Animation

The Importance of Having a Blog

I was chatting to a guy there at the weekend. Nice chap and rather talented with a pencil and paper too. He was telling me how he really wanted to work in animation in some form or another. Which was great, in fact he had already been in contact with some studios in New York about a possible internship (that’s a post for another day).

While all this was great and he was pushing himself to get out there and get recognized, I had to regretfully inform him that he was missing a big piece of his plan: a blog.

Now I use my blog more of a place to communicate my thoughts on animation because engineers are unlikely to know or even care about that kind of thing. However, if you’re either in the industry or trying to get in, a blog can make all the difference in the world.

Right now, I follow about 400 news feeds (give or take), of which about 300 or so are blogs, either individuals or small studios. Most of those are either collaborative, others a place to share artwork on a common theme, like Sugar Frosted Goodness, or individual. Among those, they are normally either places to post artwork, thoughts or to post some quick animatics or storyboards. Most often promote a show or exhibition they are in, which is also a great way to find out about local events, for example the Little Golden Books exhibit happening in downtown Baltimore that I hadn’t a clue about until I read about it on Steve Lambe’s blog.

My point is, and I made it to your man, was that if I want to see a collection of your work, i.e. your portfolio, I would rather see it on a blog, where you might post some WIPs or where you found the inspiration, rather than a static website. DeviantArt is also OK, but that is a much more structured environment. A blog allows you a lot more freedom and flexibility in how you present yourself and your work.

Besides all the wonderful benefits, it’s free! Either Blogger or WordPress.com (where this blog is hosted) don’t cost a penny to get up and going. Both have different strengths and weaknesses so at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference.

Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Via Cinemablend.com

First of all, I like Wes Anderson; the Royal Tenenbaums being perhaps my favourite of all his work. He certainly is a unique fimmaker who makes makes movies that, at lest in this day and age, could be regarded as a bit off-beat.

Not that there is anything wrong with that of course. Variety is the spice of life and with all the usual bland fare and/or sequels that Hollywood is churning out these days, it is refreshing to know that there are still directors out there who believe in making great films.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of those rare films. In any given year, a stop-motion feature film would garner a lot of attention, mainly because there was a good chance it would be the only one! Not so for Fantastic Mr. Fox, who had to contend with the also excellent Coraline at the box office and the Academy Awards. Side note: Henry Sellick was attached to Fantastic Mr. Fox at the beginning but left to direct Coraline instead.

For starters, the animation is superb. Relying heavily on a colour palette of reds, yellows and browns, the landscape looks positively agricultural. An important aspect of a film set in the countryside. The use of stop motion was a risk that paid off handsomely. The style suits very well, much the same as it did in another Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach.

In typical Wes Anderson style, the music isn’t quite what you would expect and although he does not have Quentin Tarantino levels of sound selection, it was nonetheless welcome to hear the Beach Boys pop up in the middle of the film.

As for the plot, having read the book and being very familiar with it as a result, my greatest fear was that Anderson would mess with the plot and turn it into something that is wasn’t. However, I made my mind up beforehand that I would forget about the book and concentrate on the plot as it was presented to me on screen.

Thankfully, things were not near as bad as I had anticipated. The extra bits that were added at the beginning and end of the movie tie in very well with the bit in the middle that comprises the actual book.

All is not perfect unfortunately. I cam away from Fantastic Mr. Fox feeling disappointed. It wasn’t the animation, or the plot or the music or even Wes Anderson’s unique directing style. Nope all of those were great. For me, it was the characters.

I identify very strongly with characters. I like to see characters that, while flawed in one way or another, are complete on the whole. Although I say above that I tried my best to forget the book in the course of watching the movie, it was hoe Wes Anderson interpreted the fox family and their cohort that did it for me.

Mr Fox is no longer the devoted husband and father, instead we see and egotistical, bitter middle-aged guy who goes back to steeling stuff for the sheer thrill and escape it brings him from his supposedly pathetic life. I find it very difficult to like a guy like that, even if he is voiced by George Clooney.

As for Mrs. Fox, she apparently regrets the whole ordeal! I mean c’mon, now she’s not likeable either. And don’t get me started on the kid, Ash. I know the kids don’t play much of a role in the book, but man, did I want to give that kid the spanking he deserved.

Ironically enough, the three farmers are as mean and nasty as you would expect from three men infatuated with killing a fox. It’s just that with a protagonist that is so close in character to them, it is hard to know who to root for.

So there you have it, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film that was lauded by the critics (who I also don’t particularly like) and while technically brilliant in all respects, falls on the critical component that ties it all together.

Steven Spielberg And Animation

Freakazoid! Via Jim Hill Media

Word comes through AWN that Stevcn Spielberg is returning to animation by way of the Discovery Channel and Dreamworks. While things will be different this time, it is surely worth taking a look back at his previous adventures in animationland.

Although Steven was the same well known and respected filmmaker in the early 90s as he is now (well, maybe he shone a bit brighter; War of the Worlds tarnished his reputation a wee bit, at least in my book), his decision to begin producing animation was seen as a bit of a departure for him.

And what a departure! Despite being only the producer and partnering with Warner Bros. he was directly involved with three breakout shows: Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and my personal favourite, Freakazoid!

What made these shows so great to begin with? Well, for one, Tiny Toons drew on Warner Bros. directly for inspiration. Hence the occasional appearance of the numerous Looney Tunes members such as Bugs and Daffy. While this may have been deliberate for the sake of attracting the audience, by mixing classic characters with new ones, a whole new generation of kids came to know about the Looney Tunes and all the great shorts from their parent’s time.In addition, they Tiny Toons themselves became successes in their own right. Indeed, right before I moved to the States (Sept. 2007), Tiny Toons was still being broadcast regularly on RTÉ.

Animaniacs was a different beast. Here were three original characters, supposedly the “Warner Brothers” themselves (and their sister, Dot). Besides being even more off the wall than Tiny Toons, the creators did well to bring to life a vast and varied range of characters that the Warners could, and did, constantly provoke, enrage, degrade and drive insane, all to the delight of the audience.

Lastly, we come to Freakazoid! Again, what a show, besides a genuinely insane protagonist (I can hear Paul Ruggs voice in my head as I write this), the plots were just downright bonkers, as were the supporting characters (Arms Akimbo anyone?). Such a shame it wasn’t to last as long as the others, I’m going to blame the network for that one, no offense to anyone. What was so great about Freakazoid! was that when you watch it, you can’t help but feel that the people working on the show were having fun the entire time. They probably weren’t, we all know how animation works, but at least it appears that way!

Two things stand out about all these shows, first, they were all high-quality shows in every way. The animation, writers (the animaniacs show bible supposedly cost $100,000 alone), and the characters themselves. How do we know all this worked in the show’s favour? You’re reading about them now! Well over a decade later, that’s how. You don’t see me talking about the Real Adventures of Johnny Quest do you? That’s because I’ll talk about it later (with my most grievous apologies to Fred for even mentioning it)

Secondly, another aspect of these shows was that the respective teams were generally left alone to do their own thing by Warner Bros. management. It seems a bit incredulous in this day and age, heck it was incredulous even then as John K. often cites that one of the reasons he was removed from Ren & Stimpy was interference from Niekelodeon executives.

It is generally acknowledged that the teams were left alone for the simple reason that with a reliable guy like Spielberg involved, things would be unlikely to get out of hand. Personally, I think this is probably an accurate enough. The resulting shows are proof that a hands-off approach can bring out the best in everyone involved.

We haven’t seen cartoons like these since, well, the 90s. What a shame. Sure the animation landscape has changed, animation on broadcast TV is as dead a horse as you can find that is still being flogged (albeit because of government mandates). The cable networks, while putting out plenty of fantastic shows, are unlikely to ever repeat shows of the same caliber as those I’ve discussed.

Could we see Steven doing something similar again today? On the Discovery Channel it’s unlikely, but with strong DVD sales of his older shows, there’s always hope. Hey, it worked for Futurama!

Renewing TV Shows

From about.com

It is the dream of every show creator to be renewed for another season. It is in many ways the ultimate compliment; “your show is so great and you are so talented, that we would like to give you a huge pile of money to make some more!”

Sounds great doesn’t it? And with the animation industry as transient as it is, getting an order of more episodes is a fantastic form of job security. You know when you are likely to run out of work, unlike say, myself, who could get the can any time, whether the job I’m working on is finished or not.

While renewing shows is generally a good thing (and there are plenty of examples where shows have been inexplicably renewed), sometimes it amazes me how quickly TV people jump the gun when it comes to shows.

The Cleveland Show is a prime example, where it was renewed before the pilot was even broadcast. That took a lot of guts in FOX’s part and yet it was certainly viewed as arrogance by some people, who thought that they should have waited to see concrete numbers before committing to a second season.

Too many shows have been screwed around by the networks and have ended up being cancelled because of supposed low viewing numbers. Two of said shows have been FOX productions so perhaps that’s something they should really work on.

Kids networks like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are slightly different in that they don’t broadcast new content at the same amount as other networks (perhaps another reason I don’t cough up for cable) so they seem to be able to re-run shows ad-nausuem without wearing out their audience.

With the advent of online streaming and video on demand, we should see a switch to more precise viewing numbers. I hope that shows can get out there sooner, in other words before the entire season has finished production. As Adventure Time has proven, a show can have plenty of fans before it even gets off the ground. Every show should be like that, not just the really good ones.

TRON and The Future of Animation

Via: Moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

Anyways, who would have thought they would ever make a sequel to Tron. The original, groundbreaking as it was, fared poorly on release. Apparently the public just wasn’t ready for such an advanced movie in the 1980s. How things have changed!

What’s interesting about TRON is that it is not a real CGI movie, at least not in the modern sense. The computers used in the production were not powerful enough to create virtual worlds. Instead, the animators had to draw each frame individually and then add them all together.

It is interesting to ponder how the animation scene would look today if TRON had been a success 18 years ago. There would undoubtedly be no Dreamworks animation, or Sony for that matter. Would PIXAR have made the leap from advertisements to films? If Disney had conquered the CGI-animated market, it would seem unlikely.

A fact of note is the reluctance of some animators at Disney to working on TRON. They saw it as a threat, a wolf in sheep’s clothing if you will to their traditional way of doing things. While it is completely natural to fear for the future of one’s profession, it is foolish to try and avoid technology. Computers replaced cels the same way the photocopier replaced all those inkers, or the way CAD software eliminated the role of the draughtsman in engineering.

Why dig your own grave like that? OK, so cel animation isn’t dead, not by a long shot. But unless you are Miyazaki, and you are a master at your craft, you have to be open and receptive to new things. Ironoically, flash is CGI and yet can involve a surprising amount of hand drawing. Thanks to Cintiq and the like, even cels can be replaced and the hand-drawn look retained (The Simpsons is a prime example).

There is little doubt that the movie’s poor performance caused CGI in general to be pushed back by about a decade or so, which puts it pretty nicely with the release of Toy Story in 1995. What’s interesting is what has happened after Toy Story, nowadays there is a huge market for CGI films, so much so that the worst nightmares of those animtors in the 80s came true when Disney shut there traditional animation department in the early 2000s (only to re-open it a few years later, ironically at the behest of Toy Story’s director, John Lasseter).

The question is, will the next breakthrough in animation be accepted as readily as Toy Story or rejected as profoundly as TRON? I’m hoping for the former, the promise of change is always welcome.

Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation festival

The Cartoon Brew TV Logo

Just a quick note about Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival. It’s a great idea, and one that is  sorely needed. It is a wee bit regretful that only one film a week will be shown, but that is perhaps a result of the Brew’s finances rather than then whims of the Brewmasters.

I am very curious to see what comes of this. Having seen the quality of some students’ work last year at the ASIFA-East Festival, it will be interesting to see how Jerry and Amid curate their own. Will it contain mainly serious pieces or technologically perfect yet personality sterile films? Can we expect a few funny ones in there to lighten the mood? I sure hope so, the world is dour enough as it is at the moment.

The only gripe I have, and I’m sure there is a plausible reason for this is that the film may not have been posted online prior to it’s showing on Cartoon Brew. I can see why this might be so, but I do not see the logical reason behind it. In any event, student films are unlikely to be available from a school standpoint before they are shown in the festival, but c’mon, if I was a student making a film the first thing I would want to do is get it out there in the ether on as many video websites and blogs as possible, especially my own.

Nonetheless, having your film shown on Cartoon Brew will ensure that it is seen by a substantial amount of animation professionals and fans alike, which is certainly the best free advertising you will find anywhere. I’m also sure that if you are enterprising enough to enter your student film in a festival, you will also have the requisite website or blog to back it up. Nothing pains me more than seeing a great student film but having nowhere to find additional information. Hopefully these are smart students and I’ll have no problems finding their blogs.

Nonetheless, I admire the effort of both Amid and Jerry and judging by their previous broadcasts on CBTV, I think we will not be disappointed.

Review – Serious Business: The Art And Commerce Of Animation In America

I got this book for Christmas and although I read Googled first, I was excited to get into this immediately after. Covering the US animation scene from its beginnings to sometime in the late 1990s, I found Serious Business to be an interesting and enjoyable read.

Author Stefan Kanfer focuses more so on the Golden Age of animation than any other time. Perhaps because that was when animation was big business in Hollywood, when numerous major studios and Disney ran full-scale animation departments. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how the Fleischer Brothers got up and running in New York, or how Walt Disney spent his last few dollars on a 1st class train ticket to Los Angeles.

The book tends to read rather quickly after around 1950 or so. Although this in understandable given the downturn in the industry at the time. It was nice to see attention paid to studios such as UPA and the Hubleys as well as the various independent animators who sprouted up throughout the 60s and beyond.

Once we reach the 90s, things pick up again with the advent of the Simpsons and the creation of the three original Nicktoons. The book then somewhat bumbles along to the end in 1998 or so. Not that this detracts from the book, indeed, I am far more familiar with recent developments than those in the 30s, so unless you’re Jerry Beck and have a thorough knowledge of old cartoons, you are unlikely to be worried either.

Kanfer writes with a writing style that can be at times a little long-winded, but the book is never boring and with so much material to cover, the book is indeed dancing the line between covering to much yet covering too little.  At 264 pages, it could easily have been a bit longer, although Kanfer may have intended it to be this way, so as not to descend into the kind of tome one would expect a serious historian to have.

Serious Business is well worth a read, especially if, like myself, you were not as familiar with the beginnings of the animation industry as you would like. In conjunction with the Giant 600 Cartoon DVD boxset I also received, it is fair to say that the book indeed sparked my interest in old, cartoons long forgotten by the general public.

You can buy Serious Business: The Art And Commerce Of Animation In America From Betty Boop To Toy Story on Amazon.com

Adventure Time: Woohoo!

Adventure Time Promo art

First things first: an apology. Saying I was going to begin blogging daily should clearly not have been said they day before I was going to leave for a weekation (weekend vacation), but we all live and learn so I don’t plan on doing the same thing again.

Anyway, onto today’s post. I happen to love animation so it is no surprise that I am verrrry excited to see that Adventure Time will be premièring on Cartoon Network tonight at 8pm EST (?).

This is a rare event, seeing as Cartoon Network has decided to shift their market focus to live-action in a vain attempt to “compete” with Nickelodeon and Disney. Pen Ward deserves a heck of a lot of credit for his very unique concept of a show and judging by the artwork that’s been filtering out of the studio over the last year or so, this should be a fantastic show with some truly great stories.

If anything it is vindication that the Oh Yeah! and Random! Cartoons shorts programmes are hit-producers. It is regrettable that Cartoon Network had to go to a competitor’s product to try and find a hit show, but we should be thankful that they even did so at all.

Some have said it is a show of Spongebob proportions, but history has told us that Cartoon Network is atrocious when it comes to marketing their shows, so I don’t expect anything to change.

All I can hope for is that it gets a longer run than the last show that showed as much promise: Chowder.

How to Train Your Dragon, in 3-D!!!!

Having read Gilligan’s advice over on the Retrospace blog yesterday, I’m going to try and up the ante over here, seeing as so far Fantazmigoriuh has been limping along. I update my tumblelog almost every day without fail but it’s more of an eclectic collection of stuff I come across as I “surf the net”…does that phrase seem stuck in 1995 or what, eh? So from now on, I will update this thing daily (except maybe Sundays, I do need a rest you know). Basically I’ll probably just grab one piece of animation news from the day before and comment on it, or indeed comment or review on movies that I have seen recently. Nothing to heavy of course, just a quick blurb with some nice photos. And should I ever score the winning goal, I will be sure to brag about it here!

So, last night we went to see Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon. I chose the 3-D version because I hadn’t gone to one before and I figured I’d give it a shot just for shits and giggles. Long story short, it ain’t worth it. And here’s why:

  • You have to buy the glasses. As for recycling them at the end, heck no. I paid $2 for these glasses, I’ll keep them thankyouverymuch.
  • They make the movie darker, well, darker and slightly yellower by my reckoning. Thumb down.
  • I counted a total of 2 (maybe 3) scenes where it was worth it. In other words, the rest of the movie it was barely noticeable.

At $13 a ticket, rest assured that was the last time I go to see a 3-D movie. There was a family of 8 in front of us. They must’ve been out nigh on $100 before snacks. If you have the choice, plump for the 2-D option and you’ll be much happier.

As for the movie itself, I was gobsmackingly shocked. For a Dreamwork’s picture, Dragon sets the gold standard. While it’s not PIXAR standard, it’s fairly darn close. The plot was certainly better than most DW picture’s have been (possibly because it is based on a book). So juts when I thought things were becoming predictable, the become unpredictable. I like  that.

Visuals were great, lovely design, plenty of colour. I love the character design. The Vikings have their charm while the kids look unique in the their own individual way. Notable is Asterid who dances the fine line between being a hard fighting tomboy and a girl with all the usual traits. On a related note, I’m glad they gave all the dragons a dose of intelligence. It really added to the movie and made me fall in love with them.

The only downside was the voice-acting, and when I say that, I mean Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel. He came off as a bit whiney and rather unsuited for the part. It didn’t ruin the film for me, but he did take some getting used to.

Overall, a fantastic movie that I would heartily recommend. I am sure they’re working on a  sequel already which will only cheapen this gem of an original, so enjoy it while you can!

PS: The music was fantastic as well and added to the experience a lot more than I had anticipated.

Lead Female Protagonists in Mainstream US Animation


Animated TV programmes with female lead characters. Are they a rare occurrence? Certainly when compared to the numbers with male lead characters. Now, I’m not saying that females are underrepresented in animation, there are plenty of female characters, however, more often than not, they are not the main protagonist or are part of a group. How come this is so?

There is a general notion that girls like cartoons at a young age but lose that interest once they get older. That’s not to say that there are no programmes out there that specifically cater to girls (Horseland springs to mind). but it would seem that girls (more so than boys) try to imitate their older peers at an earlier age. One fact that is known about animated shows is that they are seen as ‘childish’ or beyond the intellectual capabilities of a certain age bracket. Thus girls are seemingly pressured to drop animation from their TV viewing at a younger age than boys.

Take Japan for example (an obvious choice, but a good one to study), animation is accepted in society as a suitable medium for programming to both males and females. There are a vast array of shows that are designed to appeal to girls and women in general because they don’t see animation as something that should be confined to younger age groups. They are also interested in many of the same genres as males, albeit with more female-centric plots. This implies that age is not the only type of peer pressure at work in discouraging girls and females from watching animation.

The types of shows that interest boys tend to be of adventure, fantasy and science-fiction, as well as comedy. Girls tend to show less interest in these genres, preferring instead to concentrate on character-driven shows (Chowder is perhaps a good, current example). The interests of boys (and males in general) are better served by animation as it is a cost effective method for delivering the product. Girls interests can often be catered for with live-action (Hanna Montana, etc.) which is cost effective, whereas the same show would be prohibitively expensive if animated with no real additional benefits to be gained (side note: Lizzy Maguire used live-action with animated sequences acting as a plot device). There have been some animated shows that could have been live action, such as Pepper Ann and As Told By Ginger, but I guess these are the exception to the rule.

The interesting thing is that it is possible to have cartoons with strong animated leads that can appeals to girls and be so successful that it attracts boys too. Examples include Kim Possible and the PowerPuff Girls; both shows with strong female leads yet are equally enjoyed by both sexes. They have a great mix of action (for the boys) and also have a decent dose of character development to satisfy the girls. However, they are not always successful. Take My Life as a Teenage Robot. This show about a teenage robot girl who routinely saves the earth is rather underrated but failed to attract much of either a girl or boy audience, despite having a female lead and the requisite types of plots for both audiences. It would appear that the line between a successful show and an unsuccessful show is a fine one.

Overall, I believe that the reason we see relatively few shows with female leads is a wider cultural belief that extends back to when television became widespread. In Japan, shows were designed to appeal to everyone, and the populous became comfortable with animation as a medium. In the US, animation was pushed more and more into the children’s corner, and although animation was still produced for slightly older audiences (it took thirty years for The Simpsons to arrive as save the rest of us), we have to remember that the world was a different place and that the opinion of females was a very different as well. Today we have many talented women within the animation industry, but I want to say they are trapped by a culture that neither allows nor encourages girls to seek role models or even entertainment in animation because of certain outdated expectations. Changing these expectations is very much an uphill task if we are to see more female-orientated programming on TV.