Tuesday, April 01, 2008

CGI's Slow March Into TeeVee Land

Iron Man, the television version, will soon visit a home-viewing unit near you:

Marvel has commissioned Gallic animation concept and content creation company Method Animation to make 26 half-hour “Iron Man” shows. Marvel and Method are co-producing with U.K. animation production company Cinnamon Entertainment.

Series is currently in production and the first episode is due to be delivered in a month ...

Now, I'm not here to wring my hands and whine about how IM is being produced in Europe and Oh How Awful! What I want to focus on is that another t.v. animated CGI show is rolling down the pike, but there's still plenty of hand-drawn product ...

Like, what's interesting to me is how slow and tentative C.G.I.'s encroachment into the flat, cartoony world of animated television has actually been, when the growth of c.g. features has been rapid and downright overwhelming in the theatrical realm.

Consider: a decade ago, Sony produced the theatrical feature Starship Troopers,; shortly thereafter, Sony-Adelaide created a c.g. series of the same name, which was big-time expensive and didn't come anywhere near the success Sony Adelaide hoped for.

So Sony didn't produce it for long.

Then there was the prime time c.g.i series Father of the Pride five years back. Big things were expected for that, too, but it quickly went to DVD land and was never heard from ... on network television ... again.

The problem, as it was explained to me by studio wise men, is that c.g. was (is) hugely expensive and, on television at least, the fact that it's computer generated images prancing around on the small screen doesn't necessarily mean big ratings.

And ratings, girls and boys, is what the game is all about. Programmers and studio development execs aren't in the exercise for their general all-around jollies or health. Their eyes are always riveted on the big prize: M-O-N-E-Y. And when the hand-drawn Simpsons and Family Guy are doing big business in the home entertainment area, who needs c.g.i.?

It's only been in the last couple of years that c.g. series have finally gained traction. Nick is producing Tac. Disney TVA has Mickey's Clubhouse and My Friends Tigger and Pooh, with Inspector Oso waiting in the wings. There are other scattered examples, but you get the idea. Computer-generated cartoons have established a strong beachhead in television, but they're a long way from taking the whole country over.

(And Disney's direct-to-video feature franchise has only now sloughed off the traditional-looking sequels that made the company so much heavy coin and is making c.g.i. Tinkerbell films.)

The point is, c.g. animation has been far less robust in television because, unlike its theatrical cousin, the cost-benefit hasn't been apparent. Kids, by and large, are happier watching hand-drawn 'toons like Fairly Odd Parents and Sponge Bob Square Pants than they are Star-Ship Troopers. And unless and until the comgloms see a big benefit to creating computer-generated television product (like higher ratings or lower costs), hand-drawn product will continue to flourish on the home screen.

Addendum: It's pointed out in comments that there have been a boatload of c.g.i. television shows, and that some have been successful. Absolutely right. But the success hasn't reached critical mass (at least, not quite yet) the way it has on the feature side.


Anonymous said...

>>hand-drawn product will continue to flourish on the home screen.

Fingers crossed on both hands and toes for that one. I didn't get into animation to be a puppeteer, or to watch my art be reduced to simply freelance character and set designs for 3D video game 'directors.' ugh! fingers crossed...

Geoff Beatty said...

The economies of CG (mostly in terms of reusable visual assets) are really misleading. The upfront costs in time and money make last-minute changes to the script and the necessity of new sets and minor characters (both elements of television production) prohibitive.

I worked as a rigger and rough animator on a television pilot that was produced in CG. In retrospect, the time we spent on creating all the models and the sets and props made sense if it were a feature. However, if we were ever to produce a second episode, I think it would be clear that we should have just drawn it.

I think the only way a CG television animation is going to be successful economically is if it has a deep well of visual assets from which to give the writers and artists enough variety for their stories.

Anonymous said...

good character and story does not emerge from a pull-down menu of assets. it emerges in spite of them, and at the last minute of the most inconvenient hour, requiring the quickest turn-around to bring both to their fullest potential.

it is not the number of assets as much as it is how quickly the complex relationships that exist between them can be adapted to the evolution of character and story.

lightening in a bottle is not math. it is exactly the opposite of math. computers are good at math, but in life, we all know that 2+2= banana garden hose.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Nick seems to be going all CG, all the time. Back at the Barnyard is their #2 show in the ratings - only the Sponge is bigger. Jimmy Neutron remains a big ratings draw 5 years on. Penguins of Madagascar and Fanboy have orders, and there's several more CG pilots in the works.

Anonymous said...

...and all of those shows strike me to be as ugly and unappealing as they are unfunny.

i mean, my god. just look at the acting on those shows. its atrocious from any viewpoint. rubbery computer puppets swaying back and forth without any regard for timing, or rhythm, or aesthetic. i don't know anyone who can even sit through an episode of "Barnyard" or "Tak", let alone laugh at their attempts at humor. - and that includes the kids that i know.

Anonymous said...

You must not know any Nielsen families.

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying it either, that Barnyard show is even worse than the movie.

i guess it doesn't matter if the show isn't good, when they can get them done so inexpensive with where they are outsourced to. Then with a few episodes they can play it over and over again enough on their network so that its the most aired show and by default anyone watching your channel has to come across it sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

Nick and CN and DisneyCh. will always get ratings because you fall off a cliff into adult programming once you go past them. its no accomplishment for them to pull substantial numbers. those three channels are all thats on for kids.

i sincerely wish we could all come in here and type out accolades to the programs on all three of those channels. i would love to just heap adulation on them.
"that show is so funny"
"my kid and i were both laughing!"
"we never miss an episode!"
"that show makes my day!"
"the jokes are hilarious!"
"its so inventive!"
"it has amazing art!"

but you can't say that about ANY new shows being produced(especially at Nick). they are ugly, derivative, spineless crap - and the people that work on them are going to look back in years to come and think about how they wasted their efforts just towing that company line.

Anonymous said...

nicktoons are indeed, most recently, crap. and crap in spite of that back-slapping corporate shill of a book of the same name. a tragedy, really.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, here's the titles of a few past and present CG TV shows not mentioned in this post:

Max Steel
Dan Dare
Beast Wars: Transformers
War Planets
Voltron: The Third Dimension
Oban Star-Racers
Spider-Man - The New Animated Series
Dragon Booster
Storm Hawks
Rolie Polie Olie
The New Captain Scarlet

There's been more than a few attempts at 3D TV series over the past ten years.

Anonymous said...

Too bad they couldn't give us a 2D Iron Man series.
I just watched "The Spectacular Spider-Man" 2D animated series this past Saturday morning and it looks great. A great action adventure cartoon on Saturday morning. As the quality of action adventure wanes at Warners because of slashed budgets and squeezed production schedules, it's good to see somebody picked up the torch for this genre. There is some pretty decent pre-production artwork and story coming out of our local shops for episodic cartoons if you look hard enough.

Steve Hulett said...

I didn't meant to give the impression there's no c.g. shows ricocheting around. Obviously there are, with more on the way.

But considering that there are still a large number of traditional cartoons on television is significant, since they have more or less vanished as a genre of theatrical features.

The fact that a) c.g. shows don't automatically mean taller ratings and b) the shows are more complicated and expensive to produce are two reasons traditional animated fare still occupies air space.

Anonymous said...

Hand drawn animated productions, when done up to a certain standard, have charm and life that I have yet to see translated into a cg film or tv show.
Dazzling photorealism and effects do not always translate into more visually satisfying.
Keep 2D production value as high as possible despite the pressures from the suits to fart it out quicker, faster, cheaper no matter if it's 2D or CG. That's the challenge.

Anonymous said...

There's little reason to watch tv these days...


Dan szilagyi said...

I think that 3D has for sure come more into TV then it did over the last little while and while the shows themselves are crap hopefully someone and some studio are good enough to make it better, i dearly love 2D and for all the world i wish it was still made here and not in some crummy sweatshop in china or india but i guess it does come down to money, which is a shame because it should be about the show.
speaking for nick i'd say the only good shows to come from there recently (last 5 years?) are danny phantom and avatar the last airbender, i like fairy oddparents and spongebob too but at some point nick will have to make new shows.
I also think if 3D TV shows do happen at a bigger rate it'll most likely be done overseas anyway just like 2D, even some features for 3D already have (TMNT)

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