A Response To Amid’s Post Concerning an Animator’s Brand

Amid over at Cartoon Brew has an insightful post that looks at Spike Lee and how he has managed to create a personal brand around himself and his company. Its a good post and Amid raises a number of questions. Rather than detailing it in an über long comment, I thought it best to write a full post instead.

How do Spike Lee’s thoughts fit into today’s animation world, where selling one’s creation to a TV network is often considered the pinnacle of success?

This a good point, although it really does raise the question of why selling to networks is considered the pinnacle of success. Surely the pinnacle would be to get a theatrical feature released, no? Perhaps it is, but that really is an uphill battle all the way if ever there was one and only a very select few ever actually achieve it.

Things are changing though. TV series are (slowly) disappearing, or at least becoming less prominent. In the near future, we’ll see a lot more branded online networks. Some will be personal brands and others will be more reminiscent of traditional networks that take pitches and so forth.

So as far as I see it, animators will more than likely have to get a personal brand together in order to be successful on their own terms. Plenty of them have already done so, like PES and Xeth Fineburg, so the concept is hardly new.

Is giving up control of one’s creation a prerequisite for success in our industry, or can artists who own their brands carve out successful careers?

That ties in nicely with the point above insofar that while that may be true today, where networks normally demand control in exchange for funding, the future is likely to be radically different. If you create, distribute and manage your own content via your own website, then you CAN control your own work.

Artists have also proved fairly apt at this already. Think of Bill Plympton’s Plymptoons or again, PES. Success can be measured in many ways and owning your own brand and success (in the generally accepted sense) are not mutually exclusive.

Can an artist sell a creation to a corporation, but still maintain the integrity of their personal brand?

This is a tricky one, mainly because it’s necessary to define a “personal brand” and what exactly would undermine its integrity.

Taking a simple example, if you were an animator who sold an idea to a network but they requested you change a few things like the language, or the tone, or the jokes, if you did, would that undermine your brand? What if they requested changing, say a minority character into a white character and you did. If you’re a member of that minority, is that selling-out?

The reason I bring these examples up is that they illustrate how difficult it can be to determine whether a brand is being undermined or simply making the right decisions. Determining the integrity of your brand will depend on how exactly your brand is defined.

At the end of the day, many people conclude that when you accept a project for money and money only, then you have undermined your brand, because that is supposed to stand for something, to give people an instant impression of your content and creation. By “selling-out” you undermine that immediately.

All of this rests on the creator whose brand it is. It is up to them to decide whether it is good practice to sell an idea and lose control. Artists like Bill Plympton decided not to, and they’ve managed to build an incredibly strong brand because of it. Bill decided not to participate in Disney’s Aladdin because he felt it would ruin his brand and in so doing, created the gold standard for decision-making against which all others will be judged.

5 Reasons To Anticipate Amid Amidi’s Biography of Ward Kimball

Admittedly I haven’t read much on the Nine Old Men. That’s partly the result of reading other things and simply not having the time to devote more time to reading things. However these past few months, I’ve been plowing through the 11th volume of Didier Ghez’s excellent tome, Walt’s People, and through many of the various interviews, I’ve acquired a new level of respect for the esteemed group. One in particular stands out though, and that is Ward Kimball.

Amid Amidi is about to publish an extensive biography on the legendary animator and here is a few reasons why I’m anticipating its release.

  1. Ward’s characters are some of the greatest to ever appear on screen and you know there are stories behind every one.
  2. Ward put together the three space segments of the original Disneyland TV show, and together with Werhner Von Braun, got the technology surprisingly accurate to the eventual Apollo program. That could fill a book in itself.
  3. Walt Disney called Ward a genius. Surely he had a good reason to do so.
  4. Just how did such a wacky “cartoonist” wind up at a studio like Disney and manage to stay for so long?
  5. Ward supposedly started the rumour about Walt Disney’s frozen head. Will this book reveal all?

Anomaly Appraisal: Cartoon Modern

Via: Amazon

So this review is a bit late to the game seeing as this book came out back in 2006; a mere 6 years ago. Happily, Cartoon Modern is the kind of book that doesn’t age and not just because it deals with a period far in the past!

For the uninitiated, Cartoon Modern is concerned with that period in American animation spanning the late 1940s through till the early 60s, when the new-found prosperity and hope of the postwar era combined with the desire to break the established boundaries of animation, resulting revolution in design that has yet to be matched.

We’re all familiar with the style, after all, it’s only influenced animation for the last 60 years or so, and of course, modern hits like Ren & Stimpy owe a lot to the culture of the era too.

So what is Cartoon Modern? Well, it’s not strictly an art book, although it is brimming with lots of wonderful eye candy and it’s not strictly a written history either, although it does contain lots of detail about the history and provocateurs of the style.

Instead, author Amid Amidi gives a comprehensive overview of the period that combines general information, details of the various studios on both coasts and notes on individual animators highlighting their contributions. Naturally UPA consumes a large chapter, but even that is broken up with many notes on the individual artists that contributed so greatly to that studio’s remarkable success.

Cartoon Modern is an easy read that is greatly aided by the presence of many stunning images from the time that continue to appear fresh today. Admittedly I could have said that I had an interest in 50s animation before this, but having read this book, I can safely say that my interest was shallow at best.

I now have a greater desire to learn about the period and Cartoon Modern has certainly played a part in that.

At 200 gorgeous pages, Cartoon Modern is essential to the bookcase of anyone with even a fledgling interest in animation.

Note: the images above are all from the excellent book review site, Parka Blogs unless noted. Click through to read his review.


An Open Letter To Mr. Tom Lowe

Not that I want to keep coming back to the same topic, but waaaay down in the comments for Amid’s recent post on Cartoon Brew about making money from your short film, are some responses from a Mr. Tom Lowe who would seem to be involved in Bob Gofrey’s official website.

In case you’re curious, here are his comments:

Each video on YouTube had around 4000 hits, and there were around 5 videos up, so around 20,000 hits in total. Not much by YouTube terms.

We are looking in to DVD-to-download options, as the inital cost of DVD mastering would be way too much at the moment.

As for the films initially being free, can I ask where you got that information from, or have you just made it up?

As for free and extra content, we have an interview with Bob talking about Henry 9 ’til 5 which is free before the paywall for the film. More films will include these interviews with Bob, for free.

As for an iPad app, I’m not going with a closed-system run by Apple. As for services like Netflix or LoveFilm, they only deal with distributors, finding one of those isn’t something I have any inclination to do, as we would lose control and certain rights. It may generate more revenue, but it’s simply not an option for us.

As for a better designed site, we’re working on it. We are trying to perfect it and make it as user friendly as possible, so please keep comments coming, we are listening.

In the mean time, if you do want to use the site, we offer weekly subscriptions from £2.99 (around $5) a week.

And here’s his response to a few other comments which pointed out where you could still watch the shorts online.

Here’s his final comment after all of the above:

Amid, I must say it’s a shame that you want to rubish our Pay-per-view site and break copyright law, rather than contact us, talk to us about it and maybe come to some agreement about giving your readers a discount, maybe even giving you a percentage. This would be far more constructive for everyone involved.

With all that fresh in your mind, may I present my open letter to Mr. Tom Lowe:

Dear Mr. Lowe,

The career and legend of Bob Godfrey as an animator will never be forgotten, as long as people such as myself are alive who have fond memories of growing up on some of his greatest works (I have an affinity for Roobarb myself). His many short films and the numerous nominations he received for them solidify his place in animation history without a doubt. What I am concerned about, is that his legacy is at risk in this new, digitally connected age.

The frontier that is the internet has been drastically altering the entertainment landscape for some time now with no end in sight to the revolution we are currently going through. It has been tough on many aspects of the film and TV businesses as they have struggled to try and find their place in the new landscape. You are not alone in your attempts to preserve the legacy of Bob Godfrey for all to enjoy.

You face a considerable challenge in this regard, and I admire you for making the effort necessary to bring Bob’s films to the attention of people who may not be familiar with his works. Naturally it is desirable to do so in a profitable manner that is sustainable, yes? After all, no-one could they be expected to incur the considerable costs of providing streaming content by themselves, I know I sure wouldn’t.

However, your comments as posted to the recent Cartoon Brew posts are somewhat disheartening, especially so when considered in light of your comment on Amid’s post back in 2010 where he revealed that the shorts were online. There is a great air of optimism about it! You seem excited that fans are enjoying the YouTube channel and its videos. The comments above are such a turnaround from then, yes?

Four thousand hits on YouTube is actually pretty decent, considering the videos were only up for a couple of months. Great films such as those are lucky in that they are not constrained by the need to feel ‘new’ or ‘hip’. They are timeless and as a result, could remain on YouTube for many years without ever going stale. Twenty thousand hits overall may not be much by YouTube standards, but there are millions of videos on that site that have maybe hundreds of hits, and there are plenty with none at all!

You also mention providing free content and use the documentary as an example. While this is “extra” of the films themselves, it regrettably does not provide someone who has not seen Bob’s films with a big enough incentive to pay for them. Think about it. If the latest Harry Potter film came out and instead of a trailer, they posted a documentary about the actors instead, would half as many people want to go see the film? I doubt it very much.

People (in the US in particular) have become accustomed to most things available online having no direct cost to them. That is how things have played out over the last 15 years or so and once people know they can get stuff for free, the become extremely reluctant to being paying for it. While your plan to charge £2.99 (or $5) a week is commendable, it absolutely pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of hours of content I can view on Netflix for $8 a month. The problem is not so much how much you charge, but how little substitute services like Netflix charge in comparison. You are not so much competing for my wallet as for a combination of time and choice.

You are in a strong position, Tom. There are plenty of other avenues to pursue besides charging people to watch the films. I’m sure there are many items that could be sold instead. How about limited edition drawings, sketchings, posters, etc? Sure physical objects like these cost more, but they make more per sale too. Besides that people sometimes buy more than one. I’m sure you can figure something out, in the meantime, why not help spread the word about  Bob’s films? Cartoon Brew has already done so and introduced many more people who would otherwise not have known about Bob or his amazing films. Even this letter, which I am posting to my blog, will introduce my readers to a legendary animator who they not have known about.

Lastly, it is important to be acutely aware of the distinction between copyright and theft. If sharing copyrighted materials was theft, it would already be covered by the many laws already in place that cover physical property. Copyrighted materials do not come under such laws and in legal circles they take pains to avoid confusion. Unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted materials is considered infringement for this very reason.

Surely it would be much better view people who want to see Bob’s films as fans, yes? And if they want to view the films, why not let YouTube take care of the cost of hosting and streaming them? They’re willing to do it for free, why should you take on the burden and cost of doing so? Let YouTube carry take the risk!

I sincerely hope that you find a way to keep Bob’s shorts online in a way that caters to his fan’s needs and helps attracts new people to Bob’s timeless films.


Charles Kenny