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Team America: World Police

Article by Scott Tobias
Submitted by Gagan Chaudhary

In the comedy world, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the unruly kids shooting spitballs from the back of the class. They’re foul-mouthed and juvenile, with an eagerness to press cultural hot buttons and slaughter every last sacred cow that wanders through their satirical abattoir. Their tools are crude beyond belief: the exceedingly (though charmingly) lazy cut-out animation of South Park, the snot-nosed eagerness to test ratings-board and network standards at every opportunity, and a geopolitical philosophy that, in Team America: World Police, anyway, can be reduced to the relationship between dicks, pussies, and assholes. Yet they’re always smarter than it seems: Within even the dicks/pussies/assholes talk, there’s a coherent argument for American intervention overseas. They’re more or less libertarians, which grants them the broadest possible satirical license (and no skin in the game whatsoever), but the tone they strike is one of generalized rebellion. Parker and Stone are a little like Marlon Brando in The Wild One: When asked what he’s rebelling against, he replies “Whatta you got?”
So what have you got in 2004, when Parker and Stone made the bold/crazy decision to make a feature film populated almost entirely by marionettes? You’ve got an America that had squandered vast reserves of global sympathy after 9/11, tackled terrorism with chest-thumping unilateralism, and allowed the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay to vulgarize history with a little movie called Pearl Harbor. You’ve also got crusading celebrity peaceniks, networks of evildoers seeking weapons of mass destruction, and a ronery North Korean dictator craving attention from other nations like a petulant 10-year-old. Throw all those ingredients in the pot, and you get the lumpy stew that is Team America: World Police, a catch-as-catch-can satire in the Parker/Stone tradition—meaning it’s cutting, politically incorrect, juvenile in ways both sublime and stupid, and sometimes misguided and genuinely risible. One major plus: The songs are great enough to hold the whole shambling operation together.
The first thing that stands out about Team America is the look of the film, pilfered from the “Supermarionation” of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s mid-’60s British TV show Thunderbirds. What’s particularly striking—and what tends to go unrecognized due to the natural awkwardness of puppetry with visible strings—is how beautiful the film looks, particularly in light of the deliberate shoddiness of Parker/Stone collaborations past. The photographer, Bill Pope, was just coming off the Matrix trilogy, and through his lens, the lovingly detailed environments come off like the greatest toy playsets a child could imagine. Sets like Paris, with its lush diorama of the city in miniature, or Kim Jong Il’s palace, with its ornate monuments to the diabolical narcissist himself, are gorgeous to behold, even though Parker and Stone seem intent on blowing up every last one of them. The marionettes also allow them to do for live-action what they get away with more easily in animation: demonstrate a deeply cynical, grossly oversimplified worldview by reducing characters to the most basic stereotypes. When you’re dealing with flesh-and-blood actors, people tend to call you on stuff like that.
Say this for Team America, though: The first 30 minutes or so are virtually non-stop brilliance, connecting the country’s “America, Fuck Yeah!” heavy-handedness to the garish spectacle of a Bruckheimer production. The late director Robert Altman got in some trouble after 9/11 for blaming Hollywood’s violent exports in part for inspiring such an attack, but while that claim seems tenuous, there’s a disturbing association between the destruction we present as entertainment and the destruction we reap and sow around the world. In the early going, Team America plays out like the self-conscious movie version of the War On Terror: Whenever the conspicuous Osama bin Laden look-alikes are onscreen, we hear the mournful Middle Eastern music cues of every terrorist-themed action movie of the past decade; before an all-American hero strikes down an enemy fighter, she’s ready with a canned one-liner (“Hey, terrorist: Terrorize this!”); and no famous monument or landmark is safe from demolition.
Parker and Stone make hay out of what Robert McNamara, in The Fog Of War, talked about as the perils of a disproportional response. Instead of doing scalpel-worthy work by disrupting terrorist networks, the shock-and-awe of the American military comes down like a club. In the opening sequence in Paris, the elite unit known as Team America takes down a handful of terrorists (“You in the robe, put down the weapon of mass destruction!”), but their errant missiles also lay waste to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre. Then later, when they copter into a crowded bazaar in Egypt—where the pyramids and the Sphinx will also see damage—they land square on top of a merchant’s stand. “Fear not, Muslim friends,” they say. “We’re here to find terrorists.” And probably make a few as well.
Between the freewheeling digs at American solipsism (title card: “Paris, France; 3635 miles east of America”), the base language about why we’re at war (“They’re called terrorists, Gary, and they hate everything about you”), and inspired potshots at the musical Rent, Team America gets around to telling something resembling a story—cobbled together, of course, from bits and pieces of Bruckheimer movies past, especially Top Gun and Armageddon. The naïve hero is blue-eyed Gary, recruited from Broadway for the acting skills Team America needs to infiltrate a terrorist network. Even after meeting a crack unit of patriots—like former Nebraska all-star quarterback Joe, or Chris, “the best martial artist Detroit has to offer”—Gary is reluctant to answer the call to service. Reluctant, that is, until he wanders into this glorious montage sequence, with its stirring Darryl Worley-esque jingoism:
Not long after Gary joins forces with the rest of Team America, the air slowly starts to go out of the movie. There are still flashes of greatness scattered throughout—the songs, including a Pearl Harbor takedown and a Kim Jong Il ballad, are uniformly hilarious, and the infamous puppet-fucking montage goes to outrageous places in the unrated version—but Parker and Stone let the satire get away from them. The introduction of the Film Actors Guild (or F.A.G., har har), a group of liberal movie stars (Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, et al.) that behave like America-hating Hanoi Janes, almost completely derails the comedy. Parker and Stone pride themselves as equal-opportunity offenders, but the sudden shift from critiquing the War On Terror to attacking its attackers and hailing American muscle is confusing and schizophrenic. It’s a little like Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove pivoting halfway through its withering satire on nuclear folly, and suddenly praising the hawkish policy of deterrence through arms buildup. Put it another way: What if Kubrick and friends really did learn to stop worrying and love the bomb?
It’s possible that my finding the F.A.G. stuff brutally unfunny says more about my own critical blind spots than any failure on Parker and Stone’s part. As a left-leaning type, I’m naturally more open to broadsides on Bush terror policy than nose-thumbing at the earnest, capitulating pussies that would give aid and comfort to our enemies. Truth be told, strident right-wing satire like An American Carol or The 1/2 Hour News Hour is like a dog whistle I can’t hear, in spite of my own interest in being an equal-opportunity aesthete. Still, if you’re going to go after Michael Moore, why not try a little harder than having him scarf down hot dogs and pizza? And is there anything more childish than luxuriating over snuff shots of burned/decapitated/splattered celebrities? Satirists are all about speaking truth to power, but if there’s anything we’ve learned about the last eight years, it’s that anti-war advocates had no power whatsoever. And celebrities even less: In terms of ready-made punch lines, Hollywood types are right up there with San Francisco and the French, and there’s no equivalence between the abuses of American power and the tyranny of hybrid-car promoters. Nevertheless, Parker and Stone finally get around to articulating a philosophy, as profanely as possible, of course:
To sum up: Parker and Stone are making their best argument for the necessity of American ass-kickery overseas, because there are no other dicks around to do the necessary job of taking out assholes. Getting to that point involves an about-face from the beginning, and the film winds up forfeiting the brilliant conceit of a Bruckheimer-ized War On Terror in order to detail a confusing, feckless alliance between Kim Jong Il and the Hollywood elite. Parker and Stone relish their roles as outsiders and iconoclasts—hence their Groucho-like “Whatever it is, I’m against it” leanings—but not all targets are created equal, and the second half of Team America is pretty weak sauce. (Even then, there are scattered laughs, like a projectile-vomit gag that keeps going and going, or an ’80s-style montage in which Gary the actor becomes Gary the soldier.) Like many Parker/Stone ventures, it’s a fitfully inspired mess, equal parts sophisticated and crass, and it runs out of ideas long before the calamitous finale. Still, if future generations want to trace the deep fault-lines of American culture circa 2004, they’d be hard-pressed to find anything more wide-ranging, hilarious, contradictory, and relevant.

शनिवार, 20 जून 2009 | posted in | 0 comments [ More ]

Indian Animation

India's animation sector is witnessing a major boom। Overseas entertainment giants like Walt Disney, Imax and Sony are increasingly outsourcing cartoon characters and special effects to India.

Other companies are outsourcing animation from India for commercials and computer games.
But the sector still suffers from a lot of challenges and problems. So what will it take to make India a true global animation powerhouse?
In this special series, we take a look at what makes India shine in the world of animation and what ails it.
India's animation industry is seeing an unprecedented boom time, but the sector is also facing several challenges these days.
In the last few years, India has emerged as a global powerhouse in technology development. But experts say that unlike animators in countries like China, South Korea or the Philippines, Indian animators have not been exposed to animation films.
"It is a relatively new industry. Not much animated stuff is locally available in India. The only experience most animators have are from commercials and special effects fields," points out Abraham Ninan, an animation consultant working in Bangalore.
Experts like Ninan say there is also image that Indian studios have a hard time in delivering quality and schedules effectively.
Agrees Toonz CEO P Jayakumar: "There is lack of awareness about the industry and absence of substantial venture capital inflow. There is also need for a proper animation training in the country."
Another major problem is lack of government support and financing.
The Central government and every state government in the country have come out with liberal policies aimed at helping software companies. But no such governmental policy or programme exists for animation companies.
Access to venture capital funding, deft or equity financing for animation firms are preventing the industry from gaining stakes in co-production or bringing more work into the country.
India also does not have any international co-production agreements. The animation industry has been lobbying for this and, to enhance the industry's global profile, a group of Indian animation houses have banded together to form the Animation Production Association of India.
The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), which conducted an elaborate study on the animation industry in the country last year, came out with a series of recommendations to position the Indian animation studios to global excellence.
Some of these recommendations are:

  • Set up animation parks on the lines of the software technology parks.
  • Increase the level of interest of audiences in the domestic market in animation.
  • Enter into co-production tie-ups with countries such as Canada to develop animation content, and arrangements with producers/studios in the US.
  • Increase the range of applications for animation such as documentaries, etc.
  • Develop a national brand identification in animation.
  • Strengthen the interface between local studios and producers.
  • Have a representation in major international animation markets and festivals.
  • Create assured off take of locally produced original animation productions by domestic broadcasters.
  • Provide relevant funding and infrastructure for animation product development.
  • Take a series of strategic initiatives to build a body of manpower talent to fuel the growth of this market.

Nasscom says that to make Indian animation industry world class, there is a need to develop and strengthen the supply base of animation production studios by importing hardware and software equipment.
To achieve this, Nasscom has asked the government to make import of hardware and software required by a studio, free of custom duty.
Collective bargaining with overseas IT equipment vendors to get the best possible prices and providing Indian IT companies with incentives to undertake product development effort in animation software are the other important suggestions from Nasscom.
Ninan advocates that one of the major areas is granting industry status to the animation sector to enable it to gain access to funding from banks and financial institutions.
Experts say there is also a need to set up more training institutes that focus on animation.
"We need to increase the demand for animation as a career option for our students. Now everyone wants to become a software engineer. We should inculcate in students similar interest to become animators," says Madhu Jayaraj, an animator working in Trendz Studio, a Bangalore-based small-time animation firm.
"Let us hope that in the days to come, India will have animation parks, along the lines of software technology parks, that provide us all the infrastructure facilities to become a global player in this field," Jayaraj added.

Source: Rediff

Submitted by Sudhir Deshmukh

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Making of Zoozoo: The new brand 'endorser' for Vodafone

Zoozoo: The new brand 'endorser' for Vodafone

Devina Joshi | afaqs! |

Some find them akin to aliens; others insist they are animated cartoon characters, while a third bunch doesn’t quite know what to make of it. Nevertheless, we have all been privy to these white, scrawny creatures with giant heads as they invade our TV screens during an IPL match.

In 2008, Vodafone had unveiled the ‘Happy to Help’ series during the first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). With the launch of the second season, Vodafone has given birth to the Zoozoo: a special character created specifically to convey a value added service (VAS) offering in each of the newly released commercials.

What’s interesting is that there are some 25 such commercials planned under this campaign, 10 of which are already on air. The aim is to release approximately one ad a day, to sustain interest till the end of the IPL.

So what’s with so many?

It’s no mean feat to unleash so many commercials at a go, with the risk of consumers not grasping them as fast as the brand churns them out.

Explains Harit Nagpal, chief marketing officer, Vodafone India, “We’re acquiring customers at a very fast pace, but a large number of them are unaware of the range of services we offer. I mean, ‘phone backup’, which we’re advertising now, was launched two years ago, for instance!”

Media spends and visibility for brands peak during the IPL, so Vodafone obviously wanted a piece of the pie. Further, Nagpal explains, the brand was in need of an idea that would work doubly hard, as it was planning to spend some four months’ worth of marketing monies in one month. “So, we chose not to do just one or two ads, or viewers would get bored quickly, watching them over and over on the IPL,” says Nagpal.

Six months ago, Vodafone briefed its agency, Ogilvy India, to create uncommon characters – a common thread to link the ads in the campaign together. Rajiv Rao, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India, tells afaqs! that the only starting point for the team was that the character had to be simple to a stupefying level. And thus, the Zoozoo was born.

You egghead!

Ogilvy experimented with several characters and finally took its love for the term ‘egghead’ one step too far, creating characters that don the colour white (with black dots for eyes and a mouth), have heads resembling eggs, and disproportionately thin bodies.

The idea is to tell the VAS stories in a world akin to, yet different, from humans. The creatures were then given a characterisation: they are to lead simple lives, speak a language of their own (something that sounds like gibberish), move in a certain way, and even emote like human beings, with big frowns or big grins to do the trick. The execution is almost like emoticons. “We even limited the number of emotions to be used, to keep things easy,” says Rao.

A completely Indian concept, Rao lent these characters a name: the Zoozoos. There’s no science to it, he explains – the name just had to be something fun, memorable and catchy, and not a clever one that’s difficult to pronounce.

Ironically, nowhere in the communication does the Zoozoo name pop up, but Rao doesn’t feel that’s much of a problem: it wasn’t a task to popularise the name in the first place.

Currently, some10 films are on air, for service offerings such as Each film, shot against a Grey backdrop, has these characters interacting with one another (some storylines even have Zoozoo families) with the product story weaved in.

For instance, the Phone Backup ad (the first in the series) has several Zoozoos lined up to have their faces photocopied through a photocopier, while a tetris towards the end (the messenger in all the ads) announces how Vodafone allows for creating a phonebook backup.

Making of the Zoozoo

No, they aren’t animated characters. They are human beings who were made to wear body suits. “The design of the characters is such that one gets fooled into thinking it is animation,” shrugs Rao, which was indeed the very illusion that had to be created. “In a sense, it is ‘live’ animation!” he quips, referring to the fact that it was all shot live.

Prakash Varma, ad filmmaker, Nirvana Films, has directed the commercials, and reveals that the Zoozoos were a big challenge to create. The practical aspects of how they will move, talk, gesticulate and emote were very important. Essentially, costume design and artwork were crucial elements.

“It took me three weeks of pre-production to understand how it will work,” says Varma. There were two fabrics that were considered for the body suits, and one was rejected for it had too many wrinkles and was shiny. The wrinkles would have shown when the characters moved, thereby shattering the illusion of animation. “So we chose the more practical, thicker fabric,” Varma explains.

The production team divided the outfit into two parts: the body and the head. The body part of the outfit was stuffed with foam in some places, while the head was attached separately. To make it look bigger than a human head, a harder material called Perspex was used, which in turn was stuffed with foam (with scope for ventilation).

If one wishes to understand the size of this head, here’s a fact: a human head would typically reach up to the mouth level of this giant Zoozoo head. “We kept the hands and legs thin, which is why we cast women – and occasionally children – wearing the costumes,” says Varma. The thin limbs, contrasted with big bellies and a bulbous head, all add to the illusion that these creatures are ‘smaller’ than humans. Sets were created to suit the size of the Zoozoos.

Cinematically, this ‘size’ was a trick: the creatures look smaller than they actually are on screen, to portray a different world of sorts. For this, the speed of shooting was altered: Nirvana shot it in a high-speed format to make them look the size that they do.

Furthermore, simple sets/backdrops were created and spray painted with neutral Greys – a colour of choice so that attention isn’t diverted from the main characters. For a supposedly ‘outdoor’ shot, even the shadow of a Zoozoo was kept ‘live’ and not done in post production: it was painted in a darker shade of grey on the ground. An even lighting was maintained throughout.

There was virtually no post production work done.

The films were shot by Nirvana in Cape Town, South Africa, with the help of a local production house there, called Platypus. Incidentally, the same combination of people also worked on the ‘Happy to Help’ series last year. When asked whether Cape Town is fast becoming a tourist spot for Vodafone and Nirvana, Varma laughs, saying, “Oh no! It’s just that we are very comfortable with the team there and know what sort of work to expect from them.”

Nagpal adds here that the production cost had to be minimal for unveiling such a large number of commercials. “Otherwise, our production costs would exceed media spends,” he quips.

Zoozoos: storming the digital world

In the digital space, Zoozoos are currently featured on a specially created microsite– here, one can partake in quizzes and contests, including the ‘What kind of Zoozoo are you?’ quiz. Each Zoozoo has a unique set of characteristics and traits allotted to it. The microsite also allows for goodies to be downloaded (including wallpapers, screensavers and ringtones), and offers details on the IPL. With a specially created YouTube channel on the site, the TVCs are provided there for people to watch and share.

Apart from the microsite, a Zoozoo fan page has been created of Facebook which has more than 5,600 members. Fans have access to special tag-me images, Zoozoo sounds (such as Zoozoo laughter and music tracks) and ad previews. People are also following Zoozoos on Twitter and get updates whenever new commercials go on air.

Zoozoo ads are fast becoming popular on YouTube, and on certain days, claims Nagpal of Vodafone, some of the videos even managed to figure among the most watched lot on the site.

The team behind the Vodafone-Zoozoo work includes Rao, along with Kiran Anthony, Elizabeth Dias, Rajesh Mani, Mehul Patil, Kumar Subramaniam, Kapil Arora, Debaleena Ghosh and Desmond Fernandes.

Zo, what do zoo think?

Zoozoos clearly seem to be a favourite amongst the ad fraternity. From the name ‘Zoozoo’ to the painted eyes and mouth, Brijesh Jacob, managing partner, White Canvas, says he has not seen anything like it. “They have a certain madness to them, which makes them likeable and memorable,” he says.

In the past, too, Orange and then Hutch (the earlier avatars of Vodafone in India) had made use of characters – an animated boy-girl duo – to whip up its VAS offerings before consumers. But those characters were limited by their definition, unlike the Zoozoos, where an entire world of such characters has been etched. “Zoozoos come in all shapes and sizes; kids, mother, friends, individuals…there does not seem to be a set format to use them,” Jacob adds, which makes the possibilities endless.

Satbir Singh, chief creative officer, Euro RSCG, shares his own Zoozoo story: “Every time the commercial gets over, my two-year old son Angad hands me the remote and demands to watch it again. The other day, a waiter at a club mixed up my order as he was too busy watching the ad during IPL!” That pretty much sums up the ‘Zooperb’ impact, as he puts it.

While many would say that Zoozoos are cute, not all are in accord with this new being. Mythili Chandrasekar, senior vice-president and executive planning director, JWT India, says, “I think Vodafone has made delightful stories in the past with humans as well. Maybe I’m too old, so I didn’t particularly like the Zoozoos personally.”

She attributes it to her personal dislike of the sci-fi type genre of communication, or the creation of something abstract that doesn’t exist.

Some feel that the Zoozoos could well become a part of the brand story, instead of just being used for this VAS oriented campaign. But this comes with a warning tag: one has to be careful about letting the Zoozoos become bigger than the brand or the message. “Vodafone shouldn’t get stuck with a format,” says Jacob of White Canvas. “They did suffer this to a certain extent with the pug.”

Submitted by Madhur Joshi

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Little Krishna

Little Krishna’, the maiden high-end 3D animated TV Series from BIG Animation, a Reliance Big Entertainment Group Company, is all set to take the center stage after its launch on Nickelodeon on 11th May, 2009. The 13-episode series is a co-creation between BIG Animation and The Indian Heritage Foundation (promoted by ISKCON Bangalore). The show boasts of world class & never-seen-before quality of animation on Indian TV screens. Little Krishna debuts on Monday, May 11th exclusively on NICK, India’s leading kid’s entertainment channel. Since the content can be enjoyed by one and all in the family, the series will be aired at four time slots – 12:30 pm and 6:30 pm, for the kids; 3:00 pm for the housewives and 9:30 pm for the working members of the family. Each episode delivers 23 minutes of enthralling entertainment, showcasing an amalgamation of both, the lighter humorous antics of Krishna as well as his prowess as a warrior. Using the traditional tales of Krishna’s childhood adventures as a foundation for morally inspiring children’s entertainment, the tonality of the stories is light-hearted, energetic and gripping.
Based on the chronicles of the most beloved prankster Little Krishna, the series is an outcome of seven years of research with two and half years of production work by BIG Animation. Scripted by Emmy Award winner Jeffrey Scott and researched by India Heritage Foundation, the series has a visual style, which combines Indian design motifs with classical Western styles. BIG Animation CEO Ashish Kulkarni shared, “The design team at BIG Animation has left no stone unturned in researching every style aspect of the land of ‘Vraj’, where these stories took place 5000 years ago. The backgrounds, art direction, color keys and all other elements of detailing were thoroughly researched upon, unearthing every possible reference and finally deciding on the designs that will suit the contemporary formats.” The series has been primarily created in English, but it has also been dubbed in several other Indian languages, including Hindi. Though it is primarily targeted at the age group of 7-9 years and for the global market at that, on the whole the series will be a family entertainer. Under the able leadership of Prafull Gade (Associate Producer), who diligently married economics with creativity and Ravi Mahapatro (Line Producer) who was responsible for managing the day-to-day operations, the series was scripted by Emmy Award ® winner Jeffrey Scott. A team of 280 artists have worked on this project which is being directed by the tag team of Vincent Edwards who has earlier worked on Spider Man: TV Series and R. Balasubramaniam while the music has been given by Varaprasad. The series will explore a lot of very interesting stories beyond the popularly known ones from the life of Krishna, ones that have never before been presented to the audience, thus ensuring a truly superior and exclusive content.
One of the leading and fastest growing animation studios in India, BIG Animation has established and tested pipelines for Design & Pre-production, 2D, 3D and Post-Production. With one of the finest IT backend setup, running on AMD Opteron 64 Bit Quad Core Processors and Foundry Big Iron RX laying the bedrock for its network, the studio boasts of infrastructure, technology and creativity that matches Global standards of deliveries. With the right blend of expertise in traditional as well as modern technical skills and exceptional artistic and managerial abilities, the studio is creating the next-generation animation, from ‘ideation-to-script’, and ‘script-to screen’, all under one roof.

Source: CG India.
Posted by Anuradha.

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