Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chance Raspberry's Little Billy

One of the things I love doing is promoting special animation projects in the hopes that other people will notice and embrace these projects like I have. I think word of mouth is an important way to spread recognition to something. I’m a huge supporter of creativity in general, and I feel on the ever so vast Internet, there are plenty of talents that deserve more recognition. I’ve already promoted a few animated movies in progress, so this time, how about a TV series in progress?

I learned about this particular artist and project through Charles Zembillas, the designer of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon and founder of Burbank’s Animation Academy and AnimationNation.com. I plan to talk about him later, since he’s also worth talking about.

Say hello to Simpsons animator Chance Raspberry…

…and his original creation, Little Billy.

I know what some of you are probably thinking, “What? A TV series about a little boy with a common name? What’s so special about that?” Well, much like the title character, there’s much more to this series that’s under the surface.

The big catch about this one? It’s largely aimed at Special Ed Kids.


Yep, that’s right. Little Billy is the first cartoon for kids (and adults) with Special Education Needs, and I think it’s a good cause.

Anyone that knows me is aware that I have Autism/Asberger’s Syndrome. It’s been a struggle for me growing up, but also a blessing. I’ve been lucky to have a good family, friends, teachers, and God helping me out with the ups and downs in my life. For the past few years, I’ve been working with CLE in Austin to learn how to live independently and provide help with work I might have, and my next step is attending NonPareil Institute in Dallas, where I can try my hand at designing video games and other projects.

Chance is similar. He was part of the original generation to have Tourette’s Syndrome, but thanks to family, friends, God, and a relentless love for cartoons and drawing, he’s learned to overcome his difficulties and managed to get a career as a professional animator. He created this project as a way to share his own story with others and he managed to get it funded through Kickstarter.

So a lot of people are wondering what this series will be about or what it will be like. It’s about this innocent four year old boy who has his own neurological condition: UHS or Ultra Hyper Sensitivity, which gives him, as Chance described in one of his Kickstarter videos, “the energy of a thousand hummingbirds”. That means he has endless amounts of energy all the time. The series will involve his life in suburbia as “that weird kid” and how his family and friends are affected and blessed by his unique way of life.

The condition is fictitious, but as Chance describes on his FAQ page:

By making Billy's condition fictitious, I'm increasing the scope and appeal of his character, as well as the reach of the series. People with any condition or special need will be able to watch the show and feel included, without feeling singled out or put on the spot. Furthermore, the ultimate goal of Little Billy is to blur the line between "weird" and "normal" like never before, so people with NO condition will be just as entertained as those who have them. It will be an outlet and reason for families and friends from all walks of life to come together and celebrate what makes them unique. The icing on the cake is that many of the other primary and secondary characters will possess actual, existing neurological conditions. Literally everyone will be represented!

If that isn’t a good reason to do a show where the lead character has his own neurological condition, I don’t know what is.

Another reason why I wanted to promote this is because, content wise, this series sounds like it’ll be up my alley. Not only because of the Special Ed aspects, which in and of itself should be a big reason to support it, but it will be a big shout out to the 80s and done in the Golden Age style of Animation that Looney Tunes is done in. AWESOOOOOOME!!!

Two Awesome Things...

...That Are Even More Awesome Together!

Those that know me are aware that I love 80s and 90s culture and Golden Age Animation like the Looney Tunes and Tex Avery. The addition of 80s culture and classical animation just sweetens the deal for me and I’m sure a lot of others feel the same way. However, I know there are people that dislike nostalgia-driven stuff. To be perfectly honest, though, I think society needs this stuff more than ever. It’s always focusing on the present and progressing so fast and all that and it’s quite frankly killing us. I’ll go more into why later, but the point is, I love stuff based around nostalgia, mostly because it represents the return to a more simple time, uncomplicated by modern technology and modern trends. I especially love stuff based around the 80s since some of my favorite things are from that era, like movies, music, trends, the works.

Chance also talked about why the show has a “nostalgia factor” in his FAQ:

“A show about Special Needs immediately limits your target audience...but everyone is nostalgic for something at some point. For me, it's the '80s because that's where my childhood magic all began. It's also a great way to involve older generations because so much of the '80s is a throwback to the '50s and '60s (when our parents and grandparents were kids and young adults.) By playing up this angle in a major new way, I'm keeping the subject matter of the show universally appealing (Special Needs or not.)”

Personally, as long as the project as a whole is entertaining, I think utilizing a nostalgia factor is a good thing. And I have a feeling that Chance’s project will be very entertaining. He’s dedicated to giving this project not only humor, but heart as well. It’s something he’s clearly passionate about, having worked on it for years. To be exact, he’s been working on it since 1999, and now he’s revealed it for all to see. I’m glad this has been catching on with people like it has, because I feel it’s a great concept.

He also created a rough animatic for the theme song, and trust me when I say it’ll be the funniest thing you’ll see all week. This energetic opening is a throwback to the openings of cartoons of the 80s, but it also contains a sampling of Chance’s demented sense of humor. It kills me every time I watch it. The link also contains his original unreleased Kickstarter pitch.

I wrote to him expressing my interest in the project, and he wrote back with an incredibly nice response, answering any questions I had and thanking me for my willingness to support Little Billy. I plan to write back to him soon. I was waiting to respond back, since I don’t want to feel like I’m disturbing him if he’s working on it.

He’s successfully managed to fund the first full-length episode, with the plans to release it on DVD and Blu-Ray as both education and entertainment material. As of now, he’s working on the trailer and promoting Little Billy. However, I still feel he needs the extra help, since he’s doing this without major studio backing, and since animation is a labor-intensive process, he might need as much help as he can get to complete this. He still allows donations, so if you want to donate, do so. (And if you want, tell him that I sent you.) If you want to spread the word, spread the word! More people deserve to hear and know about this, because this is a special project that means a lot to Chance, and it can mean a lot to people in general.

If you want to learn more, you can check out this list of helpful sites:

Chance Raspberry’s Official Site: http://chanceraspberryhome.blogspot.com

The Little Billy Website: http://www.littlebilly.com

Chance Raspberry’s Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ChanceRaspberry

Chance Raspberry’s Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/chanceraspberry

Larry Raspberry, Chance's Rock 'N Roll Dad: http://www.larryraspberry.com

To close this article, here’s an extra little tidbit: Chance Raspberry is also a singer and musician, and one of his Kickstarter rewards is an album he made that combines 80’s heavy metal with 90s skatepunk, and one of the songs is the theme to Little Billy. Have a listen to his cover of “Friends”, from the ‘80s B-Movie Cult Classic “Miami Connection”:

Monday, June 1, 2015

MST3K Shorts

I'm a huge fan of the 90s cult show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The basic gist of the show is that an ordinary guy (Joel Robinson or Mike Nelson, played by Joel Hodgson and Michael J. Nelson, respectively) gets launched into space and forced to watch movies ranging from cheesy to downright terrible aboard what is known as the Satellite Of Love. While watching, the guy riffs, wisecracks, and generally makes fun of the movie du jour with two robots (Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot) aiding him. It's hard to talk about the history of the show when you're trying to introduce it to someone, since it's gone through quite a few cast and format changes over the years it's been on the air.

It's also hard to know what episode to use as a good starting point for the show. However, I feel that a good starting point is through the shorts that are shown before certain movies, since they're not as long as the films but are a good introduction to what riffing entails.

A little note, by the way, Tom Servo is sitting on the left, Joel or Mike is in the center, and Crow is sitting on the right. There, hope we've avoided some potential confusion with that.

So anyway, here's a selection of some of my personal favorites when it comes to shorts:

A Case Of Spring Fever
From: 1012- Squirm

This was my personal introduction to the show as well as the final short that was featured on the show. It involves this poor dope who wishes that he never has to deal with springs again, only to accidentally summon Coily The Spring Sprite (who I swear is voiced by Pinto Clovig) who grants his wish. Realizing that a world without springs would, well, kinda suck, he takes back his wish and proceeds to preach about his newfound wisdom about springs.

Mr. B Natural
From: 319- War Of The Colossal Beast

Easily the most famous of the MST3K shorts for one reason: Mr. B Natural (who is played by a woman) and his/her incredible flamboyance. So anyways, the sexually androgynous spirit of music helps this nerdy boy learn about musical education and the benefit of the right instruments.

Gumby In: Robot Rumpus
From: 912- The Screaming Skull

As someone who was a fan of Gumby growing up, I really enjoyed this riffing and it makes me wish that the crew riffed on more animated shorts. In this outing, Gumby gets robots to do his lawn work but they run amuck, so he has to stop them. The ending traumatized the bots so much that they viciously attacked the short later on in the episode.

Body Care And Grooming
From: 510- The Painted Hills

The last short featuring Joel before he left the show, this PSA going over body care for adolescents manages to get some fun riffing from the guys.

Keeping Clean And Neat
From: 613- The Sinister Urge

Man, if people of the 50s were really THIS obsessed with cleanliness and neatness, it makes me glad to be a child of the 90s! Anyways, another PSA for body care with some more fun riffing.

Johnny At The Fair
From: 419- The Rebel Set

This little kid ditches his parents at the Canadian National Expedition and proceeds to explore the sights and sounds. We get some hilariously dark riffing from Joel and the Bots in the process.

From: 515- The Wild Wild World Of Batwoman

Ya gotta love whenever someone makes a PSA designed to scar viewers and make the subject seem like the worst possible thing imaginable. A school boy manages to cheat his way to the top, but when he's caught, he's ostracized and it seems like his life is practically ruined. The dark lighting and atmosphere certainly doesn't help matters either. During this movie's host segments, (which occur in between the movie so as to provide breaks for the characters) Mike and the bots satirized this short mercilessly.

Circus On Ice
From: 421- Monster A Go-Go

Monster A Go-Go is easily the worst thing that was ever riffed on MST3K, but at least it had a delightfully dark riffing of a short to be paired up with. I wasn't sure how long Disney has been on ice, (sources say 1981 was when it first started,) but apparently somebody decided to make a circus themed ice show long before and, from the looks of it, the final result didn't blend well.

Alphabet Antics
From: 307- Daddy-O

Leave it to the guys on the Satellite Of Love to get a lot of mileage out of a whimsical and often unusual alphabet themed short for children.

Aquatic Wizards
From: 315- Teenage Caveman

An announcer tries to flaunt the marvels of water skiing. Joel and the bots proceed to mock it.

Catching Trouble
From: 315- Teenage Caveman

Hoo golly, this one is pretty damn uncomfortable. It doesn't stop Joel and the bots from coming up with some hilarious riffs, but man, if you hate animal abuse, this might be kinda hard to sit through. So anyways, this spineless creep named Ross torments snakes, a bobcat and two bear cubs before capturing them and selling them to the zoo, and it's exploited in the worst way possible. Even Joel and the bots acknowledge just how wrong it all is.

But to help cope with the above short, here was the host segment that followed right after it, where Joel, Tom and Crow proceed to give Ross a taste of his own medicine.

MST3K- Catching Ross

Uncle Jim's Dairy Farm
From: 607- Bloodlust

A couple of city kids spend the summer at their uncle's farm. I love how Mike, Tom and Crow try to make it seem like the kids' time at the farm is absolutely miserable and that they're even missing out on some things back home.

A Date With Your Family
From: 602- Invasion U.S.A.

Ah, more 50's wholesomeness. Let's watch Mike and the bots tear apart the outdated and questionable ethics of having dinner with the family.

Last Clear Chance
From: 520- Radar Secret Service

This short on traffic safety, particularly around railroad tracks, is one of those shorts that actually managed to outshine the film that it was paired with.

The Truck Farmer
From: 507- I Accuse My Parents

This short involving modern (at least modern at that time) farming techniques gets some glorious riffing from Joel and the bots.

Progress Island USA
From: 621- The Beast Of Yucca Flats

A short travel documentary that's clearly from the 70s promoting Puerto Rico and all it has to offer. The riffing is funny, of course, but one thing I will give the short is that I do love the music they used for it.

Until next time, keep circulating the tapes (or video links, or whatever.)