Moving Beyond Generic Animation Merchandise

You’re already familiar with what I’m talking about. You know, the generic animation merchandise offered by just about every independent creator and small studio out there. The T-shirts, hoodies, mousepads (do people even buy those any more?), mugs, etc. etc. with a logo/character/catchphrase emblazoned across the front in glorious, exalted fashion. They’re a dime a dozen, and are worth about just as much. So why do so many creators continue to flog them ? How can they move ahead to things that will sell better?

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Why The Internet Hasn’t Brought About The Exciting Animation It’s Promised

The External World by David OReilly is an ideal example of how internet animation should be influential. Via: STASH
The External World by David OReilly is an ideal example of how internet animation should be influential. Via: STASH

That’s heresy I hear you say; of course the internet has brought about exciting animation! Ah, yes, that is true. YouTube has single-handedly brought about some of the most adventurous, entertaining and stimulating animation ever seen. Yet why does such animation remain confined to the internet, why have we yet to see the influence of the internet break through to TVs and films in the way it has leached into other areas of entertainment like news and documentaries?

Money

The answer in effect, is quite simple: none of the internet stuff has made much money. Now before you jump the gun here, I’ll make some clarifications later on. Just stay with me for now.

Yes, internet animation has been the talk of the town for a while now, and is by far the best place to discover and watch exciting, stimulating animation. Prior to this, you had to visit a film festival or hope you were close to one. Nowadays, anyone with a connection can view and absorb all the animation they can muster.

Yet animation on TV and film remains, uh, boring for the most part. Even series like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and the coming series Stephen Universe and Wander Over Yonder all lie well within the established boundaries for animated TV. If you want to get argumentative, you could say that animated TV has not moved on since John K’s Ren & Stimpy. Feature films have been moribund for decades, and the current crop have only gotten more homogeneous in the last few years.

Money is yet again the root cause of all of this. While internet animation is as wild and impulsive as it is, the vast majority of the stuff on there does not make much if anything. As such, that’s where a lot of its influence remains also. Traditional studios making either series or films, like to make animation they know is going to be popular but also profitable.

While the likes of Frederator are going full bore with their webseries, no financial information is available. (Although they did just move into a bigger office, so presumably they’re doing OK.) That said, Cartoon Hangover shows plenty of influence from the reverse direction; their shows are heavily reminiscent of what you’d expect to find on TV.

Age Differences

In conjunction with the profitability, there is also the age difference. Many internet animators are young, hungry and independent. Only a very select few are in any kind of position at a regular studio to command either a crew or output. The end result is that the top brass at many a studio remain traditionally minded and mostly familiar with the kind of content they are familiar with, i.e. not anything on the internet.

The Internet’s ‘Issues’ With Traditional Business Models

Lastly, besides the money and the talent, there are plenty of legacy issues like rights, licensing, standards and practices and so forth. All these combine to muzzle many of the wilder ideas put forth by animators and crews. The internet has no such barriers and what flows forth is almost exactly what the creators want. With that in mind it is often tough if not impossible to get even the tamer stuff past and as a result, it is safer to simply ignore it.

To clarify what was said earlier, yes, sometimes internet animation can make it through to TV. Annoying Orange is perhaps the most obvious among others. However, it did not influence TV, it simply transferred to it. There is a difference, and even then, there has been very little evidence that Annoying Orange is having any influence outside of parody and satire at its own expense.

Cartoon Network Still Letting Down Adventure Time Fans

glitch is a glitch 1

glitch is a glitch 2

glitch is a glitch 3

A good while ago, we wrote about how Cartoon Network was letting down its own fans by restricting the online streaming on their site to cable/satellite subscribers only. Unfortunately, that still appears to be the case, and the network, along with its hit show Adventure Time is all the worse for it.

Why???

The reason is simple, fans can’t [legally] view the latest episodes when they want to. If you don’t have a DVR or a cable subscription (as I don’t) then you’re basically out of luck. Besides torrents, there are plenty of site that will stream the latest episodes and they are only a Google away.

And This Hurts People How?

Well, David OReilly created an episode of Adventure Time that was broadcast last night and subsequently attempted to melt the internet but was fortunately unsuccessful. That said, plenty of fans in the hours afterwards attempted to view it and were out of luck.

Cartoon Network doesn’t have it on YouTube and their aforementioned full episode streams on their website aren’t open to everyone. The result? Fans willing to dilute their own viewing experience by accessing crappy streams. As OReilly himself notes:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/319153082984452096″]

Fans, so pious is their love for Adventure Time that they would rather watch a shitty compressed stream that isn’t even the right colour than wait for Cartoon Network to rerun it. Nobody gains from this.

The Kicker to The Whole David OReilly/Adventure Time Saga

The kicker to all of this is the fact that nothing can be kept offline any more. Heck, the episode was even leaked prior to its airing on the network itself. Sure, Cartoon Network realise they have a winner, but they also fail to realise that with such an explosive show, they need to be on top of handling it when it goes off.

With a big event like this, attention and demand will be concentrated at around the time that it is first made available. You can capitalise on that, but only if you are ready for it.

How does Cartoon Network gain from people watching illegal streams? They don’t! Plain and simple. However, that being said, there is no logical reason for them not to offer legal streams on their own sites or YouTube channel. How many views could they have gotten if the episode was available immediately after it was broadcast? Half a million? One million? More?

Given the recent success of Bravest Warriors, it’s fair to say that the Glitch is a Glitch episode of Adventure Time could easily be at over a million views by now (<24 hours later). Anything that Cartoon Network could have gained from those views is gone; either spread amongst the streaming sites or lost to unauthorised downloads.

How To Counteract It

What really irks this forward thinker though is that they could counter it so, so easily. They could simply put the episode up on YouTube for 24-48 hours for starters. They could harvest views on their site without necessarily damaging the ratings of reruns later on. They would gain the exposure and potentially drive more people to check out the older episodes which, thankfully, are now on Netflix.

They could also have it available to buy. Again, no sign of that less than 24 hours after broadcast.

Where’s the associated value-added merchandise that we discussed just the other day? Why is there quite literally nothing except the episode available except for the tidbits that David OReilly himself has been posting and tweeting about? The man knows a thing or two about nurturing fans and its sad to see his expertise being completely ignored.

The entire saga should be used a lesson so that people can learn how not to react when something this big hits the internet.

How David OReilly Engages His Fans

DOR-Octo1.jpg

David OReilly is infamous for the unique style of animation in his personal films and the particular brand of comedy that inhabits them. As an independent animator, David is a master at understanding how they become a brand onto themselves and he uses it to his benefit. Such a move is often the result of necessity but rarely is it pulled off with the pastiche that OReilly manages. With his latest venture, David illustrates yet again, how independent animators can engage with fans and earn a living at the same time.

The Fans

OReilly has acquired an audience (or devoted mass if you prefer) through his short films and commercial works. These include the films Please Say Something, The External World and his initial foray, Octocat. Videos for the likes of U2 have heightened his public profile among non-animation fans too.

These fans not only provide an audience for every new thing that he creates, they also function as his makeshift publicity department. The advantage to this is that word of mouth is by far the most reliable and effective form of advertising even if it may take a while to reach large numbers of people.

Acquiring fans is one thing, but OReilly also manages to keep them, chiefly through continually honing, improving and experimenting with his craft. His reasons for not repeating himself bear remembering in this regard and his ever increasing profile within the animation industry is proof of that. They will culminate later this year when his episode of Adventure Time hits the airwaves.

The Content

Although fans are important to any independent animator, it is necessary to interact with them and continually present them with new and exciting material. The risk is that if you do not, they will move on to somebody else who does.

OReilly is only one Irishman however, and animation being the slow process that it is, it would be impossible for him to create new animated films constantly and within short time frames. Instead, he opts to create new animation when it is possible, and in between, keeps his fans happy and engaged through other, non-animated creations.

OReilly’s twitter and instagram feeds exemplify his unique sense of humour and provide the primary channels of engagement. They are a practically free way of maintaining his profile without any additional cost to himself.

David is also the master at engaging his fans in conversation through them. A clear example was his recent pondering of why critically acclaimed content garners tiny viewership on YouTube and yet videos of cats can garner millions. His response was as much genius as it was entertaining: he posted a video of puppies and then decried it as a despicable act for which he was truly sorry.

The result?Nearly 12,000 views but a ton of interactivity with fans as they eagerly entertained the notion that the video was ‘disgusting’ even though it clearly was not (click to enlarge):

Via: David OReilly.com
Via: David OReilly.com

The upshot is that OReilly kept his fans engaged and interested in him without having to revert to creating new animation.

The T-Shirts That Combine Fans And Content

Via:
Via: Skreened.com

The latest idea (and the one that prompted this post) was the recent announcement that David had designed 40 T-shirts. “OK, so what” I hear you say, “that’s not a big deal”. Well, no, it probably isn’t, but since he has decided to also sell them, it sort of is.

Why? Well quite simply, these T-shirts bring fans and content together in a way that allows OReilly to make money. Firstly, the T-shirts are a way of proving that he values his fans and secondly, they adhere to David’s unique style without the need to create new animation. The result is that you have happy fans, with a David OReilly creation and all without the need to create expensive, time-consuming animation!

Of course the true genius of these T-shirts is that they exhibit not only OReilly’s unique sense of humour (and his desire to lead a Comic Sans revival), but also his interest in animation too. Observe:

Via: (a href="http://skreened.com/dumbstuff/cartoon-character"> Skreened.com
‘Cartoon Character’
Via: Skreened.com
‘Cartoon Boy’

Needless to say, the use of these copyrighted characters would fall under the parody rule of fair use.

The Payoff

(no pun intended)

What is there to be gleaned from all of this? Well, a few things:

  • OReilly creates animation that garners fans of his work
  • He engages with his fans on a constant basis
  • He creates non-animated content as a way to satisfy fans until new animation can be created
  • The content he creates is exciting and of equal quality to his animation.

The result is that David OReilly succeeds at things where plenty of others fail. Yes, anybody can create a T-shirt and sell it online without much overhead, but simply offering T-shirts is not enough. Neither can you rely upon merchandise sales alone to bring in money or keep your fans engaged. Again, simply offering it is not enough. David demonstrates that you must keep fans ‘primed’ for new content and when you deliver, it must be exciting enough for them to want to purchase it.

In addition, the T-shirts themselves are broad enough in appeal so that non-fans and people who may have never heard of him before will get to know him; i.e. they will grow his fanbase. Imagine that, growing the potential audience for your animated properties without creating any new animation. Genius!

Although by no means a model that can translate to any and all independent animators, what David OReilly conducts is a high-wire act that constantly entertains his fans, keeps them engaged and interested in what he’s doing. the result is that he can create merchandise that not only sells, but increases his profile further. He is a model for others to follow.

Basic Animation Aesthetics: An Essay By David OReilly

Someone on Reddit managed to dig this up, and we should all thank them that they did.

Talented (and charismatic) Irishman, David OReilly is well known for being one of the more provocative and innovative animators out there today. His shorts Please Say Something and The External World continue to find new audiences today, despite the fact that they have been out for quite a while.

David’s style is fairly unique so I was genuinely excited to come across an essay he’d written on animation aesthetics. You’ll want to read it too, especially as he says this in the first paragraph:

The importance of animation aesthetics is such a subtle yet vitally important one. It might seem superficial to discuss these things, especially because cinema is so much more to do with content and story than a pure aesthetic experience, but nonetheless the visual nature of animation calls for debate on the subject. There is a continuous raft of animation, both commercial and independent, which looks the same, and I don’t believe it has to be so. The more we think about the subject the more playful and interesting computer animation becomes, the medium feels to me like a recently opened Pandora’s box which is still being examined, understood and tamed.

You can (and should) read the rest of the (9 page) document here.

Mark Mayerson Is Right!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEPGpHADiKk

Due to my abysmal levels of energy this morning, Amid Amidi beat me to it, but Mark’s post is nonethless right on the money.

It’s a 2005 Tom and Jerry, co-directed by Joe Barbera. In some ways, it does a remarkably good job of duplicating the look and feel of the Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoons of the 1940s and ’50s. However, in other ways, it doesn’t…..

Mark does an excellent job of running down the issues with the short, starting with the opening credits that would give any designer nightmares and going on to talk about the animation styles. There are some great comments so don’t forget to read those too.

So just what is the point of so attempting to recreate the old timey feel of a Tom & Jerry cartoon? Oh sure, it wears its loyalty to the source material on its sleeve but what does that prove? That it’s the ‘rightful successor/continuation’ to the originals? That it somehow legitimises the cartoon as a real “Tom & Jerry” short? Or is it that the creators are acknowledging the value to be had in the old shorts?

The answer is more likely that it doesn’t feel “right” to see Tom & Jerry in any other setting than the ones we’re used to. The problem is that the original shorts were a product of their time, the 1940s and 50s. Everything was different then, and Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera played on that. Just think of how many jokes they got out of that ironing board. Regardless of how many times the rehashed the same joke, they were at least using contemporary society for inspiration. Who has an ironing board like that now? No-one! As Mark says (emphasis mine):

Creative works are not only the product of people, they’re also the products of a time and place. As the world keeps changing, it is impossible to recreate something from the past. While artists often wish to duplicate what they love, they can only approximate it. Paradoxically, the closer they get to it, the more they’ve succeeded in doing nothing more than an good imitation. And since the originals are everywhere to begin with, is an imitation necessary?

And rightfully so. That’s partially why The Simpsons of today is so radically different from the early years. The show has changed but society changed even more. The first few series’ simply reflect the culture of the time (the early 90s); today’s episodes are much more post-September 11th/global recession in tone.

So the real question is, why are studios/producers reluctant to move older cartoon properties beyond their established norms? Are they afraid of the risk? I mean, Lunatics Unleashed can’t be that scary an example of what can happen, right?

Iif you’re going to go to the effort of updating properties, why not just do something new? It might be a bit more expensive, but risks can be mitigated, and you’re far more likely to have a stronger product that isn’t constrained by the pre-conceived notions of ” the old version”.

At the end of the day though, David OReilly says it best:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/davidoreilly/status/131477972023656448″]

David OReilly’s Freudian Review of Tangled

Disclaimer: I don’t normally post stuff that isn’t suitable for all ages but this is a slight exception. Exercise restraint if you are easily offended!

Yesterday (Thursday), in an amusing hour and a half, David OReilly (the Irish fella that has a wicked sense of humour, and who made these films) watched Tangled. He tweeted his thoughts as follows:

http://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/43354415456976897

http://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/43356373060292609

http://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/43358448968155136

http://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/43363060357926912

http://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/43367503044419584

http://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/43386156641038336

Lastly his recommendation:

http://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/43388148054626304

David OReilly on Why He Doesn’t Repeat Himself

Not to turn this place into a quote blog, but I think David OReilly makes a great case for moving in new creative directions:

when you’re making an animated short, it’s pretty much your duty to try out new territory. When something’s gonna take over a year of your life, fill you with paralyzing self-doubt, destroy whatever social life you have and empty your bank account, what’s the point on re-doing what you’ve done before?

It is interesting to compare his reasons against any of the larger, corporate players. They do the same thing over again because they’ve found a winning formula and will drive it into the ground in the search for revenue.

David on the other hand, is more concerned about the psychological reasons, and he’s right too. Why put yourself through a whole bunch of pressure and stress just to do the same thing you did before? It doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense, and it can apply to other things besides films too. How about art, music, your job, the list goes on and on.

As great as Please Say Something is, I’m glad that David has gone in a new direction, it’s proof that he is much more than a one-trick pony (although we sort of knew that anyway) and it gives us plenty of opportunities to guess about his next short, which he has yet to announce.

If you’re curious, you can watch The External World here or buy a HD version to support David.

Anomaly Appraisal: The External World

Embedded above is 17 minutes of perhaps the most insane, random and almost gut-wrenching animation I’ve seen so far this year. Warning: it’s definitely NSFW and contains plenty of adult themes, although the film addresses that point oh so adroitly somewhere in the middle.

I wrote about David OReilly a while back with an admiration post, and having watched The External World, I can safely confirm that I was correct in my observations.

This is not necessarily a film for the faint-hearted. There are plenty of scene that one might conclude were included only for their shock value. While that may be true, those same scenes have to be viewed in the context of the whole film, and then they will most likely get a laugh.

The film is loaded with pop-culture references (video games, TV shows, etc.) although they only support the action that’s actually going on. In stark contrast to OReilly’s previous film, Please Say Something, there is little, if any, invitation for the audience to connect with the characters, who are never given a chance to develop.

Some don’t like this aspect of the film, but I was perfectly fine with it. It’s almost like you are flicking the channels while watching TV. If you are not intimately familiar with the characters on the screen, then you are much less likely to care about them, and I think this is what David was aiming for.

The External World is full of David’s wit, which is just as sharp as his animating skills. There are tons of side jokes, background gags and of course, the actions of the sardonic characters themselves. Besides the pop-culture references, there are plenty of animation references, including cartoons of the 1930s (in particular Felix the Cat, of whom David is an avowed fan). Of course, these are not mere references but modern interpretations thereof.

Overall, there’s not much more I can say about this fantastic film. It is well worth watching and it has seemed like an age for it to finally make it to the internet. David is offering a HD version for download for 4 euros, which is hardly breaking the bank to own such a great short, and it supports the man too.

With The External World, David OReilly has proven that he is a filmmaker with considerable skill (and if my twitter feed is any proof, has a heck of a following in the animation community and beyond).

A Look Back at David OReilly’s Octocat

Via: David OReilly.com

With his latest masterpiece, The External World, (that I have yet to see!) currently gaining momentum in advance of its US premiere next month at the Sundance Film Festival, I thought to take a look back at OReilly;s first major break into the international stage. No, not Please Say Something, his excellent short film that was showered with awards, his other series of shorts, Octocat.

If you remember, David released the series under the pseudonym RANDY PETERS, who was supposed to be a nine year old kid living in Chicago using MS Paint to create the films. I remember thinking two things at the time: first of all, damn, that is one ugly cat and secondly, kudos to the kid for making something like that. Sure it isn’t smooth, flawless animation but I’m 23 (at the time, ah, to be young again) and I can’t do anything like that!

Of course, the thrilling conclusion revealed David as the source behind it all. If you haven’t seen the whole adventure, I highly recommend, nay, command you to watch the entire series compiled together below before continuing on,

As you can probably tell, there are certainly different parts to the story (you might also be able to tell that the voice, and that the cup of tea is a dead giveaway for being Irish) but the over-arching theme is that Octocat is looking for his parents.

The dramatic conclusion is perhaps one of the greatest twists I’ve seen in a film because it plays very much on the difference between what the audience expects and what it receives. Overall, it’s a very melancholy film, there is mixture of excitement, wonder, anguish and ultimate disappointment all in a few short minutes.

The films were a great calling card and certainly got OReilly noticed among the international animation community and beyond. It’s creative ideas like this that can help make someone stand out from the crowd and certainly helped David make a name for himself, which ensured that he had an audience all ready to go for Please Say Something.

Although some people will naturally feel deceived, imagine if they weren’t? Imagine if David had released Octocat under his own name. There’s a good chance it might have garnered a few views and some critical praise from ‘experts’ but the average Joe Schmoe would still not have a clue. Attributing the work to a nine year old, David picked up on the willingness to share and tell others about something that seems genuinely amazing. “A nine year old made THAT? It’s awesome!” rather than “Oh, it’s just another short film that I can’t understand and it’s got some shitty animation that a kid could do”. As I was writing this, I had to go back and check out the comments on the original Cartoon Brew post, and to my non-surprise, they were all positive, with many people gunning for “Randy”.

I think sometimes as adults we tend to get too focused on what we consider the be the ‘standard’ for good animation. In Octocat, the animation does tend to play second fiddle to the story, at least until the end when the roles reverse. David says as much in the blog post that revealed the truth behind the series.

I’m sure I’ll be accused of misleading people again, but I won’t apologize for that. Why? Because you’ve all proved one vitally important point: audiences don’t need polished, slick animation to find a story engaging. They are happy to follow the worst animated, worst designed and worst dubbed film of all time, and still laugh and cry and do all the things you do watching a so-called “high end” film. Its amazing, I’ve never been so excited about independent animation.

He’s right, too. We watched every new segment as it was released because we wanted to see what happened to the poor Octocat. Would he find his parents, what other adventures would he set off on, and most importantly (at least for me), would he have another cup of tea.

The old saying that there are some people out there who are naturally lucky is sort of true, but that’s only because they make their own luck most of the time. David OReilly managed to succeed with Octocat because he took a chance and did something that no-one else had done before (no, not deceive the audience, just have them pre-load themselves with certain expectations). His success since then is proof that a bit of inventiveness and some skill can go a long way to progressing your career.

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.