I casually mentioned to three of my college friends during a video chat that Avatar: The Last Airbender–Nickelodeon’s groundbreaking 2005 show that we all adore–was coming to Netflix in the US today. A podcast was jokingly mentioned and the more I thought about it the more I though, “Why not us?” I’ve indulged in rewatch podcasts before, curious to see how other people interpreted the same stories and characters and themes. Why not do that with three people I’ve grown up with for almost 12 years now? Once we realized we were all serious, it was on.
Avatar is one of my god-tier fandoms, though I was never as active in the ATLA fandom admittedly… It made a huge impact on me throughout high school and college. It’s a story that’s a contender for my first tattoo. It’s a story that shows me what we’re capable of in animation, in media aimed at kids, in trusting creators.
Our podcast is pretty straightforward. We watch an episode per week and discuss it. We plan on branching off and doing some deeper dives into specific themes and aspects of the show as well.
We’re just a couple of nerds who like to overanalyze and critique the media we love, and we’re hoping others are interested in that too.
For the first episode, we spent some time introducing ourselves and our relationships with the show, the development of the series, and the 11-minute unaired pilot of the show, which you can watch here before you start to listen.
Pod Sing Se is currently available through Anchor, Stitcher, and Spotify. It’ll take a few days for it to be on Apple Podcasts.
Please give it a listen and join the conversation.
There are a number of large-scale crowdfunding efforts underway that benefit the animation community, and I couldn’t help but want to highlight them all in a post. Maybe in the future this will become a series. But for now, please consider checking out these different campaigns. Each title links to that project’s Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
The Animation Show of Shows (ASOS) is an annual film festival that tours in theaters around North America and showcases animated short films. Curated and run by Ron Diamond, the organization recently became a non-profit and has gotten involved in helping to restore old films while hosting these screenings to help further the art. While this program is family-friendly, it aims at showing a more nuanced side of animated filmmaking than what many audiences (especially in the US) are used to. The films, which are from all over the world, range from the light-hearted to a few MA shorts (shown at the end with a disclaimer), and range from student works, independent artists, to big studio pieces from staples like Pixar.
A few days ago, the ASOS’s Kickstarted ended just short of their $100K goal, but I’m happy to see that Ron, undeterred, has launched a new one with a smaller goal that has quickly been surpassed. While the goal this time around is unrealistically small, I know that Ron is depending on all of us to help get as close to that initial $100K as possible–so don’t let the success of this smaller goal fool you. It costs an arm and a leg to do what Ron does, and we’re all better off for it. I personally have been fortunate to see the ASOS for the last six years, and I’ve even helped him out by working at the table he sets up where he sells boxed collections of the works on DVD. You can also get DVDs with a few shorts on them, as well as a few other DVDs. When I was an animation student trying to think of a short film, it was invaluable to watch through these award-winning films (my school had the box-sets in their resource library) and see how so many different creators told their stories.
What I appreciate the most about this larger and ambitious campaign is the fact that more than a quarter of the funding goes towards securing the rights from the filmmakers, as most of the films will then be distributed on DVD. While this should be the norm, I imagine it can be tough to earn money from short films. This program offers lots of people the chance to see animation that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to, and that in itself enough to get my support.
Some of the films from last year’s festival. A mix of student films, larger studio works, teams, individual creators, and all mediums. We also saw our first VR entry into the festival’s 18 year history.
The Kickstarter for the Animation Show of Shows only has 4 more days, so back soon!
Full disclosure: I was super unfamiliar with this festival until a couple weeks before this crowdfunding campaign to make a documentary about it. I found out about this effort through an email from a co-worker who knows someone on this project, and spoke highly of the cause:
“I fell in love with this festival while I was working on Nightmare Before Christmas, when you still had to go to the theater to see cool, non-commercial animation… Spike and Mike are two very cool guys who have devoted their lives to sharing amazing animation with the world and their story deserves to be heard and preserved.”
Good enough for me.
The team plans on using classic 2D cel animation, stop motion animation and computer generated animation to set the scene for a 90 minute documentary about the impact of two very unlikely heroes of animation. Though, to be honest, having each of the three acts of this documentary told via a different art style sounds cool in theory but tough to pull off. I’d have liked to have seen some tests footage from each act, especially the CG at the end. While I appreciate and love that they want to use different animation mediums for this documentary, I hope that it doesn’t become a distraction, since, although the IndiGoGo is only for $100,000, the description budgets the entire film at $550,000 with no mention of where the rest will come from. The interviews, which will likely be the tentpoles of the doc, will ideally include all different kinds of participants of the festival since 1977, from directors to the flyer and poster artists, fans and film critics. Seems they got quite a few interviews at San Diego Comic Con last week!
Another co-worker who has attended past screenings added:
“They show weird stuff.”
Also good enough for me. One quick look at their website confirms this, of course. This fest seems perfect for fans who grew up loving the kookier, oft-forgotten underbelly of animation. For an American animation festival to have been around as long as this one (over 30 years) it has to have some interesting stories, apart from the animated ones that they showed. And it sounds like they’ve helped some big names get their earlier work out there. So I would love to learn about how this festival grew into the strange, strange event that it is remembered as.
Speaking of kooky and underbelly, we have what may be our most mainstream example: Ren & Stimpy. Despite the fact that Ren & Stimpy absolutely GROSSED ME OUT as a kid, I’ve come to appreciate that strange, strange show for what it is, what it did, and what it continues to do. For so many people, Ren & Stimpy was a gateway drug to more subversive, often independent animation. It’s also one of the first shows where I, as someone interested in the physical production of animation, heard not-so great stories, and vastly different takes depending on if you hear a story from Nickelodeon, show creator John Kricfalusi (or simply John K), or anyone on the crew or voice talent. Regardless of whose (if any) side you’re on, Ren & Stimpy and creator John K, much like Walt Disney and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit serve as a cautionary tale to creators who lose their characters to studios (for one reason or another).
I’m curious how this tail will be spun, as I’ve heard some horror stories from a co-worker who worked on the production. It’s also just common knowledge in the industry that this was an at-times tumultuous work experience. Similarly, a 2013 book on the very subject–one of those “unauthorized” matter was re-released a few days ago and I’m excited to get my hands on that to get the dirt on what sounds like roller-coaster production in every way.
I was happy to read that the documentary would focus on the artists who brought this ground-breaking and controversial show into existence, and expand on its lasting impact on TV animation in the United States. So many of the artists involved in the show will be back to be in and help out on this film, including with some of the perks, like a private lesson with Jim Smith, one of the artists largely responsible to the stylization of the show.
It’s worth noting that while John K has turned down interviews for this doc, he has okay’d several people close to him for interviews. It’s also worth noting that while Nickelodeon is not backing this film, they did grant the filmmakers permission to use the characters (available at the $150 tier).
There’s always a slight risk when going in on a short film or game where the creator doesn’t have previous experience in the area they are working in. But a very quick glimpse at this campaign removes any doubts: writer and director Matthew A. Cherry, an experienced live-action director, certainly did his homework when it came to finding a team to support him and his existing team, including bringing on a co-director, Jason Marino, who’s animated short film Tamara, caught Cherry’s eye.
Two other notable names in animation that Cherry has brought onto the project are Peter Ramsey and Frank Abney, who will serve as executive producers!! Peter Ramsey became the first African American director of a feature animated film when he made DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians. He’s also currently co-directing Sony’s new feature-length animated Miles Morales (finally!) Spider-Man film. Frank Abney, one of Variety’s 2016 10 Animators to Watch, is an animator who has worked at Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar.
Cherry’s efforts to seek out experienced artists–particularly artists of color–is a responsible and fantastic display of good leadership. I’ve seen enough attempts at crowdfunding animation, video games, comics and more amount to nothing, so starting off on the right foot will do wonders for Hair Love.
The Kickstarter does a great job of breaking down this project, including a summary of it:
Hair Love, is a 5 minute animated short film that centers around the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri and her hair. Despite having long locks, Stephen has been used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair, so when she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen will have to figure it out on his own. This sounds simple enough, but we soon come to find that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.
This story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.
The short initially was seeking $75k but now are shooting for $200,000 in the hopes of making a Pixar-quality short, with the budgets for most steps in the pipeline ranging from $5-15k, with the largest chunks going to administrative/auxiliary services. It also looks like they are partnering with Nimble Collective, which will hopefully remove much of the guess-work out of their pipeline. It’s always wonderful to see animated short films being used to showcase underserved stories and groups of people.
The Animation Show of Shows has been operating under this crowdfunding method for a few years now, and since the show is annual, I know that I will be seeing it soon. I’m curious when the other three projects will deliver. As long as the creators supply consistent updates to backers, I don’t mind the occasional hiccups that come with production. Best of luck to all the projects! I encourage you to lend them your support if possible. And if you can’t, I’m sure even a retweet would be appreciated by them.