Tuesday, December 09, 2008


... or more accurately, writes.

Back at his SynchroLux blog, Kevin Koch relates what he's been up to: working at Warner Bros. on shorts to promote AIDS awareness in Africa ...

The story of how and why these shorts were made is a long one, but the brief story is that they’re part of PEPFAR — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR is a U.S. program to promote AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in Africa, and Warner Bros. has been partnering with the U.S. State Department in some interesting ways on that front.

Part of the plan is to release a video game that promotes and encourages responsible sexual behavior, with the twist that the game is set in Kenya with Kenyan characters. But hey, how do you get people interested in playing a video game that’s pro-social? Our task was to do a Warner Bros. style short for each character, to introduce them to the Kenyan public. The shorts themselves had only two tasks — be super entertaining, and introduce the characters in an appealing way. But to keep them from looking like Public Service Announcements, the shorts weren’t burdened with anything to do with HIV/AIDS. They’re just meant to be fun cartoons!

If you're an Animation Guild member (active or inactive) and you'd like to have your blog/website appear on the TAG Blog's blogroll (the list of member blogs running on the right margin), send Jeff Massie an e-mail with the details.


Anonymous said...

Sounds great- government sponsored animation! It seems like a good way to get unemployed animators back to work. If it goes through the union, it's also potentially a good way to circumvent cronyism, ageism, and provide entry level opportunities for recent CG re-trainees.

The next time this happens, can we all get a crack at it?

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

We were lucky enough to work on these shorts with director Chris Bailey. They look great and I think everyone involved should be very proud.

Kevin Koch said...

To anon above -- since these shorts were done at Warner Bros., they were indeed done under the TAG contract. But like all "union" animation, the union has no say in who gets hired. That's up to the production company and the director.

And to Bob and Rob, I too felt lucky to work with Chris. It was a really fun and satisfying production, despite tremendous technical difficulties imposed by an insane schedule.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responding to my remarks. The reason I called attention to the government aspect of the production was the possibility that something similar will come down the pipes in the near future, especially considering the priorities of the incoming administration. My nightmare is that these projects will be gobbled up by a cadre of insiders. Are you willing to be a little more transparent about the origins and organization of this project?

Kevin Koch said...

I don't know if I can 'be transparent' about the full origins, since I wasn't privy to whatever discussions went on between Warner Bros. and the State Department. If you search the web, you'll find several press releases about Warner's involvement in PEPFAR, along with other private companies.

At some point (as I understand things) it was decided that Warner Interactive would do a video game for PEPFAR. A description of that game is in the link I posted with the shorts. Warner Digital was tasked with doing the shorts that would introduce the characters in the game. I don't know exactly how or when that happened, but I don't think any 'gobbling up' was involved.

Mainstreet Productions was the production company for the shorts. I assume they were chosen by Warner Digital. The production was set up on the WB lot, and the crew was hired the same way every animation crew is hired: budgets were set, jobs postings sent out, recruiters notified, artists interviewed. I believe Chris Bailey, the director, had primary say in what character animators and story artists, etc. were hired. I think a lot of the other positions were hired by the CG sup, Graham Clark, but again, that was all above my pay grade. Ultimately, the final say in hiring was by the producers from Mainstreet Productions (who were frankly a pleasure to work with -- cheers for Andrew and Aaron and Drew and all the rest!).

I'm not really sure what you mean by a 'cadre of insiders.' It sounds like you're imagining a 'spoils system' where government money is pocketed by greedy opportunists. I don't know what went on behind the scenes, but that sure wasn't my impression!

These shorts required an extremely high level of work be done in an extraordinarily short period of time. People were hired who could get it done. A few were fresh out of school, but most were working pros. There were times when the crew was literally working around the clock to make our deadline, and there wasn't a spare second to train people or supervise those who couldn't contribute from the first hour they sat down.

If you call a crew a 'cadre,' and label experienced professionals as 'insiders,' then I guess we were a 'cadre of insiders.' But I think you're looking for something in this production that didn't exist. Or maybe I'm just misunderstanding you.

Anonymous said...

No, I wasn't accusing anyone of anything sinister. I was just curious about the government-Warners connection, given that government animation projects are so unusual.

Well, I saw some of the work, (yes, it's excellent), and did some research on the project as you suggested. It turns out to be a huge complex AIDS prevention education project involving governments, (the executive branch), and multiple corporate partners, one of which happens to be Warner Brothers. Question asked-question answered.

Kevin Koch said...

That's cool. Glad you enjoyed them.

Steve Hulett said...

Government animated films at cartoon studios is not new.

Disney was kept afloat financially by all the government work that was done in Burbank during WWII.

The studio did hundred of training films. Had military guards at its gates because of all the classified work going on.

Anonymous said...

I don't know man. I'm not sure I'd advertise that you worked on those shorts. :(

I'm sure the budgets were low and time was constained. (It sure shows), but this is a project I'd probably leave off my resume.

Jeff Massie said...

My father spent WWII running the effects animation unit at the Army Signal Corps Photographic Center in Long Island (now known as Astoria Studios).

Guess what? Budgets were low and time was constrained. Hell, it was the Army. But he got to work with Frank Capra and John Huston.

I can't speak for Kevin, but you can bet Dad had his Army work on his resumé.

Anonymous said...

Can you elaborate on how compressed the schedules were? For instance, approx how many seconds a week were the animators trying to get out?

Honestly, the animation looks tv quality or lower. Which really surprises me, there were some good animators working on it, so I thought we'd see some nice animation. After watching all of the shorts, I was pretty disappointed.

I realize I'm not the target demographic. But the stories were -for lack of a better word- boring. I was pumped to see these shorts after I heard about them many months ago. I guess I expected too much.

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

Maybe this will help add a little perspective.

These shorts were produced to be viewed on...buses! That's right, Matatu Buses in Kenya, (it's they're the main mode of transportation). The trick was to create something visual, as these are noisy, chaotic, environments.

If we are able to get any kind of reaction/regognition from the passengers, we've done our job.

The shorts don't have complicated story-lines, or much dialog for obvious reasons. Hopefully, the viewers will be interested enough in the fun, visual style and the spirit in which they were produced, to go out and play the Video Game and in turn, learn about AIDS awareness. Cheers, Bob

Robert Cole said...

I thought these shorts came out great considering the time limit and the size of the crew. As with all animation, and entertainment in general, what is most important to the viewer is the Story, and these shorts tell their Story economically with verve, wit, and creativity. The proof is in the pudding and the photos of the kids in Kenya viewing these shorts for the first time made all the late nights, gallons of coffee, and countless numbers of tacos worthwhile!

Site Meter