Is My Animated Short Worth a Penny?

There’s been a lot of buzz in recent months about services like YouTube that allow filmmakers to host and share videos. A BUSINESS 2.0 article reports that there are now a staggering 85 YouTube-esque websites that offer video sharing. Mark Mayerson had a post on his blog discussing why the advent of these sites is so exciting, and compares them to the days of vaudeville when anybody with talent had a chance to make a name for themselves.

Another nice summary of these sites comes from none other than former Disney chairman Michael Eisner, who has invested in a video sharing site called Veoh. He says in this NY TIMES article, “Anybody, now, can have their own network. There are no borders. No gatekeepers. No restrictions on creativity of any kind.” There’s just one problem with this entire scenario. There’s also no money to be made from any of these sites. Actually, let me rephrase that: there’s potentially plenty of money to be made by the people running the sites, like Eisner, but the individual content creators are going to be left out in the cold.

For example, the aforementiond BUSINESS 2.0 article suggests that if YouTube embeds ads into its user-created videos, the site would generate revenue of $15 million a year. Let’s say they announce a 50/50 revenue sharing deal with filmmakers (they still haven’t done this, but rumor is they’ll do something along these lines soon). That’s $7.5 million for filmmakers. And let’s make a conservative estimate that they’re hosting one million videos. That amounts to an average of $7.50 per filmmaker. Obviously some films will be more popular than others, but any way you do the math, even the successful filmmakers won’t be earning more than a few hundred dollars.

To offer a more concrete example of how the shared ad revenue model doesn’t work, look no further than this ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE article. The article discusses Revver.com, a video hosting site which pays filmmakers based on the number of people who click on ads attached at the end of their films. The article cites the recent live-action viral hit, “The Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment.” It says that the clip has attracted more than three million total views on Revver. From those three million views, the filmmakers have earned $20,700, or less than a penny per view.

Ironically, Revver’s founder says in the article that, “It’s proof that the model works.” I’d argue the opposite. Making a fraction of a penny every time somebody views your film is a perfect example of why the model doesn’t work, unless keeping filmmakers in perpetual poverty is part of the model’s plan, in which case, Revver should be a rousing success. AtomFilms.com, a predecessor of this current generation of video hosting/sharing sites, also operates on a similar shared ad revenue model, and every filmmaker I’ve spoken to has reported paltry earnings.

I don’t want to be all doom-and-gloom because I’m actually quite upbeat about all these developments. The fact that so many companies are jumping into the video sharing/hosting game proves that an audience exists for on-line video, and more specifically, animated films. It fascinates me to look at the page views on YouTube and see how an obscure piece of animation from decades ago can generate thousands of viewers.

The fact that a short video on Revver can draw three million viewers is pretty amazing when you think about it. Most filmmakers will likely never get such a huge audience, but even one-hundredth of that audience – 30,000 viewers – is significant. Attracting this many viewers to an independent animated short would have been impossible even a few years ago, but today, thanks to the Internet, a global audience exists for animated shorts, and filmmakers no longer need TV networks or cinemas to get their work seen. Now that the audience is in place, it’s time for filmmakers to stop giving away their films for free (or almost-free) and to start generating income from their work on-line.

Your thoughts? Email them to amid [at] animationblast [dot] com.

SUPERMAN HATES SMOKERS

Here’s a blast from the past. Matt Richardson posted this vintage TV spot on his Poptique blog:

I’m 99.9% certain it was made back in 1980 by the London based Richard Williams Studio – it certainly has his trademark stylized, super-perspective animation, and has been stuck at the back of my mind all these years. It sort of links in with the the Thief & the Cobbler redux disc that’s floating about.

Update! Eric Goldberg sent in this additional info on the Superman spot:

Layouts by Dick, animated by me, and it’s still on my reel. Anecdote: When it premiered in London, I was at a party talking to a woman about what I had done for the telly lately. I told her about the Superman spot, and was immediately castigated for it being “anti-gay”. Howzat again? She explained: ” Superman’s all big and butch, and he says, ‘Never say yes to a cigarette,’ which is like saying ‘never say yes to a fag,’ and in America, gays are called fags….” I thanked her for her insight and moved on…

Coke “Happiness Factory” by Psyop

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Last week Coke unveiled a new CG spot for its latest campaign, “The Coke Side of Life.” The commercial, “Happiness Factory” (watch it HERE), was directed by Todd Mueller and Kylie Matulick at New York City-based studio PSYOP. It’s a slick well-produced piece, but the visuals are too cluttered for my taste. While watching the commercial, my attention was constantly diverted from the primary action revolving around the bottle to the photorealistic settings and characters running around in the background. An even more questionable artistic choice, in my opinion, was the use of a photorealistic Coke bottle in a photoreal setting. It’s a definite turnoff seeing all those furball creatures slobbering over a bottle of Coke that looks exactly like the one I might pull out of a machine. Had either the bottle or the setting been more overtly stylized, the idea would have been an easier sell.

A final note: this Feed post draws a comparison between the Coke spot and the Smith & Foulkes ad for Honda called “Grrrr”. There’s a big difference between the spots, however. In the “Grrrr” spot (HERE), Smith & Foulkes offset the photoreal car engines with a spare and stylized setting that gives the entire commercial a charming airy vibe. If the “feel-good” music of the Coke commercial is any indication, they were probably after the same effect as Smith & Foulkes, but the labored visuals obscure any charm that the original concept may have had.

Cartoon Network: At Least Our Dialogue is Funny

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I don’t expect much from Cartoon Network these days. After all, this is the same “Cartoon” Network that announced a few months back that they’ve started to develop live-action programming. Their latest attention-grabbing move isn’t quite as offensive, it’s just plain dumb.

CN has unveiled a series of billboards in various US cities, including Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and New York, featuring random bits of dialogue from series like GRIM ADVENTURES OF BILLY AND MANDY, CAMP LAZLO and MY GYM PARTNER IS A MONKEY. Photos of some of the billboards can be found here, here and here. According to this article, these billboards are leading up to the unveiling of new programming on the network.

Isn’t it ironic that a network specializing in cartoons – that most visual of art forms – has chosen to promote its product by highlighting the dialogue in its cartoons? That says far more than I could ever say about the visual entertainment value – or lack of – in the shows that they currently produce.

A LOST WARNER BROS. CARTOON

Thanks to the restoration efforts of Warner Home Video, and the series of Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD sets, there are (or will be) very few pieces of Warner Bros. animation lost to history. But not every bit of “Termite Terrace” animation is safe, nor is every bit owned by the studio. When Leon Schlesinger ran the studio independently (prior to 1944), he took on several outside assignments (for example the opening titles to Paramount’s The Lady Eve) and even loaned his characters (and animators) to other studios (see our previous link to Bugs Bunny in the George Pal Puppetoon, Jasper Goes Hunting).One rare piece of animation, long unseen, is the cartoon sequence in She Married A Cop (1939). This film was a Republic Picture, and that library is today controlled by Viacom (Paramount Pictures). The film was a fairly typical Republic B picture, with two notable claims to fame: (1) It was one of Cy Feuer’s first Oscar nominated film scores – but more importantly (2), the plot revolves around a Hollywood cartoon studio. The story followed the romance of a New York City policeman (played by real life “singing cop” Phil Regan) and a female animator (actress Jean Parker, playing “Linda Fay”, producer of the Fay-Fables cartoon series for Mammoth Pictures). The fact that this is a New York based animation studio, and that a woman is portrayed as the producer/director of the cartoons, are two interesting and unusual aspects of the film.In this first clip below, we see Linda (Jean Parker) directing her animators (note she refers to a model sheet from Tashlin’s Case Of The Stuttering Pig [1936] as a “cue sheet”) and being romanced by studio suit (and suitor), played by Jerome Cowan.

All Movie.com:

This comedy is set in New York and centers upon a singing Irish cop who causes quite a sensation among two producers when he sings at the annual Policeman’s Ball. For a long time, they have been looking for a voice for their new cartoon feature, “Paddy the Pig,” and the cop is just perfect. The policeman is tickled pink at the prospect of being a star and begins telling all his friends about his good fortune (he has no idea what they plan to do with his voice). Eventually he ends up marrying one of the producers, who still hasn’t told him the truth. Suddenly the night of the big premiere finally arrives and all of the policeman’s old friends and colleagues are there. As it begins, the policeman is appalled and humiliated to see that he has been mocked and has become a laughing stock. He immediately spurns his new wife and goes back to the police force. Time passes, and fortunately, the two reunite and settle their differences.

Below is the “Paddy The Pig” animation sequence itself. I love the part where Parker turns to Regan and says in disgust, “Jim, it’s a cartoon!”. If I were a betting man, I’d say Schlesinger gave the animation assignment to the unit Cal Dalton was supervising at the time (but if anyone can definitively ID the animator involved here, we’d appreciate it). It certainly doesn’t look like the work of Tashlin, Avery, Jones or Clampett.

Eight years later, Republic dusted off the script and remade She Married A Cop as Sioux City Sue (1947), a Gene Autry B-western (with an animation sequence by Walter Lantz Productions). The western has been remastered and is available on DVD. Meanwhile, the original nitrate film elements to She Married A Cop still await restoration at the UCLA Film & Television Archive in Hollywood.

RANDOM PLUGS FOR A HOLIDAY WEEKEND

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Stop-motion animator Joel Fletcher (Nightmare Before Christmas, Dinosaur, King Kong, Land Of The Lost, X-Men: The Last Stand) has established a new website to show off his talents – which includes a great demo reel of his freelance commercial work.Animator Tom Sito has moved his blogging activites from the G7 Animation website to his own webspace, www.thomassito.com, where he will continue to note highlights in world history on a daily basis. Hey, did you know Cab Calloway recorded The St. James Infirmary Blues today back in 1931? Also check out Tom’s forthcoming book (I’ll be plugging this more extensively as we get closer to publication date): Drawing The Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart SimpsonPat, of the Silver Age Comics blog, wrote a neat overview of the COOKIE comic book series by Dan Gordon (without naming the creator). Gordon was a top golden age animator (and director of Superman and Popeye cartoons) who went on to co-create The Flintstones. Cookie is one the many bizarre comic strips Gordon dreamed up in 1940s and 50s.(Thanks to Milton Knight for the Cookie link)

ARK by Grzegorz Jonkajtys

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The ARK is a new CG animated short written and directed by Polish artist Grzegorz Jonkajtys. It is scheduled for completion by the end of 2006. The trailer – watch HERE – looks pretty dark and intense. Jonkajtys, who has one other short to his credit (MANTIS), has been working at a digital fx house in the US where he has contributed to films like HELLBOY, GOTHIKA and SIN CITY. The official ARK website has more images and details about the short.

CEREAL BOX CARTOONS

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The relationship between animated cartoons and breakfast cereal goes back to the 1930s. But it was the weekly TV cartoons shows of the 1960s that permanently cemented the connection between the two. Dan Goodsell, on his Sampler Of Things blog, has posted a bunch of rare General Mills cereal box package backs featuring Total Television’s Underdog, King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, the Go Go Gophers, Jay Ward’s Rocky & Bullwinkle, Hoppity Hooper and Hanna-Barbera’s Space Kidettes. Great fun, whether you grew up with this stuff or just seeing it for the first time.