Friday, July 31, 2009

Artists' Settlement

The SAG voice artists on Mr. Groenig's other cartoon series secure contracts with Fox-News Corp:

"Futurama" will return with its original voice cast.

After a standoff with 20th Century Fox TV over salary, all five "Futurama" actors on Friday reached an agreement with the producing studio to reprise their parts on the show, set to come back with new episodes on Comedy Central in mid-2010.

The pencil and Cintiq artists on Futurama will be working without contracts of any kind, union or otherwise.

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Another Animation Box Office Record About to Happen

The crown for foreign b.o. is about to pass to a new king:

As of July 28, foreign coin had hit $514.7 million, leaving "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" poised to pass "Finding Nemo" ($528 million) as the top animated film on the list. And with two key markets still to open -- South Korea on Aug. 12 and Italy on Aug. 28 -- it's likely "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" will become the ninth film to go past $600 million in foreign gross.

When people want to see your movie, you can't stop them. (As of yesterday, domestic gross for IA3 was up around $176.5 million -- at the #5 position.)

So News Corp. is looking at a theatrical box office north of $800 million .... with dvd and television licensing yet to come.

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Emeryville Protest

As I've said before, Pixar isn't really a union-friendly type place.

Adopting the robot janitor character from the Disney/Pixar movie "WALL-E" as their poster child, a group of janitors laid off from Pixar Animation Studios protested today outside Pixar's Emeryville headquarters.

Nine out of a staff of 21 janitors were laid off in January when Pixar entered into contract with a new janitorial firm, Preferred Building Services Inc., which has offices in San Francisco.

"As soon as they switched, they laid off the workers, took away health care benefits for the remaining ones and left them making $9.25 an hour," said Sylvia Ruiz, political director for Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West ...

My understanding is that Pixar dropped a union janitorial service for a cheaper, non-union outfit.  If true, the janitors aren't technically Pixar employees. Even so:

"I was working at Disney's in 1960, working on Pollyanna and some other shows, when a publicist that had been brought in to develop campaigns for The Parent Trap, and new to the studio, walked out of the commissary one lunchtime and started yelling at a gardener who was kneeling down planting flowers. The gardener was blocking the publicist's path, and the publicist wasn't happy."

So an hour later, the guy gets a call to come up to Walt's office right away. He's ushered in, and Disney is there and he chews him out: "I've gotten a report you yelled at one of my gardeners. The man's been working here for twenty years. I don't want to hear about you yelling at him again, or you won't be working here ..."

The above was told me by a grizzled old publicist several years ago, and the gent was still amazed that Disney knew about the gardener abuse and took the time to do something about it.

Different times, different values, and different management.

Add On: But since were on the general subject of belt-tightening, the Nikkster opines: "Where is Bob Iger's 26% pay cut?"

Got me.

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The Convention Wraps

The IATSE convention at the World of Disney ended moments ago, five days of reports, politicking, and constitutionalizing. Two IA parties were slated for outdoors until the rain clouds took over and they were moved inside (It wouldn't be seemly to have a thousand-plus delegates electrocuted by lightning bolts and drenched by rain as they sipped their wine and ate their Cuban sandwiches.)

The highlights of the convention: Some stem-winding speeches delivered. Some new amendments added to the IA constitution. And all the IA's incumbent officers returned to office, from President Matthew Loeb to International trustee George Palazzo.

In TAG's small corner of the convention, we hosted a well-attended animation caucus that got positive reviews from participants ...

The caucus turned into an hour tutorial/discussion/question and answer session about the animation biz, where its been and how it's changed over the years. (And oh, how it's changed.):


* American animation (which is what we're concerned about here in the caucus) got its significant commercial start in Los Angeles and New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Disney and Fleischer were the animation biggies when artists started to unionize. Disney pretty much ruled the feature animation roost from the 1930s into the 1990s.

* 1930s-1990s --Animation is a narrow segment of the entertainment industry

(Hand-drawn cell animation -- theatrical features and shorts.)

(In the television age -- network shorts and half-hours; local and national commercials. First limited animation show: Jay Ward's Crusader Rabbit -- 1950 -- produced in the Bay Area.)

* Production centered in Los Angeles and New York. Disney is the big (almost the only) player in theatrical features. New York has a thriving commercials industry (1950s and 1960s). Hanna-Barbera is the biggest television producer.

* 1970s and 1980s: Television animation suffers runaway production. Production work moves offshore to Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. Two TAG strikes over the issue.

* Major changes in the 1990s: Hanna-Barbera fades. In television, network animation shows begin to disappear; giving way to syndicated animated shows ("Disney Afternoon"), then cable-channel animation. Disney dominates hand-drawn features until the mid-1990s, then major competition rears its head with Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Animation. CGI animation predominates.


* 2000s -- Robust Growth. New media. -- Theatrical features (cgi), television hand-drawn animation, commercials, network graphics, direct-to-video features, live-action visual effects, computer and video games.

* Production Centers -- Southern California: east San Fernando Valley; Culver City and Santa Monica (DreamWorks Animation, Disne Animation Studios, Disney Toons, Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues, others.) -- Bay Area: (Pixar, PDI, ILM, others) -- East Coast (Blue Sky Animation in Connecticut, some others) -- Texas: CGI in Austin, Dallas.


* Continued activity -- Theatrical 3-d animation, flash animation, television production, "webisodes" on mobile devices, increased visual effects.

We had a lively back-and-forth on the visual effects industry, about how companies grow and collapse, replaced by newer effects houses. We pointed out how the profit-margins for visual effects are razor thin, how the major studios opened effects divisions (The Secret Lab, Warners Visual Effects, Sony Imageworks, etc.). Only Sony Imageworks still stands, and it's anyone's guess how long it continues as a functioning entity.

Several aspiring cgi artists and animators asked about the best way to break into the industry, we said that there's a lot of different routes in, but working at small shops for experience is one way, just getting your resume and digital demo reel out to a lot of different employers is another. ("You can be turned down one week, then called the next if the company gets a big job and needs to staff in a hurry.")

We gave our standard manta: "To succeed in the business you need Luck, Tenacity and Talent. And if you have a lot of one of those things you need less of the other two."

All in all, it was a fine caucus.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Disney '41 Strike -- 8mm Version

Tom Sito and Jerry Beck send along this amazing footage of the Disney strike. In it you can see all the major players of the time..

Strikes are always stressful things. TAG's '79 and '82 job actions were, and I'm sure the Screen Cartoonists Guild's struggle in June, 1941 was no exception.

Walt was never the same afterwards. On the other hand, a lot of studio employees found their salaries doubled when a contract was finally reached.

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DreamWorks on a High

Not from drugs ... but the stock market.

DreamWorks Animation gapped up Wednesday and climbed further in early trade. The stock took out the session highs late in the afternoon and closed up by $2.45 at $31.13. DreamWorks broke out of a 2-month range and set a 10-month high.

The reason I don't always blather on about how awesome Up is, or how Chris Wedge is a freaking genius, is that this dull stock stuff is important.

Because if the studio tanks, the employees that create the product the studio is known for get laid off. So it's a good idea to do some focussing on the economics of animation -- the grosses, the stock price, etc.

Because when the end credits are scrolling, it's about the money, not about the artistry. Sad, but that's the way it works.

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The MegaCollector's Felix (or Some Other) Cat, part 2

Felix The Cat © King Features. Click the thumbnail for a full-sized image.

And yet another story panel from an early Felix some cartoon cat or other ...

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Florida Linkorama

Now with sub-tropical Add On.

No, these are not Ub Iwerks' old roughs.

A monster thunderstorm rattled and boomed through Diz World a little while ago; a good time to huddle in the hotel room and throw a festival of links.

Chris Meladandri, late of Fox-Blue Sky Animation, is teeing up a second animated feature for Universal (Despicable Me being the first):

“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” will be co-directed by Chris Renaud and Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio, with Paul & Daurio writing the script

A breathless article about the 3-D version of the Mouse's oncoming Beauty and the Beast reveals the secrets! ...

Creating a Disney Digital 3-D version of "Beauty and the Beast," ... will be handled entirely in-house at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and will utilize innovative proprietary software, along with the latest techniques and advances in 3-D technology. Overseeing the project from the creative end will be the film's original team of acclaimed filmmakers

Kind of true. Except that the work has been ongoing for the better part of a year.  The 3-D (what I've seen of it) looks pretty good.

And DreamWorks Animation is still ... according to the New York Times ... is still puzzling out the reasons for Monsters Vs. Aliens foreign underperformance. (But didn't we answer this question already?):

(And it didn't stop the company from doing pretty well on Wall Street ...)

... Mr. Katzenberg had hoped the movie would spawn the company’s fourth franchise behind “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and “Kung-Fu Panda.” But the movie’s soft performance in certain overseas markets (like Germany and France) has given the studio pause. Some international markets were “very big misses for the film and we don’t fully understand why,” he said. Will there be a sequel? “We don’t have all the information in hand to come to that decision,” he said ...

Science Magazine profiles a French exhibit on the prehistory of cartoons ... back around half a kazillion years ago:

... [A] special exhibit in the south of France claims that the origins of the cartoon can be traced back much further, to the earliest known cave art more than 30,000 years ago. The exhibit, at the prehistory center of the Pech-Merle Cave in the Lot Valley, is titled “Préhistoire de la Bande Dessinée et du Dessin Animé” ("Prehistory of the Cartoon Strip and the Motion Picture Cartoon"). It was mounted by prehistorian and filmmaker Marc Azéma of the University of Toulouse in France. Azéma argues in nearly 30 beautifully illustrated panels that early cave artists used some of the same animation techniques that cartoonists use today ...

(Truth to tell, this was touched on in an old Disneyland episode from the 1950s.)

Variety projects that Up will soon be going like gangbusters in foreign lands:

Two months after its domestic launch, Disney's finally launching "Up" in several major overseas markets this weekend including France, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan with an additional 1,200 locations. Demand's likely to be particularly strong in France, where the Pixar toon received an enthusiastic response at Cannes ...

Lastly, top-drawer story artist Ed Gombert blogs about top-drawer story artist Vance Gerry. Ed has already had everybody and his brother link to his tribute, so I'm being redundant here, but since I worked with Vance and knew him to be one of the world's great human beings, I also link up. (Call me a sheep, I don't care.)

Mr. Gerry (on right) with unidentified geek -- circa 1982.

Add On: Diz Co. releases some good-looking development art (which I've seen tacked up around the hat building) on Rapunzel

And it's going to need some good-looking .. and profitable films to overcome its lacklustre new earnings report.

Walt Disney Co., the world’s biggest media company, said third-quarter profit fell 26 percent as the recession cut advertising and theme-park sales. The film studio registered a loss ...

... The film studio registered a loss of $12 million, compared with a profit of $97 million a year ago. ...

So it's kind of important to produce those animated features, yes?

Have yourself a weekend you can be proud of.

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The MegaCollector's Felix The Cat, part 1 of 2

Felix The Cat © King Features. Click the thumbnail for a full-sized image.

Story panel from a 1920s Felix The Cat cartoon. (Mr. Mega can't i.d. the artist; we doubt there's anyone else on the planet who can, either. At least not with full certainty.)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NIMH Again

Apparently one of our fine conglomerates -- Paramount/Viacom -- could be rebooting The Secret of NIMH:

The movie would be the second theatrical go-round for the book, which MGM brought to the screen in 1982 as the animated "The Secret of NIMH," directed by Don Bluth.

I remember when Don exited Disney's one fine day to go make his own feature, taking half the Disney animation staff with him. A couple of years later, the movie based on the Newberry award winner "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" came out and didn't make a great deal of money, although the reviews it collected weren't bad.

Don went on to make a string of animated features in Ireland and Arizona (the two done with Steven Spielberg performing well at the box office). Many of his employees ultimately returned to Burbank and the Disney fold ... and here we are, twenty-seven years further along, on the cusp (maybe) of another animated epic from the same material, this time with live action and cgi.

Everything old is new again. Perhaps soon we will have a cgi sequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

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Wisdom From the Executive Director of the DGA

Jay Roth, the executive director of the Directors Guild of America, addressed the IA convention this morning with a pithy speech about the movie industry and where he believes it's headed. (Mr. Roth had just flown from the DGA's convention in Los Angeles where new officers were voted into office.)

Here, in summary form, are many of the things Mr. Roth had to say:

For the past fifteen years the D.G.A. and IATSE have worked closely together for the betterment of workers in the motion picture and television industry. Prior to that, they mostly ignored each other, which wasn't good for either labor group.

I addressed this body at your last convention in 2005, ad at that time made some predictions about where our industries were going. In '05, the WGA, SAG, the DGA and IATSE were just starting to focus on their next contracts, and starting to plan for them.

In 2006, the DGA spent millions gathering data about new media, so that we had facts to back up our proposals for our next contract. We shared a lot of this information with the IA. At the same time, the movie companies were hyping potential "New Media" profits to shareholders (although they didn't really exist), and SAG and the WGA were deciding that it was time to fight over the money that they believed would come from New Media.

The DGA wasn't convinced, based on its research, that there were big profits coming from the internet. At the time of our study ('05-'06) most thought that the iTunes model was going to dominate. But since '05, Hulu has decimated iTunes. People are downloading 1/4 the content from iTunes that they were purchasing four years ago. Most individuals would rather watch content for free on Hulu than buy it on iTunes ...

74% of the revenue earned from theatrical features comes after the features end their run in theaters. 50% of the money from television product happens after the initial plays on t.v.

More television is being watched today than ever before, and it's being watched on televisions and computers. Yet even now, two weeks of viewing on Hulu equals one hour of viewing on network television of American Idol. But we don't yet know the dominant distribution pipeline for movies and television in coming years.

We also don't know what leadership will be in charge of the WGA and SAG during the next round of contract talks, or if the economy will have recovered. But there is one thing I know. There is nothing that management wants more than to see the house of labor divided against itself.

Studios will be willing to pay a premium for early contract agreements, but the test of those agreements is the quality of the deal, not who made the deal or when the deal was made. The DGA will negotiation up to contract expiration if it has to.

Finally, the biggest issue out there as I see it is internet piracy. This is the biggest threat to the industry, Legal recourse is costly, time-consuming and ineffecitve, but if means aren't found to counter piracy, where content can be stolen with the push of a button, then it will mean economic meltdown for out industry, for digital theft destroys downstream markets (where most of the money is now made.) There are companies like Google who have an interest in keeping free access the way it is, but it threatens creators' rights and creators' product. We'll need to balance internet rights with on-line protections. This will have to be done legislatively, administratively, and through public opinion ...

Jay Roth is one of the savvier labor leaders in the entertainment business, and I've found him to be prescient in the past.  Therefore I pay close attention to what he says behind the podium at the convention hall.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Monsters Question

The L.A. Times inquires:

"Monsters vs. Aliens" sold a healthy $198 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, but only $179 million worth of tickets overseas. It's the first time that a DreamWorks Animation picture has earned less money at the box office in foreign countries than domestically, ... [W]hy[?] ...

The Times offers a few theories, but I think the answer is simple. MvA is specifically, quintessentially American: San Francisco. Area 51. American military. American President.

The rest of the world just isn't as enthralled with the U.S. of A. as the U.S.A. is.

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Organizing Pixar

Coming out of a IA meeting tonight, I was buttonholed by two San Francisco union reps who wanted to know what I know about Pixar, and what I thought the odds were of getting the studio under a union contract. I told them:

John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have less than zero interest in seeing Pixar become a union studio. They ... A) have more flexibility without a labor contract and B) neither of them particularly like unions.

There is no way to stand out in front of the studio and leaflet; people drive in, they don't walk. There is no widespread employee discontent that an organizing drive could build on. My take has always been: any studio can stay non-union by treating its employees decently. And Pixar -- as far as I can tell -- treats its employees decently (at least, decently enough.)

All of this could change if the Writers Guild of America (west) makes a concerted effort to organize Pixar writers and board artists and appears to be making progress, the Disney Co. will probably beat a path to the IATSE's door to get Pixar under a union contract.

I am, you see, a classical cynic. I could have stood there and told the Bay Area reps some encouraging, optimistic twaddle, but why bother? Better to lay out the way it is.

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Animation in the Land of David

The animation biz in Israel is small, but it's happening and it's growing.

Israeli animation artist Alex Orrelle ... (“The Incredibles,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Monsters Inc.”) ... is back in Tel Aviv, where he opened his own studio in 2005. His company, Crew 972, is competing for business in Europe and Hollywood ...

... Today, the local Israeli industry is dependent on a small core of freelancers, which Chissick says is growing steadily.

“If you look at the number of people working at the moment and the number of courses there are, the industry has grown four times compared to what it was eight years ago,” David Chissick [of investment company Chissick and Co.] said .. .

Israel's animation industry is tiny, but the indy Waltz with Bashir provided it with an energizing kick in the backside. But anyway. And what's "tiny" anyway if it's providing you with a steady gig and livable salary?

The important thing here is that a number of Israeli animation studios are beginning to get some traction. The reason this is important to the American cartoon biz is that, more and more often, animators leave the U.S. to advance their art in overseas venues. California's animation artists already work in China, in New Zealand, in France and Britain and Spain and a dozen other countries.

And now Israel.  Because year by year animation becomes less of a local business and more a global one .

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Sunday, July 26, 2009


It happens to be one of the ticking time bombs threatening the long-term viability of MovieLand:

"I think at the moment it's a strange time to be a filmmaker, because there's a sense of depression in the industry," [director Peter] Jackson said Friday ...

"Studios feel DVDs are down and piracy is up, and the entire industry is being as defensive as they possibly can, which leads to movies not being as exciting as they possibly can be ..."

Excitement won't count for much if motion pictures get downloaded digitally and sold as pirated DVDs. TAG's mother international (the IATSE) has been pounding home the message that directors, actors, writers and below-the-line filmmakers will be screwed, blued and searching for alternate employment if the DVD market goes the way of recorded CDs (which even now are halfway to the dark oblivion of vinyl records. CD sales are down 20% over the last year alone.) IA President Matt Loeb said:

"Pirated DVDs are being sold by the trainload, costing the film industry hundreds of millions of dollars, costing film workers thousands of jobs. It would be a disaster if entertainment conglomerates end up like record companies, suing twelve-year-olds for downloading songs. Studios, unions and guilds have to work together to stop the theft now occurring around the world ..."

A couple of things to keep in mind: broadband is moving to more areas of the country and globe, making feature motion pictures as easy to swipe as music MP3 files.  And counterfeit DVDs are easy to churn out and sell. This isn't a problem that's diminishing anytime soon, or going away.

Ultimately the solution regarding purloined films could be to tax the delivery systems -- internet and blank disks -- to collect royalties due to companies and workers. Since we live in a corporatist state, it seems like a simple and natural solution.

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Comparing Unpaid Overtimes

So I was in a meeting of union reps a couple of days ago here in Florida, whining about how various people working under TAG's jurisdiction work un paid overtime..

"Some artists work late at the studio and when I ask, won't admit to doing extra hours," I said. "Others take work home and we can't police it ..."

The union rep I was talking to, a gent whose local union covers live action, answered: "Listen. It's the same thing with my folks. We have workers who do free overtime, who don't want to make an issue of getting squeezed and so keep their mouths shut. They won't rock the boat, so they end up digging themselves into a hole. Know what I've found out?"

"What?" I said.

"You can't protect people from themselves. They're gonna do what they're gonna do."

As soon as he said this, I flashed on a TAG member who once told me: "Your job is to protect us from ourselves."

Problem is, it's not totally possible. So the bargain I've made is, anybody who wants me to file a grievance, I file a grievance ... after first explaining all the political pros and cons, and letting members make up their own minds about what they want to do. It's really, in the end, the only way to make it work.

But it was reassuring ... and at the same time depressing ... to find out that some of my fellow biz reps face the same conundrum that I do.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Weekend DizWorld Linkomatic

Straight from Orlando ... toon news you can peruse.

Apparently there's some griping about Ray the firefly in PATF.

The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana ... a state agency charged with the protection and promotion of French in Louisiana, is taking issue with the portrayal of a Cajun character in the film, a toothless, lovesick firefly voiced by former New Orleans resident and preeminent voiceover actor Jim Cummings.

"It's a continuation of the stereotyping of Cajun people, which is inaccurate," CODOFIL President Warren Perrin said of the character this week from his Lafayette law office ...

In the torrent of Comic Con news, the L.A. Times interviews Tim Burton on upcoming projects:

... I've been an animator, it's a very strange job. It requires a lot of focus and sometimes you can just get so focused on something, so I felt very lucky to not be in there every day and just be able to look at things and have a fresh perspective. Animation takes so long it's hard to have a fresh view of it especially when it's so in your head. ...

For some reason, Seth MacFarlane and Co. previewed upcoming Family Guy half-hours in a city near the Mexican border:

... [A]t Comic-Con '09, the cast and crew of Family Guy gave details on the upcoming season, as well as the anticipated Empire Strikes Back Star Wars special ...

The [Empire Strikes Back] video that was shown was apparently in its early stages, even though it looked excellent – the computer animation is impressive. In the first five minutes that were shown, much like the previous New Hope special, it was scene for scene with Empire
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Guinea Pigs Run Wild

Now with Add On sporting 90% humidity.

Early box office reports have G-Force at the top of the heap:


1. G-Force 3-D (Disney) $11 million today & around $33M this weekend.

2. The Ugly Truth (Sony) $10M today & about $27M weekend.

3. Harry Potter/Half-Blood Prince (WB) $9.5M today & probably $30M weekend.

4. Orphan (Dark Castle/Warner Bros) $5M today & near $13M weekend

C.G.I. animation, over and over, proves itself to be highly lucrative at the box office..

Add On: Friday finals show that G-Force earns an easy #1 and $11.5 million, while the other animated feature Ice Age declines to #5 and $2.6 million in the end-of-week kitty.

Add On Too: The (partially) animated G-Force takes in $32,152,000 for the weekend, while Mr. Potter collects $30,000,000 (good for a -61.5% decline) for a cume of $221.8 million.

Meantime, Ice Age the Third drops by slightly more than half and picks up $8.2 million in its $171.3 million of domestic dollars.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Inevitability of Three Dimensions

There was a time (November 12, 2008) when I thought that 3-D cinema wouldn't be so ... ah ... totally encompassing.

November 13th came much faster than I ever imagined.

... [At Comic Con], Disney presented some 3D bits from its upcoming animated slate. In terms of scoops, the presentation wasn't too groundbreaking-- the footage screened was from Beauty and the Beast, which has been remastered in 3D, and Toy Story 2, which will screen as part of a 3D double feature alongside Toy Story in October ...

See, it's not just new features that are in three dimensions, but all the retro-fitted old features. At some point, Disney will redo Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi and Victory Through Air Power.

And then some bright monkey at Turner Classic Movies will get a brain-wave to reprocess Birth of a Nation in 3-D.

Where, I ask you, will it end?

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Andy's New Gigs

DIC vanished into the ether some little time ago, and I have wondered (though not often) what Mr. Andy Heward has been doing since.

Now I know.

... The “Secret Millionaires Club” is the title of a new cartoon staring the Oracle of Omaha, in which Buffett’s cartoon likeness (who with his stylish glasses and wavy gray hair looks much younger and more coiffed than the real-live Buffett) dispenses investment advice to a motley crew of kids from Omaha. The episodes are to be distributed over the internet by the end of 2009 or early 2010. AOL is helping produce the show ...

Deal Journal spoke to the cartoon’s creator, Andy Heyward, of A Sqaured Entertainment LLC in Los Angeles. Heyward has been producing a cartoon for the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting for many years and approached Buffett a few years ago with the idea for a show for kids ...

Heyward is also producing separate cartoons starring Martha Stewart and supermodel, Gisele Bundchen, who moonlights as an environmental superhero. “Gisele helps emphasize girl power,’’ he says ...

DIC might be part of animation history, but it's good to know its former owner-operator sails on ...

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IA Executive Board Meetings

Union representatives from IATSE unions and guilds near and far ended their attendance at the week-long IA executive board sessions yesterday afternoon. I won't regale you with all the thrills and chills that occurred Monday through Thursday, Instead, here's a couple of quick snapshots of the proceedings:

1) Contract negotiations have been tough for unions and guilds over the past seven months. There was a string of reports detailing how broadcast companies, stage companies, and movie production companies are playing hardball and insisting on rollbacks from employees working under union contracts. Happily, most unions report that they've been able to negotiate 1.5% to 3% yearly increases in their contracts, but it's been anything but easy.

2) Report on The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan (where TAG members get health coverage and pension benefits):

*The Plan now has $4.8 billion in total assets (up form $4.65 billion at the end of '08)

* Investment assets in the Defined Benefit Plan are up 3.2% for the year. (They were down last year.)

* Investment assets in the Individual Account Plan are up 2.7% for the year. (These were also down last year. There's a surprise.)

* There are currently 121,000 participants in the Plan (Actives, Dependents, and Retirees.)

* The Plan has 11.2 months of reserves for active participants; 17 months of reserves in the retiree accounts. The Plan enjoys the highest rating from the Fed ('green") for overall financial health and viability. ( And what are some of the lower ratings? "Orange," "yellow" and ... wait for it ... "red.")

There were other reports and presentations, but I won't share them here, since I don't want to wear your eyeballs out or have my fingers get too tired.

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The MegaCollector's Barney Bear, last of three

And here's the last of the three Blair boards for the unproduced Barnster, circa 1948.

Parts one and two can be seen below.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sony ImageWorks -- A Dialogue

A constant reader (I assume) writes below:

... I am at Sony Imageworks. I have been there for many years now. Recently there have been a lot of changes, old management teams being replaced by newer ones. This is the norm right? Every few years new blood, new brooms, new styles. The style of this group seems to be slash/burn. Seasoned vet's getting tossed on their @sses to be replaced by a younger (cheaper) crowd. Benefits are being cut to the bone. Severance pay - cut out completely and we are being asked to sign new contracts that strip away our current health coverage to a shadow of what it is now. A few years back the union tried to come in, but back then Sony's benefits were better than what the union offered so many of us voted against it. WE WERE WRONG! ...

And Yours Truly responds:

Ah yes, I remember it as though it were yesterday. There we were, the IA reps and the Animation Guild officers (President Koch and I) in the Imageworks theater, rolling out the IATSE contract, Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan and TAG 401(k) Plan (without a match) that we hoped to sell to the Imageworkers.

The production hires were receptive, but the permanent employees weren't buying. In fact, many bristled with anger that their generous Sony benefits were being threatened by this new deal, and wanted no part of it. Campaigned against it.

And the day of the vote, the permanent employees ... with their production-hire allies ... handed the IA (and TAG) their heads. The vote was something like 289 NAYs, and 27 AYEs.


We (the unionists) skulked out of there with our tails between our legs. An IA rep asked me later: "So, what do you think we should have done?" I replied: "Cancel the vote before it was held."

Of course, the union side (my side) was not about to do that. Couldn't do that. They had to roll the dice. Even though I knew ... and several of them knew ... we were headed for the rocks. I had talked to enough employees and ex-employees to know that beyond much doubt, even as I told them:

"You think this sweet deal you've got with ImageWorks is going to go on and on. The benefits, the pay, it's all permanent. Except it's not. The company can revoke them whenever it wants."

Let me state right here that I don't begrudge anybody for buying the company line and voting to keep the IA out. It's always comfortable and easy to go with the status quo, particularly when you are in Fat City. Your head says, "Maybe this won't last..." but your heart yells:

"Heey now! This is the way it was meant to be! And this is the way it will be FOR-EVER!"

But it isn't, actually.  It never is.  Everything --the good, the bad, and the indifferent -- is temporary. We know this intellectually, but emotionally we resist the sad reality.   And I most likely would have done the same thing the ImageWorks folks did all those years ago, when Tim Sarnoff ladled out the b.s. and employees lapped it up. (Tim, like many of the employees, is gone now. He's off in France, building a new career and empire.)


Face it.  It's hard to resist the profit-sharing, rich 401(k) plan, and nice salary, and go into a voting booth and gamble on something else.

But here's the deal with Imageworks now. I would love to organize the place.   Problem is, I can get into the studio, but new management watches me like a bird of prey, so there is no way I'm going to chat up the non-union crew. What would be more useful is for ImageWorkers who want to change things to call me at 818-845-7500.  We can set up some meetings, do lunch, chat on the phone or whatever.  Work to get something happening down there in Culver City.

Because the past is dead and gone.  And an organizational drive begins with the first Representation Card.

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The MegaCollector's Barney Bear, part 2

The second set of Blair story panels of the unproduced Barney Bear. (Part two of three.)

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Continuing Dino Rampage

I know this sounds repetitious, but there's a reason all the major animation studios keep making sequels:

... The $448 million golden egg laid so quickly overseas by "Ice Age 3" has been one of the season's bigger surprises.

Toon is currently the top earner of the summer (although "Half-Blood Prince" will ultimately overtake it) and is on the verge of surpassing the $456 million earned by "Ice Age: The Meltdown" over its entire foreign run.

Indeed, "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" will soon pass WB's "The Dark Knight," which cumed $468.6 million internationally.

...Box office observers say "Dawn of the Dinosaurs," helped by the extra cost of 3-D tickets, has a good chance of becoming the top-grossing animated title of all time at the international B.O., surpassing Pixar's "Finding Nemo" ($524 million).

Toon is now the biggest film of all time in Russia and a number of Latin American countries, including Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Uruguay. And in Brazil on Tuesday, "Ice Age 3" managed to outdo "Half-Blood Prince." ...

You can hardly blame our fine, entertainment congloms for making IIs, IIIs and IVs when all those foreigners keep flinging money at their newer installments of old standbys. (Not to mention the heavy coin that flows out of the U.S. of A.)  Because as a wise old film editor once said to me:

"In Hollywood, a good movie is a movie that makes a lot of money."

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Scenes from Moving Day, part 2

All told, the move went every bit as well as could be expected. A few glitches, but nothing to seriously complain about.

One small issue is that the phone company has not yet turned off our old phone number, which may be happening as soon as today. In any event, please make note to call us at the new number effective immediately - (818) 845-7500 - and fax us at (818) 843-0300. All e-mail addresses remain the same.

Right in the middle of yesterday's move, the landscapers arrived to put in an extra tree at the west end of our south parking lot, requiring a bit of jockeying for position with moving vans and parked cars. The tree was required by the city of Burbank as a condition of our getting our permanent certificate of occupancy, something to remember when you're sitting at the picnic table that it's intended to shade. (The tree, that is, not the certificate, although if I know the city of Burbank the certificate will probably be big enough to do the job.)

Here's something you're not likely to see in your typical labor union office - our collection of props for our art classes, set up by an unexpectedly artistic mover for a still life class.

Remember, active and inactive members will have an opportunity to see the new digs at our next membership meeting at 6:30 pm on August 4. At some point we'll have an open house to show things off to members and non-members. We're open for union business by phone or in person, but we may not have time to show off the place to visitors until the fourth.

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The MegaCollector's Barney Bear, part 1

Story panels, drawn by Preston Blair, from a 1948 "Barney Bear" cartoon that was ultimately not made ...

In the late forties, Blair teamed with animator Mike Lah to co-direct a series of Barney Bear shorts. Today, of course, Preston is remembered for his series of crackerjack instruction books on animation.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Selling Ponyo

Hayao Miyazaki's animated features make scads of money worldwide, but never set American turnstiles whirling. Maybe that's about to change.

... Kennedy-Marshall set about bringing both A-list acting and writing talent to the English-language version of "Ponyo," including Oscar-nominated "E.T." screenwriter Melissa Mathison. "We felt a responsibility to subtly reinterpret Miyazaki's storytelling," Kennedy recalls. "Miyazaki-san was quite intrigued with Melissa getting involved, and she found a subtle adjustment to the language so that you understand you're watching a Japanese movie but, at the same time, you're not getting confused by a literal translation."

No cuts were made to Miyazaki's animation, so the challenge in directing the voice actors was to make their English dialogue fit the existing picture. "It's different than the way we usually work, where we animate after recording the voices," explains Brad Lewis, who, like fellow Pixar directors Lasseter and Peter Sohn, helmed individual recording sessions for "Ponyo." "With this, the actors watched the animation, and then we'd record several versions and see what worked. The only liberties we could take were a few words of pre-lapping dialogue." ...

The eighteen-year-old Hulett has always been keen on Japanese animation. Since he's dead-center in the target demographic, I've always been a little mystified why Japanese features haven't performed more robustly in the States, instead of being just a niche sideshow.

I mean, live-action and animated features from the U.S. perform like gangbusters in Japan. For some reason (maybe cultural, maybe promotional) the reverse has never been true.

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Scenes From Moving Day, part 1

As we previously announced, today was the day we left our home of twenty-nine years and headed to our new home at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank.

Matthews Movers, our ultra-efficient movers who have moved scores of our members, arriving in front of the building.

We've been packing for several weeks, and the results of our labors quickly began stacking up.

Alex Topete showed up to set up his animation classroom.

Stephan Zupkas, myself and Trell Jackson taking a well-earned lunch break in the main office. (Can you guess where we got lunch from?)

Remember, our new phone number is (818) 845-7500.

More pictures tomorrow.

Photos by Marta Strohl-Rowand and Stephan Zupkas
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Working Toward Goals on the Side

There are other ways to advance (or get into) MovieLand besides doing free shots for a fly-by-night shorts producer on-line. There is, for instance, this route:

A young man, in this case named Gary H. Lee, is working his way up the creative ladder at a major studio, DreamWorks Animation. ... “I’m the head of layout for Kung Fu Panda 2. That’s the equivalent of being a cinematographer on a live action film. It’s actually probably one of the best places to work, to be honest.”

... Hector Corp ... [is] Lee’s first professional animated short. The work is so well done that Dreamworks Animation is actually going out of its way to support the independent film, even though the only real connection they have to it is Lee being an employee of theirs. ...

... [W]hen it came to Hector the difficult part of it is I’ve worked on four different Dreamworks films while making this,” Lee recalls. ... “There were many times when I would have to put Hector on hold while I worked on a major sequences like Tai-Lin’s escape or the bridge fight in the first Kung Fu Panda. Then again, it’s something that if you are a true artist that you just have to do. You have to have that drive/passion for your own work.” ...

The point of this tale is, if you have the itch to create, then go create. Digital filmmaking equipment gets cheaper and cheaper. And YouTube is there as an instant distributor for the Master Works you turn out. If you want to shoot a film ... or do an oil painting of Aunt Miriam ... or write a novel or create an animated short, then go do it. Nothing is stopping you except your own inertia.

And then, after you've created a few pieces of art that have (hopefully) gotten steadily better as you've mastered the sets of skills necessary to do them, you can, if you so desire, use those pieces as crow-bars to pry your way into MovieLand. (All it takes is talent, tenacity and luck.  And if you have an abundance of one of those three things, then you'll need less of the other two. Or so William Goldman tells me.)

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Big Stars

Bill Damaschke ... one of the Big Fish at DWA ... is half right:

"We cast people at the beginning of their comedy careers who are big stars by the time the movie is released," he says, referencing Jack Black, a relative unknown when the studio tapped him for "Shark Tale" ...

... Because what he leaves out is that DreamWorks Animation also casts a lot of mega stars as voice actors in their movies. Not saying that's necessarily wrong, but they're the ones who kind of started the trend. Pixar and Blue Sky Animation do it far less ....

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Number One for the Weekend

For a long time I've thought: "Okay, The Simpsons has got a two-season order, even as it cuts artistic staff and squeezes wages, but then that's it. The series goes bye-bye and we see the occasional special (maybe) and a couple of feature films.

But with this going on, I wonder ...

The networks capped off a slow weekend with yet another low-rated Sunday night with little original fare.

Airing all repeats, Fox finished first for the evening with a 1.4 adults 18-49 rating and 5 share, according to Nielsen overnights, just ahead of No. 2 CBS’s 1.3/4.

A repeat of “The Simpsons” was the night’s No. 1 show, averaging a 2.0 at 9:30 p.m ...

The question that crops up is: Does the Fox network walk away from a franchise that is still delivering? Twenty years after it started?

I guess that depends on items such as: Can the voice cast be re-signed? Is there a sizable benefit to stockpiling still more episodes on top of the hundreds News Corp. and Gracie Films already have?

I don't know the answers to these queries, but no doubt that, if the price and circumstances are right, Rupert's minions will want the series to go on ... and on ... and on.

I mean, why they hell not?  If it's still a cash cow?

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TAG Moving Days

A brief informational post:

Staff is now cramming files and general bric-a-brac into cardboard boxes at our old offices (4729 Lankershim, North Hollywood, CA.).

Tomorrow, twenty years worth of files and data will be transported to our new location at 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA.

What this means is that phone service will be spotty to for the next 24-36 hours, as hearts and minds are focused on getting settled into new spaces and finding out where all the buttons work and ironing kinks out of various electronic systems ...

The new phone number becomes fully operational on Wednesday, and that new phone number is:

(818) 845-7500

The old number? It be going away reaall soon.

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The IA Exec Board Meeting

The rest of TAG's staff is packing boxes in North Hollywood for the imminent move to sun-kissed Burbank and our new digs. But me, I'm in Orlando, Florida attending our Mother International's Executive Board Meeting ....

The IA is now doing its semi-annual gathering of officers, to be followed by its quadrennial International convention. All these things are taking place at the Dolphin Hotel inside Disney World, which is the largest-single-site employer in the state and/or nation (66,000 mouseketeers across 25,000 acres.)

So. For the next two weeks, all the blogging you get from Yours Truly will be coming from central Florida during high monsoon season ...

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Sunday, July 19, 2009


Artists and writers get this more than a little ....

“We love the ‘Futurama’ voice performers and absolutely wanted to use them, but unfortunately, we could not meet their salary demands,” 20th Century Fox TV said in a statement. “While replacing these talented actors will be difficult, the show must go on ..."

With twenty-six episodes in the process of becoming, Fox has a need to nail down the Futurama voice cast and nail it down soon.

Question is, will Rupert's minions go the lower cost route and hire less pricey vocal talent? Or will the original cast cave? You never know exactly what your leverage is until you try to use it ...

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The MegaCollector's Preston Blair

Click on thumbnails for full-page images

No big shocker that the MegaCollector has a signed first edition of Advanced Animation, Preston Blair's Walter Foster book.

But for those familiar with the seminal work by the well-known animator and textbook author, there are some surprises inside that particular edition ...

Unless you also own a first edition, you won't be familiar with the images above and below. That's because after the edition appeared, a friendly MGM lawyer reminded the Walter Foster people that they hadn't gotten permission to use the characters. So subsequent editions omitted the cat and mouse (which, we do not hesitate to remind you, are TM and © Turner Entertainment), in favor of generic characters of Blair's own design.

True story: many years ago I was a teaching assistant to an AAI animation class taught by Charlie Downs. One of Charlie's first assignments was to draw a horse-run cycle. As I shot the pencil tests, even my uneducated eye caught that there was an identical gremlin at the same point in each cycle.

A little detective work on Charlie's part determined the culprit. The students had cribbed from a horse run cycle on the cover of Blair's Cartoon Animation -- but two of the drawings were missing from the cover art!

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Ice Age: Dinos Continue to Romp

In these times of toil and trouble, it's good to know that some things never change.

"Dawn of the Dinosaurs" should ultimately gross more than any summer tentpole besides "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." It's already passing Sony's "Angels and Demons" ($334 million to date) and should soon overtake Paramount's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" ($365.1 million to date) ...

Stateside, the third edition of Fox's Own Private Fort Knox will be moving past the $150 million marker by the end of the weekend, and will probably end up #2 behind the Harry Potter steamroller.

There are those, of course, who bemoan the sequelitis that has engulfed the major cartoon producers. But let's get real. Conglomerates are not in the movie business for their health, nor for art. They want to make a profit, and the wider the better. If they can make a good movie while they do it, that's okay too, but the main enterprise is to make money.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Disneyland on Day One

Fifty-four years ago yesterday, a big amusement park opened in Anaheim, California.

It was hot,  it was crowded (although the numbers of people were relatively small compared to the hordes that were to come,) and the day was mostly a showcase for a ninety minute television show that included Walt Disney, Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan and various other celebrities ...

I was present for the extravaganza, one of the dress extras for the network broadcast, there with my mother, brother and grandmother. My father, then a background artist on Disney features, had been recruited by Walt -- along with a lot of the rest of Disney's creative staff -- to pitch in and work on the rides being hurriedly installed. (Dad worked on the "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" exhibit in Tomorrowland, and "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," painting murals and scenic flats. Much of the work was done in Burbank, then trucked down the new Santa Ana Freeway to the park. Dad and others were housed at a motel near Knotts Berry Farm when their presence was needed in Anaheim, since there weren't many hotel rooms in and around the orange groves in 1954-55.)

The Hulett family didn't see much of Dad on July 17, 1955; he was off doing touch-up work on various rides.

And I didn't see nearly as much of Walt's amusement park as I would have liked. On that first day, I wasn't tall enough to observe much more than adult legs and torsos for long stretches. Disneyland had not yet mastered the art of crowd flow and crowd control, so there was a tendency for mobs to mill. We were packed into the Main Street train station waiting for our chance at a ride around the park; it took a long while for us to get on Mr. Toad's Adventure, and we were present at the Mark Twain riverboat when Irene Dunne christened it in the same way sardines are present in those small, rectangular cans. (My memory of the Mark Twain is being crowded against a railing on her upper deck, staring down at the crowds and bulky television cameras with thick black cables snaking out behind them.)

Twenty-five years later, I interviewed Ward Kimball about that day. Ward was in the park with the Firehouse Five, toodling for the t.v. cameras, and he remembered the event as being hot with lots of non-functioning drinking fountains, with fresh paint on buildings and new, soft asphalt on the ground. He told me:

The Firehouse Five played in two different locations for the television special. When we finished, I ran across Lillian Disney on Main Street,  near the Plaza. The temperature was high and she looked pretty worn out. I asked her: "Lillian, what do you think of Walt's new toy?" She looked at me and said, "Well, I guess it's better than having him chase other women."

That's the way Ward told the story, and I liked his remembrance a lot, but a week after it got printed in an L.A. Times advertising supplement, a Disney management person called me to say that Lillian Disney was terribly offended by the anecdote and flatly denied it ever happened, or that she ever said those words. Since I worked for the Disney Co. at the time, I started worrying about getting fired. (Sure enough, five-and-a-half years later the Diz Co. let me go ...)

Of course, memory is a tricky thing. Some events you remember vividly, others are a dim haze, and still other happenings are fictions you once dreamed but never lived. For instance, I lied about being five years old when the park opened.

I was actually six.

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The Mid-July Movie Derby

Mr. Potter sucks most of the good air form the box office race, collecting $107 million Thursday and Friday (the big total helped along by swarms of teenagers stmpeding to midnight shows on Thursday.) As The Hollywood Reporter informs us:

"[Potter-]Prince," which has lost a little momentum in the wake of its fans' initial rush to the boxoffice, is on track to enjoy the best first five days of any Potter movie, outdistancing "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which took in $139.7 in its first five days in 2007. At the moment, though, it's not in a position to challenge five-day boxoffice record-holders such as "The Dark Knight" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

Downlist, Ice Age cops second place as Bruno crashes and burns, colecting $5.4 million for a total of $139.7 million.

The third place Transformers tucks away $4.2 million for a $354.3 running total, while Bruna lies gasping in fourth place, $44 million tucked into his yam sack.

Sandra Bullock presides over fifth place with $122.5 million in the hopper ...

Add On: Harry Potter collects $79.5 million over the weekend and $159.7 million since the midnight screenings on Thursday to come roaring out of the gate.

Second place Ice Age 3 holds well (declining a mere 35,9%) while Up also hangs in (at #8) and drops by a third to run its total to $279,559,000.

Far down the slippery slope, Monsters Vs. Aliens collects $186,000 for a domestic total of $197.5 million.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Friday Linkfest

The end-of-the-week linkage festival, beginning with the 54th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland (the amusement park, not the teevee show.)

I was there that day. I was like, five years old and squirmy in the heat. I remember the cameras and fat cables running everywhere. I also remember the crowds.

My mother dragged my brother and I all over the park, to not much effect. There were only a frew rides to clamber on. We got on the train, and we got on the Mark Twain. For the rest, it was all adult legs and much crowding ....

General Electric's leap into feature c.g. animation starts with a trailer for the upcoming Despicable Me.

... A villain named Gru (voiced by Carell) plans to steal the moon ... and a trio of orphan girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes cause him to reconsider his plan ...

The New York Times discusses Disney knick knacks and the impact on same by the soon-to-open Disney Museum in San Francisco:

The international market for Disney collectibles, relatively quiet for a decade, is likely to be given a boost when the Walt Disney Family Museum opens in San Francisco on Oct. 1.

The new museum, housed in three buildings in the Presidio at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was designed by the New York architect David Rockwell, noted for his imaginative sets for “Hairspray” and restaurant interiors like Nobu and Monkey Bar. The 77,000-square-foot exhibition space will feature 200 video monitors, early Disney film clips, family movies, original animation art and vintage artifacts, including a 1950s Autopia bumper car from Disneyland ...

It seems that more and more cable networks are waking up to the cost-efficiencies and marketability of animated series:

FX is making a rare foray into animation with a new comedy series from Adam Reed, the cable network's first cartoon in 10 years.

Tentatively titled "Archer," the series, which has received a six-episode order for a launch in the fall, is set at ISIS, an international spy agency whose highly trained employees constantly confuse, undermine and betray one another. profiles Imagi's west coast studio ... and the upcoming Astro Boy:

Imagi Animation Studios' Los Angeles outpost (tucked as discretely away in an unlikely location inside a Sherman Oaks shopping mall as Astro's backside blasters are) where work was nearing an end on the long-anticipated feature film based on Osamu Tezuka's enduringly beloved manga comic dating back to 1952 ...

Imagi's become what they like to call a 24-hour studio: The "front-end" work on the Astro Boy film – story and script development, character design, set design, etc. – was handled by a Los Angeles team of about 80-120 staffers who would teleconference or Skype about large and little details with 400 animation staffer in Hong Kong before handing over the reigns to the Chinese office to work through the US night (The studio is ambitiously aiming to soon produce at least one film per year, with Gatchaman up next) ...

Have yourself a splendiforous weekend. Go do something cool and refreshing.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fox Animation Bags a Brace of Nominations

Today was Fox Animation day, and the first five minutes I was there, I found out the Big News regarding a fancy gold statuette:

Family Guy became the first animated series since The Flintstones in 1961 to be nominated as best comedy series – which will pit it against a record six other programs, it was announced Thursday morning ...

FG also copped a nomination in the animation category. So kudos to the crew over there on Wilshire Boulevard. As Mr. MacFarlane said to the New York Times:

"All of the prime-time animated shows have been frustrated for a long time at not being put up against the shows that do things that are analogous to what they do. ... We just do it in a different medium. But it’s no less legitimate than the fact that shows like ‘30 Rock’ and ‘The Office’ use a single-camera format without an audience” yet compete with multicamera sitcoms.

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The New Low-Cost Animation Model!

We've talked about this before, but the New York Times provides texture and detail to our bright future:

Mass Animation... [made] a five-minute animated film using the Wikipedia model, with animators from around the world contributing shots, and Facebook users voting on their favorites ...

The completed short, “Live Music,” has been deemed of high enough quality by Sony Pictures Entertainment to warrant a theatrical run ... The finished film is made up of scenes submitted by 51 people, who received $500 per scene and a film credit for their efforts.

Yair Landau, the founder of Mass Animation (and a former digital and animation executive at Sony, where he oversaw production of the movie “Surf’s Up”), said he hoped “Live Music” was just the tip of this iceberg. His goal is to produce a feature-length film in the same manner, essentially pushing the heavy lifting off on a crowd ...

Using Facebook, Mass Animation invited animation enthusiasts — from total amateurs to professionals working in their spare time — to compete to create individual shots for the short ...

In the end ... about 17,000 downloaded the software application, Mr. Landau said.

You see how freaking great this is? Using the intertubes, thousands of animators get to do shots for free! And then out of those thousands, the winners pick up $500 bucks for their winning segments! And a screen credit!

Enter enough contests and do enough scut work, and you'll earn enough money for a fine, five-day stay at the Holiday Inn of your choice!

Truly awesome.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The MegaCollector Presents: Two Mickeys by Fred

Animator Fred Moore is famous for redesigning Mickey, as Ward Kimball told me long ago:

Fred deviated from the rubber hose, round circle school. Fred was just right for the time. He was the first one to escape from the rubber hose school. He began getting counter movements, counter thrusts, in the way he drew. More drawing. He decided to make Mickey’s cheeks move with his mouth, which had never been done before when you drew everything inside that circle. He squashed and stretched him more ...

Fred, of course, was the Disney artist who transformed Mickey from the black-and-white pipsqueak he was in the late 1920s to the Technicolor movie star... and corporate logo ... that we know and love today. Mr. Moore gave Mickey dimensionality and cuteness (Mick's ears even became dimensional in a short or two. But mostly they are those round, black circles above the Mouse's head.)

Mega Collector believes that these Mickeys are from the late 1930s. He hasn't pinned down the production in which the drawings appeared, but he knows the time frame.

(These drawings come from file number 36-526 in Mega's collection, Vault #3. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.)

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On the Subject of Contract Rates ...

Since we are talking contracts and negotiations right about now, it might be useful to trip back a few years and see what a few TAG minimums were, back in the day. (The day being February 1, 1965.)

Animator, Storyman, Background, Layout

Hourly: $5.365 Weekly: $214.60

1st Assist. Animator, Assist. Background, Assist. Layout

Hourly: $4.021 Weekly: $160.84

It's good to remember that in early '65 (when this contract went into effect), the entire Federal budget was a hair north of $100 billion, America was just starting to warm to the task of pissing away billions in Southeast Asia, and a dollar went a whole lot further than now.

According to the intertubes' Inflation Calculator, a wage of $160.84 in '65 would be worth $1086.61 in 2008.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The New TAG Contract -- 2009-2012

As I mentioned below, TAG reached agreement on a new three-year contract last night. The Readers Digest summary of the deal is as follows:

Contract Term: August 1, 2009 to July 31, 2012

Wage and Pension and Health Increases: 2% wages, 1 1/2% pension and health benefits (As per the IA Basic Agreement -- total yearly increases: 3 1/2%.)

There are some other small changes, but that's the gist of it for people working under the deal. And now ... a few answers to questions ...

Q: Didn't the unions in the IA West Coast Bargaining Unit (editors, cinematographers, electricians, grips ...) get 3% wage increases when their deal was negotiated last year?

A: They did. The Basic Agreement's negotiations commenced in April of 2008, shortly after the WGA strike, and the IA secured at that time a commitment for 3% annual bump-ups.

TAG, during the same month the IA concluded negotiations for the Basic Agreement, also secured a 3%, 3%, 3% deal from Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios, which had a different contract termination date that ended last Fall.

What a difference a calendar year makes.

In 2009, the IATSE ... and TAG ... found that 2% bump-ups were the best they could achieve. In the past seven months, our mother international has negotiated two sizable contracts with 2% annual increases; other IA guilds with which we've checked are also negotiating 2% deals.

So. What are the cash differences (2% vs. 3%) going forward? Here's one example for the journey minimum rates (weekly) for animators, designers, background and layout artists, and animation writers under the two computations:

2% -- 2009-10: $1,565.33 2010-11: $1,596.64

3% -- 2009-10: $1,580.68 2010-11: $1,628.10

Weekly differences -- 2009-10: ($15.35) 2010-11: ($31.46)

Q: Why didn't you hold out? Try to get a better deal?

The committee talked about doing that. Back in May, the committee thought we'd be negotiating past the contract expiration of July 31 and "hanging tough" if we didn't get the deal we wanted.

But there were a couple of problems with that.

One. We were informed by the IA and two directors of the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan, that if we didn't secure a new deal that included additional contributions into the Plan, TAG participants would begin paying a $950 deductible for health services as of August.


(This doesn't mean that anyone would be slapped with a bill on, say, August 1st, but individuals who used the Plan's medical coverage after the start of August would be required to pay a deductible for services up to a cap of $950.)

Two. After we checked with other IATSE unions and guilds, it became clear that 2% wage increases were what the conglomerates and studios were going with ... had been going with ... since January. And that the 2% formulation was unlikely to change absent major, huge leverage.

Three. We didn't have major, huge leverage.

Thus, the above was where we ended up. The conclusion to the negotiations wasn't awful, but it wasn't where we expected ... or originally hoped ... to touch down for a landing. (We will be reviewing the entire contract package at the August 4th General Membership Meeting at our new digs in Burbank. So if you're a member, be there.)

Here's an overview of TAG contract talks of the distant past ...

And the negotiation of three years ago.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

On Sheet Timing

A commenter writes:

Spoke at length with a veteran director a few weeks back and discussed the rates for sheet timing that have not moved for several years. Any particular reason this rate doesn't change? Thanks Steve-

The rates for animation and timing directors in the TAG Collective Bargaining Agreement have gone up 3% a year over the past three years. Here are the current rates:

Disney Animation Director (journey hourly rate): $44.846

Disney Timing Director (journey hourly rate): $42.995

Sheet Timer: (journey hourly rate): $36.058

Like I say, these rates have increased each year for as long as I've been here. They go up again on August 2.


Anyone who's being underpaid on an hourly, daily or weekly basis -- the rates that are listed in the CBA -- should contact me.  I'll be happy to file a grievance.

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One Domestic/Overseas Animated Feature

Hulett's theory of big feature animation being done in the U.S. of A. by the entertainment conglomerates? There are a couple of exceptions.

One, of course, is Happy Feet, produced and released by Warner Bros. and animated in Australia. The other is Despicable Me ...

DM is being made by Illumination Entertainment, former Fox exec Chris Meladandri's company that is headquartered, as I understand it, in Santa Monica, and underwritten by Universal-GE.

Illumination is going the overseas route to get the picture done, animating Despicable Me in France at an existing studio rather than setting up a facility of its own, boarding the feature in L.A. and elsewhere. How successful this approach will be, I do not know. But when the picture comes out Universal will no doubt put advertising muscle behind it in hopes that Despicable Me breaks into the top tier of animated box office grossers.

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Negotiation Day

TAG meets with most of the cartoon studio today. For Round Two of contract negotiations.

There are lots of issues on the table and they impact many people, and how's today's session ends up I do not know.

But there probably won't be much time for blogging.

Add On: We concluded contract negotiations this evening at the AMPTP. It was a fairly long session, and resulted in a new contract that will kick in on August 1, assuming the membership ratifies the agreement. We'll be rolling out a detailed summary of the negotiations and the c.b.a at our August 4th General Membership meeting.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why U.S. Created Animation Won't Be Leaving Anytime Soon

Variety spells it out:

Last week, 20th Century Fox became the first studio to cross the $1 billion mark in foreign box office revenues this year, thanks to the larger-than-life opening of 3-D toon "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." ...

The thing of it is, all these domestically-produced animated features (Up, Bolt, MvA, Shrek, Madagascar ...) keep pulling in sizable dollars around the globe, which, like it or not, reinforces the corporate strategy of "doing high-end animation in the States" as the Conventional Wisdom of Hollywood. (Actually, this has been CW for a while now.)

Until a number of foreign-produced animated features do equivalent world-wide business, I don't see production switching to Mumbai or Shanghai. It makes minimal business sense to pivot away from the pools of talent that continually deliver ...

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The Folly of Conventional Wisdom

The one thing you can count in the entertainment biz is for movie execs to Play It Safe. Doing things outside the box is great as a concept, but actually implementing that strategy can get you fired. Following Conventional Wisdom might be boring, but it's a less risky road to take if you don't want to start collecting unemployment checks.

So it's always gratifying when the keepers of Conventional Wisdom admit they were in error:

Pali Research media analyst Richard Greenfield has admitted that he was "dead wrong" in his assessment of Disney/Pixar's Up, which he predicted would fail to become a big hit for the studio. In particular Greenfield had claimed that the film's hero, a cranky 78-year-old voiced by Ed Asner, was not the sort of character that would attract Disney's core audience ...

See, the big trouble with Conventional Wisdom is it always looks backward:

1937 -- "Nobody will sit still for a ninety minute cartoon! Only short ones work! Everybody's eyes will get tired!" ...

1939: -- "Civil War pictures don't make a dime!" ...

1997 -- "$200 million dollars to make a movie about an ocean liner sinking?! Everybody already knows how it turns out! We're going to lose our ass!" ...

Etcetera, Excederin.

The point is, the movie business is like William Goldman says it is: "Nobody knows anything." In particular, nobody knows what will ultimately work (i.e. make money), therefore it's useful to opt for quality (i.e. good story telling) rather than the obvious but often wrong Conventional Wisdom.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gossip Guys

What with cleaning out my office and preparing for the next round of TAG contract negotiations, I didn't get out to as many studios as usual over the past week. However, I motor to a couple of larger cartoon facilities, and fell into conversation with animation artists and a director who were interested in sharing scuttlebutt, which they proceeded to do (And let's list this under scuttlebutt, not gospel truth.  Some of it is circulating on the intertubes already):

* Upper management at Cartoon Network is coming to the realization that -- gawrsh -- animation is more cost-effective and generates more profits over time than much of CN's live-action efforts. (This flies in the face of some published rumors -- see link below -- that Cartoon Network is going for more reality, sports and live action in the hear future. But how many reality shows are the small-fry supposed to gobble up, after all?)

* CN's Chowder is finished, and so probably is Flapjack. And not all of CN's management is crazy about their new, glass-walled digs in the skyscraper next to the older, CN studio in Burbank Village.

* John Lasseter wants to do more classical fairy tales with songs, of the type Walt used to do.

* The plan of Disney Animation Studio management is to have all of the hand-drawn crew from Princess and the Frog return for the Winnie the Pooh feature in several months. (And some will be retained at the end of P and F to work on a hand-drawn short or two ...)

* Fox/Gracie isn't going to be thrilled with all the new cost-cutting measures on The Simpsons because ... the show doesn't look as good as it did before the cost-cutting measures. But Richard Reynis got a raise anyway.

Like I say, some of the above is scurrilous rumor, but it's what's going around at different studios.

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The $100 Million Club

Now with calorie-free Add On.

Ice Age 3 stomped over the century marker on Friday:

... [T]he third Ice Age movie ... consumed $8.7 million on Friday while evolving past the $100 million mark ...

As of Friday, IA3 has a worldwide gross of $252.4 million, 60% of the take coming from foreign venues. The producers claim a $90 million budget for the feature; if true, the third incarnation of the Adventures of the Wool-covered Elephants should be moving into the black right about now ...

Elsewhere on the domestic box office front, the phony Austrian Bruno collected $14.2 million to come in at #1, the animated epic Tranformers dropped 58% but already has $322.6 million in its steel gunny sack, and fourth place Public Enemies owns a total of $56.8 million.

Finally, The Proposal (#5 with a bullet) has also joined the $100 million club, having amassed $106.7 million to date.

Add On: The happy Austrian comes in first for the weekend, with $30.4 million. Transformers at #3 makes $24.2 million for a grand total of $339.2 million. And Ice Age 3?

Twentieth Century Fox’s holdover “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” did strong business in its second frame, grossing an estimated $28.5 million from 4,102 screens and jumping the $100 million mark domestically. Film, sporting a cume of $120.6 million, came in No. 2 for the frame.

IA3 dropped a mere 31.6% weekend to weekend, which of course bodes well for future box office health.   Far down the box office list, Monsters vs. Aliens moved up three notches to #20, earned $250,000, and now stands at $197.1 million. DWA is no doubt working to push the space creatures over the $200 million mark.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

In the Halls of Mouse

In between packing files, papers and office knick-knacks into cardboard boxes, a fellow IATSE rep and I spent a piece of the morning talking to employees about the  oncoming negotiations for an updated Disney-IA Collective Bargaining Agreement. (The pact is up the end of October, so the IA and TAG are now laying groundwork for Fall negotiations.) ....

During our studio ramble, we ran into Glen Keane, who related that he was supervising animation with the Rapunzel animation crew (He's also executive producing on the picture.). Glen told us traditional animators are teaming with c.g. animators to bring a more "hand-drawn" sensibility to the c.g. characters in Rapunzel, with more stylization and counter-weight in the animation, melding computer graphics with the rhythms and tempo of traditional Disney animated features.   He related how the characters' skin will have a softer look. (There is also the animation dynamics of Rapunzel's seventy feet of hair.  Animationg that will be fun.)

The way Glen described the process, it's going to make Rapunzel a c.g. feature to put on your "to see" list.   The film is now going into serious production, so we'll be able to watch the results of the artists' and technicians' labors in (relatively) short order.

Have yourself a splendiferous weekend.

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We're moving ... FINALLY!

At long last we can confirm that we will be moving to our new headquarters in Burbank in less than two weeks.

Effective Wednesday, July 22, 2009*, the new address of the Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE and the American Animation Institute will be:

  • 1105 N. Hollywood Way (between Chandler and Magnolia) Burbank, CA 91505-2528

Our new phone numbers:

  • TAG Local 839: (818) 845-7500
  • American Animation Institute: (818) 845-7000

Our new fax number will be:

  • (818) 843-0300

* We'll be moving on Tuesday, July 21. Please note that it will be difficult to reach us by phone or fax on that day.

Our first membership meeting at the new building is scheduled for:
  • Tuesday, August 4
  • Pizza and refreshments: 6:30 pm
  • Meeting: 7 pm
We'll give members at that meeting a tour of the new building, and also discuss important issues about the TAG contract negotiations. Further details in the July Peg-Board and on the TAG Blog.
Click the thumbnail below for a full-page flier with map
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Thursday, July 09, 2009

The MegaCollector's Flip the Frog

Ub Iwerks was Walt's strong right arm in the 1920s. He was a designer and work-horse animator on the early Disney shorts, considered so valuable that he was a 20% owner of the studio.

But the 20% ownership ended when Iwerks departed Walt Disney Productions after a falling out with the majority owner. Bankrolled by movie mogul Pat Powers, Iwerks developed the frog character above, but within a few years flamed out as an animation kingpin and returned to Disney's.

The drawing above is from the Mega Collector's massive collection, file # 34-438. Mr. Mega believes it to be an Ub drawing. It was originally owned by Ub's son Dave.

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New Warner Product?

As I related a couple of days ago, Warner Bros. Animation has surged back to life after a lengthy hibernation. New series. New direct-to-video projects. The offices and cubicles at the studio are filled with artists busy at work.

I know that among the new works-in-progress at WBA are a number of super-hero projects (like around seven), but frankly, I pay minimal attention to specific new titles (I'm a union guy; sue me.) But now Comic Continuum reports on a new character being added to the roster:

DC Comics' Jonah Hex -- already featured in a live-action movie starring Josh Brolin next year -- will be the subject of an animated project as well, The Continuum has learned.

Jonah Hex will be featured in a short from Warner Bros. Animation, written by Joe R. Lansdale.

And chimes in about old Jonah:

The character of Jonah Hex has appeared in animated projects in the past, including “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Justice League Unlimited” and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” This time, however, Hex will ride solo without help from others in the DC Universe, following the lead of the self-contained films released thus far from the WB. Additionally, the “Hex” short will follow the PG-13 mold demonstrated by the other DC Universe animated projects.

I should really pay more attention to what's going on at each and every studio. But some weeks you just get overloaded, you know?

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