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Author Topic: The Animation Curse
Don Bluth Productions
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I remember reading a quote from Walt Disney which stated that he never created animation exclusively for children. Certainly, the subject matter of Snow White with its Wicked Witch, and Bambi with the death of the mother deer, and Pinocchio, with its coming-of-age themes, were all aimed at mature audiences. So the question that has always puzzled me is: How did traditional animation come to be viewed by almost every American household as children's entertainment?

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Charles
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A great topic.

It's 30 years since 1979 when Don Bluth began the revolution that heralded the 2nd Golden Age. This was a very inspiring event in my life that greatly influenced me as an up and coming artist and greatly influenced the art and industry as well. To host Don Bluth Productions on the AN Forums has been a great personal honor. I'd trade 1000 animation critics for just one Don Bluth anyday anytime, and they'd better have half his talent or no deal.

Now that I've got that sentiment expressed, I'm very interested in reading what our members have to say on the subject of this topic.

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bigshot
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Walt Disney said that if you aim your stories at the mothers, the whole family will follow. Mothers are the gatekeepers who decide which movies are appropriate for kids to see. Ultimately, it was Walt himself who both built up and shackled the art of animation. He aimed at the "family market" and was so successful, he turned the public perception of a medium founded by Winsor McCay with Gertie and Lusitania into a dumbed down genre of kids' fairy tales and talking dogs.

Why is it that animation and live action filmmaking are pretty much the same age, but live action filmmaking has so much wider a range of stories, characters and topics? The answer is that by the 1970s, animators themselves had begun to believe the lie that animation was a children's genre, not a medium and that "Disney's way" was the only way. Animation was rehashing old formulas in a routine manner instead of struggling and experimenting to break new ground. Because of that, the medium was crumbling and turning to dust all around them.

The exception to that was Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi didn't want to go back to the "golden age". He wanted to build something entirely new for the medium. He talks about why he broke from tradition to create a whole new world for animation
here.

We're at a similar point now. There are dozens of movies that look like every other movie. It's important to learn from the past, but our messages and stories have to be relevant to people today. We need to say something worthwhile with the medium. Why go to all that work just to make another talking dog or princess movie?

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Charles
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Indeed, Ralph Bakshi ruled the animation scene in the dark ages of the 1970s and gave it light. I remember seeing Fritz the Cat for the first time and was really taken back by the high quality of the animaton and the feel of the production itself, plus the break in theme from what audiences were expecting from animation at the time.

Along the lines of Disney's the mother deciding factor that bigshot mentions, a film that I feel was extraordinary for embracing that aspect of it and pushing the dark thrilling side was 'Secret of Nimh'.

In Don Bluth's 1982 masterpiece, the lead character is a cute little mouse, a single mom struggling to keep her child alive as her family is being threatened by forces way beyond her control. In that regard it was groundbreaking, and when you consider the quality of the animation, the character designs, the consistently sublime backgrounds, the music and many other aspects, you can really see how Don was pushing the envelope in his own way, continuing the mother centric Disney target but really breaking ground when it came to the intensity and interest of the scenes.

Also, considering today's standards of production and how easy it is for digital techniques to embellish a film, Secret Of Nimh was exquisite in its effects which had to have been done traditionally as digital production for 2D at this level was still years away.

Here's part of The Secret of Nimh, the sequence that features the Great Owl voiced by John Carradine.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jzraioowel4

The dark threats to Mrs. Brisby continue in the following part:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gPVTCPfYk8

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toonedbob
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I blame the press, mainly. In recent years there have been adult themed animated features including Peresopolis, Waltz With Bashir and Triplets of Bellville, all receiving Oscar noms and other accolades. Not to mention Sita Sings the Blues winning major awards. Yet most people don't know oft heir existence. Japanese animated features are pretty much ignored by us as well, maybe they should all become video games on Wii.

It's easy for the mainstream media to wrap everything animated into one category and praise the stuff that doesn't make adults go insane for the sake of the kids.

Thus marketing folks and distributors seem to believe that audiences only want "kiddie" fare for their animated menu, but ignore the huge successes that South Park, The Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead and most importantly Fritz the Cat were.

Personally I am inspired by Bakshi, Terry Gilliam and Bill Plymton. The film I'm working on now reflects that.

Hopefully with the continued recognition of films like the above mentioned and the production costs becoming attainable for independent artists, maybe we will see more diversity in the animated films that come out in the next few years.

Hopefully there will be distributors brave enough to give them a chance - heck if they can get behind another Scary Movie sequel, maybe they can try something animated for the same audience, or instead of a foreign live action film they put in art houses, maybe they'll try the latest animation from Japan, Europe or even here for the same audience.
Trick is showing them a model that works - which is part of my task at hand.

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JDC
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siskavard
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The average person doesn't think of animation... period.

It is our lives and our passion, and as such it's impossible for us to imagine how anyone could not understand using animation for means other than children's entertainment.

It is ingrained into the American psyche so much that even if you find the average Joe who 'likes Bugs Bunny' you will see him having a hard time sitting through 'Persepolis' despite the fact that if 'Persepolis' was live action, average Joe could probably sit through it a lot more comfortably.

It's just the way it is & I see a lost fight for those of us trying to get people to see things a different way. Think about it, would we really want adult-oriented animation becoming very mainstream? Every animated feature would resemble a Micheal Bay flick. That is not a world I want to live in.

So what am I saying? I would rather let animation be untainted by popularity. It's popular enough. Let's not push it over into a place where it could skyrocket out of control. There are so many independent and foreign (or independent foriegn!) animated shorts and features that are amazing and that get praised everywhere else except for in the US. Who cares?

Enjoy them!

(forgive me it's late, I'm ranting.)

-corey

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SNAKEBITE
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Come on, its all about the merchandise. you can sell more toys and merch with kid related projects than anything. its easier to make a kid go crack crazy
over super delux happy meal with A.D.D. inside and Go Go RObot Action Dudes with the **** you grip and make a bundle load, than trying to market to adults trying to please these kids anyways. ya know?

the press sucks with just about anything worth wild. So lets just realize that now and never be surprised again.lol, its the friggen bottom line, Mr Bluth. you know that I'm sure.

When did it happen? I dunno. Is that how it started?? Maybe not, but thats how come it stayed.
Capitalism is a bitch when it comes to expanding or creativity.

But! now we have grown ass men playing with toys so maybe we'll start making more mature....subject...mat..ter...never mind,lol.

but all kidding aside,
Even the cigarette companies use cute ads, not for the adults, but to program the kids and get em while they're young. Chances are they will become a customer for life if you get em while they are young.

I don't think that's a secret...is it?

The money is where the kids are. even most of the live action block busters are geared towards kids in some regard.

I'm not saying the best movies are block busters, its just the model thats successful for profits and merchandise sales....again, nothing new to you.

Then, because of those decisions, I think animation has a stigma. Look at our current economic state. Its bad, but its worse because peoples perception of whats going on and it influences their decisions.

I think animation is the same way. People have this idea of what animation is...ever ask a major star to read for animation and they end up sounding like a total ass...I'm sure you have. they get this cute, over dramatic voice..??? whats up with that?
perception.


But heres the cool part. more people are aware of that stigma and they want to show that animation is not just for children. That we don't have to talk down to people, we can talk them up. Theres more people who think like you, Mr Bluth. The newer generations, there are people who know their history and know they can build a better future.

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acme
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I have read in some books on the history of animation where they site in part the invention of Saturday morning cartoons. A lot of studios then focused on children as their primary market.
They also realized children did not care if the quality was 24fps or limited animation. Obviously the latter primarily being used because of cost. I was not around at the time to know what the feeling was, but if true I imagine this did not help.

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Mr. Fun
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We won’t see any changes in our lifetime. Especially since practically all product (whatever that product happens to be) is controlled and managed by marketing.

Believe me, I know. I happen to be at a facility where Marketing Rules. But, hey. That’s life in 2009. For all the talk about the art -- let’s not kid ourselves. It’s all about the money. Businessmen tell me so every day.

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Greg B
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Wow! The Don Bluth posting at Animation Nation! We really rate now!

Anyhow, back to the question. Animation has been associated with children because of marketing and conditioning. Decades of Saturday mornings focused at babysitting the kids from the old movie serial days to Saturday morning tv and then on top of all that early morning cartoons to get the kids giggling and then late afternoon toons to babysit them again fostered the notion of kids only for toons.

In Japan and China I was fortunate enough to read and watch their toons way back in the early 60's. Their stories were Shakespearean to say the least. You would have death in every toon. Adults loved toons as well and I recall as a kid having my parents, older cousins and friends surrounding the tv set watching toons with me.

So toons are part of our history, culture, and more but not so from around the world I'd say.

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Paburrows
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Well its like anything, even live action has a hard time selling anything thats out of the ordinary. I think that besides having the best product possible its as Charles always says we can't just be artists we have to all become salesmen. We have to look at whats popular and whats selling and then figure out a way to conect our product to whats popular without dumbing it down. Sure we can wait until another visionary like Disney or Bluth come along or we can figure out how to grab Joe & Jane everybody and get them to come to us and to sell them on our vision. Bluth & Bakshi were both grassroots, they had a vision and pushed forward and got out there and sold themselves. Sure they didn't get everyone (I personally don't like Bakshi) but they did bring in an audience and from that others got inspired and decided to do the same. Think of how many Disney inspired by his dream, and he started on a shoestring. Its all about having vision and selling yourself. That is the only way that the animation is for kids idea is going toturn around.

Having said that I don't really mind the talking animals and the action figure/Happy Meal sales. Animation is a great medium for kids, they relate to the colors & shapes. But that doesn't mean that it has to be made poorly. I think that kid animation has its place, but also that animation has so many unexplored paths that independant artists can explore.

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Graphiteman
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Because much of animated features (and golden age shorts) while not made just for children are not not (that is intended to be a double negative, readers) made for children but for a general audience. And as Disney the man said himself they were made for the children inside ourselves. So it's easy the films to slip of the precipice of general audience and be ghettoized in the kids section of the video store. It's easy for adult viewers after enjoying the film to rationalize that they had a good time but it was mainly for the kids they went.
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Graphiteman
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So there's no grey area when it comes to doing mature films. Unfortunately, they need to have nothing for children whatsoever to be taken seriously.

Always happy to give Don Bluth input. [Wink]

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bigshot
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I don't believe that animated features were targeted at general audiences. They were aimed at *family* audiences... parents with kids. Disney himself is largely responsible for establishing animation as a children's genre. I don't want to meet the "mature adult" that "Funny Little Bunnies", "Merbabies", and "Elmer Elephant" were aimed at. That would be a pretty odd adult!

Disney's features were largely taken from fairy tales and children's books. The dark elements of Pinocchio and Snow White are toned down enormously from the original stories. These films aren't mature at all. They've been imitated and watered down even more over the past half century. Any shred of honesty that was in them originally has been replaced with imitation, truisms and platitudes.

Look at live action... Where is the Double Indemnity or Postman Always Rings Twice of animation? How about Dracula or Frankenstein? West Side Story? High Noon? All Quiet on the Western Front? We're only beginning to see films like Waltz With Bashir and Persepolis, but imagine how much better those films would be if they were made by *animators* not just technical filmmakers or comic book artists who happen to be making an animated film.

Animation is seen as a children's genre because animators themselves see it as that. It's our fault. We need less people worrying about what sells and more artists taking chances to make films that actually mean something.To hell with "the business". The business is the problem. Artists are the ones that can solve it.

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tstevens
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I think Bigshot makes a lot of really good points, as do many of the above posters. However, a lot of this comes to back to having creators who have vision, storytelling ability, and enough busines acumen to know how to get it made. You generally tend to find a lot of people who have two of those elements but it is extremely rare to find someone who has all three. If most artists were good at business you wouldn't see so many being taken advantage of and you would also see more "artist" driven content.

As for adult content, you have to consider that there has been quite a bit of adult oriented TV animation with the Fox line-up, MTV back in the nineties, and even late night Cartoon Network. Films like Persepolis or Sita Sings the Blues may be rare but there are more coming. Adam Elliot has Mary and Max coming out soon and I beleive Shane Ackers 9 is on the way as well.

I'm going to go out on a limb and use Nina Paley as an example. I've read quite a few interviews with her and read some of her postings on other websites. My general impression is that she seems to have a very hard time with business. I would suspect that interested studios found her hard to deal with. If you can't sell a movie that is finished from beginning to end, and has critical acclaim, then something might be askew.

So in the end I think that the lack of buiness savvy has as much to do with things as everything else.

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Mr. Fun
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I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen my fair share of brilliant film projects that never made it off the ground because the business types had no idea how to market the thing.

And, if they can’t sell it -- they’re not interested. Again, we love the medium -- but, they want to make money.

Hey, the old Hollywood moguls were bastards, but they loved movies. They lived for the business. Corporations make movies today -- and you know what corporations love.

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Greg B
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Mr. Fun, you keep talking about the "Business Types" and it gets disturbing because it does take money to finance these animated projects. If the animators aren't forking over their fat paychecks to finance something then they're going to have to take a backseat the them that does.

An investor wants to see two things, a return on their investment and an opportunity to expand on their investment strategies. If they invest with a heartfelt gung ho attitude for the heart and soul and meaning of a project and won't get to whining and throwing a fit if that project doesn't make money then fine but it's got to be laid out up front.

There's presenting a commercial product, a commercial product with a message, or a message that turns into a viable commercial product.

Some people are interested in sending a message and dang the ROI, some are only concerned with the ROI.

Makes a fella wonder if that would be a pre-requisite to financing a project that the investors are or aren't gonna throw a fit iffin' it don't make a ton of money but furthers the art form. I'd bet 80% of investors would walk away. Them that don't would be at least standing on levels of personal and group responsibility that at a minimum are going to lead to some good lookin' stuff.

Remember that flick a few years back called "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"? One of the prettiest, good lookin' movies to come along in 50 years but didn't become a smash hit? Tons of detail poured into the 'artistry' and the 'look' and then it lacked the punch? Artists with no one looking over their shoulder on a commercial product returns just that, artists with no one looking over their shoulder ona commercial product. That there is a 50/50 gamble. You'll either get something so awesome as to boggle the mind or you'll end up with somethin' so pretty no one can figure out what to do with it.

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SNAKEBITE
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I see where Mr Fun is coming from, but I also see it as an opportunity. Find a need and fill it. thats the idea behind successful entrepreneurs.
Theres money to be made in other genres.

once you side step the corporate structure you can side step ridiculous movie budgets since you're trimming the true fat.

Corporations have a bad case of monkey see monkey do. sure they love money, but they have absolutely no idea how to make it. really. they wait for someone else to establish a model and they copy it.

but stepping out of the box and defining new models is the ingredients to success stories.

The audience wants content. they are starving for it. Don't go to the usual suspects to develop content. lets just take that conversation off the table. you want to establish a new way? then we have to start talking about the new way of establishing. WB, Disney etc etc, we don't need to contribute to their way anymore. we really don't.


Mr Fun is right, great stuff gets shut down all the time. but thats because people pitch ideas to dinosaurs.

Hopefully this economy will inspire investors to think outside the box and realize returns can come from new models being established.

Creators who have positioned themselves for this day are in a better place then those who still depend on the old model.

Don't get me wrong, its gonna be a lot of work to turn this perception around. but it starts with one step...but if that step is through the same doors that got us here to begin with then you're walking backwards. IMHO

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Mr. Fun
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I hear ya, Snakey.

We can’t keep pitching to dinosaurs. Its up to us to explore new avenues because content will always be king. We need a way to get those new ideas to market.

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SNAKEBITE
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I hope Don isn't one of those dudes who drops grenades and watches from a distance as it explodes. lol, meaning, I hope he comes back and participates in the carnage,lol. I'm sure he has some ideas as well.

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SNAKEBITE
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I would also like to add in response to Mr Funster that I would argue we do have those avenues. its all about positioning in todays market. it might not pay off immediately but the future is all about new brands being established.

I would also argue that AN is one of those potential platforms. The more people I talk to the people I realize spend more time on the computer than they do the television. are the always watching cartoons, probably not, but the the attention is in the internet.

in a handful of years television and TV will be merged. you can already see it.

I was dealing with people from Napster on their revamp a few years back. the inside scoop is they refinanced based off peoples response to the brand in surveys. "When you think of Napster, what do you think of" sort of thing.

You have to start establishing brands. you have to start setting reputations now. ANs mantra, Keep Creating, was our solution from day 1 of its original launch in 1999. A decade later, those that created have the advantage. but now, what do you do?

hahahahaha, oh man, hahahahaha

it cracks me up, as Adrian, myself and Charles work late building the media platform to be seen and be promoted by, we have people using it to say "what do we do???"

hahahahahahahaha, man, now thats some serious entertainment, we should sell that..its like a bad joke, "hey, how many artists does it take to build a media outlet to showcase their works?(fill in punch line here, we're on strike)


hahahahaha, sorry, no disrespect intended to anyone, I just can;t help but see the irony,hahahahahaha, and I needed that,hahahahahaha

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rocktoonz
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Well, as far as indie production, you can take Bakshi's lead and produce your feature with a handful of artists using Toon Boom or something. If you actually want to get film prints made and four wall a tour using guerilla punk rock tactics, you could sweeten your tour using college radio interviews to promote in each town. I remember reading about a P.T. Barnum style film huckster by the name of Kroger Babb Kroger Babb who made millions in the exploitation film racket in the last century. While Disney was appealing to the "moms" in the audience, he would try to appeal to the 19 year old male. He figured that the 19 year old teenager would be the trend setter, he'd first see the film with his buddies, then maybe on a date, then the younger kids would follow suite because the film would already be dubbed "cool" by the 19 year old. Popular music follows a similar cycle. After the brief theatrical "publicity tour", the film could live on the net on a custom site.

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Greg B
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Predatory investing is one of the problems here. Investors who see a good haul from a creative endeavor and stoop to any irresponsible means afoot to copy or undermine those achievements.

It happens in any industry, monkey with money see, monkey with money do.

Mr. Fun is right in regard to content. Content 'is' king but when that content doesn't see developement because some predatory investors want to rip it off with a loose derivation then the original creator is left on the floor.

Predatory investors literally have guns to their heads. They play with ruthless people who want nothing more than money and influence. They rarely if ever have any creative skills in the arts but sure are creative in the ways of crime.

It's all about the company you keep.

Demand to be associated with creative investors not predatory ones. Sometimes a lower budget brings out the ingenuity that changes the face of an industry. Incompetence and dishonesty are earmarked by lack of control hence the years of 20 executive producers where in the old days you had one.

Bottom line is you're in this biz to make money and if art happens so what or you're in this biz to make art and if you make money so what or you're real smart and you achieve both effortlessly.

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EustaceScrubb
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quote:
Well, as far as indie production, you can take Bakshi's lead and produce your feature with a handful of artists using Toon Boom or something.
Has Bakshi done that ? (made a feature with a handful of artists using ToonBoom) .

It would seem that for indie production the people to follow are those like Nina Paley , Bill Plympton , and Paul Fierlinger who have all completed independent animated features either single-handedly or with a very small crew. (Nina using Flash, Paul using TVPaint , Bill Plympton using traditional pencil on paper.)

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rocktoonz
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It appears to be Bakshi's next step, as explained on his site. Watch the video here- Ralph Bakshi. I understand his son Eddie is leading the Toon Boom crew. Bakshi has at least a 10 feature lead as far as indie films are concerned. New tools, new outlets, new paradigms.

And it also appears that Nina Paley will get a theatrical run for Sita Sings the Blues. Sita Sings the Blues available for theatrical runs. So maybe you can make art and money at the same time.

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EustaceScrubb
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I think that's great that Ralph Bakshi is doing that (making a small indie feature with a handful of artists using ToonBoom or whatever).

When is the movie due to be released ? The speech you linked to (and a good speech it was , too) was recorded at the San Diego Comic Con in 2008 . I'm a little unclear on whether the "Last Days of Coney Island" feature is in production or not ...

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rocktoonz
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Listen closely, it's Coney Island, or better yet go to his site and read his blogs for updates. Bakshi blog He's been working in it for a while evendently.

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toonedbob
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Rocktoonz has it right - DIY. Indie bands are paving a way for themselves, as we should. Spike and Mike are extremely succesful in Four Walling with "ADULT ANIMATION".

I'm strongly considering this as maybe my primary route as opposed to traditional roads of distribution. Controlling the promotion the areas of distribution and actually get it on screen in front of a living breathing audience is a very appealing prospect.

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SNAKEBITE
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Animation and Music tour!

Hosted by me!

copyright Snakebite
you can find me here

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www.myspace.com/redskystudio

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rocktoonz
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What's that old Herny Rollins book, "Get in the Van"? Even Jay Ward got in his van a drove to the White House to promote "Rocky and Bullwinkle". Modern 24 hr newscycle media would eat this stuff up, with web support of course. Just know your audience and tell a good tale... the easy part..LOL!

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SNAKEBITE
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the key would be to find the right bands with the right cartoons. they would have to really compliment each other.

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rocktoonz
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Indeed. Well the absolute very first time I saw a South Park cartoon
was at Lollapolooza, projected onstage right before the band "Tool" went on stage. I believe it was the original "Jesus vs Santa Claus" cartoon. The band Tool formed at my old singers house when I was in Chorus of Souls in the 80's. Of course "Tool" was famous for making their own stop motion videos which was part of their appeal. We'd sit down and watch Brothers Quay videos, Mark Pauline fighting robot tapes, etc. between band practice sessions. This was way before the internet. I also believe "Korn" did a similar animation and music tour a while back.

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toonedbob
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This is great. Warped Tour, and other music festivals have tents foe artists and what not . Why not screenings or sneak previews of your feature which will be playing in the same town the following night?

My feature is heavily reliant on music, and believe me, I've thought of many angles to exploiting it.

Jay Ward definately someone to look up to as far as promotions as well as Gene Simmons in the art of exploiting an IP. Homestar Runner has shown how you can build a big audience and cash in on your product, and still have creative freedom.

I have nothing against going through distributors, but it's great to know you have alternatives. Keeps you from being desperate and gives you more leverage in negotiations.

Snake, rocktoonz, we should get together and swap ideas.

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toonedbob
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Oh yeah, forgot to mention Dov Simens is another great resource on the film biz.
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SNAKEBITE
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I'm down. we have a great promotional tool already built and waiting to be utilized.

rocktoonz, I'm kinda geeking out over those facts. I'm a huuuuuge Tool fan.

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Charles
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Rocktoonz, please read this and reply to us. Thanks.

http://www.animationnation.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=013587;p=1#000000

Anyone else out there registered in 2004 or prior and is posting anonymously on AN, you must get in touch with us. Read the link above and please contact us.

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Charles
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Getting back on topic, I propose the question rhetorically.

Is what's defined as an animation curse so far in this thread really a curse? Is it a dreadful, harmful thing to produce children's entertainment, or family centric entertainment, and is it bad if animation is seen as the ideal medium for that market?

Forces beyond our control may have formed the market culture we deal with, but animation has really grown beyond that. The complexity of plot typically found in anime, the explosion of animation of all kinds on the Web, the ever expanding international market as well as original content from international producers of animation, I feel there's plenty of mature activity going on the business right now.

If something was really wrong with animation, then why does it continually dominate the box office? Also, look at what Pixar's Wall-E did as far as awards it won in categories where it was in direct competition with live action films.

I'm with JDC and the Boston Red Sox fans of the world, they reversed the curse and animation will too. In the meantime, I don't think it's been such a bad ride.

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SNAKEBITE
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Well, Mr Bluth put no negative take on it, he just asked the question. I guess we were the ones that put a negative spin on it.

I guess I come from a place where I would like to see more of a certain type of animated movie I haven't seen enough of.

but like Charles says, things are changing. its all changing. everyday feels like a different thing happens that changes everything. right? geesh,lol

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Charles
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And if you include video games, which is a market that out performs the entire theatrical film industry, there's plenty of room in the medium for breaking out of the kid fare stereotype if you want to. In fact, Don Bluth was instrumental in this area with Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. Video gaming and traditional concepts of film entertainment have been waltzing with each and get closer every year.

The exciting thing about the environment that's emerging is that there's more opportunity than ever to explore non-curse territory.

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