Independent Animated Features: 10 Questions That Need Answering

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Yesterday, I was treated to a screening of an independent animated feature film called The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead. Written, directed and animated almost single-handedly by Australian Elliot Cowan, it’s a film that I’m still mulling over in my head the next day; a good sign if ever there was one. I’m not going to comment on the film itself just jet, however, the entire project has prompted some questions of my own on independent animated films in general and especially those done by one man bands or very small studios.

  1. If Elliot can make a feature, why do so many others either fail or never try?
  2. Is perseverance the key to finishing an animated feature?
  3. What’s the general gameplan for what happens after the film is made if there even is one?
  4. What’s the ‘secret sauce’ to making related merchandise that sells?
  5. Why is financing so ridiculously complicated, and costly for even small budget films?
  6. Have characters in general become too complex in animated features?
  7. Should independent films even worry about targeting an audience?
  8. Are traditional promotional/marketing channels already dead or merely dying?
  9. Why are international sales such a formidable barrier in the age of the internet?
  10. Are 35mm prints dead for technological or cost reasons?

Reviving the Dead: MGM Devlops Animated Addams Family

The_Addams_family_cartoon

If you’ll pardon the pun in the title, the news is entirely real. MGM as Variety are reporting have in development an animated feature based on the Addam’s Family.

Besides the usual question of ‘why’, is ‘why now’? The Addam’s Family have been around for decades in print, TV and the silver screen. They’ve even been animated before for TV by Hanna-Barbera, twice!

As exciting as it is to see new Addams family material and especially so seeing as it will be animated, it’s not hard to imagine why it’s being done. Far from bringing back a timeless property is the desire to earn money.

That, in essence, is my main problem with such revivals. They’re not new material, they’re rehashing old material into something supposedly new. To explain further, the Addams Family are macabre and dark, but there are just one example. There is a lot of of original material out there that is just as good, if not better.

The problem really lies in the existing studio models that are used to create such film projects, and we’re starting to see them on YouTube as well. In effect, the desire to produce hits on a constant basis becomes the driving factor for output, and variety and originality suffers as a result.

Your thoughts? Am I hollow in the head, or is bringing the Addams Family back really, a good idea?

 

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How an Animated GIF Can Become A Feature Film

A while back, I contributed a post to Jerry Beck’s Animation Scoop where I mused on the idea that it’s theoretically possible to create a feature film from the nucleus of an animated GIF. While I gave a brief summary of how that could be achieved in that post, it’s prompted a more comprehensive look at the theory and why it’s entirely achievable

Continue reading “How an Animated GIF Can Become A Feature Film”

What if Feature Films Mimicked Manga And Released a Part Every Week?

Animated features are expensive to make. Could one of the many alternative methods of production out there be to take a leaf out of manga publishers’ book (no pun intended) and release the film a piece at a time?

Continue reading “What if Feature Films Mimicked Manga And Released a Part Every Week?”

4 Facts That Banished Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels To History

Via: Cartoons of 1939

The other day I finally sat down and watched the Fleischer feature length adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels. It’s very much a film of its time; the 1930s.I found it a not altogether enjoyable film unfortunately. Oh sure, there is some marvelous animation to be had, but it was not terribly hard to see why the film has been largely confined to the history books despite its place in cultural history as the second full-length animated feature film ever made. Here’s what banished Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels to history

The Plot

Although based off Jonathon Swift’s satire of contemporary culture, the film only seems to bear superficial resemblance to the famous tome. Instead of Gullvier being central to the story or even being the narrator, he is instead a character. He is neither the focus of the film, nor does he play as big a role as you would imagine. Indeed, he doesn’t start to play an active role in proceedings until almost halfway through; a tad suspicious for a film with his name in the title.

Besides this, the plot meanders and falls foul of typical Fleischer traits such as over-long scenes and a focus on machinery. Compared to a film of today, it comes off as more of a set piece showing off the wonders of animation. This is sadly a genre of animated films that doesn’t excite modern audiences who have been engrossed in animation since birth.

The Feud(s)

The Fleischer Brothers had a rather significant falling out sometime after the film was released but of more imperative concern was the fact that the Fleischer Studio, having moved from New York to Miami was short-staffed. Consequently animators from New York and California were thrown together with art students from Miami. The result was near chaos with rival factions favouring their own work over others. It’s tough for any business to succeed under such circumstances and it’s highly likely that the quality of the film suffered as a result.

The Studio’s Demise

While the Fleischer’s ultimately lost control of the studio to Paramount, such events have played a role in how the film has fared over the decades. The fact that the original creator was no longer responsible for it meant that was somewhat mistreated by its owner Paramount. Ultimately its copyright notice wasn’t renewed and the film entered the public domain.

To add insult to injury, the failure of the Fleicher’s follow-up film, Mr. Bug Goes to Town meant that there wasn’t any features to continue the legacy. With the Fleischer name ripped from the studio’s projects, any brand recognition was lost on the general public.

The Competition

Needless to say, the competition from Burbank had already set the bar sky high with Snow White and Seven Dwarfs and was about to raise it again with Pinocchio. Besides the superior quality, Walt was constantly and relentlessly cranking out hit content in shorts and was marketing his products for all they were worth. The end result was that the dominance of the Disney brand combined with its longevity has meant that the name ‘Fleischer’ barely registers in the mind of Joe Public.

 

DreamWorks Really Is Pushing The Envelope

Yes, DreamWorks really is pushing the envelope, the release envelope that is. Here’s what I read this morning over on the Animation Guild Blog that really made me take a minute just to think about it (emphasis mine):

There is a squadron of other features are lined up on the tarmac, but I won’t bother rattling them off, since you can see most of them listed here. (It dawns on me that by 2014, DWA will have thirty animated movies out in the wider world. By contrast, Disney’s fifty-first feature — after 73 years, came out last Spring.)

You could easily argue that DreamWorks isn’t as diversified as Disney, nor has it ever put out even close to the same volume of shorts. However, the fact remains that as far as animated features go, DreamWorks is certainly cranking them out.

Now you can read this any number of ways you like. Be it that the fact that Disney is diversified means they do not need to rely on aniamted films to bring home the bacon, that things were different back in the old days or even that Disney has such a strong brand that they can afford to coast on films for years after release in contrast to DW which must continue the releases to bring in the dough.

I tend to believe that DW does need to continually release films, hence it’s faster production rate. However, the time will come when DreamWorks will have earned a legacy that is strong enough for it to slow down a bit. That day is still a bit far away, but it is drawing ever closer.