A while back, I contributed a post to Jerry Beck’s Animation Scoop where I mused on the idea that it’s theoretically possible to create a feature film from the nucleus of an animated GIF. While I gave a brief summary of how that could be achieved in that post, it’s prompted a more comprehensive look at the theory and why it’s entirely achievable
The GIF above is what actually planted the seed of this notion in my head. It’s called Banana Cat and it’s by the awesomely talented Brianne Drouihard also known in the interwebs as Potatofarmgirl.
Even though it’s just a looping animated GIF, it’s quickly establishes a lot about the characters. We see Banana Cat herself(?) and presumably her owner. Not only that, we gain a sense of how playful Banana Cat actually is, and how much she’s loved. That’s a lot to pack into about 4 seconds total but it does its job of conveying information across sufficiently well.
Developing From a GIF to a Feature
This GIF is in fact, the end of a period of development that isn’t seen by the viewer. It’s the same as for any animated show but it is going to be an awful lot quicker for a GIF than anything else. For one, they’re short and they also have no sound; thus eliminating a lot of the extra development work that is normally required for something animated to make it to broadcast.
GIFs require only a cursory amount of development to be undertaken initially; more development can take place thereafter. Should the GIF prove reasonably popular (insert own definitition of ‘reasonably’ here), then more GIFs are likely to follow.
Moving Into Animation
The end result is a little series of GIFs that present two options: combining them into a short episode, or building upon them with full animation. The former option would require extra planning, but presuming that this option was the chosen route in the first place, the addition of sound and the creation of a single, homogeneous file would be all that’s needed to make it. The latter would be more dependent on having an audience for the GIFs to begin with.
Either way, once full animation is entered into, the episodes should have the quality necessary to attract more substantial attention than what GIFs normally manage to attract.
Assuming that the short episodes (and we’re talking 30 seconds to a few minutes at most) gain traction, then it would be possible to move into longer material in the more traditional manner of theatrical shorts and TV shows.
All the time, the GIFs and short animations should be doing more than simply entertaining. If characters prove popular, they should be exploited! Frederator are the current masters of this and they take full advantage of the spontaneous popularity of characters like Catbug from Bravest Warriors. Besides slapping his image on T-shirts and other merchandise, they have an ebook that’s about to be launched as well; catering to an entirely different market than the apparel would.
It’s all about opening doors and using the information gathered as a way to guide what you do next. If the GIFs can sell merchandise on their own, then that’s great! The monies should enable the production of the animation, and so on from there.
If short animated episodes prove popular enough, then more substantial stories should not be a stretch. Provided that either income from sales is stable or has predictable growth or if money can be found through other means, then proper episodes should not be as large a jump as simply producing them from the beginning.
All the while, what’s been released so far should give an indication of what characters and plots work and what does not. This will be extremely valuable knowledge of the kind that networks cannot have when they produce a new show. it should be used wisely, but shouldn’t become a crutch that could hamper real development of the show. The Cyanaide and Happiness lads had years of comics to draw upon as well as a large community of fans who gave them constant feedback on what they produced. When the time came, they had lots to draw upon for a series of animated shorts and longer episodes.
Ah, at last you say. Yes, if everything that has gone before has been done correctly, and the TV episodes prove popular (hopefully really popular), then the time comes to consider a feature.
By now, the characters should be fully developed, as is the universe in which they live. A feature at this point should not so much create or introduce new characters or scenarios, but rather should essentially exploit the characters and their relationship with the audience. Going back to the example of Banana Cat, a typical plot would see her go missing or something like that and follow her adventures as a result.
That’s a bit lame; instead, a feature could delve further into the characters and why their universe is the way it is. Miyazaki has proven on numerous occasions that a film doesn’t necessarily require a move outside any boundaries, just an ability to utilise great characters.
What are you waiting for? Start making original GIFs!