Sunday, January 31, 2010

Not Exactly

The L.A. Times reports director Wes Anderson as saying:

"Usually, directors are either in animation or live action," Anderson conceded to Gold Derby, citing Tim Burton as one of the rare exceptions

This is a tad wrong ...

Off the top of my head, some animation directors (and/or board artists and animators) who have worked as live-action directors:

Kevin Lima

Rob Minkoff

Andrew Stanton

Frank Tashlin

Jerry Rees

Simon Wells

And so on and so forth.

Then of course there are the live-action directors now moving into animation. Although Mr. Anderson is one of the purer specimens, if Avatar isn't halfway to three-quarters animation, I will eat my computer.

Click here to read entire post

Green Froggy Hits Triple Digits

The Mojo of Box Office informs us that TP&TF hit the magic $100 million at the U.S. box office. The feature is now in 17th place, down to 700+ theaters, and sits atop:

$100.3 million

Mojo (as a commenter noted) is running behind the ticker for Frog's foreign box office.

Box Office Guru has more accurate and up-to-date numbers with TPandTF foreign cume at $78.3 million and counting. Unlike the domestic total, which is pretty close to finito, there are territories overseas yet untapped, so expect to see foreign grosses grow to somewere around 50-60% of the entire nut.

(Just now the percentage breakdowns are: foreign = 43.8%; domestic = 56.2%)

There's theatrical life in Green Froggy yet.

Click here to read entire post

Walking Away Too

Three weeks ago we talked about strategic defaults on home loans, citing a piece in The New York Times that it might be advantageous to get out from under a crushing loan.

Discussions ensued, and I went so far as talking to a trusty lawyer, who said "It's doable. You can also use the threat of defaulting to negotiate different terms with the bank." (this is called leverage.)

And now I've found a sharp-edged article by the Foole named Motley who reiterates the New York Times' position:

Why Are Homeowners Idiots?

... For many of the underwater homeowners in today's market, paying down their mortgage isn't really in their best financial interest. Particularly in states like Arizona -- where mortgages are nonrecourse, meaning the lender can't go after any of the homeowner's assets other than the property itself -- it makes little sense to continue paying a large mortgage on a devalued house when comparable rental rates are far below the monthly mortgage payment.

The situation had University of Arizona law professor Brent White scratching his head, and as a result he wrote a very interesting paper on the subject, which University of Chicago luminary Richard Thaler brought to an even broader audience over the weekend.

Among the conclusions White reached is that borrowers are suffering from "norm asymmetry." That's a jargony term for sure, but it basically means that homeowners are being convinced that the "right thing to do" is to keep paying their mortgage -- even if it's not in their best interest ...

And who's doing this convincing? For a large part it's the financial companies themselves, folks like Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.

But they're not alone. They've had plenty of help from government officials like Hank Paulson. Back in 2008, Paulson launched a sharp jab against those who would consider walking away from their homes, saying:

"And let me emphasize, any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator -- and one who is not honoring his obligations."

Which makes perfect sense, since I imagine Paulson never speculated on anything when he was at the helm of trading king Goldman Sachs ...

One of the reasons I harp on this is, I hear blatant lies from big business all the freaking time. Some of my favorites are:

"Don't share your salary information with other employees." (Even though you have a legal right to do so.)

"Your job is safe. We're not going to have anymore layoffs. (Half of you will be gone next week.)

"You want a pay raise? But we're a family here ..." (And we'll be getting rid of you at the earliest possible convenience.)

So pardon me if I puke when the former head of Goldman Sachs, one of the most voracious, ruthless, blood-sucking corporations on the face of the planet, tells me how it's dishonorable to walk away from a shitty loan.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Animation Hybrids' Foreign Holidays

The overseas' derbies continue at full gallops.

Twentieth Century Fox's "Avatar" achieved what seemed inevitable over the Jan. 22-24 weekend, earning $108.3 million to become the highest grossing film ever at the international box office with a cume of $1.292 billion.The weekend tally was enough to push James Cameron's 3D opus past previous record holder "Titanic's" $1.242 billion ...

But Hayao Miyazaki toon "Spirited Away" still holds the Japanese record, topping the B.O. for 11 straight weeks, making it Japan's all-time highest grosser with $338 million

... [P]erforming well in repeat frames was Fox's toon reboot "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel." Toons typically do well overseas, but given "Alvin's" origins Stateside, pic's total gross of $175.2 million speaks to the popularity of the genre among foreign auds.

So Fox is doing well with its current animated offerings.

(Side note: There's been a lot of criticism in conservative blogs about how anti-American and anti-military Cameron's feature is, even though the human soldiers in the film are 22nd century Hessians -- contract mercenaries -- and not actual soldiers. Remarkably, I'm not aware of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity railing against the movie -- although the fearless Stephen Colbert isn't afraid to take it on.)

So I guess those other lions of the Right are down with the big blue aliens.

Click here to read entire post

Cartoon Dance

Leave it to the New York Times to point out non-dancing dancing in animation.

... Dance ... permeates early Disney. Mickey and Minnie Mouse are gyrating from “Steamboat Willie” on. In “Three Little Pigs” (1933, a phenomenal box-office hit), the two sillier pigs keep prancing musically on their pointlike hind trotters, and they’re at it again in “The Big Bad Wolf” (1934) and “Three Little Wolves” (1936). Even the owl judge in “Who Killed Cock Robin?” (1935) does a little dance ...

But what’s dancing? Disney makes you ask the question because he gives such dance vitality and musical brio to movements that involve no actual dance steps. In “The Birthday Party” (1931), Mickey’s way of climbing the stairs to Minnie’s front door has the clickety-click of tap dancing. When the newborn title character of “The Ugly Duckling” (1931) sheds two tears, they fall, ping! ping!, like notes in music made visible. ...

The ultimate Disney dance film is “Fantasia.” Everyone loves Hyacinth Hippo and Ali Gator, rightly so: few scenes in any film are more exhilaratingly funny. Yet Disney, unnervingly, comes yet closer to the feeling of pure dance in his “Nutcracker Suite” scenes, even though here the movement is performed by mushrooms, fish, blossoms, leaves, snowflakes. The score is just about the most famous ballet music ever written, but most of the dances here (apart from the high-kicking thistles in the Russian Dance) have no footwork and no steps. ...

Woodland Cafe, cited in the Times' article, was one of Wilfred Jackson's stronger shorts. There, the bugs actually boogie.

Click here to read entire post

End of January Derby

With late-arriving Add On.

Avatar continues to rule the world box office, as the Nikkster reminds us.

1. AVATAR (Fox) Week 7 [3,074] Friday $7.5M, Est Weekend $28M, Est Cume $592M

2. EDGE OF DARKNESS (GK/Warner Bros) NEW [3,066] Friday $5.6M, Est Weekend $16.5M

3. WHEN IN ROME (Disney) NEW [2,456] Friday $4.4M, Est Weekend $11M.

4. TOOTH FAIRY (Fox) Week 2 [3,345] Friday $2.2M (-37%), Est Weekend $9.5M, Est Cume $25.6M

5. BOOK OF ELI (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,075] Friday $2.3M, Est Weekend $7.5M, Est Cume $73M

6. LEGION (Sony) Week 2 [2,476] Friday $2.0M (-70%), Est Weekend $6.5M, Est Cume $28.1M

7. LOVELY BONES (Paramount) Week 8 [2,638] Friday $1.3M, Est Weekend $4.0M, Est Cume $37.3M

8. SHERLOCK HOLMES (Warner Bros) Week 6 [2,250] Friday $1.1M, Est Weekend $3.5M, Est Cume $196.6M

9. IT'S COMPLICATED (Universal) Week 6 [2,096] Friday $950K, Est Weekend $3.3M, Est Cume $103.6M

10. ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEALQUEL (Fox) Week 6 [2,526] Friday $815K, Est Weekend $3.5M, Est Cume $208.8M

Fox's animation hybrids bookend the Top Tne with triple digit grosses, while green froggy edges ever closer to the $100 million marker ...

Add On: At the finish line, Avatar collects $30 million for its 7th #1 win (and $594.5 million in the till.)

Ninth place Alvin and th Chipmunks Deux has now earned $209.3 million domestically.

Second place Edge of Darkness starring Mel Gibson (not to be confused with 1943's Edge of Darkness .. or the other two flicks named Edge of Darkness) earns $17.1 million.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, January 29, 2010

Gallery 839 opening show: Friday, February 5

Gallery 839, the Animation Guild’s art gallery in our new office headquarters building, will have its official opening a week from today, Friday, February 5, with a show entitled CANVAS, BRONZE AND POLYRESIN.

The show will featuring the paintings of GEORGE SCRIBNER, WILLIAM WRAY and ANNIE GUENTHER (above left), and the sculpture art of VICKI BANKS and RUBEN PROCOPIO, all respected veterans of the animation business. The exhibit focuses on the work these fine artists do apart from their day-to-day jobs in animation.

A reception will be held from 6 to 9 pm, and the show will run until March 3. Last fall the Gallery "soft-opened" with an exhibit of Christmas card designs by the late RALPH HULETT, noted artist and Disney background painter, which will close on February 1 in preparation for this show.

We’re thrilled to announce the first of what we’re dubbing First Friday Shows at Gallery 839. These will be monthly shows of members’ personal art, with a gala opening reception the first Friday of each month.

We have two main goals for these shows. First, they’ll give members a venue to show their personal artistry, and make some money selling their work. We know the talent of our membership runs deep and wide, and we want that to be shared with both the membership and the rest of the community. Second, these shows will give us a good reason to regularly get together, to network and hang out. It will be a chance to celebrate ourselves, and gather as animators and artists, separate and apart from our workplace tribalism.

The March show is already being arranged, so it’s up to members to apply to put up future shows. Members in good standing are eligible (this includes members on honorable withdrawal). Individual shows are fine, but we encourage group shows.

The artists showing will be responsible for almost everything (we’re not adding additional staff, and our staff is pretty busy as is!). So, in addition to creating the artwork, artists are in charge of matting/framing, advertising (aside from the Peg-Board and the TAG Blog), setting up the show, hosting the reception, and tearing the show down. It also includes buying any refreshments/snacks for the reception, and arranging to have someone responsible for watching the artwork whenever the artists want the gallery open (otherwise the gallery will be locked to prevent theft). The Guild will charge rent of 10% of any sales from the show (compare that to the 50% most galleries take). If you don’t sell anything, it’s free of charge.

We’re looking to host a variety of personal artwork: painting, drawing, prints, photography, sculpture, ceramics, CG installations … it’s all good. We may also put on some themed shows as the spirit moves us. This will be an evolving, dynamic program, and it’ll be as cool as the membership wants it to be.

If you’re interested in having a show, contact Jeff Massie for more information.

-- Kevin Koch

Gallery 839 and the TAG headquarters are located at 1105 N. Hollywood Way, between Magnolia and Chandler, in Burbank. Click here to read entire post

Where to Train? Where to Break In?

In comments below, Alishea asks:

...[Y]ou have any advice for those aspiring to get into the treacherous business of animating? So far I've found two options- 1)paying $100,000 to get a degree, or 2) apprenticeship under an established animator in which case, if you don't know any, then what do you do?

A fine question. As a commenter mentions, there is Animation Mentor, but you are going to spend considerable coin for the training.

However, there are many other roads into AnimationLand, and here I outline a few.

* Training programs at Community Colleges -- lots of different two-year institutions have computer training, everything from beginning to advanced. Off the top of my head, Santa Monica College and L.A. Valley College offer classes; there are numerous others. State colleges (which cost more than their community cousins) also have programs.

* On the private college side, well-known schools with proven track records include Cal Arts in Valencia, California, and Ringling College in Sarasota, Florida. Sheridan Institute in Canada (not private) is also well-known. (Good training programs in computer graphics have grown up at a lot of different institutions, both state and private. Check your local listings for more detailed info.)

The Animation Guild (us guys) have run the American Animation Institute for years. We provide an array of art classes at reasonable cost, also some trade classes. Studio Arts and Gnomon (both in Los Angeles) also offer training. (Also, the Animation Guild participates in industry grants that subsidize training in CGI categories. These grants are limited to active and inactive guild members who have worked at a union facility within the last two years.)

But there's a larger point to be made here. Quality training is good and necessary, but the best training in the world won't get you a job in the business if you don't have the right work ethic and attitude to get that first crucial job, and the right social skills to keep it. (It also helps when the industry is in an expansionary mode. Lucky for you, in the CG area it's been expanding for, oh, the last fifteen-plus years.)

There are always more applicants than there are job positions. You're always competing with people farther up the food chain, but what you bring to the table (hopefully) is youth, zest, boundless enthusiasm and solid training. Also a willingness to bust your butt to get the job done. (If you read this as "Game companies and visual effects house exploiting young, naive, malleable labor" you would be partially right. We're here to stop it, but it's part of the landscape, so deal with it.)

Some folks will get into the business working at smaller, non-union facilities, some will enter via the video game industry. (They often chew you up and spit you out, but it's a fine way -- I'm told -- to acquire more chops. The goal at the start of your career is to "build your resume.")

Some will come into larger studios as production assistants, interns and trainees, and work up from there. Like I say, there are a bajillion different routes in to the wide, wonderful world of animation. To hike the myriad trails successfully, you will need 1) Luck (also known as "being in the right place at the right time"), 2) Talent (a facility for performing the required work), and 3) Tenacity (the inner fiber to get up and slog on when your are knocked down. Otherwise known as "a capacity for hard, sometimes frustrating work.")

Anyway, those are my nuggets of advice. I've given them before, and I will no doubt give them again. You can take the nuggets for what they're worth. (Obviously if I were a true genius I would be running DreamWorks Animation or Pixar or sleeping on a beach in the Grand Caymans, not sitting here blogging in Burbank, so I think we can stipulate that I'm far from a genius.)

Good luck with your grand voyage into the industry. May the trip be rewarding and soul enriching.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Linkage

My fellow bloggers and bloggees, I stand before you today to tell you the state of our links is strong, flourishing and starting with Up bagging another award:

Pixar's Up has been named film of the year at the Richard Attenborough Film Awards, presented annually by regional film critics across the UK ... James Cameron has won the filmmaker of the year prize for Avatar

Two animated films copping top awards isn't bad, I don't think ...

George Lucas is working on a new theatrical CGI feature, this one not tied to Star Wars:

The untitled computer-animated film is in preproduction at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch production facility in Marin County, north of San Francisco. Plot details are locked tighter than the plans for the Death Star, but one element known is that the script features fairies.

The project marks a rare foray outside the "Star Wars" universe for Lucas ... Kevin Munroe is directing the musical, which is expected to feature songs from a variety of sources. Munroe hails from the animated world and made his directorial debut in 2007 with the fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, "TMNT." ...

Express Night Out examines the Commie cartoons of the workers paradise of East Germany (an image of which is seen above.)

First Run Features is releasing several DEFA titles on DVD, a worthwhile series that includes the new "Red Cartoons," an odd collection of 16 short animated films spanning 1974 through 1990.

That's only a fraction of DEFA's output, which exceeded 800 cartoons. But this selection represents the impressive range of techniques and styles, and showcases the animators' sophisticated drawings. Because socialist art demands realism, these works are strictly — albeit often fleetingly — narrative, but they are rarely experimental and never pursue the form for its own ends.

Oh my. Brad Bird appears to be having trouble with 1906, if various websites are to be believed.

Brad Bird’s plan to make his live-action debut is crumbling. The Oscar winning animation director responsible for films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, planned to bring James Dalessandro’s book about the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake to life. Sadly, Warner Bros. isn’t convinced 1906 will be groundbreaking enough to justify its massive budget.

(Various spies and stoolies had told me there was trouble; of course I refused to believe it.)

ASIFA Archives has put up one of UPA's showier early efforts:

UPA's groundbreaking Man On The Land ... includes animation by Pat Matthews, Grim Natwick and Art Babbitt, but animation isn't the primary attraction here. It's the drop dead brilliant layouts by Director Bill Hurtz, Associate Director Art Heinemann and background artists Bob Dranko, Boris Gorelick and Paul Julian (among others). Just about every setup in this film is strong enough to be an illustration in a book. Check out the depth and lighting in these backgrounds ...

(So click through and look, already.)

The Hollywood Reporter explains why Avatar isn't quite the big deal many people think it is.

With everybody reporting how "Avatar" is The Biggest Movie of All Time based on grosses ($1.859 billion and counting), it's important to remember how rising ticket prices skew the returns.

Here's the Top 20 movies of all time ... by number of tickets sold:

1 "Gone With the Wind" (1939) 202,044,600

2 "Star Wars" (1977) 178,119,600

3 "The Sound of Music" (1965) 142,415,400

4 "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) 141,854,300

5 "The Ten Commandments" (1956) 131,000,000

6 "Titanic" (1997) 128,345,900 ...

(Snow White is just now at #10 ... in case you're wondering.)

Have yourself a glorious Friday and weekend. And remember to pace yourself.

Click here to read entire post

Organizing New Animated Series

David Spade is getting into animation.

TBS is partnering with David Spade to develop an animated version of his film "Joe Dirt."

The pilot script deal calls for the comic actor, Sony Pictures Television and Happy Madison Prods. to collaborate on a series following a "mullet-sporting, muscle-car-loving loser with a heart of gold." ... This marks TBS' third animated project following Fox TV and DreamWorks' "Neighbors from Hell," and Lionsgate and Olive Prods.' "Good and Evel." ...

I've noticed of late that there is a lot of new product being made out there, some of it under a TAG contract, a bunch of it not.

For instance, when Sony was doing Sit Down, Shut Up last year, they didn't bother to send it to their in-house animation studio Sony Adelaide, but shipped it to Rough Draft, where it was done under a union contract reserved for some but not all of the jobs Rough Draft (Glendale) does stateside.

The last couple of years, Rough Draft has done the fine Fox/News Corp. animated series Futurama non-union, even as the writers and actors on that show were protected with WGA and SAG contracts.

How can this be?

The answer is sad yet simple. Rough Draft has its "union" and "non-union" sides, so that it can sub-contract work from the entertainment conglomerates under a variety of banners. "Non union" if they've got lower budgets; "union" if they've got higher budgets or some of the work is being done under a TAG agreement elsewhere (you can't split payroll on a project without getting into legal trouble. The work has to be on the union or non-union side of the fence; you can't be on both sides at once.)

Just now, there's a variety of work being done for the conglomerates around and about town: non-union Wild Brain, down from San Francisco, has been doing a Peanuts project tied to Time-Warner without benefit of a TAG contract, and they will shortly (my spies tell me) be doing a Habro project; the non-union facility Bento Box is doing Neighbors From Hell (a joint Fox and DreamWorks Animation project) and could soon be doing Bob's Burgers, yet another project from Fox/News Corp.

All of these television spectaculars have lots of TAG members working on them, and none pay TAG pension and health benefits, because no company has much interest in paying more money when they can get away with paying less. It's the way capitalism, even the pseudo-capitalism practiced in this country, generally works.

Unless and until the artists working at these places decide they want more rather than less, lower benefits and wages are what they'll get.

Happily, of late I've gotten a number of phone calls from pissed off artists who are not happy to be working without benefit of contract. Said one:

"You know, DreamWorks has brought in a bunch of artists to work on this project we're doing, they've got DreamWorks executives serving as producers, and we're all sitting here working unpaid overtime and getting skim milk benefits. Where are the rep cards?"

(Full disclosure: I gave him some cards.)

To let you know, we are presently working to organize a number of studios sub-contracting work from the majors. I always say: "Everyone works for the Big Boys anyway, you might as well get Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Benefits while you're doing it." Whether we get enough representation cards ... and enough support ... to nudge these various job shops into signing TAG agreements remains to be seen.

But we're working on it. And we'll keep you informed about what's going on.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Permanence of Three Dee - Part XI

Do we need any more evidence it isn't going away?

Studio executives around town have been scrutinizing film slates for opportunities to expand forays into 3D releasing. Warners has been testing footage from its upcoming "Clash of the Titans" -- converted into 3D by an outside vendor -- and the tests have gone so well that the studio has decided to release not only "Titans" but also the two-part "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in 3D.

Warners refused to confirm the decisions Tuesday, but an announcement on "Titans" -- a co-production with studio-based producer Legendary Pictures -- is expected by week's end.

People who claim to know say that retro-fitting a feature with 3-D isn't as good as creating it in three dimensions to begin with. Regardless, you're going to see a lot more movies in the next few years with the big plastic goggles.

It's a commercial inevitability. Learn to love it.

Click here to read entire post

DreamWorks Drops Its India Stake

I was walking through the hallways of DreamWorks Animation this morning, and an artist points to his computer screen and says: "DreamWorks is giving up its partnership in the Indian Studio." What he was referring to was this:

Technicolor has taken sole ownership of its Bangalore, India-based animation studio Paprikaas, it was announced by Technicolor Digital Productions president, Tim Sarnoff.

You wouldn't know it from the Variety story, but DWA is (from what I know) giving up its co-ownership of Paprikaas ...

I knew that DWA was involved in production down in India, and will (apparently) still be involved as a client, but employees said to me: It wasn't really working out for them, not the way they expected."

I have no idea why the company is giving up its stake, but there it is. (And it's fine to see that Tim Sarnoff, late of Warner Bros. Animation and Sony Imageworks, is still out there in the animation game.)

Add On: Variety's print version makes clear that Technicolor purchased DWA's part of Paprikaas, and that the companies created the studio in 2008.

Click here to read entire post

Help the Hodges!

On Thursday, January 21, the National Cartoonists Society Foundation (NCSF) launched a fund-raising auction of original art by America's top cartoonists who donated their work to help one of their own in his time of need.

In August of 2009, Matthew Hodge, the teenage son of former Disney and Veggie Tales artist Tim Hodge, was in a car accident involving a train in rural Tennessee placing him into a coma. After the initial stay in the hospital, the Hodge's short-term insurance policy wouldn’t cover Matthew’s long-term recovery at a nursing care facility, calling his coma a "pre-existing" condition.

The cartooning world has rallied around Tim and his family to raise funds needed to help them through their tragedy. Over 100 artists, many of them Animation Guild members, have donated 170 items of original art from comic strips, comic books, children's books, animation, and sculpture that will begin to be listed on eBay on January 21.

Highlights in this fundraiser include:

  • A drawing of "Charlie Brown" by Charles Schulz
  • A drawing of "Wallace & Gromit" by creator Nick Park
  • An illustration by renowned movie poster illustrator Drew Struzan ("Indiana Jones," "Back to the Future")
  • A maquette from Disney’s unproduced film “My Peoples”
  • A "Simpsons" poster signed by the voice cast and creator Matt Groening
  • A drawing by Pixar's Golden Globe winning "Up" director Pete Docter
  • An original watercolored strip by "Mutts" cartoonist Patrick McDonnell
  • Spider-man art from creator Stan Lee
  • Animation art by Disney's Glen Keane
  • A group drawing by 21 top cartoonists such as Peter de Sève, Eric Goldberg, Andreas Deja, Chris Sanders, Don Bluth, Mike Mignola and William Stout.
  • Several pieces of classic Disney animation art by the 9 Old Men.

With so many generous donations, the artwork will be posted on eBay in thirds. The first grouping will be listed on January 21 beginning at 10am P.S.T., with subsequent listings on January 28 and February 4. All items for sale may be previewed at Fully tax-deductible donations may be given to Help the Hodges through Paypal on, or by sending a check with "Help the Hodges" written on the subject line to:

The NCS Foundation
341 N. Maitland Ave., #130
Maitland, FL 32751

Thank you for your support!

Click here to read entire post

E-mails from people with a vague concept of whom they’re writing to

I get lots of e-mails as a result of this blog, and I wanted to share with you some of my recent correspondence. Names and details are changed to protect the guilty ...

To: Steve Hulett
From: Bruce Barefaced

Dear Steve,

Hans von Taschendieb is giving away $15,000 a month to the top animators on his website! He recently moved to the United States from Stammheim to start a website,, that turns animation into a competition. Each day two teams create animations that compete “head to head” to try and gain the most votes from viewers of the site. Each month, the teams with the best records compete in the championship and the winning team receives $15,000.

I thought I would make an introduction as your blog readership is in line with Hans's efforts. If you think it makes sense, let's set some time aside to hook up with a phone introduction. Thanks!


Bruce Barefaced

The Honest Company

To: Bruce Barefaced
From: Steve Hulett

Uh, and what does the losing team get?


To: Steve Hulett
From: Bruce Barefaced

They get sent back to Stammheim.

Just kidding. Any good suggestions?

Hans was considering someone going on a hunger strike until they get a million hits so anything is up for consideration.


To: Bruce Barefaced
From: Steve Hulett

Bruce. Old pal.

We're a labor union. You know, one of those quaint organizations that has as its core mission the idea that people who work on things actually get paid for working on them?

There are any number of web sites and on-line studios which think it's cool to have people donate labor for the greater glory and profit of the on-line studio, with the enticement that a few lucky duckies might see a little scratch at the end of their efforts. Hans's appears to be yet another.

I'm on record as being opposed to people working for free in the hope of some future payoff. I think that it's exploitation. I think that it's wrong. But I understand how it's a (semi) free world and artists and animators are going to do what they do.

So I hope you can understand why we have to turn down your offer of using a labor blog to aid in the exploitation of animators. It's just something to which we're completely against, so the answer from us is No. We won't be helping Hans get the word out regarding his "head to head" competition. We won't be touting it on the Animation Guild Blog or Website. We have enough trouble helping members make a living without adding to our woes.

Steve Hulett

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Imagi Sherman Oaks Shuttered?

Former Imagi employees called to tell me that the Sherman Oaks studio closed its doors last Friday.

My first reaction was "Whaaaa?"

But sure enough. There's this:

Imagi International Holdings Ltd (OTCBB: IINHY, IINHY message board) has announced large scale review of operations which has mostly negative effect towards the staff.

The company has cut off their US subsidiaries from any funding, the working contracts for 30 employees were terminated and the Los Angeles based office closed. The company was left with only a few important staff members being utilized as consultants and has transferred the functions of the closed office to other contractors.

I find this sad and depressing. The company had high aspirations a couple of years back. It had several projects in development. It had a large (and growing) staff. It had morale that was pretty good.

But when your first picture comes out and flops, it kind of casts a pall. And when you run out of money and fail to pay staff, you have shot yourself in both feet and one of your shoulders.

But where there is ying, there is also yang:

It looks as if it's going to be a big year for DreamWorks Animation.

In 2010, DWA will become the first studio to release three CGI animated films in one year. That's a potential game-changer as the studio will have five films hitting screens every two years instead of the three or four so far ...

Let's just call it the ever-turning, ever-changing circle of cartoon commerce. As one fades away, another rises up.

Click here to read entire post

Cannes Embraces Animation!

Or at least, a former animator:

Director Tim Burton will head from Wonderland to the French Riviera in May to preside over the jury at the 63rd Festival de Cannes, organizers said Tuesday ...

"It's the first time an artist whose origins are in animation will preside over the jury of the Festival de Cannes," Jacob said. He added: "We hope his sweet madness and gothic humor will pervade the Croisette, bringing Christmas to all. Christmas and Halloween."

This means that at long last, mainstream filmmakers have clasped animation to their full and capacious breasts.

(It couldn't mean anything else, could it?)

Click here to read entire post

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Wilfred!

At the Disney commissary, January 4, 1956, from left to right: Gerry Geronimi, Walt Disney, Ben Sharpsteen, Ted Sears, Max Fleischer, Dick Huemer, George Stalling, Dick Fleischer, Andy Engman, and Wilfred Jackson at the right front. (They were not celebrating Mr. Jackson's 50th birthday.)

Wilfred Jackson was born 104 years ago yesterday, and I would be remiss if I didn't note his anniversary here.

Jaxon, as he signed model sheets at the Disney Hyperion and Burbank studios, was one of Disney's earliest staff members, claiming long afterwards that he was never actually hired, but just showed up and started running errands and washing cels, and after awhile got a paycheck ...

Mr. Jackson helped engineer the synchronization of sound and image in SteamBoat Willie, soon became a director, and went on from there. He was at the helm of almost every Disney animated feature from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Lady and the Tramp. As animators Johnston and Thomas recalled in The Illusion of Life:

"Wilfred Jackson ... taught us thoroughness and the importance of detail. He had an immensely creative grasp of his whole picture and what he wanted it to do, but his big strength was in the astounding attention he gave to every last detail. Every frame of each scene was carefully considered and made into something valuable; the animator was never at a loss to know what should be done in the footage he had been handed. If you had a better idea, Jaxon was all for it, but until you did he provided you with some very good material to animate. Jaxon was easily the most creative of the directors, but he was also the most "picky" and took a lot of kidding about his thoroughness ..."

Wilfred Jackson lived on a large piece of land in La Tuna Canyon (near Sunland, California), where he and his wife raised two daughters; he also had a small house on Balboa Island, but ostentatious he was not. "Friendly and down to earth" is the way my mother recalled him. In an interview now three decades old, he remembered the way it was in the early days of the Disney studio with characteristic humility:

"Walt was a better story man than any of the storymen he could hire, he was a better director than any of the directors he could hire, but he wasn't a better animator than any of the animators he could hire. At that point ("Snow White" and "Pinocchio") the direction was very largely a matter of trying hard to get on the screen what you understood Walt to want on the screen ..."

Wilfred stepped down from directing features after Lady and the Tramp due to a heart condition, but he remained with the company for some years afterward, working in television. He died in 1988, at the age of 82.

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Green Froggy Watch Too

Now with sparkly green Add On.

So The Princess and the Frog is about at the $100 million marker, since the weekend gross puts it at $99,248,026. Per Box Office Mojo, it's collected $12,663,224 in foreign lands ...

Assuming the froggy does the majority of its business overseas (most high profile American releases do), I would guesstimate that TP&TF ends up at the $220-$250 million range.

Obviously, actual mileage could vary, since I have zero information about the ultimate foreign release pattern of the picture.

Add On: The studio announces the Blu-ray/DVD street date for green froggy, which ends up being March 16th. (Disney is not going to run into the problem that Sony did with Cloudy, rolling out the little silver disks before the theatrical run is finished.)

And we'll see how the DVD sales do.

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At Nick

I spent the afternoon wandering the technicolor halls of Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank. I have no overarching view or wisdom about the studio (except that everyone is working energetically). But what artists told me was:

"We're doing six new episodes of Fairly Odd Parents and and seven additional episodes of Tough Puppies, a total of twenty newer half-hours. I think that we'll always be doing episodes of FOP, because it always does well. And there could be a new spin-off series for new characters Poof and Foop, who knows?" ...

"I'll be surprised if Ni-Hao Kai Lan doesn't come back for more episodes. The merchandising is doing well, and the company likes that..."

"Nick is moving toward having maybe 80% of its shows in CGI. The DreamWorks shows, Fanboy and Chum Chum, and some others in development ..."

Meanwhile, there are more cubicles filling up as newer product filters into the development pipeline.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Foreign Circuit

Animation in foreign venues, starting with a well-known hybrid:

Avatar rolled up an overseas cume through Sunday of $1.288 billion, exceeding by $46 million "Titanic's" 13-year international boxoffice record of $1.242 billion.

In third place was Fox's family-oriented "Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel," which garnered $11.6 million from 5,017 screens in 60 markets for a foreign cume of $175 million. ...

Still champ is "Gone with the Wind," which grossed $400 million worldwide in 1939, now worth at least $6 trillion in today's dollars.

Yes, indeedy. $6 trillion. And that doesn't even include DVDs. Let's hear it for the magic of inflation and compounding ...

I anticipate that we'll soon be seeing a spate of big-budget 3-D epics designed to cash in on that James Cameron magic. This will be much like the spate of hand-drawn features that cropped up to cash in on that Aladdin-Lion King magic all those many years ago.

And the new pretenders to the throne will probably meet with the same kind of success that Titan A. E. and Quest for Camelot did. (Then again, maybe I'm being a smidge too cynical.)

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Harbinger of Awards to Come?

Up collects another honor during the honor season:.

Jonas Rivera, producer of "Up," has won the Producers Guild of America award for animation. "Up" topped "9," "Coraline," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and "The Princess and the Frog." ...

I'm feeling like ... I donno ... we're looking at the picture that's going to end up with the "Best Animated Feature" Oscar.

Just a hunch. For some reason I don't think that The Fantastic Mr. Fox is going to snag it. But then, stranger things have happened.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

At the Derby

Now with lo-cal Add On.

The Nikkster provides early numbers.

1. Avatar (Fox) Week 6 [3,141 Theaters] Friday $9.1M (-12%) Est Wkd $35M, Est Cume $550M

2. Legion (Sony) NEW [2,476 Theaters] Friday $6.7M, Est Wkd $18M

3. Book of Eli (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,111 Theaters] Friday $5.0M (-57), Est Wkd $15M, Est Cume $60M.

4. The Tooth Fairy (Fox) NEW [3,344 Theaters] Friday $3.8M, Est Wkd $14M

5. Lovely Bones (Paramount) Week 7 [2,571 Theaters] Friday $2.8M, Est Wkd $9M, Est Cume $31.8M

6. Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films) NEW [2,549 Theaters] Friday $2.1M, Est Wkd $7M

7. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,670 Theaters] Friday $1.9M, Est Wkd $6.5M, Est Cume $190.7M

8. It's Complicated (Universal) Week 5 [2,301 Theaters] Friday $1.7M, Est Wkd $6M, Est Cume $98.4M

9. Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Fox) Week 5 [2,973 Theaters] Friday $1.4M, Est Wkd $6.5M, Est Cume $204M

10. The Blind Side (Warner Bros) Week 10 [1,932 Theaters] Friday $1.2M, Est Wkd $4M, Est Cume $233.5M

If projections hold, Alvin and the Chipmunks scampers over the $200 million marker, and Avatar keeps on bulldozing along. (Having now seen it, I see why it's collected the money it has: solid, workmanlike script -- even with some cliched dialogue and stereotypical characters -- and spectacular visuals in a spectacular setting. I was amazed.)

Add On: At the wire, Avatar goes on shattering records ( dropping a scant 15.9%, collecting $36 million, and now owning $552.8 million domestic .... and a hell of a lot more overseas. )

Alvin and the Chipmunks now has $204.2 million in its fuzzy cheeks, while the long-running Sandra Bullock movie The Blind Side has dropped out of the Top Ten after a ten-week run with $234 million in its backpack. (This is about a 8-1 return over published production costs. Fox allowed this one to slip away, but Avatar helps lessen the pain, I'm sure.)

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Age Discrimination - The Settlement

Older live-action writers have been moving an age discrimination through the courts for the last decade. And it's now gotten settled.

A slew of television talent agencies, networks and production studios are making it clear that they do not discriminate against older writers. Nevertheless, they're paying $70 million to settle an age-discrimination lawsuit.

It remains to be seen how much money will flow to the 165 plaintiffs who participated in the class-action suit, and attorneys for both parties involved in the 10-year battle say they are not allowed to talk about Friday's settlement, which is subject to final approval by California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles.

Sources close to the situation calculate that those who joined the class action early are eligible for amounts ranging from $70,000-$140,000, and in some cases more ...

These things are always sumbitches to litigate. And the talent agencies and studios admit no wrongdoing:

The defendants strongly deny the plaintiffs’ allegations and state that their hiring and/or representation practices fully comply with the law and reflect their commitment to equal employment opportunity. They also note that they all have long-standing anti-discrimination policies and regularly employ or represent substantial numbers of writers over the age of forty ...

Happily, they're still willing to cough up some money to, you know, get rid of the problem. In my experience, it's tough to prove wrongdoing. There is seldom a smoking gun or e-mails pointing to some dark conspiracy against older workers. And the courts (including SCOTUS) are not necessarily keen to rule in favor of lawsuits filed by employees in their fifties and sixties.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Green Froggy Watch

As The Princess and the Frog nears the magical plateau of $100m, we initiate the latest Disney movie watch.

The Princess and the Frog -- Thursday, January 21 -- $97,955,233

It's close to the marker, yes?

By way of contrast, two other animated films exited from theaters last week, both on Monday. Their box office totals:

Cloudy With Meatballs -- Monday, January 18 -- $124,758,315

Planet 51 -- Monday, January 18 -- $40,230,452

And Avatar is still Number One.

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Linkorama (and 21st Century Roto!)

Links for your perusal, starting with DreamWorks getting a pat on the head from stock analysts:

Dreamworks Animation (DWA) shares received a lift today from UBS analyst Michael Morris, who upgraded the stock to Buy from Neutral, setting a new price target of $50, up from $34. The stock closed yesterday at $40.57. Morris lifted his 2010 EPS forecast to $2.75, from $2.29; the Street consensus is for $2.43.

Morris writes in a research note that the company is “a unique media investment at the start of a strong cycle with no exposure to advertising volatility.” He notes that the company will release five films in the next two years, all of which you are bound to see if you happen to have kids ...

A new Belgian animated feature is, judged by available evidence, receiving enthusiastic reviews:

Every now and then, the movies cough up something so unusual, so bizarrely and confidently itself, that you’re willing to overlook the flaws, which in any case tend to be those of enthusiasm and/or lack of money. ... Let us now add to the roster “A Town Called Panic,’’ which is from Belgium and suggests a fusion of “Toy Story’’ and “Fantastic Mr. Fox’’ as conceived by a pair of 10-year-old boys suffering from raging ADHD and an overdose of maple syrup.

Bloomberg details the ripples caused by Avatar. And how it struggled to get launched:

... [Fox] told us in no uncertain terms that they were passing on Avatar,” Cameron says.

Cameron tried to persuade another studio to get involved. Walt Disney Co. had produced two of the director’s 3-D underwater documentaries, so Cameron invited Dick Cook, then Disney’s studio chief, to watch the clip.

“We loved Jim and would have liked to have worked with him,” says Cook. “He has an infectious love of 3-D that impressed us. Unfortunately, we never got that far.”

The reason: Fox had the first right of refusal ...

Ari Folman's animated followup to Waltz with Bashir rolls out in early Spring:

Just over a year ago it was announced that Ari Folman, director of the exceptional Waltz With Bashir, would next oversee an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s story The Futurological Congress. The short story, which is only partially being used for the film, is about Ijon Tichy, a man “who is propelled into a world where hallucinogenic drugs have replaced reality.” Now we’ve got the first still from the film, which stars Robin Wright and is called simply The Congress ...

The question is asked:

Does the idea of Pixar - or rather, Pixar's people - moving into live action appeal to you? And do you expect to see Stanton thrive in his new arena, or struggle to make waves outside his natural habitat? Is the wonder of movies such as Up and Wall-E all in the animation, or do you, like me, suspect that these are works of unparalled dynamism and verve, filled with deceptively simple ideas that might just transform the wider film-making world?

The Examiner directs our attention to new stills (one of them up above) from a soon-to-be-released 3-D spectacular:

Just released from Walt Disney Studios are brand new ... photo images plus a brief interview featurette with actor, Johnny Depp, who takes on the challenging role of the Mad Hatter in the upcoming motion picture, Alice in Wonderland.

The epic fantasy-adventure, filmed in Disney Digital 3-D, is one of the most anticipated films of the year and is being released on Friday, March 5, 2010.

Six months ago, in the hallway of Walt Disney Animation Studio's hat building, monitors were showing Margie Belcher's/ Champion's black-and-white movie performance of Snow White. She wore Snow's dress, she had Snow's gestures. She ran through a tacky soundstage forest just like Ms. White did. (Or rather, Ms. White ran just like Marge.)

A lot of this archival footage was new to me, but I thought of it when I watched this:

Cameron and Co. have put together a featurette illustrating the acting process Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver went through [making Avatar.]. It may not be enough to get these folks a Oscar nom but it should earn them more respect in Hollywood ...

(The featurette has been up a while, but I'm slow sometimes.)

Have a joyous and relatively dry weekend.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Our Charming Corporatist State

... on steroids and growth hormones.

Analysis: High court ruling a game-changer for campaign spending

...[T]he first task for every federal candidate in this midterm election year will be to read the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday on campaign finance for a reality-check road map to their political future. The 183-page decision promises to completely change the way independent spending on elections is conducted.

In Citizens v. Federal Election Commission, the justices in a large sense have erased the subtle but important distinction between corporate donors, which are subject to regulation, and individual donors, who largely are not.

"It's about money," said Lawrence Noble, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission and a national expert on campaign spending. "It's about free speech and it's about the ability of corporations to influence elections through the use of their treasury money."

The FEC will now be tasked with taking this high court opinion and crafting new rules to ease limits on corporate spending. The big winners will be businesses, unions and advocacy groups seeking to influence the elections, mainly through what are called "issue ads." Other beneficiaries will be television networks like CNN and radio stations that regularly air these campaign commercials ....

If you thought that the government bailing out big banks was nauseating (I certainly did), get ready for the final merger of our large federal juggernaut merging with General Electric, CitiBank, and the rest. Get ready for a Congress and White House that is of, by and for the corporate interest.

And get ready for the Red Chinese Army and every other international entity that controls a multi-national corporation to have major input into American politics, or as Republican Justice John Paul Stevens put it:

"Under today's decision, multinational corporations controlled by foreign governments" would have the same rights as Americans to spend money to tilt U.S. elections ...

The threat against which President Theodore Roosevelt fought a century ago has now come to pass. The Fortune 500 will now have an ever LARGER influence over every aspect of the U.S. Government and American life, for companies are "people", with freedom of speech, rights of privacy, all those wonderful constitutional guarantees that individual citizens have far less of.

One corporation. One government. It's gonna be a good time.

(And I couldn't think of a prettier topic for our 3000th post ...)

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Animation Directors

A couple clicks down in comments, the prolific Mr. Anonymous writes:

We don't even have animation directors in our ranks. ?!?!?! That's just the facts. So Social Darwinism reigns ...

A word about the survival of the most powerful and fittest:

In 1952, after an industry-wide jurisdictional vote, TAG was emerging from the wombs of The International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employes and Walt Disney Productions. And in our first contract, Feature Animation Directors were deemed to be "management," because they had the power to make hiring and firing decisions, and so were excluded from the union bargaining unit. (They pretty much had to be, since the law of the land -- the Fair Labor Standards Act -- required it.)

Ever since, Feature Animation Directors have been outside the union contract.

So why, might you ask, are live-action feature directors inside the Directors Guild of America?

Simple. At the time of the DGA's founding (the mid 1930s), live-action feature directors were studio employees, taking orders from the front office like everybody else. And getting memos like this:

I have talked to you about four thousand times, until I am blue in the face, about the wardrobe in this picture. I also sat up here with you one night, and with everybody else connected with the company, and we discussed each costume in detail, and also discussed the fact that when the men get to be pirates that we would not have "Blood" dressed up.

Yet tonight, in the dailies, in the division of the spoils sequence, here is Captain Blood with a nice velvet coat, with lace cuffs out of the bottom, with a nice lace stock collar, and just dressed exactly opposite to what I asked you to do.

I distinctly remember telling you, I don't know how many times, that I did not want you to use lace collars or cuffs on Errol Flynn. What in the hell is the matter with you, and why do you insist on crossing me on everything that I asked you not to do? What do I have to do to get you to do things my way? I want the man to look like a pirate, not a molly-coddle. You have him standing up here dealing with a lot of hard-boiled characters, and you've got him dressed up like a God damned faggot...

Etcetera. In those far-off days of yore, live-action directors did what they were told, like the janitors. Today, because those same directors are in the unit, and the DGA has the muscle to keep them there (and that all hell would break loose if management tried to pry them out) the guild to which Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Cameron belong retains jurisdiction.

Bully for them.

And yes, Social Darwinism reigns. Like every other labor organization in the movie biz, we suffer the indignities of "project to project" employment. We live in a corporatist age, friends and neighbors, one that's similar to the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. As there was ferocious Social Darwinism then, there is robust S.D. now. I live with that reality like everyone else, but I keep pushing back against it.

I'm stubborn that way.

Add On: As Mr. Anon said, Sito and I tried to get the feature animation directors into the DGA. (I made multiple phone calls to the Directors Guild before I got anybody's attention.) Nothing happened. It's difficult to change the status quo.

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Farewell, Jack: part 7

Our last post of the MegaCollector's offerings of artwork from Disney artists wishing a fond farewell to Jack Fergus, includes an entry from a longtime Disney veteran ... and another from someone whose identity has us stumped.

Below, from the late Art Stevens:

This last one is just about my favorite of the bunch and also the favorite of the Megacollector. It's signed "Effingham Howard Warner IV" (or maybe "Wagner"), but we have no record of any member by that name or anything close to it. So it's probably an in-joke made-up moniker ... anyway, we leave you with the mystery: who's the artist?

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everybody Works For Conglomerates

Sometime back, I got into a discussion (some might call it a debate) with a bright-eyed young artist at one of our fine, non-signator studios. He told me:

"I don't want to work for one of those big studios, Steve. Give me the small place where I don't get the hassles. Where I can be less stressed. I make less money and the health care isn't as good, but I'm just not into being part of some giant company. It's not me."

He was working on a farmed-out show owned by one of the world's biggest entertainment conglomerates, getting short-changed in wages and health and pension benefits. I pointed this out. He shrugged ...

That was then. And this is 2010.

And nothing much is different. As I write, Neighbors From Hell is being jobbed by non-union Bento Box, even though NFH is owned by DreamWorks, Fox, and Turner Broadcasting (you'll note that we have a contract with that first name and the second two -- amazingly enough -- are parts of giant conglomerates.) And the non-union indie studio Wildbrain is busy with Peanuts and other shows controlled by conglomerates. And non-union Rough Draft is doing the Fox show Futurama.

Are we picking up a trend here?

All of this, of course, is perfectly legal, because the monster corporations that rule us have subsidiaries and subsidiaries of subsidiaries, so labor organizations have the challenging job of organizing one sub-group, and then another sub-group. (It's a like pursuing shape shifters on a familiar but slightly alien planet, hoping you'll get close enough with a net to actually trap and tame the damn things.)

Of late, we've gotten disgruntled phone calls from staffers at various indie places who, for some reason or other, have grown tired of getting shafted with lower wages and crappy benefits while working on big corporate shows. I tell them I'm happy to assist them with throwing off the shackles of low-ball compensation, but they will have to sign rep cards and do a bit of lifting of the piano from their end. Some are happy to do what it takes, while others are a little hesitant. I always tell everyone I understand the stress they're under, but I remind them:

We're ALL working for multi-national conglomerates. But some of us are doing it under union contracts, and some of us aren't. So some of us are getting screwed worse than others.

But that's the way life is in this fine, corporatist age through which we journey.

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Disney Comments Answered

And now I answer yesterday's thread questions because, at the moment, I can't think of anything better to do:

... [M]ore Prep and Landing!!! Great characters, great story and the best made for TV 3D animation I've ever seen.

PandL was an original story idea from a Disney staffer (the title for which was provided by somebody else), which originally began life as a short, and then expanded.

The Disney artists I talked to expressed semi-amused annoyance that various reviewers praised it as a "terrific Pixar project." Except, truth be told, it wasn't from Pixar ...

Wow, only 60% in production so far on Rapunzel? They're kinda pushing it, aren't they?.

They're always pushing it. Several folks told me that the company will hire more animators going forward. My thought was: They'll sort of have to if they want to make the release date. But as one wise old story person said: "They'll make it. They always do."

Is there any truth to Disney changing Rapunzel's title?

I've heard buzz that this is the plan. But nobody in a corner office has told me so. (You'll recall that, once upon a previous studio regime, the feature was titled Rapunzel Unbraided.

Does anybody know if they are going to use vendors again for the Pooh feature , like they did on TPatF?

I think you can consider it a dead-bang certainty, since the WtP budget is a lot lower than The Princess and the Frog* (Staff told me it was $35 million.)

* This got answered while I was crafting my post. Undeterred, I put it up the answer anyway.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

At the Hat

In between the downpours of rain, I dashed into Walt Disney Animation's hat building and visited three floors. On floor #1, layout artists have been at work on Winnie the Pooh/ for the past month and a half. (Somehow I wasn't paying attention previously.) Upstairs one of the leads on the picture said:

"We've got fifty feet of animation in the story reel, and the animators are starting to roll on footage. They haven't handed out a lot of scenes yet." ...

A couple of story artists informed me that 60% of Rapunzel has now been moved out of story and into production. They told me: "We have another screening of the picture next week. The last one went pretty well. John L's been giving his notes, and we're most of the way there. By next week 70%, will be cleared for production ..."

Elsewhere on Disney development front, several artists are working on Snow Queen, and "The feature former known as Joe Jump" continues in work.

Then there is the television blockbuster Prep and Landing:

Me: So what's going on with P and L, you doing a sequel?

Story Artist: Yeah. ABC had really good numbers with it, more than they projected. For sure we're doing a sequel.

Me: I think it was one of the great television specials, really funny. You should do three featurettes. Make it a feature.

Story artist: Don't think we haven't thought of that.

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Farewell, Jack: part 6

The penultimate post in our collection of Jack Fergus's going-away presents, courtesy of the Mega Collector.

below, Hank Porter ...

... and Rudy Cataldi.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Movie Business ... Eight Years Hence

Happily, the animation industry (so far) has held its own in the global financial meltdown. Especially when you consider this:

Location filming for movies and TV commercials on the streets of Los Angeles, once as prevalent as the corner taco truck, is rapidly fading to black. Double whammies of the recession and out-of-state economic incentives for producers have caused on-location film shoots in the Los Angeles area to fall to their lowest levels on record.

Los Angeles' entertainment industry lost more than 22,000 jobs in January [2009], more than any other sector, according to the California Employment Development Department -- roughly 10% of the available workforce. The entertainment industry employs more than 200,000 people and pumps $20 billion to $30 billion into the local economy, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. estimates.

Since that dark time twelve months ago, the business has bounced back a bit, aided by new state tax incentives. But I can't think of any part of the movie business that isn't aggressively cost-cutting, even as it hires more workers ...

But what of the future?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects where employment in different job sectors will be eight years from now (2018), and it turns out the teevee and movie industry will see a 14.1% improvement from 362,000 to 413,000 jobs.

Predicting business trajectories is a tricky business, but the bureau does its level best. According to their slide rule brigades, we'll have an overall increase of 14.5 million job from 2008 to 2018. (We're going to be climbing out of a deep hole, since job losses have been happening since December 2007.)

Click here for the actual interactive chart pictured above.

Other areas of employment in which some of us might be working: broadcasting will grow 7.4%, from 316,000 to 340,000. And software publishing will increase by a robust 30%, going from 264,000 to 343,000.

(Word to the wise, don't dive into the manufacturing sector.)

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And he oughtta know ...

From last night's Golden Globes (apologies for the crappy video quality; you don't really want to see the top of Paul's head anyway, do you?) Thanks to Tom Sito for bring this to our attention.

In the Nine Old Men's time it was martinis; in McCartney's time grass and LSD. Now it's aspirin and crystal meth.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hitting the Gray Wall

So I was at a good friend's birthday party yesterday (he's fifty-seven) and he says to me:

"You know Bill* over at Warners*? He got cut loose from his executive job last Wednesday, after thirty-six years with the studio ..."

I've known Bill for decades. He's been a valued employee for as long as I can remember, with lots of skill, all-around savvy and institutional memory crammed into his head. I saw him a week ago and chatted with him briefly; Bill was as enthusiastic and upbeat as ever. He gave no inkling to me that this was coming. (He probably had no inkling.)

But you know what? My jaw didn't drop open in stunned disbelief when I heard the news. I just snorted, shook my head and muttered, "You don't say ..."

I bring Bill up here because he had wrinkles and gray hair. And the reality of the 21st century workplace is, if you work for one of our fine conglomerates and you are over fifty, no matter who you are, you have no job security. The pervasive attitude is, "So what did you do for me last Tuesday?" And if last Tuesday is found wanting, then it's goodbye, good luck and drive safely.

(And yes, the savvy among you will say "There's no job security under fifty, either," and you're right. But the attrition is somewhat lower in the younger age brackets because the crow's feet and receding hairlines are less pronounced. And support groups are still in place.)

None of this is news to animation workers. At the same party, I had a fifty-six-year-old artist who I've also known for decades come up to me and whisper, "You know, I've got thirty years in the business, but I don't think I'm going to get the other six I need to retire. I've hit a wall."

He, too, has gray hair and wrinkles.

I've harped on this before, and it's probably getting tiresome, but I reiterate the old lecture anyway: There is no workable strategy to avoid aging, but there are ways for you to avoid catastrophe in your fifth decade when you're sailing along and suddenly hit an air pocket. Here (yet again) they are:

Save your damn money. If you're making twelve hundred bucks a week, find a way to get by on a thousand.

If you're on the brink of divorce, find a way to patch things up, because the next spouse you hook up with is going to be pretty similar to the current one you're jettisoning, and you'll have a lot more money sticking together.

Work (if at all possible) someplace that provides you with a pension. You'll need it later.

Piss off as few people as you can. You walk over them now, they'll walk over you in 2013. (Which is another way of saying "If you help minimize other people's suffering, they might assist in minimizing yours.")

Improve your chops. Then improve your chops again. You'll stay more relevant.

Save your damn money.

Lastly, don't take the day-to-day crapola too seriously; you're not going to achieve all your goals but you can be happy anyway. As my smart-ass teen-aged son is fond of telling me:

Life's a journey, and we're all headed to the same place.

* Incorrect names, in case you're wondering. But the story is true.

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The Comic Art Professional Society

For nearly 20 years the Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS) held their meetings upstairs at the Burbank Board of Realtors Hall on Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank. Last Thursday night they moved their monthly get-togethers to the meeting hall upstairs at The Animation Guild in Burbank ...

Why? Well, a lot of CAPS members are also members of the Animation Guild, it's a much better location with several good restaurants nearby, there's an elevator for handicapped access, there's ample parking, there are windows, good lighting, and a good sound system on its way. New tables should arrive soon. And it's getting to be a great meeting place for industry professionals.

Thursday night's meeting began with the usual introduction of guests, the welcoming of new members, followed by news and announcements from members. I sat at the door gathering membership renewal dues and greeting guests, including Guild President Kevin Koch, Vice President Earl Kress (who applied for membership based on years of writing comic book stories) and Guild Executive Board member Steve Zupkas, all of whom came to see that no one spilled drinks on the new carpet. About 50 members and guests were in attendance.

The program for the evening featured a new documentary on Mort Drucker, humor illustrator for MAD Magazine whose career includes advertising art, movie posters, comic books, comic strips, magazine covers and album covers. According to Stephen Silver, Producer/Director of the documentary, this is the first and only time Drucker has ever been filmed at work in his studio. Two lengthy clips in the video show Drucker creating a piece of finished art from beginning to end, from pencil to ink to color.

As Stephen writes on his blog:

Mort Drucker, world famous caricaturist and humorous illustrator best known for his work in MAD magazine has made an exclusive, never before seen tutorial film about his process and life experiences. Presented and interviewed by Stephen Silver. To watch the 2 hour and 15 minute film go to and click on "The Masters Series" banner located on the bottom. The film will debut starting January 2oth 2010.

The Mort Drucker video is one in the Master Series produced by Silver. Other videos focus on John Reiner (The Lockhorns) and Stan Goldberg (Archie comics.) There are more videos coming soon but we can't talk about them yet. Each video takes you inside the artist's studio, we learn about them and their work process, and we actually watch them draw and create images on camera.

How many great cartoonists were never filmed or recorded over the years? We'll never even know what they sounded like, much less what they had to say and how they did their work. Silver hopes to change all that by producing documentaries on many contemporary masters while he can.

It was a privilege to see this amazing video on Mort Drucker. Thanks to Stephen Silver for sharing it with CAPS.

And thanks to The Animation Guild for the cool new hangout.

- Bob Foster.

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Top Worldwide Toonage -- 2009

Variety has published its list of top movie grossers for 2009. Therefore, we run a compendium of last year's top animated titles for your reading pleasure:

#3 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs -- $888 million.

#6 Up -- $710 million.

#12 Monsters Vs. Aliens -- $381 million.

#18 Disney's A Christmas Carol -- $311 million.

#25 Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs -- $205 million.

#41 Coraline -- $124 million.

#44 The Princess and the Frog -- $116 million.

#62 Planet 51 -- $89 million.

And then there were the Animation Hybrids:

#2 Avatar -- $899 million.

#4 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -- $835 million.

#20 G-Force -- $284 million.

#22 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel -- $229 million.

Beyond the above (a few of which are still in release), you could also consider most (or all?) of the major, effects laden live-action pictures as being partially animated, but then you would encompass most of last year's bigger releases.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Really "Probably Not"

Regarding Mr. Fox beating Up through awards season?

Many of last night’s Critics’ Choice award winners were expected: Best Animated Movie -- Up ...

Add On: And now really, really "probably not."

Naturally I could be out to lunch here. Upsets are always a possibility when you're talking about small but heavy gold statues. Nevertheless, I just don't see the stop-motion animal movie beating the CGI little old man movie.

Add On: Gee whiz, the Golden Globe for best animated feature goes to ... Up. There's a surprise.

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Mid January Derby

Now with super-sized Add On.

The Princess and the Frog departs the Top Ten as new entrants shoulder past it. The Nikkster provides early numbers.

1. Book Of Eli (Alcon/Warner Bros) NEW [3,111 Theaters] Friday $11.7M, Est 4-Day Weekend $35M

2. Avatar (Fox) Week 5 [3,285 Theaters] Friday $10.5M, Est 4-Day Weekend $50M, Est Cume $500M

3. Lovely Bones (Paramount) Week 6 [2,563 Theaters] Friday $5.7M, Est 4-Day Weekend $25M, Est Cume $23M

4. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros) Week 4 [3,173 Theaters] Friday $2.9M, Est 4-Day Weekend $12M, Est Cume $182M

5. Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squealquel (Fox) Week 4 [3,246 Theaters] Friday $2.6M, Est 4-Day Weekend $15M, Est Cume $195.7M

6. It's Complicated (Universal) Week 4 [2,673 Theaters] Friday $2.4M, Est 4-Day Weekend $10M, Est Cume $91M

7. The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate) NEW [2,924 Theaters] Friday $2.3M, Est 4-Day Weekend $12M

8. Leap Year (Universal) Week 2 [2,512 Theaters] Friday $1.9M, Est 4-day Weekend $7M, Est Cume $18.7M

9. The Blind Side (Warner Bros) Week 9 [2,408 Theaters] Friday $1.6M, Est 4-Day Weekend $7M, Est Cume $228.5M

10. Up In The Air (Paramount) Week 7 [2,107 Theaters] Friday $1.5M, Est 4-Day Weekend $6.5M, Est Cume $64M

I'm guessing that TPandTF reaches the hundred million mark this MLK weekend. (The rumor mill has it that Dis Co. management has decided -- with 20/20 hindsight -- that having "Princess" in the title of their movie wasn't the best marketing ploy. Oh well ...)

Add On: At the wire, Avatar prevails at #1 for the fifth week in a row ($41.3 million, with a $491.8 million total.)

Behind Cameron's opus at the final turn #2 The Book of Eli reaps $31.6 million, while #4 Alvin and Cohorts now has $192.6 million in its gunny sack.

And at #13, The Princess and the Frog has shed 843 theatres while earning $2.7 million. The feature now has $96.2 million at the North American box office.

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Farewell, Jack: part 5

Above from artist Bill Higgins.

Floyd Norman calls Jack Fergus a "gentle giant". When Fergus left Disney's feature department to work with Blaine Gibson in Imagineering, he and Gibson worked on a huge mermaid sculpture for Disneyland. When the moving crew dropped the sculpture and shattered it, Gibson and Fergus laughed it off: "We never liked it anyway". (from Jim Hill Media)

More from the book his fellow assistants presented Fergus when he left Feature Animation. Below, Al White's self-portrait next to Bing Crosby.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Sonora Experience

Today I bopped over to Warner Bros. Animation to walk through a building I had missed earlier in the week.

Bad move.

Warners was moving productions from one space to another, and mostly I did face time with stacks of cardboard boxes and empty furniture. Then it was on to Glendale and Disney Toons ....

Disney's direct-to-video cartoon division (now run by J. Lasseter and E. Catmull) isn't moving production personnel like Warners, but it's going through changes of its own.

"We were going to do eight or ten Tinkerbell features, but studio chief Richard Ross [who replaced Dick Cook] has cut the number of features back.

"The second Tink feature didn't do as well as the studio thought it would. I mean, it did well, but not up to the company's expectations. Maybe it was because it came out the same time as a couple of big theatrical animated features, maybe it was because Dick Cook didn't have different units in the company working hard enogh to build synergy.

"Whatever it was, Ross reduced the number of shows. Now we do features with the four different seasons (we've done two) and then one more after that. A total of five. After that, it's on to the new series of features*. Hopefully most of us will be here to work on them ...

* Which haven't been officially announced yet.

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The Friday Linkomatic

Here's your linkage for a Friday evening.

The L.A. Times asks the question:

Does 'Mr. Fox' really have a shot at stealing the Oscar from 'Up'?

And supplies its own answer: "Probably not." ...

The Kansas City Star reports on FX's new animated show Archer, produced by a cartoon studio located out of California, but not in China or Korea.

[Show creators Adam Reed and Matt Thomson] shopped around before someone recommended [Trinity Animation] in Missouri that … well, isn’t what you’d call show-bizzy.

Trinity got the job and quickly won over the “Archer” crew.

“I could not be more in love with those guys,” Reed said. “Five times faster and super nice.” They even named a minor character, Capt. Lammers, after Trinity’s founder [Jim Lammers] ....

Some of our beloved congloms are doing some hardball negotiating just now.

Walt Disney Co. is in talks with Liberty Media Corp.’s Starz that may limit the movie channel’s ability to provide films online to Netflix Inc., two people with knowledge of the talks said.

Starz seeks access to Disney films for as many as five years on its cable channel, as well as continued digital rights ...

“Netflix may be challenged to retain some of its most appealing content when Starz renews its Disney distribution deal, which expires in 2012,” Barton Crockett, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets in New York, wrote in a note today.

The analyst lowered his rating on Netflix to “sell” from “hold,” saying he questioned whether the Los Gatos, California-based company can meet expectations for “continued torrid growth.”

Netflix fell $2.97, or 5.5 percent, to $50.99 today ...

Pixar's first live-action feature starts shooting next week:

Andrew Stanton is directing [John Carter of Mars] for Disney's animation powerhouse; shooting begins next week. The movie will also have CGI elements.

The adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs book series centers on a Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) who finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars ...

I recall a Disney exec pushing JCoM twenty-five years ago. Good that they're finally getting around to some of Mr. Burrough's more neglected titles.

DreamWorks Animation rolls out its upcoming slate of films.

If yesterday's presentation by DreamWorks Animation at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles was any indication, 2010 is going to feature some of the company's best films yet. ...

To nobody's surprise, animation has aided Rupert & Co. in reaping sizable profits.

... [C]ombined with the better-than-expected success of ``Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel''. ``Avatar'' is expected to help News Corp's film division make $US1.26 billion in operating profit in the fiscal year ending in June _ about $US160 million more than initially thought ....

That would mean the film division would have about a third of News Corp's operating profits for the full year. Generally it produces about one-fourth ... offers a multitude of Aardman shorts.

... [W]hen will you be able to wrap your eyeballs around this lucky 13 in cartoon entertainment? Why, from right now...

Think that c.g. animated features enjoy unbroken success? Think again, particularly if you're a large country across the seas ...

Roadside Romeo debacle rocks animation film industry

Animation in India was touted as a high-growth industry, with Nasscom once projecting revenues of $1.16 billion by 2012. Year 2009 was supposed to see a flurry of activity with the release of over 15 animation films which were started in 2005-06 after the success of Hanuman. The industry is shaken, with not a single film making it to theatre screens in 2009. In a recent report, Nasscom has cut back on its projection of the animation industry to $1 billion by 2012 ...

The animation industry was already in deep trouble, having pinned high hopes on Yashraj’s Roadside Romeo that released in October 2008. However, it got a setback as the film flopped ... Shaken by the Romeo debacle, multiplexes and film distributors are reluctant to screen animation films.

You see, it isn't always sunlight, flowers and movie ticket sales in Cartoonland. Sometimes it's weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

But forget about India's travails. You've got a whole weekend ahead of you. Make the most of it.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

State of the Industry and TAG

It's been a roller coaster year for animation.

Up at some feature studios. Down at some television animation studios. (And it changes month to month.) Walt Disney Animation Studio, after laying off much of its The Princess and the Frog crew last summer, hired animators, compositors, lighters and others as it ramped up for Rapunzel at the end of 2009. Universal shut its doors. Warner Bros. laid off part of its freshly hired staff when show development had a major hiccup. (Warners plans to rehire artists at the end of this month.)

Today I talked to an animator who's been struggling. He was laid off months ago because he wasn't able to keep up with quotas, and he's now working outside the industry.

That's the story of many animation veterans: the studios are increasingly demanding, and artists need energy and stamina to keep up. And companies are walking back higher salaries. Last week a DreamWorks staffer told me:

"Friends of mine came over from Imageworks after getting cut loose. They like DWA, but they were making three thousand a week at Imageworks, they're making hundreds less here. Sony just wasn't going to keep them at their old rates. Sony doesn't have the work ..."

Sony Imageworks, like other animation studios in Southern California, hires when it needs talent and lays off when it doesn't. With the exception of DreamWorks Animation, the business model now in force across the industry is "project to project." That operating philosophy is reflected in the revised charts below ...

Employment of TAG members at TAG shops, January 2007-January 2010

Employment picked up in the first seven or eight months of 2009 (as we reported back in October), with a majority of the new hires at DreamWorks and ImageMovers Digital; since then it's dipped a bit due in large part to the shutdown of Universal Animation Studios and the temporary layoffs at Warner Bros when Laff Riot was shut down for retooling.

Employment at TAG shops by studio, January 2010

The figures in square brackets are the number of people employed at each shop. The Disney number is inclusive of both Walt Disney Animation Studio, Disney Toons, and Disney Television Animation (aka Disney TVA). It includes people employed both under the TAG contract and the IATSE/TTL agreement -- which TAG represents.

(You will note that a few large studios dominate, with several small studios having narrow slices of the chart. It's been this way since TAG was invented in January, 1952.)

Click on the chart thumbnails for a full-sized version.
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