Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tail-of-June Linkage

Links for hump day, starting with Gore V's new trailer for his new -- and first -- animated feature. (It plays like a cartoon to us ...)

It isn't just American animation that prospers in the world marketplace:

The animated adventures of a six-and three-quarter-year-old pig called Olivia, who has inspired an unlikely quasi-feminist movement in the pre-school market, have helped media company Chorion report an 11% rise in annual profits.

Launched in the highly competitive US market last year, Olivia has proved a hit and is now broadcast in 120 countries. Books based on her exploits were publisher Simon & Schuster's most successful licensed character launch last year, shifting over a million copies in America alone ,,.

Mark Kennedy analyzes a western study of "The New School Marm" at The Temple of the Seven Golden Camels:

... There's a nice circular frame for her that keeps your eye moving around her and keeps your eye from sliding out of the edges of the frame. The signs, the lamp, the porch, the horses, the old man, the kid, the dog and the stagecoach all create a circular frame for her. If you cover up the dog you will see how the picture would suffer if he wasn't there...there would be too much of a gap between the sidewalk and the stagecoach and your eye doesn't really bridge the gap, it gets stuck and might slide off the bottom of the page. ...

(The painting reminds me a lot of John Ford's film compositions in My Daughter Darling Clementine, seen below. (See? Hulett can reference old movies that don't have Errol Flynn in them ...)

Jeph Loeb, the new topkick at Marvel, discusses the Disney subsidiary's cartoon portfolio:

... [T]here's three different areas that Marvel is exploring and will continue to work with: the first are the direct-to-DVD animated videos, like Planet Hulk — which I loved. The second are continuing and expanding in the areas of animation, currently they have Super Hero Squad, which is on Cartoon Network, starting in the fall will be Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on Disney XD, and we're developing Ultimate Spider-Man, also for Disney XD.

There are some projects in animation that we're not ready to talk about, but we're going to be developing and expanding into that arena. Our hope is to bring Marvel Animation up to the quality and notoriety of the publishing and movie division. We're now part of the legacy of Disney, where animation is king, and it's our responsibility to up our game and create something that sets Marvel Animation apart from everything else that's out there. At least that's our challenge and our hope ...

Nickelodeon and the National Football League partner on new toons:

[The] short-form series [is] called "Rush Zone: Guardians of the Core" for Nicktoons. ... The 22-episode series is based on the NFL Rush Zone, the league's online world for kids. The series will be comprised of two- to five-minute shorts featuring a kid as the hero, and feature all 32 NFL teams and the voices of NFL players and coaches. ... "Rush Zone" will air weekly to coincide with the upcoming football season from September through February ...

Let's see DreamWorks with its celebrity voice-casting top this:

Croatian president Ivo Josipovic's voice features in a Pixar short being shown with the record-breaking "Toy Story 3"

... The radio message is about how "the most beautiful things are those that are still unknown to us, so we should not be afraid of the unknown but rather investigate it," Josipovic said.

And speaking of Pixar, Toy Story 3 has enabled its older siblings to resurge on the video sales charts:

... "Toy Story 2" was No. 3 in both overall disc sales and in Blu-ray Disc sales for the week, while the original "Toy Story" was No. 5 on First Alert and No. 4 on the Blu-ray Disc chart ...

We'll end with a brightly-colored super hero:

... Warner Brothers Home Video has revealed that "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights" is on their upcoming slate of animated projects. The new animated film was hinted at earlier this month during the Cartoon Network upfronts that also announced the upcoming "Green Lantern" animated series.... "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights" is expected to coincide with the summer 2011 release of director Martin Campbell's live action "Green Lantern" ...

We do love us the "synergy" that Hollywood always employs to boost new franchises. Have yourself a productive Thursday and Friday.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Interning For Occasional Fun ... And No Profit

Once again on the subject of the Free Work Brigade, the L.A. Times mentions this:

... Federal and state wage-and-hour regulations typically govern internships. And, while enforcement of these rules has not been a priority for state and federal labor officials [You think?] there has been some new attention directed to this topic in recent weeks.

David Balter, acting chief counsel at California's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, said, "We are well aware that there are a lot of abuses of internship programs where it's not really being done to provide a skill or benefit to the intern, but is basically being done for cheap or free labor."

... Basically, those criteria say training must be similar to that given in an educational environment and must be for the benefit of the intern. The interns must not displace other workers and must be closely supervised.

Internships can be both beneficial and educational, no doubt about it. But they can also screw over twenty-somethings working gratis on projects at animation and visual effects facilities. Take this recent example that showed up in our e-mail in-box:

... I talked to the intern who works here. He is no longer a student and did work on X for about 10 weeks. He said the students didn't like it because they had to PAY to work on the show.

I told him that there might be a case for them to get paid but he was hesitant because he doesn't want to burn bridges. He said it would be awesome to get paid for the work he did. He thinks it would be alot of money. ...

Let's sort this out. You slave away for free, and state officials and the Federales never come around to enforce their own rules, so you figure:

"Okay, I worked for nothing on this project but the supervisor likes me so maybe I get a paying job on the next thing that comes through, then it will all be worth it ..."

Or maybe not. Because companies aren't supposed to have people work on profit-generating movies for nothing, yet they do so, again and again. And when they get away with the practice, they tend to do the "free work" strategy more. I once strolled into a small animation house where an "intern" was animating a commercial for the princely sum of nothing. When I pointed this out to a supervisory person, his response was, "Ahm, well, yeah. Maybe we should address that, huh?"

This time around, I contacted an attorney, and detailed the problem. He wrote back:

... I am willing to bet company didn't comply with requirements for unpaid interns. We could potentially do a minimum and overtime case but need at least one person's name for the complaint which might qualify for class action though the group is small. ...

And therein lies the conundrum. To make a case, you need to get people to come forward, but most don't want to get labeled as troublemakers and so suffer the abuses in silence. They are, after all, reaching for the next rung on the career ladder and don't want to jeopardize any chances.

It's a totally human response to a crappy situation, but ultimately (we think) the wrong response. Because the longer the situation is allowed to go on, the crappier it will get.

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Here and There ... Good Guys Win

This is pleasant to note:

Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind Sony Animation's hit "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," are in final negotiations to write and direct the Lego movie, which is set up at Warner Bros ...

One winning component that convinced Lego and Warners that the duo was up to the task was their work on "Cloudy." They took a 32-page children's book, developed a story and characters and used their unique sense of humor to turn it into a family movie that also played to adults.

During Cloudy's production, I ran across Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller during my walk-throughs. I always found them to be engaged, high-spirited guys.

They clearly brought a lot to the party because at the time they rolled onto the scene, Sony Pictures Animation had been wrestling with the property for a long time and the story crew was ... dispirited. (I know this because I used to listen to the complaints whenever I breezed through the Culver City studio.)

I'm heartened that nice guys don't always finish at the rear of the pack. Congratulations on the new gig.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

So ... Another Animation Studio?

That was the first thing that popped into my brain when I skimmed across this:

Marvel Entertainment has created a small-screen division, Marvel Television, and named Eisner-winning comic and TV writer Jeph Loeb as its head.

Loeb, ... will oversee the translation of Marvel's popular characters and stories to the television medium, in both live-action and animation formats. Loeb will also oversee the development and distribution of live-action, animated and direct-to-DVD series.

Right now, Marvel is doing its animated series at Starz Media-Film Roman in Burbank (where there's a TAG contract). In the recent past, it was producing direct-to-video animated features out of a small studio in North Hollywood. (A few years back, TAG won an NLRB election to represent the artists there, but never achieved a contract.)

Which leaves the question: Is Marvel -- owned by the Mighty Mouse -- going to continue producing animation by jobbing it out? Or will Disney/Marvel ramp up a new cartoon studio? Or perhaps migrate to one of the Mouse's existing animation facilities?

I wish I had a crystal ball and prescient answer, but right now I have no idea what the plans are for Diz Co.'s new army of comic book characters.

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Gore Verbinski's Rango

The director of live-action blockbusters rolls out his first animated feature next year. But what do the magical words "animated feature" mean?

... [T]he most interesting thing about this new project is that Industrial Light & Magic will be doing the animation using “cutting edge techniques” that Verbinski has said, “will allow us to capture and translate every aspect of Johnny’s performance, using it to drive the computer-generated character in a way that has yet to be seen in an animated feature.” ...

Anybody know what "cutting edge techniques" point to? Slash Film seems to think the words actually enfold our old friends rotoscope and motion capture.

But that couldn't be right, could it? Most of the knowledgeable understand that even the most comprehensive motion capture has those computer operators we're privileged to call "animators" at the back end of the pipeline, molding and tweaking the raw data into the performances we finally see up there on the silver screen.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010


... and the state of Cartoonland.

At present, the animation industry is better than it was a year ago, or two years ago. But it's often like a multi-cylinder engine. When one piston is up, another's going down. Just now a partial list would include ...

Warner Bros. Animation doing more shows this year than they've done in the previous three. (Junior Justice League, Batman, Scooby Doo and Loony Tunes to name a few. Thirty-six months ago the place was pretty much a ghost town.)

Universal Cartoon Studios being kaput, having closed its doors six months ago. (However, rumors circulate that Curious George, long a PBS/Universal project, will go return to production at Starz Media.)

Starz Media/ Film Roman -- has The Simpsons, several Marvel action heroes shows, a few other things not yet announced.

Rough Draft -- They're finishing production on Futurama, developing a couple of pilots. (RD isn't signed to TAG, but I throw them in the mix anyway.)

Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios -- I overheard a studio administrator telling visitors the studio had 12 projects, but damn if I can name them all (Penguins of Madagascar, Tough Puppies, Chum Chum and Fanboy, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters and Robots, SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer and then my head starts to throb.)

IM Digital is shutting down, but doing the closing in slow motion. It still has Mars Needs Moms to get out, and is shutting down department by department as the picture progresses. (We'll be sorry to see them go, they've had great people up there in Novato, California.)

Hasbro/The Hub -- Transformers and G.I. Joe. The artistic staff moves from Beverly Hills to Burbank at the end of the month. (Or so they say.)

Fox Animation has its Big Three, Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, with Cleveland being picked up for a third season. Fox loves its Sunday night animation block.

DreamWorks Animation has Megamind coming in the Fall, then a long list of projects over the next four years (at the rate of 2-3 per annum.)

Disney TV Animation -- six shows in various stages of work, from Fish Hooks to KIck Butowski to Phineas and Ferb, Inspector Oso and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

Disney Toons still works on the Tinkerbell features and is deep into production on the newer series that they haven't announced yet. (So I'll continue to keep my mouth shut.)

Disney Feature Animation has the CG Tangled and the hand-drawn Pooh followed by (I'm told) a gap in the production pipeline.

Cartoon Network has five animated series that I can think of and keeps trying on the live-action shows with varying results.

And so on and so forth ...

As you can see, the industry chugs along much as before, parts of it on the upswing, other parts not. Long-term employment is the exception rather than the rule, but a lucky minority has longer gigs on the Fox shows, SpongeBob, Phineas and Ferb and a handful of others. In features, Walt Disney Animation Studio offers project-to project hires while DreamWorks leans toward multi-year hires, (which explains the different morale you find at each studio.)

I've been reading various books about how to succeed in the workplace. There's some cute and semi-constructive stuff inside the covers ("Make Peace with Chaos;" "Spend Ten Minutes a Day Doing Absolutely Nothing;" -- Personally, I'd opt for at least a half hour -- "Manage Priorities, not time;" "Good results cover up a multitude of sins." etc.)

However, some are a little off the mark for the cartoon business, so allow me to throw out some of my own (yet again):

Know when to gracefully lose the argument. Nothing wrong with throwing out your two cents, but you have to know when to back off and do it the way your supervisor wants, even if your supe is wrong and an idiot.

Never give out a bright idea before the time is right. Long ago one of the smartest story artists I've ever known said to me: "You can't give them the solution to the problem before they're ready to hear it, or else they'll reject it." It was good advice three decades ago; it's fine advice now. Develop the skill of knowing when to show your cards.

Sometimes it's necessary to lie down, put all four paws in the air and expose you throat. In other words, occasionally you need to apologize and acquiesce to hang onto your job, even when the person you're doing the apology to is a dick. (You don't have to be sincere in the apology, just look like you are. Because once in a while we will find ourselves working for unreasonable, unpleasant people. This is when we learn to navigate the raft called "self-preservation.")

Know your own limits, and which personal lines you cannot, will not cross. (And it's better to know them before that crisis at work, rather than after.)

Those are enough helpful tips for one evening. (If you want more, you can find a few of them here.) The cartoon/animation industry can be challenging in even the best of times, and we're a few clicks away from "best."

It's useful to keep in mind that as much as we would like it to be otherwise, animation is a subset of Hollywood, the capital of bull dung.

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Overseas Race of the Horses

Woody and Buzz run the joint worldwide, just as they do in Freedom's Land.

Grossing a total of $100 million in overseas boxoffice since it opened offshore a week ago, Pixar/Disney's "Toy Story 3" retained the weekend's No. 1 spot on the foreign theatrical circuit for a second consecutive round with $36.1 million drawn from 6,278 screens in 32 markets.

Worldwide total for the latest in the Pixar franchise amounts to $326.6 million ...

And the DreamWorks contingent also seems to be rolling along nicely.

... Previewing strongly in the U.K., DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's "Shrek Forever After" in 3D drew $3.7 million from 1,281 spots in 21 markets (with the official U.K. opening due this week). Foreign cume stands at $91.5 million. ...

To date, the ogre has collected around $321 million worldwide. As for DWA's other entry:

"How to Train Your Dragon," $262 million ...

Which gives Dragon a worldwide gross of $477.4 million. Not bad at all.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Weekend Linkage

The Grey Lady preps us for the Great San Diego convention:

... Comic-Con, entering its 41st year, is a tribal gathering of more than 100,000 comic book, science fiction and fantasy fans. They converge on San Diego each summer to dress up, swap old Ant-Man comics and ponder imponderables like “Klingon Lifestyles” ... This year, the four-day convention, which begins on July 22, will be host to what has become an obligatory parade of filmmakers and stars hawking their next big thing with extended film clips and question-and-answer sessions in the cavernous Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center ...

Despite earlier denials, Tim B. appears to be doing a new stop-motion project.

... While chatting about his upcoming film Despicable Me, producer Christopher Meledandri said The Addams Family is happening and that Burton is indeed attached. He also confirmed that Burton isn’t going the computer animation route and instead is sticking with stop motion animation as used on movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. There’s also a chance that the animated film will be released in black and white, however, no final decisions have been made on that matter. And, even with all of these details, Meledandri did emphasize that the film is only in the very early stages.

As Futurama returns once more to nightime t.v., the Times quizzes the voice cast::

Katey Sagal: I had known Matt from the “Married With Children” days, because he and I were both there when the Fox network had nothing but rabbit ears on top of your television. We had some history, and I just went in and read for him, and he gave me the job. ... I didn’t know this till years later, but there was a previous Leela [Laughs]. They’d already cast somebody, and then they wanted to make a change. I don’t want to know who — I think it’s better that way.

FuturamaThursdays 10pm / 9c
Recap-O-Rama: 5 Seasons in 7 Minutes
Futurama New EpisodesFuturama New EpisodesUgly Americans

(Perhaps someday TAG will rep the artists on it ...)

Mr. Temple of the Seven Golden Camels emerges from his work vault:

.... it's been a long time.

I've spent the last few weeks wrapping up the movie I've been working on for the past five years ...

Go visit him soon.

Moving on to Emeryville News, what was long a rumor is now official:

... [John] Lasseter will get a co-director credit on [Cars 2], indicating that he has provided a substantial amount of work to the project ...

The L.A. Times points out what's been driving the 2010 summer box office:

... [T]hree movies primarily aimed at kids and their parents are drawing a surge of significantly older moviegoers — many of whom are going without their children — in a trend that single-handedly has reversed the vacation season's box-office doldrums.

Thanks to the performance to date of the PG-rated "Shrek Forever After" ... the G-rated "Toy Story 3" ... and the PG-rated "The Karate Kid" ... total receipts since the first weekend of May are now even with where they were a year ago ...

Disney says 40% of "Toy Story 3's" non-family audience was ages 17-24 — people who ordinarily wouldn't make animated movies their first choice. ..."We aggressively marketed to that audience," says Disney studio chief Rich Ross ...

Have yourself a joyous Sabbath.

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Voice Actors and Awards

Yet another question:

Will A Voice Actor Ever Get Nominated For An Oscar?

And the obvious answer ...

Perhaps nominated (never underestimate the power of our fine conglomerates) but never elected. The Academy has a large contingent of actors, and most would sooner tear out their fingernails than grant an Oscar to a thespian performing only with his vocal chords.

But along with voice acting, there's the issue of emoting via mo cap:

... The onslaught of award-winning motion capture has presented us with a more realistic possibility of an Oscar-nominated performance. I strongly believe Zoe Saldana was snubbed by last year’s Academy Awards when she was not nominated for Best Actress. ...

Don't think so. Journalists have this idea that there's "animation" done by artistic nerds called "animators", and then there's this new technology called "motion capture," where actors in wired nylon leotards drive the performances.

Animators, of course, are heavily involved in both disciplines and technologies, despite the denials of various high-powered film directors.

If you're going to give a little golden man to an actress for motion capture, you should probably hand out duplicate statuettes to the people hunched over their computers, tweaking and polishing her performance.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

End of June Derby

Now with the Add On.

Box Office Prophets handicaps the oncoming festivities.

... [T]he weekend almost certainly belongs again to Toy Story 3. Pixar’s latest opened to a record for the studio, at just a little over $110 million, and is showing no signs of stopping mid-week. ... It should get to at least $200 million by the end of this weekend with a $68 million effort.

Only two other holdovers have a chance to put up significant numbers; The Karate Kid and The A-Team both put up as strong of numbers as you would expect for their second weekends, at $30 million and $14 million apiece ...

1) Toy Story 3 -- 68.3 miilion

2) Grown Ups -- 46.9 million

3) Knight and Day -- 34.6 million

4) The Karate Kid -- 17.5 million

5) The A-Team -- 8.1 million

Meanwhile, a few notches down, Shrek Forever After clicks along. Through Thursday, the ogre has collected $226.4 million domestic dollars.

(CNBC's rundown of top-grossing animated films -- no doubt cribbed from B.O. Mojo -- can be found here. But they have a nice set of factoids for each feature.)

Add On: The Hollywood Reporter reports Friday numbers:

Sony's ensemble comedy "Grown Ups" rung up an estimated $14.5 million in domestic boxoffice on Friday to kick off a likely $40 million-plus opening weekend. ...

Disney's 3D threequel "Toy Story 3" is virtually guaranteed to repeat at No. 1 in its sophomore session after fetching $18 million on Friday and topping the daily rankings. The Pixar-produced pic totes $175.5 million in cumulative boxoffice through its first eight days ...

Add On Too: The Nikkster tells the tale:

... Toy Story 3 tops the North American box office for the 2nd straight week, recording the highest second weekend ever for Disney/Pixar. It's also the second fastest Disney film to pass $200 million domestic box office -- 9 days, compared to Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest's 8 days. Thanks to higher 3D ticket prices and a wide release into 4,028 theaters, the toon with massive appeal did $18.0M Friday and $22.6M Saturday and an estimated $18.4M for Sunday. ...

And at the wire, we find Grown Ups in second place, Knight and Day in third, and Shrek Forever After in the 7th position, with $229.3 million in the haversack.

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Wasted Production Board Panels

I motored to a pair of animation studios today; at the first, I encountered a tired group of production board artists on a popular half-hour show who told me:

"I'm not happy that I'm not doing my best work, but I don't have time. I've got like nineteen pages of script for an 11-minute short, and the schedule is cramped, and I know they're going to cut pages after I turn in the boards ..."

"I had fifty-five panels cut from my last board. They seem to think that fourteen pages of dialogue equals fourteen minutes of screen time, but you need to put in the action, the pauses, and let the board breathe. That seems to get lost in the process."

I told the second artist to who I talked that I didn't get -- had never gotten -- why story editors and supervisors don't trim scripts before they hand them off to board artists, many of whom exhaust themselves trying to hit a deadline while at the same time boarding an extra five or six minutes of show that will be cut to length down the line.

Why this is the way the business now often works is a continuing mystery to me. Long ago, I wrote half-hour animation scripts for a living, and the process was straightforward:

1) Steve would write his multi-page wonder and turn it into his story editor.

2) The story editor would give Steve's script to his secretaries, who would read dialogue and descriptive action aloud with stop-watches, jotting down the time it took to read same onto the script's title page. (They had done this for a long while and were good at it.)

3) The story editor would look at the time on the front of the script, then tromp down to Steve's office and say: "Cut four pages out of this ...."

Simple, no?

But apparently this art has been lost on a number of current show-runners, who hang on to every syllable of golden prose and so allow board artists to draw themselves blind with extra work. And then, after that work is completed and the animatic is assembled, cut the boards.

I'm probably just an old-fashioned nit-wit, but this seems wasteful to me.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Ageism Thing

The Writers Guild of America has an issue.

The Writers Guild of America, West ... wants to keep the age of its members hush-hush. According to the film-town blog The Wrap, the Guild is pleading with the Internet Movie Database to stop listing birth dates on its widely consulted website. ...

There's no business like show business for sheer relentless pressure always to be securing the next gig. ... Nothing exacerbates age anxiety like a job hunt. It's bad enough to get pink-slipped. But if you're also over 40, you face the prospect of being considered a wheezy geezer ....

Fifteen years ago, at the height of the last animation boom, older artists securing and keeping jobs was not a huge issue. Newbies were flooding into the industry and finding work. Sixty and seventy-year-olds were coming out of retirement to work on the flock of animated features being made by Turner, Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera to chase after Disney's string of hand-drawn hits. (I talked to a lot of them.)

Now, I get weekly phone calls from story-boarders, designers and t.v. directors in the middle of their fifth decade who are under or unemployed. Some 0f the joblessness is due to bad timing and bad luck. Some of it happens because of our current cultural and business bias: people 18-34 are the key demographic for movie execs, so it's that age group the moguls are most eager to employ (for they hold the secret for hit t.v. shows and movies, as everyone knows.)

But there's another reason. Unlike the business of fifteen or twenty years ago, the cartoon industry isn't expanding like mad and outgrowing its talent pool, which means a strange kind of age discrimination comes into play. Creators of shows are in their thirties, and reach out to their peers to fill key jobs. They, in turn, reach out to people they know. This leaves the twenty-five and thirty-year veterans at the end of the employment line, because the movers and shakers they relied on for work -- other fifty-somethings -- aren't in the drivers' seats any longer. As a long-time board artist told me last week:

"[A forty-six year old director] called me up last month for a two-week boarding job on a movie he's doing. He just phoned one morning and asked 'Are you available for work?' and I said 'You bet I am.' He's one of the few guys in town who doesn't feel he has to use the younger crowd but goes after people he knows and has worked with before. And that he knows can do the job.

"The two weeks ended up being five weeks. Thank God there's still a few people like him around, or I wouldn't have much work in the biz at all."

The sobering part of this tale is, for animation employees the hiring situation is relatively better than it is for workers on the live-action side. That isn't particularly joyful news, but in this day and age, you take comfort and solace wherever you can find them.

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The Disney Walkabout

Today was hat building day, and about all I can tell you is that everyone is turning and burning on Tangled, that the new shots I saw of the movie look real good, and I keep being reminded of the settings and color saturation of the 3-strip Technicolor Adventures of Robin Hood every time that I see it ...

Upstairs, I related to a Disney veteran how I found Toy Story 3 a terrific, engaging film but that the Three Dee in it was pretty ... ah ... humdrum. The answer I got surprised me.

"Tell you the truth, I found the 3-D kind of pedestrian myself. But John likes the 3-D to support the setting and environment, not to come out of frame or do anything super 3-D-ish.

"I just like to look at the movie. I think the 3-D just gets in the way of watching the story."

Ah, poor Disneyite. You are in for a long stretch of heartache and sorrow:

Imax Corp. and Walt Disney Studios said Wednesday that they have agreed on a deal to release three more 3D movies to Imax theaters next year.

The movies are "Mars Needs Moms," which is scheduled to be released next March; "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," set for release in May; and "Cars 2," which is scheduled to be released next June.

Three Dee is going to be with us for years, girls and boys. So get used to it. As for me, as long as they have a small theater in the multiplex showing the flat screen version, I'll be happy.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jumping the Divide

Since animation and live-action are moving closer and closer together, maybe this is natural and inevitable. But I'm glad to see it happening.

Animation director David Bowers will make his live action debut by tackling "Diary of Wimpy Kid 2: Roderick Rules," the sequel to Fox 2000's sleeper hit "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." ...

Fox 2000 is moving fast on the sequel, hoping to capitalize on the slow-burn success of the first movie, which opened March 19 and went on to gross almost $64 million domestically. The movie was made for a modest $15 million ...

Since the time of Frank Tashlin*, animation artists and directors have moved on to direct live-action features. Rob Minkoff, Kevin Lima, Jerry Reese, Tim Burton, the list is extensive.

Minkoff, of course, was an easy decision for the folks in the executive suites to make. It makes perfect sense to give the director of an animation blockbuster like The Lion King a shot. Mr. Bowers hasn't directed any big animated hits, but it's still nice to see him getting the nod.

* Walt Disney was one of the earliest hybrid directors with "Alice's Wonderland."

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An Exciting New Concept, Except Not Really

We've talked about these kinds of deals before. Here's yet another another that doesn't sit too well with us.

Gnomon School of Visual Effects ... today revealed that it has established Gnomon Studios, where advanced Gnomon students prepare for professional careers by working on short films in a studio environment under the guidance and mentorship of production professionals. Gnomon Studios is currently working on Academy Award-nominated Director Shane Acker’s new short film, “Plus Minus.”

Maybe we're misreading this completely and jumping to horrid conclusions, but this sounds remarkably like viz effx students paying money to work on somebody's professional film for zero or minimal wages ...

Short films such as Acker’s ... will be the core production focus of Gnomon Studios. Alvarez also expects Gnomon Studios to contribute to the occasional feature project when opportunities arise, as was the case with the facility’s recent contributions to the 2011 film “Green Lantern” and the popular TV series, “Fringe.”

The advanced students? Doesn't it ... uh ... seem like they're paying hefty tuitions to help somebody's feature film or television series keep costs down? (I mean, you can buy yourself a whole lot of labor when the going price is zip.)

Or are we being unduly suspicious, cynical and paranoid?

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Your Mid-Week Linkage

As we crawl over the crest of hump-day, the question is asked:

"Could Toy Story be the first animated best picture winner?"

And the answer is given.


So the idea appears to be that much more of the Marvel stockpile will, in the fullness of time, be rolled out for public viewing:

... Marvel Studios is planning to include short films alongside upcoming superhero movies. Just as Pixar offers a new animated short with each annual release, Marvel fans should hopefully be able to look forward to short superhero adventures before the main feature begins. According to the rumor, these shorts are specifically intended to highlight Marvel's lesser known characters, providing them a chance at Hollywood glory ...

This is commonly known as "exploiting the product."

Warner Bros. Animation's super-hero top-kick Bruce Timm explains the art of one particular pitch, plus a lot more:

Q: How did Judd Winick convince you that his comic series/graphic novel would translate well to an animated film?

BRUCE TIMM: When we first heard that Judd wanted to pitch ["Batman: Under the Red Hood"] as an adaptation for our DC Universe film line, Alan Burnett and I quickly got copies of the book and read through it.

My first impression was that it was an entertaining comic, but it was quite a long mini-series and it had all these tangents of supporting characters who came and went through the course of the story. Quite frankly, it was confusing to me and I kept thinking to myself that I didn’t see how a lot of those things would work. The big thing about the story is that it’s a sequel to a big event in the history of DC comics – the death of Robin that happened back in the 1980s – and I didn’t see how we could set that up, because it all hinges on being a sequel to that story.

Furthermore, the way the pitch was arranged, we were in a room in Burbank and Judd was in San Francisco and had to pitch over the speakerphone. But amazingly, every single problem I thought we’d have trouble making into a movie, Judd had fixed in the pitch. Judd had already clearly put a lot of thought into the entire film – how to stay focused on the main story, how to clean up the death of Robin thing, and how to eliminate all the extra baggage. He pitched for about 45 minutes and when he was done, Alan and I looked at each other and said, “Yeah, that’s a movie. Let’s do it.” And away we went.

Fox News Corp.'s Blue Sky Animation Studio has a new animated feature baking in the oven, and they display a sample here:

Empire Online shares the scuttlebutt it's collected from Producer/animation executive Don Hahn:

“I’m actually trying to work out a 3D conversion of The Lion King. I’ll be doing that when I go back to the States in a couple of weeks.” ...“It’s going to be spectacular – we will do a good job for ya! The technology is tremendous. We did A Nightmare Before Christmas a few years ago and Tim thought it was better than the original because it allows you to walk onto the set ....”

"[The Snow Queen] is on the low shelf – we can’t reach it! But seriously, we don’t have the story. It’s a bit like Beauty And The Beast, which sat there for years. We cracked Beauty finally by putting in the objects and creating more plot. The Snow Queen we’ve had a lot of trouble with and I’ve spent years on it. I love it and I think it’s one of the last great fairy tales. It’s kind of crappy that it’s just sitting there right now.”

(The information I heard re SQ is that the first story pass was put up on story reels... and a short time later Disney's own Richard Ross shelved it, sight unseen. It's a girl picture, don't you know.)

Regarding overseas animated features: I really, really want to like this more than I do, based on the trailer.

It seems that Nickelodeon is near the top of the heap in basic cable:

Nickelodeon closed the week as basic cable's number-one network in total day with kids 2-11 and total viewers. ... Nick's weekly ratings performance also was highlighted by SpongeBob SquarePants and The Penguins of Madagascar- which, quarter to date, ranks as the number-two animated series on all TV with kids 2-11 and kids 6-11, behind only SpongeBob SquarePants ...

Have a joyous Thursday and Friday.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toy Story IV!

Lovable toy-size figures. We like them a lot.

The Good Luck Trolls, with their frizzy, pastel-colored hair, are coming to the big screen via DreamWorks Animation. ...

Of course, trolls, elves and dollies don't always make it to the big screen. Disney quietly smothered King of the Elves several months ago, and four years back, some freshly minted Disney cartoon exec cancelled a project about a lawn gnome, one of the executives asking in a meeting:

"Can anybody tell me why we're making this? (effx: crickets) ... Well, we're not making this ..."

(Or as Suite 101 put it: "... [W]hen Pixar co-founders John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took over the leadership role at Disney Animation in May of 2006, they took one look at the script and promptly consigned it to the circular filing system ...")

But here's to the Good Luck Trolls. Long may they prosper.

Click here to read entire post

Profits from Baubles and Bangles

... also bright shiny beads.

If you wonder where entertainment cash flow comes from, it's not just the ticket sales, dvd sales and licensing to teevee that makes our fine entertainment conglomerates love them their animated movies. There are also minor things like this:

'Toy Story is... a merchandising behemoth. ...Disney/Pixar has moved more merchandise than any other recent movie and ... it's not a terribly close contest ...

Toys, furniture, scooters, calculators and other such stuff ... from Disney/Pixar's latest hit was packed into 724 massive cargo containers shipped to the U.S., according to Panjiva, [a company that tracks international trade] ...

Since the early days of Walt and the gang at the Disney Hyperion studio, royalties from merchandising trinkets has been a goodly part of the life blood coursing through cartoon studios' veins. And as it was in the beginning, so is it to this very day:

... "Phineas and Ferb" is getting the full Disney treatment as the company revs up its well-oiled franchise machine. Soon it will uncork a full merchandise line, with 200 Phineas and Ferb-related items — including boxer shorts, skateboards and boxes of macaroni and cheese — headed to stores ...

The point of all this? When our fine entertainment conglomerates get themselves a hit, they make sure they squeeze all possible profits from all possible venues. And Toy Story and Phineas are just a small part of the story:

"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" accounted for 248 shipments [of merchandise], followed by "Shrek Forever After" (230, "Monsters vs. Aliens" (182) ... [and] "How to Train Your Dragon" (174) ...

It's always useful to remember that animated features don't earn their keep on box office and silver disk sales alone. There's all that other stuff that rakes in the long green, as well. Snow White is still selling dollies and lunch buckets 72 years after her original release.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, June 21, 2010

Retrofitting the 3-D

The race to expand our supply of dimensional movies continues; also increasing is the excuses for the crappier conversions.

The process of converting 2D films to 3D has hit some serious speed bumps on the road to acceptance, but it will remain a key component of filmdom's march into 3D.

That was the message emerging from a panel Thursday assembled by the Intl. 3D Society in association with the Visual Effects Society.

Without mentioning the recent brouhaha over the quality of the 3D conversion of "Clash of the Titans," moderator and 3D tech guru Lenny Lipton asked why 2D-to-3D conversion is sometimes controversial.

Some of the negative feelings may stem from the knowledge that a converted movie is "created after the fact" and people don't consider it the "real thing," said Aaron Parry, topper at Stereo D, which converted the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan kid pic "The Last Airbender.",,,

Uh, no. The negative feelings come from the conversions being no freaking good.

But regarding 3-D in general, I'll go further than that. Last night I saw a dimensional screening of Toy Story 3 with the Resident Teenager. Though we both enjoyed the movie a lot, afterwards I asked him, "how did you like the 3-D?" and he said:

"I didn't. I would have preferred the flat screen version. I thought you were the one who wanted to see it that way ..."

I'll admit it, I kind of did.

But not anymore. After having seen a half-dozen three dee epics, I'm pretty much through with the technology. Weighed against the dimmer screen, higher ticket price and awkward, plastic goggles, getting to watch moving View Master just doesn't jazz me.

I think I'l be gawking at the flat screen versions of my favorite movies from here on out.

Click here to read entire post

The Pres-Aid Art Auction

CHARLES SOLOMON (right) introduces the guest of honor, PRES ROMANILLOS.

... happened yesterday at the Animation Guild's second-floor meeting hall.

KEVIN KOCH, who coordinated the auction, helps set up along with Executive Board members BOB FOSTER and STEPHAN ZUPKAS.

Over 200 art pieces were donated and sold. Over $70,000 was raised. TAG President Kevin Koch was the lead engine of the enterprise, and it was his hard work and organizational chops that pulled the auction together.

One hundred-plus collectors and animation professionals spent Sunday afternoon bidding against one another for one-of-a-kind animation art, original comic panels, and paintings and drawings from some of the biggest names in our business.

HOWARD LOWERY, the auctioneer.


Retired H-B director RUDY CATALDI, who contributed original drawings.

Viewings of the assembled artwork started at 1 p.m., and the auction started at 2, running until 5:40 p.m.

Among the hundreds of pieces: development sketches from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Corpse Bride," production drawings from "Ferdinand the Bull," original illustrations from Rowland Wilson, artwork from animation legend Marc Davis, as well as production maquettes, autographed one-sheets, and vintage art books.

SCOTT JOHNSTON with ERIC GOLDBERG. "Goldberg Jam," a pen-and-ink illustration of several of Eric's best-known Disney characters, brought the highest price ($3400) of any item in the auction.
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Sales Persons

Never under-estimate the power of the cartoon:

Shrek, Dora the Explorer, and other animated TV and movie stars beloved by children have been moonlighting as junk-food pitchmen in recent years. And they're good at it.

Fifty percent of children say that food from a package decorated with a cartoon celebrity such as Shrek tastes better than the same exact food from a plain package, according to a new study.

And when given a choice, the vast majority of kids pick the food from the cartoon-adorned package as a snack, the study found ...

I'm so old I can remember when it was flesh-and-blood movie stars pushing poisons that were bad for us.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Idiot Watch

... is what we need to go on. Especially when somebody gets paid actual money for writing something like this:

... It may have taken 15 years and 11 Pixar features, but we’ve finally reached the point where adult moviegoers appreciate animated features — particularly those from Pixar — just as much as their live-action counterparts. Gone are the days when one would have been ridiculed for attending an animated movie without a child in tow. ...

Earth to John Young. Allow us to point out a few things about animation.

1) The highest grossing film of all time in the year and a half after its release (and currently #10 per Box Office Mojo*) was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. ($8 million circa 1938.) This couldn't have happened if it was just taking in child admissions.

2) The Lion King was among the highest grossing features in the year of its release. Think only the kiddies were gawking at it?

3) The Ice Age franchise has made Fox a fervent believer in animation, the last one having grossed over $886 million around the world.

You don't get these kinds of numbers slotting your films into toddlers' matinees. Yet despite all the evidence, professional pundits continue to headline dim-bulb stories with:

'Toy Story 3': Have adult moviegoers finally embranced animation?

(And yes, I'm having a churlish kind of weekend ...)

* "Snow" has probably slipped a notch in the overall standings since "Avatar" came and went ...

Click here to read entire post

Fire Alarm Fun

This is apropo of nothing, but I share it with you anyway. We've had, over the recent span of time, some difficulties with 1105 N. Hollywood Way's highly sophisticated fire alarm system.

It likes to go off morning, noon and night, for no apparent reason. Alarms wail, lights flash, and the local fire department rolls up to the door to put out the fire. Oh. And the business representative (me) gets called down to the building to interact with the firefighters.

Only problem is, there's no fire. Just a balky alarm system.

This has been going on for awhile now, every twenty-four to thirty six hours, and I am starting to get a little ... uhm ... cranky. Here's one example of my crankiness, sent to the alarm company last week:

To [The Fire Alarm Co.]:

I am writing this at the suggestion of [one of your] employees. At 10:25 at night. From an office I wish I wasn't occupying at this moment, because I would much rather be home in bed.

The reason I'm here is we have had endless problems with our nine-month-old alarm system. Over the last few weeks, it has gone off during working hours, at night, and on weekends for no discernible reason. We have had technicians out to repair it, to reboot it, to install new sensors, etc., multiple times. Nothing they have done has improved the situation a jot.

Each time the alarm goes off, I am called and the fire department is called. The firefighters inform us that if the alarms persist, we will be billed for the calls (we are probably getting billed already.) They have now been out half a dozen times. We find this to be an intolerable situation.

The warranty on this system lapsed a few days ago. Our office manager informed the company that we were not disposed to pay for a malfunctioning system that has caused us nothing but grief over the past month, and seems no closer to being fixed than it did when the problems first started. The bill we received from your company for $600 was withdrawn after our complaints; we anticipate that other charges will be withdrawn as well, and the system repaired so that it stops going off at all hours.

Based on the results we've observed to date, the system and attempted repairs are failures, and I'm sorry that we didn't go with another system because this one has caused nothing but headaches.


Steve Hulett

Business Representative -- The Animation Guild

That e-mail was from last week. And this one was from ... last night.

[Mr. Baker], old top, old buddy.

This is Steve Hulett. Again.

In case you can't place the name, I'm the guy who (apparently) spends all his time running to the Animation Guild Building at 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA. I run because your alarm system keeps going off for no apparent reason. It went off again tonight, at 8:10 p.m. I was away from a phone at the time, so we only narrowly averted the fire department smashing in a window to get inside. Happily, the BFD got hold of one of the staff, so our panes of glass remain intact.

But I've pretty much had it. I think now, we need to discuss our next step. I'm going to propose to the Animation Guild's executive board that we remove your non-functioning system and your company give us a refund, and we all go our separate ways. We can hire a night watchman to watch the place, and we'll get away from the wonders of modern technology, and I will avoid having to kill myself.

Thanks for your time. It's a wonder to me that your company remains in business. But miracles sometimes happen.

Steven Hulett

Happy Father's Day.

Click here to read entire post

The Foreign Horse Race

Woody, Buzz and co. apparently have a following beyond the seas:

Pixar/Disney's "Toy Story 3," the weekend's front-ranked domestic film, also opened No. 1 on the foreign theatrical circuit, grossing $44.8 million from 4,787 screens in 25 territories -- only a quarter of the total overseas marketplace.

Monster debuts in China and Latin America helped the film register "the biggest consolidated debut for a Pixar title from this bucket of release markets, almost doubling the (comparable) high set by ' Up,' " said Disney ...

Apparently animation titles continue to have worldwide charms. And as for the ogre ...

... Fifth was DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's "Shrek Forever After" in 3D, which registered $10 million from 2,107 venues in 20 markets. The fourth installment of the 'Shrek" franchise opened No. 1 in Australia, generating $8 million over four days from 312 situations ($11.7 million including previews) with 76% coming from 3D screens.

The weekend's top five titles drew nearly $92 million, more than $20 million generated by the top five titles in 2009's comparable weekend, another indication that 2010 is ... headed for another boxoffice record overseas ....

We surmise that the usual players won't be exiting the animation business anytime soon.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Battling Health Plans

Since we're on a health coverage information kick here, allow us to compare the health coverage of a big, non-union viz effx studio to the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan's insurance.

We'll quote the summary of the visual effects studio plan (hereinafter known as Viz Effx) in bold-face, and the MPIPHP in regular face.

Ready? Then come on everybody, here we goooo ....

VFX: Exclusive Provider Organization -- $300 deductible (single) -- $600 deductible (family)

Preferred Provider Organization -- $600 deductible (single) -- $1200 deductible (family)

MPIPHP: No deductible.

VFX: EPO Insurance co-pay: (single) $50/month; (with spouse) $186/mnth; (with family) $371/mnth.

PPO Insurance co-pay: (single) $90/mnth; (with spouse) $210/mnth; (with family) $400/mnth.

MPIPHP: PPO Insurance co-pay: Zero

VFX: Doctor office visits: $15 (preferred); 70% after deductible (non-preferred)

MPIPHP: $5 - Motion Picture Television Fund Clinic;

$40 - Blue Shield non-clinic doctor;

$15 - Kaiser Permanente and/or Health Net.

VFX: Hospital (in-patient) -- 90% after $150 per confinement co-pay (preferred); 70% after $300 per confinement deductible.

($2000 annual cap - preferred; $5000 annual cap - non-preferred.)

MPIPHP: Hospital (in-patient) 90% (Blue Shield network - $1000 annual cap); 50% (out of network).

VFX: Emergency Room visits (emergency): 90% after $100 co-pay.

Non-emergency emergency room visits: Not covered.

MPIPHP: Emergency Room visits: $100 (waived if admitted to hospital.)

The above costs are pretty self-explanatory. If you are in the Viz Effx Plan, you get slammed with insurance co-pays (this is known as "off-loading expenses onto the participants.") However, if you're lucky enough to have a looong hospital stay, the costs narrow somewhat. (But you still have higher caps under the Viz Effx Plans.)

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The "Capital of Animation"

This one, remarkably enough, is not in Emeryville, CA.

TEHRAN – The city of Borujerd in Lorestan Province, one of Iran’s western provinces, has been designated the Iranian Capital of Animation.

The city was named capital of animation in a ceremony attended by several officials invited from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting), as well as Lorestan’s Governor General and several provincial officials. ...

I'm sure there are various American companies that would be glad to place some sub-contracting work inside Borujerd's city limits, but since Iran is currently near the top of the audition list for the international series Who Wants to be the United States' Newest Enemy?, I seriously question whether that scenario will play out anytime soon.

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Motion Picture Industry Health Plan Question

A commenter inquires:

Why can't union members who are on voluntary withdrawal pay into the healthcare and pension on their own until they get reemployed at a signator studio. Unless my math is off, isn't it about half the cost to pay into health and pension than it is to get COBRA? ...

Under Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan rules, it can't be done.

And who makes the rules? The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan trustees. These trustees come from signator studios and the unions participating in the plan ( a 50-50 split.) They -- along with the bargaining parties to the union contracts -- set the Pension and Health Plan parameters. By law, trustees are required to "act on behalf of Plan participants."

The two sides agreed long ago that the main way payments can be made to the Plan is through contributions via employment under one of the many union contracts.

(One of the rationales for this is that residuals from t.v. shows and movies flow into the Plan to support it, and the trustees don't want to open it to an unlimited number of folks who aren't working on features and television product that trigger residual payments. There are already a number of exceptions for "affiliated" employees.)

Is this fair? I don't know. It's what the bargaining parties and trustees have agreed on over the years.

But one consolation for Plan participants who aren't currently employed by a signator company is: they can remain recipients to Motion Picture Industry Health coverage for close to three years beyond their date of lay off. If they have worked for a contract studio for a year or more, they will likely receive twelve to fifteen months of additional coverage after they become unemployed. Beyond that, they can self-pay an additional eighteen months of coverage at the Plan's group rate for another eighteen months (popularly known as COBRA).

Last part of the question up above: Sadly, the questioner's math is off. The cost of self-paying pension and health contributions (if it were possible, and it's not) would be considerably more than COBRA. The person would be paying:

1) 6% of the contract minimum rate (example: 6% of $1500 minimum weekly rate= $90/week)

2) $1.57 for every hour worked.

3) Cost of health coverage.

The above is a tad more than COBRA payments (#3).

Let me leave you with a cheerful thought. TAG has, as of last Monday, brought a union organizer on board, and in the coming weeks, months and years we will be focusing on expanding the number of workplaces that participate in the Motion Picture Industry and Pension and Health Plan.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, June 18, 2010

Your End-of-Week Reading List

More links of animation as we hit the weekend.

There will be less green (apparently) for the ogre and his parent studio.

Lew Coleman, chief financial officer for DreamWorks Animation, said at an investor conference in Chicago on Thursday that the company's second-quarter earnings per share likely will be "meaningfully below" a year earlier because of the domestic box office performance of "Shrek Forever After" and lower home video sales ...

Goldman Sachs ... downgrad[ed] its rating on DreamWorks Animation's shares to "neutral" from "buy." Goldman Sachs analyst Ingrid Chung ... lowered her estimate for "Shrek" domestic box office sales to $250 million from $325 million.

$250 millon. Sounds like 4X opening weekend earnings to us ...

And speaking of box office grosses and accompanying factoids:

Half of Pixar's movies have made five times as much at the box office as they cost to produce ...

Variety summarizes the recently-wrapped Annecy festivities:

... [T]he biggest queues in Annecy's Work in Progress strand were for "The Suicide Shop," presented by French helmer Patrice Leconte.

An animated musical feature, employing 2D cutout animation, "Shop" looked like a moving children's pop-up book -- a quaint effect suited to a comedy set in a city of suicides.

Pixar drew attention for its world preem of 3D short "Day and Night," featuring two pudgy fellows, Day and Night, who argue their respective virtues. Helmed by Teddy Newton ... it went over gangbusters at a Pixar presentation ....

India's Business Standard reports on a variety of animation projects happening on the the sub-continent.

... Crest Animation Studios, a public-listed animation company in India in association with Lionsgate has completed Alpha and Omega — Asia’s first 3D stereoscopic (which enhances the illusion of depth) movie to go to Hollywood. It is set to release in over 3,000 screens worldwide later this year.

Noah Fogelson, chief operating officer, Crest Animation Productions, Burbank, California, says: “Alpha was produced by Crest in both our US and Indian facilities, with pre-production (development, story boarding, animatics, voice recording, designs) and post-production done in Los Angeles and the animation (models, rigs, animation, colour, lighting, texturing, rendering, compositing, etc) done at our Mumbai facility ..."

Everybody around here has been focused on the Tangled trailer, but forget that. There's another trailer out there to excite us.

... Now it is just in time for the next generation to learn the Smurf's language and characteristics, it is being brought to us in 3D in a featured [sic] film. The teaser trailer has been released giving us a taste of what's coming. All our favourites will return even old Gargamel their idiotic evil enemy is there. ...

John Lasseter clarifies that icky "sequel" conundrum:

Heat Vision: How did you come to do a “Toy Story 3”?

Lasseter: I’ve wanted to do a “Toy Story 3” since 1999. But there was a pretty well-known thing where our deal with Disney at that time said we have five pictures to do for Disney -- but sequels did not count. So it was one of those things where we said let’s do original movies so we can get these five done. But I always wanted to do “Toy Story 3.”

So thank goodness that four years ago Disney bought Pixar and merged the companies together. And we got control of all of our characters back. (Disney chief) Bob Iger said, “We want to do sequels, but we want to do it with you.” And we were adamant ... the reason why Pixar does a sequel is we've found a great story. That's the only reason why we'll do a sequel. Not just to make money ...

(You see? If it weren't for that "sequels don't count as one of its five required movies" clause in the contract Pixar execs signed, you would have seen this Toy Story 3 feature way sooner ...)

The L.A. Times' Richard Verrier writes about the Pres Aid art auction (pictured above) upcoming at the TAG building on Sunday:

On Sunday, more than 160 pieces of artwork donated by some of the best-known animators in the industry will be up for sale in a charity auction held at the Animation Guild building at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank.

The pieces include original drawings, sketches and paintings from such animators as Glen Keane ("Pocahontas"), Nick Park ("Wallace and Gromit"), Andreas Deja ("Aladdin") and Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s famed “Nine Old Men.” ...

Have a joyous Friday night and Sunday. (Hopefully we'll see you on Dad's Day, at the auction.)

Click here to read entire post

Father's Day Derby

Now with candy-coated Add Ons.

The Nikkster triggers the starting gate, and they're off!

... Based on early numbers coming into my sources, Pixar/Disney Toy Story 3 is the monster everybody thought it would be on 4,028 locations, including 2,463 3D screens of which 180 are IMAX). the 3D ticket price advantage will swamp previous Pixar opening weekends, including 2003 Finding Nemo's $70.2M and 2004 The Incredibles' $70.4M. ...

Through Thursday, Shrek Forever After has been bounding along in third place, running up a total of $217.5 million.

We will probably ... I'm going out on a frail limb here ... see a small decline in the ogre's performance over the coming weekend.

Add On: Toy Story 3, the feature John Lasseter has been wanting to make since 1999, rockets into the stratosphere:

... Toy Story 3 grossed an estimated $41 million Friday night ... Now Buzz Lightyear and Cowboy Woody are destined for Pixar’s record books, with the highest-opening ever for a Pixar movie. Based on the Friday numbers, Toy Story 3 could earn as much as $120 million for the three-day frame ...

Shrek Forever After is likely to take fourth place with a bit over $2 million on Friday and a weekend total that should add up to over $8 million. ...

The Mojo of Box Office has Shrek at $1,645,000 and in 7th place, with a running total just south of $220 million. We'll keep monitoring the lists to see if the ogre can crawl his way higher by Sunday.

Add On Too: Toy Story 3 rakes in $109,000,000 while the ogre drops 65% to end the weekend at $223 million.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, June 17, 2010

But Why Sequels?

Because of moolah.

... People who have seen pre-release surveys say that "Toy Story 3" is certain to have the biggest opening for a movie from Pixar Animation Studios, beating 2004's "The Incredibles," which started with $70.4 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Thanks to strong interest among all audience segments, as well as 3-D premium ticket prices, the movie could provide Pixar's first $100-million-plus opening if pre-release tracking is on target ...

So $100 mill is the prediction. In a few days we'll know if the forecast is on the money.

But anybody who wonders why big companies make second, third and fourth installments of movies filled with well-loved (and lucrative) characters, isn't living in the 21st century.

They're living at a small animation studio on Hyperion Avenue, circa 1938, listening to a filmmaker who didn't like sequels.

Click here to read entire post

Mind Games (Part Deux)

(... Or maybe three our four. I start to forget ...)

The morning's digital mail bag delivered this:

Hi Steve,

Has it always been like this in animation studios? I found this blog entry disturbing, because it's a lot like where I work now!

"A sick system has 4 basic rules:

Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think.

Rule 2: Keep them tired.

Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved.

Rule 4: Reward intermittently."

(This blogger gets into more details here. And an addendum here.)

If it's like this in every studio, I may have to redirect my career path. I've only been in the industry for 7 years and I'm amazed that there are artists who've been putting up with this shit for 10, 20, 30 years???

(I sent him -- or her, since I couldn't tell the gender -- an answer along these lines:)

It depends on the studio. Some studios aren't too bad, some shows aren't too bad. Other studios (and departments) specialize in mind-fucking you.

It's a version of the Stockholm Syndrome, really. I had an animator tell me about a small, non-union animation sub-contractor in Arizona -- a remnant of the Fox-Bluth studio in Phoenix (remember those halcyon days?) that ran out of money for a job and bullied everybody into staying, to continue working for NO PAY.

They had meetings where they harangued people: "We'll get money soon! We're a family! You've got to stay and work or you're NOT LOYAL!"

And people stayed. (You'll find another version of this type of sad tale here.)

It's easy to laugh at these situations, but I know when I was young, I was an idiot too. There was a manager at Disney whose mantra was: "You know how LUCKY you are to be working here? You know how many people want your job?" (It's a ploy cavemen probably used when going out on the hunt.)

It's easy to get intimidated. It's easy to be unsure of yourself. It's easy to get suckered in to group think.

Despite all that, an animation career can be good if:

1) You have talent and work ethic.

2) You know your worth as an artist.

3) You know how to play the game (keeping your mouth closed and listening is always a fine tactic.)

4) In the end, you'll have better self-esteem and mental health if you know your own limits on all the manipulative horse shit and

5) You are willing to hook up and bail out if too many lines are crossed. (Because if you don't have that willingness, the mind-fucking will never stop.)

In the end, you'll enjoy yourself more in the cartoon business if you have a "I can take it or leave it" attitude. Then you won't be so cowed when some middle-management twit calls you into his office to give you a lecture about being a "team player."

There are other things in life besides abuse and manipulation.

Click here to read entire post

Cash Accumulation

A couple of weeks ago*, one of TAG's board members was chatting with a 25-year animation veteran who was grousing about not being as fully employed as he wanted to be. And worried that he was eating through some of his emergency funds. The board member asked him: "How much do you have in your Individual Account Plan?"

The veteran answered the board member promptly. He said:

"What's the Individual Account Plan?" ...

* I believe I've told this tale before, but what's life without redundancy?

Whereupon the board member told him (while being quietly amazed that the gentleman -- after more than a quarter century of union work -- had no idea what he was talking about.)

The artist had a vague memory of the Motion Picture Industry Plan recently mailing him some sheet or other, and the suggestion was made that he dig the sheet out and look at it.

A little time went by, and the vet phoned the board member in amazement: "The sheet says I've got $130,000. In some account."

I bring this up now because you can see one of these fabled sheets here showing an Individual Account Plan, and also read the accompanying story about how it's good to work at places that pay money into these types of plans:

... I was laid off at a visual effects facility after almost 3 years of service. I wasn’t eligible for any benefits until after my first year of work. After luckily keeping my job for a year I got a 401k retirement account where the employer would contribute matching funds (free money) up to 5% of my salary into the account. Most facilities these days don’t even offer a match. The only problem is that you aren’t fully vested in those matched funds unless you have worked there for 4 years. So when I was laid off I basically lost 75% of the thousands of dollars my employer put into my 401k. ...

Fast forward to another facility this time that was under an Animation Guild contract. I voluntarily leave after 2 years for reasons unrelated to the guild. The guild provides every employee with three retirement plans:

The Individual Account Plan

Nothing comes out of your pocket for this account, it is fully funded by the employer and residuals from films produced by the big 6 studios. After 2 years I have almost $14,000 in the account ....

The Defined Benefit Plan

Again, no money out of my pocket for this one however this one is a little harder to get but it’s icing on the cake. You need to have 5 qualified [pension] years ..

The 401k Plan

This is one you chose to pay into. Money is taken out of each paycheck you get and put into this retirement account and you essentially get to defer paying taxes on this ...

And so on.

Now I understand there are folks out there who will say: "I don't have a freaking job, Hulett! So why are you throwing this stuff in my face?!" And that's fair enough, but I put it out there because life is full of choices, and though you might be flat on your back now, you are most likely not going to be in that horizontal position forever.

At some point or other, you'll find yourself employed.

At some point or other, you could find yourself a valued part of the motion picture industry, skilled in what you do, and able to pick and choose from various job offers that waft your way.

And when that time comes, you'll have the opportunity to pick from column A ... or B ... or C, and depending on the choices you make you could end up well off, better off, or scrambling to make ends meet at age sixty-five when your array of options is narrower and your central goal in life is not to scramble after the next gig, but to be sleeping on a beach in Bermuda.

Only you can't because you made some bad career decisions in your mid-thirties and you don't have a cushion of cash that will allow that wonderful thing to happen. (And I know I bring these items up a lot, but in my experience it's wise to bring them up over and over, because people quite often have short attention spans, and they are valuable enough to repeat.)

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in "Don Q, Son of Zorro."

The L.A. Times's Claudia Eller examines the course correction of Pixar Animation:

Pixar, with 'Toy Story 3,' shows increasing reliance on sequels

Three of four coming films at the pioneering animation studio, long known for its originality, are sequels. The trend is a reflection of the commercial considerations driving Disney studios, which bought Pixar in 2006 ...

[C]ommerce, and plenty of it, is the guiding rule of Disney under the stewardship of Chief Executive Robert Iger. He is fashioning Disney, once principally concerned with family entertainment, into a consumer giant built around "brands" and "franchises ..."

Why anybody would be surprised that sequelitis is Pixar's new mantra (disease?) is a mystery to me.

As long as Hollywood has been around, the place has replicated (or tried to replicate) the hits that have gone before. Chaplin made a hell of a lot of films, one after the other, of this twitchy little man with baggy pants, derby hat, bristle-brush mustache and bamboo cane. The Pawn Broker, The Kid, The Gold Rush, The Circus, there were dozens and dozens of them, each remarkably similar to one another.

And Harold Lloyd made two features a year centered around an eager go-getter who wore tortoise shell glasses and got into hair-raising scrapes on the sides of tall buildings or the tops of runaway trolleys, over and over again. Douglas Fairbanks made a long series of swashbucklers riding a horse, swinging a sword and fighting e-vil.

Most of these were not, strictly speaking, sequels. But let's be honest. They had the spirit of sequels, since they all sought to replicate the tried, true and familiar. The fact that the characters' names were different from picture to picture doesn't undercut the idea that Tinsel Town in its infancy and Tinsel Town in late geezerdom chases box office grosses with movies it believes will generate maximum sums of cash: vehicles with well-worn, sure-fire (they hope) formulas, already audience tested.

Pixar, once small, daring, and bankrolled by Steve Jobs, disdained sequels. but that was a long time ago in a land far away. It has now become part of the mainstream Hollywood dream machine, and marches to the drumbeat that started with Charlie, Harold and Doug (with his sequel to Zorro) a century ago.

Are we shocked that the studio in Emeryville has fallen prey to the old siren song?

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Don't forget the Pres-Aid live auction - THIS SUNDAY, June 20

This coming Sunday, the live Pres-Aid charity auction will be held in our auditorium in Burbank. Registration will start at 1 pm and bidding is scheduled to start at 2 pm. The address:

Animation Guild 1105 N. Hollywood Way Burbank, CA 91505

Approximately 150 pieces of animation, cartoon and illustration art will be auctioned to benefit animator PRES ROMANILLOS and his wife Jeannine in his fight against leukemia. Included are works from Disney, DreamWorks, Don Bluth, Futurama, The Simpsons, Frédéric Back, Secret Of Kells, Tex Avery, Eric Goldberg, Drew Struzan, Al Hirschfeld and many others.

If you want to see the artwork that's going to be up for sale, Gallery 839 will be open at the following times between now and the auction:

  • Friday, June 18: 11 am to 2 pm
  • Saturday, June 19: noon to 4 pm
  • Sunday, June 20: noon to 2 pm

Don't miss this chance to pick up some great artwork and help a fellow artist in need. For more details, views of all the artwork, and updates on Pres's condition, go to the website at

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Mid June Studio Roundabout

Bento Box, a newer studio in sun-dappled Burbank, has a good hunk of board artists now working on Bob's Burgers (slated for Fox Television some months from now) with a couple of pilots in development.

The crew, one and all, think it's a funny show. Crews, of course, can be wrong about the quality of the product on which they're working, but usually when I hear divided sentiments I know something is up. In this case, there is a unanimity of sentiment that it's entertaining.

So ... we'll see. But most agree that the studio is a pleasant place to work. As one old hand told me:

"One of the guys stayed into the early morning to hit a deadline; management held a meeting and said: 'Don't do that. If you need some extra help, we'll get some help.'

I've worked a lot of places, and you don't hear that too often, if at all ..."

Bento Box has already worked on DreamWorks Animation's Neighbors From Hell, launched this month on TBS. A sampling of Neighbors' reviews:

"...In a TV trope as old as "The Addams Family" and "The Munsters," minimally updated by animation, much crudity and current pop culture references, TBS' new series "Neighbors From Hell" seeks to lampoon human depravity by contrasting it with the more reasonable behavior of supernatural beings ... The hell this time around may be full of requisite flames, but the preferred method of torture is lame irony ... [I]t's that kind of show, brimstone and treacle, which is difficult to make into a winning combination even by a talking dog."

"... [T]he bulk of the material is stubbornly humdrum, given its satirical potential. “Neighbors From Hell’’ is little more than another a fish-out-of-water comedy, with the Hellmans filling the role of the Munsters, the Addams Family, or the Beverly Hillbillies. ..."

"... The semi-obscure reference to the demon from The Exorcist is a wink at genre fans. There were a few other smart jokes, including the sign above Satan’s door: “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enters My Office.” Cute.

We’ll see how long I feel inclined to keep up with a show that didn’t once make me laugh out loud—I’m less forgiving of subpar sitcoms than I am of dramas. But perhaps Neighbors From Hell can become something to tide me over ..."

(So you know, I want every animated project out there to succeed and prosper, because it enhances the lives of every artist working in the animation industry. So all the best to Neighbors From Hell.)

Meanwhile at DreamWorks Animation, I finally registered that almost all the artists are (now) in the larger and more opulent Lakeside building, while administrators and production support people now occupy the reconfigured spaces in the other Italianate structures sprinkled across the Glendale campus.

(I did run across a few story artists, story coordinators and a director type person in a building on the other side of Lake Katzenberg*, but I'm certain this is an anomaly.)

* My name for the large koi pond from which snowy egrets like to dine.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Robert Iger's Roadmap

Disney Honcho Bob Iger has been shedding light on the Mouse's moves:

The biggest challenge in running a company as big and varied as Disney is "to maintain the balance between heritage and innovation." ...

... "When I came into the job, I weighed the options. I felt that losing the relationship with Pixar when their contract expired would be a shame. And so we brought into the company a culture of innovation, of never accepting mediocrity."

... "I was trying to establish a direction for Disney. Also, $7.3 billion was "just around," Iger quipped, then correcting himself, "actually $1 billion (was) in cash."

What I've never gotten in the Hollywood culture is studio management's slavish reliance on a few entities' successes. They'll pay billions for a successful track record from outside, but won't risk a fraction of that on talented nobodies that already live within their golden walls.

In the past half-century, few executives have trusted their own judgement and gut instincts and rolled the dice on unproven Spielbergs or Camerons. Ninety-eight percent of the time, they want the creators who have been validated elsewhere, no matter what the cost.

But who am I kidding? Of course I understand why this happens. Even high-level suits can lose their high-grade executive jobs and big salaries if they engage some obscure director or screenwriter who then crashes and burns with a high-profile project. But when an expensive talent with a long track record flames out, that's different. The exec is immunized. He went with the safe, obvious choice, so how can anyone blame him for the resulting failure?

It even happens -- maybe especially happens -- with highly-placed CEOs like Robert Iger.

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