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The Proliferation of CG

Since around 2005, CG animation has proliferated in the movie and TV industry. While this created many awesome sci-fi/fantasy movies and TV series since then, it also opened the door to many mediocre movies and TV series. With the hardware/software finally becoming accessible to so many, low-talent/low-budget companies tried to profit from colorful, eye-catching animated works for children without employing true creative artists to write, animate, and direct the works - and trying to rush out the works in unreasonable timeframes. While I tried to view and rank all CG-based movies and TV series at one point, I had to give up around 2010, since there were so many inferior works being released due to the reasons listed above. But, I still consider that this catalog is "fairly comprehensive" relative to CG works, since it includes all "significant" works that I consider had relevant critical and public appeal.

Quality of Animated Works

The following chart compares expected quality levels across various mediums:

Medium Duration (minutes) Budget Timeframe (months) Animation Quality Writing Depth
Feature Movie 80 - 120 large 36 - 48 high good
Non-Feature Movie 80 - 90 medium 12 - 24 medium average
TV Series Episode 30 - 60 medium 0.5 medium great
Short 2 - 10 small 12 - 60 medium average
Cinematic 1 - 5 medium 9 - 18 high weak
Commercial 0.5 - 1 medium 6 - 9 high weak

While there are many exceptions to the rules (e.g., low-quality blockbuster movies, high-quality low-budget indie shorts), it mostly holds true that the longer the duration of the piece, the larger the budget, and the higher the quality. However, a relatively good size budget is often provided for a video game cinematic or a commercial to obtain high quality for a relatively short duration. Even so, while the animation and action/comedy may be high quality for a cinematic or commercial, the overall work is normally not of the quality of a feature movie, since the characters and story can not be well developed within the limited duration. Also, while each episode of an animated TV series is not of the quality of a feature movie, the series as a whole spans many hours of duration and allows for much better development of the characters and story.

The reason why bigger budgets and longer production timeframes typically translate to higher quality is that the bigger budgets give better access to top talent across all disciplines (writing, animation, music, voice actors, pre-production planning, etc.) and to state-of-the-art computing power that renders more elaborate animations, while longer timeframes allow implementation of innovative techniques (to visually outdo previous productions) and iterative refinements of the work.

Making a Good Short

I have seen hundreds of shorts, and have found that the most common flaws relate to "good animation with weak writing" and "weak animation with good writing." It is such a shame to see great designs/animation or great concepts/writing largely go to waste due to the other aspect being so weak. I believe this typically happens with one of the following situations:

  • Talented animation students create their own work yet have very limited writing talent (especially comedic writing)
  • Creative writers venture into animation with limited animation talent
  • Talented designers create beautiful environments (and vehicles) with limited character animation talent

Since it is no surprise that the best works often come from shops where great animators collaborate with great writers (each artist focusing on their own skill), I recommend an artist to focus on their best talent (e.g., animation) and to collaborate with other talented artists (e.g., writer, designer, music composer) to complete their vision. As a director, the project can be focused on their vision while gaining value from others that know certain areas better than they do.

The Indie Coming of Age

I am in awe with how today the independent artist ("indie") has the tools and the skills to create amazing shorts that can rival the top animation shops ... consider that at least 75% of my absolute favorite shorts are indie works! The ever-increasing affordable/powerful hardware and software have put high quality production tools in the hands of the consumer, and the ever-increasing collaborative nature of the internet has helped eager newbies learn the ropes :)

But, there clearly is some cut-off point when the average indie did not have the tools or skills to produce quality work anywhere near the level of the top animation shops. Having reviewed so many works over the years, I would say that 2005 was a pivotal release year for the indie when their work finally came of age. While there was some good indie work released before then, it was really not until 2005 that the overall quality of indie work really started shining. With indie works taking from one to five years or so to create, this would suggest that the tools and skills were being developed between 2000 and 2004.

When looking at indie work before 2005, one may consider that they were at least 10 years behind the top animation shops, and thus, the indie work would appear much cruder. This is especially true, since the corresponding early 1990's were still developmental years for computer animation. However, the reality is that the time, effort, and attention to detail that top animation shops (and animators) put into their works in the developmental years was far greater than what the average indie artist put into their developmental years. I have seen enough works to get the impression that most early indie artists were just excited to play with a new toy, instead of putting on an entertaining show - this was evident with the little attention to detail that was put in the character walk cycles and many of the other key parts of the animation. Because of this, most of these indie works will not survive the test of time, since dated animation designs (and technology) can only be saved by great animation artistry.

Since this makes it harder for me to appreciate most dated indie animation, my catalog excludes most indie shorts that I consider Weak and were released before 2005.

Maintaining a Short Video Collection

In addition to my physical disc collection, I also maintain a collection of short videos to watch at home on my HD TV, in addition to watching on my iPad and iPhone when not at home. These videos do not include full-length movies or TV series episodes, but instead include shorter-length works like animation shorts, video game cinematics, animation commercials, funny videos, home movies, music videos, and trailers (or cool select scenes) from movies and TV series.

The sources for the videos are BD / DVD's with compilations of short works, the iTunes store, and various legitimate websites. I then go through a process to standardize the formats and sync them to my devices with iTunes.

There are various pieces to this puzzle for me:

  • Hardware
    • HD TV and Blu-ray/Network Media Player: This is the best way to watch video content!
    • Media Server: This is a big file server with all my ripped discs and stored video files.
    • iMac: This is my main computer (including where I manage all my collections), and has a nice integrated HD monitor for watching videos up close and personal.
    • iPad: This is a nice device for viewing videos on the go, since it has a relatively large display that is light and easily portable, good video processing power, and a good battery life. However, the limited capacity (it can't even hold all the music on my iPod Classic 160GB) and limited HD screen (1028x768 vs. 1920x1200) do not make it an ideal device.
    • iPhone: This has a nice crisp screen for casually watching videos in situations where the iPad is not available.
  • Software
    • MakeMKV: This app can rip almost any BD or DVD you own onto your harddrive into a free and patents-unencumbered format that can be played everywhere. I use it to rip short videos onto my iMac drive from the discs that I own.
    • HandBrake: This free app is highly acclaimed for being extremely powerful and fast with impressive compression while maintaining excellent quality. I use it to convert many non-standard videos to a standardized .mp4 format.
    • iTunes/QuickTime: These core apps provide good video management features on the iMac. I use QuickTime to play my .mp4 and QuickTime video files, and I use iTunes to sync all of my video content to my iPad and iPhone devices.
    • MPlayerX: This free player makes up for QuickTime's limitations, since it can play pretty much any video format (with maximum quality). Specifically, I use it to play my .mkv video files.

Here is how I process videos:

  • Ripping: If the video is on a BD / DVD, then I first rip it onto the iMac using MakeMKV. If the video is clearly isolated as its own title, then I only have to rip that portion (manually identified by the time of the title). However, if it is integrated into a bigger title (e.g., a scene from a movie), then I must rip the whole disk first.
  • Converting: If at this point, the video is not a good standard file format, then I use HandBrake to convert it to the .mp4 container format with the H.264 video codec. If I had to rip the whole disk in the previous step, then I make sure to select the applicable chapter in HandBrake (and maybe follow that with a scene trim).
  • Tagging: When possible (e.g., .mp4 files), I edit the video's tags using iTunes' excellent editor. I first assign all videos as Media Kind = "Movie" - this includes overwriting this field for music videos and TV series episodes (when I extract clips from them). I then assign the Genre field to my video categories (e.g., "CG Cinematics", "CG Commercials", "CG Scenes", "CG Shorts", "Funny Videos", "Home Movies", and "Music Videos") and the Artwork field to a 400x300 image that I collect to represent a video. For animation videos, I also assign the Artist field to the author and the Year field to the release year.
  • Syncing: I came up with a methodology to sync the desired videos to my iPad and iPhone. First, for videos that I want to include on a device that are not playable on that device, I create another video file converted from the file in iTunes to the proper specs, append a special portable version identifier to the video name, and drop it into iTunes. Then, for each video desired on a device, I edit the Comments field with "[include on iPad]" and/or "[include on iPhone]". Finally, each device will only sync to its applicable special Smart Playlist ("For iPad" or "For iPhone") that I created under my "Short Videos" playlist folder. These special Smart Playlists include videos whose Comments meet the device criteria.

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