Let's Fix the Animation Scene Part 2: The Foreign/Indie Scene

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Here we are! This is part 2 of my massive editorial on what I would do or advise to fix the animation scene! If you haven’t seen Part 1, where I tackle the Hollywood theatrical scene, you should read that first. This time, we will be talking about my thoughts on how to improve the foreign/indie scene. For me, this section of animation is a lot different than the big Hollywood scene. It has multiple pros that it does better, but it also has its own cons that are exclusive to this side of animation. Now then, let’s get started!

Word of Mouth/Grassroots Campaigning Isn’t Good Enough!

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Listen, I love the foreign features that get brought over by companies like GKids, Shout! Factory, and Good Deeds Entertainment. We do need to show moviegoers that there is a healthy amount of animated features outside of the big budget releases like The Breadwinner, Loving Vincent, Wolf Children, and Paprika. I’m glad that they can put some ads out into the net, and use word-of-mouth to get a lot of acclaim and fans that current Hollywood wouldn’t really do. However, that simply isn’t enough. I can’t really find the information about this, because it seems like the industry wants to keep hush hush on how much certain aspects, like distribution costs, but you need to start making deals with bigger companies to get your films out there in all areas of the US. Simply hitting the biggest cities is not good enough anymore. I get that certain companies like GKids have made deals with theaters like Regal Cinemas, but being at one theater chain isn’t enough. Some people live in towns or cities where they get skipped over in the distribution game. Being with massive companies like Disney and Universal could mean that you receive that extra help in getting into more than just one kind of theater. It also doesn’t help when theater chains only allow one or two-night screenings of films. I know Fathom Events probably helps with some kind of cost, but it’s a pain to have to take Lyft rides to certain theaters and having it cost up to $20 just for the ride alone to see these movies. Word of mouth is helpful, but when you don’t have a big enough marketing campaign or a good enough distribution plan, then word of mouth can only do so much.

If You Can’t Make Visually Appealing CGI, Then Either Use a Creative Art Style, or Don’t Bother

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Listen, I get that CGI animation is what’s “big”, and it’s probably cheaper than going the route of super traditional 2D animation, but if you don’t have the budget, the talent, or the know-how to not make CGI look good on whatever budget you have, then don’t bother with it. It’s not like 2D is dead and can’t be done using tablets or computers. You just can’t simply go the direction of cel by cel animation. Simply doing CGI because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Do you know how many lackluster-looking CGI animated features I see Lionsgate or Direct TV pick up? There are films that have fairly impressive CGI from overseas, but then never think through on the designs of the characters when translating them from 2D to CGI. Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is a good example of this issue, where the CGI itself is rather good-looking, but then a character here or there will appear and it looks off-putting, due to the super realistic look of everything. Plus, you can make 2D flash work well. It’s not flash’s fault if your film looks like something like a cheap online flash animation. Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies is a good example of how to make bad flash animation for theatrical release. Even if it did get a Fathom release here in the states, it looks ugly with no real talent put into making a visually interesting movie. Just know what you are getting into.

Just because you have more freedom, doesn’t mean you should go all out!

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While not having as big of budgets as Hollywood animation can be a hurdle, it usually means you have more freedom to make what you want. There is a reason why execs are going to make sure that the $75 million they invested into a project is not going to go into some super artsy film that won’t hit a massive audience. However, because you have more freedom, it doesn’t mean you should be using it to do everything you have ever wanted to do in one project. A lot of passion projects end up being cluttered, messy, and unfocused. It’s like when adult comedy show creators think that just because they are on Netflix, they can go full tilt on the shock humor, but end up making a bad show that has nothing, but unfunny shock humor. You still need to make a film, and that means staying focused. Eyes on the prize! Make a good flowing film first, and then worry about everything else.

Distributors: Just Because You Can Bring it Over, Doesn’t Mean You Should!

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So, you know how GKids picks and usually chooses the best animated features to bring over? The ones that keep getting award nominations are usually acclaimed for good writing, beautiful animation, and endearing characters? Now, compare the films that, say, Lionsgate and Direct TV pick up. I’m sure you can look at the difference between the quality and the control certain companies use, because they don’t pick it up for the sake that it’s just animation. Kids might like animated things, but due to the limit of time and the quality of animated films and shows, they are going to stick to the films that resonate with them. I get that some may have higher price tags than others, but it doesn’t mean you need to only buy the lesser products. Sometimes, you don’t need to bring over everything.

Work on Your Humor!

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So, this isn’t a big deal, because most directors make films with universally acceptable comedy, but man, some countries need to get it through their skulls that what might be funny to them, will not be funny for other audiences. Japan and China seem to think sex jokes and fart gags are funny, but they really aren’t. They are distracting, and do take you out of the film. I can even understand why some films like Cinderella the Cat haven’t been fully brought over, because it has some unfortunately homophobic moments that it passes off as comedy. The rest of comedy issues come from cheap and lazy comedy writing that they think kids will like. People don’t like these kinds of jokes anymore. Just because you are aiming your films at a family audience, doesn’t mean you have to aim low for the kids watching the film.

That’s it for Part 2! Next time, we shall talk about the Award scene situation!