The Courtship of Animation And Comics is Getting Ever Closer to Marriage

Animation and comics have always been somewhat related. The latter is, after all, a more polished version of the storyboard for the former. Using one as the inspiration for the other is a long-standing practise dating all the way back to the Fleischer Superman shorts of the 1940s. Tie-ins are nothing new either, being around at least as long as shorts but only really hitting their stride with the advent of television. So how do things stand today? Well, the relationship has become ever closer and could even be considered a full-on marriage.

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Three More Animated Kickstarter Campaigns to Compare

A while back, I did a comparison of three, quite different Kickstarter campaigns for animated projects. Today, we’re taking a look at three more. Again, they’re all quite different but all hope to raise enough money to fund the production of top-quality animation. They are: Bee & Puppycat, Dead Meat and Morph.

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Bee & Puppycat & Character Development

I tend to avoid doing reviews and related pieces on the blog for the simple reason that I’m not great at writing them. However, I feel it’s necessary to write a short note about the Cartoon Hangover series, Bee & Puppycat.

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Will FOX Succeed In the Online Arena With Animation?

Via: Wikipedia
Via: Wikipedia

It’s no secret that FOX has long been the dominant player of all the mainstream networks when it comes to animation but with audiences slipping away to the internet, what are they to do? Well, the apparent answer is to open up a new studio and attempt to compete with the likes of Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover.

The Gist of It

The Animation Guild is reporting that the new studio is currently in full swing and has about a hundred people working there at the moment. As part of the previously-announced extension of the Animation Domination block of shows into Saturday nights, the network also took the extra step of setting up a dedicated production house. (Non-union of course, hence TAG’s gripe.)

The studio is producing not only the content for the programming block (as in, Axe Cop and High School USA!) but is also busy cranking out animated GIFs such as the wonderful specimen you see below.

Via ADHD
Via ADHD

Where Things Get Interesting

Although this could be just another run-of-the-mill story about a new development in animation, where it takes an interesting turn is not where you would expect. Namely, FOX purposely kept production close to home:

Fast reaction time is another key to the ADHD approach. Instead of farming out animation work to Asian firms, with a lag time of at least six weeks, the team in Hollywood can shoot out topical spoofs to stay in the social conversation.

Fox’s toons prepare episodes well over a year in advance, said Reilly. “With ADHD, I can say something today and we can have something tomorrow.”

It’s nice in a way to see FOX accepting the need for speed in the online youth media market, and addressing it by employing talent close to home. It marks a potential bright spot in the otherwise gloomy animation industry that has had too many stories of layoffs over the past few months. Although pay is obviously not the highest, there is still potential for that to change if demand heats up thanks to a success or two.

That said, in contrast, Cartoon Hangover, instead of maintaining a studio for quick stuff, instead hires freelancers. Granted it isn’t as steady as regular employment, but if FOX did the same, they could pay animators more since the overhead of a studio wouldn’t exist.

The other interesting thing is how FOX sees the money streams:

Reilly declined to discuss specifically what kind of coin Fox is pumping into ADHD, saying that it’s not insignificant. The project will run at a “very mild deficit” for about three years before it gains ad traction, he said.

What I would like to know is why it will run a deficit for all those years. Online content has proven to be profitable already; surely it shouldn’t take an established player like FOX three whole years to make money. Of course, I’m also curious why ads are being given such weight; again, there are plenty of other revenue sources available that could suffice.

Lastly…

Before we reach the thrilling conclusion to this post; it really says something about animation as a form of entertainment that FOX sees it as the least risky way to get a foot in the door of online streaming. Can it really be that the ease of creating [quality] animation combined with its popularity among the key 18-34 demographic? It would certainly appear that way:

That noted, Reilly is convinced the model is an efficient way to develop quality content, and he’s eyeing other genres Fox might choose to replicate ADHD. “The cost structure of this stuff by its nature is different from TV,” he said. “The digital world continues to explode. It’s fun. And it has promise.”

Let’s see how this pans out. If it works, expect others to follow.

PS. Notice how FOX is about a year behind online-native efforts? Yeah, me too.

 

Will Web Series’ Never Die; Just Fade Away Instead?

animated web series

It’s fascinating to think that just 7 short years ago, YouTube barely existed. If you wanted online video, you either had to download it over [snicker] dial-up or your new-fangled DSL line. Nowadays, online video is ubiquitous in the US and is rapidly growing elsewhere as site like YouTube, the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Hulu continually push the notion that content is always on-demand and always available. The scenario is, non-web original content plays by a different set of rules to original web content. The former is cancelled after poor ratings, but what about original web series? Do they linger forever until someone forgets to pay the hosting bill, or are they left to fade away into the internet’s ether?

The Difference With The Old Way

In times gone past, shows were cancelled if they failed to garner enough viewers. It was a simple situation and once vanished from the airwaves, they were left to gather dust in studio archives or until cable arrived and reruns were born. The fact that shows simply vanished from the airwaves was important; it didn’t matter if it was your absolute favourite or the worst thing in the world. Once it was cancelled (or ended), it was generally gone for good.

Those were simple times though. Today, the internet and its vast array of choices (and data-generating systems) means that viewing numbers alone cannot indicate whether a web series gets canned or not and when it does, their futures are not as clear cut either.

The New Way

So with the likes of YouTube being the dominant player in the arena, what kind of rules/procedures will be in place for web series that don’t hit the mark? Animation as we all know and love, is a time-consuming process and even shorts like Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover take many months to develop. The inherent risk is that no matter the performance of the series, it will be made and uploaded regardless.

What happens then though? If a web series ‘gets the axe’ so to speak, will it remain on YouTube? Will it be pulled entirely? The former is much more likely as anyone whose stumbled across a long-dead channel will tell you. With that in mind, is it fair to say that web series’ will never really die, they’ll just be allowed to sort of fade away into the background?

No-one has a set policy in this area and plenty of great content has already disappeared from the internet already thanks to the basis of hosting and its associated costs. The aforementioned Geocities is reminiscent of contemporary sites like Blogger, WordPress.com and Tumblr; superb, ‘permanent’ services while active, but unable continue perpetually.

Another Plausible Web Series Possibility

What if an ancient web series is rediscovered and become a hit; what happens then? Will the original creators be around to benefit from it? It might be years, even decades later and if the show wasn’t produced with the correct credits, it might be impossible for the proper owners to take credit for their work. Orphan works are already a problem with physical media covered by copyright; what will the online version be like? All indications point to a potential creative time bomb.

Given that the web can act as a sort of virtual time capsule (the original Space Jam website from 1996 is still online), web series should probably be created in such a way as to anticipate rediscovery many years later and should follow the following criteria:

  • Have a designated ‘maintainer’ who can react to changes in the series’ state/popularity
  • Be readily accessible to the public i.e. no paywalls, etc.
  • Have proper credits that are noted in physical media as opposed to on a computer somewhere (remember, Yahoo, Google and others still delete your email accounts with them if you don’t access them)

With these steps in mind, even a web series that bites the bullet can benefit from a belated boost in popularity.

How do you perceive web series surviving after they end? How would you prepare for such a scenario? Share your thoughts with a comment below!

Releasing Soundtracks of Animated Films Using SoundCloud

Soundcloud 800x500_orange

The ongoing media revolution remains a fascinating thing to watch as it unfolds. Not only have we seen revolutions in video (YouTube), but also books (Amazon), shopping (eBay) and even shoes (Zappos)! Today though, we’re going to focus in on music, and specifically soundtracks to animated films and how SoundCloud could be a valuable tool for distributing them.

The Current Situation

Audio and music has been one of the areas that has undergone more upheaval than most. First Napster illustrated that tracks were preferable to albums (for most acts) and secondly the iPod illustrated that people wanted to take a lot of music with them, or at least have access to their entire collection. Lately, the shift has been towards streaming services; essentially ones where instead of buying the music, you subscribe to a service which lets you access it.

Both Spotify and Rdio provide streaming access to their vast libraries (this blogger has opted for the latter given its album-oriented approach as opposed to Spotify’s mass track listings) for about $5/month. Other services such as iTunes and Amazon allow you to buy tracks or albums rather than stream them, although Amazon is facing competition from Google in that regard.

Why Soundtracks Are Important

Soundtracks and scores are enjoyed by many animation fans. Indeed they have formed a significant part of many anime series and films for decades, with a pop song seemingly mandatory for any series or OVA.

Here in the west, that isn’t really the case, Sure, we’ve all seen the novelty albums put out (The Simpsons Sing the Blues seems to come immediately to mind) but actual soundtracks albums and scores seem to be the preserve of feature films only.

That’s unfortunate, because as the Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra series indicate, animated TV shows are perfectly capable of containing significant soundtracks and scores that are enjoyed by fans. The various petitions for an official release of both, perfectly illustrate that demand is out there.

Where SoundCloud Comes In

What is essentially the bone of contention, is that studios often don’t see the benefit to releasing an animated soundtrack officially. Even in Korra’s case, the cost of an official release could be well above what they could ever hope to make back in profit. Distribution isn’t necessarily the problem either. Disney have their soundtracks on both Spotify and Rdio.

SoundCloud is a similar service in so far as it allows listeners to stream music, but where it excels over Spotify and Rdio is in its social features. It permits embedding, sharing and following on a near-seamless level. The key here is that not only can users easily listen to music, they can discover new stuff too!

Not only that, SoundCloud promotes a collaborative community that encourages creators to release their material on the site and to remix others’ work. Even legendary producer Giorgio Moroder has a SoundCloud page where he has posted a sample of Donna Summers’ seminal song “I Need Love” for others to use.

A Theoretical Scenario

The distribution benefits are easy to see, but how could the other benefits play into an animated series or film? Well, simply posting tracks would allow fans to share the ones they like with their friends and followers; that’s simple exposure. That could easily draw in fans who hear the music before they see the animation. Although some would argue that that could never happen, consider the fact that people listen to far more media than watch during the average day; the reason being, naturally enough, that they are working or travelling when viewing isn’t possible.

So exposure is a plus. What else? Well, if you encourage remixing, then that opens up a whole host of new avenues. Theme tunes are an evergreen source of remixes that continually pop up despite most TV shows never releasing tracks at all! There are even remixes of remixes out there, proving that music is not a once-and-done form of artwork. SoundCloud doesn’t discriminate between tracks either, so it’s possible to put things like sound effects and voice tracks up as well. Just imagine if the legendary Hanna-Barbera library was available for all to listen to and play with!

Exposure? Great! Remixes? Superb. Now what? Well, it’s what underpins everything, that is, the connection with fans! The ability to directly communicate and interact with fans will be the engine that drives future content. Until now, it has been a one-way relationship. Sites like YouTube are instigating a two-way model, but too often, studios simply post the content and let the fans discuss it amongst themselves.

For a site like SoundCloud to work properly, interaction between the studio and fans will be necessary. Consider a fan who’s made a kick-ass remix of a track from a studio’s animated show or movie. The studio could easily endorse it somehow or even utilise it in a future episode. The goodwill cost to them would be nothing, but the payoff would do wonders for the creator and other fans.

Its Already In Practice!

cartoon hangover soundcloud

As usual, Frederator is ahead of the pack. Their Cartoon Hangover channel already has a SoundCloud page where lots of music has already been posted. Theme tunes, FX tracks and instrumentals are all available for SoundCloud users to listen to, remix and share as they please.

In the non-musical sense, both Skwigly and Cartoon Brew upload podcasts for the animation community to enjoy and share.

Conclusion

Soundtracks unfortunately occupy the fringes of animation production in terms of revenue. They’re a necessary part of production but far too often cannot be officially sold in a profitable manner (unless of course it’s a large Hollywood production). Lots of TV shows and smaller films have had their soundtracks languish in obscurity when they could be proliferating creativity.

Frederator Aims High With Cartoon Hangover and Bravest Warriors

Perennial innovator Frederator Studios is currently firing on all cylinders as they gear up for the big push to launch their latest venture, Cartoon Hangover. In times past the studio has been a prime online outlet for animation through their Channel Frederator series’ and with a close relationship to the former Next New Networks (now the YouTube Next Lab), it was inevitable that the studio would continue to play a role close to the forefront of online video.

Which leads us to Cartoon Hangover, which is described as: “the home for cartoons that are too weird, wild, and crazy for television. It’ll have you saying “What a #$@!?* cartoon!” but in the good way.” In other words, the kind of content you couldonly get away with on the internet; veering near the edge but trying hard not to leap over it.

The channel has been around for a while but it was only earlier this year (April 2012) that it began streaming animated content. In addition to the series discussed below, the studio also actively solicited for ideas and/or completed animation; Elliot Cowan being one who dutifully complied with the request for wild and crazy content.

However, what really makes Cartoon Hangover stand out that we bit higher than other animation channels on YouTube is the fact that they are betting on higher quality content than others. What I mean is that in addition to the short, silly stuff, they are also producing a few original series from established creators with fairly high production values (at least for those with a sole online presence).

Two of the series’ in question are Bravest Warriors and Superf*ckers. The latter (based on the comic by James Kochalka) has yet to premiere, the former premiered yesterday with the episode ‘Time Slime’:

Bravest Warriors is created by Pendelton Ward, erstwhile genius behind smash TV show Adventure Time and is traditionally animated (believe it or not). The first episode is fairly funny and shares similar themes and styles to Adventure Time, but what’s interesting is that outside of it’s short length, it is hard to differentiate it from a traditional TV show. The production values are there, the plots are there and the vocal talent is there for all to hear.

This is undoubtedly deliberate; although the upfront cost is higher, the payoff is in the longevity of the series. Cartoons from the 90s are still paying dividends almost 20 years later; there is little reason to assume that being streamed via the internet will change that in any substantial way. Heck, the presence of so much old content on YouTube itself should evidence enough of that.

How will the series pan out? At this very early stage, it is hard to say (as of writing, the episode has been up mere hours but has garnered thousands of views; no stats are available yet) but Frederator are normally quite good at getting the word out through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. In this regard, they are putting their experience with the Adventure Time tumblelog to good use.

Frederator have also been busy ramping up the ancillary revenue generators with T-shirts and comics. Both are designed to engage the fans and the strategy has proven to be very successful with Adventure Time.

What will be interesting to watch is not so much how successful the show is or indeed how many views it attracts but rather how the viewers behave and indeed, what demographics they fall under. This is the silent draw of online streaming, the ability to know much more about your audience. So much, in fact, that it would make a traditional broadcaster weep. No doubt the folks at YouTube and Frederator will be paying close attention to all those views in the weeks and months ahead to see exactly what viewers are watching and how they are reacting to the show (for example, writing blog posts about it).

What will make those months even more interesting is the premiere of Superf*ckers. Although there’s no date set (yet), the theme song and heck, even the title should point out that this series has a distinctly more mature tone. With Bravest Warriors aiming for a crowd slightly older than Adventure Time, Superf*ckers aims even older, possibly starting at the mid to late-teens. The strategy employed by Frederator and Cartoon Hangover is a bold one. They are muscling in on [adult swim] territory but lack the traditional TV presence.

How Cartoon Hangover plays out is still relatively unknown, however if successful, it will provide the blueprint for all other original web series for some years to come. Here’s hoping that’s the case.

Which YouTube Animation Channel Will Succeed?

As Cartoon Brew has pointed out, we are seeing a raft of new YouTube channels devoted to animation being launched or announced in recent months. However the internet is a fast-moving and unforgiving place. New channels can have a tough time gaining an audience and keeping it. So with that in mind, which YouTube channel will succeed?

First though, it’s important to note that there are two different kinds of channels; namely those that produce their own content, and those that acquire/request content from outside or independent sources.

The ones mentioned in the Brew article are mostly the latter. In other words, the channel runners solicit others to create the content for them to “broadcast”. The line of thinking seems to be that the runners can cherry-pick the best content and hence ensure an acceptable level of quality.

What is interesting though, it that it is the former kind of channel, the one where all the content is produced by the channel owner, that have garnered the most views. It is, of course, a lot harder to become successful with just your own content. However, independent animators (suck as PES) have carved out quite a large audience for themselves from just their own, personal, account.

All in all, it’s a balance between risk and reward and whether you are a creator or not.

So which one will survive?

Before I say, just keep in mind that the internet video landscape is much like the wild west, with many rules still being written and content producers coming and going all the time.

Based on their track record, I would say that Frederator have the best chances with their latest channel, Cartoon Hangover. The reason I say so is that this is not their first channel. That was Channel Frederator, which has been around for about 7 years or so. Naturally, the studio has learned a lot from this experience and are putting it to good use.

The other reason? Well, Fred Seibert has proven that he can pick the winners when it come to TV shows, so it would be quite surprising if he can’t translate that into the online world too. It also helps that Cartoon Hangover is geared more towards actual content over silly videos and is aiming for an older audience with more sophisticated tastes; both areas which have yet to see much quality content.