Review: “People Watching” (Season 1) (Animated Youtube Series)

Well, I don’t usually review things on Youtube but I thought that I’d make an exception in this extra article. This is mostly because, over the past ten weeks, the creator of my favourite webcomic (Subnormality” By Winston Rowntree) has been releasing a weekly animated Youtube series called “People Watching” which was co-produced by a humour/journalism site called “Cracked”.

So, since the individual episodes are a bit too short to review on their own, I thought that I’d wait until the first season of the show had finished and review it as a whole.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, this is a show that is firmly aimed at audiences in their 20s-30s. So, if you don’t fit into this age group, then you may or may not enjoy it as much.

So, let’s take a look at season one of “People Watching”:

This is most of the series’ cast, although one character is standing behind the camera in this scene.

Although “People Watching” contains several recurring characters, the episodes are self-contained and can be watched in pretty much any order (it’s best to watch episode 10 last though).

Like in Rowntree’s “Subnormality” comics, the episodes often tend to focus on observations about society, introspective topics and cultural commentary. The series also contains a mixture of comedy and serious moments. Sorry if this description sounds a bit bland, but it’s a really difficult series to describe in a single paragraph.

Let me start by saying that the art in this series is actually as good as the astonishingly detailed art in “Subnormality”. I’d initially expected the level of artistic detail to drop somewhat due to the practicalities of the animation process. But, Rowntree’s art is as spectacular as ever.

Plus, the Sphynx also makes a cameo appearance in the background here.

As for the animation quality, it’s surprisingly good considering that this is a low-budget series on Youtube. Although there are occasional examples of clunky animation (such as someone running in the early parts of episode four), limited animation and/or re-used backgrounds – the animation is, on the whole, fairly good. Since this is a series where the main emphasis is on the dialogue and the storytelling, the limitations of the animation don’t really get in the way of the show.

Likewise, the voice acting in this series is fairly good too. Since the series mostly focuses on a group of new characters, there isn’t the “this character shouldn’t sound like that” problem that you can sometimes get when comics and/or novels are adapted to the screen. The main characters sound like fairly ordinary American or Canadian twentysomethings and the voice acting just comes across as “acting” rather than “voice-acting”.

But, in terms of story quality, the series is something of a mixed bag though. For every good episode, there’s usually one.. less-good… episode.

But, when this series is good, it is good! So, I’ll start with the best moments. As a side note, the episode titles displayed in the episodes are different from the video titles (“Cracked” is notorious for random, inexplicable title changes).

The best episodes in the series are probably episode four and episode nine. And here’s why…

Episode four (“Death Is Bullshit”) revolves around a character having a near-death experience and then trying to find some way to rationalise the concept of death. Although this sounds like a super-depressing episode, it is one of the most psychologically nuanced and emotionally profound things that I’ve ever seen on Youtube. Surprisingly though, it seems to be one of the least popular episodes in the series – if the Youtube comments when it was originally realeased were anything to go by.

Yes, it might look like science fiction. Parts of the episode might even sound like science fiction. But, it isn’t an episode about science fiction!

However, if you remember that it’s supposed to be an episode about psychology and not about science fiction or new age philosophy, then it will probably make you cry with it’s sheer emotional profundity.

Even though the episode itself points out that it’s about the fear of death and it’s effects (eg: in a spine-tingling moment, one of the characters quite literally points out that “death f**king makes you crazy”) a lot of people assumed that the episode was some kind of new age tract and criticised it. But, you’d be hard-pressed to find something as profound or well-written on Youtube. Seriously, watch it!

Episode 9 (“In Defence Of Talking During The Movie”) isn’t as weighty or philosophical as episode four is, but it’s certainly the most fun episode in the series.

The episode revolves around two characters called Ted and Martha who are having a hilarious conversation about a movie that they’re watching on TV. After the movie finishes, they decide to go to a nearby cinema to watch (a parody of) one of the “Taken” films.

Seriously, the dialogue in this episode is hilarious. This screenshot really doesn’t do the episode justice.

Throughout the film, both them and various audience members think and comment about how terrible the movie is whilst other characters are horrified that people are talking in the cinema. There’s a bit of random philosophy, some cultural commentary and so much brilliant sarcasm (eg: Martha’s line about how people are expected to sit in “reverent silence” during terrible movies still makes me laugh when I think about it). It’s a fun, funny and heartwarmingly nice episode.

Episode 10 (“Nostalgia”) sits somewhere between these great episodes and the good episodes I’ll describe in the next paragraph. It mostly consists of an optimistic motivational speech (with a few sci-fi elements) that packs a surprising emotional punch, especially if you’ve seen more of the series. I might not agree with literally all of the sentiments in the episode, but it’s still an incredibly dramatic episode and a fitting conclusion to the season.

Plus, episode 10 has the best-looking title card in the whole series.

Anyway, onto the “just good” episodes. The most notable of these is probably episode two, which is an animated remake of Rowntree’s “Non-religious confessional” comic from “Subnormality”. Given that this episode compresses a dialogue-heavy (but short by “Subnormality” standards) comic strip into a single six-minute video, whilst also adding a lot of extra improvements, it’s certainly a good episode.

One of the most astonishing things about episode two is that the backgrounds are sometimes MORE detailed than in the original comic!

Likewise, episode seven focuses on a self-help group for people who look popular but are secretly losers. This episode is fairly close to the tone of the original comics, with lots of introspective dialogue and dark humour.

It also contains a bit more characterisation for some of the main characters too.

Then there are the mediocre and/or terrible episodes. Some episodes, like episode eight or episode three, seem like they could be something interesting – but end up going in a fairly predictable direction instead. Likewise, some episodes can – for want of a better term- become insufferably hipsterish. Episodes five and six, I’m looking at you!

The art and set design in episode six looks really cool, but the whole episode revolves around looking at smartphones and having awkward conversations. Yes, it’s meant to be an episode about how creativity can sometimes be the only form of self-expression some people are comfortable with, but the episode gets this point across in a slightly obtuse, confusing and hipsterish way.

Episode five introduces Ted and Martha and is a critique of the TV show “Friends”. But, well, the dialogue (and the politics etc..) in this episode is probably about as hipster as you can get.

All in all, this series is extremely good though. Or, rather, half of it is. Even so, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, artistically beautiful and well-written pieces of original content that you can find on Youtube. In a sensible and logical world, this wouldn’t be an obscure collection of 5-10 minute shorts, it would be an actual animated TV series! Seriously, if you want to watch something with a bit more depth than the average animated TV show, then check out “People Watching”. Or, parts of it at least (eg: episodes 2,4,7,9 and 10) .

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would average out at about four. But, at it’s best, it’s a six and – at it’s worst – it’s a two or a three.

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Three Observations About Making Title Cards For Podcasts On Youtube

2015 Artwork Podscast Title graphics article sketch

Before I begin, I should probably point out that although I technically have a Youtube channel, I’ve never actually recorded any podcasts (mainly because I absolutely can’t stand the sound of my voice in recordings), nor have I made any title cards for podcasts on Youtube.

Apart from the small title illustrations for these articles, about the closest thing to an actual podcast title card that I’ve made was this watercolour painting I made earlier this year in preparation for a planned poetry-based Youtube video (that I ended up abandoning):

“Tool Duel” By C. A. Brown

So, how can I really give you any advice about this subject?

Well, I’ve watched a lot of Youtube videos and I’ve listened to a fair number of podcasts on there too. Likewise, although most of the title graphics on my blog are made individually, I’ve made a few recurring title cards for articles on this blog, such as my “from the vault” filler articles.

Yes, you'd be surprised how many times I've re-used this old picture from last year. In fact, I even used it in yesterday's article.

Yes, you’d be surprised how many times I’ve re-used this old picture from last year. In fact, I even used it in yesterday’s article.

As you probably know, one of the best ways to make an audio-only podcast more interesting is to make a title card that accompanies it.

Even though the main attraction of a podcast is the audio itself, just looking at a blank screen when you’re listening is kind of boring and it’s also unlikely to attract new listeners too. So, podcasts on Youtube should ideally be accompanied by a title card of some kind.

Anyway, here are a few thoughts and observations of mine about how to make these title cards:

1) Cartoon illustrations: Usually, with podcasts, it can help if your audience can actually see who is talking.

Whilst a simple photo of the people who appear in your podcast can serve this purpose, it isn’t particularly interesting or memorable. On the other hand, a cartoon illustration of the people who are speaking in your podcast can be a much more interesting, memorable and distinctive way of introducing your podcast before it has even started.

Not only do the unique art styles used in cartoon illustrations make your podcast easier to remember, they also show that you’ve put a lot more effort into your podcast since a stylised cartoon title card looks more artistic than just a simple photograph.

If you’re quite experienced with drawing/painting/digital art, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to make one of these title cards. But, if you aren’t experienced at making art and you don’t know anyone who is, then it may be worth commissioning an artist to make you an illustrated title card.

There are plenty of places on the internet where you can commission artwork relatively cheaply, so it’s worth looking around. Be sure to check out the artist’s previous works and to ask if it’s ok to use the commissioned artwork in Youtube videos (and if it’s ok for you to modify it in any way when you post it online). Be specific about what you want in your illustration, but also give the artist room to improvise. Plus, be sure to credit the artist at some point during your video.

2) Reusability: Usually, it can take quite a bit of time and effort to create a new title card for each podcast. Even the small title illustrations that accompany these blog articles can usually take between half and a third of the total time it takes me to prepare an article for this site.

So, especially if you have commissioned a title card – it’s often easier to modify one picture lots of times than it is to create a new picture for each podcast.

One of the most basic ways of making a modifiable title card is to just leave a large space in one part of it where you can add text to introduce each individual podcast. One example of this is, when I had “poetry week” on this blog back in May, I created a single title graphic – with a large space on it (eg: the board in the background) where I could add the titles of the poems I was going to include in each post:

Notice the blank space in the background. This allowed me to re-use this one picture several times, with only a few small changes (ok, I also did more than just add text to the picture each time, but you get the idea)

Notice the blank space in the background. This allowed me to re-use this one picture several times, with only a few small changes (ok, I also did more than just add text to the picture each time, but you get the idea)

However, if you have more knowledge about image editing, you can modify a single title graphic in all sorts of different ways. You can digitally change the colours, you can move parts of the picture around etc… Just be sure to save a backup copy of the original graphic in case you make any mistakes.

3) Graphic design: Although I don’t really come from a graphic design background, there are a couple of basic graphic design-related things that you should probably be aware of when you’re making a title card.

The first of these is the composition, or layout, of your title card. Although there are a few rules that you probably should follow when it comes to composition, the easiest way to tell if you’ve got the composition of your title card right is to make a basic sketch or plan and then to just look at it. Does it look “right”? If it doesn’t, then try moving a few things around until the layout looks more like the kinds of title cards that you’ve seen in more professional podcasts on Youtube.

The second thing that is worth thinking of is the colour scheme of your title card. Do the colours clash with each other or do they compliment each other? Does your title card contain a mixture of warm colours and cool colours?

If you don’t have time to research any of this stuff, then take a look at this RGB colour wheel and either pick two colours that are exactly opposite each other or pick any three colours that make a triangle (when you draw a line between them). Either that, or you could just go for a simple black & white colour scheme.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How My Art Improved After I Remembered Something I Watched Last Year

2015 Artwork Learning from Shoo Rayner video article sketch

Sometime last year, I watched this absolutely fascinating Youtube video by a professional illustrator and artist called Shoo Rayner. The video is about wooden artist’s mannequins and about how you can use them to both draw more realistic proportions and to work out how to draw people standing in a whole range of positions.

Since I had a couple of these mannequins from a long time ago (I’m not sure why but, when I was a kid, I asked my parents to buy two of them), I managed to locate them again and I used them for a couple of paintings.

The problem with these old paintings was that they looked, well, kind of wooden – like this one:

"Zombie Manor" By C. A. Brown [2014]

“Zombie Manor” By C. A. Brown [2014]

After a while, I just couldn’t be bothered to copy these mannequins any more and ended up abandoning them. But, a few weeks before I wrote this post, I suddenly realised that I wanted to try to draw people standing in poses that I hadn’t really drawn before. But, I couldn’t be bothered to find my artist’s mannequins again, so I followed one of the other pieces of advice I remembered from the Shoo Rayner video.

In other words, before I drew my pictures, I made a light pencil sketch of the mannequin from memory. Instead of fussing around with an actual mannequin, I was able to work much more quickly by testing out different poses using a “virtual” mannequin that existed only on the page and looked a bit like this:

I've drawn this example using ink for the sake of clarity, but you should only draw it lightly in pencil.

I’ve drawn this example using ink for the sake of clarity, but you should only draw it lightly in pencil.

Although, as Shoo Rayner points out in his video, this technique requires a bit of practice and some experience with using artist’s mannequins – I’ve found that this technique is well worth using for a couple of reasons.

One of the main advantages of using this technique that I found is that because literally everything is drawn from my imagination and memory, my paintings tended to look a lot less “wooden” as a result.

Since I wasn’t directly copying a literal wooden mannequin, I could add a bit more spontanaity and variation to my pictures which helped the poses in my final paintings and drawings to look a bit more “natural” (whilst still looking realistic). Kind of like this:

"Castle Crypt" By C. A. Brown

“Castle Crypt” By C. A. Brown

"1992" By C. A. Brown

“1992” By C. A. Brown

"Somewhere In A Room" By C. A.Brown

“Somewhere In A Room” By C. A.Brown

Another advantage of using pencil drawings of mannequins (rather than actual mannequins) to plan your paintings is that you can add more variation. An artist’s mannequin is a fixed height and size – as such, everyone you draw by copying the mannequin will have roughly the same proportions as the mannequin does. This means that everyone in your paintings will look kind of the same.

By making sure that the mannequin only exists in your imagination and on the page, you can alter all sorts of things about it – whilst still making your paintings look realistic.

Again, Shoo Rayner goes into more detail about how to use this technique in his video and it’s well worth watching. But, it’s also important to remember that – no matter how much drawing or painting experience you’ve had – you can and should still learn new things from time to time.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Do Some Creative Mediums Attract A Larger Audience Than Others?

2015  Artwork mediums audience sketch

Even though this is an article about how to attract a larger online audience for your creative work, I’m going to have to begin with what will probably both sound a lot like a mixture of whining jealous self-pity and another flagrant violation of my own “don’t blog about blogging” rule.

But, trust me, there’s a good reason for this and I promise that at least some of this article might be useful to you. Although it might be worth skipping the next few paragraphs.

Anyway, as regular readers of this blog probably know, Youtube is one of my favourite websites and I tend to visit it on a surprisingly regular basis. But, I often have slightly mixed emotions when I visit Youtube. On the one hand, I absolutely love all of the interesting stuff on there, but I also almost always tend to notice the “views” counter below each video too.

It’s very easy to conclude that the real audience is out there on Youtube when, for example, I see that a random video from someone I’ve never heard of has got more views in two weeks than this entire blog has got in almost two years.

Don’t get me wrong, I still consider the viewing figures for this blog to be thousands of times higher than I could have ever expected when I started it in April 2013. But, it certainly seems like Youtube is the best way to get lots of viewers very quickly.

And, this doesn’t seem to be an exclusive thing to me – I mean, when Cheshire Cat Studios mentioned their webcomic and their website in one of their Youtube videos, they made plenty of sarcastic comments about how hardly anyone visits it.

So, although this is a fairly limited sample to draw conclusions from, it’s fairly clear that there’s a hierarchy when it comes to what internet audiences will look at. Video is more popular than comics, comics are more popular than stand-alone images and images are more popular than text (except in the case of *ugh* Twitter).

Of course, there are a lot of other factors that can also influence this too. For example, things based on popular stuff (eg: fan art, “let’s play” videos etc…) often tend to get more of an audience than original stuff does.

Likewise, if you’re a famous person, then you’re going to get more of an audience regardless of whether you make Youtube videos or write nothing but blog entries. Plus, of course, some genres of content (eg: self-help, erotica, comedy etc…) will always attract a larger audience regardless of their format.

But, nonetheless, some mediums just tend to attract more people. But, rather than continuing to whine about not being one of the popular people on the internet, I thought that I’d see if there is anything useful I can learn from this that you can use?

The fact is, doing nothing but moaning about this hierarchy of online content won’t get you any more views. Yes, it’s an unfair system – but, like all unfair systems, you need to either find a way to circumvent it completely or to turn it to your advantage.

If you want to circumvent this stupid system, then you need to make your content so fascinating that people will flock to it, regardless of what format it is in.

You need to make the kind of thing that will not only amaze people, but will make them want to tell their friends about it. Since things that have this quality are usually very innovative and original, I can’t offer you any specific advice about what exactly to do other than to think about what would fascinate you enough to make you want to tell your friends about it.

If you want to turn this unfair system to your advantage, then there are lots of different things that you can do – but they all boil down to mixing small amounts of more “popular” things in with your “ordinary” content.

For example, it’s a fairly well-known piece of advice that people tend to look at text-based things more readily when they’re accompanied by images, because it makes them slightly more interesting. This is why most books have cover art and why many blogs (like this one) include at least one image in almost every post.

So, it might be an idea to include a relevant image with everything that you write. Yes, it helps if you’re an artist, but you can also find loads of Creative Commons-licenced and public domain images on a site like Wikimedia Commons that you can use without permission. Although if, for example, you’re reviewing or commenting on something that is copyrighted – then most copyright laws around the world allow you to use at least a few images from it without permission .

Likewise, many (but not all) of the paintings in my “Today’s Art” posts are released under a licence that allows you to post them on your own website – as long as you mention that I painted them, as long as you don’t alter them (I’m not probably going to care if you have to resize or crop them slightly though) and as long as you don’t sell them.

Plus, despite all of my moaning about Youtube earlier, I actually have a small presence on there. Shock horror! The reasons why I haven’t switched over to making “proper” Youtube videos on a regular basis is because, amonst other things, I don’t have a functioning webcam and I also absolutely hate the sound of my own voice in recordings.

But, even if you don’t have a camera, you can still make Youtube videos in other ways – you can make audio-only videos (eg: with an interesting background image) or you can even just edit a series of images together in Windows Movie Maker or whatever. Not having a webcam or a camera doesn’t mean that you can’t make Youtube videos.

Likewise, you can also use Youtube to promote your other work in all sorts of inventive ways too. You can make a trailer for your text-based site, you can edit a collection of stills from your webcomic into a video or whatever.

Just remember to include a prominent link to your main site somewhere in the general vicinity of the video.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Woo Hoo! Blog Trailer On Youtube (With Art Preview)

I am very proud to announce that this blog now has it’s own trailer on Youtube 🙂

As a bonus for all of my regular readers, this trailer also contains previews of a few paintings that won’t be posted here until both next month and January 2015. It also contains a couple of excerpts from upcoming articles too.

The music in this trailer is from an absolutely amazing creative commons-licenced song called “Dance With Ghosts” by Deuxvolt. The whole song can be (legally) downloaded for free here and the band’s Facebook page can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/deuxvolt

The animated game footage in this trailer is from a “Doom” WAD called “Reelism” and you can read my review of it here.

Anyway, thanks for watching 🙂

Editorial Cartoon – “Didn’t Tipper Gore Try This In The 80s?”

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Didn't Tipper Gore Try This In The 80s?" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]
“Didn’t Tipper Gore Try This In The 80s?” By C. A. Brown

Well, I was just casually looking through the news when I happened to stumble across this hilarious and disturbing article . Apparently, David Cameron wants to introduce BBFC-style age ratings on Youtube music videos viewed in the UK.

Part of his laughably absurd rationale for this is, and I quote: “ So if you want to go and buy a music video offline there are age restrictions on it. We should try and recreate that system on the internet.” Yes, he actually thinks that people buy music videos on Youtube. Who said that the Tories were a bunch of out-of-touch fuddy duddies?

Yes, I’m not a teenager any more – and, no, this state censorship of Youtube probably won’t affect me in the slightest. But, well, I was a teenager a few years ago and my experiences with having to find all sorts of ways to get around the BBFC’s ludicrous mandatory age restrictions on movies/DVDs/videos have made me a lifelong opponent of media censorship of any kind…


[Edit: I’ve just corrected a badly-drawn hand in the original version of this picture. I don’t know, I drew this cartoon in haste as soon as I read about this new story, so this would probably explain the mistake. And, yes, I really can’t draw David Cameron very well either]

Editorial Cartoon: “Britain, THIS Is Why We Cannot Have Nice Things”

"Britain, THIS Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" By C. A. Brown

“Britain, THIS Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” By C. A. Brown

Although I try to keep politics out of this blog most of the time, I make an exception when it comes to the subject of free speech and censorship for the simple reason that official censorship damages creativity and can have a chilling effect on the kinds of things that writers, artists, film-makers etc.. can create.

Anyway, I read this article on Melonfarmers [ slightly NSFW] earlier and I’m currently watching a Youtube video that explains the situation too.

Basically, a UK-based political commentary show called “The UK Column” on Youtube (and I don’t know whether it’s a left or right wing show and I don’t care, free speech is free speech) has been censored by The Authority For Television On Demand (eg: they started to demand licence fees and that the channel submitted to their regulation) because ATVOD claims that the Youtube channel is “Television like” or something like that.

Supposedly we have “free speech” in Britain. But we really don’t! When the government starts meddling in political discussion on the internet, then we might as well abandon all pretence of being a democracy!

Luckily written articles and editorial cartoons are out of ATVOD’s reach for the time being, but it’s probably just a matter of time given how no-one in authority in the UK seems to really give a damn about free speech.