Monday, January 31, 2011

Animated Reviews: Foolish Kingdom

As mentioned in my earlier post, I ordered a t-shirt from Jessica Borutski's Foolish Kingdom website and it arrived in the mail recently. The shirt showed up about a week-and-a-half from the day that I ordered it -- spectacular response time given that they had to print it (if there weren't any lying around in my size) and mail it from Canada. I have learned the hard way that, depending on customs, transit times can vary wildly when shipping between the US and Canada. Even though I live in Michigan, and Ottawa is about a ten-hour drive from my home, I honestly expected the shirt to arrive in three to four weeks.

Me and my bunny shirt.
The t-shirt material and stitching are both sturdy, yet comfortable. And the printing itself is slightly raised. It looks like a much higher quality printing process than the usual screenprinted shirt. Spreadshirt, the printing company that Jessica uses, even included a half-page of 'cleaning and wear' instructions to make my purchase last longer.

From a financial standpoint, given the quality of the manufacturing and the speed of the shipping, this was a good purchase -- and the fact that it has a cute, yet subtly obnoxious cartoon bunny on the front, well, that's icing on the cake for me.

From a marketing standpoint, I think that this shirt doesn't go as far as it could have for an advertising vehicle. Now, the following idea may have been Jessica's original plan and there could have been restrictions which prevented her from doing so with the final product. Or, she may have considered the idea and dismissed it for whatever reasons--financial, logistical, whatever, I'm not privy to her thoughts. So I'd rather discuss the advertising concept here than try to second-guess Jessica. This is just a 'how I would have done it' rather than a critique of what she produced, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

On the one hand, I love how she is offering her animation for free to anyone who wants to watch it and is using it as a marketing tool to drive merchandise and her own personal brand. But I think that she's missing out on an opportunity to use people as walking billboards to advertise her product. The only place where this shirt has printing on it is the front: the bunny with his speech balloon. However, unless you ask me what it means, you'd probably dismiss it as a bunny making a lewd remark (honestly, what do you think of when you see: "F*K" on a shirt). While I love the shirt, it doesn't drive customers to her website where they can get drawn in by her animations (no pun intended), download her free cut-out puppets (more on that later), and purchase her merchandise. I think that her t-shirts would work better as a marketing tool if she printed "www.foolishkingdom.com" on the back of the shirt or across either the right or left sleeve. That way, people standing behind me could be pointed towards her website.

And I can't claim ownership of that idea either. I've seen website addresses printed on the backs of company t-shirts and embroidered on company oxford shirts for years. Additionally, since opening his own screenprinting business (MichiganShirtWorks), my younger brother Ted has been printing his own logo, website address, and sometimes even contact information on the shirts he designs--in addition to many that he custom prints for customers. As he services mostly Michigan State University clubs and Greek organizations, having his brand and contact information on the back (or sleeve) of shirts is a valuable advertising tool that has enabled him to take a chunk out of the lucrative college student market. Ted routinely gets e-mail and phone calls every month from students and random people who saw one of his shirts, visited his website, and want a quote for their softball team or student organization. So, in my mind at least, this is a proven concept.

We live in a day of smartphones, tablet PCs, and netbooks, where people surf the internet, answer e-mail, and read books while waiting in line at the post office or grocery store. It's easy to envision that someone would see the back of my shirt and load up Jessica's website just out of momentary curiosity. At that point, they get sucked in by the animations, have a good laugh, and decide that they too want to live in the Foolish Kingdom that exists in Jessica's imagination. Just on principle alone, to spread the word of her website, I'm debating the merits of stenciling her website name on the back of my shirt (after I've washed it a couple of times and seen how Spreadshirt's printing holds up to moderate use).

'I like pandas...'  'Me too!'
In addition to her selling merchandise on her website, Jessica is also offering free cut-out puppets that you can print on paper and assemble using nothing more than scissors and a little glue (I used 67-lb cardstock and scotch tape for durability and ease of assembly).

Babysitters and parents take note: even if you don't think that "I Like Pandas" and "The Good Little Bunny with the Big Bad Teeth" are age-appropriate for your kids, Jessica's designs are cute enough that you can print them out for your kids and have a little rainy-day fun with crafts. Add a small shoebox stage and voila! Non-electronic-based entertainment for kids. Gasp!!! Kids using their imagination during playtime...the horror of it all! *grin* Of course, if your kids 'are' old enough, her two films make for nice teaching tools: "don't run with things in your mouth" and "don't be superficial."

Oh, and yes, you 'can' glue the front and the back of the arms together. Since they're going to end up on my television, I'm still looking for the right color lollipops to put in their hands before finishing the models. At the time of this blog post, Jessica only has one of the two pandas, the good little bunny, and the mole on her website, but more are coming soon.

Using Jessica's merchandising model as a foundation, I would take it a step further by offering her two animations for sale at higher resolutions via Tunes or on DVD (hard copy? yes, yes, I know). Vimeo and YouTube may be great vehicles for sharing videos, but there's something about being able to play an animation when not hooked up to the internet that is still appealing. Personally, I love streaming NetFlix videos through my iPhone to the television in my studio, but hate having to swap out cables whenever I want to watch a movie in the living room. Add to that, no one likes to have to wait for a movie to cue up halfway during the film due to Net congestion--hence, DVD and iTunes copies.

Another thing I'd do, assuming she owns the rights to the music, is offer the soundtracks on iTunes, for mp3 download, or on CD. On more than one occasion, I've found myself playing her animation in a web browser, minimizing it to the toolbar, and listening to Lights' uplifting, happy tune, only to restart the animation six minutes later, minimize the browser, and continue working. Both David O'Reilly (Please Say Something) and Annable Graham (Grickle) are experimenting using this distribution model with their own animated properties and soundtracks.

All-in-all, I've mentioned in previous posts how Jessica Borutski is an animator to keep your eye on. But with her current work towards developing a personal brand, Jessica is proving her business savvy as well as her animation and design skills. One can only hope that she starts to generate enough revenue through her merchandise that will allow her the freedom to continue producing independent animations outside of the restrictions that an employer might place upon her imagination. And for the up-and-coming animation student, Jessica's "Foolish Kingdom" model is a great foundation for using your own animations to turn a profit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: After doing a little research, Vimeo appears to be working on extending their videos to mobile devices like my iPhone. However, this is a feature that is only available to Vimeo Plus users who pay a flat yearly fee for advanced services which includes this feature. Recently, Jessica appears to have updated her account as Vimeo is now playing her animation on iDevices. Article has been updated to correct this information. (2/1/11)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Animated Thoughts: Resolutions vs. Goals

Far too often in our lives, the urgent preempts the important and we are left looking back at the time we spent over the previous year wondering where the time went and why we are not closer to where we want to be. Since this is January and that's the month that everyone takes stock of their lives before hitting the 'reset button' on said lives by making grand life-changing resolutions, I'd like to take a moment and encourage everyone to think about resolutions and decide for themselves if setting goals might be a better course of action.

As I'm a firm believer that large successes are built upon smaller successes, I think it is more appropriate to set goals rather than make life changing resolutions. It is my opinion that well-meaning people who make giant, life changing resolutions will fail more often than not simply because they aren't being realistic with their resolutions. And I speak as one who has made and broken LOTS of resolutions! It's like being a couch potato all year and then deciding on January 1st that you're going to run a marathon 30 days later. The resolution is just fine: get into the physical condition necessary to run a marathon then, run the marathon. However the amount of time necessary to achieve that resolution is unrealistic. Show of hands: how many of us have started going to the gym in January only to stop going in February when life gets busy and our resolve starts to waiver?

This is why I think smaller, trackable goals give people a far better chance of succeeding. But in order to make them more achievable, and thus more likely for us to stick with them, we need to carefully evaluate our goals and assign a realistic deadline for them that takes stock of our resources--be they financial, chronological, or strength of character. This is where I find value in taking time out for assessment and introspection once every year (for me, it's in December). If you can take the time to assess your resources (current skill level, money situation, available time and current commitments, etcetera), then when it comes time to plan your goals for the year, you'll already know if you have the available resources to achieve said goal. That short period of introspection before you decide on your yearly goals tells you where you are--then you can decide where you want to go, decide if it's a realistic goal, and revise the goal to bring it in line with your resources.

In my own life, I have also found that written goals are far more likely to be achieved than unwritten goals. When we take time to put our goals on paper, we pull them out of the ether and make them concrete. We remove them from the misty world of dreams where we can get that emotional high when we think about them and live in that safe world of fantasy that we all have in our heads. But, writing down our goals pops that emotional bubble and forces us to decide whether or not we have the internal strength to make those goals real. Add to that, when we take the time to review our goals (daily, weekly, monthly), those written goals make us accountable.

Last year, I decided that I can't have caffeine any more. It disrupts my sleeping habits. It dehydrates me. It affects my memory and makes me jittery when I have too much or too little. In summary, the negative effects of caffeine far outweigh the short-term positive effects. So, after multiple failed attempts to stop drinking soda and caffeinated tea, I changed my angle of attack. First, I decided on a goal with a realistic deadline: no more caffeine in 30 days. Second, I wrote that goal (with deadline) on my calendar. Third, every day, I wrote the number of caffeinated beverages on the calendar that I had drank that day. When I looked at the calendar I was able to see, not only how much caffeine I was consuming, but was also able to set realistic daily goals to reduce my caffeine intake. Best of all, by looking at the calendar every day, I saw the numbers going down every day. So I was encouraged by tracking my progress.

I am currently living a caffeine-free existence and I feel better physically and mentally because of it. Next, is to eliminate soda and excessive amounts of sugar from my diet. And because I have that smaller success with caffeine under my belt, I now have no doubts that I can achieve my next goal of reducing my sugar intake as well as achieving my overall goal of getting healthy.

So, applying the previous lessons to my career: these are the goals for 2011 that I've come up with over December and January:

1. Get Certified
In 2010, I had some opportunities that I couldn't take advantage of. Namely, a couple of universities made some discrete inquiries about whether or not I would be interested in teaching classes for them. Unfortunately, due to time constraints between my forensic work and my historical animation consulting, I couldn't capitalize upon any of those opportunities. On the bright side, it did make me think about my current skill set. Y'see, in the past, I've taught both animation and computer programming classes (both professionally and as a hobby). However, while those classes highlighted how much I enjoy teaching, they also highlighted areas where I feel I need more practice. So, the big goal this year is to take a technical training bootcamp and get my CTT+ certification. While there may be more inexpensive ways to learn how to teach, CompTIA's CTT+ certification is THE teaching standard that Adobe recognizes for their Adobe Certified Instructor program. So I figure, if I'm going to learn how to be a better instructor, best to do it in such a way that allows me to turn this goal into a stepping stone for possible future goals. There are three bootcamps this year in the Great Lakes region and I already have the material. It's time to pick a date, get registered, and start studying.

2. Get Animated
Write, animate, and teach one class in animation, even if it's just a one day workshop. Back in 2004, I created and taught a class at the East Lansing Recreational Center on experimenting with animation. Unfortunately, a car accident and it's resulting physical therapy prevented me from teaching more that year. And over the past couple years, billable projects kept cropping up so my dreams of teaching animation classes were buried under the workload. And while I'm thankful for the work, it has prevented me from designing, writing, animating, and teaching the other classes that I wanted to. Since that class back in 2004, I've been driving to Toronto seeral times each year to learn new animation techniques from the Toronto Animated Image Society and the National Film Board of Canada. Those workshops have given me a lot of knowledge and ideas that I'd like to pass on. After bumping into Gary Schwartz at a film screening last November, I was reminded of a one-page write-up that he uses for his week and weekend animation workshops. Gary told me that if I ever found myself stuck for workshop ideas, then I should use his framework to spark my own creativity. At this point, I think I have enough experience, information, and resources. Now it's time to sit down and produce a series of workshops that cover one day, one weekend, one week, and one semester.

3. Give something back
In my career, I did not get to where I am by myself. So, in 2011, I would like to do one thing every month to every other month that will show gratitude to the people who helped me along my career. It could be making a donation to R.I.T.'s Erik Timmerman Memorial Scholarship for future animation students, speaking at a college, helping a local university evaluate student portfolios, teaching a workshop, encouraging a student, or just calling up a professor and saying 'thanks'.

While I have other goals for 2011, these three are directly applicable to my career and are ready for stage 2: breaking them down into smaller daily/weekly/monthly goals and assigning deadlines. More on that in a later post.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Raspail

Here's a student produced short clip from Gobelins. It was created as an exercise in special effects, but this little vignette displays far more than just completing an assignment. The students have included some camera movements that enhance the setting (at the beginning of the clip) and action at the end of the film. There's also good character posing and staging in the superhero's introduction and battle sequences. I also like how the students turned this assignment into a full scene complete with backgrounds, camera moves, and sound effects.

Raspail from raspail on Vimeo.


This clip reminds me of how important it is to experiment when you have the time--every technique that the students display in this vignette can be applied to future projects.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Animated Inspiration: The Good Little Bunny with the Big Bad Teeth

I've been a fan of Jessica Borutski ever since I saw her animated short 'I Like Pandas' at the Ottawa International Animation Festival a couple years back. Well, it's taken her four years to finish her next animated short, but here's 'The Good Little Bunny with the Big Bad Teeth'. Oh, and if you haven't watched her first short, definitely watch 'I Like Pandas' first.

The Good Little Bunny with the Big Bad Teeth from Foolish K. Bunny on Vimeo.


Jessica's work displays a solid understanding of the animated medium and specifically character design. I just love the overly saccharine, cutesy, Disney-esque quality of her characters. It makes their absurd behavior all the more satirical. And you can see that her time working for John Kricfalusi's Spumco was very well spent when you analyze the backgrounds and motion of her characters. This film is an excellent example of what a talented director/animator can do with Adobe Flash. Throughout the film, with very few exceptions, the characters move as if they have weight and mass--and they appear as if they're a part of the scene instead of 'floating' above the backgrounds, a problem I see in a lot of animation (including some of my own!). There is also a lot of good posing--I didn't experience any situation where the characters' stances obscured the motives or emotions of the characters. Personally, though, I thought the best part this film (and the strongest) was the nightmare sequence which had a very nice "Dumbo 'elephants on parade'" sensibility to it.

The story has a kind of a darkly cynical quality to it-–much like what was in "I Like Pandas" (yes, I loved the panda cameo). Having watched this animation over twenty-five times since Jessica posted it on Christmas Day, I have to say that with each viewing, the film makes more and more sense. The day after she released the film, she stated this on her blog:

"Experience what it's like to be a bunny with nasty teeth in a world full of superficial woodland creatures. It playfully mocks our societies obsession with being perfect. This is also a tribute to classic musical shorts done by Disney studios in the 1930's."

The soundtrack was interesting. Jessica turned me on to Lights back when she had only released an EP of her work. So it's no surprise that the soundtrack has a similar light and fluffy feel to Lights’ first album. The first time I watched this film, I thought that the soundtrack got a touch repetitive towards the end before picking right back up during the credits. But the more I watched the film, the more I was able to pick out how a lot of the character animation was timed to the music.

The other interesting thing is how Jessica is branding her characters. If you take a look at her newly launched website "Foolish-Kingdom" you can watch both her films as well as print little cut-out models of her characters and purchase merchandise. I'll write later about the quality of said merchandise when my t-shirt arrives in the mail from Canada--but having previously constructed two panda cut-out models, I think she's on the right track. Hopefully, this will be a successful venture for her and we'll see more of Jessica's work real soon.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Happy New Year!!!

Here's a cute little Happy New Year's greeting animated short from russian animator Anatoly Belikov.


Happy New Year 2011 from Beatum from Anatoly Belikov on Vimeo.

According to his Vimeo page, the rabbit is saying 'New year had come! Old year go away!'

Thanks to Cartoon Brew for posting this short!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Animated Quotes: Walt Disney

"Whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and lifelong habit of prayer."
- Walt Disney

Source: "Deeds rather than words", written by Walt Disney in 1963

The entire article can be read on the Started by a Mouse website.