If the thirteen episodes mentioned in the title seems a bit short, just imagine how the Simpsons would be viewed today if the original order was all that was made. Would it still be viewed as a classic, or be relegated to a footnote of television history? Regardless of what would have happened 25 years ago, the future is pointing inexorably towards series runs of a predetermined length and story structure.
Animation has always had a strong creative streak with plenty of variety to it. If you didn’t like that Walt Disney was chasing realism, all you had to do was look across town to the Warner guys on Termite Terrace and see cutting edge character comedy in full flow. Today is no different; while major studios have become increasingly bland in their offerings, there are plenty of others taking up the creative mantle. Is what they’re doing worth the effort and risk involved?
Has it been a whole week since CTN already? Why yes, yes it has. Here’s some week links that accumulated in the meantime.
Michael Milken made a fortune with junk bonds back in the 1980s. His theory was so simple, it was almost too good to be true except that it wasn’t. Basically, a junk bond is one that carries a high risk of default, i.e. the borrower doesn’t pay you back. Milken however, perceived that if you buy enough junk bonds, the ones that do pay you back will more than cover the losses from those that don’t. His plan worked far beyond his expectations and he quickly became the so-called ‘Junk Bond King’ before being brought down for some insider trading.
Coming by way of Fred Seibert’s twitter feed is this article by Ben Elowitz on an important topic that I’d never really considered before. It’s basically about programming and how important it will be in the digital age. As Ben explains:
Programming is the skill of matching content to audience. Programming is what built the global TV and film industry from $200 billion to $300 billion in the last decade. If you want to succeed in digital media going forward, programming is EVERYTHING.
This post isn’t so much an analysis but a hearty recommendation to go and read Ben’s entire post. It commands a lot of thought because given the long production times for animation, extra planning will be required to ensure that the intended audience does not evaporate before the show is produced. The article also lays out a few secrets to success that are well worth familiarising yourself with.
Although the article is based at a much higher level than what most readers of this blog would need, you should note them nonetheless because the day will come when the content you create will have to abide by these rules if you want it to be seen by large audiences.
Fred Seibert is a guy I have a lot of respect and admiration for so it was quite surprising (and delightful) to see a post from him on the subject of copyright (something that is inexplicably fascinating to me). Fred’s post is actually a discussion/opinion on the news that Republicans in Congress released a paper in which they did a surprisingly good job of analysing the impact that copyright has and some of the myths that surround it.
I won’t go into the details because I want you to read the full post over on a regular haunt of mine, Techdirt. However, I do want to point out that Fred, being in the creative industries that he is, takes a very rational approach to the fact that copyright and the industries linked to it, are rapidly changing.
Rather than stick his head in the sand, Fred details, quite clearly, outlines why increased penalties and terms on copyright protection is detrimental:
….Completely aside from the fact that in this era of expansion of ease of sharing and distribution that more stringent copyright defense is the equivalent of putting up higher and higher anti-immigration fences along our borders, it just isn’t helpful to creative enterprise. Seriously.
And, we’re gathering the forces to realize that all the technological changes in our lives are *demanding* legal change.
A long time ago, copyright was the preserve of entertainment industry bigwigs and specialist lawyers. Today, everyone is at least familiar with the concept of copyright but unfortunately most do not understand the ramifications of the legal rights and restrictions it imposes on the person on the receiving end.
I’ve discussed the importance of copyright knowledge to animators and other creators before and I would encourage you to read up on it if you are not familiar with it beyond the basics. As Fred says:
What should you do? One, be smarter about the what’s what in the business you work in. And two, write your congressional representatives. Let them know what you think.
Be an informed citizen and creator. We are in the same era as those people living when the first Gutenberg bible was printed. They lived through the proverbial wringer; now it’s out turn.
The PBS web channel Off Book has created a superb video that looks at and discusses fan art. Yes, we all know it exists, but this excellent documentary takes a quick 10 minute peek into why people make fan art, and what are the results.
The first surprise? There’s a lot of animation-related fan art out there, but most of all, it uses Adventure Time as one of the lead examples; lest we forget that connecting with fan art community is just one of the ways the show became so successful in the first place.
The 10 minutes of this video are well worth your time, and c’mon, share it around, It needs to be seen by way more than 27,011 people. 🙂
Fred Seibert re-blogged a post by Megan, a.k.a. animationbits over on tumblr in which she goes into detail about how much she loves animation and how she’s hard at work on becoming a fully-fledged animator.
As inspirational as that post is (and you should definitely read it), what struck me was that while she drew and doodled from a very young age, something happened:
Then, like some of you, I hit an age where suddenly it wasn’t appropriate anymore. At this point I was living with my father and stepmother and suddenly im in a world where it was weird for me to create fantasy worlds and draw cartoons.
She was 18 at that point, and as she mentions, at one point, her father had something taped to the table which read the following:
THIS , this is whats keeping you from growing up – all these cartoons
Thankfully, Megan overcame all of this, but the fact remains that moreso than being a professional stigma for a lot of people; the old “all artists are starving” and “you’re not famous till you’re dead” notions continue to proliferate among society unfortunately. As Megan herself says:
Most of the time this talk comes from people who don’t KNOW of the art industry but base things on very surface conversations or stigmas like ‘starving artist’ .
The fact that this seemed to happen when she reached a certain age is exemplary of the continued stigma that grown-up animation fans continue to encounter here and there. Oh sure, it is much more acceptable now than in the past, but you could say that outside of conventions and industry circles, my Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends T-shirt is not nearly as appreciated.
The thing is though, the whole reason my passion for animation was re-ignited was because I realised that it is grown-ups who are making it and that they are people with real jobs, a real education and life-goals. Until that point I’d always thought of animated studios like Bart thought of the offices of MAD Magazine; a fun-house kind of scenario. Of course that was partly me being, like my father says, a stupid kid. A dose of the real world changed that mindset substantially.
Far from peer-pressure being the enemy of teenage animation fans, it is people who think it’s a profession for perpetual children. Nothing could be farther from the truth and here’s hoping that the stigma will someday be a footnote in history.
Fred Seibert has opined that more animators should be using Tumblr as a platform for their art. I do not disagree with this statement. In fact, I agree, the Tumblr platform has a lot of features to offer and has proven itself to be a great tool to build a community around your work in addition to discovering new stuff.
However, Fred’s post misses the mark when it comes to its reasoning.
Yes, Tumblr is a social platform, but so is any blog (so long as certain features are engaged). Fred points out the Adventure Time tumblelog as an example, stating that:
Very few of the posts get fewer than hundreds of notes (you can see the number at the bottom of each post.) Regular readers will recall that very, very, very few of our posts got even one comment on our old blogs.
This is true, except that comments and “notes” are mutually exclusive. One is a tool to provide feedback or opinion on a post, the other is simply a statistic on how people have responded to it (either likes or reblogs).
Comments are a truer measure of social interaction in that they indicate that people have thoughts or feelings on the post, not merely that they liked it or were suitably enthralled enough to post it on their tumblelog too.
This is not to diss the notes system. Indeed, you can implement Disqus commenting in Tumblr, just as Frederator have done, if you so desire and get the benefit of both worlds. I just don’t see the point in proclaiming the benefit of one over the other.
What Fred is right about is the ease at which Tumblr allows you to share content. One or two clicks and you’re done. Compare that to even twitter, where you often have to click, login, edit the tweet and click again to post. That can get tiresome, especially if you like to post multiple times a day.
A post Mark Coatney proves to be the inspiration for Fred’s post, and although it also focuses on numbers, it lists three things that are essential to building a community on Tumblr:
- Be Engaging: Have interesting things to say, and don’t talk simply about yourself. Respond to other Tumblr users, ask questions, etc. Remember that Tumblr is a visual medium (more than half of the 25 million things posted on Tumblr each day are pictures), so look for compelling images to tell your story whenever possible.
- Be Social: Tumblr is above all a social sharing platform. Use this space to show off your best stuff, encourage others to share it with their followers, reblog posts from other Tumblrs that you think your followers will enjoy.
- Be Yourself: No publication has to fundamentally change who they are to connect with people on Tumblr. The audience responds most to a personal, peer-to-peer connection with you; embrace that.
These are all great points, except that that they are applicable to any platform, not exclusively to Tumblr. This very blog is an example, I engage with commentators, I’m socially active through Twitter, Tumblr and Google+ and I am myself, right down to popping in a ‘u’ in places American’s find weird.
What Fred should have focused on was what he mentions in the very first paragraph:
Some young artists are using it [tumblr], but for some reason a ton of animation blogs are on Blogger, some on WordPress.
Yes, they are using Blogger and WordPress, and I dare say that the biggest mistake they make is not in choosing these platforms, but by neglecting to maintain them! I can easily say that of the 300+ artist blogs in my reader, well under 10% are updated on a regular basis. In fact, I recently went through and deleted any blog that hadn’t been updated in over a year. The numbers were depressing to say the least.
These animation bloggers can’t blame the platform for their failure, they can only blame themselves.
Instead of asking “Why aren’t more animators aren’t using Tumblr?” we should be asking “Why aren’t more animators taking blogging more seriously?”
This morning, Fed Seibert has a great post about the ongoing revolution in video we’re seeing thanks to YouTube and he has this choice quote (emphasis mine):
But that’s not where the action is. Remember, Adventure Time first blew up on YouTube; we absolutely never would have sold the show without the explosion of interest from their community.
That’s the money quote right there, and the secret to any piece of entertainment’s success. A community will do more to make you money than any advertising can ever hoper to achieve.
He follows it up with this advice:
There’s ways to make money if you’re popular, and more importantly it’s where the audience is.
The old ways of doing things are falling. You simply cannot expect to make money or reach an audience the same way they did in the old days.
Thankfully, the tools to do so are so readily accessible and cheap, like Fred says:
Any of you making films should be making more and posting them.
You already know who this post is about, even before you’ve started reading it
That’s because Steve Jobs really was a leader.
I may not have bought any of his products, or even agreed or liked his way of doing things (too locked-down, too expensive) but that’s not to say I didn’t have a lot of respect for him.
Clearly the animation landscape would be very different if Steve Jobs hadn’t taken a bit of a gamble back in the 1980s. Which is the reason for today’s post:
Who will lead us now?
Plenty of people are calling Steve a “visionary”. Yes, he had vision, but he was much more of a leader. He had the ability to envision things, but he also had a huge ability to get others to work towards that vision with passion and excitement.
That’s why Pixar is such a success. While Steve undoubtedly got a good pitch of sorts from Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, ultimately, he could see that the technology they were developing was irrelevant to the story potential that Lasseter offered the output. Steve guided them towards their first deal with Disney, and was instrumental in helping them re-negotiate it after the success of Toy Story.
Steve’s position on the board of the Walt Disney Company (and largest individual stock holder) ensured that that firm took a slightly different approach to online content than the other Hollywood studios. That’s no easy task.
As of right now, there is no one, clear individual who could be said to be a true leader within the animation community.
There are plenty of leaders such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and Fred Seibert and Ed Catmull is probably the closest thing to Jobs in light of his determination to see Pixar make animation instead of hardware. Although they are all leaders in a different capacity than Steve.
We need a leader because they can see the way forward. They may not know for certain where they are taking us, but at least they’re willing to take a bet on it. That can’t be said for the vast majority of people, which is why leaders are so rare.
A new leader will emerge, that is a certainty.
Until then, we’ll continue to inhabit the aimless space that’s left behind.