Friday, July 07, 2006

the state of (suspended) animation

Hey guys look at what I found on YouTube! What? What do you mean look behind me?
Well Shelf fans, if you tried to watch those two wonderful Tex Avery cartoons we posted last week, you may have noticed they only worked for about a day or so and then they were gone. Gone as if "Poof- no more", as in "removed due to concerns over terms of use violations." It seems as if YouTube has removed a bunch of animated shorts off of their site and left us with nothing more than clips of teenagers doing "jackass"-style stunts or lip-syncing to terrible pop songs. Meh..., thanks YouTube. Not only are the animated shorts gone, but many of the public domain shorts are gone as well. That's right, shorts that have no copyright to violate, no terms of use to worry about.
Amid Amidi over at Cartoon Brew, as expected, is on top of it. As Amid points out the reason some of these shorts were on YouTube is because fans won't find them in quality prints on DVD.
Sez Amid:

"It's important to look at the root cause of why so many classic shorts are appearing online in the first place. It's because they aren't available anywhere else for legal purchase. If these cartoons were available for purchase on dvd or available for download online, there's no way that anybody in their right mind could justify these lo-res versions that are appearing on YouTube. Disney, for example, has been doing a commendable job of releasing their animation library onto dvd, in their Treasures collections, and relatively few of those cartoons show up on video hosting/sharing sites. Disney has also taken another positive step forward by releasing individual shorts onto iTunes. Other media conglomerates, however, neither care about nor respect the classic animation in their vaults, and corrupt "copyright protection" laws have allowed these companies to withhold the cartoons from the public for far too long."
(Amid Amidi, 7-7-06)

Amid also links to a great article by animator Mark Mayerson on the controversy.

John Kricfalusi (Creator of Ren and Stimpy) recently pointed out on his blog, all kinds of stuff, the folly of what some companies, like Warner Brothers, are doing when they make YouTube remove these cartoons off their site:

These cartoon clips I post do nothing but promote Warner Bros. (and other cartoons). They don't compete with Warners. People who discover the cartoons on my and other fan sites will want to run out and buy high rez copies of them on DVD. Warner Bros. even advertises on my site to sell Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes related merchandise! My blog and the blogs I link to are the best advertisements for old cartoons in the world.While Warner Bros. stops promoting their own great properties by taking the cartoons off of the TV networks, the only way left for young fans to discover these classic films is through Youtube and our fan blogs.
(John K., 7-6-06)


Shh- don't tell anyone but I just watched a cartoon on the internet.I posted those Tex Avery shorts here, precisely because I couldn't tell you- "Hey Shelfers, go run out and pick up the Tex Avery Collection Volume I out on DVD! On it you'll find one of my favorite cartoons!" I was able to find Tex's The First Bad Man on YouTube, after not having seen it in over 15 or more years. I can't find it on old video, I can't find it on DVD. If I could - I would own it, trust me. I own a well-worn copy of Droopy shorts. I would love to have them all on DVD. And why not? I own the Complete Pink Panther shorts. I bought some other MGM, now Warners, properties on DVD as well- Tom and Jerry. I own all of the Disney Treasures series, and am very happy to- because of the care that went into releasing them and the amount of extras, shorts, and material that is in them. The Disney Treasures series is perhaps one of the best Home Video products Disney has ever put out. The fans know it and Disney knows it. And they continue to bring out some great stuff for fans that they haven't seen in decades, and won't likely see outside of the DVDs. And you can thank Leonard Maltin for the wonderful part he plays as consultant and host to the series. Thanks Mr. Maltin. Can anyone get to work on the Jiminy Cricket shorts and Song of the South?

That being said, I think Disney and Warners are some of the few doing some things right. I love Warner Brothers' products- I own all of the Looney Tunes: Golden Collections and my kids and I watch them often. Even the casual Shelf readers knows of our affection for the Warner's classic films and their great DVD releases. However, the absence of some properties on DVD baffle me. Why won't Sony, Viacom, or Paramount or Universal for that matter, release classic animation in their control on DVD. We're talking about stuff like Woody Woodpecker, Terrytoons, and other great properties. The animation will continue to thrive and live as new fans discover it. I just hope that they and other studios that own the rights to these classic shorts and pieces of our cultural heritage, realize that the need to let new generations discover them.

I also hope they do not follow Cartoon Network as a model. A channel that had so much promise, and for a while, really built on it's intentions and provided fans with a place to find great animation, is now surviving on anime and Adult Swim. Now, I enjoy episodes of The Venture Brothers and repeats of Futurama and Family Guy as much as the next guy, but now it seems that CN is trying real hard to bring live action onto the network. This is what has happened to the channel where we used to watch the great Toon Heads show or The Tex Avery Show or even a month long marathon of June Bugs. In other words, down the crapper.

With the omnipresence of terrible CGI films, the YouTube fiasco, the CN decline, and dearth of some classic animation properties on DVD you would think that the state of animation is almost in a state of suspended animation (you wondered how I was going to work that in, weren't you?). However, it is not completely so- for you see, every time I read or hear about the above situations I just think about the excitement that is in the faces of my kids or even my nieces and nephews when they hear that familiar Looney Tunes theme coming across the television. Or when Christmas comes around and my son tells me that he really hopes Santa Claus brings him an art easel and a cartooning book. Or when presented with a plethora of DVD titles to choose from, my kids ask to watch The Pink Panther, again. Or when I talk to my nephew on the phone, pretending to be Mickey Mouse, and I hear him say "I love you Mickey Mouse, can I talk to Donald?" - I know that there is great hope. You see CBS-Paramount, Sony, NBC-Universal, and and all of the rest of you that refuse to release any of the greats on DVD- the characters will live on, because of the love and fun the animators put into the creation, and the love and the fun the fans get out of them. The bottom line will take care of itself, trust me.

So, while we're on the subject, how about those Tex Avery DVDs?

Any Shelfers have any comments or thoughts on the subject? Sound off in the comments section!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.


Guess Who?

8 comments:

Christian Johnson said...

I am a very vocal advocate in favor of intellectual property writes, i.e. the writes of the creator or creating institution. That being said, I also believe in the concept of product abandonment. IP law asserts that IP holders must make a good faith effort to protect their IP. This is why you see so many "frivolous" lawsuits surrounding Disney IP.

As a side note, the "Pirates" guys who did the Dirty Duck cartoons, by losing to the "giant", actually strengthened protections for the small guy. People should read the cases and not just think of Disney as the bad guy. They are, after all, one of the oldest "independent studios" in Hollywood.

Back to the crux though. I firmly believe a good faith effort involves not just legally protecting your IP, but making it available for purchase. With new technologies, downloading from aol or the internet (far more services than the proprietary iTunes available), or YouTube/MySpace/Gamefilms/Google Films, it isn't hard to offer the IP in good faith to those who want it. It isn't even hard to derive a profit from it. I don't know if they've (meaning WB) heard of this wonderful innovation called advertising...

One should remember though, especially a TCM fan like you (not yourself, only you can talk to yourself), that Cartoon Alley offers most of these cartoons at sometime or another. TCM on demand is only a step around the corner. With your USB compatible PSP, and a USB capable TiVo, you will soon be able to have DVDs made. No generational loss in digital, after all.

Don't forget that CN is two networks now. CN and Boomerang, likely there will be a third network soon. When ala carte cable comes, and Warner sees the demand, it will likely be the norm. Also, with the failure of Net Neutrality you are more, not less, likely to get a streaming video classic cartoon site from WB. Fox is, as I am sure you know, planning on using MySpace as another television network.

J.C. Loophole said...

Hopefully that will be the case in regards to WB and others responding to the net demands. However, I do think that there are those (especially in the WB Home Video Dept - "listening" to these guys on their industry chats, you can tell) do value their properties and try to get the best prints and supplimental material out there.
I really believe that when a company, like WB or Disney, releases a classic property and adds historical and supplimental material (a la the Treasures series, or the Golden Collection series) they actually increase customer loyality, build a new generation of fans, and they create a willingness to purchase new items.
Heck, if you would have told me that your company's marketing plan was to take a movie, release it, then hide it in a make believe vault for a number of years, then bring it out and repackage it and sell it again- well, I would've thought you were looney. But Disney makes a killing doing just that.
You are dead right about making your products available for purchase. I would rather see WB or some other company with the willingness to release in quality form, purchase the rights to what other company's are not willing to put out there.

Mike Mercury said...

Thank heaven I kept my old laserdisc player - thoroughly justifed by my possessing the box set of THE COMPLETE TEX AVERY. Whenever a friend poo-poos my 'white elephant', I calmly take down my Tex and wave it in front of him. This shuts him up instantly....

Anonymous said...

I'm one of these who's always been appalled by the amount of bootlegs sold on Ebay - that is, until someone sold a set of all of the WB Laserdisc cartoons that were copied onto DVD. Yes, it was an exorbitant (for me) amount of money, but being able to have so many of the old b&w to watch - and especially, to listen to! - was just too good to pass up. My cat still freaks out, though, when I watch "Goopy Geer" and do all the voices and bop with the music while playing it....

Poptique said...

Frankly, it's disgusting that you can't get Tex Avery cartoons on DVD.

Perhaps it's a combintation of apathy and fear from the rights holders over the old "racial stereotype" and "adult overtone" chestnuts, but 90% the grey market bootlegs and uploads would become redundant over night if these already restored cartoons were made available - packaged and sold to an adult market as they were originally intended.

I'm glad I've held onto my uncut, pre-Turner VHS tapes - but like so many others I'd snap up an official set in a second.

Frederick Awich said...

As part of Generation X, I can still find it in my mind to agree with you. Animation has become one of the most horrible of gimmicks nowadays, what with production never ending on worhtless CGI flicks that no one's going to be able to remember in three years, let alone fifty. Regarding my usage of the word "gimmick": there's good stuff out there, but there's a catch... and that catch is that it's not available to us, the consumers or the viewers (the other catch is that I can't yet afford much of the wide selection, and that I want too much).

And, the so-called "Cartoon Network" (which everyone continues to call "CN," and for what reason? Calling it "CN" will only further lead to its dematerialization) isn't doing anything to help the problem. From what I've heard on the Web, Boomerang is slowly scaling back the amount of classics it airs, putting shows such as Mike, Lu and Og and Superman: The Animated Series in their places. But, who can forget all the times Cartoon Network tried - and failed - to make it up to its animation fans...

To Christian Johnson, regarding Cartoon Network's future:
I highly doubt that Turner's in the market for a brand-new network. As you can see, those aren't really popular nowadays, as broadcasters like to buy pre-existing networks from other companies here in the States. But, if you will, what do you think the "third network" would be?

Christian Johnson said...

I actually don't think it will be limited to a third network. I think there is almost no limit to the number of networks their will/can be. Population being the only real limitation, but if you can find an audience of 1 million to watch your show you can easily make a profit. After all, that is higher than many existing cable networks.

As to broadcasters buying pre-existing networks, that is true, but it is also true that as networks are purchased/switch hands new networks arise.

A couple of years ago CBS-Paramount and MTV networks merged. All signs are that this amalgam isn't going to last, but that many channels will survive. UPN, obviously, died (as did WB) becoming next falls CW network. A merger that left many local networks (both WB and UPN being broadcast networks) without shows to broadcast and worried about content. Within days Fox released plans for the MyNetwork network (http://newscorp.com/news/news_277.html) which would have synergy with MySpace. Warner's own in2tv is a great example of the synergy combined with the ala carte power (http://television.aol.com/in2tv)

As ala carte programming becomes more prevalent, entertainment providers will be able to better measure information for advertisers. Actual subscriptions are a better predictor than Nielsons. And as cable, as it currently exists, brought more niche programming ala carte will bring even more, especially when marketing previously made material. It is cheaper to buy licenses than to produce shows. Most shows make their profit in syndication.

Turner already has two amazingly popular networks, actually since Turner is Warner they have two, in TNT and TBS. The Closer pulled in over 8 million viewers for its premiere this Summer. A good number on a broadcast network, amazing for a cable one. Fox is planning a new network, but that's just broadcast and leaves out the non-English language networks (don't forget Cartoon Network YA! http://www.cartoonnetworkya.com/). When it comes to cable networks, there seems to be a new one every day.

So what will the third network be? So far it is the Anime Network, and Anime on demand, a growing network. With G4 showing cartoons (a lame network I know) it shows room for another cartoon network, likely a Turner/Warner network if merely for the library. The costs to run a network of material you already own is minimal in comparison to producing new material. As I've mentioned a couple times, networks already think of the internet as another network and WB has Cartoon Monsoon (CM) "http://www2.warnerbros.com/web/cartoon/home.jsp?frompage=sitemap"

As to the CN vs. Cartoon Network, I agree, but it's their marketing and their mistake. I think it should just be the Toons network, but that's just me.

ART said...

The YouTube incident is an over-the-top, heavy-handed, legal attempt by corporates, because they KNOW it isn't at all so simple as just protecting IP etc.etc.. The history of corporate holdings on culture - whatever field, animation to music, proves the point they NEVER have invested in that until others almost forced them to. And they always overstep the boundaries of the definitions they claim. Its a long, complex history of which "defending their IP" etc.. has NEVER been the bottom line. Never. If we have learned anything about corporate-mindset, despite their claims, if they could make any quick profits for the financial quarter, they wouldnt think twice about "defending" the IP on the long term. It can always be fixed later...

As a side issue, I have to mention something about collecting: What the YouTube offered, was a great, expanding selection, that addressed desire - of surprises, of discoveries (which is part of the point, the research and discovery).

AND without the crap packaging - the stupid extra material the corporations added that dated the packaging (promos for other shows, long ago dated) stupid presenters in front of the material, graphics, titles, etc.. all representing the latest fashion for bad packaging, and so on. I still wince when I see some of that packaging - as if it should only be for "kids", and done by people who had no respect for the cartoon culture. You don't see that, for example, with the repackaging of volumes of classic comic books, right? So why with cartoons.

YouTube allowed - as it should - collectors or fans, to link and build a rich eclectic mix of JUST the cartoons, and then get the liner notes or accompanying texts from webblogs. And they could embed them in whatever package they wanted - or even download and play just in flv players. THAT showed how the situation could work - pick and choose, add and add as you want.

Finally - all those web ideas of streaming cartoons is just nonsense - it isnt a real user-friendly setup. Streaming is never going to be the visual answer. Just try to go to an AOL broadband situation, it always screws up with wanting information and still not half the time working.

No one wants to just watch at a stream rate, once or twice. And I am sure NO one wants to give their information to marketing, which all the corporate websites who would so "nicely" stream etc.. want to have.

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