Search Results for: Kells

The 2011 Academy Awards Shortlist and Why There Should be Five Nominees

By now you should have seen the shortlist for the contenders for the 3 nomination slots for this year’s Best Animated Film category of the Academy Awards. Just in case you haven’t, here it is:

  • Toy Story 3
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Shrek Forever After
  • Despicable Me
  • Alpha and Omega
  • Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
  • The Dreams of Jinsha
  • Idiots and Angels
  • The Illusionist
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
  • Megamind
  • My Dog Tulip
  • Summer Wars
  • Tangled
  • Tinker Bell
  • Great Fairy Rescue

Academy Rules state that if there are more than 15 entries on the shortlist, then the number of nominations go up to 5. The logic behind this is that the rather artbitrary number of 15 is used as a yardstick to measure how popular animated films are in this country. In a year like this one, enough were not released to warrant the wider number of nominations.

Perhaps there is some underlying explanation that we are not privy to, but come on man, I could easily pick 5 films, nay, 5 universally acclaimed films from that list and still be left with plenty to spare. Maybe in years gone past the quality of films has meant that only three good films could be chosen. I don’t exactly know, although I would doubt it, seeing as the category has only existed since 2001.

Think of the debate that would be generated! Look at last year! There were 5 nominees and the quality of the nominees was very fine indeed. Included were Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, Up and The Secret of Kells, a film that hadn’t even been on general release when that ceremony was held!

With just three films in the race this year, it will most likely come down to Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon and either Despicable Me or a take-your-pick from the indies; the general attitude to which can be summarised in the quote below from the Washington Post’s, Celebritology blog:

All the usual animated suspects made the first round of cuts…..”The Illusionist,” the requisite annual animated entry that’s critically lauded but that no one’s kids will ever see? Total check.

In such a circumstance, I’m relying on HTTYD to upset the Pixar apple cart. It’s just a shame that genuine contenders for the award are dismissed before they even get the chance to line up for the race.

Now imagine if there were 5 nominees. You can add in an extra two films to the mix and with a strong indie presence, you can be assured that they stand a better chance. Both The Illusionist and Idiots and Angels would garner a lot of extra exposure from even a simple nomination and that would only increase interest in the artform (surely something we can all agree on).

Like I said above, more contenders might not lower the odds for Toy Story 3 (at least not at your bookie) but it would reinforce the idea in the general public’s mind that animation is a wonderfully varied medium that exists outside the major Hollywood players. Having said that, I do realise that the Academy Awards are a back-slapping ceremony for Hollywood, so if you’re not in the club, your chances of winning are slim. But seriously, how much extra does it actually cost the Academy to add two more films to the list? Not much, but they could stand to gain a lot more if they did.

Working From Home or In A Studio: Which is Better?

Being in the civil engineering profession, I am blessed/cursed in that I generally must conduct my affairs in the office. Our use of CAD software, large files and the overall collaborative nature of the work often necessitates working closely with co-workers. There is, however, the rare opportunity for working outside the office, such as a visit to a project, or making a delivery/pickup of plans. There is also the rare-as-hens-teeth days when I am able to telecommute.

Now granted, I only live 10 minutes from the office (5 if I hit every traffic light just right and ignore the speed limit on the Beltway) so its not that big of a deal for me to travel to work every day. Last week (and by extension, this week) have been one of those high-pressure, “I need it yesterday” kind of fortnights, and as a result, I had to do some work on Saturday morning.

Through the magic of Netflix Citrix, I was able to do everything from my computer at home. I could have stayed in my pyjamas but I opted for the more mature choice of tracksuit bottoms.

Long story short, the whole experience got me wondering as to which is better: working at home or in an office environment. For studios (and companies in general) there are certainly many advantages to having employees work off-premises. Money can be saved from rent, equipment, electric, heat (if a smaller office is used), coffee, etc. For the employee, there is the option of working in your pyjamas, getting a cup of tea whenever you feel like it, and (if it is available) of working hours that suit them.

Freelancers have known about the many benefits for years now. In fact, a large minority of artists whose blogs I follow tend to be freelancers who work at home, and they all enjoy it!

That is not to say that working from home is for everyone, it does come with its own set of disadvantages after all. For example, in the modern digital age, if your computer decides it just can’t take it any more and gives up when the deadline is tomorrow, you have to be your own IT department or its your neck on the chopping block.

A studio offers the social atmosphere that makes an office and enjoyable place to work. There is the comradery, collaborative element and the ability to collectively inspire each other. At the same time, there is also office politics to consider and if your boss is a bit of an eejit, being as far away from them as possible is preferable. Yes, sadly there are people out there who have absolutely no business being in management and yet they do exist.

At the end of the day, it will come down to personal taste as much as the willingness of the project manager to let you work remotely. For some projects (such as The Secret of Kells) it worked wonders as everyone was talented and experienced enough to simply get on with the job with the direction given from Ireland.

With the increase in internet speeds and the proliferation of cloud computing and so forth, it is more likely that companies (especially smaller outfits) will seek to lower overhead costs by allowing employees to work at home, thus shifting heating, electric and plant costs to them. Ideally, everyone should be given a choice as to which they prefer.

So, the real answer is: neither. Both systems play to equal strengths and weaknesses and both have their champions. Personally, I like the interaction with co-workers. Your mileage may vary.

Reflections on the Past Year

While it may seem strange to look back on the year in the middle of September, there is a genuine reason for doing so, at least in my case. For it was in September, that I left Ireland and came to the US and it seems that every year, I seem to sit down and ponder the events of the previous one.

For starters, I’ve been in school a whole year, which is quite hard to believe in and of itself. That would mean that I’m somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way done with my MBA, a sobering thought if ever there was one.

Back in January, I had the pleasure of meeting the one and only Mr. John Canemaker at a screening for the Secret of Kells. He had just returned from a trip to Ireland and had plenty to say about it, namely that it was quite wet the entire time!

In February, I had the great distinction of meeting Mr. Tomm Moore, director of the Academy Award nominated The Secret of Kells. Despite the fact that it was a cold and snowy New York kind of day, it was great to chat to him ins spite of his incredibly busy schedule.

I once again took the day off work to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. A few days later, I celebrated turning a quarter of a century old and began to feel old.

In May, I celebrated one year dating my very special girlfriend who tolerates this silly Irishman on a daily basis and I paid my first visit to the Midwest, going to, of all places, Milwaukee. I can safely say that the beer there is indeed the best I’ve had on this side of the Atlantic. The city itself was also quite fun to wander around, even if it’s clear the recession is hurting things.

My brother came to spend the summer with me. There was lots of reminiscing involved.

Not much happened in June.

My mother and sister came for a visit in July. We did plenty of touring and visiting relatives and also spent three fabulous days in New York City. A good time was had by all.

For 4th of July, we visited my girlfriend’s hometown in upstate New York where her mother owns an ice-cream shop. The ice-cream was delicious and the fireworks were spectacular.

In August, I paid my second visit to the Midwest, in particular, Columbus, Ohio. It was a great weekend but we were so stretched for time that we didn’t get to see much besides the city centre.

In late, late August, we adopted an English Bulldog named Mona, who so far has been pretty well behaved in all consideration and, despite barking at me the first time we met, she has grown much friendlier in the meantime.

My attendance at various ASIFA-East events has been slightly curtailed this year because of school. A couple of events I would have loved to attend were on nights where class was in session and with the pace we were going at, I just couldn’t afford to take a night off. The sad thing is that I was all set to attend a board meeting when a deadline at work popped up. I didn’t leave the office till 9 o’clock that night so suffice to say, I didn’t make it.

So, what does the coming year hold? Hopefully more of the same, although I am most looking forward to a trip to Ireland in July 🙂

End of August Things That I Missed

Yes, I missed all of last week due to the unfortunate collision of events that forced the ol’ blog to take a back seat for a bit. Anyway, here’s a synopsis on things I missed and my thoughts on each:

Disney Ditching the Annie Awards

Normally I strive to avoid anything that borders on the political because let’s face it, I’m from Ireland, where politics might well have been invented at some point in the past. Nonetheless, it is disheartening to hear that Disney has yanked their support for the Annie Awards. This does not preclude their films from entering, and they are likely to continue to show up in the future.

It is the belief of many both in and outside the industry that the motivation for this abrupt announcement is that rival studio Dreamworks has somehow ‘bought’ recent awards through their granting an ASIFA-Hollywood membership to every employee, thus ensuring that they are more than adequately represented come awards season.

There is nothing wrong with a company gifting professional memberships on its employees. My company does it (and I assure you, with the prices they’re charging, I’m perfectly happy to let them do it) and plenty of others do too. ASIFA is one of the few professional associations for animators and the industry at large that has a fairly large presence. The question arises as to why Disney does not do the same. Perhaps they feel that coughing up for memberships will not necessarily encourage greater participation by employees in the organisation which would in turn result in an economic loss overall for the company. I can only hope that this isn’t the case.

I would like to believe that Dreamworks is not trying to play the system. Sadly, Annie Awards are rarely even mentioned in a film’s marketing materials, let alone nominations. So what is the point in amping up your chances of a win if it’s only industry professionals that take notice? Personally, I prefer to look at the hard numbers to sperate the successful from the mediocre when it comes to the business (personally, performanec matters diddly when it comes to what I love).

There is little point in sqabbling over such petty occurrances. It makes Disney look bad for pulling out and it puts ASIFA-Hollwood on the defensive for not real reason, all the while Dreamworks wisely keeps its mouth shut. In the end, everyone loses without exception.

The Passing of Kihachiro Kawamoto and Satoshi Kon

This week saw the passing of two legendary Japanese animators. I was not so much familar with Kihachiro Kawamoto, but from what i have read, he seems to have been one of those rare people who truly mastered his craft. Satoshi Kon was one of Japan’s most famous 2-D animators who also achieved widespread critical acclaim in the West.

The passing of these two gentlemen does not signal the beginning of the end for their respective styles of animation. If the past has taught us anything, it is that someone will emerge to fill the space left behind.

The Baltimore Comic-Con

I was just there yesterday (albeit it early) so I missed the apparent dust-up between Harvey Award winner Mark Waid and the legendary Sergio Argones. It seems Argones was upset about Waid’s support for putting comics in the public domain or something along those lines.

And sitting right next tom him was none other than Don Rosa, from whom I managed to procure a copy of the plans for Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin. I found it rather apt that he gave me my change in the form of dollar coins

Tip of the Hat

Goes to the great folks over at Animation Ireland for putting a post by yours truly on the front page. Thanks guys, I guess I owe you all a round of pints next time I’m back home 😉

Animation in Other Countries

I recently received my first issue of ASIFA Magazine, the quarterly publication of ASIFA International. I served as a great reminder that there is much more to animation than what comes out of the west coast of America.

Around the world there are plenty of indiginous animation industries that are happily supplying local needs without having to export to “the promised land”. Even with my limited experience, I can safely say that the best stuff need not necessarily come out of Burbank.

Perhaps the most well known is France, which is not that surprising given the potency of the French culture. They have also had a few success with films such as Asterix and with TV shows like Totally Spies! produced by Marathon.

Throughout the rest of Europe, there are plenty of small studios workjing on local content. Besides that, there are tons of independent animators, quietly putting out short films (and indeed a few long ones too). Some of these films really do puch the boundaries of animation in terms of their raw design but also in character development and story.

Apart from Europe stands Britain. Despite the dwindling size of the industry there, the number of series that have come out of Britain over the years is perhaps testament to the popularity of the artform there. This is perhaps because of the many, many shows that have been commissioned by the BBC as part of childrens programming and in its youth, Channel 4, whose most memorable production was the adaption of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Seeing as British shows are made in English (duh), it has helped them find other markets around the world, including America (such as Bob the Builder).

Apart from Britain stands Ireland, whose breakout studio (Cartoon Saloon) was behind the feature film, The Secret of Kells which has managed to crack the US market and garner a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. Along with the lads in Kilkenny, there is also Boulder Media and Brown Bag Films both based in Dublin, both of which have found success either as a production house (the former) or a consistent creative force on the international front (the latter).

In the last 5 years or so, we have seen the rise of studios from the likes of China, India and of course South Korea, who even managed to get a home-produced TV show on US screens in the form of a show I can’t remember the name of and Google is currently failing me in. Of course the strong cultures in some Asian countries may have difficulty gaining a foothold in the US market, much the same as anime faced for many years before become widely popular.

The best place to suss out some international animation, is at an animation festival! It is not necessarily true that the biggest are always the best, but they do normally have the widest selection that cater to almost any taste. Example include Ottowa, the just finished Annecy, Hiroshima among many others.

I know I have yet to make it to one, but I am confident that when I do, I will see some fantastic animation that can’t be found anywhere else.

Anomaly Approved: Michael Sporn

Michael Sporn is a great man. The reason? Not only is a gifted animator who has run his own, indpendent studio for well over 20 years, he also has a blog, affectionately known as his Splog, where he posts every single day.

To say that his knowledge of animation is extensive would almost be an insult. The man knows an awful lot about the artform and not-coincidentally also happens to know a heck of a lot of people in the industry. This is relevant for two reasons: lots of animation folks read his Splog and a few help contribute to it by way of personal collections and stuff kept from the old days.

In this, Michael’s posts fall into a few main categories:

  1. Mechanics posts
  2. Creative posts
  3. Event posts
  4. Review posts
  5. Photo posts

The mechanics posts are basically ones based on the nuts and bolts of animation. Timing, animating, characters, walk cycles, storyboards and so forth. These are really interesting to read as an outsider as the explanations and advice given is simple and straightforward. I may never use it, but you can never learn too much.

The creative posts look at animation design, things like backgrounds, layouts, character design (as opposed to drawing) etc. These posts are even better because they provide the reader with some fantastic art to look at. Michael doesn’t just stick to animation, he also posts about books, illustrations and the odd naughty cartoon thrown in for good measure.

The event posts are pretty straightforward. As a pillar within the animation community, Michael often attends events and he thankfully posts short recaps on most of them. Living in Baltimore, I really appreciate posts like this as I can find out what went on and how things went, even if I attend the event myself!

Michael’s review posts are often some of the best I can find for animated films. He is very objectionable and I highly commend him for this as it is so easy to become a cynical film critic. As an example, check out his reviews for Ponyo on the Cliffs by the Sea and The Secret of Kells (the same showing I went to).

Last but certainly not least, are his photo posts. Normally reserved for Sunday, these posts focus on life in New York city and the various eccentricities that one notices from living there. The photograph posts provide a break in the posting schedule and also mark the end of one week and the beginning of a new one.

With posts stretching back over 4 years (that’s every day for 4 years) the Splog itself is now a treasure-trove of information that can offer assistance even now. I have personally posted about stuff here on topics that Michael covered ages ago and who’s posts have been of enormous benefit to me.

With such an excellent repertoire of posts and his unique and thorough knowledge, I can safely say that Michael Sporn and his Splog are Anomaly Approved. 🙂

Crowdsourcing Animation – UPDATED

Animation is an expensive business, there’s no doubt about it. Besides being time-consuming (typically 6 months for a half-hour show) it also requires the talents of a vast number of people, from designers, writers, storyboard artists, animators, etc. etc. On the flipside, animation tends to have a very long life. For instance, we still watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs today, over 70 years after it was first released.

With such a large outlay of capital, animation has been scattered among various genres in the past. On the one hand, you had Disney with it’s big budget theatrical releases, on the other side, indie filmmakers were putting out shorts from the their bedrooms.

The arrival of the computer changed all that, and today, a film can literally be a one-man show made for a few thousand dollars. Having said that, a few thousand dollars is still a few thousand dollars and plenty of animators I know don’t happen to have that kind of money laying around to fund a film.

The historical (and risky) stratedgy is to make one film, shop it around and use it to get commissions and the like in order to fund a second. The cycle thus repeats giving the animator a somewhat healthy revenue stream that he or she can use to produce personal films on topics they enjoy. A great example of this is PES, who routinely undertakes commercials in order to put out such gems as Western Spaghetti.

The arrival of the internet changed everything. Besides changing distribution (YouTube) and the actual production itself (The Secret of Kells was put together in three very different continents), it has spurred the idea of “crowdsourcing”.

Crowdsourcing is a principle where many people doing a little piece of the work collectively contrbutes to a whole. The principle has been used in software for years. In fact the machine I’m typing this on right now runs on Linux, which has thousands of programmers actively contributing to its development.

With that in mind, the idea of crowdsourcing animation is that many people can donate to the capital funds needed to get a project off the ground. An excellent recent example is Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo. His wish to create a creator-driven vidoe streaming website (Kaboing TV), which he describes as

…an animation and Cartoon Web channel with content worthy of television if television had the space and the balls to do it.

While admirable, Kaboing TV is unlikely to attract investment unless Joe has some proof that the idea will be successful. Enter Frog in a Suit, desribed as being:

…our chance to “turn the engine over ,and get the car onto the track.

In other words, the short is the nectar that entices the bee to come over and get cozy with the flower. Joe is certain that there is a market for a cartoon channel on the interent. The likes of Channel Frederator and Cartoon Brew TV all of these offer animation podcasts or shorts with each having a dedicated following. With this in mind, he has decided to reach out to the community and fans alike for some help getting the project off the ground.

Using the website Kickstarter to handle the nuts and bolts, Joe is already well on his way to achieving his goal. The interesting thing is, he only has 176 backers! He’ll need a few more before he’s finished, but it is astonishing that he can get a few shorts made with as little people as this. In contrast, the Simpsons and other mainstream cartoons require audiences in the millions in order to make them cost effective.

The idea has worked before, Nina Paley asked fans to help out when she was unable to release her film “Sita Sings the Blues” without coughing up $50,000 to copyright owners. Having gone into debt just making the film, Nina asked for donations in order to ensure her film would be seen. She managed to achieve her goal and today, with her film released under a Creativ Commons license, you can download it for free and share it with as many people as you like.

Crowdsourcing is not the ideal funding source in my opinion but it is the best if you are an independent filmmaker. New York hero Bobby Miller has been using the idea to fund the DVD release of his film, Tub, which will help promote his film without the need for exepensive marketing.

Until now, there has been a wide gulf between animation that was produced by a mainstream media company and those by independents. Through crowdsourcing, we may see a narrowing of this gap with the rise of medium-cost, independently made films that are of high quality, medium cost and still achieve satisfactory market acceptance. Time will tell, but for now, things look good.

UPDATE: All-round nice guy Lee Rubenstein has decided to fund his series, Fred & Earl through Kickstarter. In return he’s offering some unique gifts to doners, including the chance to voice a character in a future episode! Click here to get involved.

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.