Are You Thinking Globally?

Totally Spies
Via: Fanpop
An example of the opposite of today’s post: a foreign cartoon created with American culture in mind.

A silly question perhaps, but a serious one. If you’re reading this in the United States, then congratulations! You’ve already achieved something that a lot of people in other countries would give their right arm for. Another question: how often do you think about those countries outside American borders? In other words: are you thinking globally?

Why Does This Even Matter?

The reason I pose this question is that animation, as an industry is global. Unlike, say, teaching Polish, there is an animation presence in almost every country. It may be very large or it may be very small, but I guarantee you that someone somewhere in every country, they are practicing animation in some form.

Why should you, as someone in the US care about this? Well, we’re just about at the stage where US films and TV shows are taking in a significant proportion (more than half in some cases) of their revenue from outside the country. That in itself is an important fact. (Ever wonder why a show like Heroes went on as long as it did? It was partly because its popularity abroad was bringing in profits for NBC.)

What Does It Have To Do With Animation

Large-scale animation (read: Disney, DreamWorks, etc.) have to make their content suitable for foreign audiences. They have no choice in the matter any more. American audiences have shrunk to the point where they cannot sustain most blockbuster-sized films on their own. So, naturally, studios look abroad for the necessary box office and home media monies to make up the rest of the profits.

The same goes for TV shows, although with smaller budgets, selling them abroad simply increases revenues for the studio. The difference also plays through in that there is also a significant amount of animated TV shows that are imported into the US. The one shown at top is a prime example.

So Why Should I Start Thinking Globally?

Ah, a good question indeed. Just why should you think and know about all this? Well, it’s because whether or not you are involved in the creation or selling of animated products, the fact of the matter is that the internet makes international barriers non-existent.

How many hurdles do you think you’d have to go through using the traditional channels to get your content shown in another country? Besides finding a distributor, negotiating with them and then finding someone to broadcast it, that takes a heck of a lot of time and money.

With the internet, you can throw the content up yourself and immediately have an audience from around the world. It would be like me trying to get a newsletter published in multiple countries around the world for my readers. It simply isn’t feasible, but, with a blog (and the internet), I can do it for next to nothing and have a platform that encourages interactivity.

The Other REALLY Important Thing

Yes, there is one other thing: the content itself. America is really a very insulated country in the cultural sense. Yes, it is great at exporting it’s culture abroad, but when it comes to letting others in, it’s,well, a bit selfish. That’s hardly a conscious act though; the country is huge, and there are a lot of people here.

The problem is that what may work well content-wise in America may not work so well abroad. Think of The Office, the classic BBC comedy that had (absolutely had) to be remade for US audiences despite sharing a common language. Why? Well when shown to network executives, they thought it was a real documentary, not a spoof.

Pixar is acutely aware of some of these cultural issues and they make a point of ensuring that text within a film (newspapers, etc.) are shown in the local language rather than English.

Why should this concern you? Again it comes back to the internet. Could you grow a substantial audience abroad if you only create something with American audiences in mind?

It’s not likely at this early stage in the game, but expect it to become just as much of an issue for new media creators as traditional ones. At a time when YouTube series’ budgets are hitting hundreds of thousands, earning that revenue back is going to be rough going if you depend on audiences in only one country.

Do you pay attention to foreign content? Do you create with foreign audiences in mind? Let us know in the comments!

Does Cartoon Network Disrespect Its Old Shows?

Via:  randyadr on deviantArt/a>
Via: randyadr on deviantArt

See update below!

Cartoon Network really is the odd man out of the three US kids channels. Originally a division of Turner Broadcasting, it now operates as an arm of the vast Time Warner empire. However, despite this trait shared with Nickelodeon and Disney, Cartoon Network has shown an almost remarkable attitude to the content it has created over the years.

How The Original Series’ Popularity Fares Today

To start off right at the beginning, how are the very first batch of original cartoons treated today? Well, they’re still relatively popular among fans. Plenty of GIFs and screenshots can be found on social sites like Tumblr. Dexter’s Laboratory seems to be the current favourite, but Powerpuff Girls and Johnny Bravo can be found too.

How Newer Series’ Fare Today

After the original group of shows, a second wave of Cartoon Network originals hit the airwaves in and around 2001 and continuing thereafter. These shows varied as to their length; some lasting only two years but others, such as The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy made it all the way to 5 or more. This wave of shows brings us to around 2009-2010, at which point he current crop of shows took over and continue to this day.

These shows hold less nostalgia than those from the 90s, but they remain embedded in the consciousness of older fans.

How Cartoon Network Disrespects Both Types of Show

The signs have never been good for an animated show on Cartoon Network having much of a life off the small screen, or even after their original run has ended. Such a state of affairs has only very recently begun to change, which we’ll discuss further down.

Reruns (or rather lack of)

I never had the Cartoon Network until I came to the States, and it very quickly became apparent to me that current series are broadcast ad nauseum. Yup, when a series is “in production”, episodes will be broadcast non-stop with new ones appearing as necessary. I can safely say that I watched many episodes of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends multiple times.

That said, once a show has ended, it all but disappears from the schedule. Ostensibly this is to make way for the new show that replaces it, but in reality, it only serves to accelerate a show’s move into the history books.

Once a show is old enough, it is likely to get shifted onto Boomerang, but the lag between vanishing on one network and appearing on another can be years. By which stage the original audience has all but evaporated.

Merchandise

This one was apparent even to me, as I tried in vain to find some nice Foster’s merchandise. At best, all I could find were some figurines and a [very] expensive ‘cel’ of the characters. Could I find a t-shirt? Nope. Could I find a poster? Nope. I was grateful there were even wallpapers I could download for my desktop. Believe me when I say that Foster’s was not alone in that regard. All the shows suffered the same glut of merchandise.

The sole exceptions have been the Powerpuff Girls, which rode the fad all the way until it was too late for the feature film to succeed, and Ben 10, which through some magical twist of fate, has had a first rate merchandise channel since day one. Other shows in the CN library have been mostly forgotten or regrettably left to the likes of Hot Topic to satisfy fan’s desires.

Home Media

Of the three areas that are under discussion in this post, the home media efforts of the Cartoon Network are the most appalling. Let me ask you some questions:

  • Can you buy Season 2 of Johnny Bravo on DVD?
  • How about a blu ray of Megas XLR?
  • Can you legally download any season of Camp Lazlo besides the first one?

If you answered yes to any other those questions, you’re either a liar or you’ve mistaken your sources as being legitimate.

Yes, Cartoon Network is in the undeniably unenviable position of having a pretty shite record when it comes to its home media releases. That’s not to say they doesn’t release anything, they do. However, while the initial effort (read: season one) is decent, things quickly come unhinged (for reasons unknown) and subsequent seasons fail to appear.

It’s really quite sad that I can choose almost any of Cartoon Network’s shows and say that season one is available but nothing else is. In the case of a show like Ed, Edd and Eddy, it might be permissible since that show ran for six seasons over 10 years, and that’s a huge cost hurdle right there. But in the case of say, Chowder, which ran for 49 episodes over three seasons, it’s kinda unforgivable that all the fans have are a two DVDs with 5 episodes each.) It’s why I gave up buying Cartoon Network DVDs for the most part, my collections would never, ever be complete.

The one and only consolation throughout all of this was the mammoth boxset that the Powerpuff Girls were afforded on that show’s 10 year anniversary in 2008. It’s a fine set, but did nothing for the fans out there who had already purchased the initial boxset releases that were never completed.

To add further insult to injury, nothing from the libarary of shows is available on the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime; a situation that Nickelodeon is currently cleaning house with its older shows.

Need Further Proof?

What prompted today’s post in the first place was one by the animated svengali that is Mr. Warburton. Tom was posting pictures of the special book that Cartoon Network put together for its 20th anniversary and featuring original artwork inspired by its shows. It’s a nice book and you should hit up the link to see the pictures, however Tom noticed something was terribly amiss, his show!

Codename: Kids Next Door ran on Cartoon Network for a not inconsequential six seasons and 78 episodes from 2002 to 2008 and yet was completely absent from a book celebrating such shows! Tom also noted that Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy were similarly absent.

What does that say about how a network treats its shows? If it’s willing to sideline them entirely for its official history then it can’t think very highly of them can it?

The current methods are almost certain to continue, at least for the older shows. Newer ones like Adventure Time and Regular Show seem to have spurred the network to take its properties more seriously. DVDs of both shows are available (although only the former as a season boxset) and both can be streamed through Amazon up to the current season. Both shows have also seen much more (and higher quality) merchandise than previous shows, Adventure Time in particular.

Not all shows are treated equally though, with a lot of the criticism over the cancellation of Symbionic Titan levelled at a lack of available merchandise.

All of this is rather depressing from both a fan and a business standpoint. Cartoon Network shows are popular, but it seems that the dunderheads withing the Time Warner corporate monolith are determined that they should be treated like unwanted children once they’ve fulfilled their initial runs.

Do think Cartoon Network have done a poor job of handling their shows? Let us know in the comments!

UPDATE: It would appear that Cartoon Network has started to see the error of their ways. From March 2013, a whole host of content (both new and old) will be available on Netflix. The deal also includes a load of Warner Bros. content although no details are available at the time of writing.

This is most certainly a great positive step in the right direction for the network. Hopefully it’s not the only one.

Where IS Our Open Source 2D Animation Software?

cool Synfig animation by sekaisblog
Via: Sekaisblog on deviantArt

Nina Paley has blazed a bit of a trail in the animation world over the past few years with her near single-handedly produced feature film, Sita Sings the Blues. In a blog post today, she laments the various restrictions of Adobe Flash and the lack of any truly viable alternatives and wonders aloud whether or not a Kickstarter project could create an open source 2D animation software alternative.

Why Open Source Is Needed

Interestingly enough, it was Nina’s numerous struggles to get the film not made, but released (thanks to musical rights) that has placed her at the center of the nexus between animation and free and open source software. Her blog post highlights the fact that she runs an outdated version of Flash on a necessarily outdated machine; the result of not being able to run the software on a newer operating system, in this case Mac OSX.

As most graphics folks are aware of, many software companies (and both Apple and Adobe in particular) love to use technology and lock-in to force everyone to upgrade their software. (In the engineering world Autodesk earns many expletives for doing the same with AutoCAD). The gist is that newer versions use new filetypes that are not compatible with older versions. the result is that you either upgrade or get left behind.

Nina’s case is one that echos with many independent animators and small studios insofar that constant upgrading is not always viable or affordable. In such cases, the old version has to suffice until something absolutely has to be done.

Such a situation is far from ideal and wastes resources needlessly. Adobe charges thousands of dollars for the suites of programs that are utilised to create animation and from the sounds of things, every version of Flash gets worse and worse. (Heck, even I hate the Flash player that crashes my Firefox and all it’s doing is reading files; I can’t imagine what it’s like to make them.)

Why Open Source is the Solution

Amusingly enough, open source animation software is not completely unheard of and does in fact, play a large and vital role in many animation productions from the independent short all the way up to Hollywood blockbusters (check out Disney’s open source site for proof). Programs like Blender help create 3-D animation and have also become invaluable in graphic FX.

However all that work is 3D, not the more traditional 2D that has been around for more than a century. In the case of the latter, there are some alternatives but nothing coming close to encompassing all the features and capabilities that Flash offers. Nina discusses Synfig but notes her difficulty in getting around the user interface; a key hurdle for something that requires lots of user input.

What open source offers as an alternative is all the same benefits that the open source 3D programs do:

  • Drastically lower purchase costs
  • Interchangeable/compatible industry standards
  • Backwards compatibility
  • Cross-platform support (that’s Mac, Windows and Linux-friendly versions)
  • A non-mandatory upgrade path (upgrade if and when you want to!)

Why it Has to Be Done

Nina arrives at the following conclusion:

Time alone has not made this elusive software come into being. Could money? How much would I have to raise to commission an excellent programmer or two to give me what I want? Should I try a Kickstarter? A project like this should have a million dollars; I would aim for one tenth of that. Would even $100,000 be possible?

The result would be excellent Free vector animation software for everyone in the world.

I tend to agree that open source software often contends with the issue of time. The projects are, after all, mostly done by volunteers in their spare time and God knows there’s never enough of that around. In Nina’s suggestion, a Kickstarter project would essentially fund a full time programmer or two to develop a user interface for Synfig that’s more user-friendly.

That’s a great way to get things going and offering people the opportunity to contribute with something they may have (money) in exchange for something they may not have (time/skills).

Would it benefit everyone? Absolutely! A program that could create 2D animation that doesn’t cost the earth would offer tremendous benefits to every animator and studio alike. Money saved from buying software can be spent on other things (like animators!) and could make areas where animation is currently quite expensive to produce (think North America) more appealing to producers.

At the end of the day, a freely available, open source 2D program would open up doors for literally thousands of people who currently can’t get on the animation ladder thanks to the price of admission that Adobe and others charge. We should encourage this as a means of furthering the technique within the media landscape.

Is this a project you could get on board with or even use? Let us know in the comments!