Monday, December 31, 2007
What is the supposed rivalry between animators and writers? The best answer I can muster is the fact that producers don’t often consider animation artists for writer positions. Mo Willems remains one of the shining examples of someone who has bridged both worlds with success. Sure, most animation artists that make independent films are writers of sorts. The writing that I’m talking about, that mostly excludes animation artists, is script writing for TV series. Even Blue’s Clues, a series that offered its staff many diverse opportunities, drew the line at writing. Once or twice they opened the door to script contributions from the whole staff, but it never led to an artist penning a script.
There’s an attitude that writing is writing and art is art. The irony is that the wall preventing animation artists from writing scripts does not keep “front office” staffers from similarly contributing. In the world of preschool TV, I have seen scripts written by producers, coordinators, live action directors, actors, and child development research specialists. We can’t assume that all these people are automatically qualified or gifted writers. So, why are they getting this opportunity? My feeling is that this happens because those filling these positions work with the script as their sole document. Everything they do revolves around the script, unlike animation artists, which translate and then discard the script as they convert it to a visual medium. In most TV or commercial animation, artists interpret and writers write.
If an animation artist wishes to write or be considered a writer in a studio setting, they had better write some samples on their own time. I love writing scripts. My pitch projects have given me the excuse to write dozens of scripts over the years. I first developed my writing by contributing articles to the ASIFA-East newsletter (Hint! Hint!), and next by authoring the book, Your Career in Animation. This year I’ve been in development with a TV idea of my own creation and I was gratified to function as the writer on the project and not exclusively as the artist. Six years prior, I didn’t sign my first development deal with Nickelodeon (partly) because they pigeon holed me as the artist. At that point, I had no samples to prove I was a writer and it hurt my case. Today, my current deal has already led to another deal writing a series overview and bible for a new animated property, where my role will be, among other things, head writer/story editor.
Again, I ask, what is the supposed rivalry between animators and writers? My theory is nobody can block our path but, ourselves. Only we have that power. Perhaps this could be the catalyst for a new year’s resolution?
Monday, December 24, 2007
1-Because TV series animation jobs have been back in the United States since the mid 1990s and despite upstarts such as India, show no sign of disappearing. Maybe with the dollar so weak, this can continue unabated. We could be the third world nation doing outsourced animation for other countries! How cool is that.. wait, that doesn’t sound so great… anyway, as we stand today, men and women are actually earning a living as animators working on television series. This hadn’t happened for nearly a twenty-year period prior to the 1990s. Back then animation on shows such as Scooby Doo was outsourced, only allowing U.S. animation artists to work as designers, layout, and storyboard artists. New cheaper means of producing animation such as Flash, After Effects and Maya have made this revolution possible.
2-Because when an artist creates a character for a network (again, since the 1990s), that artist receives participatory series bonuses and a piece of the ancillary action. A Nickelodeon insider told me that one successful creator has earned between 150 to 200 million dollars this way. In contrast, Scooby Doo was created in 1969 by employees of Hannah/Barbera as a work-for-hire, who only earned a flat weekly salary for birthing this still-successful franchise. Today, many creators are not only retaining a percentage of he spoils, they own their characters outright. The internet has put a “TV network” in the hands of anyone that builds a Web site and splatters it with original content. When internet properties prove themselves with gigantic amounts of hits, real TV networks take notice, putting the power right back in the hands of the creators.
3-Because Ralph Bakshi’s legacy of taking animation to not strictly G-rated kiddie fare has finally taken root. Love it or hate it, Ralph’s films have expanded this art form’s vocabulary and helped diversify its audience. Today his influence can be seen in everything from Adult Swim’s line up to independent features daring to tread beyond the song cycle of Broadway. Bakshi’s early features such as Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic explored the social, political, and sexual revolution. Persepolis, the most important animated feature this year, owes a far bigger debt to Bakshi than it does to another milestone film that’s now celebrating it’s 70th birthday, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. Whenever anyone tackles a subject that was formally taboo to the animated medium, they are pulling a Bakshi. The art form is all the more healthy for it, unless you’d rather the Chub Chubbs inherit the earth.
4-Because animation artists are exchanging ideas and information with each other as never before, largely thanks to personal blogs, and Web sites such as cartoonbrew.com, michaelspornanimation.com, michaelbarrier.com., and frederator.com. In the 1970s, budding historians such as Jerry Beck, Michael Barrier, and Greg Ford hunted for animated films in garage sales and laid the foundation for a serious discussion of this industry’s history. Today a provocative post on cartoonbrew might score 150 posted comments in the first 24 hours. The community is not only larger than ever, but is also interacting as never before. Through personal artist blogs, we not only have the ability to take an intimate peak at great (and future great) animation artist’s thoughts and work, but also are treated to a tour of their network of artist pals.
5-Because so many of the artists that I respect most are venturing into independent feature films that, again, would not have been possible without the cheaper production technologies of today. In the upcoming years New York Independent animation may be well represented in the Oscar’s best-animated feature category. Don’t be surprised to see indy features by such directors as Michael Sporn, Nina Paley, Dan Kanemoto, Tatia Rosenthal, and Bill Plympton taking their place alongside Pixar, Blue Sky, and Dreamworks. The day of the independent animated feature is finally here and it’s future looks bright.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Some of the comments on my last blog post have inspired me to address a related topic. Last week my blog post was about how animation artists navigate working in a non-union animation town such as NYC. Some of the emphasis was on how animation artists can work together without the union and improve working conditions as well as studio policies. Recently, last week in fact, “permalance” workers from Viacom’s MTV networks walked off the job after their benefits and health plan were severely cut back. Among those who walked out was the entire NYC animation department at Nickelodeon. After a few short days, Viacom made some concessions and the crews returned to work. In this example, management was equally effected by the cutbacks, so the general staff had their bosses right there on the picket line with them. Still, it takes courage to walk off a job under any circumstance, so the Nickelodeon animation staff deserves our kudos and respect.
But, this posting isn’t about the above labor action. It’s about individual responsibility, which is the other side of the coin on this issue. Some students graduate with a sense of entitlement. They believe they’re owed something because of the great time and expense they just put into their education. The first five years of a typical animation career is the time when experience should be the prime consideration, far above getting the highest salary. The pay I earned while working at my first job at Michael Sporn Animation was not the biggest dollar in town. There was far more money to be earned at that time at Jumbo Pictures or MTV. But, I was working at one of the only studios in town that did animation from start to finish. The bottom line was that I was in the best place I could be to learn. And I had a lot to learn (still do!). Besides, Sporn paid a fair and generous dollar based on his budgets. If you follow the almighty dollar as your only compass you may have a very sorry career to show for it. I never heard of anyone ever choosing this industry to strike it rich. If that’s your plan, you’re probably setting yourself up for a big fall.
Yes, I understand that students fresh out of school have student loans. These loans represent your investment in yourself. If you’re looking for a quick return on that investment and believe that others owe that to you, then, you’ve already sold yourself way short. This is a business about relationships and reputation. These are your two greatest assets that you should guard with your life. Get over your sense of entitlement and start building your career. Opportunities I now have are the result of 12 years of making personal films, creating and pitching projects, taking on freelance opportunities in addition to full time work, teaching at three universities, and networking/volunteering through ASIFA-East. I have no anger or disappointment. I never believed that anyone owed me a damned thing. I’m too busy being grateful that I get to work in the field of my choice. Turn the mirror on yourself before you look to vent your frustrations elsewhere.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Once upon a time New York City animation was unionized. By the early 1980s, the union’s membership and influence waned as the local industry shrank and independent studios accepted low paying (below union scale) animation work from clients such as Sesame Street as a means of survival. Thankfully, animation in the big apple proved far more resilient than the union that sought to protect its member’s interests. However, recent events in NYC animation, such as the erratic behavior of specific studios, the sudden layoff of a whole crew at AniMagic, and the vanishing benefits package at MTV networks, have got some folks whispering about how a union might play into the whole mix. I don’t claim to have the answer to this question, although many are of the opinion that a union would send work away from NYC as well as threaten the existence of small independent studios.
I’ve often believed that there’s a circumstantial problem in this business that helps create conditions that make some desire to unionize. Firstly, each year, there’s a new batch of students bursting out of the animation schools. In NYC, alone, I’d estimate the animation grads per year to be around 110 individuals. The new trend is for studios/companies to “hire” these students as interns. Unpaid interns. Maybe this is similar to the old days of the apprenticeship system, but I don’t think so. An intern is someone still in school, helping out a few days a week at a company, in exchange for school credit, experience, and contacts. Secondly, animation artists, in their first few years in the business, have fewer family obligations and often consider a studio to be their new fraternal order or clubhouse. In such a way, the sacrifices they make by working unpaid evening and weekend hours seem less painful. Things get further complicated because this group often feels (and rightly so) that they are still paying dues. In addition, they have a natural fear about losing their jobs, while at the same time, feel grateful to be employed in their industry of choice.
While this is a non-union animation town, it doesn’t mean that class action can’t be utilized. I worked on a series for a big network where, initially, there were no benefits or ergonomic equipment. The staff rallied together and meetings were held with producers and network representatives. In the end, the staff won all their victories, even causing conditions to improve at large rival studios that were then forced to up the ante of their own employee offerings. In a lesser (but, still notable) action, the same crew successfully petitioned their director for better tech service to their computers, each artist signing their names to a petition.
But, crews do not always come together in the right way, for the greater good of each other. Sometimes they come together simply to lick each other’s wounds. In this scenario, everyone rallies around each other to soldier on, in spite of all kinds of abuses such as mandatory late hours and weekend work without pay, arbitrary firings, demotions, and harassment. I don’t trust that people will always have the confidence and leadership to tackle these issues on their own. I suppose the argument is; should they even have to? I merely ask the question and open the floor for discussion. For those wishing to learn more about the history of the animation union in the USA, I recommend Tom Sito’s book, Drawing the Line, although his honest retelling of union battles fought and lost, sometimes help make the case against the union.
Monday, December 3, 2007
Is it just me, or is Dr. Katz one of the most brilliant TV shows in recent times? I think the case for this quirky show is pretty simple. Beavis and Butthead succeeded in part because it combined memorable characters segments with economic repurposing of old and current music videos. Dr. Katz did the same thing with well worn stand up routines from a veritable who’s who of top comedians. In the guise of “therapy” the comics would run through their material which were then depicted in producer Tom Snyder’s patented squiggle vision. Book ending the comedy bits were brilliantly written story segments with a lean cast of characters: Dr. Katz, his deadbeat son, Ben, the surly secretary, Laura, and two of Dr. Katz’s pals at the local watering hole. Dr. Katz plays as a sort of animated companion to Seinfeld, finding character gold by exploring and reveling in moments of “nothing.”
Not since J.Ward’s Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, has there been an animated series that did so much with so little. Dr. Katz is deceptively simple however. Sure, there is little to no actual on-screen movement. No walk cycles, matches on action, or even transitions from pose to pose. On Dr. Katz, all of that happens between the scenes or cuts. It’s an implied movement. The scene layouts, held poses/expressions, and editing are so strong, that it all works! The show fascinates me because it puts such an additional burden on the editing where even changes in expression can only really happen on scene cuts. I can’t think of any other TV show or movie where this is the case (besides other productions by the Dr. Katz crew, of course).
I’ve always felt that TV’s bad reputation for animation was unjustified. TV allowed a breath of fresh air to arrive in the form of the art of the soundtrack. Sure, soundtracks in the theatrical cartoon could be incredibly inventive and sensitive, but for television, soundtracks had to do even more of the heavy lifting. This was artistic necessity, as well as an economic need. Dr. Katz features such strong audio that the show would work even as a radio play, but when combined with the great layouts, designs, and clever cutting, the visuals end up being the most radical and groundbreaking aspect of the show. Who would have thunk it? If you’ve already dismissed Dr. Katz and it’s squiggly non-animation, it might be time for another look.
Luckily, season one and two are already available on DVD, and this Tuesday an exhaustive 13 disc box set arrives (just in time for the holidays), collecting all six seasons of the series! Take the plunge and a let a little animated therapy into your life.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Working a long stint at Blue’s Clues between 1997 and 2004, I was able to witness an interesting movement in talent that would come to dominate the NYC TV series community. Some time in the late 90s, we Blue’s Cluesers were informed that Mr. Bill Cosby would be stopping by for a tour of our operations. He had inked a deal with Nick Jr. to turn his line of children’s books, featuring a character called Little Bill, into a preschool TV series. For this new series, Nick Jr’s second done in-house in After Effects, it was a natural idea to seed its staff with experienced Blue’s Clues veterans. Among those that made the show-to-show switch were Jen Oxley, Nancy Keegan, Michael Dougherty, Chris Boyce, Adam Osterfeld, Chris Gelles, Jane Howell, and Olexa Hewryk. Not before long, the fledgling crew exploded to occupy two floors in a brand new studio at 1633 Broadway. With most of Blue’s Clues staff staying put, where would Little Bill find it’s large crew?
The answer was partly, SVA. Their graduating class of 1999 was the first to jump right out of school and into steady employment. In this wave came some of today’s top talents, including such names such as: Celia Bullwinkle, Rob Powers, Bob Wallace, David Heiss, Dan Cardinali, and many others. Most would find their seminal work experience at Little Bill. By some accounts, Little Bill was an expensive show to make and perhaps that contributed to why it wrapped production just short of January 2001. An insider at Nick Jr recently told me, “It didn’t work to have such a fearful character at the center of a series. He was always sad.”
In contrast, Blue’s Clues enjoyed three more years of continued production. So, as circumstances had it, the Little Bill crew were first to venture out and seek employment elsewhere. This pushed them into serving as gatekeepers on series work all over town. Among Little Bill alum’s, Blue’s Clues long had the reputation as the simpler of the two shows. I remember Steve Connor, who worked on both Little Bill and Blue’s Clues having difficulty convincing his Little Bill pals just how challenging Blue’s Clues actually was to make. By season six, it had gotten quite sophisticated; far more so than most people realized.
The migration pattern, dominated by the movement of the ex Little Bill artists is easy to track. First, they landed at Spike TV, when it emerged with two short-lived original flash animated series; Gary the Rat and This Just In. The shows turned out to be huge flops with their intended audience, but the crew was stellar. This could have been the birth of a new digital MTV-style animation studio. Instead, the whole enterprise fell flat on its face. Little Bill alum Mark Salisbury helmed these shows and hired up many of his former co-workers. By the time of the second Spike series, Blue’s Clues was finally on hiatus, so it’s crew was free to apply for a position on the new show. This would mark the first great mixing of the two preschool crews. Sadly, in the hey day of Blue’s and Little Bill, when the two shows occupied the same floor for a two year period, there was virtually no interaction among their staffs. Each crew had myopically gone about their business.
Once Spike ran it’s course, the flock migrated to join director Jen Oxley at Little Airplane where they were employed to animate on short and long form series work, including Nick Jr’s The Wonder Pets. It was at this time that animators Bob Wallace and Rob Powers first got the chance to direct. By all reports, season one was a bumpy ride for the crew, but what made it to the screen was spectacular and took the show to number one.
Post Wonder Pets season one, many of the original crew landed at Curious Pictures Little Einstein, a series that combined flash, drawn, and 3D animation in equal measures. Olexa Hewryk directed season one of Little Einstein and the technical director was Sang-Jin Bae, both formally of Little Bill. Little Einstein remained the home base for many of the former Little Bill and Blue’s Clues crew until Nick Jr announced a new series starting full production in Fall 2007.
Incidentally, this new show was created by Soo Kim and Michael Smith, a pair of ex Blue’s Cluesers. On this new series, Blue’s Clues and Little Bill alumni are now co-occupying the 4th floor at 1633 Broadway once again. Its fitting that Steve Connor is at the helm as the director, because he really deserves the credit for bridging the gaps between the two old crews. This time, you can bet that they are enjoying a collaboration and comradeship that seemed to elude them nearly ten years earlier. For a community of artists existing from job to job and moving from place to place, this sure sounds like a family to me.
Monday, November 19, 2007
In NYC, we just screened the pre-selections eligible for this years Oscar nomination for best-animated short subject. In a very roundabout way, it’s an inspiring thing for a filmmaker to attend, especially for one who has not yet snagged an Oscar nom or win themselves (there’s still some of us out there, right?). I offer this backhanded compliment because to screen these thirty plus films is to demystify what may be considered as Oscar Worthy. Sure, of this lot, only four or five will secure a nomination, but, many of the cast offs wouldn’t last two minutes in our very own ASIFA-East jury screenings. During a break, Jimmy Picker observed that the bad films are also very loud films. Jimmy’s right. Bad and loud go together in bad animation. Watching films such as My Date From Hell, Christmas Village, The Chubb Chubbs Save Xmas, and Anna And The Moods was very much like being beaten with a bag of oranges, but without that pleasing citrus-y aroma. I was glad to see that most of the 3D monstrosities were not made in America. But, then again, they were made as copies of our box office champs such as the Shrek franchise. Is this the legacy of what we’ve wrought?
Not surprisingly, Disney had an entry this year with their new 2D Goofy short, How to Set Up Your Home Theatre. I’d seen this film open the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in October, where it played to a packed crowd of kids that didn’t laugh once. Here it seemed like a breath of fresh air. Well, sort of fresh. I don’t know what to make of this film. On one hand, I think, “well done.” But, on the other hand, I wonder, “What’s the point?” Yes, it’s great to see Disney doing 2D again, but, the film is a love letter to the past with nothing to offer for today, besides exploiting the home theatre craze (wasn’t that so 5 years ago, anyway?). The original Goofy shorts sort of followed a Robert Benchley how-to format. Today, Benchley is long gone and his own live action shorts have not aged well. As much as this sounds awful, maybe it would have been better to throw Goofy to a situation relevant to today? A reality format? A home design make over show? Something. Anything but a carbon copy of what Disney did in the 1940s. Why make new 2D animation that is stuck in the past? Can’t we make new work that does honor to the great animation of yesterday without resorting to this?
A few films floored me. There were moments of Peter and the Wolf where I was on the edge of my seat. There’s a moment in that film, when the strings finally kick in with the familiar score for the first time. For me, it was as magical as when Dorothy steps from black and white into Technicolor. The film was a dazzler with incredible shots, pacing and genuine emotions. Michael Sporn recently correctly remarked that smiles were overused in Bee-Movie. A scene in Peter and the Wolf begs to agree. There’s a moment where we first see Peter smile when he’s escaped out the fence that separates him from the adventure of the great outdoors. Peter and his animal friends frolic for a bit on a frozen pond and then there’s this shot of his Peter’s smiling face. The smile had such resonance. A similar moment occurred when the director is bold enough to hold on a very long shot of Peter’s face smoldering with hatred for the wolf.
On a side note, many in the audience were dazzled by a Russian film called My Love, which for my money was a Ralph Bakshi rotoscoped film masquerading as paint on glass.
Before I forget, big kudos and congrats to NYC area filmmakers included in this screening:
Sarah Wickliffe (Art’s Desire) and Bill Plympton (Shut Eye Hotel).
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I noticed many things in my first few weeks working for Michael Sporn. First off, everybody, from seasoned veterans to newbies like me, all experienced frequent bouts of work related panic and flop sweat. “Why,” you may ask? The reason was that Michael often challenged his employees by handing out assignments that stretched them well beyond their comfort zone; background painters and designers might be asked to work for a few weeks as animators, animators might be assigned storyboards, the production manager might be asked to figure out a new color technique or to tackle layouts, and a recent studio assistant might be asked to run an entire job as a production manager. Not only did the projects change every couple of months, so did the hats we were all wearing. This was true from the most senior member of the studio all the way down to little ol’ me. Even though this was my first job in animation, I suspected that this was truly a special place to work.
Michael places an amazing amount of trust in his staff. Recently at an ASIFA-East event held in honor of his latest DVD release, I asked Michael how he chooses the scenes he animates himself. He answered that he assigns himself the most boring scenes, the ones where a character might simply have to walk from A to B. Therefore, one can presume that part of Michael’s joy in running a studio must be in how he assigns the work to his staff. Each scene or task is a special bond of trust between Michael and his artists. Although Michael encourages a large degree of self direction from his animators, the resulting films emerge with every frame bearing Mr. Sporn’s fingerprints. I don’t know how he does it!
Still, animation is not all art, and even small independent studios like Michael’s cannot escape the factory side of animation work. When I worked for Michael, the studio was still shooting on film and preparing artwork on cell or paper. There were lots of mechanical handwork involved with paints, glue, and exacto blades. At some point of production, most of the studio would be reassigned to work a few days or weeks at these tasks. At Michael’s, we were so often working to the peak of our abilities that switching over to a more mundane part of production felt like sweet relief! Yet, whatever the relief factor was, we still had piles of artwork to prep or check for camera. Whenever one person ended up with too much work, the rest of us pitched in and redistributed out the scenes. I naively imagined that all animation studios functioned this way. There was never a day with one person working into the middle of the night with everyone else going home.
As a studio boss, Michael has a gentle way of teaching by example. He might fix your drawing and then walk over and explain what he did and why. He’d invite you over to look at dailies and was open to input on the entire process. But, to me, the best part of the day was getting to the studio early and sitting down with Michael and talking “animation” over a cup of tea. Between 9:00 and 10:00 AM the studio slowly came to life, each employee trickling in and taking their seat at the back table. Sometimes we all chatted for a long time, maybe not getting up until close to 11! Such are the pleasures of a family environment. It was truly like an animation home away from home.
Not everyone has had the privilege of working with Michael Sporn, but everyone should come out and celebrate the man’s stunning body of work Nov 9-12 with a special retrospective of his films at MOMA (see www.asifaeast.com for details!). Congrats, Michael!
For your daily dose of Sporn check out www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog
Sunday, November 4, 2007
I’m currently in the midst of writing a second book on the animation industry for Allworth Press, this time on the ins and outs of pitching and development. My first book, Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive (May 2006), was a pretty big ordeal to write. Lack of time turned out to be my worst enemy. This time around, it’s largely the same old story, but at least I now know how long it takes to write a book and am able to budget my time a little smarter.
I’m very pleased with how the first book has been received by reviewers and by the industry. It was truly an odd thing to get a book deal in the first place. By 2004, I’d been pitching animated series ideas for eight years, without success. But, I’ve learned that success is a relative term. It’s possible to have all your ideas rejected and still be inching ever closer towards your goal. Very slowly, over time, I was improving as a writer and a salesman, which is what pitchers have to be in equal parts.
I thought I’d use this week’s blog entry to share the original pitch letter that sold my first book. I remember making 12 drafts of this two-page letter over a period of a couple of weeks. Some of the content of this letter made it into press materials for the book and some even snuck into the introduction chapter itself.
Please forgive any self-aggrandizing statements in the letter below. As a pitch document, the letter had to prove not only the need for such a book, but my own qualifications to write it. Also, note the different working-title of the book. Gosh, what a mouth-full! Some of you may find some of the letter’s content familiar because some of it found its way into the introduction chapter and other bits snuck into the press materials. I hope you get a chance to check out the final book that sprung from this pitch, Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive. For the best price, I recommend picking up a copy on www.amazon.com.
And now, here's the original pitch letter. Enjoy!
HOW TO STRETCH AND SQUASH
YOUR WAY INTO A
CAREER IN ANIMATION
A BOOK PROPOSAL
David B. Levy
How To Stretch and Squash Your Way Into A Career In Animation is as much for those with hopes of entering the field of commercial animation as it is an industry survival guide for those already working. Whether one wants advice on how to land one's first job or is seeking ways to advance one's current career, the answers and inspiration are here.
The animation industry is a billion-dollar worldwide business. It's hard to imagine a day where you don't find yourself confronted by an image of SpongeBob SquarePants, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny or The Simpsons. Although animation dates back to the birth of film, it continues to evolve as evidenced by the recent groundbreaking CGI successes of Pixar's Monster's Inc. and Dream Works' Shrek. Scads of books abound on how those films and your favorite animated TV shows are made. DVD commentary tracks regularly give us the voices of directors as they break down their creations. The curtain has been lifted and would-be animators now have more access to technical information than ever before.
Despite this flood of information, crucial questions about the animation business remain unexplored:
-How do you begin a career in animation?
-What kind of portfolio or reel do you need?
-How do you meet the local community of animators?
Likewise, those already working may be asking:
-How do you ensure that your skills stay marketable for years to come?
-What can you do to network more effectively?
- How do you make the leap from working for others to pitching and selling a show of your own or going into business for yourself?
No single book has ever sought to focus on these important topics...until now.
Utilizing interviews with those at the top of the industry, How To Stretch... will offer up answers, advice and personal anecdotes on all those questions and more. Best of all, my ten years (and counting) experience working in the animation industry ensures that this book is written from an insider's perspective. I have worked as a freelancer and as a staff employee on such projects as TV series, industrials, commercials, pilots and independent films. The genres have run the gamut from preschool to kids to adult. In ten years, I've enjoyed steady employment and weathered layoffs during slower periods of the economy. Since graduating from the School of Visual Arts (SVA), I've produced an award winning short independent film nearly every year. As a director, I have been in competition in the largest Animation festival in the world, the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. In my role as President of Asifa-East (The New York chapter of the Association Internationale du Film d'Animation), I am responsible for leading and organizing monthly events, screenings, newsletters and an annual festival for the New York community of animators. I have done a series of lectures on how to build a successful career in animation at New York University (NYU), and I am presently teaching a class at SVA called Animation Career Strategy.
This book will also function as a resource by listing contact information for animation schools, societies, unions, film festivals, studios, websites, books, and magazines.
How To Stretch and Squash Your Way Into A Career In Animation will entertainingly educate and enlighten the reader on key subjects essential to achieving success in the field.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Many creators owe their start in the biz to Mr. Fred Seibert who has spawned oodles of opportunities for pitchers through his initiatives at Cartoon Network/Hanna Barbera (What-A-Cartoon!) and Frederator (Oh-Yeah! Cartoons and Random Cartoons). Dan Meth arrived on the scene in 1999 and gradually made a name for himself through his internet cartoons. Fred hired Dan Meth in March of 2006, and they both began to search for ways to work with one another on original content. Eventually they came up a groundbreaking idea; the creation of 39 shorts called The Meth Minute, conceived and directed by Meth, to be posted consecutively over 39 weeks.
They unveiled their series with a certified phenomenon called, Internet People. It was a very shrewd beginning for the series because it basically summed up the history of pop culture as spread on the internet while at the same time placing the Meth Minute within that context. The short got millions of hits and lots of attention on various media. As a film, Internet People owes a lot of its success to Meth’s catchy little song and lyrics. Animating to a song lends an advantage to a filmmaker because it provides a tight little structure on which to base a film around. I wondered if all of Meth’s shorts would be musical and I looked forward to finding out.
The next Meth Minute film, Sex Machine, was a James Brown spoof and, in part, also utilized a song as a key component. With this second film I understood was Meth was trying to do. The Meth Minute strives to be the internet equivalent of SNL’s cartoons by Robert Smigel. The strength and weaknesses of Meth’s films will be determined, not by his skill (he’s consistently a technically capable and confident filmmaker), but by how well he chooses his pop culture targets and how often his writing is able to carry it beyond an inspired title.
For example, the latest Meth Minute is called, Mike Tyson’s Brunch Out. Anyone of my generation (I’m a couple of years older than Meth) will immediately recognize the pun on the popular 1980s video game, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! I think Meth tried to create a deliberately disjointed short that gives one the feeling of picking up a little bit of conversation from each table at a busy restaurant. So, on one hand, the film makes a point about brunchers who are lost in their own worlds, while on the other hand, it’s simply illustrating the joke: here’s Mike Tyson placed out of context, eating brunch and spouting out Tysonisms on demand. For my taste, the dueling concepts compete with each other, and sap strength out of the whole. It’s interesting to see how many ideas a short film can or can't hold and that’s part of the adventure of this whole enterprise. Over 39 films, they’ll win some and lose some.. and that seems about right.
The Meth Minute is a bold experiment and it’s well worth all of our support and encouragement. Besides, this is a NY production. Show some love! Check out the Meth Minute at www.frederator.com and www.channelfrederator.com.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I have to confess that I’ve been smitten with the work of Mo Willems since I first met him in 1995. He was in his Suzie Kabloozie faze of his career back then, making short films for Sesame Street at New York’s Curious Pictures. One look at Mo’s NYU student films made me immediately rethink my choice in SVA. Unlike my classmates and myself, Mo had emerged as a wonderful filmmaker while still in school! His films such as The Man Who Yelled, Iddy Biddy Beat, and Another Bad Day For Phillip Jenkins became instant favorites with me. In Mo’s own estimation, he wasn’t much of a draftsman. In my eyes, Mo didn’t have to be. If he didn’t draw the best drawings, he drew the right drawings. And, unlike other animation filmmakers looking to patch over their flaws with fluid animation, Mo seemed to draw as few drawings as possible.
It’s interesting to note that in the formative years of his career in the early 1990s, Mo was drinking from the same water that must have been inspiring Gendy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken (Dexter’s Laboratory and Power Puff Girls, respectively) on the other coast. A good window into the difference between the New York and Hollywood mind set might be how Mo injected his UPA/50s graphic influence towards projects that were far more personal and sensitive in nature.
While Mo’s films were child like, they weren’t always for children. And, when they were for children, he certainly wasn’t talking down to his audience. Mo’s gifts weren’t lost on Sesame Street where he made dozens and dozens of films over a period of years, culminating with the recurring award winning Suzie Kabloozie films. If Suzie had been allowed to grow up, she may have entered the world of Mo’s next network creation, The Off-Beats, which ran as a segment of Nickelodeon’s Kablam. The Off-Beats seemed like a more cerebral and abstract Peanuts. I loved these films, which, for my money, were the reason to tune in to Kablam.
Mo’s career fascinates me because it seems to follow a relatively straight line towards an obvious conclusion, an animated series of his very own; Sheep In the Big City. The unusual show ran two seasons and still enjoys a cult audience to this day. It was an odd mixture; one part blank-eyed titular character pushed around by a noisy narrator and an even noisier general, while the other part being more of an animated Saturday Night Live. Sort of two shows smushed together to make one. Lots of the SNL-style sketches are cute and inspired, but something about the process of animation itself (and all its planned-out months-ahead-ness) sort of sucks the life out of a comedy sketch. In the medium of animation it’s difficult to get a feeling of spontaneity into an SNL sketch-style film. Since the days of Mo’s series, shows like Robot Chicken have successfully pulled it off but only after becoming a barrage of pop culture parodies. Mo had something more dignified in mind with his sketch writing. In the little lamb, Mo crafted a stone-faced character in the tradition of Buster Keaton. This non-verbal character broke ground on cartoon network but, often posed more challenges than it offered benefits.
In Sheep’s last season, a new director named Tom Warburton came aboard and a year later, Mo became Tom’s head writer on a new Cartoon Network show, Code Name: Kids Next Door (KND). Legend has it that Tom helped speed up Mo’s show and Mo helped slow Tom’s show down. On KND, Mo grinded out script after winning script. The show was big hit with it’s audience, becoming the only giant new hit cartoon since SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly Odd Parents.
Having reached a career pinnacle with his own show and having more than met the challenge as the head writer of KND, perhaps Mo was looking for something else. With all of Mo’s previous achievements, who would have believed that he’d find his greatest success in the next phase of his career as the author of many best selling award winning children’s books? Adults enjoy Mo’s children’s books, such as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, as much as their intended young readers. Just like his Sesame Street films fifteen years before, Mo still isn’t talking down to his audience. Perhaps his career path is not a straight line after all. Maybe it’s more of a circle. But, enough of my arm-chair analysis…you’ll get a chance to meet Mr. Mo Willems, yourself, when he’s ASIFA-East’s special guest on Thursday November 29. Save the date. Details to be announced soon at www.asifaeast.com.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
There's been so much written about the process of developing and pitching an animated series. Articles on the subject pop up frequently in trade magazines and on many popular on line destinations. In two hundred words or less, these articles attempt to stuff this whole labyrinthine subject into a shoe-size box. Perhaps more surprisingly, I've seen the same problem spring up at industry panel discussions. The danger of boiling this subject into bite sized nuggets is that just about every statement needs to be followed by opposing view points, caveats, or a plain ol' deeper explanation. For instance, I attended a pitching and development panel at the first Platform International Animation Festival where I heard Nickelodeon development executive Peter Gal remark, "If it's your first deal there's not much point to negotiating. It is what it is." I heard this point and immediately thought of my network deal, on which, the ink was still fresh. My wonderful lawyer and I had negotiated and (through that effort) significantly improved the deal financially and otherwise. After the panel I pointed this out to Peter and he wisely responded, "Well, no, that wouldn't apply to you because you're established." Even though this is my first network development deal, I do have a twelve-year (and counting) career as a storyboard artist, animator, designer, illustrator, author, and director. We are each the sum of our experiences and that's got to count for something.
On the same panel, Cartoon Network development executive Heather Kenyon playfully warned the audience to never sing during a pitch. In my experience, I've heard at least two others echo that advice. In fact, I’ve heard of one creator who regularly creeps out development executives by reciting poems and singing. However, Peter Gal, disagreed and explained that he recently bought an idea from a singing pitcher. Further adding to the argument, newcomer Pen Ward successfully pitched two cartoon shorts to Frederator while strumming his guitar and singing.
Another oft told "no-no" concerns bringing food to a pitch meeting. What if you bring dairy items to someone who's lactose intolerant or snacks that may contain peanuts to someone with a peanut allergy? Several development executives have advised against taking the chance. I'm immediately reminded of Mo Willems wowing his pitch audience for Sheep in the City with delicious French Fries. In another food related encounter, Blue's Clues co-creator, Traci Paige Johnson, wrote a thank you note on the top of a pizza box that helped secure her a place on a creative team with Todd Kessler and Angela Santomero, where the three of them would collaborate to create the mega smash hit, Blue's Clues. This is all enough to give us food for thought. Yet, I think both sides of this debate would agree that if your pitch meeting involves food, it should never be the main course.
Another example of this phenomenon occurred at an ASIFA-East event celebrating Frederator's launch of 39 new cartoons. Serving as the moderator of a panel, which included Frederator executive producer and president, Fred Seibert, and several of his short's creators, I introduced the topic of pitching in storyboards versus the traditional mini bible. The method of choice for Frederator is that would-be creators pitch their ideas in a storyboard form that is essentially the film before a film is made. The characters are shown in action, activated by a plot, which hopefully, springs out of the character itself. This method is very direct and I can see why it appeals to Frederator, who (with their order of 39 cartoons) was in the business of making shorts, not series. The problem is that Fred and, in particular, shorts creator, Alan Goodman, trashed mini bibles out right, not just in light of their particular business needs at that time. An impressionable new comer to the world of pitching sitting in the audience might have walked away believing Frederator's point of view as a universal truth. A mini bible is, in fact, the pitch document of choice at just about everywhere besides Frederator. A good series bible contains lots of splashy show art (eye-candy), and succinct fun-to-read descriptions of the characters, the world, the rules of the world, and some episode synopsizes. The storyboard pitches I toiled to create during a year for Frederator were useless pitch documents elsewhere. It was not until I scrapped them and started over with traditional mini bibles did I score my first network deal.
I don't suggest that it's a waste of your time or energy to read pitch articles or to attend industry panels. Just process everything you hear with a grain of salt. Maybe two grains of salt and be sure to throw them over your shoulder for good luck. It's my hope to help spread a better understanding of this business that goes far beyond a sound bite or snappy flippant answer.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Adult Swim: New York Style
Ever since the days of Roger Rabbit in 1987, the entertainment industry has been trying to make and market animation specifically to the tastes of young adults, while hoping to also sweep along viewers in their 30s and 40s that still collect comic books and action figures.
Once upon a time MTV animation had a ground-breaking vehicle to showcase innovative animated programming for young adults. It was called Liquid Television and it was the launch pad of cheap acquisitions such as (then unknown) Mike Judge’s embryonic Beavis and Butthead. As we all know, the unlikely duo grew into a massive hit show of their own. The trouble started when development executives ,TV programmers, and network presidents tried to build a line up of animated programming that might keep viewers glued to their seats. Towards this end, MTV employed a lot of NY animation artists, built a studio, spent a lot of money, and (famously) rejected a show created by a new pair of unknowns named Matt Stone and Trey Parker, called South Park. MTV animation, despite some modest success with Celebrity Death Match and Daria, largely survived off the vapors of Beavis and Butthead. In 2001 they gave up the ghost and closed shop.
But, who was to claim the audience primed on years of Beavis and Butthead. Sure, South Park landed on Comedy Central to major success, but (like MTV) this network had trouble expanding the lone hit into a programming block. Lots of misfires stacked up and other niche cable networks jumped onto the bandwagon (Sci Fi network’s Tripping the Rift, anyone?) Then came the bizarre attempt by Spike TV to debut it’s block of animation as if animated cult hits could just be made to order. Anyone remember Gary the Rat, This Just In, and Stripperella? Most recently, MTV animation rose from the dead, plugged in a bunch of wacom cintiqs, and hired an awesome New York crew to create an 8 episode series called Friday, which they dumped off the air after one or two broadcasts.
No network (or even web destination) was able to crack the code and create an animated line up that could consistently deliver the goods to this fickle audience. That was slowly about to change. In the early 1990s, Cartoon Network quietly debuted a late night show called Space Ghost Coast to Coast. The odd show repurposed character names and designs from a largely forgotten Hanna and Barbera cartoon from the 1960s and re-imagined its stars as the animated hosts of a late night talk show. The show began to develop a following and became the seed for a whole night of programming that would later be called Adult Swim. Where all other networks have failed, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line up has spawned hits such as Robot Chicken, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Venture Brothers, and several others.
The Venture Brothers, created by Jackson Publick, launched as a series in 2003, becoming Adult Swim’s first New York area production. This summer it was followed by Assy McGee (co-created by Carl W. Adams), a production of Boston-based Clambake Animation, but partly remotely staffed by New York area freelancers, including myself. Soon to begin production is a third New York series called Super Jail, created by Christy Karacas and produced at Aaron Augenblick’s studio in Dumbo.
Why has Adult Swim succeeded where others have not? The answer may be that they don’t try to make cult hits. There is no pandering to the audience. In fact, like a good punk band, Adult Swim sometimes even displays contempt for their audience. After all, they did recently mix reruns of Saved By the Bell “ironically” into their programming line up. Adult Swim’s development executives green light and produce shows that amuse themselves much in the same way Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and Bob Clampett (working in the Golden Age of Hollywood animation) made shorts.
Adult Swim is about to take a victory lap by expanding its programming reach to seven nights a week. Surely, MTV, Spike TV, and Comedy Central will be among those watching.
Monday, September 24, 2007
One sign of the poor quality of animation critique is the lack of serious writing about the animated films of the most renowned independent filmmaker in the world, Bill Plympton. Yet, I have mixed feelings about writing about Bill Plympton when there are so many unsung animation filmmakers in the New York Area. However, one of the benefits of having a weekly blog is that with each Monday entry, there’s more than enough love to go around. Outside of the obvious quality and quantity of Bill’s work, there is also his generosity of spirit beckoning me to feature him in today’s entry. Bill has carved a very visible role in the New York area community and is a regular presence at ASIFA-East screenings and events. Bill has championed other films and filmmakers and I don’t think he gets enough credit for it.
I first became aware of Bill Plympton’s work while I was still in high school. I remember traveling in from Long Island to see Bill’s animation as part of an animation tourney that played at a (now) long-gone Bleeker Street Cinema. There I saw Bill’s seminal works such as “One of Those Days” (1988), and “How to Kiss” (1989). As an amazing illustrator working in animation, Bill’s films were living and breathing with the artist’s hand present in every frame. For someone who came to animation fairly late in his career, Bill emerged as a fully formed idiosyncratic filmmaker. His films quickly found festival success, TV play, and even an Oscar nomination for 1987’s “Your Face.” Animation enthusiasts all over the world very quickly became familiar with Bill’s blend of black out gags, adult themes/humor, colored pencil technique, deft draftsmanship, and a tendency to time animation on 4s, 6s, and 8s.
In my opinion, Bill hit a recent creative peak in 2004 and 2005 with a pair of very different films. “Guard Dog” was Bill’s most sophisticated use of animated cinematography since “One of Those Days.” The titular character bounced through the film in walk cycle so stylized that it was virtually made up of only key poses. Most action in the film is depicted in the same fashion. A martial arts sequence preformed by an animal in a tree, pops from pose to pose in much of the same way. Bill’s choice is not an animated short cut. He’s displaying the confidence of a master. The result was nothing short of thrilling and hilarious. There are also terrific jump cuts in the dog’s journey through the park that emphasize the growing mania and impending danger. With “Guard Dog,” Bill came dangerously close to animating a character as a character and not as a comic prop. We see the guard dog react to its surroundings and later to the consequence of it’s actions. The short’s subject of an overly protective canine, ready to protect it’s master at any cost, is a one note joke, but a perfect one to explore over a short film.
Bill followed this short with the excellent “The Fan and the Flower,” a poetic love story between the title characters. The film is elegant in it’s use of silhouettes and sparse scenics. I preferred the first version of the film with its original narrator before Bill swapped that out for the Oscar-bate voice of Paul Giamatti. Perhaps because the film was written and produced by Dan O’Shannon, Bill had to stay faithful to the story and put a limit to the creative indulgences that mark some of his other work. I find that rules can force creative people out of their comfort zone. Wasn’t John K’s original Nickelodeon version of Ren and Stimpy so much more fun when it flirted on the edge of good taste instead of clubbing you over the head in its later Adult Party incarnation on Spike TV? In such a way, I’m a believer that Bill’s best work is not found in his (anything goes) “Sex and Violence” series of shorts. Bill’s most recent short, “Shuteye Hotel” showed that Bill might be in agreement. It’s a beautiful looking film, with lots of great murder mystery noir touches.
For someone primarily thought of as an indendepent animator, Bill has made many TV commercials over the years as well as a handful of TV pilots. I don’t think the TV pilots (to date) have captured the best of Bill’s work the way his shorts so often do. For Bill’s best TV work to come through it may take collaboration, which is the lifeblood of all good TV pilots and series. I suspect that the networks that gave Bill pilot deals largely tried to stay out of his way in attempts to imitate the creative freedom that power his best shorts. I don’t think either party benefited by such a plan.
Short films remain Bill’s bread and butter. The problem is that Bill has been so prolific and successful with his shorts that its an area where few challenges remain. Bill is currently putting the finishing touches on his fifth feature film and its tempting to speculate that he continues to make shorts if only to pay for his experiments in features. In features, the stakes are higher. They take longer to make, are more expensive, and have far greater demands in the writing department. The juice that powers a great film like “Guard Dog,” doesn’t cut it for a longer format. With features, Bill enjoys the challenge that he may have felt long ago when he tackled shorts for the first time. Bill’s quest to make a great feature film has allowed this most celebrated of animators to stay hungry.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
I’m excited to report that my film, Good Morning, has been accepted into the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. Regretfully, independent filmmaking has played only a small part in my career to date. I often get ideas for films but work and life priorities often intervene and pull me in other directions. Good Morning has it’s own unique creation story and I thought I’d share it on this blog.
In late October 2006 I flew out to L.A. to pitch a series idea and launch my book at an event with ASIFA Hollywood. When I got home there was a message from my Dad that my mom was in the hospital again. She had been a cancer survivor for over thirty years and enjoyed a high quality of life without any pain. Now she took a turn for the worse and things were looking grim. For the next month and a half she would be in and out of the hospital. Before my mother took ill, I had accepted a job to animate on a pilot. By the end of my first week on the job, my mother lost her battle and passed away. At less than a year later, this still seems unreal to put in writing let alone to say out loud. As natural and inevitable as this process is, I don’t think anything prepares you for it. The event made me re-evaluate my priorities and I put work on hold for a month to be with my family.
Shortly after the New Year I returned to my job animating on the pilot. In addition to this I had teaching obligations to finish up at NYU and SVA as well as three more months of freelance work to complete on a series of films I was commissioned to make for TV series about wine. On top of everything my girlfriend and I were trying to close on an apartment and once that finally happened, there was the matter of having to move. I found myself consumed by all these responsibilities.
Happily, by mid February my work on the pilot and the wine show were both near the finishing stages. At this time I accepted an offer to direct Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim series Assy McGee, but that wouldn’t start for some time. All I had left on my plate was teaching two classes a week. The rest of the time was mine. I started to flirt with the idea of starting a little film project; something purely to please me and free from the demands of any client. I saw ten days coming up where I could devote to whatever muses might grab me.
Because of all the madness of the last four months, I ended up with a wacom tablet sitting untouched and brand new inside its box. I decided to install it and maybe make a little film to test it out. Searching for inspiration, I searched through a stack of CDs and rediscovered a disc of children’s songs written by my friend, Bob Charde. Ten years ago he had composed the theme to my first film, Snow Business. I popped on the CD and fell in love with a short song of Bob’s called, Good Morning. The tune was bouncy and full of joy. I made up my mind to animate to this track and by that evening’s end I had fourteen seconds in the can. I finished the short over the next nine days.
Working on Good Morning was like allowing myself permission to bliss out. Never had making a film felt so good. At this time in my life it was like a form of therapy. Contributing to the fun were the filmmaking rules I assigned to this project. Rules are incredibly important because they give you parameters on which to create. For a film that barely cracks the one-minute mark, it sure has a long list of rules. I decided to not have any scene cuts or separate backgrounds. All the animation would be brown line art against a brown paper bag texture. There would be no other color. Overlapping lines between characters and backgrounds were okay. Instead of cuts, I used animated transitions between each scene. Forsaking a traditional storyboard, I deliberately worked straight ahead, allowing myself to paint the film into a corner at the end of each scene. I hoped this would all conspire to give the film a sense of joy and spontaneity. Certainly, with a track as good as Bob’s song, I couldn’t go too far off.
It’s very gratifying that this film is experiencing some festival success, but I don’t know what could compare to the important role it’s already played in my life. I can’t watch Good Morning without thinking about my mother…and that makes me smile and bliss out all over again.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Welcome to the first edition of my weekly ASIFA-East’s president’s blog, ANIM-MONDAYS. As you may have already guessed, I’ll be updating this blog page every Monday. There are so many great blogs out there. In fact, I don’t feel fully into my day until I’ve had my morning coffee and a visit to such great blogs as Michael Sporn’s insightful splog at www.michaelspornanimation.com, Jerry Beck’s and Amid Amidi’s tasteful cartoonbrew.com, the newsy awn.com, author Michael Barrier’s posts at michaelbarrier.com, and the (almost too varied) cartoon blogs available at frederator.com. With so many voices already in the mix, ANIM-MONDAYS will differ in that it will be exclusively devoted to topics revolving around the New Yawk area animation scene.
For this first entry, I’m happy to feature filmmaker’s Fran and Will Krause. I first met Fran in 2000 when he was fresh out of RISD, riding the festival award-winning wave of his thesis film, Mr. Smile. At the time I was an animator at Blue’s Clues and one Friday, our supervising animation director, David J. Palmer, showed us Mr. Smile. “Check out the way he draws hands!” Palmer pointed out. We were transfixed.
Fran’s first animated films at RISD were experimental art pieces. Fran changed direction when he heard the audience reaction to funny films made by classmates such as Jesse Schmal and Mike Overbeck. Mr. Smile expertly blended humor with Fran’s love of Estonian animation, which is often bizarre, funny, and fascinating at the same time. There must have been something in the water that year at RISD because a new wave of animated filmmaking was being born. I’m tempted to call it a Slacker New Wave (SNW). I use the word “slacker” affectionately because the films appear free and (almost) effortless in their execution. SNW works also amble by a slow pace that tends to explore quiet and sometimes awkward moments instead of focusing on macho action, blood, and guts. Even the voices in their films are usually soft, casual and quiet.
After seeing films by SNW filmmaker’s such as Jesse Schmal, Fran Krause, and Mike Overbeck, I imagined that they were conceived by writing random words on index cards, throwing them in the air, piecing them together in no particular order, and then united them in some obtuse theme. Schmal and Overbeck have thus far been consumed by their successful careers in commercial animation and have not yet further devoted time to making films beyond their student triumphs. Meanwhile, Fran Krause has carried on beyond RISD to emerge as one of the top animation filmmakers today, sometimes working on new independent films alone (Moonraker and Box Factory), and sometimes working with brother Will (Robot Dance Party, Utica Cartoon). Incidentally, Will Krause is a highly accomplished animator/filmmaker in his own right, most recently making a big splash with his award winning direction of The 2005 Ottawa International Animation Festival signal film.
I have been teaching animation since 2003 and many students’ eyes light up when I bring Fran Krause into class as a guest speaker. Most know his work through his first pilot for Cartoon Network, the aforementioned, Utica Cartoon. Fully animated, voiced, photographed, and composed by Fran, Will, and their Animation Cowboy collaborators (pals made up of fellow RISD-ites), the film was like nothing else done at Cartoon Network (before or since). More a glorified independent film than corporate pilot, it was difficult to pin down. As much as the pilot seems very brothers Krause, it also bore the scars of network notes and revisions. The original idea that Fran and Will had pitched was about the rivalry between the animals at a zoo and the students at a nearby school. Pitched as Utica Zoo, it instead became a cartoon about anthropomorphic animals living among humans in a human world, without any noticeable rhyme or reason.
Fast forward more than five years later and Fran and Will Krause are putting the finishing touches on a brand new pilot for Cartoon Network. From what I’ve heard, this time there is action mixed with the comedy, and actors (not Animation Cowboys) are supplying the voices. Perhaps best of all, the Krause’s offer hope that there is room for New York independent filmmakers in a world of network development that too often caters to the Hollywood house style. Could the Krause’s lasting legacy be the merging of the two worlds? Who knows? These brothers are just getting started.