Spendthrift DVDs

DVDs are perhaps the best thing to ever happen to home video since the invention of, home video! Fancy that. Besides offering a resolution far beyond that of VHS (side note, what does CHS stand for? Hint: It’s not “Video Home System” The answer is at the bottom, no cheating!)

Besides that, DVD meant that extras could be included, such  as director commentaries and the now-ubiquitous “making of” documentary. All of these have had the effect of increasing the viewing experience. Animation-wise, this has meant the inclusion of animatics, pencil tests, character sketches and even side-by-side comparisons!

All of these things are taken for granted now, which makes it all the more ridiculous to hear that studios are removing extras from DVDs to encourage people to buy the Blu Ray discs instead. Now granted, we’ve already heard of this kind of thing happening to rental discs, but for regular DVDs? They’re having a laugh.

I can’t recall any good examples at the moment, but it’s slightly encouraging to see studios package DVD/Blu Ray combo packs, which should ease the pain of upgrading. The simple solution is to buy a Blu Ray player and hook it up to a regular TV, of course some players don’t allow that.

DVD is not going away anytime soon, certainly not as quickly as VHS disappeared. For plenty of people, the difference simply isn’t worth going out and spending a couple of grand on a new TV and player, complete with surround sound system.

Removing features will do nothing to increase the uptake of Blu Ray. And when you think about it, Blu Ray may be eclipsed by streaming anyway, where extras can be watched at will.

OK, a bit of a sloppy post I know, but it’s Friday and I’m about to run out the door. Did you guess the answer? It’s

The Man Behind Mung Daal

Just throwing it out there because it’s late and I’m tired and it’s almost Friday but not really, but man, did Dwight Schultz ever nail the character of Mung Daal or what?

I simply can’t imagine any other voice in the role, it really is that good. Dwight has had a long career that has included many voice-acting roles so he is no stranger to the subtitles that are required, which he delivers in spades. Something for a more detailed post when I’m not trying to get a newsletter out the door perhaps.

Long story short, there are tons of fantastic voice-actors out there, and plenty that I have huge admiration for and I’m happy to say that Dwight is among them.

Reviving Old Cartoons

Word comes through via ToonZone and others about the new Looney Tunes show announced today at the Cartoon Network upfront, the antiquated annual hooplah by a network where advertisers are coerced into buying space during shows that barely even exist yet. Fun times.

So once again, we see the Looney Tunes gang getting pulled out of the closet for new adventures. The last time they did this, we ended up Loonatics Unleashed. A show that many Warner fans would rather forget, but in the end, all it needed was some extra love and attention that would never be forthcoming.

The press summary describes it as follows:

The Looney Tunes Show: A new half-hour animated comedy series starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. No longer confined to 7-minute shorts, Bugs and Daffy are out of the woods and living in the suburbs among such colorful neighbors as Yosemite Sam, Granny, Tweety and Sylvester. In addition to each episode’s main story, The Looney Tunes Show also features “cartoons within a cartoon.” The Tasmanian Devil, Speedy Gonzales, Marvin the Martian and other classic characters sing original songs in two-minute music videos called Merrie Melodies and the Road Runner and Coyote are featured in 2-1/2 minute CG shorts. This all new series is produced by Warner Bros. Animation. Sam Register (Teen Titans, Ben 10, Batman: The Brave and the Bold) is the executive producer. Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone (both Duck Dodgers, Back at the Barnyard, Space Jam) are the supervising producers.


If the fact that the characters live in the suburbs isn’t enough, the new show apparently helps the characters break out of the classic 7-minute acts that made them who they are today.

Since I have not seen the show, I will reserve judgement on it for now. Suffice to say I’m not immediately impressed and don’t have high hopes either. This despite the fact that Sam Register is running the whole thing.

Reveiving old cartoons characters is fairly old. Sure Disney has been at it for years, Mickey Mouse continues to pop up in new adventures from time to time. Tom & Jerry have had more lives than I care to remember, from Chuck Jones shorts to Saturday morning cartoons to Tom & Jerry Kids!

What have all these things taught us? For one, nothing is rarely, if ever as good as the original. Even Family Guy isn’t the same since it came back, which in turn has me worried about the new series of Futurama.

Granted the FOX shows had a much shorter hiatus than the Looney Tunes. Still though, they won’t be the same. I think the closest we have gotten to the classic WB shorts in recent (!) years has been either Ren & Stimpy or Cow & Chicken. Today’s cartoons really do lack the hard edge and sly humour that have made old cartoons stand the test of time.

I will of course see the new show when it launches, but people rarely get ahead by digging in the past.

Creator’s Block

We’re all familiar with writer’s block, that agonizing thing when it feels like you can write nothing. But what about creator’s block? I certainly got it today with this blog! This is the third attempt at a post and yet I am somehow getting it together piece by piece.

One thing I’ve learned from the readings and teachings of Mr. David Levy, is that opportunity is always knocking, even when you think it isn’t. Case in point, today’s post. I thought about recommending a book, commenting on cel-shaded animation, even about posting about the Fleischer Brothers move to Florida! Could I get past the first paragraph on any of them? Not a chance 🙁

Yet here I am, posting about a subject that should have stopped me from writing about it in the first place!

What is it about creative block? Why is it that we feel we are simply unable to write or draw or paint or whatever it is we do? It’s a mystery to me, although I would like to blame the fact that is is still very early in the week and the joys of the weekend are still a long ways off.

Nevertheless, animators continue to amaze me in their prolific output. Of the many blogs I follow, there are naturally the few that update maybe only a few times a year, but others have new stuff up every week! Does this mean that the latter are better than the former? Nonsense, some of the slackers simply don’t have the time (or at least that’s the excuse the present whenever they post).

If you’re an animator working on a personal project, creator’s block can be your worst nightmare. Luckily, you can find inspiration from anywhere! Either on TV, radio, outside, your favourite movie, you name it. That’s what’s so nice about being in a creative industry, you can take inspiration from anywhere. Unlike myself, who is normally limited to the AASHTO Green Book, where the numbers are a bit more preceise.

My point is, creator’s block affects all of us at some point. We all hate it, but before you know it, an idea will pop into your head and away you go like it never even happened.

Hey look at that, I wrote an entire post after all those false starts 🙂

Mickey Mouse’s Copyright Law

How old is Mickey Mouse? Well, he’s about 82 years if he’s a day. So why is he still under copyright while other early cartoon stars are not? Well, for one, plenty of companies from that era went out of business long ago and their associated copyrights are either forgotten about or expired.

Yet Mickey’s has not. He is still fully owned, and will continue to be owned, by the Walt Disney Company for the foreseeable future at least. Consistent enforcement of copyright is part of it. Disney is still very much in business, and is certainly enforcing its legal rights regarding infringement.

So why exactly does Mickey Mouse have his own copyright law? Well for one, it isn’t really his, its Sonny Bono’s (the guy with the bomb in Airplane, also he was a singer of some sort in the 60s). The act itself extended copyright terms in the US for 20 more years, on top of the life plus 50 years already offered. Corporate authorship is now 120 years, increased from 75 years.

The reason it’s called the Mickey Mouse law is the presumption, and possibility, that it was the looming date on which Mickey Mouse would enter the public domain, that coerced the Disney company to begin lobbying for such an extension.

What advantage does this serve? Well for one, it means Disney can continue to extract license fees for the old films for a start. It also prevents anyone else from making similar or derivative works based on the films.

Is this a good thing? Well for the copyright holder? Yes, they can continue to make money. Personally, I think this is a bad thing. OK, so you continue to own the character, but if he is freely available, then even more people can enjoy him, It may even push up demand for the films that are almost as old but still covered by copyright.

If you think about it, if the public domain was such a bad thing, publishers wouldn’t be publishing all those Jane Austin or Charles Dickens novels. Sure you can read them online for free, and yet people still buy the books, and publishers still make a profit from them, even though they aren’t covered by any copyright! Amazing isn’t it?

Do you think Disney would lose a ton of money just because a few films from the 20s and 30s enter the public domain? Unlikely. When was the last time you seen one of those films? For me it’s been a number of years.

So there you go. Mickey Mouse has his own law, and the company behind it is all the worse for it.

The Competition Between Dreamworks, Pixar And Sony

CGI. It’s a format that has literally taken over the movie business ever since Toy Story burst onto the scene all the way back in 1995. Today, three companies, Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony dominate the market. How did this come to be and what does the future hold for each of them. Read on as I do a bit of crystal ball gazing.

In order to understand the status quo, a knowledge of market economics is needed. I highly recommend The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries and Trout. An excellent book, it outlines exactly why which companies are on top and why they will stay there.

It is important to note that Pixar was the one that started it all off in 1995 with Toy Story. An excellent film that achieved a dramatic amount of international success. It has been debated ever since its debut as to whether that success was due more to the film’s story or the animation itself, being the first feature-length film to be created entirely using computers.

The fact remains that the headstart Pixar got has enabled the studio to create and maintain a formidable market share and become a perennial nominee for Best Animated Feature Oscar.

As any entrepreneur will tell you, it is impossible to create a market and keep it all to yourself. It may have taken 3 more years, but Dreamworks got in on the act with Antz in 1997. This film also garnered substantial success and has spawned no less than four sequels! Since then, Dreamworks has strived to emulate Pixar in terms of animation quality, although Jeffrey Katzenburg apparently believes in a higher output, currently pegged at 3 every 12 months than the more relaxed schedule up the road in Emeryville.

This leaves Sony. Definitely the late bloomer among the majors, it didn’t release a feature until 2006’s Open Season. Since then, they have released two more but have remained firmly in third place behind Pixar and Dreamworks.

The point I’d like to make, is that Sony is perhaps the studio to watch over the medium term. Their breakout hit of last year, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, proved that you don’t need a better product to beat the competition, just a different one! Both Pixar and Dreamworks have gone for the straight story that’s simple enough for kids with some adult humour thrown in for good measure, but then along comes Sony with a flat-out cartoon that knocks the other films for six.

One of the 22 Immutable Laws is that eventually, every market become a two horse race, and no-one ever changes positions unless something exceptional happens. In terms of animated CGI films, this would mean that Pixar remains on top, Dreamworks behind and Sony in third place. Unless, Sony can corner the market for cartoony CGI films, in that case, Dreamworks has a lot of hard work to do.

“Art of Books” in Animation

A recent development in the machine that is movie marketing has been to sell “Art of” books. This is a good thing, yes? For years, if an animated move came out, the closest one could get to seeing some static art was to either get a hold of the onesheet or buy the childrens picture book. I still have my Aladdin one sitting on a bookshelf back in Ireland.

I’m not sure where the trend began, but I do know that Pixar are the first company I remember releasing them. Of course, they have released some movies over the years with some terrific design and style. It’s only fitting that we see how things came together.

It would appear that the trend has been predominant in CGI movies, which isn’t at all surprising as that has been the dominant genre of animated movies over the last 10 years or so. I think that some of the art used to produce these films is even better than what eventually ended up on the screen!

The quality of “Art of” books can vary wildly. Case in point, the one I have for Spirited Away. It’s not so much an “art of” book as it is background to the entire movie. Over the course of 180 pages or so, one can see how the design for each scene in the movie came together. And to top it all off, you get the entire script at the end!

In contrast, “The Art of The Incredibles” is an altogether different affair. Not only do we get the backgrounds to the main characters in detail, lots of sketches, plenty of fantastic stuff by Lou Romano and a very nice foreward by brad Bird himself, there is also the entire colour script!

The flip side can be disastrous, for example the one accompanying Coraline. The movie itself is spectacular, but it would seem that money was skimped on the book. Not only are the artists not properly credited, the pictures themselves are horribly pixelated. Not something an “Art of” book should be like.

In my opinion, these books are indeed worth the paper they’re printed on. If you really like to see the artwork behind a movie, they are excellent value for money. I once held an actual sheet of paper that was used as part of the colour model for the scene where Mr Incredible jumps over the waterfall. Sadly, I did not have the necessary $5,000 in my wallet at the time.

Some are more worth it than others, that’s why it is important to look at a physical copy before you buy. Don’t rely on the preview images on Amazon.com. They only tell part of the story. Some websites, such as Parkablogs.com, have excellent reviews with plenty of photos from the actual books along with a written review and are well worth a visit.

Re-Releasing Animation on the Big Screen

The silver screen. Once the dominant screen for entertainment in the US, it fell somewhat dramatically with the arrival of television. However, the film industry remains adamant that their products are released to the local movie house first, just so that everyone in the food chain continues to get paid.

At least that’s how it is for mainstream movies. Hundreds of independent cinemas continue to exist throughout the country. Some continue to show the mainstream releases, but their numbers are few. Instead, let’s hear it for the independent cinema that shows independent movies!

The two I am most familiar with (the E. Street Cinema in DC and the Senator in Baltimore) show a diverse mix of film, both American and international. Personally, I like to promote the independent arts. Sometimes because the products are honestly better, but often because you can only find films you like in an independent theatre. I have to admit though, I am still ashamed that I did not go and see Marjane Strpati’s fantastic film Persepolis when it was playing at the Senator.

Anyway, onto my point. Wouldn’t it be a neat thing to show old animated films at such cinemas? Think about it, once a film finishes its theatrical run, does it ever get another? History suggests, rarely if ever. The exception so far seems to be mainly the Disney films. Fantasia springs to mind, as does Beauty & the Beast (although the latter is getting a no-doubt tasteless and pointless conversion to 3-D). The exception to this has been The Little Mermaid, which got trotted out again in the mid-90s only to crush Don Bluth’s latest release.

The reason I post is that I received an e-mail from GKids, the absolutely wonderful people behind the US release (have you seen it yet?) of The Secret of Kells and who deserve every success the film brings them. Eric Beckman is one hard working man I tell ya. In said e-mail, regarding their upcoming run of films at the IFC Center in New York, I noticed that Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away will be playing at the start of May.

I almost died when I found out that I can’t make it (I’m taking a later bus, stupid me). but it got me thinking. What if these independent film houses, and I guess it could run as sort of a national circuit or something, showed some old animated movies every now and again.

I mean, its technically possible, I’m sure prints survive out there somewhere, and everyone loves old animation (hey am I right folks?). Don’t you like to see movies on a big-ass screen? I know I do. Personally, I think there would be plenty of people who would line up to see The Aristocrats or The Jungle Book or even An American Tail again. You could even run some shorts before the feature. Tom & Jerry anyone?

Think how much money you’d make. The films are already paid for, all that’s needed is transport and/or copies and perhaps the requisite [ugh] license. Right?

Great! Everything’s sorted then. See you at the pictures.

Toys As A Creative Source For Cartoons

I was rather gutted when I found out they were toys first...

To be frank, I don’t remember an awful lot of these. being a child of the mid-80s, I missed more than half the decade, also having been raised in Ireland, I was dependent on whatever RTE could afford or care enough about to import.

What made cartoons of that decade stand out more than anything else? Toys of course! Yes indeedy, this was the decade where cartoons reigned supreme as the marketing vehicle to children, even moreso than today or the 1990s for that matter.

You couldn’t turn on a TV without seeing a show based on a toy. be it The Care Bears, Transformers, G.I. Joe and so on. The strategy was successful, but of course, the shows themselves dated quickly. Although some managed to achieve a certain level of cult status.

Thankfully, somebody wised up in the 90s and realized that cartoons worked much better if they were the source of the toys, not a cog in the marketing machine. Today we have smart, funny and intensely entertaining cartoons to watch 24/7 and the toys that go with them are top notch too. How much nicer is it to see Spongebob getting into trouble in Bikini Bottom than, say, the Transformers off to stop the evil Deseptacons, again!

The reason for this post is the word filtering through the internet that the two guys behind Ruby-Spears have announced that they intend to start marketing old Jack Kirby ideas as a combined TV show and toy line.

Great! If that’s what they want to do, then more power to them. There can never be enough cartoons in this world. There will always be good and bad shows, sometimes (like the 80s) there will be more bad ones than good ones. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that some form of animation on TV or otherwise is better than nothing. Now if I was in charge, you can bet you’d only see the best, creator-driven cartoons ever made. But unfortunately I’m not in charge, so we’ll have to deal with what comes out between now and then.

Nope, what I’m wondering is where they’ll find a willing buyer. Disney is only interested in its own properties (or those developed in-house). Nickelodeon, while sometimes going outside Viacom, has so far chosen to develop their own shows and market them accordingly. With the stunning success of Spongebob Squarepants, I can’t see them changing their tune either. As for the Cartoon Network, they’ve decided to change their direction away from cartoons. Although they have bought in shows, such as Cookie Jar’s Johnny Test, the network has an abysmal record of translating their shows into marketable products. Ben 10 is the exception rather than the rule, and even then the show has a very, very narrow focus on boys aged 6-11.

That leaves the broadcast networks. Which as we all know, are a bit of a graveyard for kids shows these days. ABC airs constant (and I mean constant, i.e. the same 20 episodes) re-runs of Disney shows. NBC has handed their Saturday mornings to Quobo, the quasi-cable channel. That leaves the CW and CBS. The former entrusts 4Kids, the latter used to use DIC before they got swallowed up by Cookie Jar.

Of all of these, the most likely prospective buyers are 4Kids and Cookie Jar, although 4Kids has focused more on anime imports, such as Sonic X and TNMT in recent times. DIC of course, has brought us many toy-related shows over the years. So perhaps they may be the buyers for and toy-related show that comes out of this. Such a shame the ratings are in the sub-1.0 level.

There is plenty to be hopeful about, but the last 20 years have proven that cartoons that are creator-driven stand to make much more money for toy makers than themselves. They would be wise to realize this.

How The Simpsons Interacts With Other Cartoons

The very first issue of MAD I ever bought (via Fanpop.com)

News comes to us from The Animation Blog about The Simpsons congratulating South Park on their 200th episode. Which brings up an interesting thought, The Simpsons is the longest running animated show on TV (or ever for that matter) right? Well, we all know how other animated shows have honoured, recognized, satirized and downright lampooned The Simpsons, but how have they responded in kind?

First off though, a trivia question: The Simpsons has parodied many shows, but has only ever made a direct homage to one. Which show is it? The answer is at the bottom.

The creators, being who they are, were bound to reference other forms of entertainment linked with animation. Comic books got a look very early on in the life of the series, but so did other cartoons. On numerous occasions, references have been made to various Hanna-Barbera shows. Notably The Flintstones in the opening sequence of “Marge Vs. The monorail” where Homer is shown leaving work in a fashion similar to Fred Flintstone. In one of their trademark couch gags, the family is shown coming home to find Fred, Wilma, Pebbles and Dino in their place (Kamp Krusty).

Satire has often been prevalent. Many will remember when South Park engaged the ire of Marge Simpson (“The Bart of War” which was, in fact, a get-back for an episode of South Park wherein it was inferred that the Simpsons had already done every possible plot in a TV show).

The Simpsons has, over the years, reacted with it’s cousins on the FOX network. King of Hill was done when Bart was watching Hank complain about “propane in my urethra“. Perhaps the most controversial has been the back and forth between The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Both shows are extremely similar and both have an oafish father as the protagonist. Although the relationship between both shows is cordial, and it is fun to see the jokes fly. So far, I count when Homer was run down by Stewie in the driveway, or when Peter Griffin was wanted by the Italian police as a “plagarisimo”.

Over the years the Simpsons has also referenced anime (during the family’s trip to Japan), Czech animation (the Russion Itchy & Scratchy replacement) and even independent films (Spike & Mike’s Sick, Twisted & F**ked Up Film Festival). The comedy in these references and parodies is genius, which has no doubt flown under the radar of the average viewer for years as inside jokes to people in the know (that would be you and I).

So, did you guess it? Here’s the answer:

[livevideo id=http://www.livevideo.com/video/C5FD97BB261A48F1B3C9AB3D075491BA/ren-stimpy-in-the-simpsons.aspx]

If that’s not working, click here!

Yup, that isn’t actual footage, but it is the absolute closest the Simpsons has ever got to featuring another show. Yeah, I know, there was “The Critic” but that’s not the same and requires a post for another day.

What importance  does this clip hold? For one it shows the admiration of the Simpsons creators for the one and only John K. The colours are accurate, the voices are ably espoused by Dan Castellenatta and the animation is spot on. The respect is clear, no other show has been given such accurate reproduction by the Simpsons.

So the conclusion to all this is that The Simspons love John K. and think he’s great!

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.