Saturday, November 29, 2008

Flinch delivers the election for Obama!

Too Dramatic? I needed a title that would compete with the likes of Fox News. In actuality, our Political Cartoons probably did little to sway a single vote this year, but we had fun, made some people laugh, and most importantly, didn't have to work entirely for free!

After the almost completely unnoticed release of Oh McCain, it was hard to get my client (the incomparable Charlie Fink) to commit to another political cartoon. Luckily, he's as big a sucker as I am, and agreed to do more toons.... but he wanted a series that could address issues quickly. This meant developing a system that would allow us to turn around topical animated content only days after an event occurred - like South Park does, but without the budget or the crappy-looking design.

Fink had the idea for an Angel & Devil combo to represent McCain's conscience, his moral struggle with waging a mostly negative campaign. This became The 2 McCains.

So we designed the characters and developed our Flash assets into complete "Comps", including a wide array of expressions, phonemes, hands, and a huge assortment of limbs to choose from. We also decided to try something new - the Trick or Script plug-in "Thumbnails". It has its pros & cons, but for something quick like this, it made it unnecessary to develop a complete code sheet for the production assets or employ extensive asset management. With Thumbnails, assets are chosen & swapped visually, and with a crew this small (2 or 3 guys max), asset management doesn't need to be complicated.

When the debates rolled around, we were ready to start animating! The next problem was acquiring live video from the debates. In the first couple of passes, we tried pulling clips from internet video sources. This proved to be either expensive, time consuming, or of questionable quality. In later passes, we wound up transferring the footage from TIVO (yet another reason to love TIVO!). This worked great for the debates, where we could predict the air times and choose the broadcast with the least supers - but might not have been the best option for breaking news items (which, it turned out, was never a factor).

So following each debate, we had to get a script together, have voice recordings produced (by the great James Adomian) & mixed, transfer and capture footage, cut a Video Background master, create character poses and work them into the composition, animate the characters, composite and edit the piece, add sound FX and sweeten audio, then output for YouTube. All in 3 days!

Ultimately, we did 8 episodes of The 2 McCains, with the last one being 100% animated. Even Sarah Palin showed up in a couple of episodes, voiced by the amazing and funny Rosemary Watson.

How did we get these pieces out so quickly? Basically, we started as soon as the debates were over! Every time a debate occurred, I kissed my family goodbye for while and devoted my life to John McCain. He's a funny guy without my help, but we had to take it a little further if we we wanted to make YouTube history.

And we did! We probably had the lowest traffic-to-effort ratio in YouTube history! While some pimply-faced doofus flushing a roll of toilet paper or a teenage girl lipsynching to a bad song while pushing cleavage can get 100,000 hits in a matter of days, our carefully planned, skilfully-produced, topical pieces were floundering with 1500-3000 hits each.

Finally, Fink made a deal with Lisa Nova to run "Oh McCain" and the "2 McCains" series on Lisa's YouTube channel. Lisa Nova's humorous and sexy YouTube site draws some huge traffic, thanks to her wit, a talented cast, and a bodacious set of... thumbnails. We were fortunate enough to enjoy a brief ride on that balloon.

This arrangement wound up costing me 25% of my already thin budget, but we wanted people to see these damn cartoons!

Oh McCain premiered on Lisa's site in Mid October, ultimately racking up 350,000 views (to date). Not really a huge audience by YouTube standards I understand, but it took only 3 days to find the traffic it received in 4 months on the original Lunatics and Liars channel (!), and has now surpassed that number seven times over! The 2 McCains episodes didn't do quite as well, but they managed to draw huge numbers fast, and the comments were plentiful, though not all good (some were quite angry and overtly racist)! It was a hell of a wake up call, but one we would never have had if not for Lisa.

At the end of the day, I think we were all hoping to have some small impact on the election. Johnny Boy's not a bad guy - a little misguided, but a likable guy with a distinguished life of service, who sadly, seemed to lose control over his own campaign, ceding it to the likes of Karl Rove and that whole Fear First mindset. But Obama is the man - he started things off the right way, by talking about unity & bipartisanship, and focusing attention on the real problems: deep-pocket lobbyists and growing class separation.

Ultimately, we did this for laughs first. On November 5th, we were all enjoying a good laugh.

No so much a laugh, as a jovial sigh of relief.

Stay Hopeful,


Coming up for Air - in a new Studio!

Whew! It's been a while. Did you miss me?

Looking back about 30 pixels, I realize my last post was to announce the release of the Oh McCain Director's Cut (our first foray into political entertainment)... a lot has happened in the political world since then, in case you've been in a coma (or a cave - I'm looking at you, Osama).

I don't need to tell you we've got a new President...

I'm proud to have participated in the subversion of this year's election for a few cheap laughs, but more on that later.

I'll use the next few entries to lay out some tasty updates for the five or six people who read this blog. Tasty? Really? Yes.

So why the long lunch hour? Well for starters, Flinch Studio moved its offices from Florida to Georgia. Not really an excuse for a 4-month absence, but it's hopefully big enough news to distract you while I slip quietly back into my cubicle and pretend to have been working the whole time.

Flinch is now located in the basement of my childhood home just outside of Atlanta. Here's the view out my back window:

I'm sure you'll agree, it's much better than the view outside my old office window:

This is not a joke. That was my actual view. I have to look at these pix from time to time to remind myself why I moved so far away from year-round surfing. Access to great food and live music also helps to kill the pain. It's good to be back in my old stomping grounds!

Other than the move, it's been bitchness as usual. Plenty bizzy, plenty bitchy, plenty broke. The life of an animator. Lot's of really cool stuff to share though, including pictures. Lots of pictures, and animation too.

Stay 'tooned,