Some Thoughts on Harassment Within the Animation Industry

The revelation that a well-known, and somewhat respected veteran animator is alleged to have engaged in behaviour that crosses the line of decency and inhabits the realm of predatory is disturbing. The animation industry is small, tight-knit, and immensely friendly. To learn that such behaviour and harassment exists shatters that reality and to know that it is far from an isolated incident raises many important concerns.

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As Art, Why Doesn’t Animation Challenge Our Beliefs?

Animation is making leaps and bounds as I write this. So far, 2016 is turning out to be a great year for variety in terms of choice and styles. Yet in relative terms, we’re still well within the comfort zone. Animation art is entertaining us, and amazing us, but are we being challenged?

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Yes, Animation Still Has A Stigma Once You Reach A Certain Age

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.

 

The Underlying Reason Why Kaboing TV Failed To Take Off

Much debate has taken place over the last few days in regards to the current status as future of Joe Murray’s Kaboing TV project. The site’s apparent failures include:

  • lack of viewers/eyeballs
  • lack of new content
  • poor site design
  • original content not optimised for the web
  • etc.

While all of these are valid points, they do tend to focus on the practical aspects of the site. In other words, things that can be changed relatively easily. New content is not hard to come across, site design can be improved and as for the original content, well that is something that can’t be helped once it is made, but it is hardly likely to pull the entire site down, especially if it is dedicated to showcasing a wide range of films.

No, there is one thing and one thing only that really caused Kaboing TV to stutter and that is community.

Yes, community is something that is still being figured out in the webosphere. Lots of social media “experts” will tout it, plenty of marketing folks will emphasise it in their presentations but “community” is still something that is spectacularly difficult to pin down.

First of all,  is it viewers? Is it commentators? Is it creators? It is, in fact, all three.

Websites are the foundation of a successful community but their continued existence is dependent on the nature of the community as well as their level of involvement.

Let’s take for example, Cartoon Brew. It’s a website/blog that focuses on animation issues just the same as many others. So why do we keep it as our homepage and check it at least once a day? The answer is that Cartoon Brew has spawned a community with which we share a common interest (animation) but also because we have reasons to keep going back. If it isn’t for the exclusive news and videos, then it’s the comments or perhaps the comments on the comments.

If Cartoon Brew was lacking the surrounding community, then it would simply be another animation site on the web with nothing to differentiate it and it’s traffic would certainly reflect that.

So look at Kaboing TV in the same light. What was there to commend it outside of the site itself and the content? Very little I’m afraid. Kaboing TV sadly failed to grow a sustainable community that had people coming back regularly and interacting with each other.

Now of course, it’s hard to get a completely new site off the ground and Joe’s (quite logical) reasoning was that if he had some new shorts to go along with it, they would add something extra that would entice people to visit regularly at the beginning and hopefully spur the creation of the community.

Visitors are encouraged to comment, share and otherwise engage on the site, but that is the limit of what they could do. Content is curated (ostensibly to keep standards up) and favours the creator submitting their work. That’s great, but also assumes that there is a community ready and willing to devour the content. This wasn’t the case, and most people won’t put the cart before the horse.

What needed to happen was that the community would submit, approve and vote on new content themselves. The internet is full of examples where so-called crowd-sourcing has worked quite well in helping to build communities and websites. While it admittedly takes time for the numbers to grow, there is little sense in handicapping things from the start.

Kaboing TV is a fine idea and it is a concept that has promise. It’s just that someone was highly likely to fail with the first effort and unfortunately that someone was Joe Murray. The good news is that whoever chooses to follow him stands to learn from his mistakes and will hopefully create an animation site complete with a vibrant and active community to support and sustain it.

 

Thoughts on Brand Mascots As Characters

They’ve been around for years and for many, they’re a part of their childhood, or even their entire lives (I’m looking at you, Snap, Crackle and Pop), but mascots are an interesting bunch of characters, aren’t they?

Think about it, they’re ostensibly characters, but their appearances are often limited to 30 second commercials and perhaps some rudimentary comics on the packaging (or when you sent in so many coupons and 3.99 p&p).

The reason this struck a chord with me is because I came (or rather stumbled) across the twitter feed for Chicken of the Sea, who apparently have, as their spokeswomen, the Chicken of the Sea Mermaid.

Yup, the mascot for a tuna company is a mermaid. A bit of a conflict of interest there if you ask me, but I’m not one to judge.

Anyway, it’s kind of interesting to see that she not only has her ‘own’ twitter feed but a Facebook page too with almost 99,000 ‘fans’ on the latter.

It makes me wonder how the public really feels about such characters. I mean, we expect the ones in TV shows to be fully developed, complicated and conflicted beings. But our standards for commercial characters are so much lower.

Is it because we only see them for 30 seconds at a time, or is it more likely that we see them as exceptionally shallow; created for the single purpose of selling us stuff.

Of course, we often forget that characters in TV shows and films sell us stuff too, it just isn’t as blatant as an actual commercial.

Some of the longest-lived brand mascots have evolved well beyond their initial function. Indeed the 1980s saw brands and mascots descend upon TV and film like never before. Now the lines were seriously blurred between spokesman and character, even if the quality of both were similarly flimsy.

Or how about real characters shilling stuff?

Do we have a certain tolerance for Bugs and Daffy filling the role because it’s more of a sideshow for them?

Brand mascots and spokespersons are an interesting study area as they inhabit a unique culmination of art and commerce. Getting the balance right between the two is hard.

What are your thoughts on brand mascots and characters?

 

“Why don’t more animators use tumblr?” Is The Wrong Question to Ask

 Via: The Rauch Bros. Tumblelog

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?”

Niko Anesti’s Thoughts on Anime

No Character Sunday post today as I didn’t have one lined up and I was gallivanting in New York City yesterday.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that, apart from a very brief otaku phase in 2007-08, I’m just not that into anime in a really serious way. Neither is my good compadre Niko Anesti, but when an anonymous person asked him on his tumblelog today what he thought of it, he replied with a response that pretty much encapsulates my standpoint and proves that anime remains very much a personal thing.

I used to really despise it, but I’ve opened up to it a bit over the years. There’s still a lot that I don’t like. But every now and then I’ll find something that I like, and it’s usually because they do something different with it in some way. I don’t know how to explain it. Like Shin Chan or Panty and Stocking, the art styles aren’t your typical bug-eyed girls that you see all over. Or FLCL, which is mostly done in the “traditional” style, but the story and the characters are just fantastic. Same with Studio Ghibli stuff. And I say “traditional” in quotes because there isn’t really a regular style for anime, just like there is no regular style for other types of cartoons. But what you see most often, and what most people think of when someone says “anime,” are similar kinds of eyes, hair, bodies, etc. Sometimes it looks horrible, sometimes it looks fine. It seems like creativity as far as artwork goes in anime has been on the decline. Older shows like Astro Boy, Doraemon, and Shin Chan all had very unique, recognizable styles. So really, it depends on the quality, not whether or not it’s anime. There are still many I really want to see and just haven’t yet, and then there are others that I just think, “get this shit away from me.”

It’s Time To Stop Making Lists of Top Animated Films

Yoinked from Animated Review’s Top 100 Aniamted Movies post

Let’s be honest, animation is not a genre. It is, as Richard O’Connor calls it, a technique, and a marvelous one at that. It encompasses as wide a range of genres as live-action, so why do we keep seeing lists of top animated films and not much else?

OK, sure, we see lists of top films all the time, but lists of live-action genres seems to be much more prevalent than animated ones. Granted, there haven’t been as many animated films made over the years, but that in no way precludes people from making them.

For the record, I’m not against general top/favourite lists, it’s just that when it comes to animation, people can rattle off their favourites but when it comes to being a bit more specific, classifying films as Disney or non-Disney is about as specific as you’ll get from most folks.

A potential theory is that animated films tend to be classified as just that. You rarely see an animated film being described as a comedy or a horror, etc, etc. Yes, this is much to do with who makes them but there is no reason for an animated film to be confined to “animation” and not much more.

Let’s see more lists that get into specifics. Like a top 10 of action animated films, or a top 20 of romatic/love stories.

Animated films are squeezed into one category all to often, by both studios and the public alike. Let’s try and separate them out so that we can hopefully see them for what they really are.

Four Signs We’re Possibly in an Animation Bubble Right Now

I’ll be honest, this post was not used as an excuse to post a picture of Bubbles.

Over the past number of years, we’ve slowly seen animation come in from the cold as it were. Yes, Disney has had critical and commercial successes for years, but only within the last 10-15 has anyone else actually stood up and taken notice at just how profitable an animated film is. Not only does it rake in the dollars at the box office, they also tend to have some very long legs. Just look at the Lion King, 17 years old and still going strong.

Which leads to today’s post. With the obvious success of the technique, are we in the midst of an economic bubble in terms of animation? I mean, there is a difference between strong economic growth and unsustainable expansion. The question is are we in one or the other. Here’s 4 reasons for the latter point of view.

1. Revenues aren’t rising as fast as costs

Revenues for animated features have been rising at a relatively steady rate, but they have not risen at the same rate as costs. Naturally this is partly to do with the greater use of technology than in the past. CGI isn’t as cheap to implement as traditional animation, which could be shipped off to Asia for the real labour-intensive work. CGI on the other hand requires a very large upfront investment followed by the costs of the labour to utilise it.

Revenues are not rising at the same rate and the result is squeeze somewhere along the production line that will eventually reach a crunch point.

2. The Number of Players in the Market is Rapidly Growing

It’s elementary economics that once someone discovers a way to make money, at least one other person will attempt to emulate their success. Animation is no different. Today, there are no less than 4 large players (Disney, DreamWorks, Sony, Illumination) in the market and more are being added all the time.

When this becomes a bubble is when you see players who attempt to over-extend themselves into the market. We’re seeing this right now with various one-man bands and VFX studios that have figured they can have a go too. Of course, this is nothing new and has been happening since day dot. The difference is that the rate at which we’re seeing new entrants has substantially increased over the last couple of years. This leads us nicely to….

3. Competition is Becoming Intense

With more players in the market, this leads to increased competition in just about all aspects of the business, from artists, to technology to studio space to release windows. More competition is always welcome as it keeps everyone on their toes and ensures a more efficient use of resources. the only downside is that it also tends to weed out the smaller or inefficient guys.

Why would more competition signal a developing bubble? Well, with an increased demand and scarcer resources, costs for those resources tend to rise. Since competition is increasing at a faster rate than the market is growing, that is indicative of a bubble.

4. The Market is Limited And Changing To Boot

Right now, the market in North America is limited. The market is mature and it’s not getting bigger in the grand scheme of things. The growth markets right now are in Eastern Europe and Asia. the only problem is that those markets tend to have quite distinct cultures, and as a result, aren’t as open to Western films as the rest of the world.

Negating the fact that DreamWorks recently announced that they’re building a studio in China to capitalise on the local market, it’s clear that Western studios face a market with increased competition but not an larger space in which to grow. The result is that we’ll either see reduced revenues or studios being forced to reduce costs. Mark my words, $300 million movies are not sustainable in the long run, at least not right now.

Coupled to this, the changes in the market in general, thanks to the internet, mean that the industry as we know it may be vastly different in a few years time. The rise of streaming, the decline of traditional TV, and the new revenue streams that go along with them means that studios will have to adopt a different tune. Whether they are proactive or not in this regard will surely determine whether we’ll see the bubble burst.

Link: Hong Kong Phooey film: let sleeping dogs lie

Via: The Guardian

Stuart Heritage over at The Guardian has a blog post on the announced Hong Kong Phooey live-action movie starring Eddie Murphy as the titular hero.

It’s well worth taking the few seconds to read it (and his suggestions at the end) but here is the standout quote:

The sheen of irony and misplaced nostalgia might have buoyed its reputation in recent years, but the fact is that Hong Kong Phooey was never anything more than a footnote in the story of Hanna-Barbera.