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Quenching The New Millennium's Thirst For Animated Fare

Ruth and Roger Whiter were lucky enough to meet Ray Harryhausen for tea and a chat about his career, the craft of stop-motion and the value of careful planning.

For now, let's take a closer look at five companies who are journeying at quicksilver speeds in giving shape to the net's animation evolution.

Nailing down distinct models of animation distribution on the web is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Describing who-does-what mutates faster each day as bolts of "new deal" announcements hit the Headline News. These first days of the 21st Century are ablaze with innovative creators and company players whose manifesto infusing animation with the Internet's "space" seems to be: no deal or alliance is too crazy to pursue. Distribution companies are becoming actual producing partners; producers and creators are themselves becoming netcasters and distributors; traditional broadcasters are building separate, branded online NETworks; technology companies are creating site departments for animation syndication; toy companies are producing inhouse merchandise-based web toons to play on their own dot coms; and old-guard newspapers are adding toon series to their daily online publications. Adding more models to the mix are the portals and browsers and other "straight" corporate entities who have suddenly become animation-hungry in their efforts to entice repeat visitors to their online sites. Although some of these new media combinations appear to be based upon historical models of entertainment partnerships, most seem utterly fresh and unconventional, promising inexhaustible possibilities for new artistic exposure.

Level13.net promises a new host of animation professionals. Here we see Willis & Jonah. © Film Roman/Level13.net.

Level13.net promises a new host of animation professionals. Here we see Willis & Jonah. © Film Roman/Level13.net.

Just A Few Examples

Looking at a few examples from this mixed bag of showcasing "hybrids," we find: John Kricfalusi, long at the center of net animation, and his company Spumco's building of www.realcartoons.com, a site set to feature K's own stuff including a new series creation using historical Harvey Entertainment characters. Realcartoons.com will also be looking to acquire outside shorts to program and develop for this newly designed destination site. . . .For its part, Harvey Entertainment's expanding foray into deal-making includes a co-production, co-marketing arrangement with digital media company Spunky Productions based on Harvey's early Richie Rich comics adventures. True net veterans of over 4 years, Spunky Productions created www.SpunkyTown.com to showcase their own original work on separate Kids and Teens channels (with subsites such as Scary.com and Claus.com) and are now primed to continue a whirlwind expansion of creative production. . . .Film Roman's Level 13.net contains a Program Guide to screen, create and interact with various animated fare while also offering chat, email and an easy page explaining how to submit your work for their review. . . .DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment are pairing to introduce POP.com sometime this spring, a much anticipated online entertainment site whose content will be a mix of live-action and animation, video on demand, live web events, and non-linear interactive features and games. The POP principals hope to encourage other artists and filmmakers to join them in creating original programming for their site. . . .Shockwave will soon be expanding the cartoon area of www.shockwave.com (already offering audiences classics like South Park, Dr. Katz and Dilbert, along with a Cartoon Vault and the new Ed's Head anthology). They've just signed Trey Parker and Matt Stone to create a net exclusive series and shorts program.

Kicking butt and taking names with style, Whirlgirl is still coming on strong in her weekly episodes. © Visionary Media LLC.

Kicking butt and taking names with style, Whirlgirl is still coming on strong in her weekly episodes. © Visionary Media LLC.

At the same time, Shockwave is allying themselves with Stan Lee Media for future material, thereby accelerating the construction of their site into a desired destination place-to-be. . . .stanleemedia.com sounds like it's getting primed to jump into just about everything net related, promising a new set of super heroes revolving around his 7th Portal creation. . . .Mondo Media, a San Francisco digital production company founded in 1988, just expanded its major net presence by adding Netscape to the syndication roster of its two original series Thugs On Films and Like, News to play under the banner "Mondo Media Minishows." (To give you an example of how broad the distribution can be for original net creations, the other six sites now carrying the Mondo Minishows are Shockwave, Snap, international distributor Canoe, web host Alta Vista, teen site Ugo and the Washingtonpost.com) Mondo Media's big new year's splash has come by way of their co-production of The God and Devil Show, now running exclusively on the newly launched Entertaindom channel. . . .iFILMS, a company originally structured for netcasting existing short films, recently coaxed Spike Decker onto its board of advisors while acquiring library material from his festival organizing Mellow Manor Productions' Spike & Mike's Classical Festival of Animation and Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation. Decker will soon oversee iFilm.com's selection of both library films and outside original animated content in that company's efforts to become a greater destination venue. . . .Nickelodeon Online, in the process of converging several existing Nick sites under the direction of senior vice president Taran Swan, will also create new opportunities for original animated works in that NETwork's quest to develop a large interactive online community for kids. . . .Showtime's whirlgirl.com is still going very strong, expanding its scope, interactivity and convergence ideas. WhirlGirl producers Visionary Media are sure to announce new creations shortly . . . .and, the deals go on and on and on as the ideas of today fly into tomorrow's realities. For now, let's take a closer look at five companies who are journeying at quicksilver speeds in giving shape to the net's animation evolution.

© Cartoon Network, Inc.

© Cartoon Network, Inc.

Cartoons, Cartoons, Cartoons

Cartoon Network Online would seem to be the most straight-forward to explain (a successful cable company debuts some of their stuff on the Internet and "web-a-vizes" it, right?) Hardly. With Sam Register heading the online family as vice president and creative director, TCN's Internet line-up is anything but simple web screening or easy re-purposing of their branded programming. The original Web Premiere Toons is unquestionably one of the forefathers of animated content on the Internet and is now the primo spot inside cartoonnetwork.com. They currently run five original-to-the-web series (Pink Donkey & The Fly, Coot's Country, B. Happy, Germtown and Marshmellow Honey) and beginning this year, Pink Donkey and Coot's Country will increase production to weekly webisodes of shorter length 2-3 minute toons. This should keep Funny Garbage, Register's premiere production studio in New York, extremely busy since they are also in production on a future Web Premiere Toon based on the Banana Splits. The excitement is high on this latter project as Register explains, "It will blend newly shot action segments of the Banana characters who will then turn into cartoon versions of themselves" during the webisode's play. "Really cool stuff," he believes.

© Cartoon Network, Inc.

© Cartoon Network, Inc.

The second category of Web Premiere Toons is called Interactive Movies. This showcase does use established, beloved characters from the Time-Warner/Hanna-Barbera libraries; but in their use of existing footage, the creative producers formulate new interactive zaniness with complete re-voicing and new story content. Online movies now up and running are Huckleberry Hound In Sir Huck and a Flintstones-based project called Saturday Nite Fred. Atom Ant is planned for debut sometime soon and Register states, "We have tons of Interactive Movies in development with production slated for one new `movie' each month."

Also on the programming front, the company is planning a large order of 2-3 minute animated cartoons from a wide group of creators and animators who will be showcased using a uniquely different type of interactivity. Register has from day one believed interaction, in one form or another, is essential to the full enjoyment of web entertainment. (In looking around at how the majority of new major sites now play up the interactive aspects of their creations, it looks like a lot of others have come round to a better understanding of his early philosophy.) Regarding this new project of one-off shorts, Register needs to be vague until the imminent press release. He could say, however, that the interactivity "isn't necessarily in the cooking inside the narrative but has more to do with audiences interacting by voting responses such as, `What do you think of this? Do you like it? Do you not like it?' Then if it wins, it moves up the ranks for the next voting." Viewer scoreboards are planned to be netcast continuously for online review, giving this a kind of e-tournament-like community involvement. It will eventually culminate in narrowing down the audience's choice of the highest ranked shows -- with a finale vote tallied for "the number one short" by the end of the year. The idea promises to be another highly innovative project to enhance their up-and-running toons while uniquely furthering Register's mantra: "There's a mouse sitting in front of your computer! Let's use it!"

Register confirms he's always on the lookout for outside submissions (which should be directed through his office) and he very much appreciates the new environment where people send him emails and URLs of their own or other people's work. He notes, "I'm constantly looking at animation from all over the place and can instantly see what the projects are all about, then immediately contact the creators regarding possibilities of either development for my own online programming or, if better suited to television, perhaps steer them towards the TV group." Register is also enthusiastic about the myriad of opportunities for converging some of the TV and online programming (while protecting their respective original sources of exposure, of course). He asks we be patient to read about those kinds of new ventures which will be included in a mega press announcement coming within the next few months. Meanwhile, now that net production technology has proven it can handle things nicely `til broad band shows up, Register is delighted when he reiterates that "content is once again king and Cartoon Network is going to be there with a full commitment from all of us."

© Wild Brain Inc.

© Wild Brain Inc.

Let's Get Wild!

Wild Brain, Inc., having just come up on its fifth anniversary as one of the leading animation studios in the U.S., hit the Internet with an astonishing head-on splash last month with the launch of wildbrain.com. Their new web channel initially provides four areas dedicated solely to the art of animation: one is set to showcase the best in animation shorts from around the world; a second features expanded games; a third contains information, interviews and live webcasting from animation festivals circling the globe; and the fourth is a segment entitled "Digital Drive In," designed to program their own newly produced net-original animated works. Jeffrey Ulin, CEO of the company since January of 1998, explains that, "What we're building is a network -- we're not just focusing on producing one, three or four programs. That will certainly be there and be a highlight and be complimentary...but we're trying to do something much bigger." Although their approach could be considered on a par with Cartoon Network Online and the new Entertaindom, Wild Brain's principal players are actually producers and creators themselves, a difference they feel will distinguish their channel from others overtime.

Wild Brain has long been known for its artistic merging of traditional animation methods with state-of-the-art tools and has captured just about every top award out there in the worlds of advertising, CD Roms, traditional media broadcasting and feature productions. They're certainly not dropping the ball on these established relationships as they are currently in production on their first 2D animated, 26 half-hour television series entitled Poochini's Yard with Munich's EM-TV. Ulin mentioned they also pitched four additional series at last October's MIPCOM and he seems proud and amazed, really, to have had offers on all of them. He outlines, however, that within today's unique entertainment choices, the company's internal debates now include the web when deciding how best to proceed with new ideas. "It's becoming a world where you actually need to look into the mirror and say, `Does this development deal make sense or should I just produce it on the net?'" he states. "Because if you're just going into a development deal rather than production, there may be some benefits to going ahead on the net first." He is quick to point out, though, that that conundrum doesn't apply to every show for obvious demographic and/or style considerations.

Poochini's Yard. © Wild Brain Inc.

Poochini's Yard. © Wild Brain Inc.

Discussing their Showcase category, which at launch had 11 shorts available for screening, Ulin explains Wild Brain's "charter was to find great animation wherever it existed, whether it was international or U.S." Led by John Hays, Wild Brain's President, Co-Founder and Creative Director, the company will continue to add licenses for student films, festival entries and independent films from other in and outside sources or people they know. Ulin believes the possibility of acquiring net rights to lengthier animated films will become more feasible when broad band reaches a higher plateau; but for now they don't look to program longer-format material with any prior exposure on traditional television or cable venues. He feels viewing on the Internet is "not currently substitutional for TV where someone will passively watch something for 30 minutes to an hour. So, as you can see from our site, we've tried to design it in a way that the vast majority of things you're seeing, you can't see (or haven't seen) elsewhere but are nevertheless just as entertaining."

Signing a significant broadcast services agreement with Yahoo! Inc. less than one month ago provided wildbrain.com with the necessary technical infrastructure to launch in a big way. Yahoo provides the "backbone" to encode their short films digitally for subsequent streaming either on Yahoo's site or their own. In some instances, mostly for promotional purposes, the audiences can stay within the Yahoo site to view the animation. Obviously, Ulin and company will prefer to have people come directly from Yahoo to their channel so that the audience can also sample all the other properties wildbrain.com will be presenting.

The Digital Drive-In area debuted with David Fremont's net original series Glue and plans are set for it to be updated regularly with new episodes. Here, the animation is built in Flash so even though Yahoo's technical assistance isn't required out of Dallas, Ulin explains, "They are still a partner for the front-end link where we will be featured when you go to their portal." Wild Brain's Glue, having been one of the Yahoo-Pick-Of-The-Week shows, proves the strength of this new double-duty relationship. Wild Brain will be getting the benefit and cross promotion of being exposed to Yahoo's viewership (now reaching into the tens of millions of people), and simultaneously have Yahoo's technical availability to digitize and stream their short film content.

The short answer Ulin gives to the question of expanding their original toons area is, "Yes...we hope to have several different serialized shows on this year. We wanted to launch with only one because we wanted a manageable site. I think our site for launch is pretty rich. We wanted to start at a base-line and build up from there." They are proceeding now with more grand-scale plans for incremental adding on of more shorts and original fare, as well as chat and interactivity, all in their desire to be a fully realized inclusive and successful online network. Ulin believes they've been right in focusing first on establishing a reputation for getting the best of animation going for their channel and that goal is evidenced by their contracting some of the top digital creators around today. Although they presently have an incredible amount of in house material for original shorts and site development, Ulin believes Wild Brain will set up a more formal system for submissions by independent creators a soon as it is necessary.

To a query regarding sponsorships, merchandising and e-commerce, Ulin responds by saying, "In terms of wildbrain.com, there's so many different elements and functions. We're building up internal capacity for some of them and forging partnerships and turn-key operations for other elements." There's time enough, he implies, to give their new general manager, John Kirkland, a chance to take all that to the next level while their strong creative staff of veteran producers concentrate on the ambitious areas of channel programming already at hand. An important message Ulin would have us understand is that, "Wild Brain is not constrained by looking to create something that fits into a particular pattern or mold... and the Internet, and the tools for producing for the Internet, create a different palette. I think it pushes the bounds of creativity and potential. We hope to do that and people should be encouraged that there will be showcases for that kind of work."

Nicholas Peterson's Mum is just one of roughly 500 films available at the AtomFilms site. © AtomFilms.

Nicholas Peterson's Mum is just one of roughly 500 films available at the AtomFilms site. © AtomFilms.

An Explosion of Nuclear Strength Cory Wynne, animation content manager for AtomFilms, is downright contagious in his enthusiasm not only for his own company's impressive expansion on the net; but also for the whole "blurring-of-the-lines" between the separate distributor/ producer/creator roles of the past. "I think the reason you're seeing so many strategic partnerships develop is because we're all validating the same space. We need each other." He goes on to say AtomFilms is "enjoying the fact that this obviously affords us a lot more opportunities to develop animators' works and to deliver them for the audiences." That ever-present attention and support for independent filmmakers is at the very center of AtomFilms' philosophy as they strive to bring the very best in short film content to as broad a spectrum of viewers as possible. Dubbing themselves a next-generation entertainment company, AtomFilms' primary work is in licensing and marketing high quality shorts and digital media, and distributing their catalog content to a wide variety of traditional and emerging channels including cable companies, television, Internet portals and airlines.

Going online only 10 short months ago, AtomFilms has already made a huge imprint with its ever-expanding offering of animation styles and formats. They have received kudos from every angle of the entertainment community including net-creative Jaime Levy, CEO of Electronic Hollywood, who describes atomfilms.com's site design as "a very Web mature Flash interface with tons of great films to watch at all different connection speeds." For independent filmmaker/animation producer Zahra Dowlatabadi, AtomFilms' web site represents the exciting ability of "creating new forums where filmmakers and their audience can have the most direct and unmitigated relationship." For the typical viewer, atomfilms.com has simply become a hot place to see favorite animated shorts unavailable to them on any other medium. These responses are rewarding and greatly important to AtomFilms' overall push to expand the scope of its work in short form entertainment. Moreover, the company's recent and substantial infusion of new capital investment will certainly help to increase their odds of moving ahead rapidly in this novel Internet environment.

The current library of AtomFilms is "around 500 pieces with 40-50% of that in the animation category," states Wynne. The site divides their Animation Channel into three sub-channels: "All Animation," "Cartoon and Clay Animation" and "Flash Animation" -- designed with the purpose of easing viewer access in finding exactly what type of material they want to screen. New alliances and strategic partnerships are coming fast and furious for this young company. On the animation side, one of the larger deals took place last October when, upon the launching of AtomFilms Europe, they forged an agreement with UK-based Aardman Animations, the creators of Wallace and Gromit, to license the majority of their short form content for both on and off-line distribution. Big-time leveraging of this Academy Award winning material came later in November when AtomFilms' announced it would provide select original shorts to RealNetworks, Inc.'s streaming "best of the web" service. It is there AtomFilms' intends to showcase Aardman's extremely well-liked Creature Comforts.

Also in November of last year, AtomFilms acquired PixelWave, a leader in innovative online content development and entertainment technologies. PixelWave brings to the newly combined company their library of current shows including The Stock Market Psychic, which interfaces real-time stock quotes with very engaging interactive content. Wynne feels, "These new areas are very exciting for us aside from the typical linear content we handle and we're really looking to develop new forms of animated entertainment. When you have such interesting and bright people as we do now with PixelWave, there are great ideas that will come from it." Another promising side is that the new group will help bring traditional animators into web original production. Wynne thinks, "The bulk of animation talent that is out there now is in the traditional realm; really fantastic storytellers, fantastic artists." Therefore, he's truly motivated in "helping some of them jump in to see the power of the new animation tools such as Flash and discover what that can bring to the body of their work." By allying with PixelWave, they will now have a new production arm, "Atom Studio," which will work on development of original web production, integration of content in both online advertising and sponsorship opportunities, while also marshaling the creative talent necessary to handle the design aspects of their growing destination site.

Plympton's How to Kiss. © AtomFilms.

Plympton's How to Kiss. © AtomFilms.

Just last month, AtomFilms announced the acquisition of Bill Plympton's catalog of work, securing on and off-line distribution of his material. In association with this renowned independent, they are pushing their own net "envelope" by creating what will be the first in a series of highly interactive fansites called "Plymptonia." It will include Plympton's existing short films, his production of some new original Flash content and provide as many interactive and informational ideas as they can come up with. Next to launch in this new genre will be a full service fan-site surrounding Aardman Productions entitled "The Aardman Observer." These fan areas will take atomfilms.com into differing design territories as they work toward making each of them more expressive of the individual artists' unique identities, as well as separating them out from the overall presentation of the site's other content and channels.

Led by Mika Salmi, founder and CEO, AtomFilms' extraordinary growth remains fueled by the adamant dedication to the cause of bringing independent shorts to new audiences worldwide. Although submissions pour in daily on VHS and digital files, Wynne stresses the importance of their continual presence at animation festivals. "That's always the first and last place for us and I think it's great for exposure. It brings a lot of animators together in one place at one time...and the biggest advantage in that is for the independent animator to meet with us face-to-face. When you want to go into partnership with anyone, you want to feel good about who you are going to work with and I think that 'face time' is the quality time." He believes unquestionably that the success and future revenue for independent animation will be on the web, both for artists and distributors alike. AtomFilms, then, is inarguably taking the lead in making that happen.

Worms, Fish, Silicon and Chaos Honkworm International is certifiably one of today's leading entertainment studios producing original animated properties optimized for the Internet world. Currently in production and distribution of over six series plus multiple one-off webisodes, Honkworm has plans to double its output within the coming year. Since its inception, founders Johan Liedgren (CEO/Principal) and Noah Tannen (Partner/Principal) have not only been the writers, producers and directors of very popular and odd-ball content; but on the business side, they have pioneered new models for revenue from the net syndication, co-production and sponsorships of their online work.

Originally from Sweden, Liedgren has spent the last two and a half years building the Seattle-based studio into an artistically and financially sound entity, drawing on his passion for both the creative and business sides of the start-up game, while carefully carving Honkworm's niche in the new net "space." Along the way, Honkworm has been stylishly innovative in its toon content as well as instrumental in forging new architecture of how entertainment, advertisement and commerce can integrate with web cartoons. For the outsider looking to differentiate companies such as his own from those like AtomFilms, Wild Brain, iFilm or Entertaindom, Liedgren suggests one way is "to ask first: is this company trying to drive traffic to a site -- yes or no?" If the answer is yes, that company must spend all its time, money and energy into getting traffic to their web place and will be judged accordingly. Liedgren emphasizes the fact that, "Honkworm is not a destination site. We will never spend money to drive any traffic here. We obviously care if people come and enjoy our work but it's not part of our business model."

Johan Liedgren.

Johan Liedgren.

What Honkworm does, he says, is to concentrate all their time, energy and creativeness into producing really good content. Dan Pepper (COO) further explains their studio setup by adding, "We do generate our creative inhouse but we also have contract writers and creatives that are submitting ideas and concepts that we either will take into production or develop with them. At that point, we have what I would call a 'virtual studio' kind of model where we can match the concept to individuals and production entities that best fit the production design." Liedgren likes to call this particular process "using e-lancers" and he seems very comfortable in maintaining and expanding this network of outside storyteller, artist and director relationships. They both point out that Honkworm retains ownership in all of their programs. "So our focus," Pepper concludes, "is to generate Honkworm titles that we essentially build as an asset and we can then license and syndicate those properties at will."

One example of a Honkworm alliance which significantly bolsters theirproduction capacity is the four year content development, production and distribution agreement they signed with Camp Chaos Entertainment in October of last year. Honkworm secured a first right of refusal in the acquisition of all Camp Chaos' programs and is additionally guaranteed non-exclusive distribution rights for all their current and future content. Based in Philadelphia and continuing to maintain one of the first web sites to produce regular online Flash cartoons, Camp Chaos' side of this deal includes a renewable production retainer, as well as the confidence gained by working hand-in-hand with a reputable industry leader in online creative programming and distribution. The relationship had its beginnings with Camp Chaos providing animation services for Honkworm's Siliconites series. This and other projects fostered a lot of mutual admiration and finally, the recognition of the mutual benefits possible by bringing Camp Chaos into a more defined arrangement with the Honkworm group.

Honkworm International's revenues to date have been from syndication, co-productions and sponsorships of their creative content. Just recently, their coffers were supplemented by the infusion of new capital investmentfrom American Greetings which should give them the ability to go forward with more partnership, acquisition and/or alliance agreements.

From the sponsorship angle, Honkworm has made history, of sorts, by mutating the traditional idea of product placement into a successful online campaign for Budweiser, wrapped around their hugely popular Fishbar series. Honkworm offered to write and design within the show's content subliminal, branded Budweiser material -- which would be in addition to the usual "brought to you by" front and end tags utilized in typical sponsorship deals. Budweiser was intrigued but then the question was: what kind of distribution venuewould be acceptable to this idea? The necessary triangle was complete when Excite came into the picture as the "broadcaster," if you will, and the portal ended up actually brokering the final deal which included featuring the series on its main page. Liedgren says Budweiser was, of course, "really happy because now not only did they get to be associated with the Honkworm stuff but they're up there on Excite which has millions of eyeballs every day looking at the Budweiser/Honkworm content." This business scenario is now undoubtedly being used as a model by many other groups struggling for successful corporate branding and "advertainment." Liedgren doesn't particularly like that phrase and would rather describe Honkworm's approach as "entertainment that also works as advertisement." He is extremely mindful of being "very, very, very sensitiveto the viewers" and understands the dangers of turning them off if the advertising component is too strong or inappropriate relative to the creative content. "The viewer and Honkworm obviously have to be the guys saying, 'Stop right here' ... and I know from experience that you say no to the brand, you never say no to your viewers, right? You should say no to the brand because if the viewers keep coming, the brands will be back asking to be part of it again, anyway."

Honkworm is currently being pursued (and pursuing themselves) some interesting co-production deals in Hollywood and elsewhere from within the traditional entertainment world. They profess no interest in being acquired and say they have already turned down numerous large and lucrative work-for-hire type entreaties. As Liedgren puts it, "To be an in house creative shop for one studio, I think, is kind of limiting our 'outside.'" Instead, Honkworm is looking at a future with "Hollywood" that could entail joint projects with, he says, "established brand-name talent -- like well known comics or famous broadcast writers" that would join forces with Honkworm, developing projects where their respective creative sensibilities would overlap into novel programming. Meanwhile, Liedgren feels Honkworm is right where it should be, saying, "We're on a roll and growing as fast as we can." So far, that's been a pretty dynamic and impressive roll.

The Big WB Comes To Play Entertaindom.com launched onto the Internet November 29th of last year in what felt like one of the largest (if not the most mega) entertainment net-site launches of all time. Although the Time-Warner company's new online destination hub will continue to expand and add one entertainment content in library fashion, the premiere of this site was truly extensive in what it immediately offered to the online audience and the animation world at large.

Jim Banister, Executive Vice President of Warner Bros. Online, has been working over the past five years in architecturally designing and creating Entertaindom's extensive mixture of online entertainment, news (with items coming from sources including Entertainment Weekly, CNN, Reuters and Variety), a myriad of unique Entertaindom services (such as Looney Tunes Teach The Internet, the official "help" area featuring original material with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam), music and TV stories, movie reviews, hit lists and critics' polls, shopping features, interactive community functions such as e-mail and chat, as well as an Entertaindom home page community service, giving fans the capability of viewing or creating their own pages based on celebrity and entertainment properties. This latter service is powered by Acme City which is a joint venture between Warner Bros. Online and FortuneCity.com. Not to be forgotten in entertaindom.com's new online world is an area that could get very hot called Entertaindom Auctions. They describe this area as a personalized entertainment trading community, hosted by eBay.

With a fervent belief that the "time is now" for short-form animated online programming, Banister and his boss Jim Moloshok, President of Warner Bros. Online and the executive in charge of Entertaindom, have developed the site's initial presentation of animation by dividing the three types of toon programming as follows:

1) Born-on-the-web originals that have the possibilities of crossing over to other media;2) online extensions of their "branded" toons with new webisodes mixing existing footage with newly created content; and 3) original entertainment that has been re-programmed for the web or syndicated from outside sources such as AtomFilms.

One of the premiere web originals is The God And Devil Show, co-produced with Mondo Media and scheduled as a weekly interactive talk show toon featuring celebrity legends like John Wayne. Audiences can use special online "Ask God" confessionals or leave messages on "The Devil's Answering Machine." It's an edgy, very clever show. When asked about the target audience, Banister makes the general note, "Entertaindom is not intended to be a kids site. We will have a version of Entertaindom in the near future that will be specifically and protectively designed for children but for now, this is a site more designed towards 18 and older."

Another original web series called Dr. Science is co-produced with Dotcomix utilizing Pulse Entertainment's new 3D technology which Banister believes is "very articulate for certain types of animation." He is very pleased with their association with the Pulse group and plans are in development for several more original series specifically produced in that style.

Brilliant Digital Entertainment, headed by Kevin Bermeister, is currently co-branding with Entertaindom in the "Multi-Path Movie" serial based on WB's Superman: The Menace of Metallo, a weekly 3D series of seven minute episodes. Banister explains BDE's innovative work as "one of those pseudo broad band technologies that allow us to deliver a broad band-like experience over a narrow band pipe. It's a style of animation that nobody's seen before except maybe in games...it feels like a game but plays like a movie. It's something that a year ago was impossible to do." The BDE/Entertaindom alliance will be strengthen further as they continue working together in creating a new animated online series based on Universal's Xena, the Warrior Princess.

There are many other animated shows to check out on entertaindom.com including additional "native-to-the-web" series such as Floops and Spoofs N' Goofs, Looney Tunes' Cartoon Cinema (a sub-channel which will carry full-length Looney Tunes for the first time anywhere on the web), and Cine Minis, a selection from AtomFilms of popular animated shorts from a variety of sources, all signifying Entertaindom's belief in the future success of online animated fare. They are taking pitches and submissions from a broad variety of independents and artists but Banister states, "One of our favorite things to do is to find a really clever independent, strong point-of-view company or strong group of individuals who actually know how to execute on something and we'll partner with them in a second." He mentions that by way of describing their existing beneficial alliances with Mondo Media, Brilliant Digital and Pulse. From another angle, he continues, "If somebody has been able to do something onto video or onto the web already and they're looking to partner with a company that can do the marketing and the promotion and the sponsorships and the ad sales, etc...that's the kind of people we're looking for, too."

When asked for some parting advice to encourage young animation creatives going forward into the 21st Century, Banister responded, "I guess I would say to them try to become less audio-video centric because there are new techniques and new technologies to create very entertaining animation experiences. Computer literacy for animation as a commercial art form is essential, and I think the economics are going to require that anybody who really wants to make money doing animation is going to have to embrace computers as a tool, simply a tool of their palette. It's apparent that with the creation of entertaindom.com, everything Banister is bringing up today is working to propel us all forward into the art of animation's future on the net.

Fishbar is Honkworm's type of bizarro cool. © Honkworm

Fishbar is Honkworm's type of bizarro cool. © Honkworm

Also speaking to this new millennium's arrival, Honkworm's Johan Liedgren had this to say: "If you want to take the 60,000 foot view, I think you can say, well, the 1600s was music, in the 1700s it was theater and then in the 1800s it was literatureand the 1900s, where we have just been, it was TV and film as the predominant media shaping our culture, shaping the way we think, shaping religion, shaping everything. I think we're kidding ourselves if we don't recognize that in the next 100 years, starting January lst, the predominant medium for entertainment and the way people communicate and share their storytelling is going to be the web."

You can see, then, that the New Year 2000 marketplace feels strangely unique, brought about by the interconnectedness of all things new media. It is a time to be both gratified by and grateful to the passionate folks out there who are working hard to make it viable either to show one's completed animated works online or in providing the atmosphere necessary in developing brand new ways of animation expression. Cheers to them all.

Lee Dannacher is an animation producer/sound track director of over 300 half hours of television films, as well as numerous network and video holiday specials. Currently based in New York, she is freelancing in audio, project development and new media productions.

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