Tuesday, 9 April 2013

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – fan animations

Today I want to talk about a very peculiar phenomenon that has come about from the very unusual combination of two  things: a huge fandom driven by creativity and one-upmanship, and the ease with which the vectors of a flash animation can be replicated even by amateurs. At first I hesitated, wondering whether fanworks based on My Little Pony are worth writing about on an animation blog – but the plain fact is that it’s very probable that the more prominent of these animations will be seen by far, far more people and very possibly take as much skill and dedication in animation as a good chunk of the shorts that get nominated for Academy Awards. Not to mention those that are made by reputable studios but don’t get to that level of recognition.

Any given fandom of decent size will have some animation produced for it, be it crude flash parody, redrawn anime openings or some little animated gif that becomes well-known amongst the community. The Japanese are very good at this, and medium-sized fandoms like those for Maria-sama ga Miteru or Rozen Maiden will produce a whole plethora of mini-animations. Fandom-driven Vocaloid has the companies behind it (and its spin-offs) producing some very impressive things, including live concerts with the animated singers. But as with so many things, the My Little Pony fandom takes it further.

Very easy to emulate but extremely difficult to get just right, from very early on there have been imitations of MLP’s distinctive colourful style. Original animations began to proliferate, especially to accompany the fandom’s more popular songs. These were at first largely very clunky, but still won admiration – witness for example the video to ‘Rainbow Factory’, which is little more advanced than the Assassin days on Newgrounds. Standards are somewhat higher now, and one awkward video to The Living Tombstone’s ‘Luna’ remix earned a lot of derision for being inexpertly-done.

The last few weeks have seen the game stepped up much further. Being in the Sonic fandom or the Naruto fandom, you might sometimes see a clever little mini-animation or a read a long fanfic or comic. MLP has its comics and its truly absurd several-novels-in-length fanfictions. But now the fans are beginning to produce full-length episodes. There’s even a feature-length musical on the horizon called Journey of the Spark. An episode-length animation in traditional hand-drawn cels is hopefully no too far off, and Jan Animations, who can probably emulate the show’s style best of anyone right now and provided the Flash for the Bronies documentary, looks set to start a sickly sweet set of shorts based on his slightly-creepy-because-he’s-Sweetie-Belle’s-Ask-TheCrusaders-boyfriend interpretation of background pony Button.

Because the first ‘full-length fan-made episode’ has now been released, here’s a run-down of some key animations currently in the fandom, not counting the likes of Friendship is Witchcraft, Turnabout Storm, The Mentally Advanced Series or its spin-off Rainbow Dash Presents, because those largely just use footage from the show or make extensive use of still images rather than offering original animation, which is after all the focus of this blog.

Double Rainboom: the episode that inspired this blog, released on March 31st and clocking in just shy of half an hour, it was a college project done large, it professed to have 100% show-accurate animation. It falls somewhat short of this because of its character animation, too often resorting to odd flailing, strange eyeball swells that don’t work like the show’s, and rather awkward direction. While long, it also has a lot of padding, and the clunky exposition lasts five minutes or more when it really needs about one. The attempts to fit all the ‘Mane 6’ in without having voice actresses for them all gets awkward, and unfortunately, it tries to do two things when it should have done one or the other – either give us a crossover parody or attempt a believable episode of the show. Doing both, neither feel like they quite work, though the latter part in which Rainbow Dash finds herself in another Faust world is far better. Everything else should’ve been covered in seconds, really, as it is really only drawn-out and inelegant. Dragging in references to everything from Avatar to Eva gets old, too.

Snowdrop: Released on March 21 with hints of a rivalry with Double Rainboom despite ostensible mutual support, there is really little need to compare the two. Snowdrop, too short to be called a full episode, is a cute background story about a little blind Pegasus filly who transcends the expectations of her cruel classmates to deeply impress the princesses. Set over a millennia before the main series, it is not an attempt at replicating the show’s style, but rather a melancholy, saccharine alternative. It is rather turgid, slow and mopes over its two-minute plot, but it is sweet, has an original concept and must be respected for doing what it does very seriously. Ultimately, it feels like a near-miss, but a very respectable one.

PONY.MOV Series: Yes, much as its maker may pour scorn on the fandom and biting though the humour is, the .mov films, which altogether run to well over half an hour, blazed a trail for fanmade-work in this fandom and the amount of effort that ought to go into them. Where ‘Epic Pony Time’ showed that show-accurate animation and good voice acting could have a huge impact, the .mov shorts showcased alternate, grotesque, Ren and Stimpy-style imagery and adult parody. Always aloof and disdainful, creator Hotdiggedydemon must be aware of the irony that his series created catchphrases like ‘Crush. Kill. Destroy. Swag.’ that are every bit as annoying as the widely-decried ‘20% cooler’. Personally, aside from being amused by the random irreverence of APPLE.MOV, I never got on with the series. They tried too hard to be funny, but weren’t. The jokes were too obvious and given too much time. People didn’t get the Fat Albert reference until it was shoved down their throats and then it was just seen-it-all-before ultraviolence. The best thing Max was doing was his Jappleack comic on the side, and then he went for unfunny bathos when she reentered the series, and the majority of watchers will never know that there was a much cleverer, much more sincere side-story going on in tandem with the animations. But even if I didn’t enjoy them, there is no denying the impact of the .MOV shorts or the skill behind them.

Re-enacted By Ponies series: also now covering more than half an hour largely thanks to a 15-minute Lord of the Rings parody, this series tries too hard in the other direction. It tries to reference all the awkward fandom memes, so expect lots of ‘20% cooler’, ‘Fluttershy is a tree’ and ‘Scootaloo is a flightless bird’. That said, the quality of animation is constantly improving, as is the voice acting, and though chock-full of such references, I barely cringed in the Pokémon episode. The creator may yet make something brilliant – if he learns a little subtlety.

1 comment:

  1. Ren and Stimpy is definitely the influence there! Personally I definitely found the Jappleack comics better.

    The Powerpuff Girls are...more likeable. It's hard for me to see them afresh, though, so I have to say I'm not 100% sure how they come over.

    The Pokémon Rainbow Dash image is from Pokémon Re-enacted By Ponies.