gained steam over the last 15-20 years as experts and governmental officials have noticed the nearly unchecked rise in childhood obesity. While lifestyle obviously plays an overwhelming role in a person’s health, it is shaped and altered by a myriad of forces coming from outside the home environment. Entertainment (as in most developed countries but especially in the US) plays a very large role in children’s lives and has been long noted for its influence on their development. Junk food and advertisement for it have long been a bone of contention between various parties as it lies within a gray area between the home and commercialism.

The Current Concern With Junk Food & Kids

Coming via Erin McNeill is an article from Ad Age that discusses the concern among US senators when it comes to junk food advertising and one network in particular, Nickelodeon.

Noting that Disney introduced restrictions last year, the senators would like to see Nickelodeon introduce similar measures:

“We’re calling on Nickelodeon– the biggest source of food ads viewed by kids– to stop the pitches for unhealthy foods like sugary cereals and sweet snacks that are powerfully promoting childhood obesity,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement today.

This is a fine wish in theory, but in practise, Nickelodeon has other ideas:

Nickelodeon responded in a statement saying it is “primary responsibility is to make the highest-quality content in the world for kids, and we leave the science of nutrition to the experts.”

While they go on to state that they adhere to published guidelines published by the Better Business Bureau regarding advertising aimed at kids, such guidelines are voluntary for advertisers and include much room for leeway on their behalf when it comes to what constitutes ‘healthy’.

The Ethical Dilemma

This topic does, of course, throw up the ethical dilemma. While junk food forms part of an unhealthy lifestyle and indeed exaggerates it, it is only half of the story. Junk food in and of itself does not make a person inherently unhealthy (it may be bad for you, but a decent exercise regime will substantially minimise the effects).

A sedentary lifestyle forms the other half, and that’s where Nickelodeon (and by extension, animation) comes in. Without the content, there is little incentive to sit and watch television. It is the constant, unending supply of content on TV that has been a significant cause of childhood obesity in recent years.

Unlike times gone past, when kids’ programming was limited to a few hours in the afternoon before the news and on Saturday mornings, kids had no choice but to either switch off or get a dose of current affairs. It isn’t hard to guess which one most chose.

Compare that to today, when kids not only have a constant supply interrupted only by commercial breaks, they don’t even have to give up the television to someone else; 70% of American kids have TV in their bedroom.

Constant programming isn’t so much required as it is mandated in order for the networks to be commercially successful, and naturally, there is always the threat that if you don’t provide something, your competitors will. Such survival is ensured by advertisers, many of whom produce foods that are unhealthy for kids.

As creators of such content, where does the responsibility end when it comes to viewer’s habits and what can be done about it? Animators and artists do not set out to create a show that will contribute to childhood obesity, but can we blame them for accepting a job for a network that does? Hardly, we all have to survive, and the actions of the masses cannot be the responsibility of any one individual or show.

The Internet as a Solution?

A reduction in unhealthy advertising is an obvious first step, but when parents remain the party responsible for what makes it into the shopping trolley, will it do much good?

Perhaps ironically, the internet may offer a solution.

Long derided for its addictive qualities, the internet may prove pivotal in the quest to make consumers healthier. That is, despite the limitless quantity of content on the internet, there is an understanding that you simply cannot watch it all, not matter how hard you try.

Discussion around the segmentation of internet content to the point that it is practically tailor-made has gained steam recently. While this obviously has concerns as far as psychology, it should also mean that consumers spend less time watching content. Once they get caught up on new programming, there is less of an incentive to continue viewing.

Kids, being the most vulnerable, could be educated to control their viewing habits and to restrict it to measured doses. While YouTube pushes continued viewing on its platform, once a framework is established for younger viewers, it should be relatively easy to restrict viewing with technology.

Such is an example where companies and government could lead the way. On demand video eliminates the need to hit as many consumers at the same time. Instead, limiting viewing time should help networks as they will retain audience but will be able to earn more efficiency from their advertising.

Concluding Remarks

The intersection of children and advertising will always be a contentious issue. Corporations and networks need to understand that sales to kids are only temporary anyway (because they grow up). Is targeting them ferociously really leading them to be customers all the way into adulthood? By all accounts, they will become customers regardless.

A more rational approach is needed to both advertising and the length of time that kids consume content; in the long run, it will benefit everyone.

For the curious, please also check out this video detailing the economic cost of obesity and why it hurts us all by Academic Earth.

Week Links 23-2013

Another set of week links you should consumer and muse upon.

How we know female led superhero movies are doomed.

Eric Burns-White ponders the declining market for female superheroes and why that is. Here’s the thrilling conclusion:

The Superhero equivalent of Heaven’s Gate failed so utterly that it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that having a superhero movie with a female lead, regardless of any other factors or any other movie experiences, is entirely nonviable in today’s market.

Which movie is he talking about? You’ll just have to read it to find out.

‘Monsters,’ ‘Despicable Me 2,’ ‘Turbo’: Summer’s Brutal Animation War

I’m sure you may have read this somewhere else but I’ll just add two things:

  1. It perpetuate the notion that animation is a genre of film. You don’t read any stories about the a brutal ‘war’ between superhero films, so you?
  2. Squeezing so many films into just one part of the year further implies that we’re in a bubble.

Legend of Korra Soundtrack: Music as Storyteller

Via: Mike DiMartino
Via: Mike DiMartino

Efforts to get an official release for the The Last Airbender series and its successor have apparently paid off with this announcement. While we continue to call for a release for the former, the latter will see the light of day on July 16th.

I’ve written about soundtracks multiple times (like here and here) and even wrote a detailed post on how to petition for the official Last Airbender release. While it’s a bit confusing as to why Nickelodeon is releasing one for Korra while a complete Airbender on exists is beyond me, but this is almost certainly being done as a test of demand. With hope, the full OST for The Last Airbender will come out soon.

Tweets of the Week

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/BravestWarriors/status/343465371854061573″]

shezow ratings

The Real Reason Why 2D Animation Isn’t “Viable”

Ernest & Celestine
Ernest & Celestine

The ‘death’ of 2D/traditional animation has been making the rounds ever since Tron appeared 30 years ago. Traditionalists were reluctant to work on it then because they felt it was the dark horse in the form of a computer coming to take their jobs. Of course that wasn’t really the case, and even with all the technology we have today, artists are still employed in vast numbers to make static artifacts move on a screen. On a more contemporary note, is the rumour that such old-school animation isn’t “viable” anymore in an era where CGI rules over all. That’s not true, and in this post, we’ll explore exactly why that is.

What it Means to Be ‘Viable’

When we say a particular technique isn’t ‘viable’, what do we really mean? Right now it seems like we want it to mean that it is too old, out of touch and likely to fail at the box office. The Princess and the Frog is widely scapegoated for being the straw that broke the camels back so to speak and any attempt at a follow up is as good as flogging a dead horse.

But enough of the animal metaphors. Viability means, as far as large, Hollywood-based, subsidiaries-of-conglomerates are concerned means making money, and a lot of it.

Traditional animation is labour-intensive, time consuming and (at least for large films) completely moribund in terms of style thanks to the stranglehold that Disney has had for many decades. To say that audiences have been overly attuned to their house style is to admit that every imitator  coming behind them knew as much too.

Why 2D Only Appears to Be Nonviable

Large studios, whether you want them to or not, will always, always seek out the least risky option. It’s why we had the rash of musicals in the 90s and it’s why we see nothing but CGI now.

CGI sells stuff, and in huge amounts. It matters not whether the style is ubiquitous or headed for a collapse. It only matters that as of right this very minute (June 2013), a CGI film that is halfway-competent will make money.

Traditional animation hasn’t produced a proven winner since, oh, 2007? Five years ago when The Simpsons movie came out? Has there been traditionally animated features in the meantime? Of course, but nothing on the scale that those of us of a certain age were accustomed to.

The lack of such a large scale, traditionally made success story does much to convince executives that the technique remains a risky bet.

The truth is very different of course. The last crop of bug-budget 2D/traditionally animated films that came from the Hollywood animation studios were, well, not that great. By the early 2000s the Disney renaisssance was done and duster, Warner Bros. shuttered their feature film division and Shrek was just around the corner for DWA.

The key takeaway is that recent history could have been quite different had the traditional films that were released been financially successful. Hindsight is always 20-20, but consider if there had been a Pixar flop prior to 2000 or even 2005. Would we have seen the sheer volume of CGI features we do today? Nope, we sure would not.

When It Will Rise Again

Traditional animation is currently what could be considered dormant in the US. It thrives overseas in Europe and Japan however, indicating that its popularity as a storytelling medium has not been affected at all.

When will we see a rise in traditional output? It is hard to predict, but suffice to say, we will see a decline in CGI features first. Secondly, and this should be obvious to anyone, traditional animation can have a ‘timeless’ look that CGI films have yet to be able to match. They date quickly and it’s amazing that studios have yet to realise that all the money they continue to make from traditional films will not be repeated with CGI features.

A conservative estimate for the sake of it: the latter half of this decade at the earliest.