Fundraising with a Lego twist
Back in August of 2011, Emma Sterling and I commenced work on our first documentary feature film project, entitled Cuttlefish Country. Funded initially by our inner circle of family and friends via generous gift donations at our wedding, we carefully considered extra measures to support us through what has became an unexpectedly long production period. Danimations is rarely known to do things conventionally, and we ultimately decided to combine our fundraising objectives with the development of a range of fun products. The rationale was simple: raise money, awareness and smiles all with some clever merchandising ideas, and a few web 2.0 tools.
After producing some project-specific designs and products, a spin-off line of products was created, inspired by our reignited passion for LEGO bricks and building. One of the production techniques we decided upon for our film as the story unfolded was to build and animate replicas of real-world places, vehicles and scenarios from Cuttlefish Country out of LEGO. This in turn inspired a range of t-shirts, apparel, badges, hats and other items derived from and inspired by vintage Lego worlds and figures.
Choosing the fundraising platform
Early in the project’s life, we had decided to crowd-source additional funds for the film, via a listing on the website Kickstarter. To register with Kickstarter, you must offer donors to your project a teared set of incentives, thankyou gifts in effect, to encourage cash pledges towards your project. This decision was ultimately postponed due to a lack of time and staff in our tiny crew, so instead we took a different tack. Having had prior experience with making custom products on Zazzle and RedBubble, we decided to create some LEGO themed products which could act as fun gifts as well as raise some money for our ongoing production. We even threw a LEGO party, and encouraged friends to bring bricks along to help us build our animated sets or buy some of our products to wear for the occasion.
Design, Customise & Deliver
Our LEGO designs began with the dolphin logo which originally appeared on vintage Lego divers back in the 1990’s. Next came designs from townsfolk’s minifig shirts and eventually some classics were released from vintage space and knights lines. You will find them all available for purchase below. If you haven’t shopped at Zazzle or Redbubble before, you’ll be impressed by the way you, the customer, are able to further customise these products. You can easily change the garment style and colour, or in the case of Zazzle, even add your own creative flair by adding extra text or images to the design and modifying the layout. From the maker’s perspective, these web 2.0 tools are excellent, as the service provider handles production and delivery, and simply returns a royalty back to you as the creator of the artwork. Establishing stores on these sites is free of charge, and royalties on purchases are set manually by you, the store owner.
I hope you enjoy our little selection of Lego ispired costumes, shirts and products here. If you do purchase one of our items, we’d love to see a picture of you putting it to use when it arrives. We will be hosting a gallery of our friends and fans over at our Cuttlefish Country website in the future.
When the Rundle Lantern was first illuminated back in 2008, my mind boggled at the creative possibility of producing pixel art works for public display on a giant scale. The innovative screen design, a 34 x 21 panel matrix of illuminated metal panels, wraps around the facade of a multi-storey car park at one of Adelaide’s most renown intersections, where it teases and titillates pedestrians with its silent lo-res animations and video each night. Making effective content for such a screen is no mean feat and requires a balance of technical competency, design, timing and conceptual creativity. It is also time consuming (especially for dedicated pixel animators like ourselves). Regardless of these barriers to entry, the initiatives we’ve been involved with to create new artistic content for the Lantern have gone unpaid and largely uncredited. The following is an account of our experiences producing lantern content for display during two major cultural festivals in South Australia.
During Adelaide Fringe back in 2009, Emma Sterling and I were part of the first group of artists offered the opportunity to create and display works made specifically for the lantern. No money was to grace the artists palms- the initiative instead offered artists a waiver of the ‘load-up fee’ the Adelaide City Council and contractor Fusion had worked into the screen’s initial operating business model. Seizing the opportunity, we each produced a new work, and took careful note of the council & Adelaide Fringe’s production guidelines. In order to protect the screen’s integrity as a ‘cultural canvas’, the artists were not permitted to display logos within their work.
As experienced practising artists familiar with the concept of ‘droit morale’ or the ‘moral rights of the artist’ we asked about accreditation for our unpaid productions. We were informed that there would be no accreditation offered to the artists at the site of any kind, despite the works being programmed to loop for the duration of the Adelaide Fringe Festival (which runs for over three weeks). Instead we were offered a credit buried in the bowels of the Adelaide City Council’s website. Again, there was no signage indicating the existence of this website at the Lantern site, which in our opinion rendered the gesture tokenistic and almost entirely pointless.
In light of this oversight on the initiative’s organisational part, as artists we decided to exercise our ‘droit morale’ and add our names as closing credits to our work. The notion of the Moral Rights of the Artist protects the artists right to claim authorship of the work wherever it is displayed (attribution), and with it the right to preserve the integrity of the finished art work (ie, no unauthorised modifications to the work are permitted). At the launch night to our shock and horror our rights had been flaunted on both accounts. The Lantern’s content committee (whose persons remain unknown to us) had edited our work and removed our credits without our permission. While this issue of ‘droit morale’ may cause councillors eyes to glaze over, our right as artists to sign our own works is fundamental, and has been protected by Australian law under the Copyright Act. You can learn more about Moral Rights for artists in Australia at the website of the Attorney General’s Department.
This year, we were offered an opportunity (again without payment) to produce work for the Rundle Lantern. An initiative of the South Australian Living Artists Festival (an event we have been involved with since 2006) the financial model was slightly improved for at least one member of the local artist community. The Helpmann Academy offered a paid commission to one artist recently graduated from a Helpmann Academy school. The commision offered a $2000 fee to produce a new work and lead a workshop of participants in the generation of a wave of (again unpaid) new content from other local artists.
Once again the artists’ ‘droit moral’ has been flaunted by the lantern’s custodians with credits again barred from the exhibited works. To date there is no evidence of physical signage accrediting the artists as producers of the work, despite this being promised weeks in advance. It is now the 16th of August, and the works have been showing without credit to the artists since July 31st. From the public perspective, passers by will have no idea that light displays on the lantern have been created by local artists at all, and stand no chance of being able to identify any of the creative residents responsible. SALA festival concludes on August 22nd.
When a piece of public infrastructure like the Rundle Lantern is constructed and a business model created around it, why should the content creator get the raw deal? Why is it that the contractors should command a ‘load-up fee’ for each video posted and annual maintenance fees while the best artists can hope for is an uncredited display and a free load-up? If the power of this structure as a cultural canvas is to be realised, the Adelaide City Council should look at genuine, sustainable incentives to generate content, not convenient cost-saving measures which benefit the council, break Federal Australian law and stiff the artists in the process.
The animation production and consumption communities have been steadily conditioned to ultra-slick, glistening, epic-budget animation, produced by the likes of Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Aardman and the other major studios over the past 25 years. It is important for animators as artists and craftsman in their formative years not to get hung up on emulating these ‘big box’ aesthetics. Afterall, the key to effective animation is mastering the illusion of movement, and that can be achieved without ever turning on a PC. There are countless opportunities to explore analog techniques and hybrid methods awaiting the curious animator. In fostering resourcefulness in animation (rather than resource dependency) and daring to create new styles or revive lost methods there is an exciting frontier ahead of us.
Studio animation has always been eager to hide the hands of the magician (read ‘animator’) with only a few exceptions. Animation legend Chuck Jones’ classic Warner Brothers cartoon from 1953 ‘Duck Amuck’ is a popular example of breaking the format’s conventions. In this rightly lauded short, Daffy Duck gets tangled up in a fierce argument with the animator as to where, what and why he exists. The page, the animators tools, and the true ‘God’ of the animated cartoon is revealed, with comical and extremely memorable results.
The British claymation series Morph produced back the 1970’s also combined the animator with his clay puppets in Morph’s world, without compromising on the performances of the claymation characters. Morph would often turn to his animator for advice when things weren’t working out for him, and the line between worlds of imagination and reality were beautifully blurred. In embracing the animator and his or her hands, a distinctive look and feel can be created, leading once again to much more memorable experience for the viewer.
The internet has afforded us the opportunity to share and enjoy a resurgence of alternative animation techniques, if not yet embraced by mainstream broadcasters, production houses and ‘old world’ markets’. I stumbled upon this video today, which shows a playful combination of physical and drawn animation technique. Have a think about which animated films and cartoons have stuck with you and why- if you’re anything like me it’ll be the animators who took risks and broke new ground that left a lasting impact.