Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Animation Reviews

Ordinarily there's little point in regurgitating movie reviews, but since the Reporter featured two animated movies today, we'll change the usual drill ....

Regarding Hop:

... There is a Hellzapoppin’, anything-goes sensibility at work here where gags, personalities and cultural references fly every which way but the discipline behind the animation merged with live action is top-notch. ...

Add On: Forbes wonders how the bunny will do:

... [W]ill Hop be able to live up to Despicable Me’s high standard? Exhibitor Relations expects the movie will top the box office this weekend but with only $27 million, $29 million less than Despicable Me earned. Hop isn’t get much critical love either. So far the film earns a 24 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes. Despicable Me earned an 81. ...

And then there's the Winnie named Pooh:

... A seamless narrative rather than a collection of segments in the manner of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1977, this gentle, lovingly wrought, for-tots-and-parents-only resuscitation of A.A. Milne's characters may have unintentionally set a Hollywood record of sorts: It's 69 minutes long, including 10 devoted to the credits, meaning that 14.5 per cent of the running time details who worked on the film ...

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Sony Pictures of Animation

SPA has been wrestling around with Hotel Transylvania since flush toilets became the bedrock of civilization. But they have now acquired this:

Sony Pictures Animation has bought screen rights to the Janet Foxley children's novel Muncle Trogg. It is the first acquisition made by Michelle Raimo-Kouyate since she joined as president of production. ...

Sony has a solid staff of development artists fully capable of doing the property justice. Now we'll see if SPA management will let them.

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Keeping it Simple

... with one-stop investment choices.

I'm halfway through this round of 401(k) enrollment meetings. And the thing that strikes me is how many Plan participants don't want some kind of high maintenance investment program, but something simple and unadorned that they can "set and forget." So here, in truncated form, are a few selections out of the TAG 401(k) Plan ...

If you are terrified of losing money in the stock market, TAG 401(k) Plan has got:

Vanguard Target Retirement Income Fund

This baby gives you 30% stocks (domestic and foreign equity index funds), and 70% bonds (Total Bond Market, Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, Cash.) There is also:

Pimco Total Return Fund

This intermediate bond fund is run by fixed-income wizard Bill Gross from his PIMCO palace in Newport Beach. Hasn't done gangbusters in the last few months, but it's been a high-performer over longer stretches of time. (Total Return has higher administrative costs than I like, but you probably won't lose much money -- if any -- by being in it. Unlike "Target Income", it contains no stocks.)

And if you're okay with owning some stock exposure, but don't want to overdo it, there are these one-stop options:

Vanguard Target Retirement 2010 Fund

This specimen has 49% stocks, 51% bonds and cash. Over the last several decades, this allocation has hovered right around the "efficient frontier," a nice balance of returns on investment along with pretty good safety (meaning the big slug of bonds in the portfolio has helped protect the risk of its stock allocation.)

Vanguard Target Retirement 2020 Fund

This Target fund gives you 67% stocks, 33% bonds. It's well-designed for participants in their thirties.

There are thousands of ways to invest your money. Individual stocks. Actively managed mutual funds. Index funds. Lots of people earnestly believe that if they can find the right high-flying fund with the best hard-charging manager, their futures will be assured. I believe that it's pretty to think there's some perfect stock-picker out there, but chasing returns or the Next Hot Fund is, in my humble opinion, a fool's enterprise.

Studies show that over long stretches of time, Index funds outperform most managed funds. So it might be useful to play the odds, invest in lower cost index mutual funds, and not over think things too much.

(And here, courtesy of, is a sampling of various index-fund portfolios that have performed quite well over time.)

Upcoming TAG 401(k) Informational/ Enrollment Meetings

Fox Animtn -- Thurs. Mar. 31, 2-3 p.m.

WB Animtn -- Mon. Aprl 4, 10-11 a.m., conf. rm.

Sony Pict. Anmtn -- Tues. Aprl 5, 2-3 p.m.

Film Rmn -- Wed. Aprl 6, 10-11, glass conf. rm.

Nick Studio -- Thurs., April 7, 2-3 p.m., conf. rm.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CKL at CinemaCon

George, Jeffrey and James, together again.

... James Cameron, Jeffrey Katzenberg and George Lucas outlined their latest efforts to wow moviegoers. ... Cameron said that shooting movies at a higher frame rate than the standard 24 frames per second will give them an added sense of reality. ...

Katzenberg revealed that he is working on scalable multicore processing, calling it a "quantum leap" in speed and power. Animators currently wait hours and even days for computers to render full animation based on their initial, low-resolution footage. But with the new processes, Katzenberg said, "our artists will be able to see and create their work in real time. ...

And SW Chapter 7 will be shot as a hologram. ...

The part I found most intriguing is James Cameron's ongoing campaign for 48 or 58 fps. He's been talking about this for years, and ... I donno ... I think he's serious about it.

The reason that we've got the 24 fps standard, per a knowledgable friend of mine, is that silent films settled on a rate somewhere between 16 fps and 28 fps. It was a simple matter to adjust silent movie projectors to whatever frame rate was required, and frame-rates were written on the film cans of the movies shipped to theaters, but the rate had to be stadnardized for sound, and everybody settled on 24 fps.

Or so the story goes.

In the meantime, if new pictures bounce up to 50 fps, it might make for a somewhat different film-going experience, yes?

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Arnold's Back

We'll also see his front in a new aHnimated caHtoon.

... Called The Governator, it is a version of Schwarzenegger after he has left the Governor's office and becomes a crime fighter, [Stan] Lee told EW. The Governator will run operations out of a secret high-tech crime-fighting center (aka Arnold Cave) under his house in Brentwood ...

Our old friend Andy Heyward is the producer, so look for this baby to be under a TAG contract about ... the Twelfth of Never.

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Storyboard tests ... an editorial and response

Following is TAG President BOB FOSTER’s column from the March Peg-Board, followed by a response from a member who wishes to be anonymous.

From the President

Storyboard tests

Max and Susan wanted to get some custom-made cabinets for their kitchen and asked if I could recommend someone. I knew a fine cabinetmaker named Al who had installed cabinets in my house a few years back. Al had been around for about thirty years and really knew his stuff. A friend of mine from the studio also used Al on a job and was equally pleased with his work. I invited Max and Susan over to check out Al’s work and they were impressed. So Max took Al’s number and decided to get a quote. Al sent them a brochure filled with photos of his work from previous jobs.

Another friend recommended a cabinetmaker named Gonzalo. Max and Susan were equally impressed by his work, also. Gonzalo had been in business for nineteen years. So they decided to get a quote from him, too. Max and Susan visited their friend’s home to see Gonzalo’s work. They looked at photos of his previous jobs and loved what they saw.

After the bids came in, Max and Susan just couldn’t make up their minds so they asked the two cabinetmakers to come over to their home and take a cabinet-making test to see if they could really do the work.

Al and Gonzalo were insulted. They’d never been asked to prove their obvious abilities as cabinetmakers in their entire careers and weren’t about to start now.

So they both decided to get out of the cabinet-making business and become storyboard artists.

Okay, so it’s a joke ... unless you’re one of those veteran storyboard artists who’ve been told you’ll have to take a storyboard test, even after your portfolio has been favorably reviewed.

How did this industry ever last until 2011 without storyboard tests? And why do we all of a sudden need them now? I think any test that requires lots of poses, everything on model and perfect perspective isn’t a storyboard test - it’s a layout test, designed to make everything easier for the less talented production artists at some offshore sweatshop.

A storyboard used to be a blueprint. Now it’s a house.

"Test” is just another word for "Audition” and some auditions are insulting and unnecessary. I’m reminded of the famous anecdote about an audition that Shelley Winters went to. An actress of her stature and fame would normally have a meeting with a producer or director; instead, she was asked to audition. She arrived at the director’s office carrying a big bag over her shoulder. She sat down, opened her bag, dug around in it and pulled out an Oscar® and put it on the director’s desk. She reached into the bag again and pulled out a second Oscar® and put it on his desk. Then she said, "So. Do I still need to audition?”

She got the part. (And I’ve heard raunchier versions of this story.)

I don’t really know who actually looks at portfolios. I don’t know if they’re artists, MBAs, writers, interns, HRs, PAs, PMs, producers, directors, accountants or the security guard. For all I know, it’s all of them and they vote. Allegedly, they all want to know if you can draw. Then they want to know if you can draw their characters. Then they want to know if you can draw their characters on model and in a well-defined time period. Who are these people?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to attach a name to the people who review your work? Wouldn’t it be nice to know if they’re qualified to judge your work? Can they draw? Do they know anything about composition, character acting, facial expression, attitude? If they can draw, can they draw on model? Do they know enough about layout and staging to be able to depict an image that incorporates all those requirements within a defined space in a series of images that comprise a storyboard?

And as if all those skills were still not enough to get a job as a storyboard artist, you also need to know the basics of filmmaking. You need to have an understanding of screen direction, acting, timing, editing, choreography, and dozens of other little things that go into making a movie. Then you have to be trained in various programs like Toon Boom, Photoshop, Maya, Illustrator, Flash, Rhino, SketchUp, Dreamweaver, etc., and be able to work on a Cintiq.

Artists in animation have more training in more skills and prerequisites than any other creative type I can think of. You have to be an accomplished artist, you have to be able to channel that training into specific parameters to support a script, to depict characters accurately, to draw those characters with good acting and expression, to work within a deadline, to think like a film maker, and to re-do work when changes are made.

Nobody works in this business for too many years unless they have those abilities and have performed consistently. And if they’ve done so for a long time, at a lot of places, why the Hell should they be required to take a test above and beyond their samples and resume? Ability, experience and results should count for something. If people can’t tell what an artist is capable of by looking at their portfolio, maybe they’ve got the wrong people looking at portfolios.

Maybe it’s time to test portfolio reviewers to see if they’re qualified to look at portfolios. Do they know what they’re looking at?

— Bob Foster

Letter to the President

I read Mr. Foster's article in the Pegboard about storyboard tests, and I found more than a few misconceptions that I would like to try to straighten out.

I was a bit shocked to find out that the President of our union does not know who looks at storyboard tests or, further, that he didn't take the steps to find out. Instead he decided to propagate the widely held myth that MBAs or PAs or someone equally unqualified looks at them. Obviously he is against tests. That's fine. Just do the homework and find out what's really going on so we can all have a constructive discussion that might take some of the heat out of such an emotional topic.

I am a supervising director. Prior to that, I was a director for 4 years, and prior to that I was a storyboard artist for 12 years. In my duties as a sup. director, I still board an awful lot. So, I would like to think I'm pretty qualified to make judgements about "composition, character acting, facial expression, attitude...draw[ing] on model...[making sure the artist has] an understanding of screen direction." And do I expect the candidate for a storyboard job to be able to "...know the basics of filmmaking...have an understanding of screen direction, acting, timing, editing, choreography"? Absolutely. That and probably more. As for the comment about all the software a board artist needs to know, there's enough confusion out there, why add to it? Board artists don't use Maya or Dreamweaver or Illustrator (Rhino? Don't even know about that one, but I would have liked to have been educated about it, though.) The software used by board artists is pretty much limited to Toonboom's Storyboard Pro, Photoshop, and in rare cases Sketchbook Pro and Flash. And, yes, it's pretty much all on a Cintiq, now.

To answer the question regarding who are these people are that look at tests, it's usually the supervising director or producer (the kind that has some art background, if not years in the trenches.) All Human Resources does is field the portfolios, get them in front of the director/producer, at which time this director will narrow it down to a few artists that look good. Now, this is where the tests come in. Sometimes the style of the show won't be well represented in the applicant's portfolio (lots of comedy, but little or no action), or the applicant is a great artist and draughtsman, but can they do funny? In these cases the test provides a clearer case for "casting" this artist to the style of the show, and it hedges the bet of hiring him/her if there isn't quite enough evidence provided in the portfolio.

In all of my 12 years as a board artist, I have never NOT had to take a test. Even when applying for a job on another show IN HOUSE. I think Bob actually was right when he said a test is, in essence, an audition. I think auditions are a good thing. It gives the actor a fighting chance to show their stuff, and it provides concrete evidence to the casting director whether the actor can provide the TYPE of performance they are looking for. It's not insulting. It's just a part of the process. The example of an actor who got a job without needing an audition was not very helpful. She won two Oscars for God's sake. It's a neat story, but how is that applicable to 99% of the working stiffs out there? What are they supposed to pull out of their bags?

I'll use a story from my past experience to help illustrate my point. I was doing boards at Disney TV, and had a good 5 years under my belt, including being a storyboard supervisor on a movie version of the show I worked on. Theses shows were all your typical sitcom, kids in school type thing. Lots of dialogue; not too demanding in the dynamic filmmaking department. One of the action shows needed to fill a board position, and I was recommended by my old directors as well as some of the execs that worked with this director/producer of said action show. He still did not see any evidence in any of my work that I could pull off the typical action/fight scene stuff that populated this series. Neither did I! I expected to get passed over. Instead, he gave me a test, to see if I could do it. Was I indignant? No way! I was happy to be given the chance to prove myself. The director/producer liked my test and I made it onto the show. Without the test, I never would have got the job, because there was nothing in my portfolio to show him that I could do the job.

I know mine is not the most popular of positions on this topic, but I feel strongly about it. I have seen time and time again how a test has helped me, in conjunction with a strong portfolio, to get me the type of people I need to make the best show I can.


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Aches and Pains

Lynwood Robinson, Didier Mascarade, D.C., and Liza Rodriguez presented a few remedies to occupational aches and pains suffered by TAG members.

At last night's General Membership meeting,Executive Board member K.C. Johnson brought in joint and muscle soreness specialists to speak on (and also demonstrate) remedies for the occupational hazards associated with sitting for eight to twelve hours a day, bent over a keyboard or Cintiq ...

All three of our panelists have worked with staff at many of the major animation facilities, helping people with neck, shoulder and wrist-elbow problems.

Lynwood Robinson stressed that it's important for animators, when sitting most of the day, to get up every forty to fifty minutes and stretch. He recommended reaching high, opening up the back muscles, and stretching out thighs, calfs, ankles.

Didier Mascarade reviewed general work station ergonomics, pointing out that having the right seating position (with spine in the natural "S" curve),, keeping wrists and arms straight and relaxed, and making sure the computer monitor is at a comfortable eye level are all good and useful things.

Mr. Mascarade demonstrated exercises that included bending and dangling arms downward, and rotating them in a circular motion. He pointed out that nerves go from the shoulder to the neck, and that pain is often misdiagnosed.

"To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, you want to stretch forearm muscles, to stretch the hands up from the wrists. For tendinitis, stretching and strengthening is important. Take short breaks to stretch. It's better to stop problems from happening than have to treat problems ..."

Lynwood Robinson demonstrated stretching routines with a rubber stretch band, showing how, used with arms extended, it helped to loosen and stretch tight muscles.

Liza Rodriguez, a massage therapist, demonstrated shoulder and neck massage techniques.

The Takeaways:

1) Repetitive-motion injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, are occupational hazards in the animation industry.

2) The way to minimize injuries is to a) take stretching breaks, b) having an awareness of your neck and spine positions while working, c) jumping on a problem before it develops into a full-blown injury.

3) Don't ignore injuries but get them treated. Injuries don't go away when they're ignored.

The seminar was a good reminder that stretching and short breaks can make a difference in joint and spine health. (I speak from sad experience in saying: "Pretend the problem isn't there and you help the problem get worse.")

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Masa Oshiro: Nymphs

Don't miss the latest Gallery 839 opening this Friday, April 1, from 6 to 10 pm, featuring drawings and sculptures by Masa Oshiro.

Samples of his work below the fold.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sequels Are Yesterday's News

Now it's spin-offs.

The penguins of DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar movie fame are graduating to their own feature film. ...

The four paramilitary avians from Antarctica are secondary but scene-stealing characters in the Madagascar movies, the third of which is scheduled to hit theaters in 2012 ...

The buzz inside and outside DreamWorks Animation is that Puss in Boots is an entertaining eighty-seven minutes. If the kitty flick hits, I expect there will be more.

The point is to create an entertaining full-length cartoon, and if spin-offs provide a safe and commercial route for studios to do that, the studios are going to make the trip. (There are no major American animation studios that aren't doing multiple features with ongoing characters. Of course, the moaning over this move has begun.)

As for the penguins, they've already proven themselves on the big and little screens, so doing a movie built around them is an obvious strategy, is it not?

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Talking to Burny -- Part II

A project Mr. Mattinson championed that never reached production: Paul Gallico's "The Abandoned."

TAG Interview with Burny Mattinson

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Here in the second half of the Mattinson conversations, we discuss the directing styles of the old Disneyguard and the new ....

We also get into some of the projects that Burny has developed over the years that never found their way to the "greenlight for production" phase. (One in particular, Paul Gallico's The Abandoned, was purchased by Walt back in the day, but has never made its way to the silver screen. You can see Abandoned development drawings by the legendary Vance Gerry here.)

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sonora Studios

There are lots of 401(k) meetings at lots of studios for me during the next couple of weeks. Today I spent morning and afternoon on Sonora Avenue in Glendale at DisneyToon and Disney TVA studios, where I held forth on the wonders of self-directed retirement accounts. Various employees of the Mouse told me ...

* Most of the story work on the first Planes feature is done, and another installment will soon be launched into development.

* A couple of Tinkerbell features remain in work. (You can't keep a good sprite down.)

* The younger-skewing shows at Disney TVA (Inspectore Oso, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Mickey's Clubhouse etc.) will soon be decamping to a different building near the fabled Bob Hope Airport. (That's Burbank's aereodrome on Hollywood Way.)

* DisneyToon Studios will be moving to another building -- now under refurbishment -- on Sonora Avenue.

* Disney TVA has pilots in development, so new series might soon be in the offing. A staffer informed me that the powers plan to expand production in the near future. (We'll see if the prognostication pans out.)

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Talking to Burny -- Part I

TAG Interview with Burny Mattinson

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Burny Mattinson has been a fixture at the Disney Co. since Dragnet was shooting on the lot ...

Starting at the studio as a teenager when the place was known as "Walt Disney Productions," Burny has worked through multiple management changes at 500 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank California. (You can hear excellent podcasts from Mr. Mattinson about his lengthy career here, on The Animation Podcast.)

With this installment, we roam further afield, talking to Burny about his artistic and career influences, how he attacks story problems when boarding animated features, and some of the projects he worked on that he wishes had made it to full production, but didn't.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

One More Glittering Trophy

Pixar will pick up as many awards as there are ceremonies.

The first annual Comedy Awards hailed one of the best animations in 2010. "Toy Story 3", which was named Best Animated Feature Film of the Year at this year's Academy Awards, won over "Despicable Me", "Megamind" and "Shrek Forever After" as Animated Comedy Film at the Saturday, March 26 ceremony. ...

The momentum for Toy Story 3 continues strong. Of course, this has a little less prestige than the Oscar, but you take your prizes where you can find them.

(Of course, now there's that much more pressure for a Toy Story 4. Watch for it ...)

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Late March Steeple Chase -- Foreign Edition

A well-known trade paper has the stats:

Opening No. 1 in France ... and No. 2 overall was Paramount’s Rango, which collected a total weekend take ... for a foreign gross total so far of $94 million, nudging the worldwide cume to $200.4 million. ...

Tangled pulled $3.6 million from 2,105 situations in 33 markets for a foreign gross total of $368 million. ... Gnomeo & Juliet opened No. 1 in Germany ($1.8 million at some 430 locations). Foreign cume from all distributors (Pathe and third-party affiliates) comes to $65.2 million ... Disney’s Mars Needs Moms, $14 million (due to a $3.5 million weekend at 2,058 screens in 25 territories);

Of the current crop of animated offerings, I think we can safely say the MoCap feature has gotten knee-capped by world film-goers.

The others, happily enough, seem to be doing well. Even the concern trolls will soon be conceding that Tangled has made a nice profit. (Otherwise, why would WDAS staffers be getting bonuses? The Mouse gives cash to employees who work on money-losers?)

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Another Cautionary Tale

The New York Times/Yahoo offer this:

... [T]he Employee Benefit Research Institute found the majority of American workers had put away less than $25,000 for their golden years. But even those people are in better financial shape than Susanna Wilson, 70, who saved nothing.

Her only dependable income is a Social Security check of about $900 a month.

“I can never retire,” she said, her voice trembling as she stared at the floor of her living room in Grass Valley, Calif. “Probably about every two weeks when the bills are due, that’s when I get really worried. I think ‘How am I going to pay this one?’ ” ...

Ms. Wilson is not unlike people in their late fifties and sixties who have come into my office. Their stories, quite similar to hers, often go like this:

"I've been working for thirty years without a problem, but now all the work's dried up. I can't get on anywhere. I've only got fifteen years in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan because I worked half of that time non-union.

"I've got five thousand dollars saved up, and that's it. And I'm three years away from Social Security. What can you do for me?"

More often than not, my answer is "Not much."

Here are the realities about life in the United States, circa 2011:

1) Social Security will be around for awhile, but no way is it going to cover your living expenses in retirement if you choose to hang onto your working-years lifestyle. And/or stay in the country.

2) Defined Benefit Plans (monthly annuities) are steadily disappearing from the American landscape. The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan, one of the hardy survivors, is okay but not overly generous. And you may not have a lot of years in it, so the payout might be skimpy.

3) Most people are way too optimistic about how much their 401(k) Plan will earn, and tend to underfund it. Many other people don't participate in a 401(k) Plan at all because they are in and out of work a lot and need every dime, or simply can't be bothered.

4) Most people don't invest money outside of their retirement accounts, but live paycheck to paycheck.

Susanna Wilson, when you strip away all the bark, is a lot like men and women working in the animation business. She went job to job, she was in and out of the work force, she hit various road bumps as she moved down Life's Highway.

And she didn't save anything.

That, friends and neighbors, is the nub of it: If you reach your sixties and you've got little in the bank, you will likely find yourself between a rock and a bigger, harder rock. Because that support group you relied in for work has up and retired, and employment opportunities will dwindle. And you are probably too old to retrain and start a new career. And you are still a few years away from Medicare, Social Security and the industry pension.

Which is why I am telling you for the umpteenth time to start socking it away. (The earlier you do this, the better off you will be.) Why I am telling you to use your 401(k) Plan, even if there is no match. (And more and more there is no match.) Why I am telling you to wise up and take a long hard look at the choices you're making and the road you're on and whether they will serve your purposes over the next twenty or thirty years.

You don't think about these things today, you'll be crying about these things several thousand tomorrows from now. Maybe even sooner.

In the meantime, here are the TAG 401(k) Information and Enrollment Meetings that have been set up for working members over the next couple of weeks:

Disney TV Animtn -- Mon., Mar. 28, 10-11 a.m., Rm. 1173

Disney Toons -- Mon. Mar. 28, 2-3 p.m., Rm. 2025

WDAS -- Tues. Mar. 29, 10-11 a.m., Conf. Rm. 1300

DWA -- Tues. Mar. 29, 2-3 p.m., Dining Rooms B & C

CN Studio -- Wed. Mar 30, 12-1 p.m., conf. rm.

6point2 -- Wed. Mar. 30, 3-4 p.m.

Fox Animtn -- Thurs. Mar. 31, 2-3 p.m.

WB Animtn -- Mon. Aprl 4, 10-11 a.m., conf. rm.

Sony Pict. Anmtn -- Tues. Aprl 5, 2-3 p.m.

Film Rmn -- Wed. Aprl 6, 10-11, glass conf. rm.

Nick Studio -- Thurs., April 7, 2-3 p.m., conf. rm.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Worry About the Next Mocap Feature

Didn't take long for the media's Concern Trolls to come out:

Mars may need moms, but Tintin needs moviegoers. So it must be worrying to producers/directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson that, even as Disney tries to recover from the disastrous showing of Mars Needs Moms, their own performance-capture 3D production, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, doesn't open until December.

A decade ago, Motion Capture was "The Next Exciting Thing" for filmmakers. They could direct an actor's performance, but because they were capturing the acting digitally rather than with a camera, they could change angles as often as they desired. Move the thesping around. Tinker and tinker and tinker with the digital sets.

Trouble is, MoCap's Uncanny Valley and Living Dead overtones, especially when there's no actual live-action in the mix, isn't a people magnet. This has got to be a concern for studios that have Motion Capture productions in the pipeline.

To paraphrase Sam Goldwyn: "When they don't want to come watch your expensive digital production, you can't stop them."

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On the march

TAG members Terry Lennon, Steve Hulett, Gordon Kent and Jeff Massie join Sunday's march and rally for communities and jobs that happened in downtown L.A. today.

As the L.A. Times related


... [T]housands of organized workers marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday. ... Police estimated between 5,000 and 8,000 people attended the protest, which ended in a packed rally at Pershing Square. The event comes in response to the Wisconsin Legislature's approval of a bill this month that curtails the collective bargaining rights of many unions and follows a weeks-long battle. ...

The march started at Staples Center, and wended its way through the streets of Los Angeles. Happily, there were no rain showers.

One more group shot (Donna Kent in the red shirt) from Chick Hearn Square, in front of Staples Center.

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Now with friendly, neighborhood Add On.

The end of March steeple chase, and two animated features share multiples of five, with Rango in the fifth position owning a total of $99 million , and Gnomeo and Juliet at #15 with $95 million ....

Overall box office was down -9% from a year ago (what's new?) The Friday results looked like this:

1. Sucker Punch (Warner Bros) NEW [3,033 Theaters] Friday $8M, Estimated Weekend $22M

2. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (Fox) NEW [3,167 Theaters] Friday $7.3, Estimated Weekend $24M

3. Limitless (Relativity) Week 2 [2,085 Theaters] Friday $4.6M (-29%), Estimated Weekend $14M, Estimated Cume $40M

4. The Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate) NEW [2,707 Theaters] Friday $2.9M (-28%), Estimated Weekend $10M, Estimated Cume $28M

5. Rango (Paramount) Week 4 [3,645 Theaters] Friday $2.3M, Estimated Weekend $8.5M Estimated Cume $104.1M

6. Paul (Working Title/Universal) Week 2 [2,806 Theaters] Friday $2.2M (-49%), Estimated Weekend $6.5M, Estimated Cume $23.6M

7. Battle: Los Angeles (Sony) Week 3 [3,118 Theaters] Friday $2.1M, Estimated Weekend $6.5M, Estimated Cume $71.6M

8. Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros) Week 3 [2,715 Theaters] Friday $1.4M, Estimated Weekend $4.5M, Estimated Cume $33.6M

9. The Adjustment Bureau (MRC/Universal) Week 4 [2,282 Theaters] Friday $1.2M, Estimated Weekend $4M, Estimated Cume $54.5M

10. Mars Needs Moms (ImageMovers Digital/Disney) Week 3 [2,170 Theaters] Friday $675K, Estimated Weekend $2.5M, Estimated Cume $18.5M

Add On: At the wire, Rango and Gnomeo and Juliet have small box office drops (Yippee!), while Mars Needs Moms takes a major drop.

Audiences seem to be voting with their feet.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, March 25, 2011

Germanic Correctness

Apparently the German t.v. police are nipply over a prime-time cartoon show.

German Television has put a moratorium on meltdowns in "The Simpsons."

Reacting to the real-life nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan, Pro7, the channel that airs "The Simpsons" in Germany, will be reviewing current and future episodes of the show and remove or replace any that feature a disaster at Mr. Burns' nuclear power plant. ...

Are these folks just noticing that nuclear power has its downside? Do they think if they blot out the unpleasantness as depicted by the Yellow Family, everyone in Bavaria and along the Rhine will have their beautiful minds put at ease?

I know that Germany, France and other European countries have lots of nuclear power plants, and that they would no doubt prefer that the citizenry doesn't dwell on melting fuel rods, hydrogen gas explosions, and cow's milk that glows in the dark. But if people are allowed to watch the news out of Japan, they can probably handle whatever Homer, Marge and Bart Simpson toss their way.

Click here to read entire post

Class-Action Action

When we put up various posts about the collusion settlement between Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic, and the Department of Justice, TAG caught the attention of a legal office up north. We were contacted by bay area law firm Meade & Schrag a few days back, and after some back-and-forth on the telephone, they sent along this e-mail ...

... The DOJ settled the claims against Lucasfilm and Pixar, but left the door open for current and former employees to bring a class action lawsuit to try to recover monetary damages. ... [Our] firm is investigating this issue and looking to file an antitrust class action suit against Lucasfilm and Pixar. If you have any information that might be helpful, feel free to contact us at or 510-843-3670.

Michael Schrag, attorney

I told lawyers at the firm that TAG didn't have much in the way of contacts with I.L.M. or Pixar, but we would pass the word that they were looking to right some wrongs and reaching out to former employees.

So if anybody reading this fits the category of employee/ex-employee at one of the above-named companies, and thinks they have a case, now you've got a number to call.

Click here to read entire post

Not Ready for the World Market

Apparently it's dawning on the Indian animation industry, after looking at the smoldering wreckage of the features made to date, that a few key movie ingredients might be lacking:

... "[T]his could be really a chicken and egg situation. Probably we don't have the right animation movie so it didn't work yet. It is a very, very tough job to release an animation film in India because of the fact that the cost of animations is higher. To make a great animation film, you should be able to invest that amount of money and time. Secondly, you should be able to market it because you don't have stars to market it,' said [Siddharth Roy Kapur, chief executive officer of UTV motion pictures] ...

'When Hollywood studios do it, when big stars do it, they look at the global audience. The sort of movies we are making in India are of Indian sensibilities and it's difficult, even if you dub them, to take it to global audiences. So we have to look up to only the Indian audience,' he added. ...

One big problem for the Indian movie business? Indian audiences haven't been overly keen on Indian animated features. It's well and good to say it's the marketing, it's the budgets, it's the problem of Indians not liking the medium, but maybe it's because the medium itself hasn't come up to snuff.

Certainly there is talent there. And American companies certainly use studios on the sub-continent to create work developed in the United States. To date, however, no Indian animated feature targeted for the local markets has clicked. And it's not for want of trying.

Maybe when the quality of the story-telling gets better ...

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mickey Full Length

There's this from Bleeding Cool regarding future projects in the Hat Building:

... I did take a second to enquire about what [Disney veteran Burny] Mattinson will be working on next. And while it’s early days for his new project, it does sound like the perfect follow-up to Pooh.

He said:

I am working on just an idea of my own which is basically a Mickey, Donald, Goofy feature film idea. We have to present it first to the bosses to get the green light. ...

As it happened, I talked to Mr. Mattinson a bit of a while ago (the audio for which will appear here next Monday and Tuesday) and we chit-chatted about projects that he's developed and worked on over the years that never made it to production. One of those projects -- in the 1980s -- was Mickey, Donald and Goofy in a version of The Three Musketeers. As Burny said when we spoke:

"That earlier version was a lot different than the direct-to-video version that came out a long time later. Ours was going to be more action-oriented, like the book."

It's a shame that Burny's version never got made. But then, I've long thought it sad that the Mouse, the Duck and the Goof haven't made it into anything longer than a featurette. They deserve a format that's longer. They deserve to have their own full-length franchise.

Who knows? Maybe Mr. Mattinson will make that happen. He's got Mickey-Donald-Goofy storyboards in his office that look spiffy.

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Future Ramen

Matt Groenig's other show (in collaboration with David X. Cohen) is getting an extended lease.

Comedy Central Renews 'Futurama' With 26-Episode Order ...

We're happy for the actors, writers and artists who turn out Futurama. We're sorry for TAG, which worked to organize the show's production house Rough Draft a year ago and fell short.

In any event, here's to Futurama. May it have as many seasons as its older sibling The Simpsons, and may it (one day) shower the talented, hard-working Futurama crews with union benefits.

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Remember the rally for jobs ...

... downtown this Saturday, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

And consider saving on parking and extra walking by following our instructions and taking the Red Line.

(As I write this they're saying 50% chance of rain for the afternoon, so take an umbrella.)

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Joe Barbera: Happy 100th

Okay, he didn't make the century mark, but he came close to the magic number, passing through the damp veil in December, 2006.

I had the good luck to attend one of Mr. Barbera's birthday celebrations at Warner Bros. Animation in Sherman Oaks, either in '06 or '05. He had a long and storied career, and left behind a lot of theatrical shorts, television shows and features for people to watch for the next ... oh ... one or two hundred years. So I think we can say Joe Barbera was the owner of a life well-lived.

Happy Birthday, Joe.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Mouse's Stockholder Meeting -- Salt Lake City style

Five years ago, TAG blog went to the Anaheim stockholders meeting where John Lasseter made his first appearance on center stage, Roy Disney took a bow from the audience, and Robert Iger fielded the usual questions about Song of the South.

This year the festivities were held in Utah, with the same kinds of questions from the audience, but much union picketing outside. ...

The only unscripted development at Wednesday's shareholders meeting in Salt Lake City was a protest staged by Unite Here, which used the event to air its grievances in a three-year-long contract dispute with the entertainment giant.

Unite Here union members dressed as Disney, Pixar and Marvel characters distributed leaflets to investors outside the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, where the meeting was held.

In leaflets, and in remarks during the public comment portion of the shareholder meeting, union members emphasized the salary gulf between a Disneyland housekeeper's annual salary of $20,800 to Chief Executive's Robert A. Iger's 2010 compensation of $28 million. ...

These people don't seem to understand that Mr. Iger is worth every penny of his salary. They should just be happy that in the event of a merger or buyout, and a Golden Parachute popping open, Robert Iger will have to pay his own taxes. Don't they comprehend the sacrifice this man is making?

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The Network of Cartoons

CN rolls out its slate. Among the newer offerings:

The Problem Solvers

Secret Mountain of Fort Awesom

The Amazing World of Gumball

New Ben 10 Series


How to Train Your Dragon

RedaKai: Conquer the Kairu

Lego Ninjago

Warner Bros. Animation has got a lot of super hero shows coming to CN, among them a Green Lantern series in c.g.i. (Warners' staffers told me Bruce Timm, the DC maestro at WB Animation, has had a long-time preference for hand-drawn animation, but liked what he was seeing with the CG Lantern.)

Cartoon Network and WBA have started to develop some synergy between them, something avoided by the Time-Warner in the past. (I could never quite understand why the two studios didn't work more closely to complement one another, but CN is controlled from Atlanta and Warner Bros. Animation is run out of Burbank, so what can a body do? If the Big Conglomerate doesn't want to maximize its animated assets, you can't stop it.)

Unlike Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network isn't doing the DreamWorks' series spinoff How to Train Your Dragon at its Burbank Studio. Word reaches us that C.G.I. development is being done by Wildbrain in Sherman Oaks. And Sym-Bionic Titan, Genndy Tartakovsky's adventure show that premiered last Fall, is wrapping up its last episodes. As a Cartoon Networker told me:

"Genddy's moved on to Sony Pictures Animation. Titan got competitive ratings with other action shows, but what shut it down was it didn't have enough toys connected to it. If you don't have the, the studios don't want to renew for another season."

But it's good to see Cartoon Network commit to so many cartoon shows. (It was getting depressing with all the live-action flooding onto the network. At least now the flood has diminished.) And even though some of the shows are done in studios far from Burbank, it's nice to see les animations resurge at the production house that's got "cartoon" as part of its name.

(The L.A. Times has a story on Cartoon Network new schedule of shows here.)

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quake Damage

It wasn't only Japanese coastal towns and nuclear reactors that got hurt:

Earthquake Rattles Japanese Animation Industry

...Japan's recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor crises are taking their toll on the nation's population and industrial sector -- and Japanese anime, an industry that brings in an estimated $2.5 billion annually, has suffered as well.

"The whole thing is having a pretty significant effect right now," says Christopher Macdonald, CEO and publisher of Anime News Network. "70% of Japan's animation studios are in the suburbs of Tokyo, and those are . . . the areas being affected by the rolling blackouts. That means it's very hard for people to do work. They don't know when their electricity is going to be turned off for three to six hours; the offices start shaking every 15 minutes [from aftershocks]. For the most part, most of those studios are at a standstill when it comes to their animation work." ...

The disaster is just the latest setback for Japan's anime industry. ..."Production budgets have been slashed because of the economic slump, and young workers on the margins are bearing hard burdens," Hisako Sasaki, the head of anime studio Wish, recently told the national newspaper Asahi Shimbun. "Young workers have fewer chances to accumulate experience and improve their skills."

There's also an ongoing international slump in the sale of DVDs ...

Now imagine a big shaker on the other side of the ring of fire: California.

If you g0t a nice big burp from the San Andreas fault, something around 8.7 or 8.9, you might be looking at a sizable disruption in the American cartoon industry. Certainly there could be a slowdown with Pixar, Disney, Warner Bros. Animation, not to mention DreamWorks Animation on the banks of the Los Angeles River.

Depending on the intensity of shaking and the number of casualties, the results wouldn't necessarily be pretty.

Click here to read entire post

Chatting With Art Leonardi -- Part II

At the 2011 Afternoon of Remembrance, Art Leonardi makes a stunning discovery ...

The second half of our talk with Mr. Leonardi ....

TAG Interview with Art Leonardi

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Art Leonardi had a long, roller-coaster collaboration with Friz Freleng; also a lengthy professional collaboration with a feline of a rather strange color. (He discusses both.)

Click here to read entire post

Monday, March 21, 2011

Continuing Strength

Fox keeps raking in cash with its Sunday night numbers.

Fox experienced a ratings toon-up on Sunday night thanks to its Animation Domination block of programming, with "The Cleveland Show" and "Family Guy" winning their time slots in the 18-49 demographic, and relative newcomer "Bob's Burgers" making modest gains, according to preliminary numbers. ...

Week after week, against college basketball, university basket-weaving and other types of live-action programming, the Murdoch animated bloc holds its own. This has given some welcome job stability to artists at Fox Animation, and since cartoons are a commodity that generally spoils quick and is otherwise hard to come by, I'm happy for the artists at Fox Animation.

I have no good explanation why Fox pulls the prime time toonage manuever off, or why every other network that attempts ther art form ends up performing face plants. Maybe the WGA contract does make the difference, except that Fox was succeeding with The Simpsons years before any union contracts materialized.

So there's only one viable answer. Fox is just smarter about animation than any other network.

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Illumination Entertainment's Movie #2

I.E.'s second animated feature, unlike the first, was created in Los Angeles. While the animation was not covered by a TAG contract, the storyboarding was. A dozen guild board artists worked on the picture, some for a year. ...

As Cinema Blend notes:

... [T]his trailer mostly revolves around an evil, incredibly cute, fluffy yellow chick plot to overthrow the bunny management who runs the factory where Easter is produced. They do this with a wide assortment of chocolate guns and nefarious plotting. ...

I don't think you can miss with fuzzy chicks and cute Easter bunnies, but we'll see. As one of the artists who worked on Hop related to me today:

Christmas themed movies, they usually get released in November and run until after New Year's. But Easter movies? I don't know how long the shelf life is ..."

Very shortly we'll find out.

Click here to read entire post

Chatting with Art Leonardi -- Part I

TAG Interview with Art Leonardi

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Art Leonardi broke into the entertainment business by painting live-action sets at M-G-M. But he was aiming at the world of animation ...

Art took his sketches of Tom and Jerry to Bill Hannah on the Metro lot, and received a quick brush off. Undaunted, he went on drawing, and a few years later, landed an in-betweener's job at Warner Bros. Animation.

From that humble beginning Mr. Leonardi rose steadily upwards, becoming an animator, then a director, and building a long, creative career in cartoons.

We talked in the conference room at the Animation Guild.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Magic Continues

The WGA was less militant this time around, and the rhetoric was way less heated.

After less than three weeks of talks, the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood's major studios have reached an agreement on a new three-year contract.

The tentative agreement includes a 20% increase in pay TV residuals, a 2% increase in annual wage rates and an increase in employer pension contributions to 7.5% from 6%, according a letter the WGA sent to its 12,000 members Sunday night. ...

All the guilds and unions have focused on their pension plans this negotiation cycle, achieving boosts in the areas they said mattered the most.

Two percent annual wage boosts have become standard, and it's been that way for a few years. That will probably continue until "official" inflation kicks in. (You know, the Consumer Price Index thingie.) And that point, small wage bumps will become politically untenable and the fights will center around bigger increases in minimum rates.

In the meanwhile, the Directors Guild, Writers Guild, and Screen Actors Guild have all had their time at the plate and come away with new three-year contracts without hitting the bricks. The IATSE and Teamsters -- negotiating jointly this time, I'm told -- are next at bat, and will probably get the same kind of deal as the guilds: Two percent wage bumps, some kind of residual sweetener, and more money into the Motion Picture Pension and Health Plan.

I assume negotiations will occur sometime this summer.

Click here to read entire post

Sometimes the Rich Have To Settle For a Tad Less

Then there was this nugget from a couple of days ago:

Disney withdraws executive tax benefit amid criticism

Just days before investors would have their say on Walt Disney Co.’s executive pay, the entertainment giant changed the contracts of its top executives to remove a generous perk that had come under fire from an influential shareholder advisory firm.

The company said it would no longer pay the taxes on any severance package for Chief Executive Robert A. Iger and three other senior executives in the event they lost their jobs in a sale or merger of the Burbank entertainment company.

Sometimes the corruption becomes so ludicrous that even the Mouse has to back off.

"It's interesting that they ended up caving," Steven Hall, managing director for executive compensation consultant Steven Hall & Partners, said about Disney. "We were surprised by how violently they reacted against ISS. It was the kind of thing companies gripe about in boardrooms but don't do anything about."

Hodgson said Disney has been working hard to improve the public perception of its executive compensation since the days of former Chief Executive Michael D. Eisner, who in fiscal 1998 reaped $576 million when he exercised stock options he had accumulated for years.

There is no reason, none, for stockholders to pay richly compensated execs' taxes. I would love to hear why this is a good thing for Diz Co. to do. I mean, if executives bail out of the corporate aircraft on their Golden Parachutes, they should at least have the good grace to pay their own freaking taxes, shouldn't they?

On the other hand, I can see why Bob Iger and the other guys getting the platinum benefits might have "reacted violently" about Investor Shareholder Services mucking up the sweet deal by recommending a vote against it. But honest to God, what arguments could they put forth defending it?

None that wouldn't make them look anything other than self-serving. A big fat paycheck isn't enough. Somebody else has to pay the taxes on it, too.

Click here to read entire post

Overseas Derby for Middle March

... where theatrical animated features continue to prosper.

Finishing No. 2 overall was Paramount's Rango, which was first the previous weekend. [The feature had] $20 million from 5,810 situations in 54 markets. The foreign take is $73 million since March 2. ...

Disney reported that Tangled drew $1.9 million from 326 locations in Japan, a 7% increase from the prior weekend's gross ... for an overseas gross total of $360.7 million. ...

The animated Gnomeo & Juliet has so far accumulated a foreign gross of $151.9 million via myriad distributors including Pathe and Disney. ... Disney's animation title Mars Needs Moms collected $3.4 million on its second weekend on the foreign circuit at 1,475 in 21 markets for a pallid foreign cume of $7.8 million. ...

Apparently foreign audiences aren't wild about pure, unadulterated mo-cap either. Who could have imagined?

(I think that the Reporter scrambled G & J's totals a bit. Box Office Mojo shows world-wide grosses of $147.2 million, while the trade paper cites $151.9 million as the foreign gross. A total gross of $151.9 million seems closer to the mark; it's unlikely the feature jumped $100 million in worldwide grosses in a week.)

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

DWA's 2011 Movies

The Reporter reports on DreamWorks Animation's springtime release:

The first Kung Fu Panda, released in China in June 2008 in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, became the first animated film to gross more than 100 million yuan ($15 million) at the local box office. ...

The first film kicked off a heated round of debate and shined a harsh light on the state of China’s animation industry, which has never successfully made a big-budget feature. ... [T]he cultural synergy the first film tapped appears to be continuing in the buzz about the sequel. “This [newer] film has an even higher level of authenticity than the first one,” says Eugene Yang, Greater China chief representative for distributor Paramount, who will work closely with the China Film Group on the nationwide Imax 3D release. ...

Panda 2, I think, will perform solidly not just in China but in every other global marketplace. It is, after all, filled with well-loved furred characters, stuffed with action set-pieces, and arrives as the second installment of a highly popular first feature. (So how can it miss?)

Puss in Boots, the DreamWorks offering for the Fall season, has gotten positive early reaction, is a close cousin to DWA's biggest tent-pole, and also comes populated with adorable animals in (mythical) foreign settings. (A second 2011 bullseye?)

It appears DreamWorks is learning that human characters in American environments don't fare nearly as well as the hairy, four-legged creatures that caper in settings outside the United States. Since both Puss and Panda fall into the "Not U.S. of A., not human" categories, I'll climb out on the fragile limb of box office prognostication and declare that both movies pull down lots of bucks by the time 2012 rolls around.

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The Derby -- March 18-20

Now with chocolate-coated Add On.

Most everything takes a hit week-to-week, as new performers move in ...

1. Limitless (Relativity) NEW [2,756 Theaters] Friday $6M, Estimated Weekend $18M

2. Battle: Los Angeles (Sony Pictures) Week 2 [3,417 Theaters] Friday $4.5M (-67%), Estimated Weekend $15.5M, Estimated Cume $62M

3. Paul (Working Title/Universal) NEW [2,802 Theaters] Friday $4.5M, Estimated Weekend $12.5M

4. The Lincoln Lawyer* (Lionsgate) New [2,707 Theaters] Friday $4.4M, Estimated Weekend $12.5M

5. Rango (Paramount) Week 3 [3,843 Theaters] Friday $4.1M, Estimated Weekend $16M, Estimated Cume $93M

6. Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,030 Theaters] Friday $2.4M (-51%), Estimated Weekend $7M, Estimated Cume $25.7M

7. The Adjustment Bureau (MRC/Universal) Week 3 [2,660 Theaters] Friday $1.7M (-49%), Estimated Weekend $5.7M, Estimated Cume $48.6M

8. Mars Needs Moms (Disney) Week 2 [3,117 Theaters] Friday $1.5M (-14%), Estimated Weekend $6.5M, Estimated Cume $17M

9. Beastly (CBS Films/Sony) Week 3 [1,810 Theaters] Friday $1M, Estimated Weekend $3M, Estimated Cume $22M

10. Hall Pass (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 4 [1,905 Theaters] Friday $825K, Estimated Weekend $2.7M, Estimated Cume $39.7M

Gnomeo and Juliet falls out of the Top Ten, while Rango closes in on the $100 million mark.

Add On: The Reporter reports:

... Paramount’s sleeper hit Rango grossed an estimated $15.3 million in its third weekend to come in No. 2, according to Rentrak. The toon fell a respectable 32%, finishing the weekend with a cume of $92.6 million. ...

Disney’s ill-fated Mars Needs Mom continued to struggle, grossing an estimated $5.3 million in its second weekend for a 10-day domestic cume of $15.4 million. Overseas, the motion-capture toon grossed a soft $3.4 million for an international take of $7.8 million and a worldwide total of $23.2 million. ...

On the happier side of the street for the Mouse, Box Office Mojo has Gnomeo and Juliet at #11. The feature fell 34.4%, and has accumulated $93.7 million domestically.

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March and rally for our communities and our jobs!

Click the poster for a full-page flyer.

Animation Guild and other IATSE members: meet us between 10:30 and 10:45 am at Staples Center between Chick Hearn Court and the corner of Figueroa St.. We'll have a group picture taken and then walk one block to the Convention Center where the main march will begin.

To avoid driving downtown, paying for parking and then walking back the march route after the rally, consider taking the Metro Red Line* towards Union Station to the 7th St/Metro stop, transfer to the Blue Line, get off at Pico/Chick Hearn Station (the first stop), and walk two blocks to Staples Center. From Pershing Square after the rally, take the Metro Red Line towards North Hollywood. To get to Staples Center and from Pershing Square from other areas or for further information, check here.

*The Red Line stations at North Hollywood and Universal City have free park-and-ride lots.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, March 18, 2011

Maybe Why Illumination Entertainment Produces Elsewhere?

From Les Times de Los Angeles:

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand is asking Hollywood for its budget-weary producers, pressured directors and harried filmmakers yearning for a tax break. ... [Mitterand] visited Los Angeles this week ... to meet with senior studio executives, including Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger and Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer.

... The French rebate, in effect for little more than a year, has already had some effect, Mitterrand said. Among the beneficiaries was Universal Pictures' hit animated movie "Despicable Me," produced with Paris-based animation studio Mac Guff Ligne and Santa Monica's Illumination Entertainment (the companies are now working on "The Lorax") ...

So there's a reason I.E. does a lot of its work in another land. It gets tax incentives.

(On a related note, the state of California held hearings today on extending its own credits. Our representative Mr. Kaplan was there, along with reps from most of the other Hollywood unions and guilds. The head of the sound local, veteran business representative Jim Osburn, was pretty adamant about getting state incentives extended for another year, saying the film biz would suffer if the tax breaks went away.)

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Four Out Of Sixteen

Four animation titles, three of which have had good runs, are embedded in Thursday's box office rankings. They are as follows:.

1) Rango -- $77,262,114.

4) Mars Needs Moms -- $10,088,083,814

5) Gnomeo and Juliet -- $91,288,382

16) Yogi Bear -- $98,965,017

All but Mars is likely to lurch over the $100 million marker. Somebody is obviously going to these entertainments, which is why our conglomerates keep putting them in the marketplace. Their batting averages are pretty good.

(One other number: TAG blog goes over 2,000,000 visits this weekend. Maybe if blog were snazzier, we would have gotten their quicker. Sadly, I am low on snazz.)

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Cross-Platform Advertising

Two years ago at the industry negotiations I attended, the congloms were complaining about how they didn't know exactly how to deal with all the new media platforms, that they were eating some of their old business models, it was awful, etc.

Now, it seems the studios are catching on about how to use different media platforms to promote other, older media. For example:

Since "Angry Birds" is one of the hot Android apps, why not use it to boost your new animated feature about birds? (Makes sense to me.) If Charlie Sheen can use the Twitter to sell out his concert tour, Fox can use a bird game to promote its latest big-budget, silver-screen production.

Clever, no? Click here to read entire post

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Illumination Entertainment Expanding

The Nikkster tells the tale:

Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri has hired Ashley Kramer to be EVP of Production and Gail Harrison to oversee Creative Marketing. The move signals expansion plans for the 4-year-old Universal Pictures-based company, whose first release Despicable Me grossed $540 million worldwide. ...

Meledandri is adding executives with the intention of doubling Illumination's output to two films per year by 2012 or 2013. ... "With Despicable Me behind us, the impending release of Hop, The Lorax in production and a Despicable Me sequel in early stages, it was time to properly scale the company and begin to solidify the team that will lead us as we move forward," Meledandri [said] ...

Which means there is one more successful, L.A.-based animation producer in the run for gold. Of course, Meledandri produced Despicable Me offshore in the very low-cost France. ("Is it all going to Paris?!") The upcoming hybrid Hop, however, was created in L.A.

Whether Illumination Entertainment's future plans include opening a studio here or (more likely) using existing facilities*, it's always good to give the Mouse and DreamWorks a little serious competition, since it means more jobs for artists and technicians. To date, the ceiling for animated features in the marketplace does not appear to have been reached.

Add On: And Illumination E. isn't wasting time moving ahead on its next project:

... [C]ountry music powerhouse [Taylor Swift] has joined the cast of Universal’s upcoming 3-D animated feature, “The Lorax,” based on the famous Dr. Seuss children’s book.

... Taylor will lend her voice to Audrey ...

So will Ms. Swift be singing? Writing songs for the pic? Inquiring Illumination Entertainment fanboys want to know.

* "Hop" was animated at Rhythm and Hues.

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Climbing to Numero Uno

Always good to see animation climb higher:

... After debuting in second place the previous weekend behind Oscar-fueled "The King's Speech," the animated family film [Rango] moved into first and has $120.4 million in global box office revenue to date. American-made animated family films have gained broad acceptance overseas, with "Gnomeo and Juliet" and "Tangled" also finding favor ...

Thus far, Romeo and Juliet has gathered up $144.3 million from world turnstiles while Tangled has collected $551.5 million.

Apparently it's "mocap animation" that's not getting much love.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Information and Disinformation

We're currently working with the IATSE to organize various visual effects houses, the one part of Hollywood that (mostly) works without benefit of union contracts or accompanying pension and health benefits. One of these effects houses recently handed out the following letter with the following information ...

(We've inserted clarifications between the indented info.)

... Even if the Union manages to gather enough authorization cards to petition the Labor Board for an election, and thereafter wins that election, all they win is the right to negotiate -- the right to ask the Company for what they want ...

True enough. The Union triumphs, the union goes in with a set of proposals, and the haggling begins. The company is under no compulstion to do anything other than "bargain in good faith." (Which of course it will do, like all law-abiding corporations.)

No one knows and no one can predict what will happen as a result of bargaining. The Union cannot guarantee the outcome of negotiations, which means that they cannot make and keep promises about health care, retirement or leave benefits. ... Collective bargaining is a process of give and take. As a result of bargaining, your wages and working conditions could go down, up, or stay the same.

Sort of true, in a theoretical sense. In a real-world sense, not so much. Employees, you see, have the right to ratify negotiated contracts, and if they don't like the specimen that's negotiated, they vote it down. (This is what we call in the labor biz a "ratification vote.") So it's kind of difficult for a bad deal to end up as a contract under which employees are worse off. The employees give it the big "thumbs down."

The only thing the Union can guarantee is you would pay Union dues every month -- which according to the Union's last filing with the federal government is $76.50-$101.11 per quarter, per employee.

Sadly, this one is false. In that real world thing again, the union would collect no dues if there is no contract. (After all, who would pay them if they're getting nothing in return?) So, if union and company don't reach agreement, or union and company reach agreement and the employees says "ixnay, no way," then there are no dues because there is no contract for them to work under.

Hope this clears up a little of the disinformation found above. Thanks for your time.

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TAG Interviews Now On iTunes

In a recent post where Steve Hulett answers some regular questions about the TAG Interviews, commenter Michael Cawood asked that we post the interviews to iTunes.

I'm happy to announce that I've been able to fulfill that request.

Doing a search for Animation Guild was able to find the listing. However, we are still performing a few tweaks and the listing may disappear and reappear for that reason. You can find the listing page at this link. We will also provide the link on the Interview Page on the website.


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Around the Mouse

So I went to the Hat Building today and found out that Ed, John and Andrew held a town meeting on the main lot yesterday.

Where they announced that, because Tangled did so well, WDAS employees will be getting bonuses. This is a good thing ...

One staffer informed me that management acknowledges that story development is thin. As another staffer said:

"Yeah, there's not much in work. Lots of people are developing shorts ideas, but there's not much feature development. They should have a whole bunch of stuff going, with small crews, so they can pick and choose from the best of it. ..."

Feature development is thin? Where have I heard that before?

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Dale Baer and the Art (Also the Business) of Animation -- Part III

Some of Mr. Baer's handiwork on behalf of the Disney Co. and General Motors.

In our final installment, Dale talks about forming his own animation studio and jumping into the world of animated commercials ...

TAG Interview with Dale Baer

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

... And he speaks about returning to Disney Feature in the late 1990s to work on the last of the hand-drawn features and the first of Disney's computer generated efforts Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Pass With Limpet

Warner Bros resurrects (again) an old property.

Oscar-nominated writer/director Richard Linklater (Before Sunset) is reportedly the leading candidate to take over the director’s chair for the Warner Bros. remake of the 1964 animation/live-action hybrid The Incredible Mr. Limpet. ...

Warners has been toying with the idea of doing Mr. Limpet for fifteen years. Back in the mid-nineties, it was a property in development at Warner Bros. Feature Animation (the corporate division that died a few years after birth.) For a few halcyon months, Jim Carrey was attached to the old Don Knotts role, but the movie never got to ignition for launch.

Perhaps this time they'll reach lift off.

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MoCap Factoids

Per the trade papers:

... With its budget at a reported $150 million, Mars seemed to have the deck stacked against it almost from the start. The pic, from Zemeckis' ImageMovers, was an orphaned project, grandfathered into the Disney pipeline as the Dick Cook regime ended. ...

A summary of Imagemovers' MoCap box office:

Mars Needs Moms -- $15.9 million (world cume) -- cost -- $150 million

A Christmas Carol -- $321.5 million -- cost - $180 million

Beowulf -- $195.3 million -- cost - $150 million

Monster House -- $140.2 million -- cost - $90 million

The Polar Express -- $270.8 million -- cost $170 million

Although Christmas Carol and Polar Express picked up considerable coin, the movies' production costs were high. The Mouse (and before it Sony and Warner Bros.) were probably looking for higher profit margins. Or in some cases, just plain profits.

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Dale Baer and the Art of Animation -- Part II

Ralph Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings" -- Mr. Baer's first non-Disney project after leaving the House of Mouse in the late seventies.

We continue with Dale's recollections of the boom-and-bust world of cartoons...

TAG Interview with Dale Baer

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

... talking today about the lost animation secrets of Disney veterans Walt Stanchfield and Dale Oliver, failing to please the animation director of Pete's Dragon, and going to work for Ralph Bakshi on Lord of the Rings.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

This Is Unsurprising

... when you think about it.

The Walt Disney Co. has scuttled a planned remake of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" being developed by the producer of its costly bomb "Mars Needs Moms," sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. ...

The so-so performance of Christmas Carol put IM Digital on thin ice. The rough cut of Mars Needs Moms finished it off. And Mars' opening weekend appears to have blown up the next feature sitting (uneasily) on the tarmac.

I can sort of see what Robert Zemeckis likes about c.g.i./mo-cap features, but I don't think the genre is resonating well with the viewing public. Maybe it's time for Mr. Zemeckis to return to his roots and direct an old-fashioned live-action movie.

Add On: The New York Times analyzes the failure of a major studio release:

... {T]he 3-D animated adventure [Mars Needs Moms is] on track to become one of the biggest box-office bombs in movie history ...

“Scary” is how Chuck Viane, president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios, described the audience rejection of the film. “Was it the idea? The execution? The timing? There are a lot of excuses being floated.”

The financial impact on Disney’s studio will be severe. ...


Add On Too: The Nikkster's site has a different take on Yellow Submarine's demise.

Insiders at Disney are denying a Hollywood Reporter story that a lousy opening weekend for the Robert Zemeckis-produced animated film Mars Needs Moms sank Yellow Submarine, the 3D remake of the psychedelic animated Beatles film that Zemeckis had set up to direct at the studio in August, 2009. ...

Editorial! Get me rewrite!

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More silly arguments against unions

Just a few minutes after I posted my reply on this blog to a particularly silly anti-union rant from someone claiming that no one from the union ever responds to them, I saw this post on the Crooks and Liars blog.

Public service employees should give up their pensions because of the resentment from private sector workers who don't have pensions. Truly, the mind boggles.

(Read the linked post, it makes the argument against this better than I could.)

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A Talk With Dale Baer About the Art of Animation -- Part I

Animator Dale Baer has spent four decades in the cartoon business. He's an animation pro who's been many places and done almost everything ...

TAG Interview with Dale Baer

*Click to listen in your browser. Right-Click and Save to download to your computer to listen later.

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Dale, like many in the biz, yearned to jump into cartoons at an early age. He was among the first of the wave of young talent that rolled into the House of Mouse in the early seventies, and learned his craft from the old masters (Reitherman, Thomas, Johnston, Larson, etc..)

There is an excellent interview of Dale here and here, presented by The Animation Podcast. Think of this effort as an extension and addendum to that one, where Dale focuses on the art and day-to-day challenges of being a working animator. (This conversation is divided into three half-hour segments. You will find a ten-second overlap at the fronts and backs of Parts II and III.)

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Overseas Derby

Box office was less robust than usual due to an unforeseen natural event.

In a drab box office stanza on the foreign theatrical circuit – down a full 60% from the 2010’s comparable weekend largely due to Japan’s earthquake ordeal – Paramount’s Rango claimed the No. 1 spot, snaring $23 million from 4,963 locations in 46 markets, and pushing its early overseas gross total to $46 million. ...

Disney said it went ahead with its market opening of Tangled at 156 screens “despite the ongoing tragic conditions.” Reported two-day gross for the 3D reworking of the Rapunzel tale came in at $1.6 million. ... The film’s offshore gross totals $354.8 million, and its worldwide tally is $551.5 million. ...

Worldwide ticket sales are well over the half-billion mark for Tangled. I think we're close to break-even, don't you?

And as for the newbie Rango, it now has a worldwide gross of $114.7 million.

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Your Class Warfare Moment

Since we are a union blog, we do have to give you one of these once in a while. From Bill Maher via the Nikkster:

I'll say it again: I don't believe in the "Too Big to Fail" doctrine. I don't agree (and never agreed) with Greenspan, Paulsen, Summers and Geithner and their prescriptions for saving the banks and the attendant billionaires.

If free enterprise is good enough for the rest of us, it should be good enough for the top one percent as well.

As Ritholtz at the Washington Post wrote yesterday:

... You might be surprised to learn that ... [b]efore these firms [big banks] went public in the 1970s and 1980s, bank management had full liability for their firm's losses. During the era of Wall Street partnerships, if employees were so reckless as to lose billions of dollars, the partners were on the hook for the full amount. This meant that after the firm was liquidated to pay its debts, the partners' personal assets were next on the auction block: Houses, cars, boats, even watches were sold to satisfy the debt. ...

Sounds fair to me. You lose a lot of money because you're reckless, you ought to have a consequence.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Red Riding Hood's Effx

Below the Line's interview with effects supervisor Jeff Okun:

[Okun:] ... For the wolf, [director] Catherine [Hardwicke] had collected images of every werewolf that has ever appeared in a motion picture, TV show and in books that we could find. The design of the wolf was brought along by Catherine, her concept designer, me, and an artist at Digital Domain who sculpted it for us. It became a collage of bits and pieces of feelings that we drew upon to come up with this wolf. We also built it based off of things that she hated. We had lots of round-table discussions.

The wolf was then animated by Craig Talmy, the director of animation at Rhythm and Hues. ...

Even the most live action of live-action pictures today has animation in it. Guys in wolf suits and gorilla suits are so 1970s ...

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About the TAG Interviews

Since I've gotten various reactions and queries, here are a few answers to a few questions ...

How did you come to do these things?

I got the idea for interviewing animation veterans for TAG blog last Fall, when I was running for re-election as Business Representative. Since I wasn't posting at the time, I put the execution of the idea off until after ballots were counted.

The original thought was to interview people who were somewhat younger than the "old-timers," but had been in the business twenty-five or thirty years. That policy has now been broadened, because we realize it's important to hear from artists who might not be around to interview a few years hence. (I kick myself I didn't start this up three or four years ago.)

Who are you interviewing?

We strive to interview a broad cross-section of people in the cartoon industry, folks working on the theatrical and/or television side who have made big contributions to the art form. Folks in different classifications. (Animators and directors have one story to tell, background and storyboard artists another. Kind of important, we think, to get a variety of experiences.)

How often are the interviews going to be put up on the blog?

As often as we do them, but no more than once a week. At the start, it was going to be "whenever," but we've gotten into a rhythm of putting them up on Monday or Tuesday, in thirty to forty-minute chunks. We'll work to continue that.

So where do you record these?

In studio offices. In the Animation Guild conference room. At private homes. Wherever it's most convenient for the interviewee. The sound quality varies because of the acoustics of different spaces. I use a small digital recorder placed close to the interviewed person.

How much time does it take to do an interview?

The length you hear is the length it takes. We perform minimal editing. (This is kind of obvious, yes?) I do research beforehand, and mouthe a short introduction afterhand, which Steve Kaplan (our in-house technical wiz) puts onto the front. That's pretty much it. No written questions, no windy formalities, just the ebb and flow of conversation.

How long will these interviews go on?

Two or three years. Beyond that, who knows? The over-arching idea is to put a lot of these oral histories onto the blog and the Animation Guild website and build a mosaic of recorded information about the animation industry that will be accessible to people. In the past, the guild has recorded interviews onto magnetic tape and the tape sat on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust. (Not super useful.)

Anyway, that's some of the thinking behind why we're doing these. We hope you find value in the project.

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Lasseter Animosity?

A commenter below asks:

.. [W]hat is this whole deal about John Lasseter being a hated man anyway? ...

Say what? I've got minimal clues about any "deal" regarding negative feelings toward Mr. Lasseter.

I've never heard very much about John Lasseter being "hated." I'm sure somebody somewhere in the business might possess strong dislike, but it seldom if ever reaches me. (I occasionally run into John at Disney; we exchange pleasantries and that's it. I have no other contact with him.)

Now, there are veteran animation artists to whom I've talked who are somewhat cynical and jaded about John's deification in the media, but most everybody I know respects his talent. John has an approach, sensibility and point of view regarding animation that has been very successful, and has helped make newer Disney features better than what came immediately before. His approach is not to everyone's taste, but what approach is?

Equally important, John Lasseter has instituted a policy at Walt Disney Animation Studios that has been a force for good: Creators now get to make the product, and administrators -- most of whom should be nowhere near the creative process -- are no longer giving dim-bulb notes that everyone needs to follow. This change alone is a huge improvement. (Disney Feature in the late nineties was exactly the opposite. Many of the division's twenty-three Vice Presidents weighed in on the direction of development and how features should go, and creative staff bitched about it constantly. And most of the features from that era speak for themselves.)

The unhappiness regarding Disney that's come to me the last few years is not about the movies or Lasseter per se. The unhappiness I've encountered revolves around staffing and personnel policies. There have been times when I've walked into the Hat Building and found the gloom in some departments pervasive. Everybody was working their backsides off on a project they liked and believed in, (Tangled is a recent example; there have been others), but many employees were staring layoff notices in the face. Hard as it is to believe, this isn't conducive to creating joy and gladness, no matter how high-quality the picture being worked on might be.

It's fine for management to mouth platitudes about how the goal is to make employees happier and more fulfilled, to keep most everybody on, etc., etc. But when, year after year, those fine things never happen, portions of the staff become ... what's the right phrasing? ... somewhat disenchanted. (Disney supervisors often say that they don't hear any of this negative stuff, but why would they? No lower level employees with survival instincts bitch to the people in charge, particularly when they see wave after wave of layoffs and want to be rehired one day. But they sure as hell bitch to me.)

My view about Walt Disney Animation Studios has been pretty consistent: the Mouse makes good animated movies, and has many employees with low morale because of the staffing policies. (Please note that a lot of the Disney workers with lower morale are currently laid off.)

But honestly, I don't see a lot of "Lasseter hate." The hate, such as it is, gets directed at others.

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