Analyzing “Double Rainboom”

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Double Rainboom is a really cool fan project created by Flamingo Rich productions. Assembling a huge staff of animators, voice actors, sound designers, etc., and directed by Zach Rich, Double Rainboom was an animation project that Zach did for his college finals, and spent over a year in production. He billed it as the first fan-made, full-length episode to feature show-quality animation, and indeed, as an animation test, the episode is quite impressive.

However, what interested me the most while watching the episode is that the animation DOESN’T actually look like the show. I mean yes, all of the poses and facial expressions are pretty much lifted straight from the show, but the way they’re actually animated is quite different.

The two big differences between the look of Double Rainboom and the look of the show are the frame rate, and the smoothness of the animation. It’s actually hard for me to say if Double Rainboom had a lower frames per second count than the show, but it wouldn’t be surprising. After all, this was a completely non-profit project, and adding in more frames would ordinarily be a matter of increased time and budget. There probably weren’t as many people doing in-between animations on this episode as there would be on an ep of MLP, wherein the studio can probably send the episode to spme studio in Korea or something to produce the in-betweens.

More importantly, though, what makes the style different is the lack of bounce in the characters. In MLP proper, there is a ton of bouncing in all of the animation, as well as a lot more instances where the animation goes between extreme positions very quickly. In Double Rainboom, a lot of movements don’t feel as fluid as they would in the show, because they’re given actually too many frames.

This is hard for me to explain, because I’m not actually an animation student, and I suspect Zach Rich himself could even explain this better than I can, but basically, to make animation look natural, there has to be a certain speed and fluidity to it. For instance, let’s say we were animating a walk cycle. In order to make the walking feel natural, we can’t just have every frame of the hoof’s movement evenly spaced apart, because when you walk, or, more prominently here, skip, not every part of the movement takes an equal amount of time.

If this is hard to understand, or if you really want to learn more about how the animation works in MLP, I definitely recommend checking out Grant Beaudette’s MLP animation analysis videos. Not only does he go in-depth on analyzing moments from Pinkie’s walk cycle in the Smile song to the way that speech is animated in the show, he also shows you how to do it all yourself. If you watch these videos for yourself, and then watch Double Rainboom, then you’ll probably feel the same thing that I did.

I don’t imagine that this artistic difference was unnoticed by Zach Rich. More likely, the scale of the project and the fact that it was a completely non-profit fan work means that certain things were just allowed to slide. There are a lot of moments in Double Rainboom that feel more like the show than others, so it’s kind of a case-by-case thing with moments that do or don’t reflect the show.

What this effect caused for me overall, was a sort of uncanny valley effect. The uncanny valley refers to the fact that the closer something gets to looking real, the more obvious its unreal traits become. In the case of Double Rainboom, the uncanny valley is both in the subtle animation differences, and in the voice acting, which obviously isn’t the original voice actresses. Now, I’ve seen tons of MLP fan animations which look and sound nothing like the show, but it doesn’t feel jarring because those are their own things. It’s only because Double Rainboom comes so close to actually looking like MLP that the differences become really unnerving, which is a kind of sad way to prove just how good of a job Flamingo Rich did in nearly capturing the show’s style.

But before I’m done talking about the animation, let’s move onto the point where it actually gets interesting. Midway through Double Rainboom, Rainbow Dash is teleported to The City of Townsville from the Power Puff Girls. This part of the show is very interesting, because it doesn’t look like the original PPG, but definitely looks like what PPG would look like if it were made today. Because PPG had been cell animated back in the day, it didn’t have the consistent outlines and character models that the Double Rainboom version has. It kinda looks like if you combined the thick-outlines style of PPG with the clean, stylistic backgrounds and models of Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends. (An appropriate combination since Lauren Faust worked on both shows.)

The coolest thing about this section is that even though Rainbow Dash is drawn in a different style, all of her movements are still taken directly from MLP. Now, instead of looking strange because they aren’t quite the same as the show, the movements become fascinating because they’ve been re-imagined in this new style.

So, that about wraps up my thoughts on the animation, but I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t also talk about the cultural impact and reception of this episode among fans of MLP. There was a pretty interesting paradigm shift here in which expectation and result came to an impasse and… um… hold on something’s happening… this is… what?

Bronycurious: Double Rainboom has been touted since it’s reveal as the first fanmade episode, and while Snowdrop may have beaten it to release by a week, Double Rainboom still beats it out in terms of overall runtime….not that this is a competition.

Anyways, its actually rather unfortunate that Zach and co have been using the “Fanmade Episode” catchphrase so strongly, since, ironically enough, that’s probably why there is a large portion of detractors for this project. By using the term “fanmade episode”, as well as pushing so strongly for a show-accurate visual and audio style, everyone, myself included , was expecting to have a 22-minute experience that was trying to be as close as possible to what we see on the Hub on Saturdays.

Of course, it only takes watching a few minutes of Double Rainboom to realize that that was never the goal of this project to begin with, and its here that we can begin to see how the projects tagline shot itself in the proverbial foot. A “fanmade episode” to most doesn’t mean that it simply meets the length required of an episode of MLP, it means its INDISTINGUISHABLE from the real thing. And since Double Rainboom obviously never intended to do this, it created a false pretense that many viewers simply couldn’t look past. Add in the aforementioned “uncanny valley” effect from a technical standpoint, and we’re left with high expectations that were not only impossible to meet for a non-profit project, but, even worse, were never the goal of the project to begin with. Double Rainboom is a tribute and parody animation, a long one, but a parody nonetheless. It’s not attempting to be a canon episode of MLP, but in an effort to keep the surprise 2nd half under wraps, Zach and co never really revealed their true intentions for the tone of the project, and thus allowed themselves to present a work that looked like it had one goal in mind, but really had another. To a lot of fans, this tonal shift was a dealbreaker, regardless if the product itself had any sort of intrinsic merit.

DBRONY: This whole scenario reminds me a lot of the lead-in to the now extremely popular anime series Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Leading up to its release, Madoka was billed as a lighthearted magical girl show. The studio and director behind it were known for their often eccentric styles, and had done shows running the gamut from comedy to gothic horror. The writer, Urobuchi Gen, had exclusively worked on uber-dark horror stories. Leading up to the release of Madoka, Butch Gen put out a statement that he was trying to move in a new direction with Madoka and do something lighthearted for once.

When the show came out, it was obvious that it was a bit more disturbing that your average magical girl fair, but this was just attributed to the usual eccentricity of studio SHAFT. Only after a huge shocking moment in the third episode did it turn out that all the marketing had been a deliberate lie to give a false sense of security. Once the episode aired, Butch Gen revealed that he’d been holding onto this secret for months, and viewers like myself who weren’t prepared were blown away. That said, in the case of Madoka, the show was so under the radar before its release, and the twist was so mind-blowing, and the show so good, that it was received positively. As for Double Rainboom…

Bronycurious: it does have intrinsic merit. And that’s something that can’t be ignored. This is still a nearly 30 minute animation done as a labor of love by the community that’s incredibly complex on a technical level. Add to the fact that its a massive multinational collaboration organized entirely online and we have something impressive just for what it is.

Yes, Double Rainboom isn’t a legit MLP episode, but as soon as you can move past that and ask yourself “OK, so what is here?” there’s actually a lot to love. Despite it being done a bit differently, Just LOOK at the animation on display here. It reaching an incredibly strong high and doesn’t waver from that bar throughout its runtime.

This is a beautiful piece of work, especially when we see more of the Canterlot Wedding-style animation as Twilight predicts what the talent enhancer’s effects will be on her friends.The fandom references in the first half are out of place for a legitimate episode of ponies, but these same gags would have been lauded in any other fan animation, and having them in here doesn’t make the ideas themselves any worse.

The animation gets even more insane in the second half when Dash goes to Townsville, as we not only get to see Rainbow Dash in a whole new visual language, but we also get to see what Powerpuff might have looked like if done with today’s technology. This fact alone is pretty amazing to fans of Powerpuff like myself, and its kinda funny that an MLP animation is now probably also the most technically impressive Powerpuff Girls fan project as well.  Add in the fact that we got to see the effectiveness of a weaponized Sonic Rainboom, and more Pinkie 4th wall shenanigans, all adds up to an amazing amount of awesome bits sprinkled throughout the runtime that make this project memorable.

The fact of the matter is, looking at this project not as an episode of MLP, but rather as something like Epic Wub Time on steroids shows just how much of a massive achievement this is, and not the dismal failure so many seem so ready to call it out for being.

My only real complaint is that, despite showing all the big names from Cartoon Cartoon Fridays, the only ones we really see are PPG and Fosters, making the whole thing feel a bit like more at this point unnecessary Faust worshipping. But, if there was one way to finally put the idolization to bed and send it off with a tribute for the ages, I can’t think of a better way to do so than Double Rainboom.

DBRONY: Thanks Bronycurious! Those are great points altogether. Personally, I didn’t get that invested in Double Rainboom. I totally appreciate what it is and how much it does, but in terms of appealing to me on a personal level, I just didn’t care all that much. If you wanna see an animation that came out the other day that I did enjoy a lot, watch Once Upon A time In Canterlot by Kanashiipanda. And while you’re going around looking at pony videos, you should head over to Bronycurious’ channel and show him some love as well! He did write half of this video after all, so if you enjoyed it, give him a subscribe or somethin!

This has been part one of me giving in to the demands of my viewers. Next week: Boast Busters!

2 thoughts on “Analyzing “Double Rainboom”

  1. Wait the fuck up, are you serious? Urobuchi was LYING? I thought he was just speaking from his own twisted, ironic way of thinking. Goddamn, I can’t pick up on any kind subtlety and sarcasm whatever. I have even less fondness for his work now. And the stuff I’ve said about his work strikes me as even truer.

    There’s no point to disputing what you and BC have come up with; it’s almost too right. And the topics were definitely the most practical thing to analyze. Besides, even if there was more data to add, it wouldn’t be me.

    What would it have taken, pointing to your final paragraphs, for the writing to draw you in?

    Wasn’t to my taste, as you can guess, because I couldn’t do the sorts of things I enjoy with ordinary MLP. I feel that I can’t even legitimately be disappointed, because it’s like I was supposed to know the expectations going in. I watched this, went, “Damn,” and tried to be nice about it. I even came up with a half-baked outline in fifteen minutes flat, just to keep myself sane:

    1. 45 minute ep (= length of part 1+part 2).
    2. MUCH less filler.
    3. RD performs Double Rainboom and begins figuring out implications by, say, 10 minutes in.
    4. Star Swirl the Bearded: experimental spells (hypothetically had the ability to travel worlds). This idea seems consistent with the time-travel one in the Season 2 ep. Amazing spells for a little time (longer, when juiced by the potion), but one-timers.
    5. Cartoon Network worlds collide (or, more precisely, ones of specific CN shows)
    6. Villain wants to do something crazy (he or she has NOT necessarily figured out the specifics, is NOT necessarily going to succeed): say, split the worlds indefinitely, collide them, whatever. The wormhole or dimensional anchor would be Ponyville, created inadvertently by RD. The physics kinks and assumptions would have to be worked out, of course.
    7. Bring RD back/send CN characters back/close rift; Pinkie is best bet for experimental spell plan because of HAMMAHSPAYCE SKILLZ and taking of the potion; Twilight is the best bet for concocting the spell and also takes the potion. Hell, maybe all of them take it; it would be a difficult decision, safety and fear-wise. It would depend on the specific side effects, and how deftly these elements are woven and hinted throughout the plot. Hopefully, well-woven.
    8. Tough villain fight, enhanced powers fade, save the worlds, return to normalcy.
    9. Rebuilding Ponyville in the denouement/final scenes; role of writing a Report is somehow ironic. Bam, done.

    Only at that point would I not have really have minded the fanservice; as it stood, the wingboner, trollface, etc. memes, etc not only distracted but made me feel incredibly awkward because the aesthetic you describe only emphasized them. All at once, the work felt hollow to me. Little payoff.

    How “intentional” do you think the writing was? That the group thought it would be hilarious? Not enough thought given? Maybe there was too much voting and speculation. What the hell am I supposed to say? It’s not like I’m a great project builder, myself.

    I’m almost scornful. Couldn’t be that tough with some English and some creative writing majors, and some obsessive characterization data-gathering fans. For them to watch a few movies with this premise. I guess I assume school and stuff got in the way.

    Boast Busters. It’s like I’m excited. Well, you’ll do great.

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