Friday, August 31, 2007

Links of Animation

India has rolled out its most expensive animated film ever. Its title?

Since ants are called ‘cheenti’ in Hindi, we decided to title the film Cheenti Cheenti Bang Bang. The film is based on a Bengali novel Lal Kalo though a lot of changes have been effected. We have also dramatised some portions for filming purposes. It is a story of two kingdoms of ants (red and black) who are at loggerheads with each other. However, it is not a battle story. There is a romantic twist too, as the Prince and Princess of the warring kingdoms fall in love. The film in fact works on the premise that war never pays. It endeavours to drive home the point that unity and peace are the driving factor’s for a nation’s health.

The Southpark guys Trey Parker and Matt Stone have just nailed down a lucrative new contract that could have ramifications for other animation creators (Seth? You listening?):

Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker and their bosses at Comedy Central, a unit of Viacom’s MTV Networks, are attempting to leapfrog to the vanguard of Hollywood’s transition into Web. In a joint venture that involves millions in up-front cash and a 50-50 split of ad revenues, the network and the two creative partners have agreed to create a hub to spread “South Park”-related material across the Net, mobile platforms, and video games.

The deal, signed Friday, begins with a three-year extension of the show and its creators’ contracts through a 15th season, in the year 2011, and gives Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker sizable raises, both in their salaries and in their guaranteed advances against back-end profits from DVDs, merchandising, syndication and international sales.

It also creates an entity called, to be housed in the show’s animation studio in Culver City, Calif., that is intended to be an incubator not only for new applications for characters the likes of Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny, but for new comedy concepts that could one day mature into TV series of their own.

I've long had a fondness for the Disney features of yore, where the studio employed lots of radio actors for its voice work (think Hans Conreid as Captain Hook). Today, of course, we're in the expanding age of celebrity voices:

Celebrity casting -- which impacts not only the feature film business, but also TV shows, videogames, direct-to-video productions and even some webisodic series --frustrates everyday voice actors, who believe it not only has dampened their opportunities, but also often has a detrimental effect on the productions themselves. "[Celebrity casting is about] publicity, rather than a fantastic voice," says M J Lallo, a voiceover actor, director, producer and teacher, with a studio and voiceover school in Los Angeles. "You see [the production] and you say, 'that's not an interesting voice, it's just so-and-so's voice.'"

Michael Hack, a voice and casting director whose credits include Blood+, Astro Boy, and the direct-to-video production Bratz: Camp Starshine, acknowledges that celebrity casting probably brings in viewers and dollars to feature films, but he believes the marketing value is less in television, where most viewers are kids who don't care who is doing the voice. Still, celebrities often voice television characters these days; some are naturals, while others are mostly involved for their marquee value.

"I've worked with celebrity actors who are not trained as voice actors and they're terrific," Hack says. "With others, there's a struggle, even if they're great actors, because it's such a specific skill. I might give them a note about showing more anger in a line, and they do something with their face and read it the same way."

Oops. Apparently the Black Entertainment was just making a funny, and not trying to be racially offensive:

Black Entertainment Television’s new animation division seems to have stepped right into a pitfall of self-parody: a short cartoon video it introduced on July 20, “Read a Book,” seems to flaunt every negative stereotype in the African-American community.

In a gloss on the hip-hop videos frequently shown on BET, an animated rapper named D’Mite comes on with what looks like a public service message about the benefits of reading, but devolves into a foul-mouthed song accompanied by images of black men shooting guns loaded with books and gyrating black women with the word “book” written on the back of their low-slung pants. The uncensored cut is making the rounds on YouTube, while a cleaner version was shown on BET.

The cartoon, which represents an effort by the network to broaden its programming, was the subject of an article on Friday in The Los Angeles Times, which noted that the network has been “long criticized for showing gangsta rap videos and those with scantily clad female dancers.”

(The L.A. Times article here...)

Frank Gladstone, late of DreamWorks, Starz Media, Disney, Warner Feature Animation and several other points on the animation compass, has taken a position with Imagi:

Imagi International Holdings Limited (“Imagi” / the “Group”) (Stock Code: 585) today announced the appointment of Frank Gladstone to provide advanced training for Imagi’s 400+ artists and animators. Under this mandate, Gladstone will teach university-level courses in film history, cinematography, storytelling and visual language. The classes will be offered on a quarterly basis, according to Imagi Deputy Chairman, Co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer, Francis Kao.

“Gladstone’s appointment is part of Imagi’s commitment to its animation staff to provide job-enriching training that goes beyond their day-to-day roles in modeling, lighting, compositing, etc.,” said Kao. “Frank’s lecture series provides wonderful insights into the thoughts of the directors, designers and writers who create great animated entertainment.”

Early television (of which I was an enthusiastic viewer) had a cavalcade of animated product: Felix the Cat, Farmer Alfalfa, Popeye, and Bugs Bunny, on mornings and weekends. The list was extensive and the cartoons endless.

But decades have passed, and new characters have supplanted old, which is kind of a problem. Because kids no longer have much of an inkling who these old cats, woodpeckers and sailors are:

How do you market cartoon characters to children when they don't know who those characters are? That's the problem big studios are facing when it comes to Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker. They've tried and failed to introduce these funny-talking drawings to a new generation of children. And now that it's finally becoming clear that kids would rather watch SpongeBob Squarepants than Popeye the Sailor, the studios have to do the unthinkable: market classic cartoons to adults.

This year alone has brought a flood of DVD releases and other products that basically present cartoon characters as classic movie icons for adults, like Humphrey Bogart or some other dead star. Recently released were a mammoth Popeye collection (from Warner Brothers, which aquired the rights to these cartoons a few years ago) and a 75-cartoon collection from Universal focusing on Woody Woodpecker as well as lesser-known cartoon stars like Chilly Willy, who's mostly remembered for being mentioned one time on The Simpsons. These collections include things only grown-ups would be interested in, such as verbose audio commentaries; they also restore scenes that are usually banned from kids' TV for offensive content.

Guilty of plagiarism? Don't think so. But Paul Lumley of Oxford reminds us that Homer Simpson was not the first comedian to voice the words "D'oh."

'D'oh' was first uttered by the actor James Finlayson on many occasions in the Laurel and Hardy series.

Lastly, TAG Prez emeritus Tom Sito interviews animation veteran -- and one of the leaders of the '41 Disney strike -- Bill Littlejohn:

TS:During the Walt Disney strike in 1941, you were union president and you flew your plane, doing victory rolls over the picketing cartoonists.

BL: You can't do a victory roll over a populated area without getting in trouble with the Civil Aeronautics Board. I wiggled my wings and the picketers below on Buena Vista would wiggle their signs back at me. I was flying a Luscombe Phantom two-seater.

Have a splendid weekend.


Anonymous said...

"How do you market cartoon characters to children when they don't know who those characters are? That's the problem big studios are facing when it comes to Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker."

Wow... I guess all of the so-called 'Development Executives' will just have to find some NEW characters to slap on TV...
The only problem is that most Development Execs wouldn't know a good cartoon if it kissed them on the face.
Which is why all of their "shorts programs" produce a lot of garbage and all of their pilots are so unremarkable.

Kurt Schmidt said...

I disagree. My daughter will watch ANY cartoon and as long as it's funny she will stay engaged. Abet its mainly Anime she enjoys nowadays. We took her to DisneyWorld probably would have been more excited at NarutoWorld...

DreamWorld Studios

Anonymous said...

I hope this link to "Video Production Tips" might be of some interest to your readers.

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