4 Reasons Animated Shorts Will Soon Reign Supreme

Over at the TAG Blog (which in turn got it from Comic Book.com) Steve Hulett offers 5 very good reasons why animated shorts are apparently coming back into fashion with major studios:

1) Shorts provide a continuity of work for employees who might otherwise be laid off and move on to the competition.

2) They are added value for the features to which they’re attached.

3) They provide valuable training for up-and coming board artists, directors, and writers.

4) They help keep well-loved franchises alive and viable between the ninety-minute tent poles.

5) They can be magnets for shiny gold statues that studios covet.

I wholeheartedly agree. Shorts accomplish all of those and more! Here’s a few reasons why shorts will soon reign supreme in terms of volume.

1. Attention spans are ever dwindling

If the rise of the internet has proven anything, it’s that attention spans are getting ever shorter. Sure, people can still sit down for a full feature film, but on a day to day basis, media and entertainment is being delivered in ever smaller doses. The short is ideally positioned to take advantage of this. Taking a break to watch a quick 7-9 minute short is much easier as opposed to a half-hour TV show. Besides, small screens like phones and tablets, give shorter content an advantage when it comes to ability to watch.

2. There are cost efficiencies with shorts that even TV shows can’t match

Shorts (when done right) can quite literally be pumped out; Next Media Animation in Taiwan is proof of that. Sure, the quality is questionable, but they do take things to extremes by getting stories out literally within hours. For better quality stuff, 2-3 weeks was the standard back in the day and there’s little reason why that has changed since then. In any case, South Park has been known to cobble episodes together in under a week but then they focus much more on plot than actual animation.

On top of that, characters, scenes and layouts can be re-used ad naseum. By keeping things simpler, shorts derive most of their cost savings from not having to come up with new locations, characters, props, etc. In addition, what is created is used many more times than for a TV show and so the cost of creating something can be spread out over many more episodes, thus lowering the contribution cost to each short.

3. Bandwidth is growing, but it isn’t there just yet

The inevitability of the internet as a distribution channel means that we’ll all have to get used to loading bars, in the short term. Bandwidth will eventually expand to allow for near-instantaneous streaming/downloading for the majority of consumers, but for now, short content will stand to benefit, as it can be downloaded much quicker. Expect to see this scenario continue for a few more years to come.

4. History likes to repeat itself

When cinema first got started, it seemed fairly obvious how people would make money, but it still took a bit of time before things like the states rights markets disappeared and the studio-distributor-theatre model developed to collect and transport revenue. Where we are right now is a similar situation. Making money from content on the internet is still being worked out, with many various models being tested. It’s much easier to test one with a short than with a TV show or film. Shorts dominated the animated cinema until Snow White in 1937 and it is highly likely that shorts will dominate the internet until someone turns a real profit with a feature film.

11 More Animation Blogs That Everyone Ought to Read

Dave Levy recently posted a list of the animation websites he reads on a daily basis (and his blog should most definitely be in your bookmarks already). Seeing as he is a man of good taste, there is no need to amend his list. Indeed, you should check it out to make sure you are reading the same websites he does.

So, as an addition to those, here are 11 more that any self-respecting animation fan would readily admit to reading on a daily basis.

1. Cartoon Brew

Industry standard-bearer and the home page of anyone who is anyone in animation. Guaranteed to either raise a smile or your ire, Jerry beck and Amid Amidi offer up a continuous stream of animated goodies. From the latest TV series to the weirdest merchandise known to man, no animation website is more respected.

2. TAG Blog

The Animation Guild Local 839 is your one stop shop for all the labour news and views from the Golden Coast. Dishing out equal amounts of industry headlines and labour items of note. The TAG blog is a must for current affairs relating to working in the animation business. Sometimes trite, it is nonetheless peppered with commentary from workers and sage advice from union heads.

3. Chuck Redux

The website for all things Chuck Jones. Run by his grandson Craig Causen, Chuck Redux features everything from Oscar’s worldwide travels to the creations from the mind of the man himself. I wrote about it a while back and if you are in any doubt as to why you should read it, look no further than here.

4. John K.

The one and only John Kricfalusi. As if you needed a reason to read his blog, where he discusses techniques, characters and animation in general. Always controversial but guaranteed to advance your knowledge of this fantastic artform.

5. Mr. Fun

Floyd Norman remember Disney when it was run by Disney and then some. Every day he posts his thoughts on working then and now, sometimes throwing in a witty cartoon for good measure. Looking for insights on what it was like to work way back when? Floyd’s is the only website you need.

6. Brian Sibley

Writer and broadcaster from the UK, Brian has not one, but at least three blogs that are worthy of reading. Purveyor of tidbits that are absolutely not to be found anywhere else on the web, Brian’s blogs are a must read. Heck if Michael Sporn recommends them, you know they’re among the best to be found.

7. Deja View

Andreas Deja, famed animator with a sense of humour, recently started his blog. The guy’s one of the best animators about, so expect plenty of technique analysis from the Nine Old Men and more. What more can I say, I look forward to every post.

8. Disney History

If you’re looking for various bits and bobs from the history of Disney, look no further than Didier Ghez’s blog, self-described as:“Interesting discoveries about Disney history, vintage Disneyana, Disney artwork, the Walt’s People book series, and new books about Disney.” Do you need any more reasons to visit? I think not!

9. Joe Murray

Creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, Joe Murray has been around the circuit more than once, and he’s learned a thing or two in the process. On his blog, he offers updates on his studio, news on KaboingTV, anecdotes from the past and advice on how to make it in a fiercely competitive industry. One that should absolutely not be overlooked.

10. Nina Paley

Independent animator, free thinker and open-culture advocate, Nina Palely uses her blog to document the latest in her working life, spread thoughts on free and open culture and to advocate changes in the way the entertainment industry works.

11. Yowp

Do you even remotely like old Hanna-Barbera stuff? Good, Yowp has you covered for just about anything and everything to do with early Hanna-Barbera. From the animators to the writers to contemporary media coverage, this blog has it all.

Animators and the Law: Pay and Cost

This is the third in a series of posts that take a look at just some of the many legal aspects of the animation industry.

Pay and cost are two things in the animation (and entertainment) world that are intertwined with each other. Both have a heavy influence on a production so it is well worth having a look at the basics behind them.

Pay

I see and hear a fair amount of talk about pay. You are almost always entitled to receive remuneration for goods or services rendered to a client or customer however, it is not nearly as simple and as straight forward as you might think.

Over at the TAG Blog, pay crops up fairly often as a gripe amongst animators, mostly as a result of unpaid overtime. If you are salaried, then you are generally not entitled to overtime. If you are hourly, you are absolutely entitled to overtime, regardless of what the boss says.

A more serious issue revolves around the idea of unpaid interns. The concept of an internship is one that allows an inexperienced student to come on board and observe how things run in a studio. This is supposed to be an educationally rewarding experience that will hopefully allow the intern to acquire or learn a few skills that they can then use in their career.

The problem appears to be that some studios think that interns are essentially ‘free labour’. Numerous productions have used interns in the course of their run who were been paid either little or nothing, or at the very best, well below the industry norm.

While plenty of folks will espouse the many benefits of being an intern and the very real dose of experience they receive, relying on them as a source of labour results in some serious warping of the cost of productions.

The problem with free labour is that while the work is essentially gratis, the total cost of producing the show/film, is lower than where it ought to be. This has the effect of making productions appear more efficient than they actually are.

Economists love efficiency, however, in their minds, that means the efficiency is absolute. “Free labour” is not efficient from a cost standpoint because the economic aspect of the work is conducted but the remuneration is not. As a result, the production “withdraws” more from the national labour “man-hour bank” than it “pays back” in real dollars.

To clarify, a show that uses free labour and costs $100,000 may well have cost, say, $150,000. The missing $50,000 is essentially removed from the economy as it would otherwise be passed back to employees and spent. The $50,000 is not ‘saved’ by the studio because it never exists in real dollars having never been paid out in the first place.

If in any doubt, consult the “Should I work for free” flowchart. As humourous as it is, it does do a swell job of guiding you in the right direction.

Cost

Yet another aspect of working on a project is where you bill your time to. Hollywood is notorious for shuffling money and time around to suit the bottom line, and I’m sure many smaller studios do too.

Why is this a problem? Again, it masks the real cost of a production and leads to misleading perspectives. Let’s put it this way, as a private sector employee working on public sector projects, I am absolutely forbidden, no way no how, to bill time on a project to anything other than that project, regardless of how over budget it is. Why? Because the government wants (and needs) to know exactly how much a project costs, regardless of whether it is more expensive than it needs to be.

That’s not to say they won’t be upset if something overruns the estimate, but they will be very upset if we tried to sweep it under the rug as something else. And mark my words, they will crucify us if we ever do.

My point? Production costs should be fully accounted for. If they go over, at least the proof will be in the numbers and can provide evidence of how to properly estimate future costs for a similar production. The result will be more efficient productions that incur less hiccups.

Tomorrow’s post takes a look at Mickey Mouse and the effect he has had on copyright laws in the US.