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

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My Time at Animation is Film 2018

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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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

This year, I decided to go to the 2nd annual Animation is Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was a three day film festival that was all about showing off and supporting the smaller foreign releases that were from countries like France, Japan, and Brazil. Out of the 40 films (both feature-length and short films), I saw 11 of the major releases, because that is why I wanted to go last year. While I can say I wish the festival was not in L.A., because this was one of the most expensive trips in my lifetime, I would have loved it to be in some place like say, Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location. There was also no real swag to purchase, like movie posters of the films being shown with the exception of maybe the Prince of Egypt 20th Anniversary screening, which I wish had two screenings, because I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen myself. In general, this was one of my favorite things to happen in my year of 2018. I really enjoyed seeing US/world premieres of films from around the world, getting my questions during Q&A sessions answered by the directors themselves, shaking hands with a few of them, taking a selfie with the director of Funan, which won the two major awards at the festival, and the possibility of having a future interview with the director of Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, which won the Special Jury Prize. From my personal perspective, the films that I saw at the festival show that the foreign theatrical animation scene is still going as strong as ever. In this editorial, I’m simply going to go over what I took away from my observations of the animation scene happening all over the world.

2D animation is alive and well, and can be done!

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Recently when talking about the new upcoming CGI SpongeBob movie, Paramount made a comment about how they thought 2D animation couldn’t be done anymore because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. These studios overseas, while having to go through challenges of their own, still are able to use animation software to make beautiful and vibrant 2D animation. Some didn’t even break the bank in costs. For example, one of my favorite films of the festival, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, only cost a little over two million dollars. Sure, with maybe an extra million, they could have added more frames of animation, but the film not only had a great visual look, but the motions were snappy, polished, you understood what they were doing, and had a really good script to balance out the animation. 2D isn’t dead! Either the studio doesn’t have or know about the tech or talent that they have, or they are too lazy to actually give 2D animation a try. It’s not like you need to go back to cel animation to make great 2D. Simply put, films like The Breadwinner and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales are possible, and don’t always need to cost double-digit millions to make them work.

Animation can tell different kinds of stories!

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One of the best things about animation is that it is such a versatile medium of filmmaking, that if you really put your back into it, you can tell other types of stories than just comedies. You can tell so many stories. Just because it is animated, doesn’t mean you have to write for kids in mind. So many of the films I saw at this festival were not really for kids. They weren’t stoner comedies either, but instead told very endearing, intense, depressing, and intimate stories. A majority of the films were fairly adult, like Funan, Ruben Brandt, Seder Masochism, Bunuel, and even Tito and the Birds. Sure, some of the films were easily approachable to children, like Pachamama and Okko’s Inn, but everything else? Yeah, I don’t think a kid could handle what Ruben Brandt was dishing out. It simply shows that people can and will be enticed to see different stories in animation.

Animation can be visually different!

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A common issue I hear with a lot of animation, whether you say it’s the cartoons from the US, anime from Japan, or the CGI animated features in theaters right now, is that they all look the same. While that’s not really true, I understand. Unless you are doing something outright different with your visuals, it can all feel very repetitive. Luckily, Animation is Film showed how vibrant and diverse the art for every film was. Even some of the films that didn’t have my favorite art direction like Seder Masochism and Okko’s Inn were visually different. Heck, the one film you need to see that has one of the most standout visual styles is Ruben Brandt, with its Picasso-inspired human designs and world. You don’t have to try and look like a Disney film anymore. Find a pleasing artstyle that you can call your own, and use it!

 

Even for more family focus features, they didn’t talk down to the audience!

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A common issue I have with animated films that end up being bad, is that they don’t seem to respect the time or intelligence of the audience. This is a common occurrence with bad family films, like Monster Family, Duck Duck Goose, and Gnome Alone for a few examples from this year. Sure, feeling like the film is talking down to you and assuming you are stupid can be annoying, no matter whom the film is aimed at, but it’s simply delightful when a film does not do that. Even the films that were aimed at younger audiences at the festival did not shy away from trauma or none-happy moments from the film. Okko’s Inn, from its look and tone, is definitely not offering much for many adult viewers, but it does not shy away from what happens to our main character, or the theme of forgiveness. Again, just because it’s animated doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something more mature. Mirai handled its theme of family and growing up without ever wagging a finger at one type of person. Treat your audience with respect!

In general, the Animation is Film festival was incredible, and I hope more people support it in the future. Again, I wish it wasn’t just in California and could be a touring road show and come to cities like Austin, but I would definitely recommend going to this event, if you are a huge fan of animation.

The Other Side of Animation 140: Big Fish & Begonia Review

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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 review!)

In the span of a few years, China has started to throw its hat into the ring of animation. They have now made it a goal to not just be the country other countries use for their animation, or the creator of a flood of mediocre features. While The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a good first step, I would hardly call it a good movie. The true first step for the country would come in the form of an animated feature that came out back in 2016, but finally got a release here in the states, Big Fish & Begonia. This unique and important title was the passion project behind the directors, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. It was based on a Chinese Taoist story called Zhuangzi, but apparently drew from other Chinese classic tales as well. After going through up to over a decade of financial troubles of getting funding, spending it, and lack of animation talent, the film was finally finished. It was picked up by Shout! Factory last year, and was a feature that people payed major attention to during film festivals, including being one of the big features of the Animation is Film Festival. So, was a decade of development worth the hype and final product? Well, let’s check it out.

The story follows Chu, dubbed by Stephanie Sheh. She is a 16 year-old girl who lives in a world that lies on the other side of the human world’s ocean. It’s full of powerful individuals and spirits. Chun has to go through a rite of passage, and venture into the human world as a red dolphin. While in the human world, Chun is smitten by a human male named Kun, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn. After a few days swimming around, Chun gets caught inside a fishing net, and Kun tries to save her. Luckily, he gets her out, but ends up drowning in the process. Feeling guilty as all get-out about Kun dying, Chun ends up going to a place called the Island of Souls to try and bring Kun back. She offers the caretaker, Ling Po, dubbed by JB Blanc, half of her life to bring Kun back. After that, she spends the next chunk of her life taking care of Kun as he grows bigger, and makes sure he can go back to the human world. The bad news is that while Kun is there, the world that she lives in is in major peril. Can she make sure Kun gets back alive? What is she willing to sacrifice to make sure that happens?

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A problem I see with many passion projects that take a good decade or so to fully complete is that the creators try to shove in too much into the film, and never think about cutting certain story elements, or redoing some of the script. Of course, animation can be a huge endeavor, and making changes on the fly can be costly, but you can run the risk of making the film feel too busy, bloated, and or unfocused. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Big Fish & Begonia is that there is too much going on. Much of the film is Chun’s relationship with Kun, and her learning about life, death, sacrifice, and the consequences to certain actions, but they shove in a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent with Chun over vast landscapes. I’ll admit, many of the logical issues I keep questioning throughout my time watching the film are probably more of a cultural thing, and how the film wants to be more of a fairy tale. However, how far can you go with those kinds of defenses until they become too distracting? How much homework does one need to do on Chinese culture to fully understand the magical logic used in the film? It shouldn’t turn into a homework project to fully get what’s going on, and who everyone is. I don’t mind learning about the culture, but the film should be explaining to me visually what’s going on. For example, there is this rat woman who is an obvious threat, but you don’t get why she wants to go to the human world, and you don’t see her again after a certain period of time. I mean, yes, you can tell by her design and the way she interacts with everyone, that she is a threat, but why? I also get that having Kun stay in their world brings upon a lot of damage and danger, but why? Why does having a human spirit cause such chaos? The story also goes at a rather fast pace. It’s not a truly horrible thing, but I think the film’s atmosphere and emotional investment would have been stronger if they let some time pass between certain moments. While Studio MiR, the same studio behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Netflix’s Voltron series, has some breathtaking animation done for Big Fish & Begonia, its use of CGI is definitely distracting. It’s not as bad as, say, Blue Submarine No. 6, but you can always tell when it’s CGI. It becomes more distracting when you see the giant flying whales that look like something out of that Fantasia 2000 short.

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With all that said, Big Fish & Begonia has great elements in its overall package. Like I said above, the animation is gorgeous. The backgrounds are awe inspiring, the designs are whimsical, the movements are fluid, and it’s an incredible visual feast for the eyes. You can tell there was a heavy dose of passion throughout this entire film’s visual presentation. It’s an incredible treat for the eyes that you need to see on the biggest screen you can. I even regret not seeing this one when it came out in my neck of the woods! As for the dub, I have seen both the original with subtitles, and the dub that Funimation helped out with. I think the cast is pretty stellar that includes actors such as Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn, JB Blanc, Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Chun, Kate Higgins, Kyle Hebert, Erika Ishii, and Cam Clarke. The music by Kiyoshi Yoshida is full of that Chinese flair. It’s fantastical, mystical, and epic when needed. You might have heard of his name and his music if you have seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where he did the soundtrack for that film. Another strong element is the relationship between Chun, Kun, and Chun’s friend Qui, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. Most of the time you see Chun and Kun together is done with very little dialogue. The visuals tell the story, which, you know, is sort of important in a visual medium like animation.

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Big Fish & Begonia might be a bit of a mess, but it’s an important film for China and the Chinese animation scene. If you watch the trailers or clips, and you think you would like this film, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an impressive start, and I hope that means that other 2D animated projects that are going on over in China, can start raising the bar as time goes on. Well, after this, I definitely need something a bit zanier, a bit more focused, and maybe something that can make the night go on forever. Next time, we are going to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s other hit film, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Animation Tidbits #4 What’s Cam Looking Forward To 10/19/17: Animation is Film Festival Edition

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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!)

Welcome to another What’s Cam Looking Forward To on Animation Tidbits. I guess you can call this version the “Animation is Film Festival Edition”, because a lot of the films on this list will be at the LA-based Animation is Film Festival. So many of these animated films are making their US release at this festival. It’s a shame it wasn’t happening closer to me, since I live all the way in Texas, but I think anyone who wants to see some truly, in the sense of the word, “unique” animated films, they should go to this event. Now, some of these films I have talked about before, like The Breadwinner, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, Zombillenium, and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. However, the mass majority of these will be new to the Animation Tidbit label. Let’s jump in!

Fireworks

While I am still bitter about Your Name’s success opening the floodgates for a slew of teen dramas/romances to overcrowd the market, I’m always willing to put that aside to judge the film on its own merits. Fireworks is helmed by the producer of Your Name, Genki Kawamura. It’s a tale of two junior high school boys, who fawn over the same girl who is going to be leaving their country-side town. One day, one of the boys finds a magical sphere that can control time, and uses it to try and get together with the girl, who by the time he finds this sphere, has fallen for the other guy. In the film, the boy will use the sphere he found to turn back the clock to fix a mistake, but may end up causing more consequences to doing such a thing than he would like. It reminds me of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which used the same plot idea. If handled well, it would lead to some touching scenes. The animation, while having fairly generic anime character designs, looks great, and I’m always down for a teen drama/romance to be taken or tackled in different ways. I wonder how good it will be compared to the mega hit Your Name, or the other massive hit, A Silent Voice. Granted, I am getting tired of Japan’s fixation on teen dramas and romances, but if the film can tell a compelling story and bring some creativity to the table, then I’m down to check it out. This will be playing the same day as The Breadwinner on Friday, the first day of the event.

MUTAFUKAZ

I love to consider this the French/Japanese-animated lovechild of a classic Robert Rodriguez action movie. MUTAFUKAZ is, like I mentioned, a French/Japanese collaboration combining Studio 4 ° C, director Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, the creator of the comic on which the film is based.  It revolves around a young boy named Angelino, who lives with his skeleton friend Vinny in a dirty disgusting city known as Dark Meat City. After getting into an accident, Angelino starts to experience unknown powers, and boy, everything just hits the fan afterwards. Everything is thrown into this film, like a stew made of everything inside your fridge. You have gang fights, frantic car chases, Akira-style physic powers, trippy visuals, Jin-Roh-style soldiers, and utter chaos. It all blends together in this over-the-top action film that looks fantastic. I think for such a crazy idea, it was a good idea to get Studio 4 ° C because they are good at getting frenetic and fast-paced action done well. I’m concerned it’s going to be flash over substance, but it’s still one of the animated films I’m looking forward to seeing the most, due to the fact we rarely get action-focused animated features anymore.

Big Fish & Begonia

I have not been subtle about talking about the lackluster animation scene China has going on. It’s either bad anime-style clones, or really bad CGI with no thought about being creative with a small budget. This is why Big Fish & Begonia is poised to be the turning point for better animated features from that country. For a film that took a decade to make, the animation is gorgeous, and a lot of it makes the film look like this Chinese version of Spirited Away, which is fine by me. I have read early reviews of the film, which spoke highly of its philosophical elements, and it will have an English dub at the event, which means that Shout! Factory is probably getting ready for a more wide release and announcement for the film. If you want to see what could help turn China’s animation scene down a much more optimistic route, then you should definitely go check this film out.

Lu Over the Wall

Now, we have one of the big boys playing at the plate. Masaaki Yuasa, the director behind Mindgame, has two films out this year and at this event. Lu Over the Wall is the first film being shown, and is another take on the Little Mermaid story in the same way Hayao Miyazaki did with Ponyo. That means you will get offbeat characters, trippy animation, and a more light-hearted tone. It’s definitely what I got from the trailers and, from a few clips that are on YouTube, the charm really comes through the animation. It looks fantastic, and I hope GKids can bring this film over along with Masaaki’s other film that will be talked about later in this editorial.

Tehran Taboo

Now, this is a nice little surprise. Tehran Taboo is a German-Austrian collaboration about three different women and a musician trying to survive in a harsh and punishing city known as Tehran, where sex and drugs run amok under heavy religious and patriarchal ruling. It looks like an emotional and human experience, as we see these characters survive in such a restrictive life. I know some will argue about its animation, since it’s not technically 2D animation, but some form of rotoscope animation, but those purists can go bugger off. You are still tracing over living individuals frame by frame. Animation is much more vibrant and expansive these days, and this is a good example to show that. If you want something mature and adult during this festival, then it’s probably a good idea to step into the dramatic world of Tehran Taboo.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

It’s not a surprise that one of the two major viewings that are sold out is the spiritual successor to Studio Ghibli, Studio Ponoc’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower. First off, the animation looks fantastic. It has a style very similar to Studio Ghibli, and while I have heard people say that this is distracting, I don’t find that a problem. Studio Ghibli isn’t doing anything besides Hayao Miyazaki’s newest film, and if it’s a distracting thing to have fluid and very expressive Japanese animation, then I think that’s a pretty good situation to have. Even Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have shown their approval of the film. It looks like a great one, and it has directors I trust behind it. It’s one of the most anticipated animated films of the year, and probably one of the sure Oscar nominees.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl

Finally, we have Masaaki Yuasa’s second film, Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Technically, it is a follow-up to a series he worked on called The Tatami Galaxy. The surreal romantic comedy of a girl and the guy who has a crush on her looks trippy, unreal, and hilarious. This is what I love about Yuasa’s work. Fantastic and vibrant visuals, interesting characters, and what might look random, has an underlying tone of something much more. I am concerned that I can watch this without having seen the TV series, which I just started, but the quality of the film will depend on if it stands strong on its own or not. Still, I hope GKids brings this and Lu Over the Wall over to the states.