A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 3rd of May, 2020.Read more
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
Another late roundup this week thanks to extenuating circumstances. All I’ll say is that the lack of public transportation options in the US is about to cost me a lot of money and car dealers truly do embody the stereotype of vultures. Anyways, enough of my troubles, here’s what you ought to read this week.
The end of the Hollywood blockbuster
This story has been kicking around for a while now ever since Spielberg and Lucas opined at a talk. This Pando Daily piece doesn’t attempt to explore the financial changes or pressures facing studios. Rather it looks at the generational shifts in terms of viewing habits. Here’s the key paragraph:
But here’s what should keep Hollywood executives up at night. My daughters don’t care much about the so-called quality of the experience. They don’t like to schlepp to movie theaters because the big-screen experience is less appealing than small-screen viewings on our television or iPad. The only time they want to go is when a movie they can’t get on TV or the iPad comes out, like “Despicable Me 2.” As for me, I’m happy to save the money it costs for us to see a movie in a theater – for a family of four it can be $40 or more plus transportation. That pays for four months of Netflix.
For the animation industry, whose core audience today is kids and by extension, their parents, that last sentence ought to serve as a wakeup call. This summer we’ve been lucky, but that may not be true in 2014.
Burka Avenger: Pakistan’s cartoon superhero battling for girls’ education
Coming via a regrettably rather snide piece in the Guardian is the news that the very first animated TV show to be produced in Pakistan will feature a superhero, and a female one to boot!
There’s a dearth of female protagonists in the west, but even more so in heavily masculine countries around the world. Burka Avenger is an attempt to counter the views of groups such as the taliban when it comes to the education of girls and young women.
Rising Animators Spring into Action
This New York Times piece (sorry, the on link I could find leads to a paywall but Cartoon Brew’s might be good) appears to be more fluff than anything else. For one, there’s only one female animator listed and you know there’s more than that in the industry that could be worthy of a place. That isn’t to belittle the guys on there though; everyone is top-notch talent. It would just be nice to see something a bit more representative, that’s all.
Ice Queen By Brianne Drouhard
I wish I could draw like this. I really do, but I can’t. Thankfully people like Brianne exist out there who can, and do, create awesome things like this. Ice Queen is a favourite of mine, and this captures her perfectly.
Tweets of the Week
No one has talked about how amazing the DreamWorks panel was when a fangirl asked if they’d ever collaborate with Disney, “NO.”
— Jessie Velociraptor (@jessiesarah) July 24, 2013
getting a legal letter from Disney punctuated by a smiling Mickey seems like something of a mixed message
— Claire Hummel (@shoomlah) July 24, 2013
Why don’t voice actors have their own union called VAG– Oh I see
— Aaron Long (@aalong64) July 24, 2013
Sunday is off-topic day; a chance to post something fun instead of the usual serious discussion and commentary.
Today it’s time to turn our attention to two things Brianne Drouhard related: the premiere of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld yesterday and a follow-up of sorts to another of her projects.
Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld
I haven’t watched Cartoon Networks itself in a long time (too much Johnny Test to be honest) but it the network is on a bit of a roll lately thanks to some seriously good shows. Although there are the big heavy hitters in Adventure Time and Regular Show, it’s nice to see that the devotion to quality is being spent on smaller projects too.
The DC Nation shows are one of them, but even more so than that are the shorts. Between Teen Titans Go! and Super Best Friends Forever there has been plenty of chatter on the internet about them and how awesome they are.
Now to add to those two comes a third, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld that was helmed into existence by Brianne Drouhard (a.k.a. Potato Farm Girl) and who had its first outting just yesterday. Here’s the official trailer for the short:
The full short is very cool, even if a lot is being squeezed into the 1 minute and 15 seconds. The animation looks great and although protagonist Amy doesn’t say very much, you get a good feel for what kind of character is through what she does say as well as her actions. To top it off, there are subtle nods to various shojo anime (Sailor Moon being the most obvious) but nothing that overpowers the source material or the characters.
Harpy Gee Facial Expressions
I’ve featured a few fantastic ones before, but these are related to something else that I posted a while back; namely Brianne’s idea for a show called Harpy Gee. Behold these lovely facial expressions for the titular character:
I like female characters, that’s no secret at this point, they’re awesome and unfortunately continue to be under-represented in contemporary animation programming. That’s not to say they don’t exist at all, but they do tend to occupy either the sideline characters more so than the lead protagonists.
I find myself very consciously making sure I have female characters in my shows….But a few years back, I did a little drawing-a-day project with zombies. Somewhat gruesome and not for the kids, it was just for fun. I realised when I approached the end of it that an overwhelming amount of the zombies were male. Why? Well, I wasn’t really thinking about it. They just were. It’s like even being so aware of female under-representation that, when I stopped thinking about it, I would fall back into the whole ‘default human being male’ thing.
Is that a fair assumption? Do we (as adults) have preconceived notions of the place that gender plays in roles? Absolutely, but as Jason rightly points out, it shouldn’t be that way:
It tells me the only way to change this situation, to improve this, is to be active about it. Is to actively make it part of our thinking as we develop shows, games, anything. Should we force female characters in to a show if natural development has led to mostly males? In my opinion, yes. Yes we should. Because that ‘natural’ situation usually comes about because we are just perpetuating old media habits and conditioning and those are really hard to break without actively pushing against them. Getting female characters, varied, interesting and active should be a clear goal when developing media. Because there is a very good chance it won’t happen on its own.
In conjunction with the above post is one from the soooper talented Brianne Drouhard (a.k.a. Potato Farm Girl) wherein she details a concept she developed herself, Harpy Gee. Check out the awesome art she posted the other day:
The post where the picture came from is a fairly simple one that details the characters:
Harpy: An elf that cannot use magic, considered a grave handicap in her home country, she’s been sheltered all her life. She lives and works at the Item Shop, but also will take any odd job around town, regardless if it’s teaching, ballet school, or scrubbing the castle floors. Nothing is too mundane or adventurous. She’s doing her best to make up for lost time and stay optimistic.
Pumpkin: Harpy’s goblin cat. He is indestructible, and will eat anything. Luckily he is lazy and sleeps most of the time. He’s also her living suitcase, she keeps her important items, clothing and weapons in his inter-dimensional stomach.
Opal: A witch doctor from a large family of pig ranchers. She doesn’t like dirt, but since she has to dig up most of her potion ingredients, she wears gloves and a bandana. She uses her shovel to fly, since she also needs it to dig. She likes anything that’s cute, and her helpful ingredient smelling pet pig, Truffle.
Ash: A knight in training. He thinks highly of himself, and regards the others as children. He secretly collects playing cards of famous knights. He tries his best to act like what he knows what he’s doing, but half the time ends up embarrassed.
Humphrey: The prince of the kingdom, he was sent to live at his uncle’s castle in town. He doesn’t like being outside or sunlight, and would rather write sad poetry or read about battles that end in failure. His uncle regularly sends him out to take Peepers, the royal dog out for walks.
They’re all fairly straightforward, right? I mean, there’s nothing in there that could potentially scare away any potential networks or studios, and I sincerely doubt that Brianne would even consider something that would to begin with.
Nope, where the really interesting fact lies is in one of Brianne’s posts from March 2012 that goes into much more detail about the struggles of getting Harpy picked up:
In the end, the shorts program [the aborted Cartoonstitute] went in a different direction, and Harpy was shown around to a few other studios. I don’t think it’ll ever happen, after being told, “Make Harpy a boy”, “put her in high school on Earth”, “it’s too scary”, “it’s too cute”, “boys won’t watch it”, “make her an animal”…
Aside from the more generic comments, a few of the asinine ones sure stand out. What advantage would it be to make Harpy a boy? What’s wrong with the character being a girl? More to the point, why wouldn’t boys watch it? the concept has male characters, so it isn’t as saccharine as, say, My Little Pony, and it’s not exactly about ‘girly’ things like makeup either. Unfortunately Jason hits the nail on the head:
At the weekend, my eldest Daisy was at a party in a kid’s art place. She made a rather awesome clay model of a princess in a tower. Asking her about it, she explained that the girls all had to make princesses to be rescued while the boys all had to make knights with swords to rescue the princesses. I was not exactly happy with this narrow gender-based project. Seeing this, Daisy went further and told me that they could choose to do either but all the girls chose princesses and all the boys chose knights.
I am not sure what form this choice was presented in or if indeed it was much of a choice at all. But if it was an open choice, I could well believe that most girls would choose princesses and most boys would choose knights. Because those are the gender roles assigned to them in an overwhelming amount of media and, in particular, marketing.
In reality, kids only know what they’re told, and with the average American child (and adult) being bombarded with literally hundreds of commercials every day that purport the gender roles that Jason discusses, it isn’t hard to see how boys could be said to favour male-centric programs over female ones.
It’s truly unfortunate because until there is better parity, awesome shows like The Legend of Korra, where the main protagonist is a female (and a kick-ass one at that) will continue to be the exception rather than the rule. And despite the fact that Korra has almost as many boys watching as girls, it’s tough for just one show to change significant numbers of minds. Kim Possible was a great model and the effect it’s had has yet to be felt. Even Lauren Faust says as much, and she knows the truth:
A more collaborative effort is needed that sees a better balance between male and female characters in shows but also a sobering realisation that if boys profess a dislike for lead female protagonists it is perhaps because it has been drilled into them that such a character isn’t acceptable to them.
Is a quota of some kind needed? I would hope not, although if I were the head of a studio, I would much rather see my content watched by the largest audience possible rather than trying to narrow it down in the hopes of selling more merchandise and would make damned sure someone else didn’t attempt to push me down that road.
To end on a positive note, both posts discussed here are optimistic about the future:
I’m also curious how the next few years are going to be for female characters in animated tv shows.
“Legend of Korra” just started on Nickelodeon, and is amazing! Lauren Faust did an excellent job with the current “My Little Pony” and “Super Best Friends Forever” shorts.
I’ve been really happy getting a chance to work on Amethyst too. Sword fighting magical girls is right up my alley!
If we do this and do it well (and by the way, I think many of us in preschool are actively tackling this right now), it would take just one generation to make real change. One generation later and maybe the writers won’t have to think about getting strong female characters into their stories. It will just happen as it becomes normal.
What are your thoughts? What do think it will take to see a more balanced approach to televised animation?