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Suzannah and Jon discuss the phenomenal remake of the My Little Pony franchise. Spoiler alert: it’s good.
This is one of a two-part crossover podcast that Animated Things Club is doing in conjunction with the Bronyville Podcast. In this podcast, we’ll be discussing the more technical side of why the new My Little Pony show is so great. On the Bronyville show you can listen to Suzannah discuss with the hosts of show why the way the show’s creators interact with the fandom is significant. You can listen to the Bronyville podcast by searching for them on iTunes, or by going to their website.
History (very briefly) of the My Little Pony franchise.
My Little Pony is owned by the toy company Hasbro. Originally launches as My Pretty Pony in 1981, it was relaunched in 1983, and was produced in various incarnations until 1995. The toys from that time can be divided into three generations, although there are many, many subcategories in each generation. The first My Little pony cartoon was a tv-broadcast movie in 1984. Hasbro produced various cartoon movies and series as well as comic books and graphic novels to support the toyline pretty much solidly from 1984-2009, which brings us to the current incarnation: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s broadcast on The Hub, which is a channel Hasbro owns, but isn’t included in many cable packages, and we unfortunately don’t really have the time to discuss today. You can get the show for a VERY reasonable price on iTunes!
History (very briefly) of the re-imagineer, Lauren Faust.
Lauren Faust was an animation student at CalArts in the middle of her junior year in 1995. Despite not having yet graduated, and her resume consisting of just 3 months of layout work on MTV’s The Maxx, she was offered a job as an animator at Turner Features on their Cats Don’t Dance feature film. She was part of the animation team for a main character.
Let that sink in for a minute. Without even finishing her degree (which I am given to understand is essential in the education of animators), Faust was able to hold down a position as a member of the animation team of a lead character in a feature film.
According to this interview, one her favorite scenes, both in the movie and a representation of her work, is the “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” scene. Here’s a clip – start at 0:26 to skip the lousy uploader intro.
After that, Faust’s next notable project was The Iron Giant, where she worked as part of the team handling Hogarth and Annie. Brad Bird directed that movie. I think from here on in, all cartoon topics shall be reviewed under the “Six Degrees of Brad Bird” rule.
After this,it seems she found reliable work, a niche group of animation creatives, and her husband at the Cartoon Network. (Suzannah says: Being a woman in a ‘boy’ industry myself, and having dated within it, I know it’s a really big freaking deal to be recognised for your own merits rather than for those of your significant other. I almost feel weird bring up the fact that Lauren Faust is married to Craig McCracken, in case anyone makes the wrong assumption about the amount of work she’s done on show’s he’s created. She herself often mentions that he’s her husband, so I’m going with that precedent. I just don’t want to encourage any inclination anyone might have to underestimate her achievements based on who she married.) She did a metric ton of work on The Powerpuff Girls (earliest credit 2001), and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (2004-2009), and was a part of the pilot for Codename Kids Next Door.
So, at least as early as 2004, Faust started shopping around an original concept of hers called Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls. So far she’s had at least one book and a line of soft dolls through FAO Schwartz, and hopefully more to one of the stops she made while looking for a company to work with the property was Hasbro. The story goes, that at the end of a one-on-one pitch meeting, the woman she was meeting with said something along the lines of: “I like your art. Have you ever heard of My Little Pony?”
Production began in 2008, with Faust developing and animation taking place at Studio B in Canada, and the first season aired in 2010. We’re in the second season right now, and episode can be viewed on the Hub (the Hasbro network) or can be purchased on iTunes.
Now, Faust is still credited as the developer of the show, but in the second season she stepped down from everything outside of some minor consultation, leaving the show in the capable hands of everyone else who helped to make the show great in the first season. Heading up the show team now is Supervising Director Jayson Thiessen. Ever since her step down, Faust and Thiessen seem to be having an internet fight that seems to consist of each trying to get the other to take a bow for their work on the who. It’s kind of adorable.
A brief overview of the show premise.
A very studious pony (Twilight Sparkle) spends so much time in her books that she knows more than just about anyone, but she doesn’t have any interest in a social life or making friends. Her mentor (Princess Celestia) sends her away from her court to a town called Ponyville, where she lives in a library and is able to continue her studies, but is asked also to make friends and report back to her about what she’s learning. In the two-episode pilot arc, the friendships she forges with five other ponies (Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Fluttershy) allow them the ability to do a sort of “By our powers combined ..!” spell that has the power to defeat bad guys. Although initially resistant to her involuntary relocation (“No mom, I don’t wanna go out an play!”) Twilight wants to stay with her friends in Ponyville, so she does, basically learning a new social skill in every episode, either through her own experiences, or by observing stuff that happens in her friends circle.
So what makes My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic a great show?
- The best rule of thumb for character design is that you should be able to look at a still image of a character, and know almost everything about them. Maybe one day we’ll do a breakdown of some great examples of this. You can see in the image on the right, that between the body language and the choice of shapes and graphics, the personality in all of the characters is about as evident as it gets.
- Choice of color is a super big deal in children’s entertainment. You really want to make things look like candy, and work in food imagery whenever you can. The list of apple treats in the two-episode pilot has that taken care of!
- The structure of the show is pretty great. You get a short opening scene that sets the scene for the conflict or story of the episode, with usually a genuinely funny punchline. Such as “Yay!” Not every episode gets a song, but there are quite a few songs worked through the series, by the excellent show composer, Daniel Ingram. Almost every show ends with a main character (Twilight Sparkle) writing a letter to summarize what she learned during that episode – and thus reinforcing the lesson of the show. You get moral lessons delivered very nicely. Suzannah particularly likes how the realistic situations are portrayed – she’s a big fan of animation when used as a teaching tool for little kids, and thinks the execution of lessons about social interactions in My Little Pony is particularly deftly done.
Technical Animation Quality!
- Does everyone listening to the podcast or reading these notes not know what a big deal it is to be able to animate horses running and walking is? In the intro sequence to Episode 5: Griffon the Brush-Off, Pinkie Pie is shown not just trotting, but breaking into a gallop as well. There’s nothing more to say about that … it stands for itself.
- This is some seriously expressive animation in this show.
- Meme-able faces are sprinkled throughout the show, usually worn by Rainbow Dash
- The production team has a working relationship with the fanbase. Suzannah talks about this with the Bronyville Podcast guys, but to our knowlege this is one of only two currently running shows (the other being Adventure Time) where the team working on the show and the fanbase have a back-and-forth dialogue going on. Derpy Hooves*, for example, was an unnamed background character that was depicted with wandering eyes – most likely dues to an animation error She cropped up a few times in the first season, usually with the eye error. The fanbase gave Derpy Hooves her name, wrote her a backstory, gave her a job … and loved and tolerated her. Lauren Faust would eventually donate a sketch of Derpy to a fundraiser (I think it was to help the victims of the tsunami in Japan) – calling her Derpy and including the fan-approved design. So far, Derpy has appeared many times in the second season – but the important thing to know is that her character is now fannon acccurate.
- The fourth wall is nonexistant – but only in the world of one character, Pinkie Pie.
- It’s straight up fun to watch. It’s funny, and it’s upbeat.
It’s REALLY Popular!
The show can really be considered a success based on how popular it is. It’s that much of a break out. But exactly how popular is it? Well, a million billion international fanboys can’t be wrong.
- Equestriadaily.com, the premier fansite for the show, has had as of January 11, 2012, over 100,000,000 hits. At that time, It wasn’t even a year old, having come online on January 24, 2010. If you don’t know anything about that what a normal amount of hits are, that’s normal, it’s considered private data. I was told by a friend who works in web advertising that a new site rarely breaks 100,00o in one year unless it has a lot of funding behind it.
- Show developer, Lauren Faust’s DeviantArt page (more or less her only web presence) has had a lot of hits since the show went on the air. As many 206,104 hits in a month. I perspective, prior to this the highest amount of hits she got per month was 8,919. Incidentally, her DA name is based on the name of her favorite childhood MLP character – Firefly.
- A study conducted by a clinical psychiastrist (found on bronystudy.com) garnered several thousand responses in a weekend – by contranst, the Doc running the show (Patrick Edwards, Ph.D.) stated at his Jan 2012 Bronycon panel that often psychiatrists spend months looking for 200 people willing to take a survey.
- The show is only in it’s second season, and there’s already been two fan conventions in NYC, the second of which was so attended that fire regulations had to be enforced.
- Although the show’s target demo is little girls, it was specifically designed to be accessible to Moms and Dads say that families could watch together. Side effect: the show is a massive, massive hit with men from 18-35.
That’s about it for our My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic discussion. In closing, links! First, here’s a blog post Faust wrote for Ms. Magazine, in a counter argument to another post on the site that suggested that the show is homophobic, racist, and smart-shaming. Second, Faust recently posted the answers to many of the FAQ that she gets – including topics from working in the animation industry, working on MLP, and a little bit about herself.
Best Pony: Jon likes Fluttershy, Suzannah likes Pinkie Pie, with Twilight a close second.
Best Pet: We both agree that Gummy is best pet!
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