Friday, March 27, 2015

Nightmare Time

Let’s share a Nightmare. In this dark dream, you are not a talented, creative artist. Instead you are an accountant. You work at the very same studio, in a very similar cube but probably with fewer action figures.

Your boss comes into your cube, compliments the color coding on your last spreadsheet, and assigns you to do the budgeting for that hot new animated show they just picked up, “Uncle Bunny and Zombie Pig.” He tells you to base it on the budget you did last season for “Tree Princess Zablimba” but he wants you to cut it down by ten percent.

As your boss walks away, a tiny part of you wants to scream at him. “Ten percent! Are you insane? How can we maintain quality?” But you don’t because, well, you’re an accountant and you live for this kind of thing. So you put in some long hours – sometimes staying as late as 6 PM. And finally you figure it out. If you cut back the storyboard schedule from four weeks to three weeks, you can save that ten percent.

So you send out the new budget and you wait to see what happens. A year later the show is on the air. It’s good. Or so you’re told. You don’t really watch cartoons. You do watch the budget numbers and since there aren’t any overages and the shows all delivered on time, you conclude that your shorter schedule worked.

Over in the next cube you see your boss asking the new guy to budget “Megavengers Action Powerbot Team Six.” And look whose budget he wants it based on - yours! You are pretty proud. Everyone is going to be using your new shorter schedule soon. You have no idea that it caused a lot of artists to work fifty and sixty hour weeks to keep up. How could you? None of them asked for overtime. If they had, you’d have seen it. And if it had been significant enough you might even have considered going back to the longer, less expensive schedule.

Sometime later that week, as you reward yourself with that extra dessert at Cheesecake Factory, a thought will occur to you: what about a two-week storyboard schedule?

Stop the nightmare. Working unpaid overtime gives the studios false feedback on how much can reasonably be done in a standard work week. When the amount of work you are given can’t be completed by your deadline without overtime, ask to be paid for it or ask for your deadline to be extended.

40 means 40.

Jack Thomas
President, The Animation Guild

The above, sadly, is pretty much the way things work in TV land.

Schedules are seldom expanded.

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44 Million Greenbacks

... for Home? So says one of our fine trade papers, which would generate a sigh of relief at DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus.

DreamWorks/Fox’s animated comedy “Home” is heading for a better-than-forecasted $44 million opening weekend while the Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart buddy comedy “Get Hard” is looking at $38 million.

Early projections showed “Home” notching a $12 million opening day on Friday, including $650,000 at Thursday night shows — a promising start with 15% of K-12 schools out for spring break. It looks likely to finish above Fox-Blue Sky’s “Rio 2,″ which opened last April when 9% of K-12 schools were out. ...

Home has done solid business overseas, so perhaps that was a harbinger for a strong U.S. opening.

I know there was some trepidation at DWA regarding how it would roll out, but this weekend looks as though it will settle some nerves.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Eighteen Years Ago Today

... this animated film was released.

Cats Don't Dance

Directed by Mark Dindall for Turner Feature Animation (before it merged with Warner Bros.) Art directed by Brian McEntee, who did the same for Beauty and the Beast. Amy Pascal, who went on to a long reign at Sony, was one of the Turner execs.

Cats was the last film on which dancer Gene Kelly worked. (He served as a consultant.) It was also the first ... and last ... animated feature from Turner, which merged with Warner Bros. near the end of production. The movie under-performed at the box office, which wasn't unusual for Warner animated releases at the time. (Warners' Iron Giant, following soon after, also failed at the box office.)

The sour, semi-sick joke among industry animators in the late nineties? "Want to end AIDS? Let Warner Bros. distribute it."

(H/t -- Tom Sito)
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Simplified Retirement Investing

The Animation Guild is in the middle of 401(k) enrollment meetings, and we'll be out over the next several weeks with booklets, information, and our sunny smiles.

I was telling a sizable group at Fox Animation this afternoon how 92% of TAG 401() Plan's 2450 participants are in Vanguard Target Date Funds, and that for most of them this is a solid option because ...

... You don’t need a lot of funds to be diversified. You could achieve diversification by investing in just three mutual funds that cover virtually the entire stock market. For example, a diversified portfolio might include investing equal amounts in just three broad exchange-traded funds, including total market U.S. equities, total market international equities and total bond market. ...

If you want to further simplify your investments, you can use a target-date fund. This would allow you to go from three funds to just one. Target-date funds are sometimes referred to as a fund of funds, because it is a single fund that holds positions in several funds. For example, Vanguard’s Target Retirement 2030 fund holds five mutual funds including four stock funds and one bond fund. Just as is the case with the three fund portfolio, diversification is achieved through a small number of broad-based funds. But all you need to do is invest in a single all-encompassing fund and you’re done.

The longer I do this, the more I subscribe to "Don't let the quest for the perfect plan stand in the way of a good plan."

There is always something better than what you're holding. The problem is you don't know what it is until after the fact, and it's pointless to chase returns ("skating to where the puck is") because those great results are yesterday's news. Far better to cobble together a workable plan, execute it and then stick to it. For most people, this means finding a plan that is simple and easy to do.

Which means a single fund that holds the whole market, or a few broad-based funds that encompass everything (see above).

But to build wealth and/or retirement savings, you've got to start the process and then keep at it.

Contribute to investment accounts.

Tuck part of your wages into a 401(k).

Lastly, put money away into a Roth IRA. The wife and I have been doing these things for thirty-plus years, even when we could barely scrape two nickels together.

We urge you, beg you to get started on this project. Begin by checking here. Twenty-eight years from now, you'll thank us.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It's Not Just Disney ...

... making live-action from animated properties.

1980s sci-fi anime series Robotech is being fast-tracked for the big screen by Sony.

The studio acquired rights to the toon with an eye on developing it as a worldwide franchise. Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton are producing from Michael Gordon’s script. Doug Belgrad, Michael De Luca and Matthew Milam are overseeing. ...

I guess it's better than doing big screen, live-action remakes of Circus Boy and Sky King, but can't these heirs to Sam Goldwyn, Darryl Zanuck and Harry Cohn come up with original properties once in a while?

No, I guess not.

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The Smaller Blue People

Sony announces their release.

Sony Pictures Animation has set for March 31, 2017 global release an untitled animated Smurfs film, which means it will bow during the Easter holiday. This will be a new fully animated on the blue crew that propelled the live action Smurfs franchise.

The first Smurfs movie, released in July 2011, ended up making $563.7M worldwide. The second in Columbia’s franchise, released in 2013, grossed $347.5M worldwide. ...

Board artists have been working on the latest iteration of Smurfdom for awhile now. There have been multiple changes and tweaks as they've gone along.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

President Foster recommends ..

I received word from retired Guild President Bob Foster today asking to share this tidbit with you. So, from the land of blissful retirement:

A Recommendation From Bob Foster -

Attention writers, storytellers, artists and people who like to laugh -

Over a year ago I discovered Instaplay at The Fanatic Salon in Culver City and haven't missed a performance since. Instaplay is an improvised musical created by a group of writers and performers who are brilliant. Even though I'm now living in Oregon, I was going to fly down for their next show. That's how great I think they are. Unfortunately something has come up and I won't be able to make it this time. But you can go in my place. In fact, I wish you would.

Instaplay is a brilliant example of improvised humor, story and music created by some of the best in the business. Bill Steinkellner, Jonathan Stark, George McGrath, Deanna Oliver, Navaris Darson, Cheri Steinkellner, Mari Falcone and John Boswell have been doing this for many years and they're extremely good at it. Check out their credentials on Google or IMDb.

The way it works is this: They take about ten title suggestions from the audience, the audience votes for the one they like best and the winning title is the basis for an improvised musical created right then and there. They'll create a storyline with a beginning, middle and end, amazing music and songs, wonderful characters, and so much laughter your cheeks will ache and you'll have a hard time seeing the show because your eyes will be filled with tears from laughing so much.

If you go, plan on finding a place to eat in the neighborhood, go early, get to the 53-seat theater by 7:30 pm, doors open at 7:40 pm, show starts at 8:00 pm. Here's what you need to know to get tickets:

Let me know how it was.

- Bob Foster

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The Wise Old Cartoon Producer

I had lunch today with my friend the wise old cartoon producer (now retired). He related this.

Years ago I was supervising an animated feature. We were about a quarter of the way through it, and I realized that there were too many characters and too much movie for the budgets we had, that we'd be over budget if we didn't trim both.

And I made a mistake. Upper management said they wanted to know if there were problems, so I thought, "Okay, I should be transparent about what's going on here, tell them about the problems. So I wrote a detailed memo about what the issues were, how we'd go over budget if we didn't do some cuts, what the ideas were to deal with it. And upper management flipped out. They brought in trouble shooters, brought in another production accountant, spent a bunch of money on the new personnel.

But the new hires didn't have much to do. The director and crew made cuts, and the production trouble shooter and the money counter had nothing to do for a month except sit around. By the time we finished the picture, we were under-budget and the picture was a money-maker.

And I got let go. The lesson I learned was: Upper management says they want to know about problems that come up, to help solve any difficulties, but they really don't. What they want is for you to fix whatever's wrong and tell them as little as possible. ...

I've been around the track a few times, but I'd never heard that particular story from the WOCP. Even so, it rang memory bells. When I got back to the office after lunch I remembered which bells jangled:

... Quite recently I had an artist come into my office and tell me the sad story of being in a meeting where "suggestions and input" to make the project better was "encouraged."

So he came up with suggestions, and was told his ideas were interesting and "worth thinking about." And two weeks later his producer informed him that his last day would be January 4th. ("Right after the holidays. Because, you know, we don't want to lay you off right at Christmas ...")

S.R. Hulett (2011)

Which inevitably triggers this:

"I want someone to tell me," Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. "If any of it is my fault, I want to be told."

"He wants someone to tell him," Clevinger said.

"He wants everyone to keep still, idiot," Yossarian answered.

"Didn't you hear him," Clevinger argued.

"I heard him," Yossarian replied. "I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what's good for us."

"I won't punish you," Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.

"He says he won't punish me," said Clevinger.

"He'll castrate you," said Yossarian. ...

-- Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (1961)

To be even-handed here, there are show runners and show creators who want to solve problems and are happy when members of the crew pitch in to help. But it's always good to be sure of your supervisor's receptiveness to new solutions or constructive criticism before offering any.

As my old comrade-in-cartoonss Pete Young said long ago:

"You can't give them a new idea until they're ready to hear it." ...

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Hans Bacher posted this tidbit on his blog.

beauty+beast london 1989 A from hans bacher on Vimeo.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc.

As Mr. Bacher says:

... I chose a 6 1/2 min short compilation from my 5 hour video documentary during the DISNEY BEAUTY AND THE BEAST storyreel development time in london and the research trip to the loire in france. it happened during august 1989 in the PURDUM animation studio in london. you might recognize in the order of appearance – myself, MEL SHAW, JEAN GILMORE, DEREK GOGOL, TOM SITO, GLEN+LINDA+CLAIRE KEANE. at the party – DON HAHN, ANDREAS DEJA, DICK+JILL PURDUM, MEL SHAW and wife FLORENCE. I included a short clip of the finished story-reel in color. ...

In case you're unfamiliar with "Beauty and the Beast's" production development, it moved along the way animated features often do: The picture started with one director -- in this case English animation director Richard Purdum -- and one story, then ended up with other directors and a considerably altered storyline.

Pay attention to the end of the video. The story reel fragment is way different from the finished movie.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Oncoming Home


... DreamWorks Animation and Fox predict a weekend opening in the mid-$30 million range [for Home] in the U.S, according to a Fox spokesman. The film could also benefit from the extended Easter weekend in early April. forecasts $26 million for the opening weekend in the U.S. “Home” has already collected $20.1 million internationally, according to Fox.

And yet, Deadline:

... Fox/DreamWorks’ animated fantasy film Home also ended the weekend with a better than anticipated gross, $20.1M, up $1M from its previous estimate. ...

While Rotten Tomatoes:

Fresh = 9; Rotten = 13; (41% unFresh ... but this will change.) ...

And Cartoon Brew notes:

... Home’s strongest market was the Cinderella-less United Kingdom where it opened in first place with $9.3 million. While that figure lags behind the UK wide-release of DreamWorks’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, which netted $13.3M in a weekend, it’s significantly better than Penguins of Madagascar, which had a soft $2.5M bow in the market last December. ...

It would be a good and useful thing if the picture opens above expectation in the U.S. and Canada. There was a time not long ago when almost every DWA feature opened north of $50 million in the States, and went rocketing on from there. (Domestic takes of less than $150 million were considered problems.)

Sadly, huge three-day openings are no longer a DreamWorks Animation birthright. If Home nudges up against $40 million (or higher) on Friday-Saturday-Sunday, it will undoubtedly be considered a triumph.

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Out of the Woods

Case dismissed.

The creators of a web series about a foul-mouthed teddy bear who likes booze, cigarettes and paying for sex have ended their copyright infringement suit against Seth MacFarlane, Universal Pictures and the producers of the 2012 blockbuster Ted. “The parties hereby stipulate and agree … that this action, and Plaintiff’s Complaint for Copyright Infringement, shall be dismissed in its entirety with prejudice, each side to bear its own costs and attorneys’ fees.” ...

Studios get hit with lawsuits of this type on a regular basis. Seldom do the suits get much (or any) traction. It's difficult to corral and copyright ideas, particularly ones centered around a talking teddy bear.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

100,000,000 Big Ones

For Europe, this is a big budget.

The upcoming animated feature Angry Birds is an enormous investment for the game and entertainment studio Rovio.

The budget for the film has been estimated at 80 million United States dollars, equivalent to over 75 million euros. In addition, Rovio and its partner, Sony Entertainment, will splash roughly 100 million euros in the marketing and distribution of the film.

Rovio has declined to disclose its exact share of the marketing and distribution costs but will nevertheless invest a total of over 100 million euros in the animated feature. ...

Rovio has yet to successfully expand its brand catalogue beyond the rabid birds, although a number of ideas are in early development, according to Rantala. “Entertainment companies naturally seek to have a solid brand portfolio rather than a single brand,” he acknowledges.

Will the bird characters be able to maintain their appeal without a background story?

This is precisely the question the animated feature will seek to answer, says Rantala. He believes the brand will be less reliant on the success of the game series after the animation has been released. ...

I hope Rovio has itself a winner in Angry Birds. It's going to NEED to be a winner if it wants to recoup its investment. Most European features about which I've read cost a fraction of AB's cash outlay.

But I guess Rovio (and Sony) have decided to dare greatly. Best of luck to them.

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The Foreign Turnstiles

Lots of animated movies in theaters beyond U.S. shores.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Cinderella -- $41,100,000 -- ($253,141,134)

Home -- $19,200,000 -- ($19,200,000)

Chappie -- $5,100,000 -- ($71,604,439)

Big Hero 6 -- $6,600,000 -- ($644,772,305)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $3,200,000 -- ($279,993,851)

Night At The Museum -- $2,900,000 -- ($351,172,282)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $1,500,000 -- ($367,583,574)

The new DreamWorks Animation feature, not yet out in the U.S. of A.,received good news:

... 3D buddy comedy Home landed a fantastic $19.16M in nine markets to kick off its global rollout. This comes ahead of a big 55-territory expansion (including in North America) next weekend. ... The Penguins Of Madagascar are still strongly perched in Venezuela with a further $590K for an $11.5M cume after six weeks; the gang’s offshore total is now $287M.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water added $3.2M from 3,720 locations in 48 territories this frame. ...

[Big Hero 6] embraced another $6.6M ($5.6M from China) to lift the international cume to $422.8M and the global take to $644.77M. ...

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cable Cartoons

Ratings stay remarkably consistent week to week, month to month in the land of cable animation:

The Turner portfolio delivered strong performances for the week of Feb. 23, with TBS and Adult Swim ranking among basic cable's Top 5 networks in Live + 7 delivery of adults 18-49 and adults 18-34 in primetime. And Adult Swim continued its reign as basic cable's #1 network among adults 18-34 and adults 18-49 in total day. ...

Cartoon Network once again ranked as basic cable's #1 network for total day and early prime delivery of targeted boy demos. ... Teen Titans Go! (Thursday 6p) ranked as the #1 telecast of the week among kids 2-11 and all key boys, and #1 for the day among all targeted demos. All Thursday night premieres – Amazing World of Gumball (5p), Uncle Grandpa (5:30p), Teen Titans Go! (6p), Steven Universe (6:30p), Adventure Time (7p) and Regular Show (7:15p) – ranked #1 in their respective time periods among all targeted kids & boys. ...

There's been a steady growth in TV animation work over the past few years.

The studio's have caught wise to the reality that animation is profitable, and animation is the corporate product that keeps on giving. Little wonder then that most of the L.A.-based studios (and some outside Los Angeles) are busily creating cartoons for broadcast, cartoons for cable, and cartoons for the internet.

And it isn't just the cartoons themselves. It's the merchandise that cartoons generate. The games, books, video games, mobile-device apps, action figures and dollies that spin off from top shows make much profit for our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

Synergy! Think Synergy!

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Balanced Box Office

Inside the Top Ten, we've got the live-action version of an animated feature at #2, and an animated feature (both hand-drawn and CG) at #9.


1). Insurgent (LG), 3,875 theaters / $21M* Fri. / 3-Day: $49.6M / Wk 1

2). Cinderella (DIS), 3,848 theaters (+3) / $9.69M Fri. (-58%) / 3-Day: $35.78M (-47%)/Total Cume: $123.8M/Wk 2

3). The Gunman (OR), 2,816 theaters / $1.8M* Fri./ 3-Day: $5.45M /Wk 1

4). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 2,233 theaters (-402) / $1.28M Fri. (-23%)/ 3-Day: $4.68M (-25%)/ Total Cume: $114.6M/ Wk 6

5). Run All Night (WB), 3,171 theaters / $1.38M Fri. (-64%)/ 3-Day: $4.65M (-58%)/Total Cume: $19.4M/Wk 2

6). Do You Believe? (PF), 1,320 theaters / $1.15M Fri. / 3-Day: $3.7M / Wk 1

7). The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (FSL), 2,016 theaters (-6)/ $936K Fri. (-43%)/ 3-Day: $3.28M (-42%)/Total Cume: $24M/Wk 3

8). Focus (WB), 2,055 theaters (-800) / $900K Fri. (-47%)/ 3-Day: $3.1M (-46%)/Total Cume: $49.1M /Wk 4

9). The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PAR), 1,980 theaters (-679) / $612K Fri. (-35%)/ 3-Day: $2.69M (-33%)/Total Cume: $159.1M/ Wk 7

10). Chappie (Sony), 2,429 theaters (-772) / $685K Fri. (-56%)/ 3-Day: $2.54M (-55%)/ Total Cume: $28.1M /Wk 3

Cindy will make $35 million this weekend weekend, while Spongebob will earn $2.7 million on its way to $160 million next week. The Disney movie drops by half weekend to weekend, while the Nickelodeon feature declines 35%.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Profitability Rankings

The latest pecking order of our fine, entertainment conglomerates is hardly a surprise.

Frozen fever and Marvel moolah helped deliver $1.7 billion in 2014 as Disney topples Warner Bros., Paramount increases box office and Sony stumbles on Spider-Man in the annual breakdown of money at the major studios. ...

Robert Iger's acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm has paid off in spades.

Michael Eisner and Frank Wells spent ten years growing Walt Disney Productions from the inside out, then Capital Cities/ABC was purchased, then more outside properties like California Angels and Fox Family Worldwide (where Haim Saban made a killing).

But Iger turned the purchase of other entertainment brands into a highly successful art form, and now Diz Co. is a money making behemoth, with numerous interlocking parts that seem to work together to make larger and larger amounts of money.

And then there are all the other big entertainment companies, many of them doing well, but none as high-flying as Diz Co. in 2014-2015.

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The Big C

Apparently the Disney CEO was told about it before many others:

Robert Iger: He [Steve Jobs] said, "I've made myself a promise that I'm going to be alive for Reed's graduation from high school." [Reed is Jobs's eldest son.]

So I say, of course, "How old is Reed?"

He tells me that Reed is fourteen, and will be graduating in four years. He says, "Frankly, they tell me I've got a fifty-fifty chance of living five years."

"Are you telling me this for any other reason than wanting to get it off your chest?" I asked.

He says, "I'm telling you because I'm giving you a chance to back out of the deal."

So I look at my watch, and we've got thirty minutes. In thirty minutes we're going to make this announcement [that Disney is buying Pixar]. We've got television crews, we've got the board votes, we've got investment bankers. The wheels are turning. And I'm thinking, We're in this post Sarbanes-Oxley world, and Enron, and fiduciary responsibility, and he is going to be our largest shareholder, and I'm now being asked to bury a secret. He told me, "My kids don't know. Not even the Apple board knows. Nobody knows, and you can't tell anybody."

Basically, thanks. ...

Selflessness, and dickishness. Wrapped up in one package.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Like Noses, Mouths, Eyes

I don't really think much about this. However ...

Every Female Character in Every Disney/Pixar Animated Movie From the Past Decade Basically Has the Same Face

... Disney’s bizarre tendency to animate female characters with minor variations of the same doe-eyed, button nosed template extends far beyond Frozen. This week, Tumblr user Every Flavored Bean took to the site to air her grievances about a troubling new discovery. After seeing a few stills from the upcoming film Inside Out:

The three female characters ... have what is basically the exact same facial structure: big eyes + button nose + chubby cheeks. ...

What Every Flavored Bean not be down with is, every feature cartoon company has its own house style.

Disney hand-drawn features had their own distinct look. Nobody would mistake them for Fleischer features (not that Fleischer made that many). Even later Disney animated features looked demonstrably "Disney."

The same holds true for CG features. Every studio has its own look and approach. Illumination Entertainment is distinct from Blue Sky Studios, which is different than DreamWorks Animation.

You would think that Jeffrey Katzenberg, coming from Disney Feature Animation, would imitate his alma mater, but no. The DWA hand-drawn features moved briskly away from the Disney style, and the CG features (to a somewhat lesser degree) have also carved their own paths.

But the latest Disney features (and their women) have a pretty strong lineage ... all the way back to the Fred Moore female centaurs in Fantasia.

Round cheeks? Button noses? Check. Big doe eyes? Maybe less so. Except for ...


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A Russian WIn

No, not in the Ukraine, but for a cartoon.

The popular children's television show "Masha i Medved" (Masha and the Bear) has become the first Russian cartoon to pick up a gong at the equivalent of the Oscars for animation films.

The prestigious 2015 Kidscreen Award for best animation in the Creative Talent category was handed over last month at a ceremony in Miami, Florida, the animators said on their website. ...

Masha and the Bear is a tale that goes back into Russian antiquity, and also into old Russian/Soviet film-making.

Congratulations to the winners.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Seth is Rich

Sunday last, Family Guy did well in the ratings. Not M*A*S*H well, or I love Lucy well, when forty or fifty percent of the TV universe was tuning in, but well as defined by 2015-type numbers. ...

In the 9 P.M. hour, Family Guy had the highest percentage of the 18-49 crowd, even as it had a lower number for total viewers.

In TV land, 'tweeners, elementary school tots, and geezers (those above 49) count for almost nothing. So when I see "Family Guy has a share of 5," I take that to mean:

Of the houses with 18-49 year-olds watching television, 5% of them are watching the Seth MacFarlane program. (The other three shows have lower shares, even though there are more eyeballs watching them. Very old and very young eyeballs are trumped by the peepers of the desired demographic every time.)

It ain't the quantity that has the most clout, but the age bracket.

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Prez Emeritus's History

Tom Sito again rolls out a compendium of important historical stuff for the month of March.

March 1, 1930 - Walt Disney’s top animator Ub Iwerks, the animator/designer of Mickey Mouse, quits Walt’s studio to set up his own place.

March 1, 1936 - Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop cartoon Snow White premieres. Cab Calloway singing the “St. James Infirmary Blues” is a highlight.

March 2, 1933 - The movie King Kong premieres at the new Radio City Music Hall ... animation by Willis O’Brian and his assistant Ray Harryhausen, with preproduction art inspired by Charles R. Knight.

March 9, 1935 - The Looney Tunes cartoon I Haven’t Got a Hat premieres. This cartoon gives birth to the first permanent Warner Bros. Cartoon star - Porky Pig.

March 12, 1945 - THE WAR OF HOLLYWOOD BEGINS -Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s several national unions battle studios (and each other) to represent Hollywood film workers ... Teamsters, the FWPC, the Brotherhood of Electricians among them. By 1945 only two remain, the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and the CSU (Conference of Studio Unions).

The CSU, the much more militant group, is headed by the charismatic Herb Sorrell (who helped win the Disney strike for the cartoonists in 1941). Sorrell calls several citywide strikes that paralyze Hollywood between 1945 and 1947. President Richard Walsh of IATSE fights the Conference ... and riots in front of the studios are commonplace.

March 13, 1928 - Walt Disney boards a train from New York to L.A. after losing in negotiations the rights to his character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. With him are his wife Lillian and Ub Iwerks. During this long cross-country train ride they conceive the character Mickey Mouse.

March 15, 1933 - Young animator Chuck Jones is first hired at Leon Schlesinger’s Looney Tunes cartoon studio.

March 15, 1950 - Walt Disney’s Cinderella opens. It’s Disney’s first animated fairy tale hit in ten years. (

And sixty-five years later, almost to the day, Cindy is a hit again in a live-action version. Who would have imagined? -- Hulett)

March 15, 2002 - Blue Sky’s first Ice Age feature premieres.

March 20, 1943 - MGM’s Dumb Hounded, the first Droopy cartoon, premieres.

March 21, 1951 - The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), under Judge J. Parnell Thomas, moves from Washington DC and sets up in Hollywood to continue rooting out Communist subversion in the movies. They begin in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and later move to the federal building downtown.

(Out of 15,000 people who make a living in the movies and television, only 295 are ever proven or confessed communists. It's an open secret that for $5,000 delivered to the right committee member, your dossier will be moved to the bottom of the pile. The hearings stop in 1956. The blacklist is broken in 1960 and Judge J. Parnell Thomas goes to jail for embezzlement.)

March 23, 1957 - Art Clokey’s The Gumby Show premieres.

March 24,1943 - The first Japanese anime feature, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles by Mitsuo Seyo, opens.

March 25, 1989 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit earns four Oscars at the Academy Awards. Sound Effects, Visual Effects, Film Editing and a special one for Richard Williams for the animation.

March 27, 1952 - U.P.A.’s cartoon Rooty-Toot-Toot premieres. The short has a music score by jazzman Phil Monroe, who's the first African American to receive a screen credit for scoring a movie.

March 29, 1989 - Pixar’s short Tin Toy becomes the first CG animation to ever win an Oscar.

March 31, 1930 - Reacting to charges that the movies had become too racy, Hollywood producers accept the MOTION PICTURE CODE. Regulated by Will Hays, former Republican Party chairman, the code doesn’t really start to have strength until 1935-36, when pressure groups like the Catholic League of Decency go after Mae West and the Tarzan pictures.

The Hays Code forbids open sex and obscenity by mandating twin beds only in a bedroom, nightclothes buttoned to the neck; if a couple is seated together on a bed they must have at least one foot touching the floor. Kisses can last no longer than 3 seconds, and lips must be closed. (The Code is replaced by the MPAA ratings system in 1968).

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Disney Steam Roller

There's a lot of press lately as how unstoppable the Mouse is. How its theatrical releases are all blockbusters.

... This year they’ve got Cinderella, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant Man, two Pixar movies, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Next year they’ve got The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland 2, Captain America 3, Zootopia, Dr. Strange, Finding Dory, Disney’s Moana, and Star Wars: Rogue One. 2017 brings Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Star Wars Episode VIII, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Toy Story 4, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man, and another Pixar film. ...

One of which will (perhaps?) be The Incredibles. ...

This, of course is a big turnaround from the bad old days:

[In 1981, Disney's] animation division was turning out middling dreck like The Fox and the Hound, which delivered a scant $63 million in worldwide sales, according to Box Office Mojo.


Drek or not, the picture made more than five times its cost. The same was true of its immediate predecessor The Rescuers, the first animated feature to inspire a sequel. But it's certainly true that Walt Disney Productions' movie line-up of the late seventies and early eighties was pretty much under-whelming.

Yet dominance in one field or another is never permanent. Remember Microsoft's strangle-hold on desk-top computers' operating systems? (Remember desk-top computers?) How about the big bad car company General Motors? A.T. & T. used to own an official, government-sanctioned monopoly. Nothing is forever, particularly a movie studio's reign at the top.

In the meantime, on the heels of Cinderella's boffo opening, the House that Walt built tees up its next animation retread.

... Disney has dated its live-action fairy-tale retelling Beauty and the Beast for March 17, 2017.

Emma Watson is starring as Belle while Dan Stevens will play the Prince/Beast. Luke Evans will play the role of Gaston. Emma Thompson has joined the cast as Mrs. Potts and Kevin Kline as Belle's father, Maurice. Production on the project, which will include some CG magic, will kick off in May at Shepperton Studios in London. ...

Movie companies have a long history of running good things into the ground. Disney has found that, along with its Marvel, Pixar and Lucas brands, there's big dollars in the companies' old cartoon features. The question is, how long will it take for that particular vein of gold to play out?

When Diz Co. gets around to filming live-action versions of Rescuers Down Under and The Black Cauldron, we'll know we're at (or near) the end.

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Animation artists, writers and technicians are finding employment at various L.A. cartoon studios, but one of our larger companies is showing executives to the door marked "Egress."

... The brunt of the Viacom layoffs hit Nickelodeon yesterday and today. ... A number of executives and assistants were affected in such areas as preschool, animation, legal and talent. Among those who have departed in the restructuring are Emmy winner Teri Weiss, Nickelodeon’s EVP Preschool Programming; Kay Wilson Stallings, SVP, Production & Development, Nickelodeon Preschool, Nick Jr., Nick Jr. and NickMom; and Nickelodeon Animation Studio SVPs Rich Magallanes and Jenna Boyd.

The cable network would not comment on the layoffs beyond the statement it issued last week: “As announced, we are in the process of restructuring and there will be employees leaving the company as a result.

Cartoon Brew broke the story about Nick layoffs yesterday. Deadline added some scope to the tale today.

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Building Out

From an older industry piece:

... [Nickelodeon/Viacom] aims to unite the entire Nick family in a single facility opening in Burbank next year. And the studio hopes the new state-of-the-art five-story glass structure will become a hub for the entire animation industry. ...

The opening coincides with Nickelodeon Animation’s 25th anniversary in 2016. ...

Nick purchased an equipment rental lot at the corner of Lake and Olive some little while ago. Nick employees tell me the move in date is the tail end of 2016. But if it's a five-story "glass structure," the building is a bit more than some pre-fab buildout, and to date there hasn't been a lot done on the property.

I'm sure it will be constructed, but good luck with that 2016 move-in date.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Who's Working Where?

From time to time, we like to let people know what cartoon facilities here in the City of Angels are employing what numbers of animation staff.

So ... without further ado:


6 Point 2 --- 24

Bento Box --- 52

Cartoon Network --- 218

Disney TVA --- 263

DPS Film Roman --- 127

DreamWorks Anim --- 597

DreamWorks TV --- 232

Fox Animaiotn --- 90

Hasbro --- 49

Illumination Entrtnmnt --- 7

Marvel Animation --- 44

Nickelodeon --- 324

Paramnt-Animation --- 60

Rich Entertnmt --- 7

Rick & Morty --- 7

Robin Red Breast --- 108

Six Point 2 --- 24

Sony Pix Anim --- 57

Walt Disney Anim Studio --- 530

Universal --- 23

Hasbro --- 41

Warner Animation Group --- 25

Warners TV Anim --- 186

Wild Canary --- 32 ...

You're probably wondering what all those names and numbers up above are about; we're happy to tell you.

Signator studios send TAG employment/layoff slips informing us who they've hired and who they've laid off. This includes free-lance (out of studio) workers and in-house staff.

But signator studios, good citizens though they are, sometimes fall behind in the slip sending, so please understand that employment numbers are always in a wee bit of flux. (Some shows are ramping up, some shows are ramping down. Etc., etc. It's the nature of the entertainment biz.)

We have bold-faced studios that are employing artists, writers and technicians in the triple digits. If you see a particular studio and your reaction is: "Wait a minute! Company A just laid off a bunch of people! I read about it! They still employ that many folks?!"

Yeah, they employ that many folks. Because 1) they're a big organization (still) and 2) many employees remain on payroll for an additional X number of weeks or months after leaving company premises. (Some of them might not be working in a corporate office or cubicle anymore, but they're still employed.)

Any questions? ...

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One of our fine entertainment conglomerates will be paying money.

(From Reuters:) Viacom Inc. agreed to pay $7.21 million to settle a class-action lawsuit by thousands of former interns who said the owner of Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon did not pay them, despite their having done work similar to paid employees.

The settlement disclosed on Wednesday night in Manhattan federal court covers roughly 12,500 former interns, and requires court approval.

It is among the largest settlements by companies, including many in the media industry, that have been sued since 2013 by interns who claim they were not paid, or were paid less than minimum wage, in violation of federal and state labor laws. ...

From time to time, the Animation Guild has run across signator studios with unpaid interns performing covered production work. Happily, it hasn't happened recently, and it hasn't happened at most larger studios.

Occasionally, however, an over-ambitious production person attempts to squeeze the turnip until juice flows out. It's a story as old as civilization.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

The World's Box Office

... has any number of animated (and animated-related) moving pictures on it.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Cinderella -- $62,400,000 -- ($132,453,000)

Chappie -- $13,600,000 -- ($56,712,000)

Big Hero 6 -- $17,000,000 -- ($632,786,265)

Jupiter Ascending -- $8,700,000 -- ($171,180,134)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $4,300,000 -- ($270,891,372)

Paddington -- $3,300,000 -- ($218,291,178)

As industry journals tell us:

Cinderella took to the international dance floor this frame, kicking up a fantastic $132.45M global opening. The international portion of that is an estimated $62.4M with nearly half of it coming from China ($25M). ...

Big Hero 6 became the top animated title of 2014 with $633M globally over the weekend. After opening in China on February 28, the film now has a local cume of $66.5M, surpassing Frozen to become the highest grossing animated release there ever from Disney or Pixar. ...

Jupiter Ascending added $8.7M this frame in 37 markets, bringing the international cume to date to $125.2M. ... The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water soaked up a further $4.3M this weekend from 5,028 locations in 49 territories, bringing the international cume to $116.2M. ...

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Battling "Popeye" Stories

So Variety proclaims:

The director [Genndy Tartakovsky] told Moviefone that he’s “off that project” essentially over a difference of opinion in the direction the movie was headed. However, the film is still in active development, according to Sony Pictures Animation.

“I was in love with what we were doing, but I think the studio is going through changes and I don’t know if they want to make the ‘Popeye’ that I want to make,” he told Moviefone. “So they’ve got to make a decision.” ...

This is seconded by Cartoon Brew, but Animation Scoop tells us:

... Sony hasn't cancelled the film. What has happened is that Genndy Tartakovsky had moved on to completing Hotel Transylvania 2 and has started production on an original flick, Can You Imagine?

According to a Sony Pictures Animation spokesman I contacted today - and I quote: "Genndy has been developing both Popeye and his original idea Genndy Tartakovsky's Can You Imagine? (temp title) at the same time while directing Hotel Transylvania 2."

"It initially looked like Popeye would happen first but Imagine pulled ahead and is now scheduled to be his next directorial film at Sony Pictures Animation. That said Popeye is still very much in active development." ...

And what Animation Guild reps heard the middle of last week from staff artists was: Popeye hasn't been cancelled outright, but more like put on the back burner/top shelf and left in (temporary?) limbo.

We alluded to this in an earlier post, but the last thing we want to do is break some animation story and then get a brusque and businesslike phone call from the studio, the underlying message of which is:

"Where the f*ck do you get off talking about the status of our projects?!

But since, you know, the cat is now out of the bag, we'll relay what we heard: Popeye development has slowed way down. There was a difference of opinion between corporate parties over the movie's take on the characters. Should the film have a thirties' sensibility along the lines of the Fleischer featurettes? (See below.) Or should the sailor man be more modern? Some story artists thought the Fleischer approach was the way to go, but the story and character development wasn't grabbing higher ups, and so ...

Back burner time.

However, please note: Shelved projects often don't remain shelved. (Witness, for instance, Frozen.) And whatever the full story is, we don't think the sailor man is dead at Sony Pictures Animation, but only in hibernation. SPA needs new projects, so Popeye could ultimately get made.

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The Princess of Weekend Box Offices

So there's the live action version of an animated feature up top ... and an animated feature at #7.

1). Cinderella (DIS), 3,845 theaters / $23M* Fri. / 3-Day: $70.5M / Wk 1

2). Run All Night (WB), 3,171 theaters / $3.9M* Fri./ 3-Day: $11.44M /Wk 1

3). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 2,635 theaters (-466) / $1.62M Fri. (-27%)/ 3-Day: $6.2M (-25%)/ Total Cume: $107.1M/ Wk 5

4). The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (FSL), 2,022 theaters (+449) / $1.6M Fri. (-40%)/ 3-Day: $5.79M (-32%)/Total Cume: $18.2M/Wk 2

5). Focus (WB), 2,855 theaters (-468) / $1.6M Fri. (-45%)/ 3-Day: $5.5M (-45%)/Total Cume: $43.6M /Wk 3

6). Chappie (Sony), 3,201 theaters (0) / $1.5M Fri. (-66%)/ 3-Day: $5.46M (-59%)/ Total Cume: $23.2M /Wk 2

7). The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PAR), 2,659 theaters (-438) / $954K Fri. (-31%)/ 3-Day: $4.6M (-31%)/Total Cume: $155.2M/ Wk 6

8). McFarland USA (DIS), 2,455 theaters (-337) / $961K Fri. (-34%) / 3-Day: $3.5M (-33%) /Total Cume: $34.8M/ Wk 4

9). Fifty Shades Of Grey (UNI/Focus), 2,039 theaters (-749) / $936K Fri. (-47%) / 3-Day: $3M (-45%)/Total Cume: $161.2M/ Wk 5

10). The Duff (CBS/LGF), 2,301 theaters (-258)/ $921K Fri. (-40%) / 3-Day: $2.9M (-38%)/Total Cume: $30.1M/ Wk 4

Cindy got herself an “A” CinemaScore and a $23 million gross on Day #1 of release. And to think the Mouse, just a few years ago, was skittish of princess movies.

Corporate minds can be changed when box office results roll in.

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