Friday, July 31, 2009

Somebody else is on the visual harmony train...

David O' Reilly (whose stuff I just wrote about earlier this week) has an article on the Illustrative-berlin blog. In his article he expounds on his thoughts on the vital necessity of creating an animated world that is cohesive- that obeys its own rules where every element fits together into what he calls "aesthetic harmony". An excerpt...
My central belief is that the key to aesthetics is coherence. In 3d we essentially create artificial models of worlds, I contend that what makes these worlds believable is simply how coherent they are; how all the elements tie together under a set of rules which govern them consistently. This coherence spreads to all areas of a film; dialogue, design, sound, music, movement etc. Together they create a feedback-loop which reaffirms that what we are looking at is true. The human eye wants this aesthetic harmony.

It felt like I was reading my own thoughts played back to me. Earlier this year I wrote about the necessity of Visual Harmony, and how this visual harmony is the primary (sole?) determinant of the audience's perception of 'quality' in animated works. Here's what I had to say back then...
Basically, visuals and motion and shapes and forms all desire to be in harmony. When they are not then a discernable (if not defineable) dischord occurs. ....

Once you ramp up one area of the visuals into a higher order of complexity (say, lighting or texturing) then all other areas need to rise accordingly to maintain that harmony. ...

Drop the level of complexity in any area and you create a sort of "off-key" feel to the animated film. General audiences understand this. When the visual harmony is well done they immediately perceive the animated film as having 'quality'.... There is such a thing as animation that lacks complexity or realism or literalism but yet still has a high degree of quality, simply because all the pieces 'fit'. So complexity or literalism is not the equivalent of quality- visual harmony is.

It's very rewarding to see somebody else "getting it". Read O'Relly's article. You'll find quite a bit of neat stuff in there.

A very quick Otto test animation

I whipped together this quick junky little test today between meetings, tasks and errands....

For some reason YouTube cut off the last second or so. I'll need to re-upload it. Meanwhile here's a larger Quicktime version you can right click and Save As if you want to frame through it.

I do apologize that it's so short. Like I said, it's just a test- there's no story or really any character here. The goal was to just try and see how far I could push the smearing, do some Tex Avery eye popping, try out some different background styles and work out ideas on how I can use simple motion graphics to plus the emotional element in a subtle way. Scrap paper stuff, really.

The actual animation took me maybe an hour or so, the backgrounds took longer because I tried like, oh, I dunno-- 43 different varieties of styles? I probably spent 3 hours on the motion graphics stuff alone, much of that was just learning how to use After Effects' particle systems again and then trying a hundred different combinations to see what I liked. It's been years since I've touched that stuff. The audio editing was pretty quick, a half hour or less. Anyhow, just thought I'd post it in case anybody was interested. There'll be more to come, hopefully with more of a story & character to it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The online video biz...

Just read this insightful post over on the TAG blog (TAG stands for The Animation Guild- which is the California union for animation artists).
In the post we read some thoughts from Jay Roth, the leader of the Director's Guild of America (the union that reps all the big film directors in Hollywood). He has some really interesting things to say about the business of content and the online trends. Some excerpts interspersed with my comments...

The DGA wasn't convinced, based on its research, that there were big profits coming from the internet. At the time of our study ('05-'06) most thought that the iTunes model was going to dominate. But since '05, Hulu has decimated iTunes. People are downloading 1/4 the content from iTunes that they were purchasing four years ago. Most individuals would rather watch content for free on Hulu than buy it on iTunes ...

I found this bit of data to be fascinating. When it comes to movies or video, iTunes has become basically irrelevant. It still dominates the online delivery of music in many ways, but for films? Pfft. Big media companies actually like this development. Why? Because they own Hulu and they always chaffed at the dominance that Apple held over iTunes. Roth again...
74% of the revenue earned from theatrical features comes after the features end their run in theaters. 50% of the money from television product happens after the initial plays on t.v.

This is another piece of data that I'd always suspected was true, but never had numbers for. Think about that 74% number for films. If you've ever wondered why studios keep making seemingly failed animated films after such disasters as Valiant, Space Chimps, etc. now you know why. If you spend $20million to make a low budget animated film and it pulls only $11million in theaters, it still a long term money maker because that $11million only represents 26% of the ultimate money the film will make. DVD, overseas markets, TV showings and other licensing deals make up that big 74% number. So that $20million 'flop' that only pulled in $11mil in theaters may have made upwards of $40million when it's all said and done a few years down the road. Really, really interesting info. Roth continues...

More television is being watched today than ever before, and it's being watched on televisions and computers. Yet even now, two weeks of viewing on Hulu equals one hour of viewing on network television of American Idol.

One hour of a single show on just one network has more viewer hours than a full week of an entire online channel, Hulu. Extrapolate those numbers across all channels, nations, networks and online sites and you'll see that the internet is still far behind TV when it comes to pulling concentrated audiences. This explains the cost structures of TV ads versus online ads. If you want to make a big splash (ie: recoup your significant investment costs for making professional content) then film and TV are still the ways to go. But the gatekeepers aren't out of the woods. Here's what Roth thinks will be the mortal wound to content creators...

Finally, the biggest issue out there as I see it is internet piracy. This is the biggest threat to the industry, Legal recourse is costly, time-consuming and ineffecitve, but if means aren't found to counter piracy, where content can be stolen with the push of a button, then it will mean economic meltdown for out industry, for digital theft destroys downstream markets (where most of the money is now made.) There are companies like Google who have an interest in keeping free access the way it is, but it threatens creators' rights and creators' product. We'll need to balance internet rights with on-line protections. This will have to be done legislatively, administratively, and through public opinion ...

Roth is absolutely on the money. This is one reason I think that online video as it currently is structured (YouTube, etc.) is unsustainable. The only question is when the tipping point comes. Professional content is the food that feeds the beast of free online video
, but if piracy and free content continues on its logical path into the future then free online video will mindlessly cut off its own food supply. The blood and guts of YouTube- the real revenue generating videos- are professional content clips. Even so, five years after YouTube started that's still not a profitable business model (YouTube has never made a single penny of profit- ever). Add in piracy and eventually you suck all the oxygen out of the system. Information is free, but delivering it to a lot of people at once costs money. It's been this way since scribes wrote out papyrus scrolls. Scribes gotta eat. If everybody demands professional content for free, then making professional content, with decent production values and professional level execution in every area, becomes practically impossible. Yes, the technology for making professional level content is cheaper than ever. Doesn't mean much, really. Pens & paper have been low cost for centuries and by now we've clearly learned that low cost inputs are no guarantee of worthwhile outputs. The low cost of inputs merely means the barriers are lowered to allow the occasional diamond in the rough to emerge, but by and large your trained, skilled professionals who have a lifetime career invested in mastering their craft are going to make the best stuff. Even the odd diamond like Nina Paley's film Sita Sings the Blues is what it is due to her career where she worked as a paid professional on bigger budget projects. For all the hype and hope of a new paradigm of production and distribution, Sita is the work of a professional animation artist, whose career and skill development was subsidized by "old media". It's not the random result of a thousand monkeys with Flash. Professional level content is the stuff that people actually want to steal or watch for free. It's just reality. What happens when the world of content is reduced to a giant collection of videos of people lighting their farts on fire or lipsyncing into a webcam? What will the world think of the free film and video utopia then?

The old adage still applies-- you get what you pay for.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Minimalism win, complexity fail

Saw this on the Drawn blog today.

There's something valuable here. Let it sink in.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

David O Reilly, U2 video and other stuff...

It's been blogged a bit by others around the internets, but this recent U2 video from David O Reilly (he of Please Say Something fame) is a really interesting bit of work.

U2 - I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight from David OReilly on Vimeo.

I think the partnership with designer Jon Klassen really helped bring O Reilly's style back into orbit around earth. It's a pretty cool collaboration and a fine win for O Reilly, whose work can be a bit tough on the eyes at times (not ugly so much as purposefully forceful). I like the softer result in the U2 video. The first time I saw his first episode of Please, Say Something I thought to myself -this is very different, but pretty cool. I like how he's exploring using CG in ways that are unapologetically CG. The orthographic style is an old illustration stand by, but it comes off well in notion. In the U2 video there's a neat sense of graphic layering with the semi-transparent squares floating over the imagery. Ever since being blown away by the The Secret of Kells clips I've been intrigued by the use of motion graphics in animation to add layers of emotional and narrative texture without necessarily trying to be "on the nose" about it. I don't know why it resonates with me, but I like how motion graphics are subtly being pulled into these narratives to add a little something more.

O Reilly's an interesting case study in the power of a good idea, lots of work (he's constantly making new stuff), successful self promotion and strategic partnerships. His story can be anybody's story, really.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I learned from Tom Sito's wonderful blog on animation and history that today is Marvin the Martian's birthday. Here's the cartoon that introduced him to the world...

Man, this thing is just filled to the gills with great stuff. The stuff of Bugs going bonkers during and after the launch/landing is just gut busting funny. I mean, really. I've seen this cartoon dozens of times and I still laugh at that. The late 40's were an absolutely amazing time for cartoons. Imagine being a kid back then, going to the theater every Saturday morning to catch the latest WB short. They just don't make stuff like this anymore. We don't even think like this anymore.

Monday, July 20, 2009

spots available for a new APT class in August 2009

OK, with my short break behind me, I'm back.

I will be having another Animation Personal Trainer session from August 10th to September 11th of 2009. The good news is that I have some spots available for the class. So if you've been interested in taking the APT class and having a highly personalized animation training experience, email me and I'll let you know how to register. I don't do reel reviews or anything like that- I'm comfortable teaching anybody on how to improve their animation where ever they're at in the journey. It doesn't matter whether you are brand new to animation or have feature film credits under your belt.

For some previous APT success stories be sure to check out these posts.
Gary Macarevich
Anthony Bennett
Sunny Kharbanda
Anand Kumar

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

In & Out...

I'm going to be in and out of contact this week for a variety of reasons. So if anybody emails me and I'm not able to get right back to you, don't take it personally. In rather short order I'll get back to business, but for now other cool non-animation things are where I'll be focusing for a little bit this week.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Friend of the blog, Irish animator Ben Harper, recently put his 3rd year animation studies short film online.

Blip from Sean Mullen on Vimeo.
Two aliens try to take over the same planet.

Ben & Sean did a really great job of making simple things work. They didn't get bogged down in a lot of minutae, but instead focused on clean design, a fun animation style and crystal clear storytelling. I love simple things done really well and this little short just oozes a kind of whimsy that I like to see. Ben recently graduated from the Irish School of Animation. He's still working on finalizing his graduation thesis film titled "Mischief", an interesting little 2d effort. He's also quite active in trying to further develop the Irish animation scene with his involvement in a local animator's networking event called the Pegbar. You Irish animator types oughta check it out. My wife and I had the pleasure of enjoying a nice dinner with Ben on a blisteringly cold night when we were in Dublin this past January. We ate a Polish restaurant, ordering from menus we could not read. Overall a dandy time!

One more bit of Irish housekeeping here on the blog of Lango... Brown Bag Films has recently put up their own studio blog and it's a dandy little number. Check it out!