This week on #WebSeriesWednesday I watched the animated space comedy ‘Wonders of the Universe’ created by a group of Newgrounds flash animators called ‘The Toonwerks.’ This series is a great example of the challenges of creating large projects at a high quality in a reasonable time. Also check out how these guys have earned millions of view on their youtube channel.
So first things first – ‘Wonders of the Universe’ looks amazing. Seriously go look. This is top notch animation, as good as you will see anywhere.
Take a look at the detail present in each sequence of this show. There are a dozen or more characters interacting in an environment that is often zero-gravity (everything floats!). Camera angles are cinematic and dynamic (the camera is on the floor! Wait! There is no floor! WAIT! THERE IS NO CAMERA EITHER!). Locations span the known universe (literally). Each episode has that hand crafted feel to it (because it is).
This level of detail takes a lot of time – two or more months to produce a little more than a ten minute episode. When I asked the creators what they would like to improve about the show, the answer was a resounding ‘we want to make them faster.’
The team already includes several people and they are looking to add another full time animator. This goes back to the classic web creators challenge I have mentioned in several articles before. As you increase the scope (quality) of your project you have to either take more time or spend more money to accomplish it.
As web creators we typically have no money, and a major key towards creating a following on youtube and creating successful shows is through consistent updates. This is why the most successful channels on youtube are essentially vlogs.
One way the group at Toonwerks has addressed the downtime is by uploading really simple videos that their fans might enjoy. These videos are things like short animated movies and audio commentaries over videogames.
These videos give fans more content to view, keep people checking back on the channel and maybe most importantly they give off personality. Allowing fans to get to know you and like you is a key element for virtually every successful entertainment personality.
Probably the biggest take away from Wonders of the Universe is their notable community engagement. During my viewing of the series I noticed a lot of different people involved with the project. All of these people were from Newgrounds, where the creators of Toonwerks have shared and honed their craft over the years.
Working together with that community and sharing content back and forth has lead a lot of people to invest themselves in these projects. They were there before the project was conceived, they took part in its creation and they shared the finished products together. Sure this took time to grow but this is the fruit of online (and offline) social interaction during the creative process – millions of views, thousands of subscribers and pages of comments.
If there is one lesson to take away from every web series out there it should be the depth and breadth of community involvement in each one. The successful ones that find an audience most likely do so because they sought out and engaged a group of people online. So start finding your communities right now.
One other topic that came up in discussion was the creators desire to write better characters. I started thinking about this and realized that a lot of online comedies – and animations seems particularly at risk – seem to come up short in the character department.
Wonders of the Universe is as guilty of this as anyone, and I think the issue comes down to time constraints. When you spend hours animating sequences of a show that amount to mere seconds of screen time there is this need to make them pay off in a big way. These shows typically go from one joke right to the next and don’t dig much further than basic plot.
Animators and comedy writers should take a little time to define their characters – their desires, their fears and their idiosyncrasies. Everything should have an origin story. It doesn’t have to be given in the show itself, it should just exist. Once these characters are defined I believe the jokes and character moments will just start writing themselves.
Strangely, the character I found most interesting in ‘Wonders’ was a suicidal ‘cleaning robot’ obsessed with things being ‘dirty.’ It’s odd, but just a simple character trait made the machine lovable.
Overall ‘Wonders of the Universe’ is a beautiful, funny bone tickling cartoon with a series of amazing 2001: A Space Odyssey (and other scifi classics) spoofs. It was at its best when it risked being too dark – which ended up better contrasting with the light moments. Check it out! And if you are a flash animator looking for a project to work on hit them up!