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.

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.


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.

Looking Back at Adventure Time

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A couple weeks ago, a party was held in Hollywood. It was a wrap party, celebrating the end of production on one of the most important animated series of our time: Adventure Time. The award-winning series is now on its tenth and final season, and in honor of its conclusion it seems fitting to go back and explore the impact the show has had on television animation.

To fully understand the impact of Adventure Time, we need to understand the world of the late naughts, prior to 2010. To put it lightly... those were not kind years for television animation. The three major players - Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, and Cartoon Network - had only limited offerings. Live-action youth sitcoms were beginning to dominate. Cartoon Network in particular attempted to roll out a programming block in 2009 titled "CN Real", dedicated only to live-action reality programming. Nickelodeon was trying to find something that would stick as well as Spongebob could, but programs like Fanboy and Chum Chum failed to garner strong views. Disney Channel meanwhile had been given over to programs like Jonas and Suite Life; Phineas and Ferb was one of the few noteworthy animated programs near the end of the decade.

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Enter into the scene Pendleton Ward, a graduate from the California Institute for the Arts. In 2006 he made a short titled Adventure Time. By November 2007 it garnered over a million views, having spread around the Internet. Ward took his idea to Nickelodeon and pitched it as a show, but found himself rejected. He then took it to Cartoon Network, where his pitch was accepted. The first episode aired April 5, 2010, to an audience of 2.5 million viewers. From there, the show has continued to receive popularity and praise. Adventure Time has received major nominations every year it has aired, and won several Emmy Awards and Annie Awards. 


So what is it about Adventure Time that makes it so special? One part of its appeal lies in the wacky off-the-wall world. The main stars are a human named Finn, voiced by Jeremy Shada, and his loyal shape-shifting dog Jake, voiced by John DiMaggio. They encounter characters like an Ice King, a vampire, a lumpy space princess (a blob whose name is literally Lumpy Space Princess), a bubblegum princess, a lemon, a living video game console... and the list goes on from there. It's an environment full of "fun and excitement" and "pure imagination."

At the same time, Adventure Time manages to handle more complex and deeper themes. Characters are not just paper cutouts, but deeper people who we get to explore and discover more about. Critics have praised it for talking about things like mental illness and loss. There has even been an academic interest in the show: for example, Emma Jane published an article in the Journal of Children and Media in which she described the ways that Adventure Time handled gender roles. The balance of wackiness with headiness has helped keep the show entertaining and intriguing for its audience.

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It's a balance, in fact, that has redefined the industry. Adventure Time is often credited with sparking a new television animation renaissance. In fact, alumni from Adventure Time have gone on to make excellent shows of their own. Patrick McHale, a director on the series, went on to create Over the Garden Wall. Rebecca Sugar, a writer and storyboard artist, became the showrunner on the hit series Steven Universe. Ian Jones-Quartey (OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes), Skyler Page (Clarence), Julia Pott (Summer Camp Island), the list goes on. Besides alumni though, other channels saw the success of Adventure Time, realized that cartoons were still a viable crowd-pleaser, and took a risk on series like Gravity Falls and The Loud House. Everyone wanted to recapture the magic of Adventure Time, and it has led to some truly great works.

With the show's production officially stopped, and the last season airing, it's safe to say that all cast and crew should feel proud for taking part in something so important. Adventure Time has not only inspired fans, but breathed new life into an entire industry. Its impact will not be forgotten, and whatever the crew move on to next will surely be spectacular.

2016 Emmy Nominated Animated Programs

As many of us know, we're currently experiencing the Golden Age of Television and with the 2016 Emmy's upon us, we'd love to take a closer look at which animated programs are helping fuel the TV revolution!

ARCHER - FX Networks
"The Figgis Agency"
Category: Outstanding Animated Program
This is Archer's 4th Emmy Nomination. Will it be their first win? Archer is an Adult Animated Spy Series that began in 2009, although viewership is not as high as other animated comedies, the show has generated terrific reviews and been praised by critics. The show has previously won NextNowNexts "Best Show You're Not Watching" Award. Time to tune in!

"The Horse Rider-er"
Category: Outstanding Animated Program
This is Bob's Burgers 6th Emmy Nomination, the show previously won this award in 2014. Bob's Burgers, an animated sitcom show about parents -- Bob and Linda, debuted in 2011 to mixed reviews. Feedback to the show has gotten increasingly better, leading to Bob's Burger's consistent Emmy nominations within recent years.

Category: Outstanding Animated Program
This is Phineas and Ferb's 1st Nomination. The show, which began in 2007, is an animated musical series, which follows 2 brothers, a spy platypus, and all their summer adventures. Phineas and Ferb has won a handful of Kids Choice Awards, as well as Pulcinella Awards.

SOUTH PARK - Comedy Central
"You're Not Yelping"
Category: Outstanding Animated Program
This is South Park's 16th Emmy Nomination, they've previously won Emmy's for 4 different animation categories. South Park's cult following has earned them tons of recognition and awards from various places. The show, which began in 1997 hilariously follows the lives of 4 boys in a town in Colorado, while incorporating current events.

"Halloween of Horror"
Category: Outstanding Animated Program
Hold your breath, this is The Simpsons, 85th Emmy Nomination! The Simpsons has already won 32 Emmys within various categories. The show, which first aired in 1989, has yet to slow down, it follows The Simpsons, a working class family, and is still the longest running American sitcom to date! Crazy!

ADVENTURE TIME - Cartoon Network
"The Hall of Egress"
Category: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
This is Adventure Time's 10th Emmy Nomination, the show has already earned 4 Emmy wins in various animated categories.dventure time, which premiered in 2010, follows a young boy named Finn and his magical dog Jake. The fantasy series, inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, has a large viewership of adults and teens, even though the series is aimed at children. 

"Robot Chicken Christmas Special: The X-Mas United"
Category: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
This Robot Chicken's 18th Emmy Nomination, they have already won 4 Emmys. Robot Chicken, a stop motion sketch comedy, was created by Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. Fun Fact? This shows name was inspired by a dish in a West Hollywood restaurant, Kung Pao Bistro, that Seth and Michael were dining at while discussing the show.

"Company Picnic"
Category: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
This is SpongeBob Squarnts' 9th Emmy Nomination, the show has surprisingly yet to win an Emmy as best Animated Program. The show, created by a marine biologist, premiered in 1999 and gained an enormous amount of popularity within children. Spongb and his friends have won a variety of awards, mainly Kids Choice Awards.

STEVEN UNIVERSE - Cartoon Network
"The Answer"
Category: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
This is Steven Universe's 2nd Emmy Nomination. The show, created in 2013, is a coming of age story of a boy named Steven Universe and i is the first animated series to be solely created by a woman -- Rebecca Sugar. Steven Universe has been praised for bein a "equally rewarding watch" for both adults and children. Take note, parents!

"Once Upon A Townsville"
Category: Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
This is The Powerpuff Girl's 6th Emmy Nomination, they have already won 2 Emmys. The Powerpuff Girls, a show about 3 girls with super powers, first debuted in 1995, and ran until 1998. In 2005 the show decided to create a 10 year anniversary show, which generated terrific buzz. In 2016, Cartoon Network decided to reboot the show. 

The Outstanding Short Form Animated Program Category will be awarded this weekend at the Creative Arts Emmys and the Outstanding Animated Program Category will be awarded at next weeks Primetime Emmys.