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Aardman Tackles Batman and WB Animation’s Moribund State

Aardman Batman shorts

During last Sunday’s keynote speech at MIP Jr, Sam Register, the exec vp of creative affairs at Warner Bros. Animation, revealed that they have teamed up with Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run) to create stop motion Batman shorts.

The rest of Register’s depressing keynote is about Warner Bros. Animation’s short-sighted (but typical) brand management strategy of exclusively resuscitating old properties instead of encouraging fresh talent to develop the next generation of concepts and characters. In Register’s own words, “Currently we have nothing in the pipeline that is original. We are not taking any pitches, because we are busy. I get a lot of calls to meet or see new properties. I can’t.”

This is the video of Register’s entire speech:

(via Mayerson on Animation)

  • Jorge Garrido

    >that feel when an MBA is running the animation department

    Seriously, I’m actually studying to be an MBA in Brand Management, and from a fucking BUSINESS standpoint, there’s a lot wrong with this short sighted strategy. The lad needs to read some Harvard Business Review.

    Everything we’re being taught now in Business regarding Brand Management is about INNOVATION and NEW PROPERTIES.

    • amid

      The problem is when WBTVA has tried to do original work, they failed miserably to the point of nearly shutting down the studio a few years ago. Remember Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island? Warner Bros. Animation lacks the creative culture that can support innovation or originality. Exploiting their existing properties may be the only viable strategy that allows Register to keep his job in the face of a conglomerate that doesn’t understand art or creativity.

      • Jorge Garrido

        Agreed, Amid. It’s like what Brad Bird once said on this very site: right now they should be copying the CONDITIONS under which characters like The Looney Tunes gang were created, not the Looney Tunes themselves.

        So Coconut Fred was just an attempt to copy Spongebob, but with none of the conditions or properties of the studio that allowed Stephen Hillenburg’s ideas to get through.

        It’s like when Billy West said, you don’t get to be the next Mel Blanc by doing his voices. You do it by being creative and inventive and innovative. It’s the job of the producers and execs to facilitate that. Their strategy has to allow for it.

    • Bravo my friend. I’m also studying for an MBA and couldn’t agree more.

      Unfortunately the higher-ups/investors want to see good numbers for this quarter rather than consistent, long-term growth from new properties further down the road.

      WB is sadly lacking a real, forward thinking leader at this point in time.

      • The Gee

        Do real, “forward-thinking” leaders still exist in entertainment?
        And, if they do, do they reap the rewards of huge success?

        It seems like the ones who do really well with taking risks and “winning”
        would not only be top dogs but also copied by others who seek that success.

        I don’t begrudge the lack of new properties and milking existing properties. Heck, there is a reason why Disney bought up not on Marvel Comics but also Stan Lee’s company and the Muppet studio. That is a safe way to go and it looks cool to jump into a moving car. (hitting the ground running as opposed to building up the property organically, over as much time as is needed.)

        While I don’t begrudge them for business decisions, it does suck as creative decisions go. Because when there are new properties, they’ll be existing ones that are bought, developed for animation but the chances they are done in-studio from the ground up…are probably not good odds.

        Sometimes it seems like theatrical Features and shorts are the only places where anything close to new happens. And with features, they still may well be adaptations of something. Oh well.

  • ha! i can picture a short where he’s constantly inundated w/ new pitches everywhere he goes (starbucks/elevator/bathroom) and he just runs away screaming like pee wee herman w/ his eyes closed.

    also, is this on video? i’d love to hear how he spins the phrase “currently we have nothing in the pipeline that is original. we are not taking any pitches, because we are busy.” into sounding exciting and edgy.

    way to pump up the volume there sam.

    • amid

      Or they could just remake it as a Tex Avery cartoon, since they own those too. Imagine Register as the wolf, and Droopy as the guy trying to pitch him an original idea:

  • ha! his reaction to another original idea around 4:50 sounds like classic sam… oh well. say, how many test pilots you think even half his salary could fund?

  • snip2354

    Well, now they aren’t even trying to hide it!

  • Marc Baker

    This doesn’t surprise me. Sam Register is cut from the same cloth of big shots who want to ‘play it safe’ because no big studio wants to lose millions of dollars. Especially after investing it on something they can’t tell will be A huge success, or not. Besides, ‘Jonah Hex’, and ‘Green Lantern’ didn’t set the box office on fire, so it’s back to the Batman, and Superman comfort zone until someone can prove them wrong.

  • On the other hand, I’d like to see what Aardman comes up with. Could be a large box of awesome!

  • Marvin G

    Register is lucky to have the meal ticket of the DC Timm animation franchise. That is what subsidizes everything else. But when Seth MacFarlane’s new take on Flintstone is a hit, Register and his crew will in time be swept aside. Once WB has a solid evergreen comedy franchise on the same level as DC Timm, they will be complete in their own eyes. Register will hang on by claiming giving it all to MacFarlane was his idea. It may have been. But he is not Seth. The man has yet to release even one CD of his vocal interpretations from the Great American Songbook.

  • Full Disclosure – I am presently consulting with the team at Warner Bros. Animation on a new project in development.

    Sam Register is not “the villain” here – in fact, from my perspective I’d say he’s “the hero”. He’d love to develop new original properties for the company and if you read his incredibly candid keynote address in full, you’d see that his hands are tied. Market conditions only allow his division to be the present caretakers of the properties Warner Bros. owns the rights to. His division not only isn’t tied to a channel (as it once was, The WB), it can only peddle its wares to one outlet (Cartoon Network) and are at their whim as to what projects can be greenlit (Cartoon Network itself has its own studio busy on original creator driven series).

    From my perspective Register and his group have (like them or not) been incredibly clever in devising new ways to revive the characters Warners and DC Comics own. A funny show based on MAD MAGAZINE, a clever re-do of BATMAN (as BATMAN BRAVE AND BOLD), an modern anime take on THUNDERCATS… Personally, I love the 3D theatrical Road Runner shorts they’ve produced. Just keeping Bruce Timm employed on various DC projects is justification alone for this animation departments existence.

    The take on the new LOONEY TUNES SHOW may not be everyones cup of tea – there is no “correct way” to revive these animation icons – but it was a bold experiment that at worst is keeping the characters alive in the marketplace and at best, providing Cartoon Network with a solid hit that just might inspire them to continue programming “cartoony” animated shows.

    Aardman doing BATMAN is another great idea. Shane Glines is designing the characters. Register’s keynote may seem depressing from a certain point of view, but I’m very encouraged by the quality of work coming from his department since he took the reigns from the likes of Sander Schwartz (Coconut Fred, Loonatics Unleashed, etc.). From my biased perspective, I’m excited and encouraged about what’s to come.

    • Clint H

      I agree with Jerry. I love Aardman’s work, and I’d like to see how they tackle the Dark Knight!

    • Jumpman

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Jerry. The quote from Register on how he had to get on his hands and knees to get the upcoming CGI Green Lantern made is evidence of the higher ups at WB are so unwilling to take a chance–even if the property has an already established fanbase.

      Yes, many of the shows being produce or are about to be produce from WB come from existing properties, but they are not being slap together and thrown out the door. As your examples indicate, they are finding the right people to breathe new life into their old properties and making them fresh again. Hiring Aardman to produce clay animated shorts for DC is a marvelous idea, but what really caught my eye is Lauren Faust being hired to give her take on DC’s most famous heroines. If WB gives Faust as much creative freedom as the Hub gave her for My Little Ponies, then we’re in for a real treat.

      I’m also interested in the fact WB is making animated shows for adult cable networks other than Adult Swim. Personally, I would love to see some animated adult comedies or dramas from WB on networks like AMC or FX.

      Would I love to see more original products from WB? Of course. But right now I’m happy with what I’ve got. And like you said, Jerry. Register reign over WB animation department has been far more entertaining and profitable) than Sander Schwartz’s.

    • 2011 Senior Citizen

      Great to hear about this new project, Jerry.

  • As much as I like WB shows like the new SCOOBY-DOO cartoon, I’d rather the next generation’s SCOOBY-DOO weren’t, you know, SCOOBY-DOO.

    • Adam

      Agreed. Although after 42 years, Warner brothers assumes scooby is all played out so to speak, but that’s not true at all.

      The reason why a large amount of scooby fans don’t like the current scooby series is because they feel it’s too different from classic scooby doo. I for one disagree; I love scooby doo and I like the current show because it’s different and because Warner brothers isn’t afraid to try new things with the franchise.

      Remember, scooby doo was originally supposed to be more scary and less funny, but because CBS thought it was too frightening, they passed on it at first.

      It’s now 2011, and Warner brothers doesn’t have to worry much about cartoon network turn any scooby show down because it’s too scary. They can air the show and if it succeeds fine, and if it doesn’t, then just regroup and try again; but at least try and play up the mystery and horror elements of the show.

  • John A

    I’m going to be uncharacteristically positive here:

    A stop-motion animated Batman might not be too bad in small doses, it may even come off looking like that stop motion Jonny Quest short.(which had a lot of nostalgic charm) I just wonder if this is the best use of AArdman’s talents? Personally, I’ve been waiting for someone to do a clay animated (feature or series) version of “Groo”. It’s a cartoon style, and AArdman’s knack for comedy makes it a better fit.

    Personally, all the DC characters need to be re-imagined in CG.(face it, with all the digital effects they’re already halfway there) They can stay closer to their comic book roots without looking ridiculous,and it keeps the characters in the hands of WB animation, (specifically Timm and Dinni)where they seem to have a better grasp of the characters than the live action directors.

    • !!!!!!! Came to this thread to post that I’ve been thinking for years how great a claymation Groo would be!!!

      Great minds think alike ^__^

      • John A

        Thank you Tim, It’s been years since anyone has accused me of having a “great mind”.

  • Neil Emmett

    If anyone’s curious, the design for the Aardman Batman can be seen here:


    Hmm, think I recognise the character designer from some adverts Aardman did…

  • Negulesco

    Dini hasn’t been at WB on a daily basis for years. The geniuses who ran the place got rid of him a long time ago. He returns once in a blue moon to write things on a project-by-project basis. He works steadily on the new Spider Man cartoon today, for Marvel/Disney.

    • Jumpman

      Paul Dini left out of his own free will in order to work on other projects. I doubt Dini would have came back to WB to write shows like Batman: the Brave and the Bold if he was kicked out the door.

  • Justin

    Around 8:20 he goes

    “Looney tunes, Someones gotta do something with looney tunes. We can’t just let them die”

    Who said they were dying?

    • I, for one, feared for their death.

      For the last several years, 2008-2010, Warners fumbled the Looney Tunes cartoons. Cartoon Network weren’t running them, Warner Home Video stopped releasing the classic shorts on DVD. Merchandising was drying up. Kids weren’t being exposed to them, like we were – when they were on ABC Saturday mornings, WB Kids afternoons, TNT, Nickelodeon and on local channels.

      Thanks to the current success of THE LOONEY TUNES SHOW, new compilations of classic shorts are being prepared. New theatrical shorts are being made and promoted. The characters are alive again one way or another. This is a good thing.

  • eeteed

    i don’t think it’s going to be stop motion batman. it looks like it’s going to be cgi.

  • Michael

    Agree with Jerry. Even those, The LOONEY TUNES Show is not everyone’s cup of tea is good for the long run. Walmart is special Looney Tunes toys just because of the show. I would have preffered a show in the same vein of Mickey’s Mousworks from DTV but oh well.

  • tredlow

    Wow, Aardman making Batman? This is gonna be interesting. However, I always thought Plastic Man would be a better fit for Aardman’s style.

    • snip2354

      Aardman has other styles than just the ‘Wallace and Gromit’ one, you know.

  • Marc Baker

    I think if ‘Freakazoid’ was A bigger hit, and had they not paired up Pinky & The Brain with Elmyra, Warner Bros. comedy cartoons would last almost as long as Timm’s DCAU shows.

  • Russell H

    When I first heard about a stop-motion clay BATMAN series, I found myself imagining a Batman-Gumby crossover. I’d pay good money to see that.

  • Spencer

    The daffy short to the original Mel Blanc was frickin’ AWESOME!!!!!

  • Kev

    This is depressing. As much as I love cartoons, for them to say that no original content on the way just ruins my day. What started off as an artistic vehicle of expression simply comes down to money for them. And though I understand the business aspect in some part, you have to wonder what will happen to the creators out there, myself included, with trailblazing content that will never see the light of day. Stop motion batman gets the green light, but Sym-bionic Titan gets cancelled (I realize thats not WB, just proving a point). Original content is struggling, and they are the ones to deliver the final blow. RIP: Original content

  • Otaku-sempai

    Where do feature-film properties like ELFQUEST and BONE fall in all of this? Both of those are under development by Warners (as is Jeff Smith’s RASL, which might not be being developed for animation) and if they are green-lighted will presumably be produced through Warner Bros. Animation.

    Are these considered to be original projects?