August 16, 2000 5:30 PM PDT
New character from Chuck Jones gets Web premiere
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The father of Pepe Le Pew, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and Marvin the Martian will begin producing a Web-based cartoon series based on the latest character to enter the Looney Tunes pantheon. Called "Timber Wolf," the show features Thomas T. Wolf, a canine with an irreverent attitude and a squirrel sidekick. The new series will premiere solely on the Web in six-minute episodes starting this fall.
"Timber Wolf's" inception is the latest example of the Web's growing influence as a sounding board for creative content. Companies such as Icebox.com, AtomFilms, iFilm, iCast, MediaTrip.com and Shortbuzz are luring animators and filmmakers to create features destined for the television or the movie screen.
Although the Web has yet to produce a runaway hit, the medium has become a starting point for creative features to find wider audiences and possibly a big break.
"We are looking at the offline value that we can create and then utilizing the Internet as a development tool," said Kevin Tsujihara, executive vice president of new media for Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Online plans to launch the new series on its own Web site and on its Entertaindom destination. Entertaindom has hosted several original programs, such as Mondo Media's "The God and Devil Show," Dotcomix's "Ask Dr. Science" and Garry Trudeau's "Duke 2000."
Using the Web as a creative incubator has become a full-time business for other companies as well. Icebox's primary goal, for example, is to host new, Web-based animation shorts. It has already struck a deal that will allow Viacom-owned cable station Showtime Networks to broadcast some of its "Starship Regulars" slated for next summer. The deal also lets visitors view Icebox shorts on Showtime's Web site.
For Icebox, the deal is a model for what it wants to do. Revenues can come from licensing to broadcasters.
"The Web is a place where you can break new properties, build a big audience, and then take the properties and migrate them back to traditional film and television," said Icebox chief executive Steve Stanford.
Into the limelight
TV and film producers have been watching the Web closely. Mark Cronin, the executive producer of FX Network's "The X Show," a comedy talk show catered to men, has broadcast several short animation pieces on his program. Cronin has turned to Web shorts as a way to spice up his show.
"For individuals who want to make a movie, it's an amazing outlet," Cronin said. "It's become a continuous, 24-hour film festival."
"The X Show" has already screened "405," an iFilm production that's become popular on the Web; "Diet Pink Lemonade," an iCast film; and "Los Gringos," a computer-generated animation short.
The movie industry has also started tapping into the Web pool. Earlier this month, Hollywood producer Joe Roth's Revolution Studios said it would turn MediaTrip.com's "Lil' Pimp" into a feature film. "Lil' Pimp" is an animation series created using Macromedia's Flash software technology. It stars a 9-year-old character who hustles prostitutes in his neighborhood.
AtomFilms has also begun straddling the offline and online worlds. As a site for animation and film shorts, the company in July struck a deal with Viacom's Paramount Studios to produce weekly Web episodes of "Forty and Shorty," an animation series about two 13-year-old misfits. The company also has a deal with Blockbuster.com to show its films on that site.
"We're finding talent and hits faster than traditional entertainment," said Matt Hulett, chief marketing officer at AtomFilms. "Basically, the talent pool is so large out here that it's difficult to support the influx of talent."
Tried but not yet true
Although the companies and the creative talent are coming together, Web incubation remains experimental. The closest bridge between the Web and the cinema has been "The Blair Witch Project," which used the Web more as a marketing medium than as a springboard for distribution.
"I'm sure it will happen, and that will prove one of the goals of the medium," said David Card, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. "But I wouldn't give anything credit yet."
The companies are waiting for a big hit to prove that the Web has a place in the entertainment world. But until then, Thomas T. Wolf will have to settle for life in a tiny window on a computer desktop.