Monday, May 27, 2013

Visualising The Rite of Spring

May 29 marks the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring."  That's a piece that should be familiar to animation professionals and fans as it was one of the segments in Disney's Fantasia.

The above video is by Stephen Malinowski, a musician and computer programmer who has been attempting to visualize complex musical scores.  Watch it full screen for the best effect.

Here is an NPR interview with Malinowski, where he talks about his process.
"People usually respond to sound in a unitary way. It's the reason why you can't follow more than one conversation at a time at a party, for example. But with vision, your brain is trained to comprehend multiple things at once: you can take in many more elements simultaneously. In music, there's often much more going on than you can grasp in that moment of hearing. When you have a visualization, your eyes lead your ears through the music. You take advantage of your brain's ability to process multiple pieces of visual information simultaneously."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An Independent Success

The video embedded above has been viewed almost 42 million times. That's a number larger than the population of many countries, including Canada.

If you're not aware of it, Simon's Cat has been around for about 5 years and is a series of cartoons like the above by Simon Tofield on YouTube.  In addition to his animation, Tofield has authored eight books featuring the character.

Now, he has sold worldwide distribution rights to Entertainment One, and their goal is to broadly merchandise the character.

Merchandising has always been gravy money in the animation business.  Somebody pays you to produce products featuring your character.  While there are some costs associated with it, such as quality control, it's less expensive than animation and more profitable.  Licensing a character is as close as you can get in animation to printing money.  (That's why The Simpsons is still on the air even though its ratings have fallen substantially over the years).

 Look at what Tofield has done.  The series is designed to be just linework, no colour or gray tones.  All the films are pantomime so that they can be understood around the world.  There is no music except over the opening and closing credits.  They videos are based on an animal that's familiar to everyone.  The videos are short and there is no standard length, so they are as long as they need to be, not padded like TV animation to fill a predetermined slot.  It's built on a continuing character and the animation focuses on behavior, not stock poses or timing.

Not every idea is going to catch on with audiences, but here is proof that a single person with an idea and the ability to design to fit his production limitations can create a success and keep ownership of it.

Thanks to the internet, there were no gatekeepers.  There were no broadcasters changing the idea to make it more popular (as if they know how); no studio to take the rights away from Tofield and offer him what's called monkey points.  Monkey points are a percentage of profits, but when the studio is doing the book keeping, somehow there never are profits no matter how successful a property becomes.

Tofield had an idea and a way to get it to the audience.  That opportunity is available to everyone.  While the results will vary, it's more proof that pitching ideas to studios or broadcasters isn't necessary for success.

(Thanks, Paul Teolis)

Friday, May 03, 2013

Bing Crosby's 110th Birthday

May 3 is Bing Crosby's 110th birthday.  While most people these days only know Bing Crosby for singing "White Christmas" or the duet he did with David Bowie, he was unquestionably one of the leading figures of popular culture for a good 30 years.  He was a success in recording, radio, movies and TV.  He was parodied in animation in cartoons like Bingo Crosbyana, Swooner Crooner, and Catch as Cats Can, but he lent his voice to animation on several occasions.  He sang for Paul Whiteman in the animated segment of the feature King of Jazz in 1930.  As well, he narrated Disney's version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and as spokesman for Minute Maid orange juice he voiced an animated caricature of himself.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Stop Motion Atoms

Stop motion animation can be done with anything that you can move one frame at a time.  But atoms?  IBM can do it.

"Obviously, this sort of stop-motion is a little more complex than your latest Vine. Every second millions of particles land on a typical surface, so this work had to be completed in a vacuum. And because atoms are feisty at room temperature, IBM used a scanning tunneling microscope to reach temperatures of -268 degrees Celsius (or 4-5 degrees Kelvin)—a point so close to absolute zero, most matter loses its hustle. To push and pull the atoms into place, scientists used a needle so sharp its point ends in a single atom. (Like the Earth and the moon, the needle doesn’t so much “touch” the atom as it does influence it.)"

Read more about it at Slate.