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Monday, March 31, 2014

"End Overfishing" Animation


Ending Overfishing from The Black Fish on Vimeo.

Animation goes far beyond "Frozen" and "The Smurfs" (not to single those two out in particular). It has many serious uses, though these uses also have their entertaining aspect. None of us lives on fluff alone - well, probably none of us - and it is fun to challenge ourselves once in a while with a solid look at an important topic about the world around us.


This blog is about animation and its many uses, not political causes. My presentation of this video is not meant to be a political statement, though I am more than happy to give The Black Fish some exposure. Animation is a useful educational tool, and this video is presented in that spirit, as an example of animation as educational resource. It is not intended to convince you to join Greenpeace and jump on a Russian oil platform and get arrested and spend Christmas in jail. However, if you are interested in this type of issue, then you'll enjoy it even more. Maybe it will inspire you to save the world, who knows. Stranger things have happened.


This animation about overfishing is from The Black Fish (@theblackfishorg). It highlights issues of overfishing in the EU, bycatch, fish-farming and the tensions between science-recommended catches and economy-driven catch limits. Not something you will learn about unless you read a lot of articles about this vitally important topic - or watch this animated video.

The quality of the animation is not particularly high - it appears to have come from an early generation of computer generated animation, maybe ten years old. This video also is fairly short at a little more than four minutes, and the musical background is appropriately crack-of-doomish. But this just shows the power of animation - it doesn't have to be in 3D with all the bells and whistles with an uplifting score to accomplish its goal. The message (or story) is always the most important thing when it comes to good animation.

From their web page on Vimeo:
Despite an increased awareness of overfishing, the majority of people still know very little about the scale of the destruction being wrought on the oceans. This film presents an unquestionable case for why overfishing needs to end and shows that there is still an opportunity for change. Through reform of the EU‘s Common Fisheries Policy, fisheries ministers and members of the European Parliament can end overfishing. But only if you pressure them. Video made as part of the Ocean2012 initiative. For more information, please see


Pink Panther Live/Animated Hybrid Coming

Pink Panther

If you are a fan of the old Peter Sellers or Steve Martin versions of the Pink Panther, then hang on, because now they are raiding the vaults to start a new franchise.

If you are old enough, you will remember a series from the '70s in which an animated Pink Panther strutted around like a real cool cat, always getting the drop on Inspector Clouseau and his huge magnifying glass. That is the source of this version. Even if you haven't seen the series, you no doubt will recognize the tv theme, which is a compact version of the classic "Pink Panther" theme.

Here is the MGM press release, which is all that we know about this project so far, so there really is nothing more to add right now:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) is developing for production a full-length hybrid animation and live-action feature film based on the animated “Pink Panther” character, it was announced today by Gary Barber, chairman and CEO of MGM and Jonathan Glickman, president of the studio’s motion picture group. Walter Mirisch, executive producer of the original “Pink Panther” films and television series will serve as the producer of the new film, along with Academy Award®-winning actress, Julie Andrews, wife of the late director Blake Edwards. David Silverman (“The Simpsons Movie,” “Monsters, Inc”) will direct. The Pink Panther character originated a remarkable fifty years ago.

The new caper film will focus on the Pink Panther character, rather than Inspector Clouseau, and will harken back to the tone shared by the original Friz Freleng and David De Patie cartoons as well as that of Blake Edwards’ films.

"We are incredibly proud to re-introduce the Pink Panther to a brand new generation in such a fresh way. Even more exciting is the chance to work again with our dear friends Walter Mirisch and Julie Andrews, as well as the talented David Silverman, whose enthusiasm convinced us to ‘Think Pink!’," said Glickman.

“I am proud that the ‘Pink Panther’-- both the feature films and the great library of cartoons created by David De Patie and Friz Freleng that sprang from it-- continues to be one of the brightest jewels in the crown of Mirisch films. Now, for the first time, the live action franchise will be united with the world- famous cartoon character in a new hybrid feature film. I am excited by our concept and I look forward to an outstanding movie entertainment,” said Mirisch.


"Frozen" Early Sketches

Kristoff Sven Frozen
Kristoff feeds Sven

Here is an animations which shows early treatments of characters Anna and Kristoff from "Frozen." This is the key moment when they first meet, Kristoff stating his full name (which just so happens to be almost identical to my own hehehe).

There are two scenes. In the first, Kristoff, accompanied by trusty reindeer Sven, is looking to earn his reward for knowing the whearabouts of Anna's errant sister Elsa. The second scene involves Kristoff hacking his way up a mountain.

This may be of interest to folks who are interested in the gestation of animation. It doesn't just spring to life like you see it on the screen, that's for sure. It's also interesting to see how big an effect the background music - which you may not even notice, it's so appropriate - has on creating a visually entertaining experience out of very little.


Screamo Version of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman"

Elsa Frozen
Elsa from "Frozen"

This is going to be one of the weirder references to "Frozen" that you will see here. I post this because it shows how far "Frozen" and its songs has sunk into the national consciousness, and also because John Lasseter himself, the Big Cheese at Disney/Pixar, mentioned watching this video and being impressed that someone could get through a tough ordeal with the help of "Frozen."

This is what Lasseter had to say about this:
“There’s a hilarious video on YouTube I just saw over the weekend, which was a little girl getting a splinter taken out of her leg and she’s screaming, but she’s singing ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ from a Frozen. It means so much.”
It may be a little too real for some of you, so don't watch this if seeing a little girl go through a painful experience with a happy resolution would disturb you.

All we know about this is that poor Francesca has a splinter and mama is taking it out for her. Francesca is kind of in pain, but she starts singing. Everything turns out fine.

You're either going to be amused by this, find it weird that parents would film and post this, be completely confused and have no reaction, or perhaps all three.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Frozen" a Huge Hit on DVDs and Soundtrack Albums

"Frozen" is Big like "Titanic" was Big!

Frozen soundtrack cover

The "Frozen" juggernaut continues.

This is what every Hollywood executive dreams about when preparing to release an animated feature film:
  1. A soundtrack that stays at the top of the charts for months and sells more copies after it has been out for months than it ever did upon first release;
  2. A DVD/Blu-ray release that sells millions of copies on its first day of release; and
  3. Film grosses of a billion dollars.
Well, all that is what "Frozen" has done. It is a studio executive's fantasy film.

For the week ending March 23, according to Nielsen Soundscan numbers, "Frozen" sold more soundtrack albums in a single week than it has - ever. It sold 202,000 copies of the soundtrack that week, beating its own previous record of 165,000 copies for the week of January 5, 2014. It has been at No. 1 on the Billboard Album Chart - the same chart that Beyonce and all the rappers like Eminem and everyone else is competing on - for seven non-consecutive weeks, including the past two weeks as of this writing. It has sold 1.6 million copies so far in total, and obviously still is selling huge amounts every week.

The DVD/Blu-ray combo was released last week, accounting for the soundtrack sales surge as people no doubt figured they'd buy both at the same time. The DVD/Blu-ray sold 3.2 million copies on just its first day of March 18, 2014, according to Disney, which means that every retailer in sight expected huge demand, and the demand was met. This is despite the fact that it was released on digital platforms a whole month earlier, on February 25, 2014, so it was already there for anyone who liked it in digital format. If anyone tells you that DVDs are dead and digital is taking over, well, tell them not so fast - sonny.

There also have been over 100 million plays of "Frozen" on Spotify.

"Frozen" is still in release in countries around the world, and in Japan, where it only recently opened under the title "Anna and the Snow Queen," "Frozen" has the top opening weekend of the year so far for that country, with $9.5 million in ticket grosses. That compares to only $1.4 million for the opening weekend of the previous Disney release, "Brave." In the UK, it has grossed £38.75 million in the UK and Ireland alone. Regardless of where it plays, "Frozen" either sets box office records of one kind or another, or challenges them.

Total grosses worldwide for "Frozen" so far? $1.032 billion, with $396 million of that in domestic US grosses. Now that's a studio executive's fantasy, for real.

Frozen billboard
"Frozen" is a huge hit!


"How to Train Your Dragon 2" Trailer and Preview

New Trailer for "How to Train Your Dragon"

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Below is the movie clip released in late March 2014.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Astrid and Hiccup

Here is the teaser trailer for "How to Train Your Dragon 2," released in 2013.

Here is the synopsis of the film, as released by the studio:
The thrilling second chapter of the epic How To Train Your Dragon trilogy brings back the fantastical world of Hiccup and Toothless five years later. While Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. 

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Astrid having some fun

The "How to Train Your Dragon 2" cast and crew look similar to the first instalment, with the entire voice cast returning: Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The second book in the 7-book series is about pirates, but it is unlikely they will change the original formula that much in the sequel. The first film departed a great deal from the novel anyway. "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is being written and directed by Dean DeBlois, and the score again will be by John Powell. It is scheduled for release on June 13, 2014 (4 July in the UK). Kit Harington of "Game of Thrones" is cast as the villain.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup has grown up

had this to say in an interview:
"At the end of the last film, all these Vikings who were previously somewhat landlocked are now on the backs of dragons, so the entire Northern Hemisphere opens up to them. And with that Hiccup’s curiosity increases, the map expands and inevitably they are going to come across new dragons, new cultures."

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup ventures into new worlds. They quarrel after this accident about whose fault it was.

Here is a preview of the plot, as released by the studio:
“Hiccup and Toothless lead hundreds of hero dragons in defense of Dragon Mountain, battling against Drago Bloodfist’s huge army of Dragon Hunters and their ruthless war machines. The mighty Bewilderbeast, Master of Dragon Mountain, rises to join Hiccup against Drago’s forces, but Drago has a secret weapon – his own enslaved Bewilderbeast arrives to turn the tide. Hiccup and Drago lead their massive armies in an epic showdown.”
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup takes to the skies!

Sounds like there will be a lot of action!

How to Train Your Dragon 2


Friday, March 28, 2014

"No More Goalpost Dunking" Animation

NFL dunking

Apparently, the National Football League will no longer allow dunking of the football over the goalposts after a touchdown. That was news to me, it just happened because somebody actually knocked the goalposts off-line during some of these dunks. You know how it is - one guy ruins it for everybody, just like on your high school field trip.

With all the problems in the world, the NFL actually spent time on this. Amazing.

This is not the place to debate whether this change in the rules is right or wrong or whether you care about dunking or football rules or football in general. I'm simply putting up this animation from "Taiwanese Animators" because it is a fun animation, done in the manner of a video game. It has a fresh style and shows a surprisingly cynical viewpoint toward the NFL and its players. The video also shows yet another use of animation: to disseminate news.

I would give the creators of this individual credit for this video - if I knew who they were. The video doesn't even have a proper title. The animators put in some quite edgy things, such as one of the players vomiting up what looks suspiciously like drugs towards the end. The parallels between the NBA art of dunking and the NFL version also are made blindingly clear (the NBA solved the problem of shattered backboards by making them all plastic).

Incidentally, if this animation amuses you, they also did one about the 2014 NCAA basketball title game.

You've got to really love the game if you a) go to all the trouble of making an animation about an obscure rules change, b) even know about said obscure rules change, c) actually care about said minor and obscure rules change, and d) know all the subtle things shown in this video about football players and the league in general. So, I think the bona fides of the "Taiwanese Animators" as true fans and not simply opportunists are secure.

NFL dunking

Of course, the larger question is why people in Taiwan care about an obscure rules change in the NFL, but we'll let that go. This also may be the first and only time in your life when you watch football action requiring subtitles.

The below is shamelessly copied verbatim from the youtube page, because this gives in excruciating detail why the creators made this video:

The No Fun League has made it a point to take most of the fun out of the game. On Tuesday owners passed a rule banning the dunking of the football over the goalpost. According to the league's vice president of officiating, players will no longer be allowed to dunk the ball over the goalpost after touchdowns. 
Dean Blandino confirmed the new rule in a radio interview with "The Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday. Blandino told the listening audience that dunking the ball over the crossbar will now be counted as a foul along with other touchdown celebrations that involve props. 
The goalpost dunk had previously been grandfathered in as acceptable celebration, along with the Lambeau Leap. 
 "We grandfathered in some, the Lambeau Leap and things like that, but dunking will come out," Blandino said, according to "Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that's the goalpost, the crossbar, that will come out and that will be a foul next season." 
The move was popularized by Tony Gonzalez, but it appears Saints Jimmy Graham was the inspiration for the rule after Graham twice knocked the uprights off balance. This deals a huge blow to all the NFL players that had been working on new goalpost dunks this offseason.  
What's next, is the NFL going to ban chest bumping, butt slapping and trash talking? 
The NFL has bigger problems it should be worried about. At least 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is happy about the new rule change.


Rotoscope of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt rotoscope

Here is a fabulous rotoscope animation of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt done by one Carli Ihde, a 22-year-old published comic book artist, illustrator, and graphic designer. She must be a big fan! You can visit her original site if you wish.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in case you do not know, is a former child actor who made a big splash on "3rd Rock from the Sun" and as Arthur in "Inception."

Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, for use in live-action and animated films which has been around since the dawn of animation. It was first used by the legendary Max Fleischer in an early series during the First World War, and was used by many others after that. Perhaps its most prominent (and often un-noticed, that's how good it was) use was by Walt Disney in his 1937 "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." It also was used in The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and "The Secret of NIMH," among many, many other uses.

It is a technique that is best when not noticed. A seamless transition from hand-drawn animation to rotoscoping is difficult, but when done properly, it creates an extraordinary extension of the medium. You may notice the difference in the animation, but not really understand why, you only know it is fun - that's what the truly skilled animator strives for when rotoscoping. The kiss of death is when the audience knows what's going on, that shatters the whole illusion.

The art of rotoscoping is not lost, but it is somewhat dormant. It is extremely labor intensive, requiring attention to detail and laborious tracing of every scene. Then, when you add color, it gets even more intense. But with a quality animation, such as the above, it is worth the effort.


NASA Animation of Lassoing An Asteroid

In this NASA animation, we see their proposal to lasso an asteroid and bring it so that it enters the Moon's orbit, where it can be studied at leisure. There is no narration or sound, just raw animation.

The goal, according to NASA chief Charles Bolden, is to bring NASA one step closer to a continuing presence Mars. Yes, Mars:
"The ultimate thing … is to put boots on the ground on Mars, and that's not just to do a touch and go. It's to live there one of these days." Charles Bolden, March 26, 2014
The idea is that having a robotic craft get an asteroid (which one is not decided, there are half a dozen choices) and bring it back would help ramp up the technology. It would allow NASA to test a propulsion system and provide some clues as the origins of the solar system. Bolden continued:
"We really make a big deal out of this [asteroid] initiative, but you should all understand, this is a tiny, tiny piece of getting humans to Mars. I don't want anybody to lose focus on that. The ultimate goal of this agency right now when it comes to human spaceflight is to put humans on Mars. That's hard. That is really hard. We need a proving ground to develop some of the technologies and everything else."
The mission would work in one of two ways: 1) send a robot craft to an asteroid and take part of it, maybe a boulder, and bring it back; 2) send a robot craft and ensnare an entire small asteroid and bring it back. Let us hope that NASA's work on the hardware is as nice as their workup of this animation.

Charles Bolden
Charles F. Bolden, Jr. 

Of course, there are a many other difficulties with going to Mars, not the least of which would be shielding humans from deadly cosmic rays. This asteroid mission would provide a testing ground for just part of that mission. It is the usual cautious go-slow NASA approach that works in the long run, though as John Maynard Keyes aptly noted in another context, in the long run we are all dead.

One thing is for certain, and that is that nothing is going to happen for some time. This whole project depends upon the Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket. They are not scheduled for operation until 2021 at the earliest. Orion's first test flight is scheduled for some time in mid-2014, the earliest time for the capture and study itself is around 2025.

This is part of my continuing effort to demonstrate the many cool uses of animation beyond pure entertainment.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chinese Short "Little Yeyos" from Gary Wang

Here Comes China in the Animation Field

Little yeyos

And now, as Monty Python would say, time for something completely different.

Those who read my blog regularly know that I have written a few times about the fact that the Chinese government has been somewhat offended that their own indigenous animation artists cannot come up with anything as good as the "Kung Fu Panda" series of films. It's understandable, considering how well Hollywood is at genre films like that, and naturally the Chinese have their national pride somewhat at stake as well. It must be kind of irritating to the Chinese to think that foreigners can tell their own folklore better than they can themselves.

Light Chaser Animation Studio

Well, the Chinese are taking steps to try to get into the animation field. Gary Wang of the Chinese start-up production company Light Chaser Animation Studio has created a short film, "Little Yeyos," which is not bad - watch it above. "Little Yeyos" is kind of a test run for this new player in animation, Light Chaser Animation Studio. “Little Yeyos” means “Little Night Wanderers,” and the short three-minute 3D film tells the simple story of seven chubby and baby-faced fairies roughhousing over a light-reflecting lapel pin.

"Little Yeyos" is a huge hit in China, getting some astronomical number of hits, 30 million or something crazy like that. It hasn't gotten very many here.

Gary Wang Light Chaser
Gary Wang of Light Chaser

Wang is not an animator by trade. He is a Chinese video game developer who sold his first company,, for over a billion dollars, so he has lots of cash to play with. Chinese animation is weak, to put it kindly, but China is such a huge market that they can put out really lame animated series and make $100 million without really trying (which was the case with the animation series "Pleasant Goat and Big Bad Wolf"). As you can guess from that title, the animation is simple and aimed at children, while adults still go to the higher quality American animation.

Zhou Yu Light Chaser
Zhou Yu, co-founder of Light Chaser

The key idea is that Wang, along with Zhou Yu who worked with Wang at the Tudou website and produced the "Little Yeyos" short, is ramping up the entire industry in China. Wang is spending ten times as much on his first feature animated film that what was spent on each of the "Goat" films. He is a major league player and knows the ropes, having spent some time in Hollywood. When you can afford to hire an 80-person team from scratch and get the latest software and top talent, you are off to a good start. Wang has hired some Hollywood veterans to get things moving. Colin Brady, who worked on "Toy Story 2," and Han Lei, a lighting guy at DreamWorks, are providing the experience. Supposedly, Wang will have pumped about $40 million into the venture by the time he pushes out his first film in a few years, which is an enormous sum for the fledgling Chinese animation field.

We can expect to see more interesting animation come out of China. This short, "Little Yeyos," is just an appetizer.