Arabian Animation on the Upswing

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Earlier this week an article made its way online titled "Why animation and storytelling are growing in Saudi Arabia." This draws attention to a rapidly changing marketplace: the Saudi Kingdom. Before we talk about this specific article, a recap is warranted of how Saudi Arabia is transforming. 

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has made headlines the past couple years for the sweeping reforms he's pressed for throughout the nation. It's part of his Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to bolster non-petroleum industries, living standards, and the nation's culture. Last September, the ban on women driving was lifted; several state enterprises have been privatized. Most relevant to this blog though, just this year the ban on cinemas was lifted.

Since the 1980s, the kingdom forbid public cinemas. Hardline clerics warned that it'd lead to immorality and other ills. However, the clerics have watched their political leverage wane over the past few years. Mohammad bin Salman pushed ahead, and in January The Emoji Movie was shown on a makeshift screen, the first public screening in decades. It took a few months for an actual cinema to be built, but last month, an AMC in the capital city of Riyadh screened Black Panther, thus marking a brand new era for Saudi entertainment. 

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Now that's not to say that the Saudi people have been cut off from entertainment altogether. Out-of-theater distribution, such as DVDs and digital streaming, has been popular for years. Plus, people with the means to do so simply traveled to neighboring nations to visit the cinemas there. It's also worth noting that films entering the country still have to pass certain censorship requirements. At the very least though, it's a step forward - and potentially a lucrative opportunity. More cinemas are being built. If Vision 2030 is successful, and living standards rise, more people will have money to spend on entertainment. That could mean healthy box office takes for any film that manages to get into the country. That's especially good news for animators, who put together effects for the biggest blockbusters and create animated films that already win over global audiences.

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It's not just news for international animators though. Saudi Arabia has its own artists, ready and eager to show off to audiences. That leads back to the article mentioned at the beginning of this post. For example, Verve Studios, established in 2015, has thirty "partners" that it works with to deliver animation. At Effat University, an all-female school, a major is now offered in Visual and Digital Production. It's the first filmmaking major to be offered in Saudi Arabia. The article also talks about Samaher Bantan, who mentions companies asking animators for "an ad or a video for their websites." An animation community already exists in the kingdom; the ground is being laid for it to expand even more.

The resources are cropping up, and animation is being given room to breathe and spread its wings. There are still twelve years to go in Saudi Vision 2030, but by the end of those twelve years we may see a country that, among other things, loves and celebrates animation as much as anyone else. It's worth keeping an eye on, to see what else may come next.


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

CalArts Character Animation Producers’ Show

With so many animations out there, it takes a lot of work to make sure they don't go unnoticed. The annual CalArts Character Animation Producers' Show was hosted by the Directors Guild of America on May 2 this year to show the "Best Of" from the school year.  Students, faculty, friends, family, industry professionals and fans were all invited to attend watch 192 student films that were screened in late April. It was narrowed down to 22 films that were in the running for the following awards: 

 

1. The Peer's Pick Award

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Goodbye Galaxy Girl took "The Peers Pick Award", which is voted on by the students themselves.  In this animation, the loneliness of a women becomes a dreamlike, yet heartbreaking, escape into the world of cartoons.  Animation comes a long way for Yden Park in her fourth year at CalArts.  Though her style is similar through the years, her progress is evident to her peers. 

Watch Goodby Galaxy Girl here!

 

2. The Vimeo Award

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Little Bandits by Alex Avagimain takes home "The Vimeo Award".  This one is juried by Vimeo for Outstanding Student Achievement in Animated Filmmaking.  This animation is a classic "coming of age" film where a young boy is convinced that killing a bird will make him a man.  Based on a true story, this animation shows great development throughout the students years at CalArts. 

Watch Little Bandits here!

 

3. The Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize

"The Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize" is chosen by the CalArts Character Animation Program faculty and how they have noticed the students' progress.  This one was a tie between two animations.  One by Anchi Shen for Barry about a baby goat who goes job hunting. 

Watch Barry here!

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Gabrielle Capili is also awarded the "The Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize" for Dennis the Dinosaur. The interaction between the animation itself and a live performance shows the humor of a pilot taking the wrong turn for a children's TV animation. 

Watch Dennis the Dinosaur here!

 

Not only did this give students a chance to showcase their work, but they were also able to network with many companies and well respected individuals from the animation industry. Don't worry if you missed the screening, you can check out the list of the animations showcased here

 
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Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

 

The Business of Animation Looks Rosy

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People love animation. In fact, people love animation so much that it's a $254 billion industry! In fact, it's due to grow 6% over the next two years to $270 billion, according to a new report from Research and Markets. It covers animation, visual effects, and games around the globe. While the lengthy report is stuck behind a paywall, several of its key findings are available to view. Here are some quick highlights, and some thoughts about them:

  • VFX Growth: Audiences are watching films and movies — Infinity War is due to cross the billion dollar mark after only a week! According to the report, audiences are looking for more "engaging visual effects and realistic animation." As a result, most productions are spending 20-25% of their budgets on the effects. With film budgets now hitting $300 million or more, that's a lot of money being spent on animation! People are looking for more spectacle, the kind of spectacle that only animated effects can create.
  • Streaming: Audiences are continuing their drift over to streaming platforms. Netflix and Amazon, as well as Facebook and YouTube, are becoming an important channel for animators to consider. In 2017, streaming animation was worth in $2.4 billion, but is growing fast at eight percent a year. More and more major studios are hopping onto streaming services, especially the Walt Disney Company. Especially as more and more people worldwide get connected to faster internet, streamed video content will become even more popular.
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  • Video Games: Video games alone were worth $92 billion in 2017. New services are allowing publishers to better analyze players and tweak their games to maximize satisfaction. The report also mentions "availability of low cost micro-payment systems" for digital content, calling them "the key for online games market to grow." This part should be taken with a grain of salt, though, considering recent controversies over microtransactions. Some countries have placed restrictions or even outright bans on these microtransactions, and a few states are considering doing the same. 
  • ESports: Connected with video games is the continuing rise of eSports tournaments, which feature players competing at huge events. The report mentions that the industry is growing at a massive rate of thirty percent annually, and will be worth a billion dollars next year. With spectators and fans flooding these events, eSports may very well dramatically change the culture of gaming and how it's seen — and embraced — by the general public. That means a changing market, and potentially even more room for growth and expansion.

These are just some key points to be found in the report, but there's so much more to unpack. One thing is for certain though: animation as an industry continues to be strong and vibrant, with lots of new opportunities in the near future!


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

April's News in Animation!

Another month, and with endless contributions to the industry from studios and individuals, we highlight a handful of significant events and happenings.

 

1. Tribute to Isao Takahata

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We lost another great contributor to the world of animation this month: Isao Takahata, a co-founder of Eastern animation house Studio Ghibli since 1985, along with Hayao Miyazaki.  He has contributed to bringing Japanese Animation to the international audience.  He was the director of 'Grave of the Fireflies' (1988), 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' (2013), and so many other undoubtedly Ghibli style classics. 

 

2. Animation on Netflix

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A few animations have popped up as new releases for the month of April on Netflix, including older films like the 'Iron Giant' (1990) and newer features such as  'Despicable Me 3' (2017).  Check out the full list of Netflix's April animated films!

 

3. 'Batman Ninja' Movie

The 'Batman Ninja' movie debuted at WonderCon 2018, and Batman's nemesis plays a vital role in this anime-style take on the vigilante.  It was released digitally on April 24, 2018 by Anime studio Kamikaze Douga.  May 8th will be the release day for the DVD in the US.  Will the villains emerge victorious, or will Batman's gadgets help him once again... and by gadgets we mean ninja swords. 

Check out the trailer here!

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4. 'Rick and Morty' - April Fools!

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It's not really April without a good April Fools, so here is Rick and Morty's "Bushworld Adventures".  As a 10-minute short that aired repeatedly on April 1st, getting many reactions from fans, the short, just like any good April Fools joke, is all about being "trolled".

Watch it here! (repeatedly, to get the full effect) 

 

5. CinemaCon 2018

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Yesterday, April 26,2018, was the last day for CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Nevada, and although this is about all movies, let's talk about the animated movies! Warner Bros. hit the ground running with their presentation an 'Smallfoot', an animation that flips around the myth we know. Sony Animation introduces the actors for 'Spiderman: Spiderverse'! And a new introduction from Paramount on their new animations; 'Monster on the Hill' with RealFX, and 'Luck' with Skydance Animation.

Check out all the hype from CinemaCon here!

 

We're always posting about what the latest news in animation is on our social media platforms, be sure to keep up to date daily on there!

 

Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

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The Allen Institute Creates Toon-Making AI

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Artificial intelligence has been a buzzword in the business world for the past several years. And ever since Watson won Jeopardy! in 2011, AI has become ingrained in the public eye as not just a futuristic dream, but a grounded reality. It's been promised that AI will change everyone's work — and it seems that even artists will be affected. This past week, Gizmodo reported that the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence has successfully trained an AI to automatically generate Flinstones clips.

The process began with feeding the AI over 25,000 three-second clips of The Flintstones. Researchers then described each clip with detailed descriptions of the character, where they were, and what they were doing. After all this data had been indexed, they then began to ask the AI to generate clips based on various requests; for example, they fed it the line "Betty is speaking on the phone in the kitchen." The program proceeded to generate a clip, based on the footage it had available, to composite a moving image.

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It's worth watching the Allen Institute's video about their project. To see an AI come this far is astonishing, to say the least. It might also spark worry about future job prospects... but it doesn't seem too likely that the AI poses any immediate threat. First of all, as can be seen in the video, the program fails often. Items are not placed correctly, and poses or backgrounds are not retrieved accurately. That's not even looking at the "catastrophic failures" which end up unintelligible. However, the successful clips are rarely much better. Sure they show what's being asked for, but the quality feels more reminiscent of an amateur DVD-rip, with artifacts all over the place.

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Perhaps the most pressing setback for the AI at this time, though, is that it requires existing assets to function. Without being fed clips, the program cannot work. Some artists have to make those clips in the first place. Plus, cataloging all those clips takes an extensive amount of manpower. For twenty-five thousand clips, let's say each is described with seven words: "Fred running across kitchen in his pajamas." If that's the average description length, then they'll reach the same word count as Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. 

Now automatically generated animation is not particularly new; GoAnimate has been available for years now. However, GoAnimate relies on pre-programmed animations that the user can then choose to string together. Not everything that a user wants will be available. The Allen Institute's project has gone one step further, in trying to combine assets itself in a more nuanced way. Obviously it still has a ways to go, but it's a step forward. It's worth keeping an eye on though. It may, in due time, become a valuable artistic tool.


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

Annecy International Film Festival Competitors!

Here's a sneak peek at what is in competition for the Annecy International Animated Film Festival coming up in June!

1. Agouro

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Agouro is a short film from Portugal and France about the growing relationship of two cousins beucase of the harsh winter they endure. It is directed by David Doutel and Vasco SÁ and has the running time of 15 minutes. 

Check out the teaser here!

 

2. Heart of Darkness

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Directed by Rogério Nunes, Heart of Darkness is an animation feature adapted from the book by Joseph Conrad from 1899, also called "Heart of Darkness".  The idea for the animation came about after Rogério Nunes was asked to illustrate the Brazilian edition of the book. Find out more about how this animation became a collaboration between Brazil and France in this interview with the director.

The teaser is also available to watch here!

 

3. Pachamama

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Pachamama by producers Didier Brunner and Damien Brunner in France. It is set in the Incan Empire in the 16th century, now known as Peru. A 10-year old boy sets a goal to become a shaman.

Check out the teaser here!

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4. Flee

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Flee is produced by Benoit Luce from Lux Populi Production in France and Quinshu Zuo in China. The story is about Amin, an 11 year old boy, being on the run from Afghanistan for 5 years. He finally reaches Denmark in 1997 and continues to look for peace and find a place and setting he can call home. 

Check out the teaser for this animated feature here!

 

5. Afterwork

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With the running time of 6 minutes, this short is directed by Luis USÓN and Andrés Aguilar, a collaboration between Ecuador, Spain, and Peru.  Afterwork delves into the psyche of the working-class, into the cyclical lifestyles that are caused by routine schedules, work, and so on.

Catch the teaser of Grompy's hunt for the meaning of life here

 

There are so many more work-in-progress animations in the 2018 Cannes Annecy, check them out here! Keep on the lookout for the festival, which is coming up June 11-16, 2018.


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

What's In a Name? How to Tell Between Films and Television

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A couple weeks ago, we posted a blog about Disney's upcoming streaming service, and how they are planning some big-name releases for it. It seems that eleven years after Netflix introduced its services, digital streaming is definitely here to stay. That is not to say, though, that its effects are not fully realized. Digital streaming has enabled a convergence of different outlets, blurring the lines between different distribution services. For any entertainment firm to survive in this new age, it needs to take steps to understand this convergence.

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Much has been said about Netflix and others' impact on filmmaking. Just a couple weeks ago, Steven Spielberg spoke about the matter, saying that films that release on streaming platforms should not be allowed to be considered for the Oscars. Instead he insisted they should only be considered for Emmy Awards. His concern grew out of the fact that it's increasingly difficult for filmmakers "to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically." Christopher Nolan has also criticized the practice, saying that it takes away from the theatrical experience.

It doesn't change the fact though that more and more, studios are turning to streaming services as more than just secondary distribution after a theatrical or television run. It's now a primary distribution outlet, with original series made by both the streaming companies and established studios. Just this year, Annihilation opened to a domestic theatrical run, while simultaneously launching on Netflix abroad. Films and television now rub elbows on computer screens around the world. As a result, they're beginning to look awfully similar...

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Take for example the question of budgets. This past December, Netflix released Bright on its platform, an urban fantasy film that cost about $90 million to produce. That's the same budget as the smash hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which hit theaters about the same time. Made for TV films have historically carried far less production value than their theatrical counterparts, but that gap is starting to disappear. Even looking at serials, budgets are ballooning. For example, in season six of Game of Thrones, each episode cost roughly $10 million to make. Contrast that with films like 2017's Split, with only a $5 million budget.

Serials themselves pose a myriad of other questions. Some have neat little thirty-minute episodes that all tie together, quite distinguishable from stand-alone films. Some, however, boast hour-long episodes that feel cinematic in their own right. In any case, films often connect into series as well. How great is the difference between, say, Batman Begins/The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises and Gotham episodes 1-3? And what about series, such as Black Mirror, where the episodes do not connect at all? 

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Film and television have evolved as media for decades, changing to fit their environment and viewers. The two-parter episode, the cinematic universe, so many ways have been found to manipulate the media to deliver unique experiences. In the past, they tried to distinguish themselves through methods ranging from outlandish (TV sweepstakes and better theater experiences) to the mundane (tweaking aspect ratios to be unwatchable in other formats).  The reason we should care about the convergence of television and film into streaming is because we can now find even more ways to tell better stories. Anthologies can be assembled and released simultaneously, for example. It poses new challenges as well; television producers can't listen to feedback on early parts of their seasons and use it to alter later parts, everything must be released at once.  Streaming, in a way, has become a medium of its very own, and it may be a decade or even more until its potential is realized. Like it or dislike it, it must be considered as a force to be reckoned with today.


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

March's News in Animation!

We are wrapping up the third month in 2018 with more new and exciting events in the animation world! Read on to see what March brought us, from new trailers to new studios, many networking opportunities and more!

1. Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero 

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On March 27th, Fun Academy Motion Pictures and Variety - The Children's Charity of Southern California co-hosted the world debut of this animated feature based on the true story of a stray dog who became the most decorated dog in American History. The world premiere will be a fundraising benefit for Variety, the Children's Charity of Southern California, as well as the Boys and Girls Club, and It's official release date is April 13, 2018.

Check out the trailer here!

 

2. New Animation Studio in London!

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There's a new major animation studio on the horizon - quite literally, and it has opened in London!  Locksmith has its sights set on becoming an animation powerhouse - the first high-end feature animation studio in the UK.  The studio's first film "Ron's Gone Wrong" is slated for 2020 release.

Find out more about the studio and the team here!

 
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3. GLAS Cash

The Third Annual GLAS Animation Festival in Berkeley, CA wrapped up on March 25, 2018.  Niki Lindroth's stop-motion musical short "The Burden" claimed top prize - the FXX Elevation Award - a $25,000 grant to develop an animated project with FXX. GLAS Cash, another grant for independent filmmakers, was also introduced during the wrap up.

More information on how to apply on May 1st!

 

4. Lucas the Spider 

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Animator Joshua Slice was approached by Fresh TV to a acquire the rights to Lucas the Spider! Their plan is to continue with Lucas' adventures in an ongoing series, along with feature length films. Lucas was named after Slice's nephew who voiced a jumping spider they found nestled on a leaf, which Slice turned into a YouTube series.

Check out one of Lucas' first adventures here!

 

5. Creators Society Mixer Co-Hosted with Ready, Set, Go!

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The Creators Society has been growing the last few months, but nothing compares to the networking mixer for this month. We not only grew in individuals, but we also had Ready, Set, Go, a kids entertainment networking mixer, as a co-host for the month of March. 

If you still have not been to one of our events, make sure not to miss the next one. Sign up to receive future invites here!

 

Stayed tuned on what's going on in the world of animation on all our social media platforms!

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Disney Names First Production For Upcoming Streaming Service

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Earlier this week, news broke that Disney plans to remake the 1955 classic Lady and the Tramp into a live-action movie.  This doesn't come as much of a surprise. Live-action remakes have made a lot of money for the Walt Disney Company; last year, Beauty and the Beast was the second highest grossing movie worldwide with over a billion dollar gross. The interesting part of this announcement is how Disney plans to distribute the film. Instead of a theatrical release, the studio intends to release the new Lady and the Tramp on their yet-unnamed digital streaming service.

Disney's streaming service, due for release in 2019, stands to be a strong competitor with established companies like Netflix. On top of holding Disney's existing library of films and television programming, it will also reportedly feature "four to six" original works every year. The selection will come from across Walt Disney's holdings: Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney Animation, and so on. With a big name title like a Lady and the Tramp remake heading straight for streaming, it indicates how seriously Disney is taking this venture.

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As an interesting note, it's worth pointing out that Disney currently stands to acquire streaming service Hulu. Walt Disney already owned 30% of the service, while 21st Century Fox owned another 30% — and with the acquisition of Fox pending, Disney will soon get a controlling stake. How Hulu will run alongside Disney's service remains to be seen.

So what does this mean for animation? It indicates another shift towards streaming as a distribution channel, to complement or even supplant theatrical and broadcast releases. We've seen steps in this direction with films like The Little Prince, which played theatrically around the world but in the United States released on Netflix. Major studios like DreamWorks have also released exclusive series for Netflix, featuring spinoffs of Puss in Boots and their Dragons franchise, as well as original series like Voltron and Trollhunters.

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Disney's steps will probably point even more big-budget productions towards streaming first. For comparison, let's look at the recent Netflix original Bright, which turned heads with its $90 million budget. Now let's estimate the budget for Lady and the Tramp. The film will have the same producer as 2016's The Jungle Book, which cost $175 million. Even if that number shrinks a bit for Lady and the Tramp, it still looks to be one of the biggest productions to directly hit streaming services.

Streaming has already impacted the entertainment industry in different ways. It's already upset existing distribution channels, but it seems that the effects are not fully realized yet. A very big step looms in the future, and all eyes will watch to see if the step is solid or shaky.

Nickelodeon is Bringing Back Blue's Clues This Year

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In 1996, Nickelodeon premiered Blue's Clues, a children's television series that blended a live-action host (Steve Burns) with a supporting cast of animated characters. The result was a massive success. The show lasted for ten years, inspired live-action shows, and earned nine Emmy nominations. It also left behind a legacy of pioneering educational programming for children. With such a strong legacy, it seems natural that Nickelodeon would want to revive the series. Sure enough, a Nickelodeon press release confirmed last week that Blue's Clues would be remade within the year, with production starting in summer.

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The original Blue's Clues aired in a time of great change in children's television. Besides PBS, no channels wanted to carry educational children's programming. In 1990 though, the Children's Television Act required national channels to devote a certain amount of time weekly to programs that meet the "informational and educational needs" of younger audiences. Blue's Clues was a response to these new rules, creating an educational program that would also entertain and engage children. Episodes were screened for test audiences, and the results were incredible. Diane Tracy wrote in Blue's Clues for Success that kids got more and more invested in the show as the episode progressed, even responding to the host's prompts aloud. Several studies backed the program's effectiveness in its task.

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The show also pioneered new methods of animation on television. Using green screen (or, in this case, "blue screen") technology, cut-outs and photographs of objects, and software like After Effects and Photoshop, Blue's Clues developed a unique style that's often described as a storybook-like sensation. Using new techniques, episodes could be produced in a fraction of the time that it took for traditional animation. That allowed more time for screening and tweaking episodes before airing.

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So, how will the new revival match to the original series? Obviously it's too early to say. In fact, there's not even a host selected yet! Casting calls are expected to proceed into April according to the press release. Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Group, said that the goal is to "capture all the original’s creativity and visual identity for a whole new audience ready for its fun adventures and expertly designed problem-solving curriculum." The image accompanying the press release gives a hint to the new show's visual style. It shows the titular character, Blue the Puppy, rendered into a CG model. Compared to the 2D original, it seems that they have successfully brought that character design into the 3D environment. It'll be interesting to see the rest of the show translated.

But what about the host? Speculation has already flown widely, even including famed wrestler John Cena, who reportedly auditioned for the role. Former host Steve Burns even said he'd be interested in returning the role himself, joking that he'd wrestle Cena for it. At the moment though, the casting call is open for anyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity, aged between 18 and 25. Reinventing such a beloved franchise is sure to draw plenty of buzz, and many eyes will be on Nickelodeon as it rolls out Blue Clue's for a new generation.