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.

Making An Animated Feature Film With Elliot Cowan

All-round nice chap Elliot Cowan, known to his legions of fans around the world as the creator of Boxhead and Roundhead, has embarked on the formidable task of creating a feature film featuring the quirk duo.

Below is the video he recently posted detailing how exactly he manages to squeeze making a film into his already hectic day. Besides making us all appear instantly lazy, it’s all done in Elliot’s very affable Australian way.

Don’t forget to stay up do date with the obligatory Facebook page!

Hang Out With Indie Animator Bill Plympton and Friends Tomorrow Night

Starting tomorrow night (Friday, May 27th), the Museum of the Moving Image is hosting not one, but two days of Bill Plympton-related screenings.

Friday will see a discussion with Bill and David B. Levy on their new book, Bill Plympton: Independently Animated and will include screenings of some of Bill’s shorts. As a bonus, Bill has promised every audience member a drawing of their very own! He will also be signing his book.

On Saturday (May 28th), there will be screenings of Bill’s feature films, Hair High and Idiots and Angels as well as a preview of the documentary Adventures in Plymptoons.

Below is the press release which contains all the details:

Museum of the Moving Image presents

INDEPENDENTLY ANIMATED: BILL PLYMPTON

May 27 – 28, 2011

Bill Plympton may be the only major animator who still hand-draws every single image of his own films. Though his approach to filmmaking may be old-fashioned, his offbeat and inventive artistic sensibility is unique. This two-day program of screenings and discussions celebrates Plympton’s new book, Independently Animated.

All screenings are free with museum admission unless otherwise noted.

Independently Animated: An Evening with Bill Plympton

Friday, May 27, 7:00 p.m.

Screening, discussion, and book signing with Bill Plympton and David Levy

The lavishly illustrated new book Independently Animated: The Life and Art of the King of Indie Animation, by Bill Plympton and David Levy, published by Rizzoli, is part biography, part retrospective, and part behind-the-scenes look at Bill Plympton’s life and career. It contains hundreds of pieces of art from his films, as well as never-before-seen doodles, drawings, and production notes. To celebrate the publication, the Museum presents a festive evening with a discussion, short films, and live drawing by Plympton, followed by a book signing. Everyone in attendance will receive their own original drawing from Plympton.

Among the highlights: a work-in-progress screening of an exciting new short film, Plympton’s hand-colored restoration of Winsor McCay’s 1921 film The Flying House, a charming film about a husband who turns his house into a flying machine, which bears remarkable similarities to the Pixar film Up; a screening of the popular short film Guard Dog and Guard Dog Jam, the result of an invitation to animators around the world to remake Plympton’s film by each contributing their own remake of one shot from the film.

Tickets: $10 public / Free for Museum members. Members may reserve tickets in advance by calling 718 777 6800.

Adventures in Plymptoons

Saturday, May 28, 3:00 p.m.

Preview screening With Alexia Anastasio in person

Dir. Alexia Anastasio. 2011, 98 mins. Digital projection. This new documentary about animator Bill Plympton follows his path from the many rainy days of a Portland childhood spent indoors drawing to a self-made career as an independent animator. The film includes interviews with family, friends, colleagues, critics, and fans.

Hair High

Saturday, May 28, 5:30 p.m.

Introduced by Bill Plympton

Dir. Bill Plympton. 2004, 78 mins. Digital projection. An outrageous gothic myth from the 1950s, Hair High is the legend of Cherri and Spud, a teenage couple who are murdered on prom night and left for dead at the bottom of Echo Lake. Exactly one year later, their skeletal remains come back to life and they return to the prom for revenge and their justly deserved crowns.

Idiots and Angels

May 28, 7:30 p.m.

Introduced by Bill Plympton

Dir. Bill Plympton. 2009, 78 mins. A misanthropic gun dealer who spouts an unwelcome pair of wings is the antihero of Plympton’s noir-flavored feature, which was entirely hand-drawn, mainly in gray pencil. According to the New York Times, the film, which is entirely without dialogue and has music by Tom Waits, Pink Martini, and others, “defies expectations. It is relentless, and brilliant.”

Ten Rock Solid Reasons To Read Floyd Norman’s Blog Every Day

  1. Floyd’s been around a while, so he knows just about everything there is to know about animation.
  2. His Disney knowledge is exquisite and magnificent in it’s depth and detail.
  3. He keeps things short and sweet but never skimps on the details.
  4. He has plenty of stories to tell about the old days, which make for very worthwhile reading.
  5. His website has a ‘gag wall’ filled with incredibly funny pictures.
  6. In addition to his daily posts, he has a special section for longer stories.
  7. Every post has a lovely photo or sketch to go along with it.
  8. Plenty of learned people read his blog too, so the fun doesn’t stop with the posts, it continues in the comments!
  9. Floyd also stays right on top of all the latest happenings in animation, he’s not stuck in the past.
  10. The blog’s title is “Mr. Fun”, how much cooler can you get than that?

Convinced? Head over here and start reading.

Why Your Bookshelf Was Made To Hold “Directing Animation” By David B. Levy

Bill Plympton's Cover giving Mona ideas.

They say God created the earth in seven days although I have a sneaking feeling that if he hired David Levy, he would have got the job done in five, and still found time to write a book about it.

Theological jokes aside, David really is that hard working. Besides being an animator, he’s also a teacher, President of ASIFA-East and if that wasn’t enough, he’s also managed to find the hours in the day to write three, count ’em, three books over the last couple of years. Suffice to say, he puts those of us who take a full 8 hours of sleep to shame!

Directing Animation the third part of the Holy Trinity installment of animation books written by him, the previous two being Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive and Animation Development: From Pitch to Production. If you haven’t already read those, they are an absolute must, even if, like me, you don’t work in animation on a day-to-day basis.

With those two successful and critically acclaimed books under his belt (and under my bed), David has unleashed his third masterpiece where he zeroes in on a very important position in the animation process.

As a seasoned director on [Adult Swim]’s Assy McGee and numerous shows before that, David is well placed to write this book. Sure there are the technical aspects to the job like laying out a scene, timing shots, etc. but there was definitely a gap on the bookshelf when it came to managing the human element of the process.

Thankfully, that gap has been filled thanks to Directing Animation. Chock full of sage, professional advice from the best in the industry and plenty of tales of both the good and not so good side of the job (but mostly the good side).

With a focus on what it takes to be a director, being dropped in at the deep and and devoting a chapter each to indie films, commercials, TV series, feature films and the internet, Directing Animation covers all the bases you could expect to meet as an animation director and then some!

With such a broad range of topics to cover, one might think the books skims over one or two of them. Not so! The utmost attention has been paid to every aspect of the book and with such a broad range of folks interviewed, there is no doubt that you will be thoroughly prepared to direct once you have finished reading it.

As I was reading the book, I realised that when it comes to animation, there is much more to it than just TV shows and films from the big boys. The prevalence of indie shorts and flash animation on the web has made it so that anyone can become a director, even if you’re only just out of school! Directing Animation is excellent in its coverage of these slightly less well known areas of the animation landscape.

David’s conversational writing style makes the 240 pages fly by with ease and yet everything he has to say is easily absorbed. Add in to the mix his impeccable sense of humour and wit and you have an altogether excellent read from start to finish.

Directing Animation is not a book to be glossed over, even if you don’t think of yourself as a director, you will realise you are taking away much more than you expect. It is thoroughly recommended for anyone even remotely involved in the animation scene.

Directing Animation can be purchased over on Amazon.com.

 

In Admiration of David O'Reilly

This isn’t an “Anomaly Approved” post, at least not yet. While Mr O’Reilly is certainly worthy of one, I don’t have the time to write it now. However, I feel that I should point out that David is currently putting the finishing touches on his latest film, The External World, which will premiere at the Venice Film Festival later this year.

Just in case you didn’t know, David O’Reilly is an independent animator based in Berlin who has received significant praise for his previous work which includes Please Say Something and Octocat. His visual style is quite unique and suits his style of fimmaking very well. I highly recommend you check out his Vimeo channel and spend a few minutes checking out his work.

Without going into too much detail, I am waiting in anticipation of his latest masterpiece. David constantly manages to surprise and delight and I’m sure this time will be no exception.