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Animation Lead Time
"Doing an animated film is like building a cruise ship - you make it in one economy and launch it in another."
—Hollywood reporter Jim Hill (paraphrased)
Animation takes time. Good animation takes a long
time. A delay of over a year between writing and air is not uncommon. This can really put a damper on a series' attempts to be topical.
Can be a major cause of "We Are Still Relevant, Dammit!"
- Happens a lot in the Disney Animated Canon. Sometimes three to five years will pass between the initial announcement of a project and the theatrical release of the movie, thus occasionally having the final picture entering into a social or economic market it is ill-prepared for.
- In the early 90's it was not uncommon for Disney to include rough pencil tests and storyboards in the trailers for their movies, simply because there wasn't enough finished footage to make a complete trailer. This practice seems to have stopped, probably because it looks sloppy. The response has been to make initial teaser trailers merely describing the premise of the film using little to no footage from the actual movie; creating a custom short. Both Lilo & Stitch and The Princess and the Frog did this.
- One of the reasons The Emperors New Groove suffered a Re Tool was because the 2000 release date was set, but by 1998 it was clear that the film in the form it was in wouldn't be ready by then.
- Teasers for The Pagemaster were in theaters 4 years before the movie came out.
- This is one of the reasons (the other being heavy Executive Meddling in the version that eventually did get released) why people think The Thief and the Cobbler is a ripoff of Aladdin; it was released after it, but had actually been in development for so long beforehand that it's more credible to say Aladdin borrowed from it than the other way around.
- Jetsons: The Movie infamously replaced Janet Waldo (the original voice of Judy Jetson) with '80s pop singer Tiffany as a bit of Stunt Casting intended to draw in a teenage audience. By the time the film actually opened, Tiffany's flash-in-the-pan career was pretty much over. Waldo who wasn't told she had been replaced did not take it well. (incidentally, this movie took long enough to make that by the time it came out, two of the principal actors had died)
- While they'd been notorious for their string of loose copycat productions of Pixar films, only once was DreamWorks Animation able to use this trope to beat another film to the punch: The Wild, an obscure co-production between Disney and an independent Canadian company, had been in the works for six years before DreamWorks made it's pre-emptive strike with the suspiciously similar (and more heavily stylized) Madagascar. Like The Thief and the Cobbler, the end result was the movie in production first released after the film that borrowed it's concept became hugely successful, resulting in the original being accused of a ripoff.
- Newspaper comics are often written a long time in advance usually around eight weeks for dailies and twelve weeks for Sunday strips which can cause problems for more topical comics like Doonesbury, as lampshaded here◊.
- Garry Trudeau works two weeks away from deadline, closer than any other syndicated cartoonist. He also has a hired inker, which cuts back on production time. Generally speaking, this keeps things relevant.
- Fans of the bygone comic strip version of The Boondocks may regret that the TV series can't joke about current events nearly so much.
- One episode was about the R. Kelly statutory rape case. Even when the episode was written, the case was rapidly losing its relevance; by the time it aired, nobody had any idea what they were talking about anymore (or, for that matter, really cared).
- The Simpsons plays with this. They often try to overdub relevant jokes after the finished animation is back from its overseas production. They make it obvious on some occasions, such as the Super Bowl episode; the names of the teams were only said once, with Homer and Moe's mouths covered, and the overdub doesn't match the scene's audio.
- In that particular episode, it was deliberate to show what they were doing. They also took some potshots at the then-current Lewinsky scandal, where the status of Bill Clinton's Presidency was clearly overdubbed as well as the status of his marriage.
- They try to overcome it with overdubs and lampshade hanging, but they still fall victim to this trope big time. Combined with the occasional tendency of episodes to air a season or more after they were completed due to Fox's seasons and Simpsons production seasons not always lining up this trope has (for instance) caused parody episodes to be released years after the works they were mocking. Case in point, "Simpson Tide", a parody of the 1995 film Crimson Tide, was first shown in 1998note .
- In one episode, several Itchy and Scratchy cartoons are shown in quick succession, all parodying films at least a year old. Krusty then hangs a huge lampshade on it, asking why they're parodying movies that old, and saying that the animation took too long to make to get it out sooner.
- South Park is a rare aversion. Their animation process is so fast (the Stylistic Suck design helps a lot), that episodes are often made as little as a week ahead of airdate.
- The ultimate example of this is the episode "Christmas in Canada", which included references to (and images of) Saddam Hussein's capture three days after it happened.
- South Park broke its own record with "About Last Night...", spoofing the results of the 2008 election and the ensuing aftermath that had happened the previous night. Of course they wrote it assuming Obama's poll lead would translate into victory in the election (which it did).
- Similarly, the episode "Obama Wins!" aired the day after Obama's reelection, but the plot of the episode also dealt with the Walt Disney Company purchasing Lucasfilm, which had happened a week prior.
- Another example is the Quintuplets episode being rewritten after commercials aired to be about the Eliαn Gonzales situation.
- When Pope Francis was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year, the episode "The Hobbit", which had him accepting the award, aired the very same day of the announcement.
- Same for most shows on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. One episode of Robot Chicken did a Lampshade Hanging on this, however. During a spoof of the film Into The Blue, Seth Green (in stop-motion animated form) interrupted the skit to briefly explain how animation takes time and therefore some skits may be irrelevant. He then went on to state (with obvious irony) that he was confident that by now, Into the Blue had become a box office hit and won several Academy Awards, then closed by apologizing for any inconvenience.
- The British series 2DTV was an animated satire on the week's events, which obviously needed to be animated as quickly and cheaply as possible and it showed. (The basic idea was originally done with puppets as Spitting Image)
- The same goes for the Finnish animated series The Autocrats, which was a CGI-animated series about the largely fictional lives of the members of the Finnish parliament. Since each episode had to be done in a week for the sake of staying topical, in the end the show was neither particularly entertaining or particularly well animated, the latter being particularly obvious.
- The Family Guy episode "Ocean's 3 1/2" managed to do a joke about Christian Bale's Cluster F-Bomb within two weeks after the audio was first released, by quickly animating a reel-to-reel tape player playing clips of said outburst interspliced with Peter Griffin's voice reacting to it.
- This was cut out in later airings of the episode, and replaced with Quagmire's cutaway involving wanting to make an underwhelming thriller starring Jeff Bridges and Laura Linney.
- Admitted on the commentary track for the Futurama episode "300 Big Boys", which was about a big tax refund that, when it happened, was quite a big deal... but then came September 11th. By the time the episode aired, viewers either didn't get or didn't care about the reference.
- The whole phenomenon surrounding Derpy Hooves from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is an interesting case. After fans latched onto her appearance in the first episode which was an error or a joke (or both), depending on who you ask she appeared throughout the first half of season one with perfectly normal eyes. It wasn't until "Feeling Pinkie Keen" that Derpy reappeared with her now-famous googly eyes, as at that point the animators learned of her popularity and decided to intentionally "derp" her eyes in the remaining in-production Season 1 episodes (and give her random background cameos to liven up a scene). By Season 2, the staff started working her appearances into the actual scripts.
- The long lead time also had a less positive outcome. Her appearance in "The Last Roundup" led to accusations of insensitivity against the handicapped, and Hasbro made the animators re-edit her scene, causing a backlash. Derpy appeared throughout the rest of Season 2 without incident. But Season 3 which was in production at the time of the controversy features no Derpy cameos at all until the finale. She was also absent from the first nine episodes of Season 4.
- There was also a case of this in the form of the Second Season finale cashing in on the Royal Wedding phenomenon... almost a year after it happened.
- The Return of Harmony arc was originally produced as part of Season 1, but got pushed back to the Season 2 premiere.
- Rainbow Power ponies began appearing in the toyline a full year before their show debut in Part 2 of the Season 4 finale.