October 31, 2011 20:19 Filed in: Personal
It's that time of year again, where one expects pumpkins, candy and lots of fake spider webs. Of course we don't have any of that here in China, so I decided to draw up a little something fun for the holiday. Thus, I give you the WITCH DOCTOR! Get it? Witch Doctor? GYAAAHAHAHAHA!!!
Anyway, there's a lot of interesting information about the real history of witches floating around on the net these days. Especially interesting is where the legend of the witches flying around on broom sticks comes from. Look it up. You might be very surprised. Also of note is what may be the true basis behind the epidemic of witch trials and that there was a lot more to gain from them than something ass simple as stamping out paganism. What might that be? The same thing that is behind so many major movements, money! It is said that, in that day, women could only own property through marriage. So, if a widow who owned a great deal of land were to be branded a witch and burned, the accuser, the state or the church suddenly gets all that land, free and clear. With hunting was good business apparently.
You never see these kinds of stories being told in animation do you? So why should you think about them? Well, consider this: you are an unknown indie creating an animation project. It is unrealistic to think that a load of customers are going to drop $20 or so your DVD without the marketing dollars a company like DIsney or Dreamworks puts behind a product launch. For this reason, if you did something in the same vein as those large outfits, no matter how well done it might be, chances are you will get lost in the competition.
The key is, of course, to do something wildly different. Do something that the customer cannot get from the majors, thus giving them a reason to take a look at you. If you did something that truly stands apart from the mainstream you can find yourself in a true to life, "If you build it, they will come" situation. Word of mouth will spread. People who are looking specifically for what you have to offer will be led to you and they will happily open their wallets. Piracy will not even be a consideration.
Like Nintendo did when they created some "out there" concepts like Nintendogs or that cooking game, and suddenly the elderly and housewives became avid gamers, you may find yourself with an audience who may not have otherwise watched any animation were it not for what you created.
October 19, 2011 18:25 Filed in: Work
Recently I was talking to the creator of the most famous animation here in China and he said that, in making animation, you must know, "Who is your customer?" and "What are you selling?" I took this thought further and added the question "Where is your customer." Naturally, in consideration of the mobile market, your customer is everywhere! Why is this important? To answer this question, I set about studying the market. I arrived at some interesting conclusions that show that I may have been on the right track in my iPhone Alchemy days, a project I, perhaps, shouldn't have abandoned.
Let's start with a discussion of users. If you consider the install base of users who own the iPhone (all versions) or the Sony PSP, you have a group larger than the install base of DVD and Blu-ray combined. If you factor in the rest of the mobile world, considering the large install base of of other phones with video capable screens, the numbers become quite staggering. Putting aside the different resolutions and file formats to be encountered, there is no greater potential market anywhere, except possible with physical books.
There are, of course, other advantages to producing content for the mobile world, for the forward thinking indie. The small screen size and the data rates would be one. If you tend to work alone, creating content for this end negates the need for high definition images, incredible detail, high polygons or any of the other requirements that might be associated with producing image based content for the cinema or HD delivery. Even though a couple of the most recent smart phone offerings have screen resolutions that approach 1/2 HD, the screens are still 4-5 inches. No one is going to see the super detail one might put into film or HD resolution artwork. The indie suddenly gains the freedom to be fast, focus on story and get really creative.
If, like me, you have an interest in series work, it all suddenly becomes viable. Mobile episodes tend to be short. While some outfits are simply repurposing television or film content to the small screen, they are not creating an experience specific to the device in the user's hand. They will be outpaced by those who choose to do so. For example, many films contain scenes which are entirely too dark or have characters and other details too small for mobile viewing. A user wanting to watch something while commuting on the train will find themselves staring at their own reflection rather than the movie. Mobile content should be bright, colorful and fit to the habits and motions of the viewer. So, just who is this viewer? They can be pretty much whoever you want.
According to CNN, "...there are 48 million people in the world who have mobile phones, even though they do not have electricity at home..." Far more than the number of people who have DVDs or even TVs, for that matter, there are billions of users out there. This means that every little niche, even the one which is a perfect fit for your story can be catered to. CNN also claims that, "By 2013, more people in the world will access the Internet on a mobile device than on a PC..." This is, of course, talking about the real internet. There are already more mobile subscribers getting content directly from their carriers than there are pC owners or internet users in the world.
This topic always leads to the question of whether or not PCs will go away in the future. I would say the answer is a resounding YES! Of course, not for us, as creators of content. We can't make our shows on a tablet or smart phone, but consider these simple facts. Up until the personal computer was introduced into the home less than 30 years, by the late Steve Jobs, computers were confined to huge laboratories and government facilities. Normal people simple didn't need them. So shall it be again. I would venture than 99.9% of PC users don't do anything that couldn't be accomplished on a tablet or smart phone.
Those of us in the creative industry aren't really using personal computers. We use high powered work stations designed for graphics and other intensive tasks. This market is already minuscule compared to the vast PC market as a whole. Task specific workstations will stay around, but the average user, who does their email, net surfing and other simple things, has no need for such power or expense. Their phone will do it all. We are already seeing this trend in the space conscious markets of Japan and South Korea. PC sales are dying. In the developing world, people can't really afford PCs to begin with. Their introduction will be with a powerful mobile phone. The best of the best phones today will be affordable in the third world tomorrow. This is where everyone will be found. This is where I am purposed to go. For my future projects, I am definitely going mobile!
The news is everywhere already. Apple CEO and pioneer of the digital age, Steve Jobs, has died. This man truly changed the world with his ideas and innovations and should ever stand as a role model to creators of any industry who wish to carve their own path. His passion for his work gave us devices that made our lives fun, easier and more enjoyable. He made our work simple, and in some cases, even possible because he chose to think different. In a statement from the Apple board of directors, the write, "Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."
As an innovator, Steve Jobs has been compared to likes of Edison, in as much as he has truly transformed our world. A great example would be when his foresight allowed Apple to release the iPod in combination with the iTunes music store when the record industry slowly dying because of file sharing. The iPhone was a similar breakthrough. One only needs to look at how nearly every major handset manufacturer has copied it to understand the power of this idea. The great change to the world, though, might be found in his first product, the Apple II, which some consider to be the world's first personal computer.
Imagine for a moment that before this system, computers were something that existed in laboratories and universities. They were huge machines dedicated to work and there was nothing personal about them. The idea of a single person having one on their desk would likely have been seen as absurd. Contrast this with today, when nearly everyone has a PC on their desktop or in their office. If there is another revolution on this scale coming, Jobs will be behind this too, as it may be the iPad and iPhone, or smart phones in general of course, replacing the PC forever. That will be my next article, though.
Back in August, I wrote an article called, "A World Without Jobs" which touched on his resignation from Apple. In that article, I told my Apple story, of how I came to use and enjoy their products, as I still do today, and I also touched on the issue of work and health. I wrote, "I have been working hard for many years to build a dream. Right now, it seems like I am working 16 or more hours every day. I am lucky to get 6 hours of sleep, and, in fact, rarely do. I have been told I am destroying my health and making myself old too fast. So how does one find the balance?" Steve Jobs has written before how much he loved his work, and it shows in every product Apple creates. I do have to wonder, however, if that passion drove him to overwork and neglect his health.
The story of his passing is significant to me, not just because I am typing this on a Macbook Pro or dream of getting the next iPhone, but because I also very much love what I do and, perhaps, overwork at the expense of my health. I have a desire to do what Steve Jobs did. I don't design cool devices or create world changing technology, but animation is about ideas too. The impact this man has had extends far beyond his own products. He was something of a mentor to other great creators who have changed the world on some level.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, "Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you." We all know that Facebook was a latecomer to the world of social networking, but quickly took over that market. The founder of Yahoo similarly wrote, "Steve was my hero growing up. He not only gave me a lot of personal advice and encouragement, he showed all of us how innovation can change lives. I will miss him dearly, as will the world." HIs wisdom, however, wasn't limited to the technology field. There are statements from politicians, entertainers and CEOs of nearly every type of industry claiming great thanks to Steve Jobs for sage advice that helped them achieve what they did.
I never met Steve Jobs, though I wish I did. His creations, however, have had a tremendous impact on my life, allowing me more creative freedom than I dreamed possible in the old days. More than that, though, his ideas have made me want to be the greatest creator I can possibly be, so that I might also change the world, even if just a little bit.
I think nothing can sum up the loss of this legend better than this quote from President Obama, "The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented."
October 05, 2011 11:43 Filed in: Hollywood
I have written before about how the world of animation, both 2D and 3D really, tends towards monotony. In contrast, a film like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is considered a colossal failure, and as such, people apparently don't like this kind of animation and there is no place for it in the market. This, however, is simply not true. The fact of the matter is there is no place for it in the market at that cost. To illustrate this, I will provide a simple example.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within grossed just over $30 million at the domestic box office. That is a lot of money when you think about it. Most people would be overjoyed to see that kind of gross on their film project. The problem, however, is that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within cost over $130 million to produce, and probably an equivalent amount to market. This makes for an incredible loss of money for those involved. As a note of contrast, The original A Nightmare on Elm Street films of the 1980s, starring Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, also grossed around $30 million at the domestic box office. These films, however, cost from $2 million to $4million to produce, making them amazing successes. That same box office take, in this case, means people love this kind of movie and it spawns 5 or 6 sequels.
This brings us to the question, then, if 2 films can gross the same $30 million at the box office, and this box office take means that people love one of them and that there is a big enough market for it, how can the other be a failure? We already know, of course, it is because the other film cost entirely too much to produce. The matter then turns to whether or not the the film considered a failure could be produced for the same cost as the one considered a success. This can certainly be done, though with a few caveats.
Such a production will likely never happen in the U.S. through Hollywood. It is also not likely to come out of the bloated studio system of any country. In the world of independents, though, it becomes a real possibility. This, however, will even require said independents to think differently and abandon prejudices often imposed by the mainstream industry. Just to give an example, from a recent thread on CGTalk, there still seems to be a heavy prejudice against certain software applications, such as Poser, Daz Studio, Vue, Bryce and a few others. While it may be true that there is a vast amount of low quality images associated with these particular tools, it is by no means the fault of the tools. Also these prejudices are years old, and often those who tout them are unaware of the major strides these tools have made since their opinions formed.
Just a quick look around the Daz3D gallery and I see examples that show that quality approaching FInal Fantasy: The Spirits Within can certainly be achieved using these tools, if in the right hands. From what I read there, it seems these tools are constantly improving, offering cloth simulation, better rigging and a host of other features commonly associated with more professional CG applications. Their latest character models are some of the best I have seen, and they beat many original character models built from scratch that I have seen recently. The key is to get in your mind the question of what is important to you. Do you want to make your movie, or do you feel the need to say you did every little thing in it?
If you truly care about getting your movie done, then you will use the tools that remove as many barriers to entry as possible. If your movie must be done in Maya, with Zbrush sculpted characters and every single element built from scratch, you will likely find there is no place in the market for it, if it should ever be finished at all. This movie will require immense man power, like any other, and the budget will inflate to a point where it is no longer viable. The people who think like this never start, because they need millions of dollars to even consider doing so. The people who really want to get it done, however, will use whatever tools make this possible at the highest level of quality in the shortest amount of time. They will find a place in the market, because their films will cost little and be enticing to buyers.
If, like me, you like realistic characters and dark, mature stories in your animation, there is no reason to look around at the funny, family friendly mainstream films and conclude that there is no place in the market for what you like. Those films have to be funny and family friendly because when you spend $100 million or more to make it, you have no choice but to appeal to as many people as possible. The answer is simple. Don't spend that much. Keep your movie, and budget, small and do it quickly. You may be surprised at the niche markets out there just waiting for exactly what you want to make!