Thursday, June 23, 2016

A New Contract

Agreement has been reached with a Glendale cartoon studio:

Rough Draft Studios and the Animation Guild have reached an agreement for a multi-year deal covering animated features and television series created by the studio.

Glendale-based Rough Draft is best known for work on “Futurama” and “The Simpsons Movie” along with a variety of animated television shows and commercials. Its sister studio Rough Draft Studios (Korea) has been the production facility for “The Simpsons” for over two decades along with working for Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Television Animation and Warner Bros.

Rough Draft previously had a contract with the Animation Guild for work on 2007’s “The Simpsons Movie” but that deal had lapsed. ...

This deal took a bit of time to come together, but when the studio signaled a willingness to sit down and work out an agreement, talks moved along quickly.

We believe this new contract will be beneficial for Rough Draft and the writers, board artists, designers and everyone else who will work under it. Animation has been on a growth trajectory, and there will now be more Guild jobs on more productions in Los Angeles county.

Deadline's coverage is here, while the Hollywood Reporter's is here.

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Animation Guild Golden Award Interview #29 -- George Nicholas

Another of the Guild's Golden Awards interviews from the mid 1980s, this one with veteran animator George "Nick" Nicholas, (who's not to be confused with his one-time Disney mentor Charles "Nick" Nichols, a different artist entirely.)

George Nicholas's career started at Walter Lantz's shop but soon landed him at Disney. ...

And I was struck by similarities between George N.'s and Don Lusk's early and middle careers:

Like Don, George was a pre-war Mouse House animator. Also like Don, George hit the bricks in front of the Burbank studio during the Disney strike of 1941. He and Don were laid off from Walt Disney Productions around the same time, George at the end of Sleeping Beauty, Don toward the end of 101 Dalmations.

Don Lusk told me during the linked interview above that he ended up on Walt's "Employees I Want Gone" list because of his strike activity. And it set me wondering if George Nicholas ended up on the same roster on which Mr. Lusk found himself. At this remove, I doubt that we'll ever know for certain, but it's something to ponder.

Rega4rdless, Mr. Nicholas went on to a long and prosperous career at other animation studios. He passed away a couple of years after retiring, age 81.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dory Watch

The trades report:

By tomorrow, Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory will cross $200M becoming the fastest animated pic to do so in one week at the domestic B.O.

Previously, Toy Story 3 (final box office $415M) and Minions ($336M) accomplished that feat in nine days. Through five days, Dory counts $177.7M. Yesterday, the Andrew Stanton-Angus MacLane directed movie racked up $23.1M, the highest Tuesday ever for a feature toon, and the sixth highest grossing Tuesday overall.

Dory beats previous toon Tuesday record-holder Minions ($16.8M). Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens owns the best Tuesday B.O. record with $37.4M. This weekend, Dory is poised to hold on to her top spot at the weekend box office with a $60M second weekend, beating 20th Century Fox’s big summer sequel Independence Day: Resurgence which is looking to gross between $45M-$52M. ...

And there's plenty of other animated features rolling down up-country pike.

The Secret Life of Pets (Illumination Entertainment-Universal) receives a wide release on July 8th, and Ice Age: Collision Course (Blue Sky Studios-Fox) launches on July 22nd.

There are a poopload of long-form cartoons being rolled out globally in 2016, and why would that be surprising? Long-form cartoons make buckets of money.

Besides the two features named above, there will be Kubo and the Two Strings (Laika) August 19th, Storks (Warners) on September 23rd, then Trolls and Moana in November and a thundering herd of product in 2017.

Soon we will get to see the cannibalizing each other!! theory in action. Or not.

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Aardman Awarded

The Brit studio's founders win a prize.

... Aardman is the indisputable leader of the pack when it comes to British animation, the chief, the king, the tip-top company. Morph, Wallace and Gromit, Flushed Away and Chicken Run are as close as the Brits have ever come to producing cartoons - both shorts and features - that have competed on equal terms with the work of Disney and Pixar.

Their movies have been backed by Dreamworks and Sony and have made hundreds of millions of dollars at the British box office. Nonetheless, Sproxton and Lord still speak about their company as if it is a small British family business, a bit like Morgan Motor Cars.

Work is now well underway on Nick Park’s next animated feature, the prehistoric comedy Early Man (which will be released in 2018). According to Aardman bosses [Peter Lord and David Sproxton], it was an almighty struggle to get the film financed, even with Eddie Redmayne leading the voice cast and a budget less than half of that of the average Pixar or Disney blockbuster.

“I have no complaints about the business at all. I love it,” Lord says but adds that the perception the Aardman founders are “rolling around in great pots of gold” is not true at all. They still have to hustle to put together their movies. “We can’t just say we want X million.”

It's a good thing that Sproxton and Lord are receiving the Annecy "Personality of the Year" award. Their imprint on British animation has been (and is) profound. Why many of their movies haven't been larger global hits is a myster somebody else can unravel, because I've got no idea.

Perhaps British comedy doesn't travel as well as it once did. I mean, Charlie Chaplin was a worldwide smash, so some things must have changed.

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In Case You Missed It ...

... the Feds greenlit the Comcast-DreamWorks Animation merger on Tuesday:

NBCUniversal confirms that the Department of Justice cleared the acquisition of DreamWorks Animation. The $3.8B deal is expected to close within a few months following the regulatory green light.

DreamWorks closed at $40.78 yesterday, still a bit short than the deal price of $41. ...

THe deal will close out toward the end of the year. No legal minds that I talked to believed that the merger would have much trouble going through the regulatory process, although a few members voiced apprehension about it.

Most everybody within earshot who's voiced an opinion believes the marriage between conglomerate and cartoon studio is a positive development, since it stabilizes DWA and insures DreamWorks long-term viability.

NBCUniversal will likely step up development of television and theatrical projects, and exploit DreamWorks Animation's catalogue in the Disney manner.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016


The recent "Game of Thrones" ...

With green screen, CG visual effects (and wire removal), shooting eighty horsemen and digitally replicating them into an army of thousands. ...

And then there was the big cavalry charge picture from eighty years ago, when there were some matte paintings, but the rest was shot with real horses, people and stuntmen.

And a hell of a lot of horses were injured with trip wires.

Technology changes. The images on screen change very little.

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Whaling Along

Finding Dory, continues its winning ways (even though the weekend is over).

After posting the biggest opening of all-time for an animated movie with $135.06M, the 17th Disney/Pixar title [Finding Dory] raked in an estimated $19.9M yesterday according to early morning industry reports.

That figure is easily the best Monday for a Disney/Pixar movie beating 2010’s Toy Story 3‘s $15.6M, and the best Monday in June for a feature toon. Among all animated movies, Dory hooked the second best Monday ever after DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek 2 which cashed in $23.4M on Memorial Day 2004.

Through four days, Finding Dory counts just under $155M at the domestic B.O. The film at 4,305 theaters is the widest Pixar release ever. ...

A lot of experts (so-called) give opinions on "sequelitis", and how sequels don't work so well anymore, and aren't sure-fire money-makers, and blah de blah.

But really. All the sequel of a hit gives you is name-recognition and some marginal "want to see" poker chips that people may or may not cash in. If the sequel underwhelms in the entertainment department (in other words, it reeks), word will rapidly get around and audiences will stay away from the thing in droves.

"Sequelitis" and "cannibalization" (my other favorite one-word explanation about why an animated feature isn't doing well) have little to do with it. The quality of the movie has most everything to do with it. Funny how that works.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Sony's Full Slate

Sony Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation has a multitude of projects lined up on the tarmac:

Sony Pictures Animation has drawn up plans for its 2017-18 slate, setting release dates for Hotel Transylvania 3, its animated Spider-Man feature, the first fully animated Smurfs movie and the newly titled original pics Emoji movie: Express Yourself and The Star. The toon studio also is crossing streams on a just-announced Ghostbusters: Ecto Force TV show, along with other series based on the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania movie franchises.

The announcements spotlight SPA’s increased year-round production across multiple platforms. “We are meaningfully stepping up our level of production, while creating an environment that fosters the best talent,” said Kristine Belson, President of Sony Pictures Animation. “Our goal is to enlarge our presence in the animation landscape with a uniquely diverse slate, and our strategy to get there is to let artists drive the movies creatively.” ...

Sony is an interesting corporation, animation-wise.

Back in the 1990s, Sony launched a TV animation unit named Sony Adelaide, and for a brief while it was one of the largest television cartoon studios in Southern California. It started in a small building and then moved to a larger building, and then to TWO buildings. For a while there, the studio was firing on all cylinders, but Sony didn't own any distribution outlets, and eventually the high trajectory came back to earth.

Around the time Adelaide was fading away, Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) came into existence. Its mission was to create high-end theatrical animation that would compete with Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. The launch of the studio was promising, but several pictures didn't perform, upper Sony management changed SPA executives, and nothing seemed to work. (One example: Surf's Up, which garnered favorable reviews, failed to perform at the world box office. Turns out you can't be the third or fourth penguin picture out of the gate and expect to do gangbuster business.)

Of late, however, Sony Pictures Animation has found firmer footing. Hotel Transylvania 2 grossed $468 million on an $80 million budget (free Canadian money was a big help) and the division now appears to have a vision of where it's going. This is good news for Sony, and good news for animation in general.

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Revving Up the Acquisition

The trades clue us to this:

In the first major post-acquisition synergy move between NBCUniversal and DreamWorks Animation, NBCU Cable Entertainment’s preschool channel Sprout has picked up Noddy Toyland Detective, DWA’s first original preschool series. Sprout will be the U.S. distributor of the CG-animated series, co-produced by DWA and Gaumont Animation, which was originally made for France Télévisions’ France 5. ...

Even though the deal won't be finalized until the end of the year, it makes sense that the boys and girls at Comcast-Universal want to steer a little of that DWA-tv magic to their wallets rather than Netflix's. ...

Just a week ago, the big conglomerate let it be known that

Comcast hopes to breathe new life into Shrek and crank out as many as four animated movies a year following its acquisition of DreamWorks Animation, NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke [said]. told an investor gathering today.

The goal is to create characters that will lead to theme park attractions and licensed merchandise to take “the low-single digit returns of the movie business and turn it into a different kind of business.” ...

What Diz Co.'s Robert Iger has been doing for the past decade, gobbling up various entertainment brands (Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfulm) and turning their intellectual property into ATMs that vomit money has not escaped the notice of NBCUniversal. And clearly NBCUniversal is looking to replicate the Walt Disney Company's massive success with other brands.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Why Another?

One of our fine trade papers gets nasty with its review of an upcoming animated feature of a long-running and well-lovied series:

The “Ice Age” movies are so utterly featureless and interchangeable that if Fox reissued an old one under a new title, it’s quite possible that no one would notice. “Collision Course” offers an argument for extinction that even environmentalists could support. ...

And so the unspoken question hangs in the still Arctic air: Why make a sequel at all?

Welll. There's multiple answers to that query. I'll share them with you below. ...

And here. They. Are. In Order:

In 2002, the first Ice Age was released, and grossed $383,257,136. It took in almost 6 1/2 times its production cost of $59 million, and the studio was pleasantly surprised. Fox had been trying to sell its whooly-owned Blue Sky studio to the highest bidder only months before. (It quickly changed its corporate mind).

In 2006, the next installment was released, and collected $660,940,780 against a budget of $80 million. If you've got your pocket calculator out, this is more than eight times the movie's production cost.

Okay, so now we're up to 2009, wherein the third Ice Age gets released. This one's sub-titled "The Dawn of Dinosaurs" and carries a price tag of $90 million. World wide gross? $886,686,817 (This is a shade under ten times the movie's production cost.)

And then we arrive at 2012, and the release of Ice Age #4. And whattayaknow? This one does less well than its immediate predecessor. $9.5 million less well.

The feature pulls in a paltry $877,244,782 while costing $95 million to make. (9.23 times its production cost).

I'll let you, constant reader, puzzle this one out for yourself. Why do you think Fox/News Corp. is rolling out the fifth ... and likely far from last ... Ice Age?

(You won't need more than eight seconds to tee up an answer). ...

Rotten tomatoes hasn't rated the flick yet, but here's a short compilation of early reviews. Full disclosure: I haven't seen ALL the "Ice Age" movies, but the ones I have watched have been highly entertaining.

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The International B.O.

A fish movie sits atop the listings. But a number of fully/partially animated features are racking up big totals.


Finding Dory -- $50,000,000 -- ($186,200,000)

Warcraft -- $41,240,000 -- ($377,600,000)

X-Men: Apocalypse -- $12,800,000 -- ($364,100,000)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows -- $10,500,000 -- ($142,729,574)

Alice Through the Looking Glass -- $8,000,000 -- ($236,000,000)

Angry Birds -- $6,300,000 -- ($327,690,847)

The Jungle Book -- $6,000,000 -- ($922,400,000)

Zootopia -- $2,600,000 -- ($1,011,961,275) ...

Finding Dory has launched well overseas, though it hasn't yet launched wide.

Will Disney have two back-to-back billion dollar animated features in 2016? Three if you count Jungle Book? (And we do).

Meantime, Angry Birds will clearly be in the black ... if it isn't already ... and Zootopia still have some life in it as it continues to triumph in Japan and finished up in a few smaller markets.

Happily, there is no signs of cannibalism in Cartoonland, but you never know. Any week now, one animated feature will gobble up another animated feature. Isn't that what the trade press tells us?
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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Prize Winner

A trade journal tells us:

Following its critically-acclaimed world premiere at Cannes’ Directors Fortnight, Claude Barras’s French stop-motion feature “My Life as a Courgette” scooped the audience prize and the Crystal award for best animated feature at the 40th Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival.

Written by sceenwriter/director Celine Sciamma (“Girlhood,””Tomboy”) and based on a novel, “Courgette” is about an orphan trying to adapt to life in a group home.

The film has been sold by Indie Sales in most key territories. A U.S. deal is in advanced negotiations. Gebeka Films will release “Courgette” in France. ...

As The Reporter notes:

... >Courgette either sinks or soars based on how involved viewers will become in the story [of a shy, 9-year-old boy coming to live at an orphanage].

Given that there’s a lot of offscreen hurt for many of the preteen characters but that their faces are made of plasticine, what [Courgett's director Claude] Barras has achieved here is nothing short of a miracle. ...

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Box Office Derby

The Box Office List contains multiple animated titles, also too big-budget VFX movies with a whole bunch of animation in them.


1).Finding Dory (DIS), 4,305 theaters / $55M Fri. (includes $9.2M previews) / 3-day cume: $140.6M /Wk 1

2). Central Intelligence (WB/NL/UNI), 3,508 theaters / $13M Fri. (includes $1.84M previews) / 3-day cume: $33.5M/Wk 1

3). Conjuring 2 (WB/NL), 3,356 theaters (+13) / $5.4M Fri. (-67%) / 3-day cume: $17.1M (-58%)/Total cume:$7.3M/Wk 2

4). Now You See Me 2 (LG), 3,232 theaters (0)/ $3M Fri. (-64%) / 3-day cume: $9.4M (-58%)/ Total cume:$41.1M/Wk 2

5). Warcraft (UNI/LEG), 3,406 theaters (+6) / $1.9M Fri. (-81%) / 3-day cume: $6.4M (-74%)/ Total cume:$37.6M/Wk 2

6). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (PAR), 3,086 theaters (-985)/ $1.49M Fri. (-63%) / 3-day cume: $5.5M (-62%)/Total Cume:$72.2M/Wk 3

7). X-Men: Apocalypse (FOX), 2,632 theaters (-953) / $1.38M Fri. (-50%) / 3-day cume: $5.2M (-47%) /Total cume: $146.1M/Wk 4

8). Me Before You (MGM/New Line/WB), 2,645 theaters (-117) / $1.5M Fri. (-50%) / 3-day cume: $4.3M (-52%)/Total cume: $46.5M/Wk 3

9). Alice Through the Looking Glass (Disney), 1,880 theaters (-1,018)/ $1.27M Fri. (-23%) / 3-day cume: $4.2M (-25%)/Total: $69.9M/Wk 4

10). Captain America: Civil War (Disney), 1,434 theaters (-667) / $576K Fri. (-51%)/ 3-day cume: $2.2M (-48%) /Total cume: $401.3M/ Wk 7

11). The Angry Birds Movie (SONY/ROVIO), 2,021 theaters (-1,062)/ $504K Fri. (-73%) / 3-day cume: $1.79M (-63%)/Total cume: $103.3M/ Wk 5 ...

Finding Dory will be busting Shrek III's record opening, and Angry Birds, though it has no dropped from the Top Ten, will be cracking $100 million.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Push Back

Warner Bros had excellent results with the first Lego Movie, so it must be somewhat painful to push the second one to a later date:

Warner Bros. has reportedly pushed the release date of “Lego Movie 2” back to 2019. There’s no explanation why the sequel to the 2014 hit is moving from May 18, 2018 to February 8, 2019. ...

No explanation the WB is willing to hand to the public, anyway.

Please know that I have no firm idea about why the company is moving the release date of a well-loved title back nine-plus months, because I have no underlying evidence. The Warner Animation Group has two development facilities for upcoming features, one on the Warners lot in Burban and one at a facility on the other side of the Hollywood Hills near Melrose Avenue.

Both groups are working on a myriad of projects, a number being upcoming titles in the Lego franchise. Nobody has hinted at any troubles, but I do know the development artists work long weeks on challenging schedules.

So why the move to 1919? When a commercial movie is moved back a few months, it's usually because the releasing company is seeking the right release window. When it's moved back the better part of a year, but usually because there are story issues. Think Toy Story 2. Think The Good Dinosaur. The division creating the feature wants to make sure the movie is as good as it can be, and has determined that it needs to be better than it presently is.

So what is it? The story and characters need to be improved. You don't have to know anything specific about the production to understand those are probably what the issues are.


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The Water

Diz Co. rolls out the next animated epic:

... Sequences [of Moana] screened at Annecy, some of which were nearly complete and others at storyboard or early animation stages, included an opening that explains the myth behind Moana’s predicament and a scene where she uncovers the secret of her tribe. Another beautifully rendered sequence shows an infant Moana stepping into the sea for the first time, with the Disney team doing wonders to make the ocean a character in and of itself. (Water has always been one of the toughest things to animate, and its clear that Clements and Musker went, um, overboard to make the Pacific come alive.) ...

The water scene is the one I watched at Tujunga. And The Reporter isn't exaggerating; the water is a character, whirling, rearing up and interacting with the young Moana.

The other element that grabbed me was the quality of light in every scene of the picture I've seen. The skies are the kind if deep, tropical blue you encounter in South Florida and Hawaii, and the water has a crystalline clarity to it.

Oh. And the characters seem to be pretty good, too. Entertaining, you know?

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The Record

... seems to be in the making.

Thursday night was a good night for Finding Dory, which hauled in $9.2 million, a record Thursday preview number for an animated film.

Minions held the previous record with $6.2 million before opening with $115.7 million just last year, the second highest opening for an animated film behind 2007's Shrek the Third ($121.6m). At this point it's looking like the record is in the bag. ...

This only goes to show that, even though more animated features are being released than ever, we have not yet reached the "cannibalization" threshold.

Of course, the meme that too many animated features in the marketplace devour each other is flapdoodle, and always has been. Animation doesn't perform for the same reason live-action doesn't perform: nobody wants to go see pictures that don't engage audiences.

It's been this way since movies began, and it really hasn't changed.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016


As regards le animation, Europe is doing more than giving Free Money away.

Italy is forging closer ties with France in the field of animation production, seeking to tap into the expertise of continental Europe’s leader in this sector and set up some co-productions.

The Rome/Lazio Film Commission has signed a collaboration agreement with prominent French toon production hub Pole Image Magelis, which comprises four studios, 11 schools and a substantial fund.

“France is a leader in this sector — the only European country that can stand up to Hollywood. We have a lot to learn from them,” said Luciano Sovena, president of the Rome/Lazio Film Commission, who brokered the agreement.

Under the pact, Italian animators will be able to acquire French know-how through hands-on experience at Magelis, while the more long-term goal is to set up co-productions with France tapping into incentives in both countries. ...

Italy throwing in with the French makes sense.

France has world-renowned schools training young artists in animation. And it's the only country that goes toe to toe with the U.S. in long-form animation and is actually competitive. Illumination Entertainment has used the Paris studio MacGuff for years, creating the Despicable Me and Minions franchises, earning Universal and IE hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the realm of high-grossing, ninety-minute cartoons, there is France, there is the United States, and that's pretty much it.

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More Studio Shakeups

Change, as it often does, is roiling various movie studios. Fox will be changing captains:

Media giant 21st Century Fox is replacing the longtime chief of its movie studio, marking the latest move by Chief Executive James Murdoch and Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch to put their stamp on the company.

Twentieth Century Fox Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Gianopulos will step down from his post next year after working at the company for a quarter of a century ... Gianopulos, 64, will relinquish his position in June 2017 after his contract expires, the company said. He will then take on a “new strategic role,” though details of that position were not disclosed.

The elevation of Snider, 55, comes after Fox acknowledged earlier this month that as many as 400 employees of the movie studio and TV operations would exit after receiving lucrative buyouts offered to longtime staff members, with the aim of cutting $250 million in costs. The workforce reduction included the departure of many on Gianopulos’ team at the Century City studio. ...

This is called "sweeping with a wide broom". The studio head's staffers get the axe (and or "lucrative buyouts"), then the studio head is flung overboard.

In recent years, Fox has been a big player in animation. It continues to have prime time animation in its Sunday block of shows, and it release DreamWorks product theatrically along with wholly-owned Blue Sky Studio's features. The company will be losing distribution on DWA's movies in 2018, so what it will do to ramp up the number of animated features it rolls out is anybody's guess.

Perhaps, emulating Disney, it will start a second animated feature division, but I tend to doubt it. The Mouse owning two power-house theatrical animation units is an accident of circumstances more than anything else. The House of Murdoch is more likely to beef up its East coast cartoon studio rather than open a second name plate.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

French Socialism

One more factoid in a continuing series:

A major overhaul of the French support system for TV animation – including an upgrade to the CNC’s automatic subsidy support system and a new 25% tax rebate for TV production – has encouraged a clutch of Gallic animation producers to open new production studios in France.

The dynamic cluster of French independent animation producers are also increasingly attracting partnerships and investors from Hollywood and Asia, a trend that began in film, with joint ventures such as Universal’s Illumination Mac Guff, launched in 2011, and which is now extending to TV animation.

To date, such team-ups have been agreed on a project-by-project basis – such as TeamTO’s production of series “Sofia The First,” for Disney Television Animation, supported by France’s Tax Rebate for International Production, a tax rebate scheme for foreign movies or TV series made in France. ...

In the middle of another political season, we hear lots of yammering about "the evils of socialism!" (You know, precious tax-payer money being paid to various undeserving deadbeats, who suckle at the government teat. "Welfare queens").

Of course, nobody is ever going to talk about our fine, international conglomerates, that never met a cash handout they didn't like, as "welfare queens," but that's what they are. Welfare queens with leverage.

Disney and Warners and all the rest of the big entertainment companies can go to Canada or France or the United Kingdom for their baskets of Free Money, they just have to sort out which bed partner they like the best, then smile pretty with a come-hither look. And the dollars, francs and pound notes will flutter down on them like the white flakes of a Christmastime snowfall.

Nice brand of socialism, wouldn't you say?

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The Cartoon Story Process

This Huff Post pice hits the nail squarely.

A story strand that didn't make it to the final picture.

... Animated filmmaking is a much different beast than traditional live-action. ... With animation, it ... often starts with the concept. ...

[A]nimated stories will always start with the visuals and concepts first. The screenplay is often drastically changed, more so than in live-action script development. ...

Well, yes and no. ...

Earlier animated features (Pinocchio, Dumbo, etc.) were visual and conceptual because they lived and died via storyboards.

In the beginning, there was an animated feature roiling around inside Walt Disney's head; that story was made real via the visual art of storyboarding. That made them visual in ways that live-action films (and we're talking live-action films with sound) never were, because those movies started with descriptive narrative and dialogue on a white sheet of paper, not visual presentations pinned to a cork board.

The "early Disney" style of story construction held sway until live-action oriented execs named Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over Disney Feature Animation and the written word began to dominate. ("I don't get storyboards," Michael Eisner said in his first years at Disney. "I relate to scripts.")

In the years since, storyboard artists have pulled animated features back toward their roots, but I still see feature board artists at their Cintiqs "waiting for new script pages." John Lasseter, of course, came out of the visual side of animation, so it stands to reason that concepts and visuals are important with Disney and Pixar animated features *.

* The above refers to theatrical animated features. In television, scripted half hours have dominated for decades, though even in television, a number of series are "board driven", with artists given a premise or outline, and then writing aid visualizing the show on tv production boards.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Back at Disney Feature

This afternoon I was back at Disney's Tujunga Studio, going through the first floor (animation, character technical directors) of the Mouse's sprawling production facility for its big Fall release. (A guard at the gate said: Weren't you just here?", I replied: "Yeah. But I'm old, I don't get around like I used to. So I need two days to accomplish what I once did in one.") ...

In the big common area, there was a long sequence of Moana on a big screen, playing on a loop. The water, tropical light and character animation inside it were outstanding, and based on this clip and the animation snippets have playing on their computers, the picture is going to be another major money-maker.

Right now, however, the staff is deep into production:

"We've been doing fifty-five hour weeks, but we can handle that. I don't think the number of hours are going to get heavier because the studio has hired a lot of people to help get the movie out. It's when you get up to seventy and eighty-hour weeks that things get tough. I don't think that's going to happen with Moana." ...

Another animator wanted to know if the Tujunga Building was "the dumpiest" studio site I visited, because it was the dumpiest for him. I allowed as how the Disney Sonora building gave Tujunga a close run for its money back when there was major renovations on the second floor (complete with jack hammer sound effects) and plaster dust fell on Disney Television Animation employees on the first floor like summer rain.

Finally, some tech directors asked me about the costs of the Guild's 401(k) Plan (the John Oliver segment about investing on Last Week Tonight has made members aware of expenses. Other staffers wanted to know the mechanics of the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

I explained how it works as best I could. Something like this:

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The LATEST Remake

Okay, we had an animated remake of an animated original in The Jungle Book. Now we get a live-action with animation remake of a live-action with animation original.

I do believe that the House of Mouse is convinced that it's on to a good thing ...

The first Pete's was shot on the Disney backlot and sound stages, went north along the California coast for some location work, spent a long time in post as most of the animation staff animated the Ken Anderson designed dragon, and got premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in late 1977.

The picture, as I remember, did not set the box office record books afire.

But now, 39 years later, a new iteration of Pete's Dragon is slated for release. The cartoon dragon is out, a sleek CG dragon is in, and we get to see if Diz Co.'s rebooting of another chestnut ... a little more serious, a little less of the singing and dancing ... will mint the company additional box office gold.

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A Box Office Prediction

An entertainment journal reports a forecast:

... Finding Dory is poised to open between $100M-$115M. That three-day opening would make Finding Dory the second best debut this summer after Disney Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War ($179.1M). That Russo Brothers-directed movie is set to cross $400M on Friday, becoming the first title to do so this year.

While Civil War will be the highest grossing live-action film this summer, there’s some camps who believe that Finding Dory could take the crown as the highest grossing title overall for the May-Labor Day 2016 period. ... Even though Finding Dory is tracking slightly better with girls than boys, it’s the highest figures ever seen for a Pixar movie in all demos. ...

Animated features have been on a roll of late, Disney features in particular. If Finding Dory's performance matches predictions, the Mouse will have two back-to-back animated blockbusters.

We must be way below "the cartoons are cannibalizing each other!" metric. Or else we need a lot more animated features released before the cannibalization commences.

And there will be this cute and entertaining short subject:

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Judy Jetson Departs

From the New York Times (and Tom Sito, and Mark Evanier, and ...):

Janet Waldo, a voice-over actress who played sprightly teenagers for decades on popular cartoon shows, most notably “The Jetsons,” died on Sunday at her home in Encino, Calif. She was 96.

The television historian Stu Shostak, a friend, said the cause was an inoperable brain tumor.

Ms. Waldo broke through as the title character on “Meet Corliss Archer,” a CBS radio show about a girl next door that ran from the early 1940s until the mid-1950s.

In 1962 Ms. Waldo landed her first, and most enduring, animation role. She played Judy Jetson, the teenage daughter on “The Jetsons,” Hanna-Barbera’s futuristic answer to “The Flintstones.” The show initially lasted only one season; those episodes ran in syndication until new ones were made beginning in 1985. ...

Voice actors keep working longer than most thespians.

Ms. Waldo's career lasted longer than most, but she kept her pipes well-maintained, and it made her career. Rest in Peace.

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The Nuts and Bolts of 401(k) Plans ... Also Investing

John Oliver explains why investors have to watch what they get charged ... with retirement plans or "financial advisors".

The Guild now has something around 2500 participants in the Animation Guild 401(k) Plan. Over the years, we've hammered down costs until expenses are minimal. (This took awhile).

Mr. Oliver tells how the staff of his own show got kicked in the backside with costs from their own 401(k) Plan, and how because of the high expenses, they left their original provider (John Hancock) and went elsewhere.

Smart thing to do.

But the entire twenty minutes is well worth watching. Investing isn't hard in concept. The difficulties lie in execution. Because participants/investors tend to bail out of investments heading south at exactly the wrong time, thereby locking in money losses and causing themselves heartache and sorrow further down the road.

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Animation Guild Golden Award Interviews #28 -- Lavelle Haines Howard and Celine Miles Marcus

Lavelle Haines Howard and Celine Miles Marcus were among the "foot soldiers" of the early animation industry. They both performed important work on the back slopes of animation production; both were relatively unknown (although Celine had her own company and owned a wee bit more name recognition.)

Lavelle entered the business in the mid-thirties and for many years alternated between hoofing at Universal and working in various ink-and-paint departments at different cartoon studios.

After breaking in at Schlesinger's during the Depression, Celine worked at a variety of cartoon facilities not named Disney before opening her own ink-and-apint service, which she ran for almost a quarter century. Ms. Marcus retired in 1979.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Moana Tease

The next Disney animation release comes closer.

At one time, Moana was going to involve a lot of the hand-drawn crew, and a lot of the characters were going to have traditional animation underpinnings with CG overlays. (Several animators ... a couple years back ... showed me the work).

But then the picture took a turn toward CG, as Ron Clements explained to Entertainment Weekly:

... “We still love hand-drawn animation very much, but for the depth and scope of this movie when we’re dealing with mythic islands that come to life and the ocean, digital animation really seemed appropriate for this story.” ...

Pictures evolve, sometimes for years. Now Eric Goldberg is in charge of the hand-drawn animation of the big God's tattoos ... and that's most of traditional animation inside the picture.

And then of course, there are the commercial considerations. Walt Disney Animation Studios is, after all, a subsidiary of a large entertainment conglomerate that seeks to keep stockholders content.

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International Box Office

The big movies from the big conglomerates, they appear to be doing well around the globe.


Warcraft -- $185,800,000 -- ($286,100,000)

The Conjuring 2 -- $50,000,000 -- ($90,300,000)

X-Men: Apocalypse -- $25,000,000 -- ($478,400,000)

Alice Through The Looking Glass -- $14,600,000 -- ($213,400,000)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- $13,300,000 -- ($116,300,000)

The Angry Birds Movie -- $10,400,000 -- ($312,069,623)

The Jungle Book -- $7,500,000 -- ($909,800,000)

Zootopia -- $3,100,000 -- ($1,006,941,519) ...

And a fine, entertainment journal of fact and opinion relates:

... Zootopia posted $3.1M in its 18th weekend of overseas release from 16 material territories. The box office on the Disney charmer continues to be driven by Japan which was its last major release market. ...

[The Angry Birds Movie] has flown past $200M internationally with a cume of $213.9M off of a $10.4M weekend. Sony’s take on the Rovio mobile franchise also became the 4th highest-grossing U.S. animated film of all time in China as it comes in for a landing there with a total $72M. ...

With $14.6M in its 3rd offshore weekend, Alice Through The Looking Glass is looking at an international cume of $151M for a worldwide take of $213.4M. Playing in 44 markets, the Disney pic is led by China with $55.7M. ...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pulled in $13.3M overseas in 44 overseas markets. There were four additional openings, although the total fell by 60% from last weekend’s debut. ...

Warcraft added $29.8M this frame. It has thus far opened No. 1 in 45 and has a Uni cume of $105.7M. Combined with China, the international total is $261.7M and the worldwide cume is $286.1M. ...

And on and on. Lots of pure animation, a generous dollops of mocap, and of course animated CG visual effects are a large part of the international movie landscape. You want to be a high-performing motion picture here in the 21st century, you better plan to have lots of visual effects sprinkled throoughout your movie.)

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Epic Failure

The rise and fall of Disney video games as interpreted by the MiceChat blog:

... Disney Interactive, never seemed to have complete confidence from the parent company. They were never given autonomous creative control, nor were they ever run by a person that truly understood gaming and the gaming market. Most gamers could tell that the studio existed for the most part to try and wring money out of the gaming industry. Their titles were often lackluster and existed mainly to translate films or television shows into game form. ...

Disney announced that Mickey Mouse was back and he was going to become a star of a new franchise. Epic Mickey, released in 2010, was watched with great anticipation from audiences and editors alike. ... It was announced that Warren Spector would produce the title. He had produced, if not co-produced some of the most critically acclaimed PC titles including Ultima VI, Wing Commander, Deus: Ex and System Shock, Almost from the get-go Spector was hampered by mandates from the head office.

Epic Mickey would push a dystopian version of Disneyland and try to re-introduce Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back into the public consciousness. His team at Junction Point studio did their best best with the mandate. An awkward control scheme and a single platform release made it a flop in the eyes of the industry. Undoing all of the missteps in Epic Mickey 2 was too little too late.

Spector was dismissed and Junction Point was closed down. Spector was a passionate Disney fan and knew much more about the company and its history than any other producer the studio ever had. Word was that his outspokenness and challenging the direction of the studio had rubbed a few executives the wrong way. Instead of recognizing that he was the talent that the company was sorely lacking, the Shigeru Miyamoto they never had, the company let him go. ...

Disney never became fully invested in doing the interactive games thing.

If you hire a top talent in the game sector, it's always useful to let him run with the things he does best. (The main lot doesn't micro-manage John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, after all. Sure, they give notes and other input, but Diz Co. is not timid about investing in bi-screen animation, and they're not inclined to second-guess the division's leaders).

This doesn't appear to be the case with Disney Interactive. Upper management never ceased second-guessing the division's creative heads. Instead the Walt Disney Co. over-analyzed product, became overly paranoid, and continually changed creative direction, yanking the chain of whoever sat in the driver's seat of Disney Interactive.

From street level, the reversals were continually on view. You don't give staff long-term Personal Service Contracts and then, months later, attempt to weasel out of them if you know what the freak you're doing. But that's what Disney Interactive did a few years ago.

The confidence to tackle the game medium and hang in there until results were in evidence wasn't there. And the division, through several incarnations, never found it's creative footing ... or a clear reason for being.

The chronology of what happened following Epic Mickey.

October 2012, Disney Interactive Media Group had 15 consecutive quarters of losses totaling $977 million

January 2013, Avalanche Software, one of the developers for Disney Interactive Games unveiled the cross platform game Disney Infinity

October 2013, Disney Interactive posted a profit of $16 million during the September Quarter.

March 2014, Disney Interactive laid off 700 people, 1/4 of its staff. And merged its mobile and social game units.

June 2015, Disney Interactive merged with Disney Consumer Products

May 2016, Disney Interactive discontinued Disney Infinity and closed down the developers at Avalanche Software due to lack of growth in the toy-to-game market. ...

And so now it's finito to the interactive game division birthed ... and then strangled in its crib ... by the Walt Disney Company.

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The Weekend Steeple Chase

Wherein Warcraft, charging hard overseas, is more subdued at the American box office. .


1). Conjuring 2 (WB/NL), 3,343 theaters / $16.4M Fri. (includes $3.4M previews) / $14M Sat. (-15%)/ $9.8M Sun. (-30%) /3-day cume: $40.4M/Wk 1

2). Warcraft (UNI), 3,400 theaters / $10.7M Fri. (includes $3.1M previews) / $7.8M Sat. (-27%) / $5.86M Sun. (-25%) /3-day cume: $24.4M/Wk 1

3). Now You See Me 2 (LG), 3,232 theaters / $8.4M Fri. (includes $1.75M previews) / $8.2M Sat. (-2%)/ $6.4M Sun. (-22%) /3-day cume: $23M/Wk 1

4). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (PAR), 4,071 theaters (0) / $4M Fri. / $6M Sat./ $4.77M Sun. /3-day cume: $14.8M (-58%)/Total: $61M/Wk 2

5). X-Men: Apocalypse (FOX), 3,585 theaters (-568) / $2.77M Fri. /$4.3M Sat. / $2.9M Sun. / 3-day cume: $10M (-56%) /Total cume: $136.4M/Wk 3

6). Me Before You (MGM/New Line/WB), 2,762 theaters (+58)/ $3.1M Fri. / $3.5M Sat. (-21%) / $2.6M Sun. /3-day cume: $9.2M (-51%)/Total cume: $36.8M/Wk 2

7). The Angry Birds Movie (SONY/ROVIO), 3,083 theaters (-401)/ $1.86M Fri. /$2.76M Sat. / $2.1M Sun. / 3-day cume: $6.7M (-34%)/Total cume: $98.2M/ Wk 4

8). Alice Through the Looking Glass (Disney), 2,898 theaters (-865)/ $1.6M Fri. / $2.3M Sat. / $1.6M Sun. /3-day cume: $5.5M (-51%)/Total: $62.4M/Wk 3

9). Captain America: Civil War (Disney), 2,101 theaters (-983) / $1.1M Fri. /$1.9M Sat. / $1.2M Sun. / 3-day cume: $4.3M (-45%) /Total cume: $396.9M/ Wk 6

10). The Jungle Book (DIS), 1,496 theaters (-494) / $736K Fri. / $1.1M Sat. / $816K Sun. /3-day cume: $2.7M (-39%)/ Total cume: $352.6M / Wk 9 ...

Angry Birds and The Jungle Book have relatively strong holds week over week. TJB now has a $350 million accumulation and The Angry Birds Movie is nudging up against the $100 million mark. Meantime, Alice 2 is going pretty much nowhere, box office-wise.

Zootopia, still in a couple of hundred theaters, has now collected $337,641,519 at the domestic b.o. and owns $1,001,141,519 worldwide.

Kung Fu Panda 3, in less than a hundred theaters nationwide, has grossed $143,482,345 domestically. Globally it's made $518,314,410 after nineteen weeks of release.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

The Latest (Semi) CG Movie

The Mojo tells us:

... Warcraft jumped off to a strong start on Thursday evening, hauling in $3.1 million in late night shows in 2,632 theaters, which began at 7:00 PM. It's a number that immediately causes some second guessing based on early estimates. ...

[The movie] currently carryies a 21% RottenTomatoes rating, so one would expect the anticipated $22-25 million domestic opening weekend for the video game adaptation to be a sign of doom and gloom, and while it's nothing to celebrate, the film's performance internationally so far is quite impressive.

In China, Warcraft has already amassed a record $90+ million bringing the international gross-to-date to $168.8 million. The film is also performing well in Russia, France and Germany with openings in 20 more territories this weekend. ...

The trade press has not been kind, informing us it's a movie designed for nerds:

... “Warcraft” is a movie that assumes you understand all the nerdy concepts it’s pitching you before you watch it. It tosses you headfirst into a world full of hulking CGI green people with vague motivations … and humans with vague motivations … and magic people with vague motivations.

But these motivations are only vague in the movie — the factions and magical concepts and conflict we see in “Warcraft” are well established elsewhere. But if you come into “Warcraft” ignorant of what the Horde or the Alliance or Aezeroth or Fel magic are, you’ll be lost because the movie certainly doesn’t bother to explain them. ...

The Middle Kingdom didn't need long-winded explanations. And it appears that the audience in the U.S. of A. might not need clarity either, because the movie is opening above expectations. So what the hey. Maybe gamers can open a movie, particularly one that they like.

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The Ongoing (and Unending) Lure of FREE MONEY

The pursuit of other people's moolah never ends.

Nineteen projects from international studios are being developed in [France], including seven from the U.S. The studios are taking advantage of the recent laws passed that offer government tax rebates for film and television projects. ...

DreamWorks’ Captain Underpants, joint Paramount and MGM project Sherlock Gnomes, and Disney TV series Elena de Avalor have all applied and been approved for tax breaks, confirmed Film France.

Marvel Animation is also on the list of international productions with two new shorts in development, Ant-Man and Rocket and Groot. French directing team Ugo Bienvenu and Kevin Manach will be handling duties for Ant-Man while Arnaud Delord will be working on Rocket and Groot. ...

While these aren’t the first U.S.-based projects to move their operations overseas, it’s another indicator that France is quietly becoming a destination powerhouse for production.

Never let it be said that good old American free-market system, and the boys and girls that control it, aren't willing to open the Socialist spigot and drink deeply when the opportunity arises. We are now locked in a global battle to see which state and/or national government can throw the most tax dollars at our fine, entertainment conglomerates to entice them to set up shop in their geographical area.

Remember the old days? When companies had to spend their own money to create family and adult entertainment? Those times are rapidly coming to an end almost everywhere. Even the Golden state has gotten into the movie bribery business with tax subsidies of its own. My sorrow is that the subsidies only encompass animated visual effects for live-action, and not undiluted animation itself.

And California only subsidizes work that has left the state but returned for the subsidies. That cuts feature animation out of the mix, along with various forms of live-action like three-camera television comedies. No doubt the parameters will change when the tax bill comes up for renewal in another two years.

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