Director will bring offbeat eye to the Net

Cartoon: Shockwave.com adds David Lynch to the roster of big-name artists developing animated content for its site.

March 27, 2000|By Jon Healey | Jon Healey,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Celebrated independent filmmaker David Lynch, known for probing the boundaries of visual entertainment, has announced a new experiment: He's going to make cartoons for the Internet.

Lynch is the latest big-name artist landed by Shockwave.com (www.shockwave.com), the entertainment Web site owned by San Francisco-based software company Macromedia. In recent months, the company also has recruited comic-book legend Stan Lee, "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and filmmaker Tim Burton to develop original animated series for the site.

Few terms of the deal were disclosed, but Shockwave.com Chairman Rob Burgess said Lynch will receive shares in the privately held company.

Lynch is most famous for such offbeat and jarring works as the films "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart" and the TV series "Twin Peaks." But he started his artistic career as a painter, then migrated to animation before making his first films, which he said "were like moving paintings."

The same might be said for Lynch's series for Shockwave.com, called "Dumbland." The shows will be animated using Shockwave's Flash software, which can deliver smooth and colorful cartoons but not the vigorous action of films.

Lynch offered few details about "Dumbland," an absurd look at dysfunctional characters in an urban environment.

"It's very dumb, and it's very bad quality," Lynch deadpanned to reporters Wednesday at the Yahoo! Internet Life Online Film Festival, where the deal with Shockwave.com was announced. "It's going to be very crude, but sophisticatedly crude."

In an interview later, Lynch said the series will be a collection of jewel-like fragments -- not unlike the modularity of "Twin Peaks." One of the appealing things about the Internet, he said, is that it embraces that approach.

"It's like, chunks of funk is the Net right now," Lynch said, adding later: "Maybe I just think that way. Fragments can be very mysterious."

Another appealing feature of creating for the Internet is that, unlike a TV show, an online series can turn on a dime in response to audience feedback. "If something doesn't work," he said, "you can switch very rapidly."

But that doesn't mean Lynch will be building a lot of interactivity into the shows, or that he'll let the audience make decisions for his characters. "You want a story to go a certain way. That's part of the beauty of storytelling," he said.

Burgess said Lynch seems to have a clear vision for "Dumbland," but the director wasn't revealing much about it Wednesday. For example, when asked what genre the series might fit into -- comedy, say, or adventure -- Lynch said, "Everything."

Nor is it clear how often the series would appear. But that didn't bother Burgess, who said that when it comes to entertainment on the Web, "you don't have to make a lot of decisions in advance."

Another missing piece is whether viewers would have to pay to see Lynch's original works on the Web. Noting the many different ways to generate revenue from online entertainment -- advertising, selling merchandise, sponsorships, affiliations, subscription fees and pay per view, to name a few -- Lynch said he expected his approach to be a hodgepodge.

"I'm finding my way," he said. And although he's willing to make some things available for free, he'll have to find a way to be compensated for the time spent developing a new series.

"Right now there's kind of an unwritten law [on the Internet] that people should give away things for free," Lynch said. "[But] people who provide content have to get paid for it."

One motive for entertainers to enlist with Shockwave.com is its potential reach. The site may not have the kind of audience as Web news and information stalwarts, drawing 4.2 million visitors in January compared to more than 40 million for Yahoo!, but it's one of the top three destinations for Web surfers seeking entertainment.

In addition, Burgess noted that about 110 million people have downloaded the software needed to play Flash animations, so the potential audience for Lynch and other Shockwave.com creators is huge.

To Lynch, though, the size of the audience isn't as appealing as the chance to use new tools to project his often peculiar vision. "It's like an experiment," he said. "It's very exciting."

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