Animation has always been the merger of three different disciplines; Art, Commerce and Technology. Change, innovate or in general alter one of them, you change the game.
This leads to a second major point. Animation is not a genre. Genres regard subject matter, context and setting. Being about superheroes, furry animals or Japanese children dying from radiation poisoning after Hiroshima and Nagasaki can as easily be done in live action as it is in animation.
Animation is a process. In and of itself it’s only about the mechanics, and the craft/skill that comes with producing, nee, creating it.
That said, a paradigm shift is starting to have its effect. It’s coming in the form of a new website called aniBoom.com
AniBoom is an online community for animators. It made a name for itself recently when it hooked up with the band Radiohead to produce a series of videos based on the band’s last release, In Rainbows.
Basically, Radiohead let the aniBoom’s subscribers take one minute-samples and animate them. From there, the results the band got were so impressive, instead of choosing one video, they chose—and paid production costs and an extra $10,000 each—for four.
Now the site is hosting a new contest called MassAnimation. The sponsors of this stunt are the Sony Entertainment and Intel. We sat down with aniBoom’s Sr. Vice President of Marketing, Jonas Gerber, to tell us all about it, as well as the site itself.
Here’s what he had to say:
Newsarama: For starters, what’s the origins and purpose of aniBoom?
Jonas Gerber: The vision of aniBoom is a pretty simple premise. There’s a supply and a demand. I’ll start with the demand side.
We all know there we are experiencing a boom in animation. There are so many different ways this demand is manifesting itself. What used to be considered only cartoons for kids has expanded gigantically. Just look at Fox on Sunday nights, those shows appeal to entire families, from kids to adults. It’s taking a growing market share of feature films. Then there will all the new platforms, from the web to mobile phones. There’s a growing hunger for content there, and animation has proved to work so well these new platforms. You can’t say the same about live action. Then there are video games. We haven’t really begun to touch all the new applications for animation.
On the supply side, there are tens of thousands animators all over the world. What you couldn’t say ten years ago but can say today is now they have the tools. They have access to essentially the same tools at a bigger studio. They have Maya. They have Flash. It just doesn’t make sense to a studio to have 500 animators in a warehouse anymore. So there is a supply out there.
Unfortunately for these animators, they don’t have the access to the studios. If you are sitting in Eastern Europe, and you have an amazing idea and send it to one of the media conglomerates, chances are it will be sent back to you in a sealed envelope and wasn’t even opened so they can prove they were never ‘tainted’ by your idea. So one of the things we have created is a way to bridge that gap, to bridge all these independent animators out there and this growing demand.
What we have done is create a virtual studio. We use the power of the web to bring in all these animators throughout the world and enable them to produce and distribute to these various industries. AniBoom.com is not a destination site. We don’t drive people there. AniBoom.com is all about its creators. Right now we have over 7,000 professional independent animators from 72 countries around the world.
It’s a place for animators to come and interact with each other, to learn from one another. Most importantly, when an animator comes to aniBoom, he or she can upload their work over there. From there, we distribute them to a network of distribution platforms, to see if anyone will download them. We try to monazite them and have a revenue sharing program. So for these animators, it’s not only a platform for exposure but also a chance to make some money.
NRAMA: So you are a distributor also.
JG: The point is we distribute it as widely as possible. Of course, we are trying to make money for ourselves whenever we can. The end game is not to have your animation show as much advertising as possible. The end game is to use this infrastructure I described as a farm system, to identify the best animators around the world. Now we don’t personally crown the animators ourselves, it’s what do the fans say. The best tend to rise to the top based on performance ratings, how often it gets shared, etc.
Then we hook up with that top performing animator, and fund the development of original animated content with them. We do have an ownership interest in it. We also give participation to the animator.
NRAMA: So let’s use an example. You guys have a series called Snowy The Frostman. That’s one of the deals you’re talking about?
JG: Yes. Exactly. As you can guess, it’s a spoof of Frosty The Snowman. We saw that it was performing really well. So we contacted that animator. We funded the development of that series for seven webisodes. We’ve launched those webisodes across all our platforms and we got over 2 million views in three weeks. Extraordinarily high ratings and thousands of positive comments.
Now compare that to how you do that on television. Sink a few hundred thousand dollars on a pilot. Then do a 100-person focus group and roll the dice. We created our series for a fraction of the cost. Some of the reasons are we don’t have a physical site. We give a piece of the revenue to the animator. Most animators work in a work-for-hire world. They never see the upside. We give them a true partnership. That’s real difference between our paradigm and the incumbent, existing animation world. Also, instead of a hundred person focus group, we have thousands of people viewing it. Finally, we are in touch with all kinds of exhibitors and broadcasters who we approach with our series natural performance. That’s the model.
NRAMA: So would you say Lil’ Bush was a prototype? Mike Judge or Parker and Stone?
JG: Definitely. Our founder, Uri Shirar, had the vision by those precedents, especially South Park. It started as a little e-card. You can do that with animation. They proved you don’t need 40 people on the set. You can create very powerful stuff with only one or two-man teams.
NRAMA: Do you think the Radiohead promotion helped?
JG: Definitely. Radiohead was a really important right of passage for aniBoom. It created huge exposure. When Thom Yorke sneezes, many people find that newsworthy. They have a huge fan base. So the opportunity to do a project with them?
Also, to offer our animators the opportunity to work with Radiohead’s music and create a music video for them, it gave us instant credibility. It told a lot of animators that we could give them career-furthering opportunities. It became really big for us.
It also became critical because we got 1,200 submissions, from semi-pro on up. From Radiohead’s perspective, they got millions and millions of engagements with their product. Yet when all is said and done, four videos were funded to be fully produced, and they are all Radiohead-official videos. The first one is up now from their first single, “Reckoner.” It showed that our system works.
NRAMA: So did Radiohead approach you guys or did you approach Radiohead?
JG: The genesis is I spent many years building new internet business models for the music industry. I only joined aniBoom about a year ago. So, they didn’t come to us. I came to them. When I pitched them it was like lightning in a bottle.
Radiohead is on the cutting edge for putting together new models. They had just broken free of their recording contract with their old label. They were truly independent. Other major labels had offered them as much as $50 million to sign with them. So they create In Rainbows as an independent entity. Then as proof that the existing distribution system doesn’t work, they make it available for whatever the fans want to pay on the web.
Now they’ve also done a lot in animation. They are heavily invested in the animating process. Another thing most people don’t realize about the music industry is when it comes to synchronizing music to film, it’s not just the writer of the song and the record label that has to sign off on it, it’s also the song publisher. They are three different things.
NRAMA: That’s why many original animation studios went with major studios or public domain music. This way they had access to the music libraries.
JG: Exactly. That’s the beauty of Radiohead’s model. They control everything. I called up my friend, who controls their new media and said we got to do it. So the person I told this to presented my idea among 20 or so others to them, and Thom Yorke and Radiohead were into it.
What Radiohead got out of it was a huge promotion out of it. They got millions of people examining the videos, commenting on them, giving tips and getting real engagement. They are also ending up with four fully produced videos. For us, it fit in perfectly with our organic purpose of people submitting their stuff to us and we testing it for them.
Another thing, think what the alternative would have been for Radiohead. They could have spent several hundred thousand dollars to have one idea turned into a video. All through the process, you’re testing it so it will have a much higher probability of success. Finally, you’re creating something that’s entirely original.
Another brand of companies that cold do this is comic book companies. They can have a similar competition for one of their characters, creating an extension of an existing brand. They end up with three ideas, the original idea, the testing and the extension. So we think this competition model can be really powerful. It can also work for Oreo cookies. We think you’re going to see a lot from this model starting next year.
NRAMA: How would you feel if you’re a major studio who invests millions upon millions of dollars on a single film?
JG: There are all kinds of ways we can be of value to them.
First of all, we’re not going to replace those $80 to $100 million films. John Lasseter and Jeffrey Katzenberg aren’t going to worry about their jobs. If you have a new project coming out, you can hire our creators, again, to come up with stuff to help them promote what they’ve created. You know, the ‘coming release’ clips. They can tap into our platform for promoting.
Second, we can work like a casting call. Instead of a competition, you can use us like an audition. We are currently working on something called MassAnimation. Its being funded by Intel and being run by Yair Landau, who works for Sony. We are creating a five minute CGI short for theatrical release. It will end up almost like a Wiki feature, which will be made of 60 different five-second segments. Yes, there are models and such provided, but there’s still room for creativity. What you’ll end up with our animators picking a shot, doing their seconds and submitting it. From there, we will be weaving together those submissions. If this is successful, the next step is a full-length feature.
Also, the 60 animators who get used will be paid, get credit and the opportunity to work on the film.
NRAMA: What about animators who want to get into the studio system? Would aniBoom be good for them? You’re dealing with independent guys who now have to conform into whatever system the studio has.
JG: There’s definitely some of that. The people who won the Radiohead competition are getting all kinds of opportunities with commercial studios. They essentially created something that before today would have been produced in a real studio. We’re helping the big studios see new talent. For the record, a number of the studios out there tell us that they do troll the web for talent. Still, it’s also easier said than done. Recruiting for them is a full time business.
Another thing we can do is be a farm system for the studio. We can put together the team and produce what’s needed instead of using physical space in the studio.
NRAMA: So let’s review. You’re a meeting place for animators.
JG: Correct. We are a global community for them.
NRAMA: Can you also be a place for them to get the tools they need, such as software?
JG: We don’t provide software. We have some rudimentary tools on our website, but this is for people who use Maya or Flash.
NRAMA: You can point them in the direction to find the software though?
JG: Correct. Most of our community already uses it though. They are professionals or semi-professionals. Many have day jobs at studios. We are a chance for them to get individual exposure though.
NRAMA: Can an amateur wanting to learn the field use you?
JG: Say you got a person with a wonderful heart but doesn’t know how to do animation. He can tap into aniBoom today and hook up with our animators, learning and/or collaborate with them. This way he can also learn how to eventually do his own ideas. From there, he gets to the level where he develops a two-minute short based on his own ideas or working on someone else’s. Then we can take it and market it for him. If it takes off, he’s got a possible career.
NRAMA: Are you going to do film festivals such as SIGGRAPH or The Animation Show? Take your stuff outside of the internet?
JG: I do see ourselves doing that. We do the festivals already to show the animators what aniBoom is all about. We are also not planning to confine ourselves to the internet. If and when there are opportunities to show off outside of the box, we will do it. For us, it’s another way to connect with the talent out there.
Right now, one of our biggest interests is growing a healthy community of professional animators. First they have to know about it. Second, we have to provide a value to them. If we provide them a solid reason to sign on with us, to keep them coming and providing new ideas, we need to help them create stuff that can be commercialized and make money. Finally, we have to make the potential customers, the buyers of our content, to realize that we are a value for them, too. They should feel they can come to us and get what they need.
For more information, check out www.aniBoom.com. They also have platforms on YouTube, FaceBook and a number of other places.
BOOMERANG OFFERING OWN HOLIDAY BLOCKS
Boomerang, the classic cartoon network, will present holiday specials of yesteryear throughout December as part of a month-long “Christmas Party.” An hour and a half of holiday programming will entertain families every Saturday and Sunday at 4:00 p.m. (eastern), culminating in a 30-hour marathon of cheer beginning at 9:00 a.m. (ET/PT) on Christmas Eve.
The spotlighted guests of this party, from Popeye the Sailor to Papa Smurf, span six decades of cartoon history from the 1930s to the 1990s. This Christmas party will celebrate not only how favorite animated families like the Flintstones and the Jetsons ring in the holidays, but will also feature Emmy-nominated one-of-a-kind specials like The Town That Santa Forgot.
"Boomerang's 'Christmas Party' takes us back to a time when families would gather around the television for their annual favorites," said Stacy Isenhower, senior vice president of programming and scheduling for Boomerang and Cartoon Network. "The season truly is about family and togetherness, and our programming helps honor that tradition."
Highlights of the Boomerang Christmas Party include:
• Casper's First Christmas (1979), Saturday, Dec. 13, 4:30 p.m: A joyful group of cartoon friends visit Casper on Christmas Eve. Hairy Scary tries to scare their Christmas spirits away until a touching gesture changes his heart.
• The Town That Santa Forgot (1993), Saturday, Dec. 20, 4 p.m.: Dick van Dyke stars as the voice of a kind grandfather relaying the tale of Jeremy Creek, a spoiled boy who learns it is better to give than to receive.
• The Smurfs Christmas Special (1982), Saturday, Dec. 20, 4:25 p.m.: The Smurfs must use all the holiday goodness they can muster to battle an even greater evil than Gargamel.
• A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994), Wednesday, Dec. 24, 1:30 p.m.: Christmas is nearly ruined when Fred, who plays Ebenezer Scrooge in a Bedrock Community Players Christmas production, becomes a true-life Scrooge himself.
• Nutcracker Scooby (1984), Thursday, Dec. 25, 2 p.m. (ET/PT): This two-part episode from The New Scooby Doo Mysteries is presented as an hour-long Christmas special. The gang tries to spread a little cheer when they are confronted by yet another creepy ghoul.
HAHN DOING BOOK SIGNING
Legendary producer Don Hahn (Lion King, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) will be doing an autograph session for his recently released book, The Alchemy of Animation. The event will be held on Thursday, December 11 at 7:00 PM Pacific time.
It will be held at: Barnes & Noble- The Americana at Brand; 210 Americana Way, Glendale, CA 91210
Store phone: 818-545-9146.
NEXT COLUMN: We talk to creator Mark Adler about his new film Delgo, which opens this Friday..