Animation World Magazine, Issue 3.3, June 1998
Animation Sites: Some Stellar Attractions
by Michelle Klein-Häss
For almost 2 1/2 years now, I have been compiling a list of some of the real standout animation-related sites on the Internet. It's called the Nerd Tour and it is the most popular area of my web site, Animation Nerd's Paradise. The good folks at Animation World Magazine asked me to give a little tour of the best of these sites, particularly those which include animation viewable on-line.
Here now is the cream of the crop...the best and the brightest. For some of these sites, you will need to get the Shockwave Flash plug-in for Netscape Navigator or the Shockwave Flash ActiveX control for Microsoft Internet Explorer. If you are skittish about enabling ActiveX (and I don't blame you...I don't have it enabled on my PC) then go get Netscape Navigator 4. It's free and you don't have to get the entire bloated Communicator suite if you don't want; Netscape unbundled it about a year ago.
Shockwave Flash runs best on fast computers, because it is so highly compressed and requires a lot of computing power to run the decompression algorithm. On the PC side, you *can* run it on a 486, but you will be sorely disappointed by SLOOOOOOOOOW performance. An Intel Pentium, AMD K5 or AMD K6 with a clock speed or power rating of 133 or higher is a must for a real-time performance. On the Mac side, I suspect a sufficiently fast Quadra would be able to do okay, but Flash truly shines on second and third generation Power PC chips.
The Shockwave Flash plug-in is available two ways: as part of the huge Shockwave plug-in package or Flash-only. There is also a third plug-in to support RealFlash. RealPlayer 5.0 and above support a hybrid of RealAudio and Flash animation. RealFlash seems to be an improvement on the technology, in that it loads quicker and the sound is a little snappier than in the original product. The only trouble is that RealFlash requires the industrial strength version of the RealServer, which is an expen$$$ive proposition. Don't expect to encounter a lot of RealFlash out there because of that.
Shockrave...Go to the Source
Macromedia has put up a web site featuring a lot of the commercial uses of their technology. http://shockrave.macromedia.com/ is the address, and as well as being a convenient place to get the plug-in, it's a place where a lot of the commercial Flash web cartoons are located.
Want to see a Dilbert cartoon well before the UPN series premieres? You can here, and you get a choice of RealFlash and regular Flash 2 versions of it. Want a wholesome cartoon experience? The venerable Peanuts is here. Want a less-than-wholesome cartoon experience? Comedy Central simulcasts South Park shorts here as well. There are also several new series, most produced by Smashing Ideas, a commercial outfit that does Flash animation for many of the branded characters represented on the site.
Shockrave also features the interactive games that have made Shockwave one of the early technological stars of the Internet. However, be aware that sometimes a Shocked game is not very stable. You might find yourself thrown out of your browser with a Type 1 error if you are on a Mac or a, "This program has performed an illegal function and will be shut down," if on a PC.
Spumco: The Best of the Best
The most eye-popping use of animation in Cyberspace right now is going on at the web site run by the wild men of animation, Spumco International. An entire cartoon, Babysitting The Idiot, featuring Spumco flagship characters Jimmy The Idiot Boy and George Liquor, American, is unspooling at their site.
The animation is pretty impressive considering the limitations of the Flash format. Spumco did some pretty amazing stuff with limited, TV-style animation when they helmed Ren & Stimpy, and they are continuing that tradition. The art is astonishingly good, the unfolding story is funny albeit gross and crude, and the trademark Spumco style is very much in evidence.
The story seems to be taking a little while to develop. As it stands now, five episodes in, George Liquor and Jimmy The Idiot Boy have finished their breakfast repast and we are left with George running to pick up the phone. How long will it take until the main story takes off? Well, I suppose that's up to Spumco and their talented crew. It also seems to be up to Spumco's sponsors, as the episodes usually end with a pitch from an advertiser.
Spumco has been instrumental in suggesting changes to Flash. Their input promises to improve this new technology in the next version which is currently in Beta testing.
Dante's Inferno: Cultural Satire from a Different Neck of the Woods
On the opposite coast from Spumco's Hollywood digs is BerksAlive, an on-line cultural cyberzine from the Berkshire Valley in Pennsylvania. For several months now, Bob Cesca has been releasing a Flash cartoon called Dante's Inferno, featuring a sarcastic worm named Dante and his boy Jimmy. (http://www.berksalive.com/dantesinferno.html)
Unlike Spumco's epic, Dante's Inferno is released in bite size chunks; stand-alone shorts and series that go on for no more than two or three episodes. It's less a cartoon than an animated comic strip. Cesca's artistic style might be a little crude, but his wit and ability to skewer pop culture is very powerful and had me falling off of my computer chair laughing, particularly his succinct and right-on-target lampoon of The X Files . This satire covered all the bases, including cheeseburger implants, The Smoking Man and alien abductions.
Currently, Dante has The Wonder Years in its sights. Drop in and see what will happen when Jimmy and Dante date the same girl.
Some Great Sites That Aren't Necessarily Animated But Nonetheless Rule
Not every good animation related site has animation on it. Here are a few cool picks from the Nerd Tour:
The Toon Tracker http://ftp.wi.net/~rkurer/
This site specializes in information about cartoons from the first wave of U.S. television. No cartoon is too obscure for Ron Kurer.
Black Moon http://www.black-kat.com/blackmoon/
Among anime sites, this stands as one of the most unique. This not only covers anime but Japanese and Japanese-American culture, particularly as it manifests in Los Angeles.
This is a detailed and very enjoyable tour of the process of animation. It's a lot like the "Animation 101" segment of the Warner Bros. Animation web site except it provides more detail.
You can find more cool animation sites on the Animation Nerd's Paradise Nerd Tour: http://anp.awn.com/nerdtour.html
A Note About Fan Sites
Some of the best sites that are connected to the Nerd Tour are fan sites about one cartoon or another. Often, these sites are better than anything the studios or the networks put out. Rather than encouraging the free publicity that these sites generate, several big media companies like Fox, Paramount/Viacom and Warner Bros. have unleashed their lawyers on the webmasters of these sites, intimidating them into pulling them down. Most notorious has been the campaign against King Of The Hill fan sites. From dozens of KOTH fan sites, there are now only a handful.
Luckily not every studio or network has been so draconian. Comedy Central seems to be tolerating a massive wave of South Park fan sites, and MTV also seems to be tolerant of Beavis and Butt-Head and Daria sites. But as the Web grows, one should expect more of this behavior. Most media companies raid these fan sites on the pretense of "dilution of copyright" and in some cases on grounds of concern about how their characters are being portrayed on these sites. Certainly a site showing cartoon characters in pornographic poses would be an understandable target. However, sites that are put up with the webmaster's own time and money and provide definitely positive views on corporate "properties" make for puzzling targets for these companies' legal departments. What the media suits do not understand is that their actions are counterproductive, and come at a toll of fan goodwill. The fans who build these sites are a subset of their fan base. If they continue these punitive actions, they run the risk of alienating the fans who actually pay their bills and write their paychecks.
Michelle Klein-Häss is a San Fernando Valley-based writer, photographer and webkeeper. Her flagship web site is Animation Nerd's Paradise, one of the Animation World Network family of animation sites. ANP can be visited at http://anp.awn.com/.
Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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