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only genius is genius
( the many )
by chris romano
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I know I'm not surprising anyone when I point to how computers are helping people "do more." Let's just take creating media for example. Some years ago I self-published my first paperback...'did the whole thing on a PowerBook, saved it on one of those clunky 44MB Syquest disks, and sent it off to a vanity press. A few months later a truck pulled up and BOOM, I had real books taking up space in my parents' garage. This year, I produced a 24-minute, full CGI cartoon...from writing to animating to output on mini-DV, I created the whole cartoon with two computers (a G4 and a PC) and a Sony Walkman mini-DV deck, all in my spare bedroom.

This is just the type of thing Bart Cheever, with his D.Film Digital Film Festival , is looking to creation technology in the hands of the people. There's a good amount of information at his site to help anyone get going, and Bart screens tons of material for his rotating festival. He even quotes some famous old French guy who once said, basically, film wouldn't be a true art form until the common man has full access to the tools of production. (It's too bad the French guy had to use the "a" word.)

In an interview with D.Film, back in 1997 or so, I went on a bit of a tirade. Full of myself, I proclaimed the advent and accessibility of film creating technologies would NOT bring on a new age of creative expression, but would, instead, open the floodgates for mediocrity. I used cable access, homemade porn videos, and thousands of cat-centric personal web pages as my oracle.

Three years later, with a smarmy grin, I now confidently proclaim myself correct in my guesses, and I owe the major part of pabulum's onset to Macromedia's Flash. How many millions of plug-in downloads do they now boast? Each is an open wound within your browser, just begging for infection.

Internet sites hoping to mature into next generation's animation studios are popping up like mushrooms. A year or so ago, "everyone" was submitting material to ifilm to where it quickly became a dumping ground for anything resembling a movie. The sheer volume of current material prevents me from giving any of it a chance. It completely destroys my will, in fact. I still only have a 56K modem...I can't afford to waste my time with the daunting task of finding diamonds in the rough. The odds are not in my favor.

In reaction to all that haphazard material, smaller web sites have started featuring "original content"...the golden goose of Internetdom. This, too, isn't news to anyone. But I wonder if we, as the audience, are taking the time to really appreciate the never before seen volume of banality that has lowered itself upon us. It's sort of like the plague, only boring. Never before in the history of humanity have so many people had access to so much irrelevant stuff (I don't have any stats to back this up, but I think it's a pretty safe bet).

I lifted the June 2000 issue of ANIMATION MAGAZINE from a co-worker, and I was mildly shocked. Almost every page features some kind of advertisement for an up and coming animation studio dotcom hungry to hire Flash animators for "webisodes."

Do people really, anxiously watch webisodes? Do any of you? Be honest. To this day, I haven't been able to get past the first episode of Whirlgirl...(ha!) but maybe that's a bad example. I mean, why sit and wait for a lame story, bad sound, and even worse visuals to drip through the phone line one pixel at a time when I can lie on the couch in front of the TV, right now, and watch reruns of Three's Company?!?

Here's another related tangent. Of all the prime time animated shows on television, South Park is easily the most influential to Flash cartoons. With it's low-end animation, simple graphics, and snappy dialog, South Park IS Flash animation (just done in Maya). And it's what the bulk of Flash animators hope to emulate.

Web animation is technology looking for an idea. It's cheap, available to millions, and easy enough to learn (and still primitive enough so the poor level of animation isn't ever an issue). So, with the vehicle built, we're all just looking for a place to go. The question is, with the hundreds upon thousands of Sunday animators out there toiling away at their independent creations, why hasn't "anything good" come to the surface? Heck, I'll settle for "the next South Park," right about now. But where are the geniuses? Where are the brilliant, undiscovered talents? Where's that content creator who's going to knock my socks off? (And if he's out there and listening, god forbid he sell his soul to!)

What has the Internet delivered over the last year on any type of entertainment level? There was Mahir's Turkish "I like sex" page (which doesn't count since it's not animation), the SuperFriends Quicktime...that was pretty funny, albeit appropriated...and before that there was the first episode of Radiskull and Devil Doll. (Stuffing gerbils in microwave ovens and other appliances at JoeCartoon does nothing for me, by the way.)

I know there's probably other "good stuff," but not a whole lot more. I'm drawing kind of a blank, and instead shorts like's Romanov come to insufferable piece that is much more endured than enjoyed. Clumsy imagery that--after the extended opening credits--tell the slow, non-twisting story of a Russian painter being punished for straying from the party line. And as if to flog the horse to make sure it's truly dead, they go so far as to actually show the ball and chain on poor Romanov's ankle. It's funny how after plodding through such uninspired average-ism I ultimately feel like I'm the one being punished.

Oh, where's Chrissy Snow when we need her?

The old saying goes, 99% of everything is garbage. And for hundreds of years, that held true. There'd be a bunch of bad stuff...books, music, movies, food, tv, fashion, games...and in that assortment of worthlessness, some cool stuff would rise to the surface. But with the help of the Internet we've actually managed to raise the bar. And we've raised it a lot higher! The fact of the matter is, though technology is allowing everyone to do more, it's not necessarily making any of us better at it. We're just more obvious.

I scribbled to Bart a few days ago, "Tools don't create genius. Only genius creates genius." And right now I think Macromedia's Flash is the tool of the moment, hoodwinking our youth into misdirected creation. Sure, it delivers vector graphics somewhat economically from point A to point B (until the file size creeps over 300K), but one of the main ingredients of animation is "a story" and there ain't no option for that among the pull-down menus!

That's the irony in all of this...

I don't care how much that Pentium-whatever set you back because even at a trillion calculations a milli-second, Microsoft Word isn't making you a better writer. Shakespeare used a peacock feather dipped in berry juice. Hanna and Barbera probably used typewriters...and if nothing else, Internet cartoons have me pining for the good ol' days of Tom and Jerry or Wile E. Coyote.

So instead of pulling out a pen and paper for practice...and maybe reading a few good books to get a feel for pacing or style or whatever...the lot of us (myself included) are scraping the bottom of the barrel with poop jokes, dead house pets, and parodies of lame parodies...and if we shoved all these bad homemade cartoons in one of JoeCartoon's blenders and clicked liquefy, we wouldn't even have enough talent-juice to fill up Tom's milk bowl.

Bart hasn't come right out and said it, but I get the feeling that while the number of submissions to D.Film grows and grows, the process of finding quality material to fill 90 festival minutes isn't getting any easier. Quality material just isn't growing at the same rate, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. On our global "to do" list, we need to put "learn how to write" at the very top. And as another friend said, "It doesn't have to be funny, but if I'm going to spend the time to download something, I should at least be entertained."

The absolute worst part of all this (and there is a worst part), is that with every failure...with every sophomoric, self-indulgent, misogynistic, vulgar, poorly written, animal-injuring, Russian constructivist, slow-moving, uninspired, banal, band-width waster of a webisode, we're all making Trey Parker look that much more friggin brilliant! And that, in itself, is a crime.

Copyright © 2000 Christopher Dante Romano. All Rights Reserved

Christopher Dante Romano is a Los Angeles painter-turned-animator, creating visual effects for bad movies and producing his own independent shorts. Recently, he released the 24 minute, DREAMBOY AND THE CLAM, an animated cartoon featuring his characters from Before that, believe it or not, he self-published DECEMBER 22...sort of 200+ page diary for self-deprecating surrealists. Romano likes cookies, and his personality type is RATIONAL MASTERMIND.

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