February's News in Animation!

1. Peter Rabbit 

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The release date for this animated feature was February 9, 2018. Sony Picture's CGI animated Peter Rabbit is based off of Beatrix Potter's classic storybook characters. The mischievous and adventurous rabbit is not the easiest neighbor to have, especially for Mr. McGregor!

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the trailer for more about their comedic feud here!

 

2. Early Man 

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Early Man is a stop-motion animation by the creator's of Wallace and GromitAardman Animations. It was released in the UK on January 26, but is actually being released in the US today, February 16, 2018! Dug, a caveman, and his sidekick Hognob will not have their existence threatened by Lord Nooth. 

Find out a tad about how they go about their epic quest in the trailer, here!

 

3. Craig of the Creek

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A new adventure begins February 19, 2018 on Cartoon Network! Co-created by Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, Craig of the Creek follows a young lad, Craig, and his friends through the wilderness. Though the wilderness is untamed, their imagination is where the fun begins!

Check out the trailer here and the pilot on President's Day, February 19!

 
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4. Oscar Voting!

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The Oscar's voting comes to a close on February 27! If you read our blog from a few weeks ago, you may see that current news shows that this year's new rules did in fact exclude indie animations. If you haven't read that blog, be sure to do so here to find out more about why this was the case. 

Check out who the nominees and where they are available to stream here!

 

5. Kidscreen Summit!

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Kidscreen Summit is an annual international market place for creators and buyers of kids content. It was just this past week, February 12-15, and Eric Miller was there this year! This years speakers included: Marty Krofft, Geena Davis, George Cary, and many others (click the names to find out more about the speakers). There's also a ton of classes that can be taken, and discussions on topics such as having more LGBQT-inclusive content. 

Check out our Instagram to see Eric's experience at Kidscreen Summit!

 

Be sure to stay tuned on all our social media platforms for more news in animation!

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Spatialand and VR are Coming to Wal-Mart

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Earlier this week, news broke that Walmart bought Spatialand, a virtual reality design company, to add to its portfolio company Store No 8. Store No 8 describes itself as "an innovation hub" that tests new ideas to improve the retail industry. While not even a year old, Store No 8 has moved fast to snap up technology initiatives. For example, it's working on developing cashier-less stores and the ability to order products via text. Now that Spatialand has been added, it's clear that Wal-Mart wants to experiment with using VR to heighten the shopping experience. But how would that help? 

One excellent possibility comes from Spatialand's founder herself, Kimberly Cooper. Cooper's done work on titles like Iron Man, Rogue One, Metal Gear Solid, and Destiny, so she's got some impressive work under her belt. She points out that VR could bolster product design, boosting "creative freedom" and hailing the kind of benefits that immersive tech could bring to sectors beyond retail. 

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On the other side of retail, supply chains may also benefit from the enhanced technology. Bill Bishop, a member of retail consulting firm Brick Meets Click, says that VR could make inventory tracking a lot easier. After all, if you only have "to move them around with a mouse and not have the store labor do it", it could help reduce human error and make things much easier to track and handle. 

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Of course these are only two examples, but the team seems very excited to start finding even more. Katie Finnegan, the principal of Store No 8 and now interim CEO of Spatialand, stated that "The team will develop and explore new products and uses of VR through immersive retail environments that can be incorporated by all facets of Walmart, online and offline."

It's too early to tell how far virtual reality may end up changing the experience at Wal-Mart. It may offer added convenience to both the consumer and supplier; it may end up revolutionizing the system as much as the barcode. There's some real talent behind Wal-Mart's intitiative though, and it'll be exciting to see what ends up coming of it.

Animation Spotlight: Patty Peraza

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We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Patty Peraza, the first female Effects Animator at Disney Feature Animation Studio. She is known for her work on Fox and the Hound, Tron, Epcot, Mickey's Christmas Carol, Meet the World for Tokyo Disneyland, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia 2000, and many more. She also did work for Warner Bros. Hyperion, as well as commercials. 

"My dad would rarely go out to the movies, but he always took the family to see the Disney movies. The one that had the biggest impact on me was one we had arrived to a little late so the only seats left were in the very front row. It was Bambi, such a gorgeous film! Sitting there as a young child looking at the beautiful artwork just a few feet in front of me was probably what inspired me the most."

Patty used to draw all the time when she was young, and knew that she wanted to be an artist since elementary school. Though her parents did not want her to move away from Maryland, she always had their full support. She had received a full scholarship from the Disney family for the Disney Animation Program at CalArts in the 1970's. The program was intense, so Patty had to stay very focused to keep her scholarship. Her hard work did not go unnoticed by the head of the program, Jack Hannah.  He even encourage her to take breaks from time to time and suggested she go out with Mike Peraza, one of the teachers assistant in the program, who eventually became her husband!

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Patty was the first female to be hired directly out of the CalArts Disney Animation Program to work at the Walt Disney Studios.  She was also the first female to be hired into the Effects department, and when she was promoted to Effects Animator she was the only female animator in both the effects and character animation departments.  

"Almost every women would go into the Ink & Paint Department. It was just the way it was set up because the studio was founded back in the 1920's, and so that the guys were doing the animation artwork and the women were painting. It really was a mastery to ink those cells and get the lines exactly, I'm amazed at what they could do. I loved the plausible impossible, and you can do anything with animation, so that was more fun for me"
Patty with husband Mike Peraza - Photo Credit: Greg Preston (Found in the new book "The Artist Within Book 2")

Patty with husband Mike Peraza - Photo Credit: Greg Preston (Found in the new book "The Artist Within Book 2")

Patty's husband Mike had also been hired at Walt Disney Studios out of the program at CalArts as an Art Director, he worked on concept art, visual development, and the style of the film. He is best known for the Little Mermaid, but also designed and developed Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Goof Troop, Talespin and Darkwing Duck in addition to being an imagineer for the new Fantasyland Land and Shanghai Resort.

After Patty's daughters, Kim and Kristin, were born it was important for her to spend time at home. Luckily enough freelancing from home was an option with Disney TV and Direct to Video, which gave her the chance to be with her kids and still do what she loved doing. She was at Disney Studios from 1979-1987 and then returned to Disney features when Don Hahn asked her to be the project lead for Beauty and the Beast.

"Right now I'm a master artist for the Arts of the Parks, so I do artwork for the galleries at the parks. When they asked me to do it, I went down and looked at the Disney galleries with all these beautiful paintings, I thought 'how am I going to stand out?'. I thought 'Well, I was an effects animator so I'll incorporate effects'. They wouldn't let me have real fire on my paintings, and I thought nobody is going to buy the splash at Disney Parks, they all want the characters! So I decided for my "effect" it would be the medium itself. They had paper sculptures, but they didn't have anything in cloth, so I decided I would make something out of cloth!" 
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You can find Patty's beautifully designed cloth art pieces at most Disney stores all over the world. Patty and her husband Mike, who also sels prints, will be doing a signing at the opening weekend of the Food and Wine Festival at Disney California Adventure on March 3 & 4, 2018!

Did the Oscars Rule Change Affect the Animated Nominees?

Awards season is in full swing already. The Golden Globes have already passed, and the Academy will be handing out those little statues in early March. There's already been some buzz about the Oscars this year, but as usual it's covered in controversy. Concern has arisen over recent rule changes surrounding the nomination of animated films. In the past, the Academy had a specific branch dedicated to selecting animated films for nomination, and then the entire Academy's membership voted on the winner. Now however, the entire Academy will be eligible to nominate the Best Animated Feature film, in the same way that the Best Picture is nominated. 

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There had been concerns that this would exclude indie animated features from consideration. The idea of having a specific branch nominate in each category is that it allows experts to select the best work for consideration. That is, it allows people who understand the technical aspects behind the animation processes to choose what should be presented for judgement. Opening nominations up to the entire Academy is risky, especially given allegations that voters merely select winners based on what their kids liked. Now that the actual nominees have been selected though, those features have been allayed... mostly. 

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The big frontrunner of course is Pixar's Coco, which is a given. We also saw some smaller productions make it too, which is a good sign! We've got Loving Vincent, and The Breadwinner. The inclusion of these smaller titles has bolstered many hopes in the Academy's fairness and scope. However, eyebrows have already been raised at the other two nominations: The Boss Baby and Ferdinand. The Internet has exploded especially over the former, which came as a surprise given the critical and audience feedback. 

Ultimately though, it seems to be par for the course. We've got the Disney/Pixar nomination, we have our indie titles, and we have some popular films up for the running. The shift in rules seems to have had little effect, at least this year. And perhaps, now that everyone has the responsibility to nominate animated films, more members of the Academy will give them a fair shake? 

Well, in any case we have the Annie Awards on February 3. 

January's News in Animation!

It's only the 1st month in 2018 and there's already so much going on in the animation industry! Here is a few things that have come and yet to come in the month of January! Stay tuned for a round-up for every month this year!

 

1. Animation at the Golden Globes!

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So many great animated features were nominated for "Best Animated Feature Film" at the Golden Globes.

  • Boss Baby, which was released on March 31, 2017 by 20th Century Fox and produced by DreamWorks Animation.
  • Breadwinner, which was released on November 17, 2017 by GKIDS, Elevation Pictures and Studio Canal. It was also produced by numerous production companies, including: Cartoon Saloon, Aircraft Pictures, Guru Studios, Jolie Pas, Irish Film Board, Melusine Productions and Telefilm Canada.
  • Ferdinand, which was released on December 10, 2017 by 20th Century Fox and produced by Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox Animation and Davis Entertainment. 
  • Loving Vincent, which was released on October 13, 2017 in the United States by Altitude Film Distribution and Next Film. It was produced by BreakThru Productions and Trademark Films. 

And the one that took home the Golden Globe, Coco, which was released on November 22, 2017 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios!

 

2. Animated Features in January!

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Paddington 2 was released on January 12, 2018 by Studio Canal and produced by Heyday Films, Studio Canal, Canal+ and Ciné+! The journey of a whimsical teddy bear who goes through a series of jobs to save up money for a pop-up book he falls in love with. When the book is stolen, he embarks on a different search, Paddington sets forth to unmask the thief!

Check out the trailer here!

 
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3. Animated Series in January!

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On Netflix there's a few TV Animated Kids' Shows, including: Trolls: The Beat Goes On!Llama Llama, and The Adventures of Puss in Boots Season 6. 

As you know, Animated Series are not just for children, Netflix also has a few other animated series released, including: Devilman Crybaby, which started January 5, 2018, an adaptation of the comic Devilman by Go Nagai. There is also a long list of other Anime being released on Crunchyroll that you can find here!

 

4. New Animation Competition

Launched by Studio Art&Graft, "7 Second Sins" is a competition where all animations must be 7 seconds long and must reinterpret the assigned sin for the month.  The first deadline being January 27, 2018 and on "Pride" with purple as the color palette. 

If you're interested in joining in on the competition, check out the rules and deadlines here!

 

5. Animation Programs for Students

There is also a lot going on for animation students all over the world. New programs, improved programs, and tuition free animation programs!

The Sunrise Animation Studio in Japan has a free animation training program that you can find out more about here! Paris, France also provides a similar opportunity with TeamTO at the animation school La Poudrière in Bourg-lès-Valence, which is right next to their studio!

Plus a whole long list of more of these new and improved programs here!

 

Stay up to date on more news in animation on all our social media platforms!

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Mario Inches Closer to a Big Screen Return

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Last November, Nintendo fans around the world got some big news. The Wall Street Journal reported that Nintendo was close to an agreement to bring the Super Mario Bros back to the big screen. Primary among the candidates was Illumination, the Universal-owned animation studio. A few days ago, the story was stoked again by Nintendo's president, Tatsumi Kimishima. As reported on GameInformer.com, Kimishima hopes to reach an agreement soon, and foresees a film released in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

If the deal goes through, it would be incredible news. Nintendo has been protective of their characters since the infamous 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. Critics and audiences alike detested it, and the movie grossed only half its budget. It is now held up as a cautionary example about how films based on video games are doomed to fail. That trend has not changed much after twenty-five years. Movies like Prince of Persia and the more recent Assassin's Creed falling into obscurity. However, The Angry Birds Movie from 2016 managed to bring in almost $350 million from a $73 million budget. Some profit is still to be had...sometimes.

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A Super Mario Bros. movie has a better chance of succeeding, though, than many other titles. While some games like Prince of Persia may not be widely-known, Mario's reputation embedded deep in popular culture. Mario also has the advantage of relevance. Angry Birds might have been more successful, but struggled with connecting audiences to a fad game that had peaked four years prior. Meanwhile, Nintendo released Mario Odyssey this past year, and the hype has been strong. Mario Odyssey has been a massive commercial success, and earned several awards. Not to mention that the Mario franchise is more kid-friendly. It's easier to sell tickets to a general family audience than to a niche adult market.

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If Nintendo partners with Illumination, the chances of box office success grow stronger. Illumination has proven they can do one thing really well: make high-grossing blockbusters. Their Despicable Me 3 is set to be the highest-grossing animated movie of 2017, and the fourth-highest grossing film of the year. They're also no strangers to adapting others' works. Illumination released The Lorax in 2012, and is currently finishing up a new version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. Not to mention the ties that Nintendo already has with parent company Universal. For two years already, Universal has held a license to build theme park attractions based off of the Mario franchise. A film license would only solidify that connection.

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Of course, besides talk of profits and synergy, there's also the artistic question. Would Illumination make a good Super Mario Bros. movie? The Wall Street Journal did point out in November that this has been a sticking issue in negotiations. People close to the talks have said that Nintendo wants to "feel confident it will be involved enough in the creative process." Luckily, Shigeru Miyamoto has been part of the negotiations. He is the original creator of the game and a current "creative fellow" at Nintendo, and there are high hopes he'll land a producer role. If that ends up coming to pass, it'll be something that Super Mario Bros. 1993 didn't have...

If the deal goes through, and the final product ends up doing well, Universal may hit a goldmine. Their plan for a monster-based cinematic Dark Universe hit a snag in 2017... but if they land Nintendo movies, that would be a powerful way to compete with the likes of Disney and Warner Bros. The current media business revolves around licensing and consolidation after all. Disney has made some power moves with Lucasfilm and the recent 20th Century Fox purchase. Universal could definitely parry well with a Nintendo deal... but "could" is the keyword here. Strategy is important in show business, but making good film is necessary for execution. There's a lot of excitement, and it's now a waiting game to see what plays out.

Animated Features in 2018!

Happy New Year! 2017 was a good year for animation, but there's a lot to look forward to in 2018 as well! Some that are sequels from long ago and others that leave us in full wonderment. Listed below are only a few of animations you can keep an eye out for in the next year!

1. Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad 

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Release date: April 27, 2018

Dreaming of becoming the Top Dog of a delivery service in the arctic, Swifty must prove himself. During his mission on doing so he encounters almost every arctic animal you can think of, and they join together to stop the evil walrus to save the day!

Directed by Aaron Woodley and produced by AMBI Group and AIC Studios the Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad trailer can be seen here!

 

2. Sherlock Gnomes

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Release date: March 23, 2018

Directed by John Stevenson, Sherlock Gnomes is about one Gnomeo and Juliet who move into a garden with all their gnomes to live happily ever after! When they find they have all disappeared, they hire the only one they knew would solve the mystery, "The greatest ornamental detective"!

Check out the trailer that brought to us by Paramount Pictures here!

 

 

3. Incredibles 2

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Release date: June 15, 2018

Normal is a hard type of life to lead when there is so much crime to fight, and this family is back at it! Mr. Incredible stays home to watch the kids, as Elastigirl and Frozone find ways to tackle the new villian, The Underminer!

Directed by Brad Bird and brought to us by Disney Pixar, the Incredibles 2 trailer can be seen here!

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4. Smallfoot

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Release date: September 28, 2018

Yeti's really do exist in this animated feature directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, and they are on the hunt for the mythical creatures know as "Smallfoot", otherwise known as humans! The fame that Migo's stories of this creatures makes him even more determined to prove his tale to the Yeti community. 

"Yeti or not..." Warner Bros. Studios has the trailer ready to watch here!

 

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Release date: December 14, 2018

Peter Parker's passing leaves a teenager with the struggle of balancing high school with his duties as a superhero. Directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman and produced by Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, Marvel Entertainment, Arad Productions, Pascal Pictures, this large team shows us what the Spider-Verse is all about in this comic-book style animation.

Watch the teaser trailer here!

 

Be sure to keep an eye out for all the other animated features being released this year, we have a lot more to look forward to! Check out a few more here!

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Animation at War: A Brief Look at Animated Propaganda

"Propaganda" leaves a bad taste in the modern audience's mouth, and it's a slur often hurled about at whatever media we find distasteful. It's hard to imagine a time when propaganda was openly discussed, advocated for, and produced under that very name. Sure enough though, it played a major part in world history, even in our own country's history — and even in the animation industry. That's right, some of the most famous propaganda films are animations. Let's take a look at some of them.

One of the greatest producers of propaganda was none other than Walt Disney himself. Just before the United States entered World War II, the studio was facing financial troubles. Pinocchio and Fantasia had resulted in financial losses, since the overseas markets were decimated by the war in Europe, and Dumbo was released as a low-budget money maker in October 1941. A couple months later, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the war to the United States, and the government needed to suddenly build public morale for the fight. That's when they looked to Hollywood's studios to deliver that message, but most of all to Walt Disney. They needed his popular crowd-pleasing animations; he needed a reliable source of revenueProduction started almost right away.

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By August 1942, Fortune magazine published a column about Disney's efforts, saying that his films were "revolutionizing the technique of education." His films included The Spirit of '43, where Donald Duck argued in favor of paying income taxes; Der Fuehrer's Face, where Donald has a nightmare about the terrible life that Nazis would bring; Commando Duck, where Donald takes out a Japanese base... as one may tell, Donald Duck played a major role in the propaganda efforts. Other shorts included Education for Death, a surprisingly somber film that portrays the life of German youth, indoctrinated from birth to die violently on the battlefield. Victory through Air Power has a more strategic tone, demonstrating the way that strategic bombers had helped the Axis powers and could be used to help the Allies. There are many more films, but simply listing them all here would serve little use beyond what we've established. Disney covered a huge variety of topics, upping his production to tell people about the war, how it would impact them, and how they could impact it. 

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Of course, Disney wasn't the only animation studio producing propaganda. Warner Bros. also threw their hat into the ring. They may not have had the same volume or educational goals, but they still sought to foster public support for the war. They sent their own duck, Daffy, as a commando behind German lines in the appropriately named Daffy — The Commando in 1943. They also produced The Ducktators, where fowl caricatures of the Axis leaders take over a barnyard and push the pacifist dove to his breaking point. It's definitely a fascinating short, but it also shows the racial attitudes of the time...  stereotypes and caricatures abound! It's worth looking at to see the culture of the time, but potential viewers should be warned!

Propaganda was not just confined to the United States. The Soviet Union produced its own animations to rally their people. The 1941 short "Fascist Boots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland" is incredibly brief, not even reaching three minutes, but delivers its message easily. The visuals aren't necessarily the best though, and a trained eye can find several strange cuts and errors. More remarkable though, is the 1963 short American Imperialist: The Millionaire. It details a scenario where a rich American woman dies, leaving her money to her pet dog, who then becomes a part of the wealthy ruling class. The animation has definitely improved, it has a pleasing subdued palette, and it actually has some fun visual gags. On a technical level, it meets the standards for its time.

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Even today, animation continues to be used in propaganda films. I'm not talking about comic jabs at this or that political figure, I mean as sincere take-this-seriously propaganda. All the way in the hermit kingdom of North Korea, they have a show titled Squirrel and Hedgehog. Given the reclusive nature of any North Korean information, we know little about the show's production. From the episodes we have though, it's relatively easy to see what their goal is. It's a very thinly veiled metaphor. The initial episodes began during the Cold War, where a happy village of squirrels and hedgehogs are protected by a bear from the nefarious weasels. The bear is often drunk and unreliable though, so the village takes it upon themselves to defend against the weasels. If you start thinking "Hey, it's like North Korea is saying they didn't need the Soviet Union to protect them from their enemies," you'd be right.

Production was choppy, so later episodes didn't come out for years. When they did though, the animation drastically improved - the show actually looks really good on a technical level. They began adding villainous wolves dressed up in American army uniforms, again an easy metaphor to connect. Most of all though, they started to string together a story that, separated from the propaganda side of things, many people find genuinely compelling even outside of North Korea. The popularity inside the country seems no less. From what little coverage inside the country we have, Squirrel and Hedgehog stickers line nursery walls, and children's ensembles sing musical numbers inspired by the show. However, it's a cause for concern. Beyond everything else mentioned already, the show has a reputation for violence. Protagonists torture enemies for information, bloody executions take place, and they sing about giving up their lives for their home. It's fascinating from an artistic point of view, but also incredibly dangerous.

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Luckily, propaganda has fallen out of favor throughout most of the world. Some may argue it's present when a film presents one viewpoint or another, but the idea of government-sanctioned mass media is no longer popular. But it's always fascinating to look back, see a time capsule from the past, that might feel like another culture entirely even if it's from your own country.

Eric Miller Animation 2017 Year in Review!

Wow, what an exciting year it has been, and hard to believe the year is coming to an end.  Eric Miller Animation Studios is in its 3rd year it has been an amazing year! We would like to take this opportunity to look back on all we accomplished this year, so sit back in your chair with your hot cocoa and holiday cheer to take a trip down memory lane with us.  

 

Bink

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Bink has come a long way from his initial inception.  Our original plan was to create multiple 30 second shorts with a fun lovable creature to show potential clients.  After all the exciting work we did for Toys'R'Us we had a good amount of visual effects work to add to our portfolio.  The thing we were missing was some high quality 3D animation. 

In an effort to get more 3D animation work we started to work on Bink.  We soon realized he had a much bigger purpose, and his story began to take shape.  After the first 30 second teaser we realized we wanted to create a longer more complete short. 

Eric, and Jared White have spent this year really digging into who Bink is, why he has been captured, and what are these tests for.  We have been working on creating a fun, heartfelt story for our lovable little creature. 

This has taken us a lot longer then we expected for a couple reasons.  One is we want to make sure his story is great, and the other is we are not able to work on it full time.  As you will read below we have had a very busy year, and finding the time to work on Bink is often challenging.  We are committed to making 2018 Bink's big year, and plan to release the next short.  

 

Client Projects

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With our client work we often have to sign non-discloser agreements, so we can't always share the work we have done for them.  Sometimes we can't even share who the client was, but here is what we can share with you.  

This year we got to work on our first feature film when we did the visual effects to bring the creatures to life for Donkey Universe Films' horror movie "Island Zero". They are currently making the rounds in the film festivals, so if you get a chance to see it keep an eye out for our work.  We are holding on sharing the work on our website until the film has been sold.

We worked on a live-action pilot for a production company who is developing a TV series for Amazon that has talking animals.  We were brought on to make the farm animals talk.  This required taking the live action footage and animating a CG face over the animals.  Its actually a lot harder then it sounds.  We hope the project is picked up, and hope we get to continue working on it next year.

We got the opportunity to work with LoomAI on a project they are working on.  While we can't talk about the project we can say how great it was getting to work with some of our old friends.  We worked with a few of the LoomAI team at DreamWorks Animation before we all left to go our own ways.

Our biggest project of the year(in terms of the amount of work) was working with Operation Hope doing 2D animated explainer videos to educate people on how to start a business.  So far we have created around 20 animated videos for them each ranging from 2-6 minutes in length.  We hope to continue helping them with more animated videos in 2018. 

Just when we thought the year was over we were awarded two more projects which we are currently finishing up.  One is an animated logo for a production company, and the other is a visual effects project where we are creating a magical growing tree for a couple shots in a music video.  Once we are able to share these we will let you know.

 

IP Development

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One of the most exciting parts of the year has been working with a team of creative geniuses on developing our own animated shows.  We have a few ideas we are developing, and then pitch them to the networks and broadcasters.

Eric has been meeting with executives at Netflix, DreamWorks TV, Paramount, Jim Henson, and many other places to make the connections we will need.  When we have a few ideas ready we plan to pitch them sometime early in this coming year.

 

Moonward Studios

Another big announcement this year was the creation of Moonward Studios. We realized some of the work we have been doing, like the visual effect for a horror film, did not match the branding we want for Eric Miller Animation Studios(EMAS).  With EMAS the plan is to be an animation creation studio where we are creating our own original content. Our focus is establishing ourselves as a creative studio, and building fans.  Our main source of income, right now, is the service business where we function as a work-for-hire providing animation services to our clients. Our messaging on our website and social media needs to be talking more to those potential clients to win their trust and win new projects. 

It made sense to create a new division of the company with a different name, website, and social media channels which will speak more to our potential clients. Moonward Studios will handle our visual effects and VR/AR service work, and eventually take on all the animation service work.  This will allow EMAS to focus on original animation ideas we develop, and produce.  We have been working on a new website as well as building its own social media accounts to target our potential clients. We still have a lot of work to do, but you can check out our progress at www.moonwardstudios.com and let us know what you think.

 

Growing Team

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This year has been a year of growth, and we have been fortunate to work with some amazing people. Earlier this year we announced Ken Bielenberg would be serving as a member of our Board of Advisors.  Eric and Ken worked together at DreamWorks Animation. Ken was actually one of the people Eric needed to interview with when he was first trying to get the job at DWA. It has been great having Ken's expertise, and his advice has been invaluable.  We look forward to continue working with him in 2018 as we continue to grow the company.

Mary Lou started working with us in July as the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator.  She handles all the postings on our different social media channels, and has been writing most of the weekly blog posts. Ruby came on as an illustrator creating concept art for Firefly Woods, images for marketing, and the cute Bink illustrations.  We recently brought on another blog writer, David Gouldthorpe, to add even more great animation content to our weekly posts.

We also worked with a lot of project based freelancers who came on to help us with the different projects we have done this year.  This includes people like Joe Castillon, Rich Draper, Hayden Patterson, and many others.

Our goal this year was to grow our team, and find more amazing people to work with.  We have also been able to cultivate a great list of very talented artists, animators, voice actors, writers, directors, storyboard artists and talent with many other specialties who we look forward to working with on our future projects. If you are interested in getting on our list please create a profile on our Crew Portal.

 

Animation Events

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This year we have attended a good number of animation related events. At the beginning of the year Eric attended some of the award shows.  As a voting member of the Producers Guild and ASIFA he went to both the Producers Guild Awards, and the Annie Awards. This is a great opportunity to meet some of the best in the animation and entertainment industry, and also a lot of fun to get all dressed up.

He also went to learn more about the tech side of animation, gaming, VR, AR and computer graphics at SIGGRAPH.  Eric tries to make it to this event any year it is held in Los Angeles.

One of the most exciting events for us this year was CTNX because we had a table in the exhibition hall for the first time. This gave us a chance to get Eric Miller Animation Studios out in the animation community to meet talented artists we hope to work with in the future.

 

Networking

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The Creators Society celebrated our 2 year anniversary this year. If you don't know, The Creators Society is a networking group Eric started in 2015 to bring producers, artists, and others working in different areas of the animation industry together for networking.  The Creators Society has mixers every month in the Los Angeles area, and is a great way to meet other creative people.  If you are interested in coming to one of our events be sure to sign up on the website www.thecreatorssociety.org.

Eric has also been attending other networking events each month like the Producers Guild Thirsty Thursday, Woman In Animation Mixer, The Crux Social, and Ready Set Go.  We feel it is so important to be active in our community, and networking helps you make great connections.

 

Giving Back

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We know how difficult this industry is, and getting started in the industry is even harder.  Our animation industry is great at helping each other out, and this is one reason we love it so much.  We feel it is important for us to give back, and help those new to the industry when we can. 

Throughout the year Eric has phone calls and meetings with students looking for advice, guidance, or sometimes just encouragement.  Earlier this year he met with the animation students from The University of Utah who were visiting Los Angeles.  He also participated in the career day for his high school alma mater through a remote video chat, and attended events like the CalArts Portfolio Day and the CalArts Producers Show.

 

The Numbers

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For the fun of it here are some interested numbers for this year.

This blog post is our 52nd post for this year, so it seems we managed to write a blog post every week. Our website has had 12.4k visitors this year which is a 8.2% increase over last year, and 36.5k page views which is a 12% increase over last year. We have had visitors to our website from 128 different countries with the top 5 countries being The United States(70%), Canada(3%), India(3%), United Kingdom(3%), and the Republic of Korea(2%).

The highlights on our social media is we grew our Twitter followers by 3,283, and our Instagram by 1,869 followers.  

 

Looking forward to 2018

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We hope to continue to grow, and learn in the coming year. Thank you for making it to the end of our 2017 year in review, and for letting us share our excitement with you throughout the year.  Thank you for support and encouragement, and we can't wait to continue to share with all of you.

2018 is looking to be an exciting year for our industry. Click here to get a little taste of animations coming our way, and of course stay tuned with us on Eric Miller Animation Studio's social platforms for a daily dose of news in animation!

Alita: Battle Angel and the Uncanny Valley

Last weekend, a trailer dropped for a movie called Alita: Battle AngelDirected by Robert Rodriguez, and written and produced by James Cameron,  the movie uses the manga Battle Angel Alita as source material. It focuses on a young cyborg who must, according to iMDB, "discover the truth of who she is and her fight to change the world." The trailer generated a bit of buzz... but not necessarily for an enviable reason. While some viewers did say that they were impressed, many were struck by one feature in particular: Alita's eyes.

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Alita's character is brought to life using computer-generated imagery, and the most striking features about her aren't her cybernetic limbs, but the enlarged eyes. Comments have ranged from humorous to outright critical, and several bring up a very important principle of animation: the uncanny valley.

What exactly is the uncanny valley? It's a trick that lies at the intersection of art and human psychology. The best example involves robots: imagine an industrial robot, the mechanical arm that builds cars. It does not appear very human, and so you may not be as attached. But let's add more human features, maybe something like WALL-E or Short Circuit's Johnny Five. You begin to build more of an emotional connection with it. Now make the robot even more humanoid, something like C-3PO from Star Wars. Now he's a real character, a person in his own right, that you would be even more invested in. In general, the more human-ish an object appears, the more we will connect with it.

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But there is a drastic exception to this rule. As an object draws near full human likeness, it enters into the "uncanny valley." It's a point where the object appears almost completely human, but not quite fully there. The connection suddenly becomes revulsion, and people may be repelled away from the object. There are competing explanations for the phenomenon. Some say it's an unconscious physical repulsion from a "human" that appears to be ill or sickly. Others argue it's a perceived threat to human identity. Whatever the cause though, the uncanny valley has implications not just for robotic designers, but even more so for digital artists.

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Computer imagery has developed by leaps and bounds, and we are now nearing the capability to replicate humans on screen. Such an act always has the inherent danger of falling into the uncanny valley though, and undermining the whole effect. Audiences do respond to that, but it isn't always a liability. Sometimes the uncanny valley can be exploited if you WANT to make a character disturbing and unsettling. Case in point, King Ramses from Courage the Cowardly DogAnyone around the age of 20 can testify that he was one of the most truly terrifying villains in cartoons. 

Of course, most of the time the uncanny valley is accidental, and it's plagued digital artists for decades. One excellent example is Tin Toy, a 1988 Pixar short that features a baby that... well, doesn't look or move like any baby I know of! The 2004 movie The Polar Express also faced troubles with its human characters. It was the first film shot entirely on a motion-capture stage, so of course there were some rough edges.  Mars Needs Moms faced similar troubles, and more recently Rogue One caught some flak for their CGI representation of General Tarkin. 

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Which leads us back to Alita. The attempt seems to be to recreate the well-known Japanese style of large eyes. Robert Rodriguez confirmed this in an interview with Empire, where he said they wanted "to create a photo-realistic version of the manga eyes that we're so accustomed to seeing." He added that "When it gets to the emotional scenes it's really uncanny and striking." So far fans seem to be split: some are saying that the uncanny valley might fit the story of an android struggling to fit into a human society. Others say that she should look like the other humans, given the manga's style. A lot comes down to the writing of the movie and how it's handled, and we won't see that until July. One thing for sure though, is that everyone's going to be paying attention to those big ol' eyes.

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