ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.10 - JANUARY 2000

Quenching The New Millennium's Thirst For Animated Fare
(Continued from page 2)

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.
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.
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Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.


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