Let's Fix

Let's Fix the Animation Scene Part 3: Award Season

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

Here we are! This is Part 3 of this continuous animation editorial. I know it will end for right now with this section, but I think we can talk about individual films or film studios in the future. For now, let’s talk about the Award Season! We recently had the Golden Globes, and are going to be heading into the Academy Awards soon. I know many say, well, why should I care? Because there are obvious problems with the current way award seasons are being held, and are suffering because of it. You can only say “I don’t care” or “this is fine” until it becomes a problem that can’t be pushed away. You can say you don’t care, but deep down you do. After the “controversy” of last year where Ferdinand and The Boss Baby got nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Coco, Loving Vincent, and The Breadwinner, there needs to be some course correction. So, these are my two cents on what I would do. There’s nothing I can do about it right now, but who knows! Maybe in the future, they will start doing some of these changes. Let’s get started.

Define what gets into the five Best Animated Feature slots!

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So, let’s talk about this first part. Should there be a definition for Best Animated Feature? When you look at the reviews for the five films from 2017, two stood out. The Boss Baby’s overall Rotten Tomatoes score was one of the lowest scores for an animated film being nominated for Best Animated Feature alongside Shark Tale, and Ferdinand’s overall score was just above average. We can go into the intricate details of Rotten Tomatoes another time. This definitely caused film and animation fans to turn their heads with loud spit takes. So, how did these two films make it over The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, The LEGO Batman Movie, Window Horses, The Girl Without Hands, Napping Princess, A Silent Voice, and Mary and the Witch’s Flower? Well, maybe the definition on what qualifies for the five slots should be clearer. Is it the quality of animation? Well, they all had pretty good animation in their own respective ways, so that shouldn’t just be the case, or else The Girl Without Hands would have definitely gotten one of the spots. Is it the quality of the writing? If that was the case, The Boss Baby and Ferdinand, while not being as bad as toxic individuals make them out to be, did not have as strong writing as say, Coco or Loving Vincent. It’s not just one thing that makes an animated film great, and we will get to For Your Consideration Campaigns later on in the editorial. Maybe there needs to be tighter rules for the nominations, like…

Maybe gate off the lesser received animated features?

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Now, that doesn’t sound fair, right? What makes someone’s work more awards worthy than another? Again, I’m simply spit-balling ideas here. Well, if the award shows like the Oscars want to be about “the best of the best”, then maybe not letting films like The Boss Baby or the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close get nominated for the major awards of their categories. No one goes out to make a bad movie. Even making a self-aware film that knows it’s fairly cheesy and schlocky, has to have effort put into it.  Maybe there does need to be a certain entry fee in terms of the overall reception of the movie that makes or breaks your entry into the awards? Let’s be real here, if The Boss Baby and Ferdinand were getting universal acclaim, no one would have had an issue with them getting nominated. Sure, maybe not bringing in the review scores into the calculation seems tough, because film is subjective. However, if you want to be awarding or nominating the best films of any category, then films that get certain scores below a certain number shouldn’t be allowed into the competition. While films like Illumination’s The Grinch are major money-makers, that shouldn’t be the only reason it makes it onto the list, because the reviews of it are not all that great. It would mean that the Academy either picks the five best reviewed animated features, or just have three or four films nominated that year, because the rest were not all that stellar in the Hollywood animation scene. Still, that won’t fix the problem that…

The animation section of the award organizations should be the only ones voting for animation!

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Yeah, while it might have been a good idea on paper to open up the voting of Best Animated Feature to everyone at the Academy or the Globes, or whatever, there is a reason the Academy has an animation branch. Why on earth would you dissolve that section, if you made it for the specific reason to vote on the Best Animates Features and Best Animated Shorts category? That’s like having expert meat people letting a vegetarian grade a side of beef. Other arms of the Academy don’t have the knowledge or the awareness of how animation works, or the fact that foreign/indie features exist. This bleeds opportunity for For Your Consideration Campaigns to strike at voters who may not know better, or even care about animation. It doesn’t help either that…

The Academy members/Globe Critics/everyone need to watch all the submissions!

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Listen, it’s been well known that members of the Academy and other award groups do not watch all of the submissions. I mean, on one hand, having to take time to watch over 50+ films for multiple categories, takes up a lot of time on a really tight schedule for the voters. On the other hand, since most of the members in the Academy are actors, tech individuals, producers, directors, and so on, you look like a jerk if you do not watch the work by other members. It also gives the short hand to films that are not as recognizable as the big budget flicks. It’s funny, because despite having multiple nominations under their belt, GKids are still held as this oddity, which isn’t fair to the hard-working people of that company, and the studios, animators, composers, and actors that worked on those films. You owe it as a member of the Academy to watch all the submissions for the animation category. You are essentially discriminating against films that are not US-made. Maybe if you saw the ones that weren’t good, you can skip them, but watch the ones you haven’t seen. Who knows, maybe GKids would be raking in more awards if it didn’t have to compete with Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. So…

Should the Oscars and other award groups pull an Annie?

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So, for those that don’t know what I’m talking about, the Annie awards are an animation-focused award show. A few years back, they decided to do a foreign/indie category so films like Mirai, Ernest & Celestine, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World could have a chance. They would get their own award category, because they honestly deserved just as much recognition, and sometimes more recognition than the big budget Hollywood films. Granted, doing so might come off like giving the foreign/indie films a “kid’s table” award, but maybe this could be a “Best US-made Animated Feature” and a “Best Foreign/Indie Animated Feature” situation that could be fruitful, and then have a third animation category that is like Best Animated picture or something. It would mean other companies like Funimation, Elevenarts, and Shout! Factory would have a chance alongside GKids to be nominated for awards. Because, as it is right now, the one thing preventing true competition between big budget and foreign animation releases are…

Beware the For Your Consideration Campaigns! Fix them!

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I get it. These marketing campaigns cost money, but if they pay off, it means people’s interests will be piqued, and that means more people will go see the film, which means more money. However, can we please stop having them be so invasive? How many times have these campaigns actually backfired and earned the studios and filmmakers ridicule? Like, there was Shark Tales, and then there was, again, the infamous Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close campaign. It got no other major awards outside of one Best Picture nomination from the Academy. I’m sure that’s what you want to be remembered for, right? Being an incredibly terrible film that paid its way into one award nom? I’m also simply tired of these campaigns being the reason you voted for the film in question, but not the film itself. Did you watch the film? Did you vote for it, because you thought it deserved the award most, or because a company spammed you with its campaign? I would rather vote for a film that I liked, and thought it deserved it, more than being harassed or manipulated by campaigns. I heard some changes were made to the rules of how campaigns can be handled, but it was hard for me to find the specific changes. Remember, vote on which animated film you think should win, and not because of some dumb campaign, or you being a stubborn mule in not checking out all of the nominees. 

There we go! Part three is done, and I think I’m done talking about this topic for a while. That is, unless the voters decide to misuse the votes, and give me plenty of ammunition to talk about the Academy some more.

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

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

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!

Let's Fix the Animation Scene Part 1: Theatrical Films

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

A common complaint I hear every year when any award show for films pops up is that no matter who is nominated, the combination of Disney/Pixar is always going to win. While I definitely shrug my shoulders, and sort of agree with the masses who are tired of seeing Pixar or Disney win, there is a reason why they are consistent winners every year. Yes, there are a few years where I thought there were better films, but for the most part, Disney as a whole constantly earns and deserves the massive praise and success. It has led to me wanting to talk about this situation, but it’s a gigantic task at hand. What can I talk about? Is it right to give Disney and Pixar so much flack? Is it really their fault for no one else being able to compete?

I mean, I don’t normally like commenting on topics with hot takes, because hot takes are a terrible way to form an argument, because it shows you put an unintelligible effort into your comment. Instead, I’m going to do a cool take, which is more thought-out, and worth talking about. So, for this situation, this is my cool take, it’s not Disney/Pixar’s fault for having way more success than everyone else! Listen, they don’t always earn it. I think the Oscars from the years 2012 to 2014 should have gone to different Best Animated Feature films, but instead of blaming Disney for other studios not being able to compete, maybe it’s not all Disney’s fault? To me, Disney and Pixar are being smart with their films, and are constantly making films that people keep coming back to. Maybe the industry needs to start stepping up to the plate. For this editorial, I’m going to talk about how certain parts of the film industry can be improved with “optimistic solutions” as to how they can compete with Disney and Pixar. The first part will be about the industry, and how the other big studios can take some steps into getting on the level of Disney and Pixar’s success. The second part will be tackling the indie/foreign scene, and the final part will be tackling the Oscars. Let’s get started!

Don’t Chase Trends/Find Your Own Identity!

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Let’s cut to the chase. As much as other studios want to be the next big Pixar and or Disney animation studio, there is only one Pixar and one Disney. This happens a lot when you see other studios lock their eyes on a film or franchise that becomes a massive hit, and they want to follow that success with their own take. We saw this with Warner Bros and Don Bluth in the 90s trying to follow Disney’s massive money train. DreamWorks consistently took cynical jabs at Disney, and tried to follow up a Disney or Pixar film with their own take on the basic set-up. Heck, DreamWorks tried to copy Illumination Entertainment’s success with Home. In the end, when you try to chase a trend, and it’s not executed well, people are going to catch on quickly. What studios need to do is to find their own identity. Disney and Pixar have their identities with interesting takes on fairy tales and family films with timeless topics, writing, and characters. DreamWorks has suffered with an identity for years, but always has a consistent identity when they make good character-driven films. Studio Ghibli flips anime onto its head by being so anti-anime with more western ideals and less focus on what makes anime in Japan popular. Science Saru has their own simple, yet stretchy visuals that would rather the movements look good and fluid, rather than how much detail they can put into each character. Laika makes mature family films using stop-motion. Aardman makes charming and well-written animated features. Warner Bros. Animation Group has made consistently entertaining and very funny comedies with heart. Heck, the identities you can give to Blue Sky and Illumination Entertainment as their claim to fame is that they don’t really have one. That is its own problem, but still. When I watch a film by a certain studio, I want to be able to point out that this film is from that studio. Variety is the spice of life, and competition is good. Be your own creative filmmakers. I know having your own identity can come from many elements, like having certain writers and directors at your beck and call, but I still stand that you should make sure you stick out. The worst thing you can do is be a forgettable studio.

Don’t Half-bake Your Overall Plots

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So, most of the time, the big budget animated films are comedies with some story attached to them. Okay, that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with being more about the jokes than the story. However, what seems to happen to many films is that they know and have seen Disney and Pixar films, but only follow the base steps of their plots to put into their own plots. For example, last year, there were probably more films made that had no real idea how to make their stories emotionally connect with the audience. Despicable Me 3 has a slew of potential story arcs for their characters, but either don’t do anything with them, or do only the bare minimum in execution. Ferdinand has some of the more emotionally gripping and interesting story and character moments out of Blue Sky’s films, but they still threw in so much of their bad family film pandering elements, that makes it frustrating to watch. The Emoji Movie doesn’t even bother to try anything to be more complex, have some kind of clever commentary about social media or the young generation who do act like they are glued to their phones. Cars 3, a film from Pixar themselves comes so close to making it one of their best films, but fumbles when having the villains have more to them than their simple traits. The Boss Baby might be heavy on the creative visuals and a lot of fun humor, but it lacks emotional stakes, because I do not care about the characters, and they try so hard to force the family bond on the two leads. Lego Ninjago and My Little Pony dump out what made their respective properties fun and entertaining, and their films are fun, but they lack substance. It’s fine if you want to be more about story, be more about the comedy, or be a mixture of both. Just put in the mental power that you would if you were working on a film you cared about. Don’t treat it like a paycheck film.

Find your own designs/animation style!

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While this could go into the identity part of the list, I feel like this was worthy of its own entry on the editorial. A problem that I see studios have is that their films are all visually similar, and fail to show off the distinct style that only that studio has. You can tell when you are seeing an Aardman film. You can tell when you are seeing a Disney film. You can tell when you are seeing a Laika film. You can tell when you are seeing a Ghibli film. Heck, even Illumination had learned from this, and you can tell by their designs when you are watching their films. DreamWorks and Blue Sky are constantly changing their styles for better or for worse, and they don’t make me think “oh man! This is a film by those guys!” You don’t even need to spend massive amounts of money. In terms of animation budgets, if you can’t get as much as other studios, get creative. That’s why people were so impressed with Captain Underpants. It looked impressive for a film that had a budget of $30 million. Even other studios overseas are finding ways to get creative with their small budgets. Sure, some will still look awful, but the ones that stick out, found a way to make their films work with creative visuals and smart writing. You would be amazed at how many foreign animated films trade big budgets for creative visuals, and focus more on writing. Just be careful about what textures you use as well. If you are going use more realistic textures and designs, then don’t do cartoony movements and reactions. Leap! is a good example of this, because it had pretty decent CGI animation, but due to the odd choice to have realistic textures and somewhat more realistic designs, any time a cartoony reaction happened, it looked creepy. Make sure you have got a visual style you can call your own.

Not Everything Needs To Be a Comedy!

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Listen, I get why most animated films are comedies. I know that’s a very popular genre of film that can easily be taken advantage of with animation, due to its limitless potential. However, not everything needs to be a comedy. The worst part about this is if you are a comedy, and you don’t measure up to the other animated comedies of that year, I’m going to forget about you. It’s like how the game industry is trying to make “live services” a thing. When a better “live service” comes around, I’m going to go to that one instead. Same goes for animation. Once a better comedy comes around, I’m going to watch that comedy more than yours. I have done that plenty of times with the films from 2017. Spice things up a bit and try out different genres. Why do you think people still love talking about Kubo and the Two Strings, UP, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs, Inside Out, Kung Fu Panda 1-3, The LEGO Movie, How to Train your Dragon, or Wolf Children? While they have their own comedic elements that work out for them, they still fall back heavily on writing, characters, action, and story. Just because it’s an animated feature, doesn’t mean that you can’t be an action film, a thriller, a horror film, a rom-com, or whatever. Don’t box yourselves into one genre. Don’t make a comedy for the sake of making one.  

Thanks for reading part 1! Next time, we will talk about the foreign/indie side of animation!