Animation Articles: March 8, 2020

A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 8th of March, 2020.

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Animation By-Products

‘By-products’ is a word that instantly conjurers up images of dodgy hotdogs and ‘mystery meat’. It’s got a bad rap alright, but the word’s actual/original meaning is used to describe things that were created during the production of other things and that turned out to be valuable. Hence a by-product of sugar refining gets turned into something useful like molasses. The point is that by-products can be useful and profitable, and present within the animation industry too. Here’s a few existing animation by-products and a few potential ones yet to come.

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The Great Licensed Apparel Question

Licensed apparel (or clothing) has gained prominence in the merchandising puzzle as of late thanks to its simplicity, low cost/high margins and its customizability. Long gone are the days when clothing bearing your favourite cartoon character was only availably in a few, all-round safe choices. Today, thanks to on-demand production and the internet as a sales channel, it’s possible to create clothing with just about anything on it and in just about any batch size. So here’s the deal, given a choice, would consumers rather wear clothes that feature a character or rather replicas of the clothes the character wears?

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How Merchandising Will Make or Break Animated Hits

Clothes-Fred Flintstone

Over on the Kidscreen blog, Scott Shahmanesh has a great post on the topic of licensing, merchandising and making the most of it when it comes to content directed at kids. While his three steps are a superb guide to the rough waters of licensing and so forth, this part is what stuck out to me:

This is a perfect example of how next to no singular form of entertainment has the impact on kids that it had less than a decade ago. New entertainment properties come and go so quickly, it can be impossible to capitalize on them by getting products on the shelves, before the craze is over. If you start while a property is hot, it’s usually dropped from the radar before products have a chance to follow. Just five years ago, a singer/dancer like Psy with the music video Gangnam Style (which had more than a billion views on YouTube) would have generated enough momentum to justify a huge merchandising program. Yet we saw only a handful of products on the shelves before Psy’s moment came and went. Kids quickly moved onto the Harlem Shake. And somewhere in between the two,we were all singing “Call Me Maybe.”

Therein lies the challenge to content creators and producers.

How Merchandising Will Make Animated Hits

Of course, we’ve already seen the beginning of what will eventually become the de facto merchandise and licensing model. For the most part, this will be the ‘on demand’ model that many online clothing outfits (no pun intended) already utilise. They focus on the intricate part of the process, namely putting the image on the cloth and by doing it locally instead of in bulk offshore, they can react much more quickly to shifts in consumer demand. End result? All the Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors T-shirts you can handle.

With the rise of 3D printing and the like, it should become possible to manufacture things like toys locally too, or at least move the easier or more time-consuming parts abroad, thus allowing companies to react in similar ways to the clothing firms mentioned above.

Another option will be to simply re-engineer toys entirely and either make them more modular, or alter how licensed characters and shows are portrayed on them. It may be a matter of going about it the Lego way; making standard pieces that are interchangeable between sets and unique character minifigs that can be made quickly.

All told, merchandising, and the ability to design, make and sell it as a show’s popularity rises and falls will be one key to success. The other will be doing it on a constantly repeating basis.

How Merchandising Will Break Animated Hits

If merchandise can make an animated hit, you’d better believe it can break them too. Besides the obvious goofs (like the infamous Little Mermaid VHS cover), there are other factors and traits of the on-demand model that could prove detrimental.

The first is quality. People don’t mind paying a bit more to have things done quicker, but all too often, quick = cheap and nobody likes to think they’ve been ripped off somewhere along the line. On-demand merchandise will necessitate a lot of people working very quickly and efficiently; all of which will cost money. Unfortunately, the temptation to skimp costs or cut corners throughout the process will be too much for some to take. One weak link is all it takes, and once word gets out, you may not have time to recover.

The second is timing. If success is determinant on your merchandise being available, anyone who misses or screws that up will be doomed. How can you mitigate for this? Well, having a plan always helps but having flexibility in the supply chain will be of enormous benefit too. One supplier already maxed out? There should be a spare with capacity ready to go. The gist of this point is, say a show gets super popular super quick, by the time merchandise is designed, tested, manufactured and ready to be sold, the moment may have already passed. It’ll be too late to fix things unless you can get a recurring property going.

Lastly, the very type of merchandise will be a critical factor. Nobody would create adult-sized T-shirts for a kids show, but what if you made the wrong kind of merchandise that fans were looking for? What then? If fans can’t get the merchandise they want, if they’re not offered it, guess what, they’ll go somewhere else, or make up their own; illegal or not. Again, a bit of planning can go a long way, and if anything, listening to and sussing out from fans beforehand can save your bacon in such a situation.

Either Way, Merchandising WILL Have An Effect

No matter how many ways you look at it, the traditional model of extracting things like licensing fees from networks, DVD makers, distributors and even merchandise manufacturers are all disappearing. In the not-too-distant future, there will also be no middlemen either. Studios will have a direct connection to their fans (or through online retailers) and they will have to be on the ball if they want to make any money. The upshot is that they can reap massive rewards if they get it right. The downside is that there is everything to lose if they get it wrong.

How 3D Printing Will Impact Animation Off Screen

Constant improvements in technology mean that new and exciting ways of doing things are constantly being invented, with 3D printing being no exception. It’s exactly what you might expect it to be; namely printing but with the addition of the third dimension. The technology has been around for a while, but only very recently has its cost started to come down to a relatively affordable level for consumers.

What Does 3D Printing Have to Do With Animation Off Screen?

Ah, an excellent question. Well, it’s not so much to do with production (Laika used the technology extensively for ParaNorman) but for all the things that animation sells off-screen. Consider the picture below:

Via:Thingverse
Via:Thingverse

It looks kida familiar doesn’t it? That’s because it is! It’s a 3D printing plan for the rocket that Tintin took to the moon in Destination Moon!

Via:The Tintin Wiki
Via:The Tintin Wiki

The possibilities are astonishing. Imagine being able to print models right in your own home? Instead of hoping for a company to produce a character or prop model you desire, you could make it yourself, in minutes! Otaku’s will have a field day!

There’s just one problem…

Copyright

NPR recently took a look at 3D printing, and Steve Henn’s report places a hefty emphasis on the recent issues surrounding the use of copyrighted characters with the technology. Yoda is a popular presence on Thingverse, a website that allows people to create and share their 3D printing plans. Similarly was Tintin’s rocket, until it was taken down via DMCA notice (the one above isn’t the original):

Recently, Moulinsart, which owns the rights to the cartoon Tintin, served Thingiverse with a Millennium Digital Copyright Act [sic] takedown notice. The company insisted that the site remove printing designs of Tintin’s cartoon moon rocket.

Weinberg says Moulinsart was well within its legal rights, but he thinks the move was a mistake. People printing out copies of Tintin’s rocket were the company’s mega-fans, he says. Instead of attacking them, Weinberg adds, the company would have been better off selling digital designs to print out Tintin himself.

If you think in terms of animation, almost anything could be created using 3D printers. Characters, props, sets are all ripe for the DIY mold and while no studio has freaked out just yet, there could be plenty of problems down the line.

Since copyright covers everything to do with an animated film or TV show, making plans of characters and printing them yourself does fall foul of existing law. That’s where the real problems will soon come to light.

What 3D Printing Means For Animation

Many animated shows rely on toys (among other merchandise) to remain profitable. Pre-school shows are especially exposed, but plenty of other ones also sell models based off the animation. Many shows rely on those sales to remain profitable and therefore on the air. Think of The Simpsons, or any anime show known to man. They all rely on sales of models to some extent. Here, have a Nibbler as an example:

This impossibly cute thing is made by Kidrobot
This impossibly cute thing is made by Kidrobot

Now what if instead of buying a model at a shop, you simply printed it at home? You would gain, but the studio would certainly lose; especially since those plans can (and will) be all over the internet for free.

So this could potentially affect every corner of animation; from features, to TV shows to web series to short films. It could be a boon but it could also be a bust if all the players don’t handle it correctly.

I haven’t even touched on all the printing that will be made from fanart, just think how popular that‘s going to be?

It’ll Ultimately Be For the Fans

Ultimately, 3D printing will be for the fans. Animators and studios can gain, but they will have to rely on things like superior production tools and giving fans something extra over what they can make at home.

Just look at that Tintin rocket, I would kill to be able to make one of those for myself, but I would gladly pay someone to make me a high quality one that’s over a metre tall instead.

Think in those terms, and get ready to ride the roller coaster for the next few years.

What would you print with a 3D printer? Let us know with a comment!

Donald Duck Orange Juice???

image

I spotted these in a supermarket this morning. I’ve never seen or heard of it before, but apparently Donald Duck Orange Juice been around for a long time.

Surely a throwback to a simpler time in licensed marketing seeing as Disney’s current faces include the princesses, major characters from whichever film is the latest release and the child actors in their kidcoms.

All the same, it’s good to see that Donald Duck still has some kind of resonance with today’s kids.

A Comic About Toyetic Shows

Via: Potato Farm Girl on Tumblr (click through to embiggen)

Could this comic speak the truth???

Perhaps, but the sad state of affairs that was the cancellation of Symbionic Titan probable had a lot more to do with the kind of show that it is rather than whether or not there were toys made to promote it.

While Princess Bubblegum and Princess Llana are two great characters, it’s not really fair to say that one should have succeed because the other did. They inhabit different worlds in different shows and nary the two shall meet.

 

Would You Eat At A Place Like This? I Sure Would!

Tip of the hat to Pat Smith over at Scribble Junkies for alerting me to the really cool artist that is Timba.

When you think about it though, Hanna-Barbera did a really good job with the marketing for the Flintstones. In fact, you could argue that after more than 50 years, the very existence of products like Fruity Pebbles, vitamins and so forth is testament to the longevity of the show.

The art is awesome though, isn’t it? A part of me now really wishes there was a burger joint called Fast Freds…

Toys As A Creative Source For Cartoons

I was rather gutted when I found out they were toys first...

To be frank, I don’t remember an awful lot of these. being a child of the mid-80s, I missed more than half the decade, also having been raised in Ireland, I was dependent on whatever RTE could afford or care enough about to import.

What made cartoons of that decade stand out more than anything else? Toys of course! Yes indeedy, this was the decade where cartoons reigned supreme as the marketing vehicle to children, even moreso than today or the 1990s for that matter.

You couldn’t turn on a TV without seeing a show based on a toy. be it The Care Bears, Transformers, G.I. Joe and so on. The strategy was successful, but of course, the shows themselves dated quickly. Although some managed to achieve a certain level of cult status.

Thankfully, somebody wised up in the 90s and realized that cartoons worked much better if they were the source of the toys, not a cog in the marketing machine. Today we have smart, funny and intensely entertaining cartoons to watch 24/7 and the toys that go with them are top notch too. How much nicer is it to see Spongebob getting into trouble in Bikini Bottom than, say, the Transformers off to stop the evil Deseptacons, again!

The reason for this post is the word filtering through the internet that the two guys behind Ruby-Spears have announced that they intend to start marketing old Jack Kirby ideas as a combined TV show and toy line.

Great! If that’s what they want to do, then more power to them. There can never be enough cartoons in this world. There will always be good and bad shows, sometimes (like the 80s) there will be more bad ones than good ones. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that some form of animation on TV or otherwise is better than nothing. Now if I was in charge, you can bet you’d only see the best, creator-driven cartoons ever made. But unfortunately I’m not in charge, so we’ll have to deal with what comes out between now and then.

Nope, what I’m wondering is where they’ll find a willing buyer. Disney is only interested in its own properties (or those developed in-house). Nickelodeon, while sometimes going outside Viacom, has so far chosen to develop their own shows and market them accordingly. With the stunning success of Spongebob Squarepants, I can’t see them changing their tune either. As for the Cartoon Network, they’ve decided to change their direction away from cartoons. Although they have bought in shows, such as Cookie Jar’s Johnny Test, the network has an abysmal record of translating their shows into marketable products. Ben 10 is the exception rather than the rule, and even then the show has a very, very narrow focus on boys aged 6-11.

That leaves the broadcast networks. Which as we all know, are a bit of a graveyard for kids shows these days. ABC airs constant (and I mean constant, i.e. the same 20 episodes) re-runs of Disney shows. NBC has handed their Saturday mornings to Quobo, the quasi-cable channel. That leaves the CW and CBS. The former entrusts 4Kids, the latter used to use DIC before they got swallowed up by Cookie Jar.

Of all of these, the most likely prospective buyers are 4Kids and Cookie Jar, although 4Kids has focused more on anime imports, such as Sonic X and TNMT in recent times. DIC of course, has brought us many toy-related shows over the years. So perhaps they may be the buyers for and toy-related show that comes out of this. Such a shame the ratings are in the sub-1.0 level.

There is plenty to be hopeful about, but the last 20 years have proven that cartoons that are creator-driven stand to make much more money for toy makers than themselves. They would be wise to realize this.