» TRS Round Table 014: Double Rainboom

Welcome back to another rousing edition of TRS Round Table! This edition puts a lens on Double Rainboom, the fan produced episode by Zachary Rich’s animation team. TRS Round Table is our group analysis and chat about the episode, and maybe you’ll learn something new or look at it in a different light. Joining the Round Table today are Wayoshi, ComradeCosmobot, drunkill, Headless Horse, BartonFink, and KefkaFloyd. Find out our thoughts beyond the cut.

If you haven’t seen Double Rainboom yet, you can watch it on Youtube for free. Don’t let us spoil it for you.

KefkaFloyd: So Zach Rich (AKA Flamingo1986) and his team managed to do it—they shipped a finished product, and just in time to hand in to his professors at Savannah College of Art and Design. For good or for ill, the team managed to produce a lot more than what other people have managed to do.

BartonFink: First and foremost, and it is worth saying, flamingo1986 started with an incredibly bold and brash premise: creating an entire fan episode, start to finish. He got a crew together, spent a year on it, poured himself into it, and got the job done. Even within the context of a college project, there’s a huge amount of credit due to anyone with the discipline and commitment needed to pull that off.

Wayoshi: But he also had his own desires for this project (a crossover with something like Powerpuff Girls)… I just wish he hadn’t advertised it as the first fan-made episode. That distinction will still have to wait for some other project.

ComradeCosmobot: I don’t really understand the complaint. It’s a fan-made episode, regardless of any complaints you might lodge against it. I’ll definitely commend him for the effort.

Headless Horse: It’s difficult to pin down whether it’s a valid complaint when the term “episode” is such a fluid thing, in this age of Netflix-commissioned original series and ad-driven YouTube channels. Double Rainboom isn’t beholden to any of the constraints of traditional TV episodes, like commercial breaks between acts, but it put them in anyway. It let itself go 30 minutes instead of the traditional 22, but in all other respects it seems to want to be treated like a regular episode. And that’s why the stylistic break in the middle is so jarring. It gave us expectations and then busted right through them.

Double Rainboom Twilight and Rainbow Hey Twi, whatcha doooin’?

drunkill: It’s a bold project anyway you look at it, you may disagree with the ‘fan episode’ tag because it strays from what an episode of the actual show is like but overall it’s a hefty effort and quite good all up.

KefkaFloyd: Primarily, Double Rainboom was Zach’s animation portfolio project, so above all else it’s an exercise in animation and visuals. How did the animation come across to you, especially compared to its sources?

BartonFink: Speaking as a layman, I was firmly impressed with the look and flow of the animation. Some parts were obviously designed to be a bit flashy (pun intended) and show off skills, and it felt perfectly warranted. It also took on two animation styles with the crossover aspect and managed to fit Dash into it without seeming gimmicky. Taken as a thesis project, this would be an impressive portfolio addition.

Headless Horse: I really enjoyed seeing how much effort they put into the body language and facial movements—they really wanted to meet the show’s standard there.

KefkaFloyd: If I were his professors and grading solely on animation quality, it’d probably be an A-worthy project. Sure, there’s some wonkiness, but he managed to direct and produce an entire team of people to ship a product that has solid animation quality. While it’s not perfect, I would say he achieved his goal and did it handily on the front that he will really be graded on—the animation itself.

BartonFink: Nitpick, but the only sequence that stood out as a bit awkward was Twilight yelling at Rainbow Dash from the hill, where her face seemed off.

ComradeCosmobot: I hadn’t seen any of the preview material since… last summer I think it was, and while I’ll commend the crew for seeing it to the finish, I was bothered by a bunch of minor glitches mostly having to do with how the Flash assets were designed and layered. There were quite a few places where the smooth lines I would have expected to see were replaced by sharp angles and straight edges where layers didn’t match up right. There was also a bit of a clunkiness to Twilight’s running sequences that didn’t really feel right.

Headless Horse: Maybe, but there were also a lot of bits of Twilight and Dash running and jumping animation that were so good-looking I had to rewind to watch them again. The timing of the scene where she’s running around the lab with her printouts is wonky and protracted, but I can’t fault those run cycles.

drunkill: I hadn’t seen any animation since those early animatics were released, which looked pretty good back then and have been cleaned up a little since, overall the animation is fine and they attempt to replicate the show look pretty well considering it’s a non-professional job, it’s the pauses in dialogue and pacing which can make the animation seem a little awkward at times of rest in the story.

ComradeCosmobot: Agreed. The slow pacing is what really starts letting the viewer’s mind wander and start picking up on the flaws of the animation. If it weren’t for that, I doubt my minor animation complaints would even be an issue. I mean, it’s not like FiM hasn’t had its own glitches and bugs.

BartonFink: The credit sequence is also really cute and fun, it would even work outside of the context of a fan episode.

Double Rainboom Credits And no, we’re not saying they’re nice just because we’re in them. :V

KefkaFloyd: I just wanted to note that in the opening credits, somebody used the Celestia Medium font for about three or four lines even though everywhere else they used the real deal, Generation B! Zach, did you do this to troll me? I thought we were buds! LET ME SING FOR YOU THE SONG OF MY BROTHER!

drunkill: The credits probably are the most expressive part of the project- not that the rest is bad, but because that short sequence shows quite a lot more emotion and playfulness with the simplistic ‘canterlot wedding’ artstyle when the rest of the project does attempting to match the look of the show. Matching what a professional company does with hundreds of animatiors is a hard task, which is why the two sequences in the film showing this simple artform works so well, it’s easier to make it look cute and funny.

KefkaFloyd: The biggest gripe about DR is that the writing and pacing of the story isn’t quite up to what we expect, especially when it was billing itself as the first “fan made episode.” Are the complaints with merit, or are people being too harsh?

BartonFink: I get that this was primarily done as an animation project, and it succeeded on that level. But in the light of a tribute piece to Friendship is Magic, I just couldn’t help but find the writing to not be up to snuff.

There’s a certain stream of consciousness to the way the plot unfolds, jumping from a lengthy exploration of Twilight’s potion, to Dash’s sudden urge to impress, to what is essentially a Powerpuff Girls crossover fic. There’s a certain energy to that, but it’s hard not to lose something in the transitions. For example, there’s a little hint at the beginning that this is a potion Twilight seems to be personally invested in, a plot strand never really called back to in any meaningful way (especially noticeable given the large amount of time setting the potion up). By the time we get back to Dash’s “anti-stealing” letter to Princess Celestia, you kinda have to think back for yourself and wonder how you got here.

ComradeCosmobot: Yeah, there didn’t really seem to be a firm plot here. If anything, you could probably call each act its own self-contained plot with practically nothing to connect it to the others except for the occasional callback to the potion. I can’t fault the animation, but from even the earliest stages it was obvious that this was going to be more of an animation project than a real project. Consider, for instance, the fact that we had an animatic/storyboard as early as fall 2011, and it’s pretty obvious that the main goal was the animation.

Double Rainboom BTTF Homage Where we’re going, we don’t need horns.

Headless Horse: It’s a shame, because they could have done quite a lot with this concept. Dash could have learned a lesson in the Powerpuff world. She could have earned some redemption for her hubris. Hell, she could at least have made some kind of point about not beating up on a monster who is clearly repentant. Is Rainbow Dash supposed to be a better superhero than the Powerpuffs? Or is there really just nothing to read from her crossover scene at all—no point to that sequence at all except that she gets stuck there killing time and avoiding being made some diabolical little girls’ pet pony until Pinkie drags her back? That’s decidedly un-Pony as stories go.

BartonFink: The other big criticism I have is that large portions of the dialogue felt stilted, and lacked the little character touches that make FiM so charming – there’s a little bit for Dash, but it’s of a fairly boilerplate “cool heroine” variety. I don’t mean this as a discredit to the VAs (who did a fine job) so much as the dialogue itself doesn’t have much of a built-in flow to it. Given the animation-centric priorities, there’s a logic to this, but it becomes noticeable in longer sequences – especially the opening, which feels dragged out without much of a payoff that couldn’t have been handled in 90 seconds.

BartonFink: They also occasionally give a break in the flow of dialogue so that a character can emote to what’s happening on-screen – while this displays some solid animation skills, it also screws up the pacing.

ComradeCosmobot: This (the pacing) was really my biggest complaint. If Magical Mystery Cure was moving at hyperspeed to fit an episode and a half of content into a single episode, Double Rainboom has the opposite problem. The pacing was so slow that I looked at the time scrubber when I guess the first half ended (before the PPG crossover began) and couldn’t believe that the episode was only half-way done. And that was only 17 minutes in, not even a full FiM episode! Given that this “episode” had nearly half again as much time to play in (30 minutes instead of 22) it’s a bit frustrating that the episode didn’t even seem to get as much done as in a normal episode.

Literally every visual joke, dialogue line, or scene seemed to go on for too long. I can’t think of a single aspect of the episode that was timed well enough to keep the pacing from drawing on too long. It really felt like the crew didn’t have any idea what to do with the oceans of time that 30 minutes gives (having written maybe 20 minutes worth of material), and just tried to pad out the animation any way they could by effectively giving each aspect half-again as much time as it needed. For as nice as the animation and visual transitions were, there really was no need to spend nearly a minute and a half to explaining how each pony’s abilities would be heightened other than to fill time.

Twilight Goes Mad with Power This was before Princess Twi was even a twinkle in our eyes.

BartonFink: To toss in a specific example, there’s a visual gag with Derpy having a flower pot fall on her head and “de-derping” her. I actually thought this was a funny gag in its own right. But it’s followed up (after a moment) by another flower pot falling and re-derping the eyes. Then it holds another moment, and the actual “punchline” is that when she finally goes to eat her muffin, another flower pot falls. Way too many beats there.

Headless Horse: And I can’t figure out what they were thinking with that exchange between Twilight and Dash in the library, where they’re sitting on the floor about ten feet apart and the camera keeps sweeping laboriously back and forth between them while they pause awkwardly after every line of dialogue. What’s that supposed to be showing us? That they don’t know how to stage a scene so the characters are both in shot? Because that’s what it felt like it was deliberately calling attention to.

Wayoshi: Also, while AJ, Rarity and Fluttershy got background gags, no lines for any of the three? Maybe integrating our favorite mares into the plot instead of a crossover twist would have hit home better.

KefkaFloyd: Not to forget that there were music and sound to go along with pretty pictures. With music by Andrew Stein (AKA MandoPony) and effects by Daniel Larsen, the team certainly put a good foot forward. I thought the backing score was pretty decent.

BartonFink: Musical cues were generally solid and appropriate, though occasionally leaned a bit on the overbearing side. Dash’s GUITAR RIFFS at the beginning were a tad much.

ComradeCosmobot: I was just about to say that. It was pretty obvious that the cues were meant to be very visible as cues; plenty of time was given to lead into them, plenty of time was spent to show them off, and plenty of time was left over to let the viewer mentally recognize them as cues. This is probably a bad thing for the average viewer (the best musical cue is one where you don’t recognize it as one), but is probably appropriate to the goal of the project.

Headless Horse: MandoPony must have had a blast working in all the themes both from the show and from other sources, like the old Cartoon Cartoon bumpers (during the dimensional transit scene). I’ll admit that the Back to the Future quote was subtle and tasteful enough to give me just the right reaction, during a scene that actually felt like it deserved its slow and lingering pacing for reasons of cinematic storytelling. Kind of a shame the whole poignant idea of Twilight thinking she’d just seen her friend fall to her death got lost in the shuffle somewhere and all she could do when Dash regained consciousness was to glower.

KefkaFloyd: Another point that’s sure to raise some comments was the voice acting in Double Rainboom. Comparing the actors and actresses to the show’s crew is a bit of a fool’s errand, as nothing will be exactly alike. Some familiar faces like Rina-Chan and Mereith Sims fill out a cast taken from bigger name internet voices. I thought it was pretty good compared against other fan projects. Some voices were better than others, but I thought the casting on the Powerpuff segment was the best. I think that comparing fan voices against “the real thing” is an impossible standard to hold these people to; and judged on their own merits I thought they did jobs ranging from acceptable to excellent, particulary the Powerpuff’s actresses.

Headless Horse: I thought the ponies were generally okay—not so I’d recognize them without the visuals, but nothing distractingly “off”. The Powerpuff Girls’ voices were excellent, though. I felt like I’d be able to recognize Bubbles or Buttercup even with my eyes closed.

Pinkie Breaks the Fourth Wall Also Sprach Pinkiethrustra

KefkaFloyd: All that said, at the end of the day Double Rainboom had a lot of expectations to live up to. Would the reception have been different if it hadn’t been billed as an “episode” of the show?

ComradeCosmobot: The biggest issue with Double Rainboom isn’t really its execution per se, so much as the mismatch of fan expectations with the goals of Double Rainboom itself. Fans may have come to Double Rainboom expecting a fan episode, but what they got was exactly what Double Rainboom was from its very conception: a college capstone project. This may seem to be a strange distinction to make, but it’s a crucial one, as the two goals really are fundamentally different.

Headless Horse: I think I know what you’re getting at. It’s a question of who’s the intended audience, right?

ComradeCosmobot: An academic capstone project demands that a student demonstrate proficiency and skill, and in this sense, Double Rainboom succeeds excellently. From the numerous audio cues, to the “zoom shot” used to express Dash’s shock when faced with the Powerpuff Girls, to both side- and front- views of various chase scenes, the episode clearly demonstrates the crew’s commitment and ability to make effective use of the various styles and clichés of animation to convey a story and emotions. But this is very different from making a true artistic expression of a creative vision. Properly expressing one’s creative vision requires knowing how to use the tools in the artist’s toolkit, it is true, but it also requires the artist to know when to use the tools, and what tools are appropriate for the job. In this latter sense, Double Rainboom fails. It uses every tool in the toolset to show that the crew knows how to do more than just star wipes, rather than trying to show that the crew knows how to use them wisely.

The dichotomy between academic project and work of art also explains the consistency of the pacing problems. As I noted above, when pacing is slow, the viewer’s mind will wander and more readily notice the details of a scene, both good and bad. This is, of course, bad form in an artistic work. True skill in art rewards repeating viewing. Hitting people over the head with the details the first time isn’t really art.

But even if this doesn’t work for art, slow pacing is exactly what is needed in an academic project. When you consider that the point of the episode is to demonstrate proficiency and skill, it naturally follows that the episode should boldly proclaim “See how I can use audio cues?” “See how I can make a visual joke?” “See how I can make a thematically appropriate transition between scenes?” What better way to do this, then, but by giving the scrutinizing teacher the chance to digest each and every exercise with a pregnant pause?

Given this then, it is very easy for me to say that Double Rainboom shows remarkable technical skill. Aside from the few visual issues with the design of certain edges and layer positioning, there’s very little to complain about on the technical execution. As an academic project, I’m sure this would pass with flying colors. But as a demonstration of the true skill of the auteur, Double Rainboom just doesn’t match up. Its writing is lackluster and its pacing is frightfully slow. While this ruins the episode for those expecting a polished work of art, it’s important to remember that that was never the goal of the project.

Headless Horse: “Flying colors”. Ho ho. Derpy Dash is such a jerk

KefkaFloyd: And that sort of leads into my next thought—is it possible for fans to even make something that could thematically and spiritually embody the show, as opposed to being an ersatz copy? The creators of DR were very clear that this was a fan project targeted towards fans, but legal restrictions aside (of which there were many) could someone manage to serve both masters of fans and the source?

drunkill: I think it’s possible to come close, but most people creating these want to put their own mark on things, which inevitably make certain aspects of these projects stray from the spirit of the show.

Fan projects will always be lacking in a number of areas where the show won’t. The voice acting will never live up to the real characters we know, these projects will always have a shoutout or reference for an older audience or crowd which the show would either do without or be made subtle. A fan project will never fully replicate the show unless they give themselves the same constraints as to time and content controls (and budget) that can be animated by professionals and voiced by the shows cast. But good luck to those who try to replicate it as much as possible.

Headless Horse: I’ve always thought that it’s fundamentally impossible to hold a team to a central vision when they’re doing it on a volunteer basis. What you’ve got is a workforce made up of individuals and mavericks, who are doing it because they want recognition more than they want a living wage. In order to hold your team to a cohesive central vision, whether you’re talking about software or animation or what-have-you, you typically have to pay them, and pay them well. You have to have employees whose job it is to uphold your vision, rather than using the volunteer nature of the project to indulge their own. Flamingo1986 made a valiant effort, but in the end he’s still doing this as a fan and not a DHX employee, and so it’s almost a foregone conclusion that there will be things like trollfaces and domo-moons.

KefkaFloyd: To be fair, the team was very upfront that it would contain that sort of stuff, so I expected that going in. It’s not like they sprung it by surprise, unless you hadn’t read up on the project at all. Then it might be a bit jarring.

ComradeCosmobot: I don’t think it’s that difficult to hit on the spirit of the show, but it really would take an honest labor of love, and a cast and crew willing to put aside their own desires a bit to really hit at the heart of what makes FiM… FiM. Really, fan-made episodes are going to be like fanfics. Sure, there can be good ones, but you need a writer, a director, animators, and voice actors who really understand and respect the ethos of the show to pull it off well. Fan pandering is nice, but it’s also easy to fall into.

Wayoshi: It would take the best fan-writers’ scripts combined with the animation resources of this project to come close. Say, Sunny Skies with all the attributes of this project sans the story – decent voice acting, great animation, heck even bad pacing – would have been much closer to the spirit of the show that we got.

KefkaFloyd: And that’s it for this edition of the TRS Round Table! Join us next time for more analysis and discussion about MLP: Friendship is Magic and its fandom. 

Share your thoughts

  1. DR shouldn’t have billed itself as the first fan made episode if they weren’t going to follow the same format as the show. There wasn’t a cold open, three distinguishable acts, and the real show wouldn’t have included all those memes, or the crossover.

    The Derpy scene should have been edited down to only the first two clay pots, Snowflake should have been edited out completely, and the trollface should have been replaced with a generic demon face.

    I really liked this project, but if I was the creator, I never would have opened up the can of worms by calling it the first fan made episode. I do feel that the laboratory scenes were show quality in the content of the interaction between Dash and Twi, even if the pacing was slow. This was really funny at times, and I think the DR team should be encouraged to make a sequel. They certainly have earned a great deal of respect and applause from us all.

  2. I think something that many fans were put off by with DR was that when they see the term fan-made episode, they thought it meant ‘show-accurate’. Which in fact DR is barely one at all. It’s definitely a tribute episode.

    Also, bizarrely enough, the best scene for me was actually the PPG scene, in spite being a section plenty found jarring. But, it had the best non-pop-culture-reference laughs, the best character writing, and that RD became Antoinette.

    I have no doubts Zachary Rich will have a bright future ahead, but he needs to be able to adapt to different styles if he wants to really get ahead of the curve.

  3. You guys make, well all the points. :p

    Sure things could have been done better, maybe less time on the RD/Twi scene at the start and maybe cut down the amount of time in the crossover world to just a minute or something?
    As far as crossovers go using PPG alone wasn’t a strong choice. But using a whole bunch of them from different cartoons might have worked. Provided the writer(s) know the other shows too.
    I enjoyed some of the gags, but others like the derpy/flower pot one dragged a little.

    It’s fun to watch but if you go in thinking “this is a fan version of a show episode”, heh yeah you’ll be disappointed.

    It suffered from the sharp edge of hyping up a fan project as the feedback shows very clearly. Though it’s great we get treated with fan works like this and snowdrop, there’s no sense in expecting A grade on absolutely everything in a volunteer project.

    Basically people were expecting a DnD session of the mane six in ponyville or some other equestrian area filled with gags/special effects and all that jazz. Oh dear, on the plus side we have a fandom that is capable of delivering ponies!

    Ponies guys, ponies!