When I was a kid I had a big goal in life: I wanted to become a pro hockey player. (Hey, I'm Canadian.) Eventually, as a teen-ager, I realized that that wasn't going to happen. I changed my focus to one of my other favorite things, and decided I wanted to work in the movies. I wanted to make important films that changed peoples lives. I graduated from high school and with that high ideal, I enrolled in the film program at my local college. There, I discovered post-production sound work. I found the path that I wanted to take.
I'm quite a few years down that road, and I still really enjoy working in the audio-post world, but my original dream of working on important projects got lost somewhere along the way. Most of the projects I work on are animated series that, at first glance, appear to be great little escapes for viewers - science fiction adventures in space, comedies aimed at stoner teenagers, educational programs for pre-schoolers etc. Most of these shows are great fun to watch, but the reality is that almost all of these shows are essentially ads for the toys they are promoting. There's big money in TV animation, but it's made at the checkout lines in the malls, off of the sales of action figures, books, games and anything else that a logo can be stamped on.
I realize this is nothing new; in my prime cartoon-watching years in the 80s, I was a huge fan of Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man. Now I know that these shows were all just 30 minute loss-leaders that got me to pester my mother into getting me Optimus Prime for Christmas. And it worked.
In every Toys 'R’ Us store there is a sign at the end of each aisle letting shoppers know which toys can be found down each canyon of products. I remember one visit when I found an aisle where every toy in the whole aisle was from a show I had cut sound effects work for. One side was all Bakugan toys and the other side was filled with Digata Defenders paraphernalia.
When I first saw that sign, I must admit I was filled with a strange sense of pride. Even though I really had nothing to do with the toys on display I suddenly felt part of something bigger. I spent my days alone in a dark room making my little noises but suddenly it seemed like I was a part of a big project, one that kids were crazy about - just like I was about He-Man. As time went on, Bakugan became a huge hit. Billboards popped up around the city and toy sales went through the roof.
The show kept getting picked up for renewal season after season. In fact I just recently finished working on the 189th episode! It's been great to be able to drop the name of a show that has actually been seen by people (by 'people' I mean boys aged 8-12) when asked what I do for a living. All my friends' kids thought I was super cool.
I've kept believing that there is something to be gained from working on something that may not be a big commercial success but actually has a point to it beyond making money. This is why I am so happy to now see a promotional push happening behind a smaller project I worked on last spring. I have already put up a few posts on this blog about my experience working on "One Millionth Tower" for the National Film Board of Canada (Please read here for details on the project) but this week a new wrinkle for the project appeared. Suddenly there are ads for the project all over the subway system in Toronto.
I've seen wall-mounted billboards at most stations I've been to lately and the info screens on the platforms that indicate the current time and how long it will be until the next train have been running sections of the film for people to watch while they wait.
Granted they are playing the segments without sound, so my work can't be appreciated in the subway tunnels, but still it is pretty cool.
What makes this especially great, given my mild case of animation fatigue, is that there are no toys associated with this project. It was created purely to try to help communities come together and make cities a better place to live.
I am not sure how much of a change this little production will make, if any at all, but I feel proud, in an un-conflicted way, to have been part of something that is at least trying to make a difference. After all, that was my goal when I decided I wanted to get into this business in the first place.