The Next Wave: Animation on the Internet

by Gregory Singer

At this year’s ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Expo 2000, held March 3 - 4 at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, AWN’s very own Dan Sarto moderated a two-session panel discussion on the prospects and future of animation on the Internet. The short version of the five-hour seminar is altogether unsurprising, but nonetheless encouraging: broadband, Flash and you.

Weighing in at the event, with their collective, experiential expertise, were representatives from: Shockwave, AtomFilms, Film Roman/Level 13, Mondo Media, Spunky Productions, Harvey Entertainment and Toon Boom Technologies. (Stan Lee Media hailed from the audience.)

"The Next Wave" panel (left to right) AWN's Dan Sarto,'s Eric Oldrin, Toon Boom's Francisco del Cueto, AtomFilms' Dean Terry, Level 13's Eric Radomski and Spunky Productions' Karl Kronenberger. Courtesy of & ASIFA-Hollywood.

I am told that a similar discussion took place about two years ago, with various studio executives from around town. The question has been, abidingly, "How are we to make use of the emerging medium of the Internet?"

I can only imagine that with insouciant shrugs and a lot of hand-waving, the studio executives of two years ago casually talked of ‘re-purposing existing properties’ for exhibition on the Net…

Now, we see that the Internet is a bit of everything -- a place to exploit and reinvigorate old properties and a place to test new materials, a kind of proving ground before expansion into other media.

The honest and amusing truth is, nobody knows the answer. Everyone is trying to figure out what works, exactly. In some cases, as with AtomFilms, people are basically inventing a marketplace for themselves; in others, as with Film Roman/Level 13, they are bringing old business models to bear.

The Future Is Lurking
For the most part, in one form or another, we have been sitting around our campfires and hearths for the last several thousand years, telling our stories. Our televisions and computers are the modern fires around which we gather at nights, to share ourselves and to invent our world. With the Internet, this kind of cultural mythmaking becomes more mutual and participatory. Are we inherently passive listeners and observers? How long will it be before a new generation of audience emerges; before we accept, as a society, the transformation of our televisions into an interactive, co-created medium?

A lot of the actual animation being produced right now is "dumbed down" for today’s technology, but everyone is anticipating the future. Shows are currently in development with the promise in mind of what fiber optics and broadband will allow. Philo Northrup, director of content acquisition at Mondo Media, says that their episodic shorts are all designed with the intention and ability of increasing in production value as the technology improves. Just as the laying down of phone lines in the middle of last century revolutionized communications for that day, so too will broadband technology usher in a revolution for ours.

Mondo Media tries to keep ahead of the fold with its top notch Webisodes such as Like, News. © 2000 Mondo Media.

Karl Kronenberger, president of Spunky Productions, says that he wants his company’s programming to be different than that for television: "We want a very customized entertainment experience." What that means, in translation, is: with the technology available to us constantly and exponentially improving, it is possible to create characters and storylines that conform to the user’s preferences and circumstances. (There is a slightly intimidating, technical word for this -- "non-linearity.") The idea is that, depending on the context or data of the situation, an animated character could be customized, say, to look or to sound like us. (If we are from Texas, perhaps the character articulates with a southern twang.) Or depending on our interactive actions and behaviors, a character could be customized to respond to us appropriately. (Perhaps the animated character makes some timely quip or suggestion regarding our on-line selections.)

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