Monday, December 31, 2007

Good News For New Year's Eve!

I'm a tad premature on this, but good news comes to animation industry folks from across the fruited plain (and other points in the country). In 2007, three pure animated features landed in the Top Ten at the American box office:

Grosses -----------> Movies

$336,530,303 ------> Spider-Man 3 (2007)

$320,706,665 -------> Shrek the Third (2007)

$319,014,499 --------> Transformers (2007)

$309,404,152 --------> Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007)

$292,000,866 --------> Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

$227,137,090 ---------> The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

$206,435,493 ----------> Ratatouille (2007)

$183,121,527 -----------> The Simpsons Movie (2007)

$168,213,584 -----------> Wild Hogs (2007)

$148,734,225 -----------> Knocked Up (2007)

So. Shrek places second, the sadly disappointing* Ratatouille comes in seventh, and the hand-drawn Simpsons Movie takes the eighth spot.

And of course the host of partially animated films, small items like Spider Man 3, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter do quite well in their own right.

The reason it's always good to harp on these numbers is, when animation does well, more people in the animation business get employed. For some reason or other, I find that's very important.

* (c) 2007 JHM

Click here to read entire post

The twenty-fifth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 25
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Joseph and Mary, on their way to Bethlehem ... on a more stylized card than usual.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Final Overseas Box Office for 2007

Foreign theatrical grosses seem to be robust as the year draws to a close:

... "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," "Enchanted," "Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem," "Alvin and the Chipmunks, "Bee Movie" -- combined for another $85 million during the frame. So with the top seven entries totaling $165 million, international box office is ending the year on a decidedly upbeat note ...

Animated features have been doing quite nicely around the globe:

... "Enchanted" figures with $20.6 million at 5,304 in 43 markets, giving the family-aimed fantasy a foreign total of $110.7 million -- matching the domestic number. Its fourth Brit frame held nicely, off only 1% to $4.5 million, while its Australian launch looked lively with $3.3 million ...

... Fox's "Alvin" remained solid rather than spectacular with $13.6 million at 3,608 to lift the kidpic's foreign cume to nearly $38 million. Most of the takings came from soph sesh holdovers, led by the U.K. with $2.7 million and France and Germany with $1.9 million each ...

Par's "Bee Movie" buzzed up $13.5 million at 4,904 in 59 markets for a $103 million foreign cume. Toon showed stellar holds with a 12% hike in its third U.K. frame to $2.1 million and a 47% jump in its Italian soph sesh to $1.6 million.

All these solid numbers are good things, because animation is a very market-driven part of the business. The better animated films do, the more people end up working to make additional animated films.

Click here to read entire post

The twenty-fourth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 24
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

The jesters again. Carrying trays again. If you scroll down, you'll find another design quite similar to this one. These colorful bits of card art came out years (decades) apart, and Mr. Hulett wasn't above reworking designs that had earlier sold like hot cakes.

Two more Christmas cards to go ...

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The $100 Million Club

Lookee here. Buena Vista Distribution (also known as the Walt Disney Co.) has two $100 million flicks in the Top Ten...

National Treasure the Second Time Around has taken in $100.6 million as it begins its second weekend at the top of the heap ...

Enchanted, a longtime resident of the Golden Ten, has now collected $106.5 million ....

And then there's Alvin and the Chipmunks, holding fast at the second slot and holding down $122.8 million. (Who would have thought it?)

Update: And the second end-of-year holiday weekend is rather boisterous in terms of pictures holding or increasing their weekend-to-weekend totals.

National Treasure stays on top with $35.6 million (a decline of 20.4%) and a $124 million total.

The wondrous Alvin and the Chipmunks increases its take by 6.5%, adding $6.5 million for a cume of $142.3 million.

Partially-animated The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep lands at #7 and a $9.2 million take.

And Enchanted perks up by 53.9% even as it drops 490 theatres, pulling in $6.5 million for a $110,650,000 total. (This matches its overseas take.)

Click here to read entire post

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Fairness Doctrine

United Hollywood brings forth Wall Street's analysis of the WGA's demands:

... Wall Street firm Bear Stearns issued a report stating that even if the Writers Guild got every single provision it has been asking for in a new contract, the impact on the conglomerates' bottom line would be "negligible." It's encouraging to see Wall Street saying what we've known all along: that the WGA's proposals are fair, reasonable and affordable. (They don't even keep up with inflation!) ...

Back in 2000, the Animation Guild spent nine months trying to achieve residuals for animation writers. Through nine months, the studios kept saying "no." And TAG kept revising its proposals and coming back to the table with another residual idea. The studios went right on saying "no."

In the privacy of the caucus room, TAG negotiators complained how unfair it all was. How the Animation Guild's proposals were beyond reasonable. And I agreed. But I also kept pointing out that the crux of the matter wasn't "fair" or "unfair." It was -- as it always is in negotiations -- what side has the strength and leverage to achieve its ends. The end for the animation studios in 2000 was, "no residuals."

That's the nub of the situation with the WGA-AMPTP negotiations now -- who's got the leverage?

Here's my semi-informed conjecture: The conglomerates are betting that WGA solidarity cracks along about the fifth or sixth month of picketing, as members' economic situations grow worse and pressure to "agree on something!" becomes more intense. The WGA is betting that the studios aren't willing to throw away a television season and movies needed for their distribution pipelines over $120 million in extra costs and a 1% downward tick in projected earnings.

Of course, the wild card in all this is the D.G.A. If and when the Directors Guild reaches a new contract with the AMPTP, the dynamics will change, despite what the actors and writers are saying now. We've got a ways to go yet.

Addendum: David Letterman's Worldwide Pants Co. has reached an agreement with the WGA:

David Letterman has secured a deal with the striking Writers Guild of America that will allow him to resume his late-night show on CBS next Wednesday with his team of writers on board, executives of several late-night shows said today.

This, I think, goes back to the issue of leverage. Letterman isn't hostile to the WGA (if anything, he's hostile to the corporate suits). World Wide Pants Company has been pursuing a deal for some time now. So the WGA had leverage to get a new deal.

Good to read that WWP and the WGA have a new contract and the writers are returning to work.

Click here to read entire post

Year End Festival of Links

One last cavalcade of linkage for 2007, beginning with Kerrie Murphy's think-piece on quality 'toons through the 20th century:

To fund such a lavishly illustrated piece ["What's Opera, Doc?"], [Chuck] Jones and crew siphoned money from the cheaper Road Runner cartoons, and it was worth the effort. It's almost impossible to hear Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries without singing "Kill the wabbit" to the tune. There's something about jamming pop culture into the highbrow arts that makes it timelessly funny. It captures the spirit of opera so well, it's also a little moving, as Elmer the Wagnerian warrior loses his love, Bugs in a dress.

The Simpsons Movie, already making Fox News Corp a very happy conglomerate, now comes to dvd ... with extras!

... It's rare to find a DVD commentary track worth listening to at all, but The Simpsons Movie is blessed with two. The first commentary packs producer/writers James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, and Mike Scully; director David Silverman; and voice actors Dan Catellaneta and Yeardley Smith into a recording booth ...

Pixar animator Jim Capobianco disses animation schools that abandon hand-drawn animation:

"I believe that, to learn computer animation, you need to learn the basics of animation itself," Capobianco says. "And, in its purest form, it's doing it by hand.

"I think it's a shame that some schools are actually getting rid of their traditional animation programs and just going directly into computer animation. I think you need to learn the basics before you can jump to the next level ..."

Business Week predicts what won't happen in Hollywood during 2008:

DreamWorks isn't going to leave Paramount after all. ... I've got the feeling that Spielberg's business partner, the endlessly imaginative David Geffen, may just have another game plan in mind. Sure, he'll take meetings with NBC ... But pique is really a Geffen ploy to bring Paramount parent Viacom (VIA) and its chairman Sumner Redstone back to the table and maybe to get him to buy the other piece of DreamWorks (DWA), its animation studio, that Redstone didn't buy in 2005.

Disney Animation unveils its all-new look of a doggie named Bolt, coming to a multiplex near you in approximately one year's time (assuming the release date holds):

For super-dog Bolt (voice of John Travolta), every day is filled with adventure, danger and intrigue—at least until the cameras stop rolling. When the star of a hit TV show is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City, he begins his biggest adventure yet—a cross-country journey through the real world.

"Animation vs. Animator" is a year-and-a-half old, and 4 million people have seen it. But I toss it in here at the tail end of '07 because in the past month two studio execs have sent the piece to me. (And the Associated Press has just gotten around to discovering it...)

Reuters and others take note that DreamWorks has put Paramount on top of the box office heap for 2007:

Paramount Pictures will end the year as the top Hollywood studio in terms of market share at the North American box office, thanks largely to its uneasy alliance with DreamWorks, which produced the year's No. 3 movie "Transformers..."

DreamWorks Animation, a separate publicly held studio run by another DreamWorks co-founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, has its own deal to have its movies distributed by Paramount through 2012. The firm contributed to Paramount's coffers with "Shrek the Third" ($321 million, No. 2) and "Bee Movie ... "

The Hollywood Reporter informs us that a whole lot of international box office records were smashed in '07:

The six Hollywood majors will set an all-time record at the overseas boxoffice during 2007, raking in about 15% more than last year with a peak of nearly $10 billion ...

Lastly, Box Office Prophets reviews ancient Disneyana -- the "Alice in Cartoonland" series from the twenties. And this description of the "best short" in the package caught my eye:

Alice's Egg Plant features the sole series appearance of Anne Shirley, the only 'Alice' who would continue her film career as an adult (Shirley appeared in such classics as Three On a Match, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Murder My Sweet before retiring in favor of married life in 1944). As for the film, it's one of the best on the disc, and revolves around the revolt of the local henhouse, whose occupants are required to fill a last minute order for 5,000 eggs. Providing commentary on labor issues and even factory farming—these chickens punch a time clock and go on strike ...

Ah yes, Walt Disney, labor agitator. Have a glorious New Year.

Click here to read entire post

'Toon Development Then and Now

This opening paragraph from "Behind the Scenes of Studio Development" got my tiny brain to spinning:

While the writers strike has put a temporary damper on animated feature development, studios are positioned to resume their quest for narrative gold as soon as the issues are resolved and Hollywood gets back to work.

Say what? Shouldn't animated feature development go merrily on? Since board artists and most feature animation writers work under IATSE contracts, not WGA agreements?

Uh, no.

As a Wise Old Animation Producer recently told me:

"Listen, you can't get a studio exec to greenlight an animated feature unless he or she sees a script. Storyboards are beyond them. They don't like to look at them, don't understand them. It's not like the way Disney used to do it, not anymore.

"And the only scripts that execs now want to see are ones from established writers with lawyers and agents and a long list of credits. And that means WGA writers."

Of course, all those "established writers" are currently on strike in the "pencil down" position, and the WGA is leaning on them to not submit material to producers. (Technically, any writer is free to write animation, and several do. But newer, submitted material? There's not much...)

Script-driven animated features have been with us since the late eighties, when Disney -- at the time the major feature animation studio in town -- moved away from its traditional boarding first, scripting-later approach. Today, animated features follow the general trajectory of their live-action cousins: script, then boards, then full production. Trouble is, live action isn't animation. As a feature director with a long track record in story development said to me:

"I've worked with good animation writers who get it, who come up with good stuff and really collaborate with storyboard artists. But I've also worked with bad writers. You have to tear up their script pages and start over to end up with something decent. Usually you have to fight them every step of the way, then they come in and copy down the dialogue under your drawings and put it in their revised draft."

In my time, a seasoned pro like Vance Gerry would visualize a feature prior to scripting, get all the major story beats down, develop the characters. But those quaint days under Walt and Woolie are gone forever. Now the word processing comes first.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Farewell to the First Screen Cartoonist Guild President

You might have seen this obituary elsewhere, but even though I'm late to the party (being away for a bit), I post it now.

Animation veteran Jack Zander, whom President Emeritus Tom Sito informs me was the first SCG President (circa 1938), died on December 17th at age 99.

I crib from Tom's obit:

I worked for Jack Zander, and he was a friend. Jack began at the Rohmer Grey Studio in 1930. He started at Leon Schlesinger Studio in 1933 on the day Friz Freleng threatened to take the entire staff out if Leon didn't pay them their back wages!

He was one of the last surviving animators of the Hanna & Barbera's MGM team who animated on the great Tom & Jerry shorts. I recall Kevin Petrilak once flipped for me a Jack Zander scene of Jerry he xeroxed from the personal collection of rough animation Friz Freleng kept at his office in Depatie-Freleng. Jerry dancing about the prostrate Tom with a THE END sign. It was very good. Jack was also one of the first presidents of the Screen Cartoonists Guild,and he ran two of the most successful commercial animation studios on Madison Ave, Pelican and Zander's Animation Parlour.

When I got to work for him as a freelance assistant in 1978, I knew I had finally made the big time. His studio was one of the best. Jack used some of the best assistant animators in the business, including Jim Logan, Ellsworth Barthen, Ed Cerrillo and Helen Komar, plus elder statesmen like Preston Blair, Emery Hawkins and Clyde Geronimi. He gave a lot of young people a chance, like Dean Yeagle, Nancy Beiman, Dan Haskett and Juan Sanchez. Jack was a man of taste, who never forgot his roots as a studio animator. As he aged gracefully, he maintained a dry wit that was a lot of fun.

He liked to ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle and rode his Hog across the US to get his Annie Award. This while near 90 years old. He only stopped riding his Harley when he suffered a spill on a road in South Carolina that banged him up. He was 92 then. He gave one of the best Annie Award speeches ever, in my humble opinion.

"Getting this award at this great age kinda reminds me of the joke about the two old men walking down a road until one encountered a talking frog. The Frog said ' I am not a real frog but an enchanted princess. Kiss me and I shall turn into a beautiful woman and do any erotic thing your heart desires!' The man pocketed the frog and they walked on. After awhile the man's companion said to him; 'Aren't you going to kiss her?' The old man replied: 'When you reach my age, some times you'd rather have a talking frog.' Thank You."

He contributed a lot about his past to my book Drawing the Line and was giving me notes up to this past Spring. He used to send me long faxes, labeled Jax Fax, when he was on the Internet ...

Adieu Jack. I hope you are at the celestial version of Costello's Bar now, having a drink with old pals like Friz Freleng, Joe Barbera and Bill Tytla. Age may have finally stilled your noble heart, but on the screen, Jerry continues to dance merrily, imbued with your indefatigable spirit. New generations of children continue to laugh at his antics. And so this is the way of the animator. For in this way, you live on.

My condolences to Mark and the family.

-- Tom Sito

Click here to read entire post

Tucking Money Away and Asset Allocation

I bring up this subject (yet again) because the TAG enrollment deadline (January 4 2008) arrives next week. And you should think about it.

"Where should I invest my money?" is a constant question. My one-word answer is "diversify." But that means zip to most people, so here's a think-piece off the global web that covers the diversification puzzle succinctly. I extract the simplest of its examples:

Andrew Tobias' Three Fund Lazy Portfolio:

- 33.3% in Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund

- 33.3% in Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund

- 33.3% in Vanguard Inflation Protected Securities Fund

There are other more complex asset allocation models that might be slightly better or somewhat worse in the returns they give you. But for simplicity, for ease of use, this portfolio covers 90.1% of the bases.

You just have to remember to rebalance the three accounts back to 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 every twelve months. And resist the temptation to chase hot returns.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


The last year-and-a-half and more, there have been a steady stream of animation artists heading for Portland and the LAIKA studios ....

The company has a variety of animated films (stop motion, cgi) in work.

Henry Selick, formerly of Disney and the director of Nightmare Before Christmas, seems to be making good progress with the company's first release.

Click here to read entire post

The twenty-third day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 22
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Santa & reindeer kicking back after another Christmas. Hope you're not stressed out running to mall sales.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Labor Board: Non-Defender of Labor

There was a time when the National Labor Relations Board was considered an advocate and protector of working stiffs. Sadly, that day is long over:

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers have the right to prohibit workers from using the company’s e-mail system to send out union-related messages, a decision that could hamper communications between labor unions and their membership.

In a 3-to-2 ruling released on Friday, the board held that it was legal for employers to prohibit union-related e-mail so long as employers had a policy barring employees from sending e-mail for “non-job-related solicitations” for outside organizations.

Actually, I'm surprised the board included a caveat that they had to "have a policy barring employees sending non-job-related solicitations" already in place.

As I've said before, we live in a corporatist age, a corporatist world. Which means that not only must employee organizations be reined in, but government must be put in service of corporations.

So now the labor board serves companies rather than labor (good luck to the WGA with its "unfair labor practice filed with the NLRB). And the Federal government exists to save companies from their own excesses (subprime bailouts, car company bailouts, bank and savings-and-loan bailouts, etc.), also to speed the privatization of formerly government activities along (Blackwater, Halliburton, et al).

You might not like the reality, but it's always better to know how the real-world operates ... and acclimatize yourself. Keeps you from crying so much at night.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Links of Christmas

Joyous Noel and all that goes with it. And on this December holiday. we share a short linkfest as you scoop up the Christmas wrapping paper and hual it out to the trash ... starting with the animation chief of Disney/Pixar:

"The whole notion that the audience didn't want to watch hand-drawn animation any more was ridiculous," Lasseter says. "It would be like saying the audience didn't want to watch something made with a particular camera. Give me a break!"

Something new under the sun: an animated television mini-series about the Great Depression:

"The Dark Years," a three-part animated series from the National Film Board [of Canada] and Barna-Alper Productions, is a lively and visually sumptuous look at Canada during the Great Depression that will fascinate even those who have written off our nation's history as tepid.

"We were trying to resurrect Canadian history on television but there weren't a lot of images of that history, and there certainly aren't images of some of the most fascinating stories we discovered," Steven Silver, the director of the series, said in a recent interview.

"So being able to animate it liberated us and meant we could tell any story we wanted to and we'd have a visual language that ran through it. And the animation is really quite beautiful - it's very painterly."

Everybody knows that WALL-E is the next Pixar offering. But what about the feature after that?

Rumor has it that the upcoming 2009 Pixar animated film Up is somewhat a re-telling of the classic Don Quixote fable. For almost 60 years now the Walt Disney Company has been trying to turn Don Quixote into an animated feature film ...

Many animators may have their doubts about motion capture, but the Beowulf actors were into it:

“I loved it,” Ray Winston (Beowulf) told Hollywood Today. “The thing I had to think about the most was the way I moved because I was playing a 6’6’ Viking with an 8 pack! It’s weird. My wife loves it.” Although, he admits that during the shooting of it he wasn’t always so sure. “I felt like an idiot too, you do really feel naked,” he said. “There is a fear of letting go but once you get over that barrier you just let yourself go. The first time I saw it just blew me away. Even without all the gizmos, the story is still really great and that’s why I’m proud of it.”

May your Yuletide be bright. Or at least a warm soft glow.

Click here to read entire post

The twenty-second day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 21
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

CHRISTMAS DAY! And God bless us every one!

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

/p> Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 24, 2007

Yuletide Box Office

End of the year film grosses have come to life, but no flick, apparently, gets to stay on top for long. Last week it was I am Legend. This week it's National Treasure Deux.

National Treasure Book of Repeats reaps $45.5 million in its debut weekend, while the mo-cap treasure I Am Legend drops 55.7% to #2 (not unusual for a horror flick) and reaps $34.2 million. The survivalist story now has $137.5 million in its lock box.

The ever-astounding Alvin and the Chipmunks declines a mere 34.5% to #3, collects $29 million and now stands just shy of $85 million.

Enchanted now lives at the seventh position and is within kissing distance of $100 million ($98.3 million at the end of this weekend.)

Lastly, #18 Bee Movie and #19 Beowulf appear to have run out of fuel. The Zemeckis epic has collected $80.4 million during its domestic run and Bee Movie is near the end of its tether with $123 million.

Just below them at #21? A reissue of The Polar Express which has garnered $1.7 million in 32 Imax 3-D outlets.

Click here to read entire post

The twenty-first day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 23
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Have a Merry New England Christmas eve...

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The twentieth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 20
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Santa in a hurry. And I'm too hurried, so not much posting.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The nineteeenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 19
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Wise men w / mountains. Yet another scenic, and I'm doing less posting here at the holidays...

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Holiday Prognostication on the WGA Strike

Had occasion to talk to a Below-The-Line union rep Friday afternoon. He and I sort of have the same take on the Writers Guild job action:

The strike trundles on into 2008. No new WGA-AMPTP talks take place until ...

The Directors Guild negotiates with the AMPTP after the holidays. The talks will take slightly more or less than one month. The DGA will have more leverage than it's enjoyed in a while, because the Alliance will be very motivated to achieve a deal.

When an agreement is finally reached, that Directors Guild contract will become the template for new SAG and WGA agreements ...

If that agreement has the necessary elements in it that the Writers Guild of America feels it can live with, then the WGA will use it as the basis for its own rebooted negotiations in '08 (after the AMPTP talks to AFTRA; there's lots of union negotiations going on ...).

But if the DGA contract is unacceptable to the WGA, then the strike will go on, probably to April ... May ... July?

Before the late summer sun bakes WGA picketers to a golden brown, the Guild's rank and file will get restless. Pressure will build to get talks restarted. Backstair meetings will be held. And then the WGA will take a bunch of its proposals off the table (animation, reality, right to sympathy strikes), and a new agreement will be hammered out.

And ratified.

In the meanwhile, Nikki Finke will let us know how dastardly the studios are, United Hollywood will inform us how the conglomerates will soon split apart, and the AMPTP will charm us with the latest message on its website.

So far, the WGA is winning the public relations war against the AMPTP.

But PR doesn't matter a whole lot. Leverage does. And that will be on display in a So Cal conference room soon after the New Year, when the Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers sit down to craft a new collective bargaining agreement.

Everything else? Internet and street theatre.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Week Before Christmas

And across the animation and entertainment biz, there are ups and there are downs.

I spent the morning at Disney Animation, doing my final 401(k) Enrollment meeting. The feature unit is adding staff to Bolt, putting out word that more animators and other classifications will be hired for the film.

As of now, the release date for the flick is Thanksgiving, 2008 ...

The IA is contacting its local unions about meetings in early January re assistance for laid off members during the writers' strike. One rep told me:

"It's starting to get bad out there, with more people losing jobs. We've been telling people for the last couple of years to prepare for this, don't make any big new purchases, don't spend money like drunken sailors. Some folks listened and some didn't..."

I observed that the writers' strike sort of seemed like a foregone conclusion for a looong time.

And I wasn't the only one who noticed. Earlier this week, one animation artist who works on The Simpsons said that he's been preparing for a layoff the past six months, keeping his expenses low. "But you'd be surprised how many people I work with around here who spend all of their paycheck."

Actually I wouldn't. I've been around long enough to understand that many workers in show biz live paycheck to paycheck, even when those paychecks are big.

One of those workers used to be me.

Click here to read entire post

Ms. White's 70th Birthday

Seventy years ago today, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in Los Angeles at the long-gone Carthay Circle. Of course, the picture had been in work a little bit of a while before that:

"One night early in 1935," said Disney veteran Ken Anderson, "we came back to the studio to work after dinner, and Walt called forty of us onto the small recording stage. We all sat in folding chair, the lights went down, and Walt spent the next four hours telling us the story of Snow White and the seven dwarfs. He didn't just tell the story, he acted out each cahracter and when he got to the end he told us that was going to be our first feature..."

Ken told me this in 1978. Trusting infant that I was, I took everything Mr. Anderson said at face value, and wrote it up that way for a coffee table book on Snow White.

Months later, after the piece had been published, I found out that a lot of dates and info in it were wrong. Old-timers, it seems, get many details wrong on the backside of forty-plus years. Ken was off about the early '35 date. More likely, it was 1936 ...

In any event, to complete Snow White -- by Fall '37 far over its original budget -- in time for a Christmas release, the Disney staff had to bust its collective hump:

"For months about all we did was wake up and go to the studio, work all day and go home to bed," remembered animator Ollie Johnston. "Studio wives got together for company. They were 'Disney widows' the way some wives today are golf or football widows." ...

Staff worked the extra hours without additional compensation, driven by devotion to the project and the promise of later profit-sharing ... if the picture was a success. The profit-sharing never happened, which was at least part of the reason for the '41 strike. But in '37, most everyone was on an adreneline high to see the project through.

"When we were making it," said Ollie Johnston, "we only got to see the sequences we were working on. When I wanted to see some of the others, somebody would tip me off they were screening them and I'd sneak into the projection booth down the hall" ...

After a year-plus of intensive work, the film's unveiling finally happened at Carthay Circle. Johnston again:

"I was plenty nervous when Snow White started that night ... All I could see was the mistakes in our animation. That opening sequence had been one of the first ones completed. But the audience was caught up by Snow White and the birds right away, and I relaxed."

"In the year and a half we worked on the picture," added Frank Thomas, "the advances in animation were pheonomenal. Some of the first animation of the girl has never looked good to me. Her eyes squeegee all over her face ... she moves badly. But by the time we did the last stuff, for instance the scene where she's baking the pie at the dwarfs' cottage, the animation's great."

So mark this date: Seventy years back, the mainstream animated feature was born, and it changed the way the movie industry looked at "cartoons."

The impact of that night -- December 21, 2007 -- is still being felt.

Click here to read entire post

The eighteenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 18
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Okay, enough with the comedic character cards already. For a change of pace, how about a mood piece? ...

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, December 20, 2007

DreamWorks Animation in India ...

Globalization, globalization, and more globalization. DreamWorks goes to the subcontinent:

France's Thomson SA said on Thursday its Technicolor Services division had sealed a strategic alliance with DreamWorks Animation ... to develop in the fast-growing Indian entertainment industry...

According to India's National Association of Software and Service Companies, the global animation development market is expected to grow 9 percent yearly through 2009, to become a $26 billion industry. NASSCOM also projects that in India, animation development will grow 34 percent yearly through 2009 to become a $950 million market...

The Indian film business is large and robust, and animation -- long a laggard on the subcontinent -- is now beginning to take off. It doesn't surprise me that American animation studios are looking to jump into India's fledgling animation industry. It's potentially a two-billion eyeballs business.

As part of the alliance and in collaboration with Thomson's Technicolor Services division, DreamWorks Animation will assist Technicolor in the recruitment, training and development of top-tier animation talent to the Paprikaas facility in India.

And there you go.

Click here to read entire post

The seventeenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 17
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Cheerio! Yet another character card.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

> Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ed Hansen R.I.P.

Ed Hansen, longtime administrator at Disney Animation, passed away December 11. We found out about this a few days ago, but now that I've confirmed Ed's passing from multiple sources, I'm putting something up.

Ed came to the studio in 1952, and worked in the animation department for his entire Disney career. When I first got to know him, he was production manager on the animated features, working under Don Duckwall ...

I always found Ed to be pleasant and straight-forward, first to last a loyal company employee. He ran the department as efficiently as he knew how, working to juggle a lot of disparate egos and personalities.

After Don Duckwall's retirement, the unenviable job of "letting people go" fell to Ed, and he was the one who broke the bad news to any number of Disney employees over the years (me included).

And therein lies a tale.

Ed laid off John Lasseter from Disney in the early eighties. So you could argue, as some have, that Ed was the man who helped put Pixar on the high road to glory when the now-unemployed Lasseter was hired by Ed Catmull to work in bay area at some small shop that nobody had ever heard of.

Near the end of Ron Miller's time as chairman, Ed was promoted to Vice-President of Animation (for a time, he was co-Veep with new Disney employee Peter Schneider). A few years after, Ed retired, going on to a long, happy retirement in Solvang.

Our condolences to Ed's family.

Addendum: A few more factoids about Ed.

Ed started at Disney on February 11, 1952 as an apprentice inbetweener at the age of 26. In June of '52, he became an inbetweener, and in January of '54 a breakdown artist. He began work at an assistant director in July of 1955, a position he held until February, 1972 when he shifted into management.

I don't know the date of his retirement, but I think it was the late eighties ... which would have been a thirty-five or thirty-six year run as a Mouse Houser. Not too shabby.

Click here to read entire post

Midweek Winter Links

A mid-week mini-fest of links, starting with the House of SKG.

DreamWorks sees its stock jump. Nothing like a DVD release and buy back.

DreamWorks shares rose 9.1 percent, or $2.08, to $25.03 on the New York Stock Exchange ...

"They had $540 million in cash on their balance sheet when they exited the third quarter, so the release of 'Shrek The Third' should supplement the company's current cash balances despite underperforming 'Shrek 2'," [Drew Crum, analyst with Stifel Nicolaus] said.

Pixar's second WALL-E trailer rolls down the intertubes:

Pixar today released a new trailer for their upcoming movie, WALL-E. The movie is set in the semi-distant future where planet earth is covered with garbage, caused by an overabundance of consumerism, and leads to everyone leaving earth. Before all of earth's population leaves though, they set to work millions of robots to clean up the mess they've made. But things don't work out so well, and 700 years later one lone robot still works ...

The "Italian Disney" produces its first full-length animated feature? (You could have knocked me over with a baby Fiat):

Iginio Straffi's production house Rainbow has conquered a large chunk of the world with the television series "Winx Club" ...

Now Straffi has made his first feature film. "Winx Club: The Secret of the Lost Kingdom" continues where the third television season left off. No doubt it will work best with those who already are followers of the TV show.

In Italy, the film opened strong, clocking up nearly €2 million its first weekend. So far, it has sold to almost 46 territories. The film should do well in the markets in which the show and Winx merchandising are popular, such as Europe and North America.

The Disney Co. releases the cartoons of that brave little animated character who didn't start it all (but, if not for copyright issues, might have):

Twenty-six silent animated Oswald shorts were produced, but only 13 survived over the years. And if you watch these things, sometimes Oswald's kissable, detachable rabbit's foot (yes, there's a kind of an Itchy & Scratchy element here) results in a happy ending, while other times he ends up in the same sort of feckless finale as that other rabbit who'd hit the screen years later for Warner Bros. So I don't exactly get the "lucky" bit. But in several frames where Oswald's long ears are cropped out of the picture, you can really see Mickey. After all, the same man [Ub Iwerks] who created Oswald created Mickey ...

The Jerusalem Post profiles the father of Shrek:

[W]hen he was over 60, [William] Steig [1907-2003] embarked on a new career as a successful writer and illustrator of children's books, like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) and Doctor De Soto (1982), about a mouse who stepped into a fox's mouth to attend to his teeth. His 1990 picture book Shrek! ("fear" in Yiddish) inspired the Academy Award-winning feature film Shrek (2001) and its two sequels - Shrek 2 (2004) and Shrek the Third (2007) - as well as an upcoming Broadway musical.

Steig's Shrek was not the lovable ogre of the film but a real fright, as was his quite hideous lady love. On view at the Jewish Museum show are the sculptured models of the film's characters, which are ingratiatingly pleasant recreations little related to Steig's originals. The film's donkey is a gem, but it is not a Steig.

Sadly, the House of Mouse is failing to wow them in old Hong Kong:

Mickey Mouse and his friends appear to have lost their charm as the number of visitors to the Hong Kong Disneyland theme park dropped 23 percent in its second year of operation.

According to a paper to be discussed by the Legislative Council's economic development panel on Friday, the park recorded just over four million visitors from October 2006 to September 2007, compared to 5.2 million in the first year after its launch on September 12, 2005 ...

On a brighter note, while overall attendance was down, the paper said the number of overnight family visitors was up 15.8 percent from 2005 and the number of visitors under the age of 16 had increased by 23.5 percent.

You're halfway through the week to the Big Holiday. Soldier on.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

401(k) Visits to Studios

Today was the start of my 401(k) meeting marathon. Starz Media in the morning, Disney TVA in the afternoon. (I like nothing better than driving around in the rain) ...

The meeting at Starz was, ahm, sparsely attended. One artist from Wubbsy, two artists from The Simpsons who wanted their deductions stopped. (Hardly a surprise. I was surprised there weren't more) ...

I wandered around the studio afterwards. A director told me:

"We're rolling off as each of our shows get to first-pass animatic. One unit of artists are gone, another goes the end of this week. I'm here until January..."

I asked how many Simpsons units there were. He said "six or seven." So by my calculations, everybody will be on hiatus by, say, February.

I keep getting asked how long the Writers Guild strike will go on. I always answer promptly.

I say I have no freaking idea.

Click here to read entire post

The sixteenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 16
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

The jesters go to work as servers of enormous quantities of food and presents. In a horizontal card this time.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 17, 2007

Turf War?

The L.A. Times has an article in its business section this morning about the back-and-forth between the IATSE and the WGA ...

It has a remarkably ugly photograph of me, but after you get your gag reflex under control, it summarizes some of the ongoing issues:

animation writers are not employed under the same Writers Guild of America contracts that cover live-action movies and TV programs. With the exception of a handful of prime-time animated shows on Fox, animation largely falls under the jurisdiction of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a rival union not on strike -- or no union at all ...

The Times article notes, correctly I think, that the WGA had leverage when they organized The Simpsons:

The writers of "The Simpsons" had a powerful ally: James L. Brooks, executive producer of the show, which has made billions in syndication and licensing revenue for Fox.

Also, James Brooks is a high-profile WGA member. If he's hostile to his writer-employees working under a Writers Guild contract, there's a problem.

But this goes back to the drum I've been beating here the last twelve or eighteen months: When a union has leverage, it succeeds, and when it doesn't, the result is "no contract." Or a lesser contract.

Simple as that.

Click here to read entire post

Animation's Foreign Box Office

Alvin and the Chipmunks is #1! In Singapore!

It hasn't opened in other major overseas venues yet, that happens next week. But other animated titles are doing quite well, thank you.

The Golden Compass is apparently more sprightly overseas than here. It took in $29 million in its last foreign go-round.

Enchanted earned $16 million while Bee Movie picked up $20 million on foreign shores. Per Variety:

"Bee" added $3 million from its French debut and $2 million in Germany as its early foreign take hit $58 million. The Jerry Seinfeld toon has so far outperformed 2006's "Over the Hedge," which wound up with $180 million overseas.

Beowulf has hit $100 million overseas, while Homer and the rest of his Yellow Family has earned $342.4 million offshore. Not at all shabby.

Click here to read entire post

The Fifteenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 15
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

This time three miniature Santas ringing a bell.

(The Mrs. asks: "Why three?" I reply, "Like I know? Probably for design purposes. Or maybe he always wanted triplets.") This last I find doubtful.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Old Sound-bites Never Die

Variety has a look-back at the 1960 Writers Guild strike that demonstrates the old issues and accompanying p.r. sound-bites, never change a hell of a lot:

"They were telling us that filmed television (shows) were still so new, we don't know if they're really going to amount to anything," says Christopher Knopf, the TV and film writer who served as WGA West prexy from 1965 to '67. "And on a health and pension plan, management told us it was impossible."

In '60, the guilds wanted robust residuals. They wanted a solid health and pension plan (long-term employment with studios was long over). The corporate response -- as reported on the January 20, 1960 front page of VARIETY -- didn't come close to what labor wanted:

Writers Guild of America expresses disappointment after morning meeting with company presidents. States latter showed no "willingness whatsoever" to negotiate on tv issue. Company heads refused to comment on WGA statement.

Not much different than the quality of the give-and-take going on today. But who who won that first WGA industry walkout when negotiations concluded is clear: "By any reasonable measure, round one went to the scribes, who secured a gold-plated pension and health-benefits plan that remain top tier to this day..."

What was the big difference between 1960 and now? Scanning the VARIETY piece, I would say not very much ... except this:

... It was a rough time financially for the majors, which were rickety, undercapitalized operations ...

And that reality is the key to everything else. "The majors" today are conglomerates with huge cash flows and the deepest of deep pockets. No longer do Hollywood unions have a rough parity with "rickety, undercapitalized" corporations who must find common ground with labor in order to survive.

And it makes, I think, all the difference.

Click here to read entire post

A Few Words About the Christmas Cards

Pete Emslie asks re the bell-rope friar:

... interesting with the textures. I'm guessing that Ralph pressed a piece of canvas into the paint on the robe while it was still wet, then touched it up with a few highlights and creases. Steve, do you know whether this one is done in acrylic or gouache? I'm guessing acrylic.

According to the last living authority on the subject (Ralph's wife, my mother), the cards were created as follows:

Ralph used opaque water colors (a.k.a. gouache) from the Disney studio's paint lab -- the same paint that was used for Disney animated feature backgrounds. He would paint many of the cards at lunch while at the studio, others at home. As for the texture on the friar's robe, Ralph did that with a sponge ...

I've said this before, but I'll repeat it here: Dad was incredibly efficient with a paint brush. As a kid, I would watch him paint a watercolor out in the field in an hour, a far-from-simple watercolor. And he could turn out Disney production backgrounds at an incredible clip. It wasn't at all unusual for him to complete his week's quota by Wednesday or early Thursday, and then work on his Christmas cards.

Speed and dexterity tend to increase when you pursue your craft seven days a week, seven to twelve hours per day.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Weekend Box Office

Mr. Will Smith, to nobody's surprise, is off to a roaring start with I Am Legend. $29.5 million out of the Friday blocks. And no doubt Warner Bros. is jubilant ...

In the meantime, the semi-animated Alvin and the Chipmunks collects $13.3 million has it hacks its way through a forest of not-great reviews, making Rupert Murdoch one happy mogul.

The fourth place Enchanted closes in on $90 million as Golden Compass collects $2.6 million for a $34.6 million total.

Beowulf drops to #13, now standing with a total cume of $78.3 million.

Update: Will Smith flexes his considerable box office muscle and pulls in $76.5 million.

No surprise there.

But what is a surprise -- at least to me -- is that Alvin and the Chipmunks shakes off sucky reviews and collects $45 million. Cripes, those gimmicky 45 rpms I enjoyed when I was like, ten, must really have staying power.

Who knew Alvin and Co. were such freaking national icons? (Or maybe it's just the ongoing power of animation ...)

Elsewhere on Your B.O. Hit Parade, The Golden Compass drops 65%, collects $9 million, and now stands at $41 million. (And whether a sequel gets green-lighted is anybody's guess. I'm not holding my breath.)

Enchanted declines 44% and rakes in $6 million. $92.3 is now the total. Kevin Lima's baby will crack $100 million during Christmas vacation.

Beowulf, now at the twelfth spot, takes a 70% drop and now has $79.2 million in the till (it's doing better overseas.)

And Bee Movie declines 70% and limps back to the hive with $122.4 million in the sixteenth position.

Click here to read entire post

The Fourteenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 14
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Mr. Pickwick singing. Or is it just some chubby guy frmo the 1820s holding presents and looking surprised?

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, December 14, 2007

International Linkfest of Toons

Forget about the darn strike. Erase all thought regarding what animated features are getting produced in Burbank, Glendale and Emeryville. Tonight we examine what's going on out there in those mysterious lands beyond the seas.

For starters, India is working on its most expensive animated feature ever (and it's in three dimensions!):

... The 3D animated 'Sultan-The Warrior' will be an action-gripped adventure movie, featuring Rajnikant as a mythological and larger-than-life hero ...

While media circles speculate that 'Sultan' could be India's most expensive animated film, Ocher Studios Executive Producer Karthik told reporters that the budget would be double than that of any regular Rajnikant movie. [Rajnikant is a long-time Indian superstar].

There hasn't been much stirring at Warner Bros. Animation of late, but there's a little something going on, even though it's overseas:

Three Tokyo toon houses - Studio 4C, Production I.G. and Madhouse -- will animate the six shorts in the "Batman: Gotham Knight" project for Warner Bros. according to a report in "Wizard" magazine.

... According to "Wizard," Bruce Timm will helm all six shorts, based on scripts by American writers, most associated with the "Batman" comic and pic franchises. Other sources, however, say that Japanese anime maestro Satoshi Kon will also helm one or more segments...

Now, if WBA gets more product rolling here, we're on to something.

Halfway around the globe, France is (apparently) hip deep in new, animated features:

After years of being French cinema's poor relation, toons have taken in Gaul.

In a year in which "Persepolis" is repping France at the Oscars, at least a dozen feature-length animated films are in the pipeline ...

"We're seeing a golden age of animation, and I'm very happy about that," says [Eric] Bergeron who, following a path well-trod by other French animators, spent eight years working in Hollywood at a time when no French company was ready to sink big bucks into an animated film ...

Addendum: And the Iranians are getting into the feature animation biz, with assistance from the Japanese:

TEHRAN -- The Hur Institute has decided to make a long animation entitled “Companions of Ashura”, focusing on the companions of Imam Hussein (AS) who were martyred during the events of Ashura in Karbala ...

Have a weekend to remember.

Click here to read entire post

Layoffs on Fox Animated Shows Begin

The last few days, I've gotten word (in writing) that layoffs have started and will continue on Simpsons, American Dad, King of the Hill, and Family Guy because no writing is being done during the WGA strike.

I didn't need letters. I knew it was coming, as did the crews. But I went up to Starz Media yesterday anyway, to find out what was going on. I thought the down-sizing would be starting after the first of the year. No such luck. A layout artist set me straight:

"Our first wave of people got it last week, another group goes this week, and more people will be going after New Year's."

On King of the Hill, I'm told that layoffs will be pretty close to their normal hiatus time. A few revisionists are going just before Christmas, with other personnel shifting over to take up some left-over work, then departing early next year.

Happily, most folks have been told that they'll be back after the strike is settled. So I guess there's a kind of a silver lining.

Click here to read entire post

The thirteenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 13
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

I think padre analyzed one of the family's Christmas candle sticks, adapted it, and added the slumbering mice. A nice, whimsical card.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toons Go Bollywood

NPR had a story this morning about Sony producing its first dometic Indian feature ... and having a little problem:

Sony became the first major Hollywood studio to produce a Hindi-language film. They chose a script called Saawariya, or "Beloved" — a romantic tale based on Feodor Dostoevski's short story "White Nights." Back in New York, Sony executives loved it ...

[But] Sony's first foray into the Indian market — the arty, literary, Bergman-esque Saawariya was hardly a match for [Om Shanti Om, a locally produced Indian film starring India's biggest star] at the box office. The Indian media went to town: newspaper headlines, special reports on TV, and adjectives like "debacle" and "disaster."

Okay, so Hollywood's first foray into the Asian sub-continent didn't go well. U.S. film producers still have other big plans, at least one with an animated feature:

Disney's Roadside Romeo, its first animated feature for the Indian market, is due in summer. There's already an early trailer, with the lead character — a dog named Romeo — trying out for a part in a movie.

Disney's strategy is different from Sony's. Animated features are new to India, and Disney — internationally known for its animation — partnered with one of India's best-known studios, Yash Raj Films.

"When we go to animation, that is an area that we don't have expertise in," says Yash Raj CEO Sanjeev Kohli. "We felt the need, and it would bring a lot of value to the product if we tied up with the world's leader in that area. And there is no better name than Disney at all."

Come next summer, we'll get to see how potent (or not) the Mouse House is. But it's interesting that L.A. Studios, even with their savvy know-how, can't wade into a large foreign market and hit a home-run ... or even a triple ... the first time at bat...

Click here to read entire post

Mo Cap: It's Not Just for Out of the Inkwell Anymore!

See, there's this continuing kerfluffle over motion capture. Is it new? Is it old? And when is it animation, and when isn't it animation? For instance, we've got Alvin vs. Beowulf, where a chipmunk isn't fit for Academy consideration, but a muscular, mo-cap warrior is:

Wondering just how complicated the Academy's rules can be on animation? Ask the producers of "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

Even though the Fox movie stars three CG rodents, the Acad's animated feature screening committee (which is made up of half animation professionals and half non-experts) concluded that the otherwise live-action pic isn't eligible for a best animated feature nomination because it doesn't fulfill the rule that "animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture's running time."

It's simple really. Live action under animation doesn't count as live action (and never has); live action beside animation does. And if you have too much l.a. in your movie, your movie doesn't make the cut for the pretty gold statuette.

And Variety, besides offering the article above, provides a brief history of motion capture ... going all the way back to when it was actually invented:

... explains animation historian Leonard Maltin: "The first real motion capture occurred when Dave Fleischer put on a clown suit and his brother Max traced his movements, one frame at a time, in 1915. They patented the device that enabled them to do this, and called it a rotoscope."

Which of course was used extensively in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gulliver's Travels and various other animated epics. I explain this to newspaper reporters from time to time. They're usually surprised and amazed: "You mean this mo-cap thing isn't that new?!"

Actually, no. It isn't.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WGA, Animation and Reality

From comments: "... why [has] the WGA ... suddenly added into the negotiations the issue of folding in reality and animation writers into the WGA?"

I don't think the WGA's current proposals for these jurisdictions are rash or sudden. The Writers Guild has had proposals to represent animation for at least a couple of contracts now. In the past, they've always withdrawn them ...

I believe the Guild's 2007 proposals for jurisdiction of reality and animation will ... when the dust settles ... also be pulled off the table, because the Guild won't be able to achieve a new contract otherwise. The conglomerates simply won't sign an agreement that contains them. (Of course, miracles can happen. And flying monkeys can attack Burbank's City Hall at dawn tomorrow. I just don't think, this year or next, we'll see winged simians over Olive Avenue, or the AMPTP caving to these proposals. Maybe I'm wrong.)

The Guild will have to organize animation and reality companies on its own, one at a time.

Keep in mind that the Writers Guild's first significant contract in animation was its 1997 collective bargaining agreement with 20th Century-Fox which today covers The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad and King of the Hill. (I believe they had some smaller, concessionary contracts prior to this.) The Writers Guild also had a contract with Carsey-Werner for the prime-time series God, the Devil and Bob, also one covering Dilbert at Sony/Columbia. The Animation Guild represented writers on Father of the Pride.

In feature animation, the W.G.A. has repped writers on The Simpsons Movie. The Animation Guild has represented feature animation writers at Disney, DreamWorks, Universal and Warner Bros. since 1952.

Writers working on product at Pixar and Blue Sky Animation have no union representation. The only way they're likely to get any is have the W.G.A. or T.A.G. organize them. I pretty much doubt that the studios will be helping with that ...

Click here to read entire post

The twelfth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 12
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Peace On earth ... the good friar and food.

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

p> Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"What's With the Writers' Strike?"

Morning and afternoon, at DreamWorks, Disney, Nick and other places, people ask me: "So, what's going on with the writers' strike?" Animation employees act as if I have special psychic abilities. Sadly, I don't.

All I've got is my classical cynicism and three decades of kicking around the trade union business and animation industry. Also what I've learned sitting through lots of negotiations.

What's most likely to happen is, the talks between the W.G.A. and the AMPTP -- kaput after the Alliance's walkout last Friday -- will stay kaput until next year. And Nick Counter and Co., collectively known as "the producers", will turn their attention to the Directors Guild of America. Sometime in mid or late January, the two sides will sit down, clear their throats, and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

(Update below.)

(Update Again below.)

(Update Again Again ...)

Within one to three weeks, they'll have a deal. (The D.G.A. works quickly.) And the W.G.A. will likely not be happy with the outcome because the deal won't meet its own bottom line, and it will then be in a kind of a box. A new three-year agreement with a powerful, above-the-line guild will be out there as a reality. And like it or not, the W.G.A. will have to deal with it.

The D.G.A. won't care very much about bruised feelings. Like the IATSE, the Directors Guild marches to its own drummer. Its motto seems to be: "Negotiate early with maximum leverage. Get the best deal that the AMPTP is willing to accept." And it has one other internal rule: "Don't Strike."

How do I know this? I look at the D.G.A.'s history. In its 72-year existence, it's hit the bricks over a contract exactly once. And that "once" was a strike of under fifteen minutes duration.

Is this "no strike" thing the best strategy? Who the hell knows? It's the D.G.A.'s strategy, and the odds are excellent that it will be sticking with the regular game plan again this time around.

The D.G.A. understands it has maximum leverage right now. The Writers Guild is doing a job action and steadily shutting the industry down, and the producers are anxious to make a deal. The AMPTP wants a template it can shove down the throats of the other guilds. Besides which, the Alliance has been losing the P.R. war with the W.G.A. and having an agreement with the D.G.A. will help it regain a little ground, which will be icing on the producers' proverbial cake.

Of course, if one or both parties badly miscalculate ... and the D.G.A. and AMPTP don't reach a deal ... then we sail into fog-shrouded waters. And only God and his angelic minions will be able to calculate how long the three guilds might be out on strike. August 2008? Christmas? I shudder to think.

Assuming some blowup doesn't happen, here's what comes next: the WGA stays out until springtime, then the writers cease picketing -- long strikes are exhausting both physically and mentally -- and return to the bargaining table. After some back-and-forth, a new agreement is hammered out. SAG, seeing the framed deal-points on the wall, will make the tactical decision to forego a strike and fall in line with its fellow guilds.

And the town, slowly and fitfully, will get back to work.

Now. Is this the script I want to see happen? No. I desire that every union and guild get the lion's share of its demands (minus, for obvious reasons, the WGA gaining jurisdiction of animation.) I want to see everyone make more money, gain better pension and health benefits. I want to see everyone satisfied with the results.

But I know the way studios and unions operate, and I don't live in the Land of Wishful Thinking. (LOWT is a nice place to visit, but it messes up your head if you attempt to reside there). The guilds won't get everything they want. Not by a country mile.

In three to eight months, we'll see how close the actual results come to my prediction.

Update: Here's part of the Directors Guild of America's letter to members (courtesy of Nikki Finke and Deadline Hollywood.) Sound like their getting ready to wheel and deal?

... Traditionally our negotiations start early and usually are done by January. This has been our pattern for the past 20 years for a very simple reason: We believe -- and our experience shows -- that this is the most effective way to negotiate the best deal. The WGA has made a different decision on how to handle their negotiations. Out of respect for them, we have done what you asked for in your letter -- we have refrained from commencing our own negotiations. And, at the same time we have refrained from commenting publicly on our thoughts about the direction of their proposals and the progress of their negotiations.

But the reality is that WGA and the AMPTP have been meeting since July -- and, despite a strike that has put tens of thousands of people out of work, they seem nowhere near reaching a deal. Each passing day, more people are unemployed. We are getting calls from members who are worried about their economic livelihood and their families. We're sure you feel the same concern for yourselves and the people who work for you.

Because so much time has gone by without any resolution, we find ourselves faced with some hard questions. Is a fresh perspective -- and additional muscle -- needed to get the job done? Is it our turn to sit across the table from the AMPTP? ...

Uhm, I'm thinking yes.

Update Again: The DGA has issued a second missive, this one saying:

In order to give the WGA and the AMPTP one last chance to get back to the table, we will not schedule our negotiations to begin until after the New Year, and then only if an appropriate basis for negotiations can be established.

Are we crystalline? The DGA is going to stand clear of the WGA-AMPTP non-negotiations until after the Rose Bowl game. Which is what? Two and a half weeks from now? And everybody knows that the weeks from mid-Decenber to New Year's is the ripest time to negotiate a contract, since nothing else is going on ...

Update Again Again: And now the WGA has filed an Unfair Labor Practice against the AMPTP (posted on Deadline Hollywood.) And a commenter opines, "Wow! This is huge!"

Actually what it is, is a public relations move. Take it from somebody who's filed Unfair Labor Practices ... and gone to hearings at the NLRB, Region 31. Nobody gets scared or intimidated by this stuff. The Board investigates, the Board has a hearing, the Board (Region 31) makes a ruling. Which takes a looong stretch of time.

And then, if that ruling is not to the AMPTP's liking, the AMPTP appeals it to the National Labor Relations Board in D.C. More months and years glide by. And then, if the AMPTP doesn't like the ruling that eventually comes out of there (which is doubtful, since we live in the time of George W. Bush and the National Board is heavily weighted in favor of Big Business), it can appeal it again in court.

And now it's 2012, a year past the next contract deadline. So nobody should get overly worked up about this maneuver, because a maneuver is all it is.

Click here to read entire post

The eleventh day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 11
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Santa and reindeer wander into an Eyvind Earle landscape ...

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, December 10, 2007

New York Viacommers, They Not Happy ...

I was over at Nick this afternoon, and this was a topic of conversation:

Parent Company of the popular cable television networks MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon, among others, informed their permanent freelance workers that their benefits will be drastically slashed, just in time for the holidays. Today, Dec. 10th at 3pm, MTV Networks freelancers plan to stage a walkout in response to these cutbacks, outside the MTV building on 1515 Broadway. The contractors have made T-shirts emblazoned with the logo: “Viacom Freelancers Get Cancer Too.”

Strolling through the halls, I quickly found out artists knew of the walkout but weren't sure if they had yet occurred (this was the middle of the afternoon, PST).

I ran into one Nick exec who brought up the unhappiness of the New York employees. I said, "I don't think these cuts were ... ahm ... very well thought out."

He rejoined: "Easy to think that, isn't it?"

... The offense that originally prompted action on their part occurred December 4 when they were instructed to pick up their holiday party invitations. They were then instructed to fill out “additional paperwork,” that was due two days later on Thursday, December 6. This paperwork contained the news that they were no longer entitled to their 401k plans, dental insurance, paid vacation days (of which they had five, and now have 0), holidays, and that the 50-hour workweek would become the norm

When I entered the workforce at the end of the sixties, the landscape was a bit different. I worked a summer in the Disney Studio printshop, and the unionized printers there received double and triple time for extra hours during the week or weekends, none of this time-and-a-half stuff.

And nobody dared to mess with a timecard. We all punched in and punched out. We all got paid promptly. Same thing when I went into Disney's animation story department a decade later. Time clocks, double time and triple time.

One Disney story artist (Pete Young) was dragooned into doing inbetweens on Pete's Dragon, working at his story rate and getting triple time on weekends. "Biggest paychecks I've ever gotten," Pete gloated to me. "And when I was doing the silly-ass inbetweens last Saturday, the head of the division came down and thanked me for helping out."

... “One woman works for MTV and has been in the child adoption process for a year, and it was ready to go, and these new benefits packages don’t meet the requirements. She’s just been walking around the offices in a state of painful disbelief.”

Times change, don't they?

Click here to read entire post

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Answers Questions About the Strike

Whatever else you think of the WGA-AMPTP negotiations (now on hiatus), the collateral creativity is fun-nee:

What is the AMPTP? The AMPTP, or Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, is a collection of kindly gentlemen who create and distribute all of your favorite screen-based entertainment. Did you like Snow White when you were a kid? The AMPTP made that. How do you feel about "American Idol," The Bourne Ultimatum and everything Will Smith has ever done? That's the AMPTP, too.

You're welcome.

What is this disagreement you have with the Writers Guild of America? It boils down to a difference of opinion. They want us to pay them for their work, which would literally[1] bankrupt Hollywood and prevent us from creating these movies and television shows. We, on the other hand, want to keep making movies and television shows, so that people can be happy, and violent crime will fall ...

If you don't know, this is from, not to be confused with the equally enchanting

You're welcome.

Click here to read entire post

401(k) Enrollment Meetings and Financial Pearls on the Web

TAG's 401(K) Pension Savings Plan now has monthly enrollments (the previous twelve years enrollments were quarterly). Even so, I only hold full-blown enrollment meetings every three months. Otherwise, I run myself ragged and talk myself hoarse.

Here's the schedule of upcoming meetings (in case you're interested) ... also some handy and dandy investment advice links:

401(k) Enrollment Meetings

Universal Cartoon Studios -- Thursday, Dec. 13 -- 2-3 p.m.

Starz Media -- Tuesday, Dec. 18 -- 10-11 p.m.

Disney TVA (Sonora) -- Tuesday, Dec. 18 -- 2-3 p.m.

Cartoon Network -- Wednesday, Dec. 19 -- 12-1 p.m.

DreamWorks Animation -- Thursday, Dec. 20 -- 10-11 a.m.

Nickelodeon -- Thursday, Dec. 20 -- 2-3 p.m.

Disney Animation Studios -- Friday, Dec. 21 -- 10-11 a.m.

And whether you know a little or a lot about investing, here is a fount of info:

Where on the Web can you find people talking about stock picks? Same place you find Lindsay Lohan gossip and goofy pictures of cats: pretty much everywhere.

... The best advice - in print, online or in conversation - is about long-term strategy, not stock picks ...

The stock market is vol-a-tile right now, but if you are young and not afraid of roller-coasters, the volatility presents you with lots of prime buying opportunities ... if you have the nerve for it. And if you're young, you should be cool and composed, because you've got a long time-line to end up smelling like a couple of million bucks.

Hat tip to Big Picture for the informative links.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Links of Tooniness

So finally we get around to some links of animation, starting off with the Weinstein Co.'s latest move in animation land, where the brothers leave no pixel unexploited:

Exodus Film Group has struck a unique vidgame licensing deal for its upcoming toon "Igor" that involves an established publisher and an outside financier. Interactive Game Group ... has acquired interactive rights from Exodus to "Igor," which will be distribbed by Weinstein Co. through MGM next October.

IGG has signed up Legacy Interactive, which previously made games based on "Law & Order" and "The Apprentice," to publish the "Igor" vidgame in North America.

Legacy plans to produce an "Igor" game aimed at family and casual auds for Nintendo's DS and Wii, PC and mobile devices ...

The impish viewpoint of Tim Burton via Helen Bonham Carter:

"Tim decorates the Christmas tree with dead babies and slime balls and things. It looks lovely and glittery from afar, and then as you get closer, you realise it's rather gory..."

We're going to have three-dimensional splendors swarming over our movie-going eyes for years to come:

"Beowulf" B.O. tallies are getting a significant boost from 3-D engagements -- good news for distrib Paramount, but other studios are also happy for the pic's success.

That's because Robert Zemeckis' motion-capture epic is the first modern-day 3-D pic that's not just for kids, and rival studios are cautiously optimistic that this bodes well for their own 3-D plans ...

"Beowulf" was playing on 3,249 domestic screens as of Dec. 5. Of those, 84 are Imax runs, and 640 are digital 3-D screens supplied by Real D systems. Pic also is playing on a handful of 3-D screens supplied by Dolby 3-D Digital.

The L.A. Times profiles the animated penguins migrating from the theatrical feature Madagascar to series television:

... In the kind of synergy other corporations may wish upon a star for, the new series, whose working title is "Penguins," is slated to premiere in early 2009 -- just a few months after the sequel, "Madagascar: The Crate Escape," hits thousands of theaters nationally.

For Nickelodeon, the new series is part of a major ramp-up in production at the already humming animation studio. Next year, the 28-year-old company is poised to crank out some 225 half-hour cartoons, an increase in its animation of nearly 50% -- a total that bulks up the output of the nation's largest producer of TV animation. The expansion also represents a broader network strategy to maintain its enviable winning streak as the No. 1-rated cable company for nearly 14 years -- a feat performed in the face of increasing competition from other entertainment outlets, notably crosstown rival Disney ...

And the Times' Charles Solomon provides a review of some of protean comic strip artist and animator Winsor McCay's vaired work:

Winsor McCay ranks as a giant among 20th century cartoonists and illustrators. As an editorial cartoonist, he rivals even Thomas Nast in his drawings ... He began making films with "Little Nemo" (1911), and his animation was unequaled until the glory days of the Disney Studio ...

Although ["Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend"] was the longest-running of his comic strips, it never matched the brilliance and beauty of "Little Nemo," in part because it was drawn to fit a smaller space and was printed only in black and white. Having tracked down printed pages, microfilm and original artwork from numerous sources, Ulrich Merkl has assembled "The Complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1904-1913)" ( 464 pp., $114), the largest "Rarebit Fiend" collection ever published.

An older interview with Ulrich Merkl, author of "Complete Dream..." is here.

Lastly, we catch up on the sad news of Ken Southworth's passing. Ken, a longtime animator and animation artist, died on December 5th. Starting at Disney in the '40s and enjoying a twenty-plus year career at Hanna-Barbera, Ken taught at a variety of schools including TAG's American Animation Institute. He will be missed.

Use the upcoming workweek creatively.

Click here to read entire post

The tenth day of Ralph Hulett's Christmas

Ralph Hulett Christmas card 10
© by the Estate Of Ralph Hulett. Click on the thumbnail to see a full-sized image.

Still another character card, this time Dad's ever-present jesters, of which he did many ...

Here are more Ralph Hulett Christmas cards.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Holiday Partee

The Royal Crest room ... before the hordes of revelers descended ...

Last night's do at the Pickwick Center in Burbank was among the most well-attended holiday parties that TAG has thrown. As one artist told us: "With the studios cutting back, this is the party where everybody in animation can come and see each other ..."

Joyous holidays!

TAG Executive Board members Nicole Dubuc, Bronwen Barry, and Karen Nugent hold down the fort at the gifts and donations table.

This year we got the crowd-flow thing better addressed: No humungous lines waiting for food, no super waits at the bars, and the only crush of bodies came at party's peak around the entrance to the smaller room.

So, better. Not perfect, but better.

I got to talk to a ton of people. Had occasion to chat with several Simpsons staffers, who report that the artistic crews are soon to be laid off as they butt up against the deadlines for their animatics.

I'm informed that unlike the King of the Hill crew, they won't be going on to color until the writers come back to revise shows now in the pipeline. "Looks like I'm out of there in January" said one Yellow Family crew member.

For me, the five hours on Friday night was time well spent. I got to catch up with old friends who I seldom get to see. The industry has morphed and mutated a lot over the years, and not always for the better. Some are on staff but know the gig ends when the series doesn't get a pick up; others are doing lots of freelance in their home offices and studios; still others are working on their own projects ... or doing short gigs for boutique studios ... or out of the cartoon industry altogether.

If you attended, thanks for coming and hope you had an enjoyable time. If the fates allow, we'll do it again next year.

Here are lots more photographs, courtesy of Animation Nation.

And here are three more board members at the front table. I'm particularly fond of that one in the middle (although Mr. Cataldi on the left and Mr. Calabrese on the right are quite fine in their own special ways) ...

Click here to read entire post
Site Meter