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The Guilty Pleasures of Family Guy

While Terrence Briggs feels he should loathe shows likeFOX's new Family Guy, he is still too sore from laughing to complain.Let him explain....

Twisted Baby Stewie is a Family Guy highlight.© FOX Broadcasting Company.

There's a philosophy behind the concept of guilty pleasures, those incredibly dimwitted media products that are so bad they wind up being entertaining. Usually that philosophy involves laughing at stuff that should be taken seriously, or is so off-the-wall comically that the audacity is entertaining. Beyond guilty pleasures, though, are straight comedies: either ya laugh, or ya don't. God knows I laugh myself silly at The Simpsons. So what about shows in The Simpsons style? The Critic ranks as one of the most notable in this category, and it felt like the winner of a committee's "Pick the best Simpsons clone" contest. However, the Simpson-esque pacing and side gags weren't as sharply executed there as they were in the average Simpsons episode. Family Guy is another beast entirely. Like all great TV ideas, it is an amalgam of everything. The final result plays like something from the mind of an MTV-spoiled television executive who thought The Simpsons had too much plot and South Park was too stiff. Actually, Family Guy's comedy is more like the acid trip of a guy who burnt out in the middle of a Simpsons storyboard and thought he was writing South Park. That would explain the two visually-supported urination jokes, the two references to inordinately large asses, and the ten-second flatulence gag; not to mention the ass-screaming sexual molestation side gag. We love side gags so much in The Simpsons that this creator probably figured we wanted more, regardless of setting, timing, or contribution to the story. This would explain why we have a 30-second conversation that contains three different side gags, a cornered hero who consults a conscience that must consult its own conscience, and a moat around the family house that "keeps the black knight at bay." The best of The Simpsons would tend to reserve such outlandish references for their Halloween specials, whose seven-minute shorts lend themselves well to a lack of narrative coherence. All these far out, left-field gags do, however, is remind the viewer that the characters can't be relied upon for humor. That's a shame, especially when a two-year-old and a dog are the show's most mature characters -- though I'm happy to report that's not exactly bad news. The ultra-condensed uber-megalomaniac Stewie is an incredible bit of comic fire and brimstone. Have Snoopy, Garfield and Dogbert truly witnessed their austere match in Brian, the family dog? Daria might keep this one as a pet. These two characters would make a damn fine show on their own (I know it sounds like blasphemy at this point, but I'm already thinking "spinoff"). Yes, the adult humans aren't bright enough to know how much smarter these two characters are, even after they hold entire conversations with them, but it's in the spirit of the guilty pleasure to be too busy laughing to care. Finally, one cannot fault a show that pulls out every stop (even the stops we want) to knock its audience dead. I should truly loathe shows like Family Guy and all they epitomize, but I'll get to that once my sides and knees heal up. Terrence Briggs, all-purpose animation fan, is more than happy to receive comments from readers on his work.

During a seminar, Softimage France and Fantome demonstrated the management possibilities of a long-distance production of an animated series in 2D or 3D, with technical support from France Telecom, Pixel Systems, and the Institute of the Image. Two connections were established simultaneously between Réunion and Studio France Telecom in Paris, a distance of over 6,000 miles. A visual-conference connection permitted both studios to see and speak directly with each other while an ISDN connection transferred data. Participants in this Forum could be present at: a presentation of the possibilities of 2D/3D integration between the programs Toonz and Softimage 3D. This presentation, executed by a Softimage demonstrator on a PC in Paris, was projected in real-time in an Institute of the Image auditorium. a simulation of a working session between a director located in Paris and the production studio in Réunion, on a sequence involving the 3D synthesis of images for an extract from the series The Girafes, co-produced by Fantome. Sharing of databases, transfer of files, checking the animation and the texturing were all done interactively in real-time. 2D Production -- Two Different Approaches PMMP produces 52 half-hour shows each year (2 series of 26 episodes) for a cost of $7,600,000 per series. The animation is done in Asia (Korea, China, Japan). The colorization, compositing and painting of backgrounds is done 100% in Pipangai. PMMP has been working with Pipangai since 1995. For PMMP, Pipangai is clearly more expensive than Asia, but working with Pipangai offers a greater control of quality. Furthermore, there are no problems with language, nor, with Réunion's three hour time difference to Paris, with adjusting to an opposite time-of-day schedule. PMMP uses a physical transfer of files. The designs for backgrounds, characters and props are sent from Paris to Réunion on ZIP discs (or via the Internet when it is very urgent). The retakes are sent directly on digital Beta cassette. For PMMP, on-line transmission of the finished work is still not a reality. For the transport of data the best combination of quality and price remains the Boeing 747! Neurones Neurones is a co-producer and therefore, provides 10-30% of the budget on their shows. Neurones now has the capacity for producing 4 series a year, and produced or co-produced more than 100 half-hour shows in 1998. Neurones studios particularly collaborated on the production of Franklin (26 thirteen-minute episodes) with NELVANA, and Air Academy (26 half-hours) with Antefilms, M6 and Cinar. For all of its productions, Neurones takes charge of producing the animation in its Korean studio in Seoul. Following the production, the layouts, colorization, compositing and backgrounds are given to Neurones' European studios (France, Luxembourg and Belgium). The cost of production begins at $150,000 per episode from layout to the final rushes on PAL digital Beta. The Neurones group has developed its own software programs for transferring pencil tests between Seoul and its other production studios via the Internet. Neurones uses special lines designated only for this use, and makes sure the transmissions are 100% secure. However, Neurones never uses this type of transmission for the completed color artwork from Seoul to Europe, since the costs would be too expensive. For retakes, the director verifies the test either on VHS or on-line. Instructions for retakes are also sent via the Internet. Some hours later Seoul sends the corrections ready to be colored. Like PMMP, real-time transmission does not appear to be indispensable for Neurones, because the current technology is satisfactory with only a short delay. When Seoul sends some drawings at the end of their working day, they arrive at the beginning of the work day in Europe, so there is no loss of time. A real-time transmission would require a night team in Europe. Perhaps it will be useful for 3D animation production that is shared between several studios who are working in the same time zone.