Animation

The Great Animated Female Character Discussion: Wilma Flintstone

Perhaps the first lady of animated television, Wilma Flintstone has been putting up with Fred for more than half a century at this point. Together with Betty, they were the yin to Fred and Barney’s yang and kept them honest too!

So what makes Wilma great character? Is it her steely resolve? Her never-ending patience? Or the fact that she was perhaps the first real strong animated female character on TV?

Get commenting with your thoughts!

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The Great Animated Female Character Discussion: Katara

OK, the gist of it is, I have class four nights a week from now until the middle of July. regular posts unfortunately take time to plan/write/edit/post and while it may seem easy to shoehorn it into a regular day, given my upcoming schedule, it won’t be possible to continue a daily posting regime.

So, instead of letting the blog gather dust on the off days, instead, we’re going to have some debate. Three times a week I’ll post a character and you (the reader) must describe exactly what it is that makes her commendable.

It doesn’t matter if you know exactly why, or whether you like them or not. Nobody is a mind reader and a comment is the one and only way to share your knowledge and opinion with the world.

So without further adieu, I give you

Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender

KTRA

The Powerpuff Girls, Blessed Ignorance and Fan Pigeonholing

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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?

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.

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Teenagerobotlove: Serving the MLaaTR Fans

MLaaTR_Approved_Press_Art_by_Frederator_Studios

While many current and upcoming shows have devoted fans, just because a show has ended does not mean the end for the fan community. Far from it. Fans have been instrumental in keeping shows such as Star Trek alive for decades after the show wrapped up and it far from alone in that respect.

Fans currently have a remarkable set of tools at their disposal to help keep memories and interests alive. In years gone past, there were fanzines, clubs and conventions. Today many of these tools continue to connect fans and have been joined by new tools, such as message boards, blogs and social networks like Facebook.

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Maintaining the interest is imperative if fan communities are to continue to exist, and that relies upon continued upkeep of any sites and also moving beyond just the show itself; hence the reason many message boards have off-topic threads or ones in areas of similar interest to members.

Today we’re focusing on one fan blog for My Life as a Teenage Robot. Long ago, there was a traditional, official blog that was created and run during the series’ production. (If memory serves, it was one of, if not the first ever production blogs for an animated show). While it continued to run after the show ended, it has been dormant for a number of years.

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The rise of Tumblr as a fan-friendly platform has not gone unnoticed thanks to its emphasis on particular post types and easy sharing amongst the site’s many members. The proliferation of fan creations on Tumblr have been nailed down to the ease with which people can create, post and share content in addition to the ease with which Tumblelogs can be maintained. Combined with a submission feature, it becomes easy to see why so many fans and fandoms use Tumblr as a tool to serve their interests. (In a coincidental twist, Tumblr emerged from the same office as Frederator; the creative studio responsible for My Life as a Teenage Robot.)

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Hence blogs like Teenagerobotlove that serve to perpetuate fans love for the show as well as providing a focal point for things like fanart. I’m glad that such blogs exist and that people are willing to create and maintain them. They provide enjoyment for those of us who simply do not have the time to undertake one themselves and serve as a reminder that fans still exist for the show.

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Help Shape The Future of Animation Paper

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Next in the series of papers I’m writing concerns the future of animation. It’s a topic that’s wide open at its extreme, but can still be boiled down into a few precise concepts based on developments in other areas of the media landscape. If you don’t mind, I’m going to pick your brain with a few notions about where the paper might dive into.

The Two Sides of Animation

Animation can be divided on the simplest level into two areas: production and consumption. The paper will look at both sides and the various forces that will affect animation as it inhabits them. Essentially, they are both sides of the same coin, but they will not experience the same changes. What will cause shifts in one, will case opposite shifts in the other. Here’s the outline as it is currently.

Animation Production

  • Smaller studios putting content out on a more frequent basis
  • Greater emphasis on speed, new episodes every two weeks at most
  • Overseas operations will become more important
  • Greater input from the audience
  • streamlined studio operations

The following questions are posed:

  • Competition will increase but how can studios ensure they remain at the top for sustained periods?
  • In the Golden Age, studios put out one short every two weeks, what kind of cost pressures can studios (and animators) expect to face?
  • Speed will become paramount and production is likely to shift overseas in at least some capacity. What exactly will that capacity be?
  • How can a studio codify audience input? Even more important, how can they measure, interact and learn from it?
  • Larger studios will undoubtedly downsize even further, what positions can expect to get the axe?

Animation Consumption

  • Short form content; <10 minutes with the half-hour show obsolete
  • Animation everywhere; no distinction between online and airwaves
  • Features remain but on much tighter budgets
  • Emphasis on timelessness
  • Platform “exclusive” content
  • The social dimension

These pose the following questions:

  • Just what will the internet’s preferred content length be?
  • Will small outfits on YouTube be able to compete with cable networks?
  • How will features adapt to a rapidly different revenue market?
  • CGI dates notoriously quickly, how will the style of animated content change to imply a timeless quality?
  • Should animated content aim for platform “exclusivity”?
  • Will social viewing help or hinder new animated content?

Please feel free to answer any of the above questions or even pose your own. Animation is changing and it’s only right to plan ahead.

Pop-up Fandom ‘Creates’ New Anime

Via: Geekosystem
Via: Geekosystem

Fans are known for being a bit, well, fanatical about their chosen shows but what happens when the show in question doesn’t even exist? Well, they make it up as they go along instead! A short commercial released by Kyoto Animation managed to inadvertently spark some reactions among tumblr members that could only be considered explosive:

The fandom that popped-up in a matter of hours consequently went to town fleshing out the characters and the story. As the Daily Dot reports:

 In the 2 days since the 30-second spot landed on YouTube, Tumblr has been in a frenzy of yearning for what it has dubbed “the swimming anime.”  Tumblr fans have given the nameless boys in the videos character identities and backstories, they’ve picked favorite relationship pairings, drawn fanart, made GIFs, created character roleplaying blogs, confessionals, and Texts from Last Night parodies. They’ve written fanfic.

Want more swimming anime? Here’s a Tumblr theme. Want your swimmers genderswapped? Got that too. There’s also swimming anime cosplay in the works. This parody of the “swimming anime” has over 11,000 notes, while this PowerPoint slide deck on how to ship characters of a nonexistent anime has over 22,000 and counting.

What has prevented the entire saga from being swept under the carpet has been the decision by the studio to announce an official series based on the short to be called Free.

Is This Good Or Bad?

Ultimately, there is nothing necessarily good or bad about something like this. Sure Tumblr has a reputation for juvenile stunts such as this, but its harmless for the most part and at least spurs some creativity on the part of the users rather than keeping them in the passive state.

The notion of pop-up fandoms is nothing new since the internet has attained widespread usage. PBS’ (quite excellent and highly recommended) Off Book took a look at whether fandom can change society and concluded that it could; citing numerous (including one infamous) cases where fandoms appeared out of thin air after major events and noted that they can create both good and bad results.

The case of swimming anime is fairly benign although one has to wonder why people would even devote such effort to something that doesn’t even exist?

Short Term Effects and Pitfalls

Swimming anime/Free highlights a number of issues with its rapid rise to public consciousness. Firstly is the fact that it became so widespread so quickly; 48 hours after its release and the internet had proliferated with creativity. Secondly is the fact that such a rapid rise could harm it in the long term.

Starting with its rise, social media, YouTube, frictionless sharing and so forth all contributed to getting the show as much coverage as possible. Long gone are the days when you maybe had to search out something on the internet after the fact. Tumblr’s dashboard means that you are likely to see the same thing pop up over a prolonged period of time as people you follow gradually reblog it. (The service also encourages, and has, a high percentage of daily users.)

The second issue is much more troubling. A rapid rise is great, sure, but we all know that animation is not a race. Shows take time to develop, create and distribute. Six months for a decent half hour is the norm so even if the show was begun today, we wouldn’t see any completed episodes until the leaves have fallen from the trees (see below). That in and of itself is not what’s problematic though, that lies with the very fans that made it a success in the first place.

You see, as rapidly as fans attached themselves to this show they will also attach themselves to the next one that comes along. The initial explosion of interest will naturally fade as those on the periphery fall away, but even the core will shrink until new content is available when it will increase again. The issue, and question, is how big will it expand again?

Shows with large following such as The Legend of Korra have relatively stable fandoms but still see rises and falls in their activity between seasons. Those shows though, have devoted followings that have built up over time. Swimming anime/Free is starting from scratch, and the possibility that fans who came for the fun of creating something won’t stick around forever (see below) and may never return once they leave. That’s a major pitfall and is something that studios need to anticipate and mitigate.

Shifting Development Efforts to the Fandom?

Another question this raises is whether or not studios will consider the benefits of essentially having fans develop the show for them. The benefits would certainly be there:

  • vastly reduced costs to the studio
  • content that is proven to resonate with fans
  • may be much faster than undertaking it in-house given larger numbers contributing
  • Promotes greater interaction and communication between the studio and fans

The disadvantages though, are equally obvious:

  • Copyright issues and the legal thicket large-scale creativity can create
  • Compensation-related issues (who did what) and how much they should receive
  • Rebellion of fanbase to studio-issued ideas, even if they are best
  • Loss of structure that in-house development provides

While many studios would love to shift the costs of development away from themselves, the reality is that the current business model prohibits it due to the many legal constraints surrounding creativity and artistic creations. Identifying and compensating every creator would be a nightmare and once you factor the cross-border nature of the internet, you’re in for an impossible task.

That means that as much as the fandom would like to see their ideas incorporated into Free, the reality will preclude it.

A Model To Follow?

While its certainly likely that Kyoto Animation considered the possibility that viewers would overreact, it’s interesting to note that they made an official announcement quite soon after the initial release. Five characters now have names and traits that have been disseminated throughout the fandom and the official launch date is in July; an indication that the studio has had this in the works for a while and completely negating the notion that fan efforts caused an official pickup. Given such circumstances this model isn’t really one to be followed.

Current internet rumblings consider Little Witch Academia as a prime target for similar moves given that it is already a fully-fledged 23 minute short with fully developed characters.

As desirable as it is to see that short receive a more substantial treatment, Kyoto Animation clearly sees a profitable opportunity in what it has, whether Trigger sees the same in their property is something that only the studio can decide. Simple outpouring from fans is not match for the numbers that studios will run, and you can be sure they all do, not matter what fans think of their efforts.

A Monster in Paris Review

Amazon_A Monster in Paris BR cover
Via: Shout! Factory

Finally! After only more than a year did I finally get the chance to watch this film. Long did it tease me with its development, release in Europe and sneak peeks in Canada. There’s even been a guest review featured on this blog! Today though, I can finally post my own thoughts having seen the film thanks to the good people at Shout! Factory. So without further adieu, here’s the A Monster in Paris review from the Animation Anomaly.

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The Animation

The quality of the animation seriously belies the film’s modest budget ($28 million). Given that we are used to being blinded by the dazzling efforts of both Disney and Pixar, one would expect that a film made for much (much) less would suffer from the smaller budget but thankfully that is no true. Early 20th century Paris is rendered as beautifully as any Pixar film and the love that has gone into making it look as good as it does ensures that stylistically, it is superior to much of what the large American studios put out.

Think about it. Pixar threw around $350 million at Toy Story 3 but did they honestly need to spend that much for a film that essentially takes place in the real world? If A Monster in Paris can replicate the glory of a past city so beautifully, why are Pixar and Dreamworks apparently so shackled visually?

The character animation is a bit jerky, but given the film’s comedic undertones, it is certainly understandable. Wackiness isn’t as outlandish as you might expect but it’s all in the classic Looney Tunes vibe of only noticeable when necessary.

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The Story

A Monster in Paris tells a fairly simple story; a giant flea escapes a laboratory and supposedly terrorises Paris until a singer discovers his hidden talent. While that does not sound like much, A Monster in Paris manages to weave it into the characters so much so that thei involvement seems quite natural.

There are jokes aplenty and although it’s nice to hear lots of jokes, it’s fun to see them too. Thankfully A Monster in Paris has plenty of both.

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The Characters

A Monster in Paris brims with many of the characters that you would expect the Paris of old to have. Our heroes, Emile and Raoul are truly the odd couple, differing, bickering and making up again. Their chemistry is balances by the cast of characters who they interact with. While Emile tries to woo Maude, Raoul has nothing but disdain for our heroine Lucille. These two relationships are played against the larger problem of a giant singing flea complicating their lives thanks to being wanted by the police.

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Summation

Overall, A Monster in Paris is an enjoyable film. It’s distinct European flavour give the impression that it skips to a different beat than many American films and that would be correct. It eschews the pretensions of contemporary Hollywood films in favour of pure entertainment of the kind not seen much any more.

While the voice-acting (at least for the English dub) is a bit over the top, it is more than balanced by the music and original songs (written by Julian Lennon). The DVD is also a bit bare but given that the film never received the theatrical release it deserved in the States, it’s understandable that the home video release can’t be too lavish.

Delighting in its beauty, A Monster in Paris is highly recommended.

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Yogi Bear and A Lament For Social Marketing Tricks

Via: Yowp
Via: Yowp

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.

The Future

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!