Monday, October 31, 2011

DWA Stock Down, And ...

Financial analysts aren't happy.

Susquehanna Financial Group’s Vasily Karasyov: The weekend gross [of Puss in Boots] is “yet another argument supporting our thesis that it is time for the company to revise its film costs structure ...”

Which means what? (Insert your own imagined scenario here.)

You can always make c.g. movies cheaper. The question is, how do you make them more efficiently? And raise quality at the same time?

Backtracking on art direction, animation and/or story is something animation studios can't really do at this point. The bar keeps going up and won't be dropping down again. Film creators will need to go on leaping over it.

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Why would a judge question the veracity and wide-eyed innocence of cartoon studios?!

... U.S. District Court Judge Lucy H. Koh issued a case management order in the class action litigation charging that Adobe Systems Inc., Apple Inc., Google Inc., Intel Corporation, Intuit Inc., Lucasfilm Ltd., and Pixar violated antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress compensation for their employees.

In the order, Judge Koh denied defendants' motion to stay discovery in part. ...

It's like my dear old grannie used to say: "We live in a fallen world!" (And thanks to VFX Soldier for bringing this to our attention.)

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The Mural on the Penthouse Wall

(c) The Disney Co.

For forty-plus years, there was a wood-paneled eatery on top of the Disney Animation Building (the building up above, not the structure on Riverside Drive.) And in that eatery was a mural, blown up from an art piece by Fred Moore ...

Mega Collector has a framed memorial of the art, which he generously shares.

Where the above visual might be at the present time, I know not. The small rectangle at the bottom? That's a membership card for the PH Club. Here's a closer view:

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The Rudy Cataldi Interview -- Part I

Rudy Cataldi was born and reared in Newark, New Jersey, and came out to California's milder climate during World War II. As Rudy tells it ...

TAG Interview with Rudy Cataldi

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

I started in the business on November 1, 1943 as a 16-year-old in the Disney Studios traffic department. For three months my 9:00 a.m pickup was at the front gate entrance on Buena Vista. I was lucky to meet Walt Disney each morning at that time and walk into the animation building with him as a starry-eyed kid. At about the second week, I asked him for an autographed photo of himself. He told me he would have it for me at 10:30 a.m. I went up to his office ... There was Walt, with his photo in hand ... He showed me around his office, which looked more like an apartment ...

Three months into my career, I was given a chance to try out for inbetweens. I tried, had pomise, and started picking up from Johnny Bond, another gem of a person. In no time I started assisting ... I still remember the first scene I worked on. It was Donalde Duck hanging by the collar on the side of a cliff in a short called "Commando Duck."

Disney's, however, was just the first studio at which Mr. Cataldi worked in a fifty-seven year long career.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

MoCap Okay Now?

Apparently nobody wants to see icky old Motion Capture ... except when they do.

... Tintin was No. 1 in the U.K., where it grossed $10.7 million.

This weekend alone, the movie grossed $2.1 million from 169 screens in Herge's home nation, $1.9 million from 297 screens in Sweden, $1.8 million from 174 screens in Switzerland, $1.6 million on 221 screens in Denmark and $1.3 million on 250 screens in Holland and $1.3 million in Italy.

In Spain, it grossed $6.7 million on 798 screens -- 50 percent of the country's entire market ...

All I have seen of the feature is the trailer with the frenetic cutting and spectacular action fragments. Big ships, things blowing up, close ups of characters slogging through the uncanny valley. Judging from the European opening, audiences are flocking to the well-loved comic book figure's big screen adventure. I think we can say that, thus far, it hasn't been the still-born entity that Mars Needs Moms turned out to be.

Who knows? Maybe it will be a sizable global hit.

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Foreign Derby

The box office news from overseas:

Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, which registered a No. 1 offshore gross of $55.8 million ... Puss In Boots, which set records for an animation title in Russia ($15 million from 700 locations) and in the Ukraine ($1.7 million from 110 sites). ...

Tomorrow's trades and media will reflect "Oooh. Puss in Boots ... another DWA disappointment."

But at the end of its box office run, the feature will be up at 400 to 500 million dollars, give or take. The big question mark, which will be answered in a couple of weeks, is how it sustains through the end of the year.

As for Tintin, I expected it would do well in Europe. The boy reporter is an icon there.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Reading (and Viewing)

A few pieces on animation:

Phineas and Ferb gets Toy Story writer ... plus live action.

Laika's oncoming feature Paranorman, in the Burton tradition.

Forbes Magazine speculates about Puss in Boots' (and DWA's) future.

Ed Catmull remembers Steve Jobs and the beginnings of Pixar.

God is a Geek describes the "Disney Universe" multi-player game.

Character designer Jay Schuster discusses Cars 2.

And, still on a Pixar-related kick ... John Lasseter and his winery.

Lastly, the Disney Channel goes to Russia.

Have a sumptious, life-fulfilling weekend. (Meaning, sleep in on Sunday)

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Weekend of the Cat

Your Nikkster and mine gives us the Friday numbers:

1. Puss In Boots 3D (Dreamworks Animation/Paramount) NEW [3,952 Theaters] Friday $9.8M, Estimated Weekend $37M

2. Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount) Week 2 [3,329 Theaters] Friday $7.3M (-72%), Estimated Weekend $20M, Estimated Cume $80M

3) In Time (Fox) NEW [3,001 Theaters] Friday $4.5M, Estimated Weekend $13M

4) Footloose (Paramount) Week 3 [3,224 Theaters] Friday $2M, Estimated Weekend $6M, Estimated Cume $39M

5) The Rum Diary (FilmDistrict) NEW [2,272 Theaters] [2,272 Theaters] Friday $1.7M, Estimated Weekend $5M

6. Real Steel (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 4 [2,914 Theaters] Friday $1.6M, Estimated Weekend $5.7M, Estimated Cume $74.8M

7. Three Musketeers 3D (Summit) Week 2 [3,017 Theaters] Friday $1.1M (-61%), Estimated Weekend $3.7M, Estimated Cume $15M

The question is, will Puss break the $40 million barrier? (I saw it today in the flat screen version and liked it a lot. Morning show at the Burbank AMC was pretty full.)

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Anime by Subscription

Hulu's secret weapon.

Animation Gives an Edge to Streaming Services

One of the most popular options on Hulu ... is an animated series about an adolescent ninja and his pink-haired love interest battling a mysterious organization.

... Hulu has 9,500 episodes of anime titles. ... Netflix offers 4,000 anime episodes for streaming. ... Hulu can offer anime in its raciest and rawest form, though the company said it included ratings on episodes and avoided acquiring anything too sexual. ...

... Hulu’s strategy mirrors the approach of fledgling pay-cable channels in the 1990s and early 2000s. Networks like IFC, Spike, G4 and Starz all featured artsy Japanese animation to try to attract a young, hip audience. ...

It's fine that anime is popular, but piracy has lowered its cash value in the states. (Why pay big money for something you can get for next to nothing in bootleg form?)

Japanese creators are no doubt thrilled with their popularity, even as they are bummed by the tiny revenue streams. There's a lesson there for other creators.

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To India

As the Times says:

[Puss In Boots] marks the first time that the Glendale studio has relied on a crew of Indian animators to help produce a full-length feature film. Until now, DreamWorks Animation had used the studio it operates in Bangalore to produce mainly TV specials and DVD bonus material.

... Joe Aguilar, head of the Indian operation for DreamWorks and producer on "Puss in Boots," [said] "There has been fear in our studio. But, if anything, we've just built more space in Glendale to increase our capacity there, and we're moving into a bigger office in Redwood City. We're not reducing jobs in the U.S."...

Couple of things about this: There has been downsizing at the Glendale facility. But this has more to do with shifting production schedules and production delays, not with outsourcing.

To DreamWorks Animation's credit, when production gaps bubbled up in Glendale, work on a Puss featurette was shifted from India to California so that Dreamworks employees stateside had continuity of employment.

So. Will entire DWA features be done on the sub-continent? It's certainly possible, but I don't foresee work on high-end features disappearing from Southern California. Salaries are only one part of the production equation.

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Another Fred Moore Study

... from the Mega Collector ...

Fred Moore, the well-known Disney animator, was renowned for his "Freddie Moore's Girls", paintings of which he did many. This is a new picture we haven't seen before, and Mr. Mega wanted to share it.

(There's a bit of reflection on the image. We'll be putting another Moore item up next week ...)

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cat Lottery

Talking to a DreamWorks Animation exec this afternoon, the subject of Puss In Boots came up. He allowed as how attention around the Glendale studio was focused on the new movie release. I allowed as how I was going to see it over the weekend. That seemed to lift the mood of the conversation.

... The 3-D film about a swashbuckling cat burglar is expected to gross about $40 million this weekend, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. Distributor Paramount Pictures is anticipating a softer debut of about $35 million. ...

... The film will likely get off to a slightly worse start than "Megamind," the studio's last fall release, which opened to $46 million last November. Nonetheless, "Puss in Boots" is expected to fare better over the long haul compared with "Megamind" ...

I'll be optimistic, and say the feature comes within spitting distance of Megamind's opening. Further, I'll project that the feature will have a healthier worldwide gross than MM because 1) it's not U.S. centric and 2) foreign lands like the 3-D movies more than America does.

By the weekend, we will know how far off the mark I am. But after everything shakes out, PiB will earn 35-40% of its money here, and 60-65% everyplace else.

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The next "Mission Impossible" trailer (with an unfortunate commercial in front of it) ....

And why Brad Bird hasn't made a sequel to The Incredibles:

... I don’t have a whole movie yet, and the last thing I want to do is do it just because it would open big, or something like that.” ...

That clear enough? When Brad has a complete feature, he'll do the next one. But not before.

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Everyone Is A Winner!

But a chosen few win a lot more than others ...

The Congressional Budget Office released the above yesterday, and it's making the media rounds. Hardly a surprise that, as our tax system grows less and less progressive, the lucky duckies at the top grow ever richer.

Many argue that this is the natural order of things, and that we shouldn't punish the winners and job creators. That we don't want to have "class warfare," etc. etc.

And that's all fine, up to a point. But there's a basic problem. When you have chronic income disparity, you end up with social instability. And with social instability comes problems. Just ask Marie Antoinette. Or Muammar Gaddafi.

Me, I vote for general prosperity for everybody. And if that means the Koch brothers have to make do with 26 billion dollars instead of 54 billion dollars, I'm okay with that.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cartoon Network Visit

Today was 401(k) day at Cartoon Network. After the enrollment meeting, I rambled about the CN building, drinking in the vibes ...

One staffer worried about Secret Mountain Fort Awesome getting picked up:

"We haven't heard anything. I don't know if it gets a renewal or not. They don't stick with things that don't make a BIG ratings splash, and I'm not sure Fort Awesome is strong enough. Might have to start looking around ..."

(The show seems to be performing in its time slot ... or was. I don't know if more episodes will get greenlit or not.)

On the other hand, another artist informed me that The Regular Show has been renewed, so that's good news for employees hungry for continuity of employment. But the alleged renewal shouldn't have been difficult to see coming:

Among Monday night's comedy animated series, REGULAR SHOW (8:15 p.m.) was the #1 telecast of the day among kids 9-14 and all boy demos. Additionally, ADVENTURE TIME (8 p.m.) and REGULAR SHOW (8:15 p.m.) both ranked #1 in their time periods among kids 6-11, kids 9-14 and all boys. ...

Cartoon Network continues on its merry roll.

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We Want Your Input. Really ...

Quite recently I had an artist come into my office and tell me the sad story of being in a meeting where "suggestions and input" to make the project better was "encouraged."

So he came up with suggestions, and was told his ideas were interesting and "worth thinking about." And two weeks later his producer informed him that his last day would be January 4th. ("Right after the holidays. Because, you know, we don't want to lay you off right at Christmas ...")

This struck a memory button with me. And sure enough, back in April 2006, right here on this blog, I penned this:

My Door Is Always Open

The above is used so often by supervisors/managers/execs that it's beyond being a cliche. But a veteran animation supervisor gave me a new perspective on it this afternoon...

She said that when a lead actually DOES have an "0pen Door" policy, the lead never broadcasts it or talks about it. The open door just IS. The supervisor makes himself available to provide advice...or information...or simple feedback.

The way you know there isn't an open door, free-flow-of-info policy is when the supervisor keeps proclaiming it, over and over...

"I want someone to tell me," Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. "If any of it is my fault, I want to be told."

"He wants someone to tell him," Clevinger said.

"He wants everyone to keep still, idiot," Yossarian answered.

"Didn't you hear him," Clevinger argued.

"I heard him," Yossarian replied. "I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what's good for us."

"I won't punish you," Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.

"He says he won't punish me," said Clevinger.

"He'll castrate you," said Yossarian.

-- Joseph Heller, Catch 22

This general theme pops up over and over in my travels. A few examples:

1) I go to a studio exec, tell him about problems and issues that employees have with some of the company's practices. (I'm relaying the complaints because employees have asked me to. Naturally I keep the complainers anonymous.) The studio exec bristles a bit, says to me:

"I tend to question what you say, Steve. Because I've gone around to our artists on different shows and asked if there were problems. Everybody said things were fine."

(Apparently the employees have read "Catch 22".)

2) An employee at one of our fine animation studios relates how a story artist comes up with several great ideas to improve things in an "open meeting" and gets positive reaction ... and then is let go.

3) A tech director comes up to me and says: "We're noticing in the big meetings for the whole division? The ones with all the top execs up on the stage? We're noticing that anybody who stands up and asks a question is laid off two months later ..."

Long ago, one of the best story artists I ever knew, a guy named Pete Young, said to me: "You can't tell them anything until they're ready to hear it. ...". I've thought about Pete's words often over the years, and marvel how true they continue to be. But then, the nature of human beings never changes very much. Most want to better themselves ... and live to tell the tale.

Of course, nobody plays the political game perfectly. There is no "perfect." But there is "better," there is "worse," and there is denial. (How many times have you heard the words "I don't play politics!" Well I'm sorry, but that's bunk. Everybody "plays politics." Just like everybody breathes. If you are interacting with a fellow homo sapien ... or in many cases, even a four-legged critter ... you are "playing politics." You are trying to move your agenda and better your position. That's what politics is.)

And politics, in part, is also the art of survival. Which is what Joseph Heller's Yossarian is practicing up above. So when somebody tells you and others that "we want everyone's input and thoughts ..." tread softly. Because after you provide your thoughts, you don't want the production manager coming into your cubicle and saying:

"Got a minute? ..."

Because the next thing that will happen, when you're sitting in his office and the door is closed, will be the words "Here's your end date. ..." *

* Some will think I'm being too cynical here. Others will think I'm not being cynical enough. What I'm doing is giving you the distillation of a couple hundred conversations and observations. If not more.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Getting Serious?

Reports the L.A. Times:

has tapped respected distribution veteran Chuck Viane to advise the company on a range of distribution options, including the viability of releasing its own movies or finding a new studio to do the job.

"In the next six to nine months we have a very important decision to make in terms of our future distribution," DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said. ...

[M]ore Hollywood studios are angling to get a piece of the increasingly crowded computer-animation business... Four of the top 10 movies at the box office in 2010 were animated films, including "Toy Story 3" and "Shrek Forever After." ...

I was over at DreamWorks Animation today, doing a 401(k) meeting and walking around. Remarkably enough, no artist talked to me about who's going to be distributing the gaggle of features on which he/she is now working. People have shots to get out.

Disney began distributing its own animated features and shorts in the early 1950s. It took Walt about a quarter century to get around to it, but at the time he was branching into feature-length documentaries and live-action films, so it made sense. He was going from "cartoon studio" to "mini-major" ... and soon thereafter an amusement park operator.

Previous to launching Buena Vista Distribution (named for the street the Disney lot sits on), the company had its product distributed by RKO, before that United Artists, and before that Columbia Pictures.

We'll see how a stand-alone distribution company works out for DreamWorks Animation. Perhaps Mr. Spielberg will kick in some live-action offerings to, you know, round out the release slate.

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Congratulations to CLEAN

CLEAN is the Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network. They are a national coalition set up by the United Steelworkers' Carwash Workers Organizing Committee (CWOC) to bring workplace protections and establish a collective bargaining precedent for the car wash workers of Los Angeles and beyond.

Today, they announced they've reached their first contract with Bonus Carwash in Santa Monica. This marks the first contract in the United States that addresses the decades of abuse suffered by car wash workers.

Oliverio Gomez, who has worked at Bonus Car Wash for nine years, said, “I’m so happy we have a union and a contract. Now we get to take our breaks, if we’re thirsty we can drink water, and they respect the schedule, and all of the hours we work are in our paycheck. But the biggest difference is we finally get respect as workers.”

The contract includes a wage increase, health and safety protections, grievance and arbitration procedures and protections for workers if the carwash is sold. The agreement also establishes rights that protect workers from being unfairly punished or dismissed, among other things.

In light of the current social awareness movements across the world, its heartwarming to see positive tangible results. As a burgeoning Organizer, I was sent to an AFL-CIO Organizing conference within weeks of starting with the Guild. There, I met some of the AFL-CIO organizers assisting the CLEAN campaign. After hearing how their campaigns were going, I was left wondering if I would ever hear of success from their actions.

While this in no way diminishes the struggle CLEAN still has in front of them, it certainly destroys the argument that unionization has missed its opportunities in our corner of the world. The strength of the collective voice will always have its place when the workforce is ready to use it.

Congratulations to the United Steelworkers and the union employees of Bonus Carwash.

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Around Nickelodeon

I spent a lengthy stretch of the afternoon at Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios on Monday. Quite a bit going on over there ...

Artists are putting up an elaborate Halloween walk through with sculputres, wall hangings, and things that go bump in the night. (It looks to me as if it's more elaborate than last year's offering, and that was elaborate. ...)

Nick's rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is well along. I looked at character designs pinned to the wall. They're zesty and fun. One of the artists related:

"Nick is going back to the original comics for the shows. I've seen some final renders on the turtles and they look feature quality. They want to get a lot of edgy action into the shows, yet at the same time keep it fun, and kid-friendly.:

I guess we'll find out how well Viacom succeeds when the show rolls out in 2013.

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The Jack Thomas Interview -- Part II

After work in live-action movies and cable shows, Jack wrote a freelance script for a Nickelodeon show entitled Fairly Odd Parents and he was launched into the animation biz ...

TAG Interview with Jack Thomas

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

That first script was soon followed by a staff position at Nick, which led to a job as associate story editor on the iconic Nickelodeon series. Shortly thereafter, Jack write the bible for Disney's The Replacements, and became the executive producer and show-runner for TR's 52-episode run.

Mr. Thomas finds that cartoon writing takes a special knack: "You have to think visually," he says, "and you can't talk down to your audience." He recently completed assignments on Cartoon Networks The Regulars show, and is now working on a new, (unannounced) series.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Oncoming Kitty

Regarding this weekend's Puss in Boots, exec producer Guillermo del Toro says:

... We shaped the story of the villain, Humpty Dumpty, so he was memorable not just as a bad guy, but in his journey. We started devising ideas for him, how clever he was as an inventor. We created a little bit more of a mythology for Puss—how he got the boots, what they meant, what was his internal turmoil… One of the things I’m most interested in exploring is family and friendship—I thrive on that. We tried to make Puss have colors that that were unexpected. There were people who said, ‘Oh, we’re going to see another Shrek spinoff,’ and I became actively involved in trying to give the movie a different type of humor and a different type of beauty. ...

There were sixty animators working on PiB last summer. Buzz in and out of the studio has been positive, and certainly Rotten Tomatoes thinks highly of it.

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Oncoming Gregory

Another show from Fox/Bento Box premieres Sunday ...

There's some fresh blood joining Fox's (in)famous Animation Domination line-up this Sunday with the premiere episode of Allen Gregory. For those unaware, Allen Gregory is a new half-hour animated comedy from Jonah Hill, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogul about the world's most pretentious seven year old who's forced out of his sheltered, ritzy, home-schooled lifestyle and into the treacherous world of the public school system.

Right now, BB artists are waiting on a third season pickup for Bob's Burgers, and the first week's numbers on Allen Gregory. As one said to me today:

"You're always hanging by a thread in the animation business, waiting to find out if your show gets a new order of episodes. Nerve wracking. ..."

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Attend the IATSE Healthcare Benefits Townhall Meeting

Time is running out to reserve a spot at one of the IATSE Healthcare Benefits townhall meetings. We must forward the list of atetndees to the IATSE by the end of the week. The meetings are scheduled as follows:

Sunday, November 13 - 10am to 12pm

IATSE Local 80, 2520 W Olive Ave, Burbank

Google Map

Monday, November 14 - 7pm to 9pm

California Ballroom, Four Points Sheraton - LAX

9750 Airport Blvd. 90045

Google Map

Tuesday, November 15 - 7pm to 9pm

IATSE Local 80, 2520 W Olive Ave, Burbank

Google Map

These meetings are designed to give insight about the decisions that have been made and will need to be made regarding our Health Care benefits in the upcoming IATSE and AMPTP negotiations. All active IATSE members are welcome to attend. All attending members must reserve a spot for the meeting of their choice through their local.

The Guild has a limited amount of spots available at each meeting. Seats at the meeting to be held on the 15th are almost full. The two other meetings are wide open. Contact Steve Kaplan at (818) 845-7500 or with your meeting preference.

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The Jack Thomas Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Jack Thomas

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Animation writer Jack Thomas graduated from law school and started his own law firm. It wasn't like he had a lot of money, but he thought this was the right thing to do. Then, after he won his first and only case before the Ohio Supreme Court, he decided to hang on to his perfect legal record and get into show business ....

Mr. Thomas moved from legal eagling to standup comedy, a craft that he practised for years with success. But when he moved to the Left Coast, he soon found a new calling in animation ...

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bogelish Investing

With 401(k) Meeting Calendar!

One more post about putting something away for later. And where to put it:

Vanguard Founder John Bogel's Rules for Investing

Live Below Your Means -- You need to save a significant portion of your income every month in order to have the money you will need in the future to comfortably retire. ...

Simplicity -- A single total market stock index fund contains thousands of stocks, including all styles and company sizes. Total bond market index funds contain thousands of different bonds with maturities ranging from less than one year to over thirty years. ...

Asset Allocation -- Holding bonds is essential. What percentage in bonds? That’s the basic question of asset allocation. The decision needs to balance your ability and your need to take risk. ...

Buy Low Cost Funds That Are Widely Diversified -- Buy funds that are widely diversified, or approximate the whole market. This guarantees that the investor will receive the average return of all equity investors. ... [T]he vast majority of funds perform worse than average after you take into account the high fees ...

Tax Efficiency Matters -- The most important rule for tax efficiency is to take full advantage of tax-advantaged accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs. ...

Stay the Course -- [W]ith the crash of 2008, many investors panicked, or at least wavered in their commitment to buy and hold investing. ... But the only real course correction needed is to rebalance once per year to bring stock/bond allocations back to pre-set levels. ...

This is the secret of smart investing: It's simple in concept, but difficult in execution. Everyone thinks there is some magical, silver bullet to riches, except there isn't. Market Timing doesn't work. The genius Financial Advisor is difficult to find and usually charges too much. (Just ask the former clients of Bernie Madoff.)

Somebody who knows zip about stocks and bonds could still end up with a nice stash of cash after thirty or forty years if they put their 401(k) and Roth IRA contributions into the Vanguard Target Income Fund or the Vanguard Target Retirement 2015 Fund. Both are conservative, both are broadly diversified, and both would likely grow at a comfortable clip over three or four decades.

Can't get much simpler. But here's what makes the execution hard: When one market sector goes rocketing up, or several market sectors crash, then lots of investors want to bail out of their stodgy, diversified investment plan and hop aboard the latest bullet train. Human beings are hard-wired to chase the hot trend. (Just look at studio moguls.) But those that can resist the impulse, come out the other side of their 401(k) Plans and IRAs with souls and wallets intact.

Upcoming TAG 401(k) Meetings

DreamWorks Animation - TUE - Oct 25 10 am - Dng rm b & c

Cartoon Network - WED - Oct 26 11 am - conf rm

WB Anim - THUR - Oct 27 2 pm - Bldg 34R conf rm

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The World Horse Race

The latest scorecard for animation-type movies in foreign lands:

... Real Steel remained strong in Russia ($2.1 million in its third weekend for a market cume of $18 million) and in Australia ($1.1 million in the third round, cume $9.3 million). Steel’s foreign gross total stands at $86.1 milion.

... Rise of the Planet of the Apes continues forcefully in Japan ... pushing the foreign gross total to $264.5 million.

Lion King 3D, $44 million over 11 frames ... Rango, $121.5 million ...

For those of you doing box scores at home, Rango now has a grand total of $245 million (Rounded.) We must always remember that the lizard's saga is a "hit" while Kung Fu Panda 2, which has outgrossed the original, is considered a "disappointment." And Apes has accumulated $439.9 million.

Lion King 3D has added 136.6 million to its almost billion dollar total. Pretty good for a seventeen-year-old, hand-drawn feature.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Never-Ending Money Derby

Your U.S.-Canada box office is looking up:

Paranormal Activity 3 -- $26.2 million

Footloose -- $3.5 million ($23.8 million)

Real Steel -- $3.1 million ($59 million)

Three Musketeers -- $2.9 million

Ides of March -- $1.5 million ($25.8 million)

The c.g. robots drop to the third position, and Summit fails to launch the 112th movie version of Monsieur Dumas's book about the French swordsmen. (I read the novel a long time ago and remember it as being great, but come on. It ain't exactly a fresh grocery item, you know? Richard Lester made the story work on screen, but Mr. Anderson, he has some challenges, yes?)

You can find the Nikkster's take on latest box office here.

And the Mojo's final, grand tally here:

1) Paranormal Activity 3 -- $54 million

2) Real Steel -- $67.2 million

3) Footloose -- $30.9 million

4) Three Musketeers -- $8.8 million

5) Ides of March -- $29.2 million

6) Dolphin Tale -- $64.4 million

12) Lion King 3D -- $92.6 million

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Women in Animation Panel

Last night, Women in Animation held a panel discussion about unions and independent animation creators/entrepreneurs in the biz. Craig Miller, Tom Sito, Steve Hulett and Charles Zembillas were on the panel, moderated by WIA President Linda Miller. Here's my take on the proceedings ...

Tom S. outlined the history of unions in Cartoonland, from the Fleischer days to the present. Craig Miller described how the Writers Guild of America came to represent animation writers in the 1990s, and Yours Truly provided information about contract negotiations, organizing non-union houses, and what the Animation Guild has worked to accomplish over the past twenty years. Charles Z. talked about independent operators in animation, how he came to form Animation Nation in 1999, and how TAG blog comments should be moderated.

There were lots of comments and questions from the audience. Midway, the proceedings briefly devolved into a taunting and yelling match, but order soon prevailed and the panel discussion/Q & A went on. Some of the main points:

* The Hollywood unions' residual system began in the early sixties; the DGA, SAG, and WGA receive residuals as "mail box" money -- that is, checks to individual filmmakers. The IA receives residual as a moneystream into its pension and health plans. (The Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan.)

* The first animated television show created under a WGA contract was Craig Miller's Pocket Dragon Adventures. Organizing Pocket Dragons helped spur organizing by the WGA of The Simpsons.

* There are today more avenues for artists to get into the cartoon business, separate and apart from the Big Studios. Independent animated shorts and features can be show-cased on You Tube and other internet sites, and can be monetized through internet ads. However, the revenue derived from that source isn't high.

* Entertainment unions are often helped by their Big Names and Key Players during organizing strikes and contract negotiations. They often make a crucial difference between success and failure. (The WGA's show-runners were very important in the WGA strike 0f 2007-2008.)

* Unions are constrained by Federal Labor Laws and Regulations. For instance, they can't represent a group of employees who are already covered by another collective bargaining agreement.

* The militancy of Film Roman employees was a key reason the Animation Guild successfully organized the studio in 2004.

The meeting ended at 10:15. Hopefully attendees brought away a bit of new knowledge at the end of the whole thing.

As always, feel free to comment. But understand if comments get overly rude or abusive, blog administrators will take the comments down.

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Various Rates of Pay

Not ours, but others'. A little bit different wage survey.

I really don't have much of anything to say. The graphic kind of speaks for itself. (Click on the link here or up above to get a clearer view.)

Add On: I enjoyed this comment attached to the original Ritholtz post:

Let’s just take Jobs at 749M. Does ANYONE deserve that kind of money? What board, in it’s right mind unless it’s filled with sycophants would allow that to flow to one person instead of to employees and shareholders? Does anyone really ever NEED this sort of compensation? Is it really necessary to pay anyone more than, say 10x what the average worker makes to run a place and plow the rest back into the company as a whole and the shareholders?

And if anyone gives me the “the person will go elsewhere” line my attitude (as it is with my employees) is “go right ahead, no one is irreplaceable and if they are, it’s the fault of the organization”. If Apple can never replace Jobs, then he did a piss-poor job of building a company. Because, you know, that’s what a CEO is supposed to do. Not be famous.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Again At the Studios

Another busy day in the east San Fernando Valley ...

Today I was at Bento Box, where a staffer said:

"Fox is happy with the 18-54 demographic for Bob's Burgers. We're hoping for a pickup on the back nine. Also hoping for a third season pickup for Season #3 ..."

BB's Magnolia Boulevard facility is pretty full up at the moment.

After Bento, I journeyed to Disney Television Animation's Sonora Building, where Phineas and Ferb, Kick Buttowski and Tron have now fully relocated from the Burbank lot's Frank Wells Building. (Disney has a lot of buildings.)

A week or so ago, the two-story structure was pretty chaotic, what with construction workers putting up walls and installing hardware, what with movers hauling boxes of artists' belongings into different cubes. The dust and noise have now gone away, and the gray, industrial-strength cubicles have been reinstalled on the second floor*. And work is humming along.

I was asked about a TVA move to the Golden Oaks Ranch up in Santa Clarita, and said I knew nothing in that regard. (I can't conceive of another move on the heels of the last one, but hey. Stranger things happened.) I was asked about the upcoming contract negotiations. And about tight schedules and unpaid overtime and the usual issues. I got at least one volunteer for the negotiating committee.

Oh yes. In the earlier morning hours, Mr. Kaplan and I motored to the west Valley, where we handed out leaflets to arriving staff at non-union Moonscoop Studios in the heart of Warner Center. (A union organizer's life is never dull.) A few managers asked us what we thought we were doing, so we explained the procedure to them. Happily, nobody questioned our right to stand on the sidewalk and pass out our fine union material.

* A couple of months ago, the second floor of the Sonora Building was home to DisneyToon Studio and had a laid-back atmosphere with these strange white cubicle dividers that artists complained were too low and too flimsy. Installed near the end of the Sharon Morrill regime, they began life with these strange, white hangings overhead and looked like, swear to God, Civil War tents. Most artists hated them.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Google

... honors Mary Blair's 100th birthday.

Many happy returns.

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China's Animation Industry

Former TAG steward Kevin Geiger, now active in the Chinese animation business, reflects on its past, present and future:

... China is currently the world’s largest TV drama and comics producer, the third largest film producer (after India and the USA), and the fastest-growing film market in the world, with a reported 2010 box office of over $1.5 billion USD (a 60% increase from 2009). ...

The history of Chinese animation dates back to 180 A.D., when inventor Ting Huan created what many consider to be the first zoetrope. ... 20th-century Chinese animation began with the pioneering work of the Wan brothers in the mid-1920s. Their animated short film, “Uproar in the Studio”, created an “uproar” among audiences on the mainland. ....

The worldwide success of DreamWork’s “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has caused a great deal of soul-searching in China. Many here have asked why the Chinese animation industry is seemingly incapable of taking such a creative turn with its own culture, and have wondered when a Chinese animated film will achieve such success in the West. ...

Kevin notes that China's protection of its film industry, with its focus on large public-private animation companies over smaller, free-wheeling operations is likely not helping Chinese animated films to be competitive in world markets ... or even with its own national audience. (Read his entire piece; my Clift Notes version doesn't do it justice.)

My take on the Chinese cartoon biz is similar to how I perceive India's: It ain't the hardware and software, nor the number of bodies staring at the flat screens inside "animation hubs." It's the talent ... and the resulting content. When you opt for quantity over quality, you end up with lots of product from which audiences, both foreign and domestic, stay away in droves.

If Chinese industrial policy frustrates ambitious Chinese animation talent, that talent will soon enough ride a work visa to Europe or the Unites States in search of wider creative horizons. It's the way its worked since film was invented, and it won't be changing in the digital age. Artists go where the artistic rewards are. (Hitchcock didn't stay in Britain, now did he?)

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Middle Pay in the U.S.A.

Not too good.

... In 2010 total wages and salaries came to $6,009,831,055,912.11.

That’s a bit more than $6 trillion. Adjusted for inflation, that is less than each of the previous four years and almost identical to 2005, when the U.S. population was 4.2 percent smaller. ...

The median paycheck — half made more, half less — fell again in 2010, down 1.2 percent to $26,364. That works out to $507 a week, the lowest level, after adjusting for inflation, since 1999. ...

The number of workers making $1 million or more rose to almost 94,000 from 78,000 in 2009. However, that was still below some earlier years, including 2007, when more than 110,000 workers made more than $1 million each. ...

What these figures tell us is that there was a reason voters responded in the fall of 2010 to the Republican promise that if given control of Congress they would focus on one thing: jobs. ...

In the recent past I had lunch with a Wise Old Animator who worked his ass off over a long career and invested wisely. (He is now very comfortably fixed.) Regarding the Current Troubles he said this:

"When Glass-Steagel got repealed, I told everybody I knew that we'd have a new Depression in ten years. I lived through the last one and it wasn't pretty. I wanted to avoid going through another. We had these problems a lot before 1929 ..."

The one constant about humankind is: It never learns a goddamn thing for very long. Holland (and the world) went through the Tulip Bulb Bubble centuries ago. The American economy crashed with frightening regularity all through the nineteenth century (gold standard and all.) And the U.S. congress has been methodically stripping away financial regulations for years ("This time is different!") because as we all know, markets are self-regulating and therefore nothing can go wrong in the Modern Age.

So now people are hurting. And they will continue to hurt, because we still have a ways to go before real estate fully unwinds.

But I don't hold out much hope that this type of debacle won't repeat itself, and it's not because of Barney Frank or George Bush or Barack Hussein Obama. It's because A) Greed is a basic human impulse and B) .... (repeat it with me now) People never learn a goddamn thing.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Studios, Round and About

Disney, Cartoon Network and Robin Red Breast have all been graced by my smiling presence this week ...

The Hat Building was going over to Google's calendar and e-mail when I walke through, leaving the older company-based systems behind. And board and development artists reaffirmed that A) Development has kicked up, and B) Ron and John's picture, though not in "bright green light" phase, is still moving along ... and the development art is terrific. (It ain't about Jack the Ripper, if you're wondering.)

Cartoon Network has a variety of new shows in development (always a good thing) and seems to be working with the subsidiaries of the Mother Conglomerate in ways that always seemed obvious to me, but they never did. But hey. Now they are!

Warner Bros. Animation’s Green Lantern: The Animated Series is heading to Cartoon Network for a one-hour special event.

The CG animated special will premiere November 11 with the series ultimately debuting on Cartoon Network next year as part of the new DC Nation programming block. ...

For years I was bewildered by Time-Warner's refusal to put Warner Bros. Animation product on Cartoon Network's cable pipeline. Now, happily, T-W is practicing a little synergy and doing what they should have done ... oh ... a decade ago.

But better late than never. Just because CN reports to Turner's Atlanta headquarters, while WBA checks in with Warner Bros. in Burbank, is no reason to be stupid.

Lastly, there is Robin Red Breast, subsidiary to Titmouse, an up-and-coming cartoon studio that has branches in New York (where it originated) and Hollywood, where Titmouse/Robin Red Breast is doing two Disney shows under union contract and other work without benefit of collective bargaining agreement. The studio is a beehive of activity, and expanding. They have multiple buildings in the heart of Tinseltown. (An interview with Chris Prynowski, who co-owns the studios with his wife Shannon, is here. And yeah, we'd like to have a contractual with Chris and Shannon's whole studio.)

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Health Coverage Realities

The Nikkster shares the unfortunate news regarding SAG's Health Plan:

The Screen Actors Guild’s Pension and Health Plans just informed members that minimum earnings to qualify for health coverage are increasing 2% effective January 1, 2012. Out-of-pocket maximums for individuals and families also are increasing. ...

This points up the continuing direction of health coverage in the Land of the Free: More cost-sharing. More costs. Thinner services.

Health care inflation has continued briskly for decades, and doubled in the last nine years. And although it's come down a bit in the past twelve months --- 5.4% by recent measure -- it shows no sign of abating over time. Everybody sooner or later gets it in the shorts.

Over the past umpteen years, TAG has held New Member education forums where we have outlined the best health care cost-containment strategies people can use with the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

Now, however, the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan is facing budgetary issues and the IATSE is holding meetings for members about where the Health Plan will be going over the next contract cycle. (2012-2015).

If you care about your health care costs, and want to make sure your voice is heard when the IA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers sit down to hammer out details regarding your health coverage over the next three years, give us a call or send us an e-mail so that you can have a seat at one of the three up-coming meetings:

Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan Forums

* Sunday, November 13 - 10am to 2pm

IATSE Local 80, 2520 W Olive Ave, Burbank

* Monday, November 14 - 7pm to 9pm

California Ballroom, Four Points Sheraton - LAX

9750 Airport Blvd. 90045

* Tuesday, November 15 - 7pm to 9pm

IATSE Local 80, 2520 W Olive Ave, Burbank

Show up and give input! It's your money, after all. You might as well have a say about where it goes.

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Nothing But Blue Sky

... all day long.

... Blue Sky Studio is receiving funding through the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development to expand its office space by 43,000 square feet and add the 70 new positions.

Once complete, the facility will total 150,000 square feet, including “seating for up to 140 artists ...

It's great that the state is subsidizing the feature animation studio, but what happens when the subsidies end? Does Blue Sky return to White Plains New York? Or does it just cut positions?

I suppose we'll wait and see.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

CAPS honors Al Jaffee

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Constants In A Changing World

Complaints through the ages:

Whichever side of the political spectrum you live on, the general thinking is if the Other Guy wins, civilization will come to an end.

But think about it. We got the minimum wage and life went on. (There's even a good argument that it improved for many.) The Wagner Act -- enshrining labor rights -- passed in the 1930s and America survived. (Prospered, even.)

The progressive income tax was installed in 1913 after the Taft Administration pushed through a Constitutional Amendment, and a century later we still have plumbing, electric lights and all-tile bathrooms. (Who would have thought?)

As I get older, I get less agitated about the predictions of imminent destruction than I did when younger. (That goes for Leftie prophecies of disasters as well. If President Romney gets rid of Medicare and Social Security, life will be crappier for wide swaths of the population, but the world will not end.)

I recall the wailing about Impending Doom when Bill Clinton pushed through a tax hike in 1993. ("The economy will implode! You can't tax the Successful!" etc.) But funny thing. Everybody survived paying a few percent more. How could that have happened?

h/t "The Big Picture."

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The Frans Vischer Interview -- Part II

Mr. Vischer has been a designer, storyboard artist, and animator on cartoon features. But he's also a published author ...

TAG Interview with Frans Vischer

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

An alumnus of Cal Arts, Mr. Vischer learned from both teachers and fellow students during his years there. His first professional animation job was on Mickey's Christmas Carol, and he's worked on a wide range of projects since. He considers his work on Turner's Cats Don't Dance as one career high point, but he's also excited about his more recent forays into book publishing.

"Fuddles," his latest work, was published by Simon and Schuster in the Spring of this year, and has appeared on Southern California best seller lists.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Not Forced On Him

... by the House of Mouse.

John Lasseter talks to the Times and says he makes what he wants to make.

... [O]ne matter [Mr. Lasseter] addressed head-on was the assumption by some that “Cars 2” had been forced out of him by Pixar’s corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, as a greedy grab for sales of related merchandise, a central current of the negative reviews.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” he said. “Well, I guess I do. It’s not true. It’s people who don’t know the facts, rushing to judge. I recognize my place in the Walt Disney Company, but my job, my focus, my deepest desire is to entertain people by making great movies, and we did that with ‘Cars 2.’ ” ...

So have we got that, ladies and gents? John Lasseter loves Cars, loves the franchise, and did #2 of his own free will.

So it ain't the evil conglomerate, it's the creative head of the animation division. And the picture made half a billion dollars so who are we to judge? (Also, just so you know, I have no opinion on the matter as I've never seen the Cars features.)

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CTN Animation Expo 2011

Its almost that time of year again .. when the animation community converges on Burbank to enjoy the pageantry of the CTN Animation Expo. Mark your calendars for the weekend of November 18, 19 and 20 to attend the event at the Burbank Marriott Hotel.

Now in its third year, the CTN Animation Expo has proven to be a unique event that brings professionals, students and fans of animation together in celebration of the craft.

Be sure to use the code THANGX11 when you register to attend to receive a discount on the registration cost.

TAG will be located to the left of the entrance to the hall (see image below). Be sure to stop by and say Hi!

Click image to show larger

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The Frans Vischer Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Frans Vischer

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Holland is a long way from the animation business in California, but when you're a kid with a passion to draw, the distance across an ocean and continent isn't very far after all ...

The Vischer family moved to northern California when Frans was eleven. Since he knew little English and soccer was not yet a major American pasttime, young Mr. Vischer spent a lot of hours with his sketch book. This led Mr. Vischer's mother to send samples of his work to the House of Mouse ... which in turn led to a trip to the Disney Studio and later, an audience with animation legend Chuck Jones. All of which you will hear about in the first half of The Frans Vischer Interview.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Foreign High Points for Animation

The Reporter bullet-points the box office:

* Real Steel has recorded a foreign gross total of $57.5 million, $5.8 million more than its domestic cume.

* Sony’s The Smurfs, the No. 1 film on the foreign circuit from Aug. 14 through Oct. 2, has surpassed the $400 million mark in offshore box office ($403.5 million) ...

* Rise of the Planet of the Apes held on to the No. 1 Japan spot for the second consecutive round, grossing $3.76 million from 628 locations in the market. The sequel’s total foreign gross was hoisted to $257.8 million ...

* No. 4 was The Lion King 3D reissue, which drew $5.2 million in its tenth weekend offshore from 31 territories with about half the international market yet to play ... Foreign gross total stands at $37.5 million...

What becomes clear as we move deeper into the 21st century? Audiences desire animation as a stand-alone (Tangled, Cars, Lion King, Despicable Me, Kung Fu Panda, etc.) And audiences expect and like animation to be stirred into their live-action offerings (Real Steel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers, and on and on.)

Speaking of on, there is this old chestnut, coming in a new 3D package later this month:

The Three Musketeers has been done up, down and sideways over the years -- 1921, 1929, 1935, 1939, 1948, 1972, 1973 just to name a few calendar dates for American versions. And of course Mickey, Donald and Goofy in 2004.

The latest incarnation has gotten minimal love from critics, and yet ...

... No. 2 on the weekend Germany’s Constantin Films’ production of Musketeers ... Foreign cume so far comes in at $49 million. ...

I don't know if this version ends up making money or not. As reviewers note, it appears to be charging after the Pirates of the Caribbean crowd. But whether it goes into the black or not, the main reason it got made was to rev up the visual effects, utilize the 3D, and have at it.

Let us face today's movie reality plainly: One of the major drivers for getting features made in the 21st century marketplace is c.g. effects.

(Box Office Mojo discusses the original release date of 3D Musketeers here. I have no idea what the epic cost. Probably somewhere around $80-$100 million. I can't imagine that the actors cost a whole lot, and they shot a lot of the feature in German locations, as producer Jeremy Bolt explains here.)

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Sunday Animation Links

When we're out of things to say, why not a Link-fest?

Tintin: The London Daily Telegragh has misgivings about the Spielberg movie.

On the other hand, The Hollywood Reporter predicts triumph at the box office. ...

Batman: Year One rolls out at the New York Comic Con.

MTV wants another Beavis and Butthead that is not BB but is, you know, edgy like the Judge original.

Estonia is victorious (cartoon-wise) in Bucharest.

Brad Neeley and Dan Weidenfeld discuss China, IL.

SIGGRAPH Asia happens in Hong Kong December 12-15.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rupert's Non-Fans

Apparently phone hacking inspires blow-back against our friends at News Corp.

The nation's largest public pension fund said it would vote against the reelection of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, to News Corp.'s board of directors. ... CalPERS said it would withhold voting its nearly 1.5 million shares for the reelection of James and Lachlan Murdoch, Arthur Siskind, News Corp.’s former general counsel, and Andrew Knight, the former executive chairman of News International, the company's British publishing arm. ...

This sort of thing seems to be going around. Just the other day, Institutional Shareholders Services Inc. said there should be a rejiggering because of the, you know, unpleasantness in Britain:

"The company's phone hacking scandal, which began its public denouement ... has laid bare a striking lack of stewardship and failure of independence by a board whose inability to set a strong tone at the top about unethical business practices has now resulted in enormous costs — financial, legal, regulatory, reputational and opportunity — for the shareholders the board ostensibly serves,"

Honestly, I don't know where ISS gets this "lack of stewardship" idea. There was plenty of stewardship, most of it in the grand tradition of "anything goes" for a smooth buck.

Rupert has played fast and loose with the rules for years. And the News Corp. board has gone along for years. The boards of many large corporations, you see, aren't there to oversee the excesses of the Top Dogs. They are in the room with the long table and comfy chairs to rubber stamp what the robber barons want.

I mean, hasn't anybody noticed the excesses of the last ten or twenty years? The world is turning into one big Banana Republic. And the dwindling middle classes around the globe are starting to notice.

Naturally enough, News Corp. "strongly disagrees" with ISS. News Corp. says everything is really fine now, honest. And everything should stay just as it is because Rupert and his minions have now cleaned up their act.

And I like, totally believe them. Why would they lie?

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The Mid October Steeple Chase

The animated robots drop to #2; the animated lions drop to #10 ....

And we're in the slow time of the movie box office season:

1. Footloose (Paramount) NEW [3,549 Theaters] Friday $5.6M, Estimated Weekend $16.5M

2. Real Steel (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 2 [3,440 Theaters] Friday $4.4M (-48%), Estimated Weekend $16M, Estimated Cume $51.3M

3. The Thing (Universal) NEW [2,996 Theaters] Friday $3.2M, Estimated Weekend $9M

4. The Ides Of March (Sony) Week 2 [2,199 Theaters] Friday $2.2M (-34%), Estimated Weekend $7.5M, Estimated Cume $22.1M

5. Moneyball (Sony) Week 4 [2,840 Theaters] Friday $1.7M, Estimated Weekend $5.5M, Estimated Cume $57.7M

6. The Dolphin Tale (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 4 [3,286 Theaters] Friday $1.6M, Estimated Weekend $6.5M, Estimated Cume $59M

7. 50/50 (Summit) Week 3 [2,391 Theaters] Friday $1.3M, Estimated Weekend $4.1M, Estimated Cume $24.5M

8. The Big Year (Fox) NEW [2,150 Theaters] Friday $1.1M, Estimated Weekend $3M

9. Courageous (Sony) Week 3 [1,214 Theaters] Friday $1M, Estimated Weekend $3.3M, Estimated Cume $21.3M

10. Dream House (Universal) Week 3 [2,172 Theaters] Friday $740K, Estimated Weekend $2.5M, Estimated Cume $18.4M

10. Lion King 3D (the Mojo ranking) Friday $721K, Cume $88.5 million.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Tight Schedules and Overtime -- A Dialogue

The last few days, a veteran board artist who is quite good at what he does has been e-mailing me, and I've been e-mailing him back. We cover some well-trod ground, but I think the back-and-forth is worth sharing ....

Veteran Board Artist:

Next time the CBA negotiations come around, get in contact with me. As you probably well know, because of the rise of the Cintiq and Storyboard Pro, storyboarders are now being asked to do many, many more poses, so that their boards are basically 'rough animated'. Also, it is now becoming required on some shows that boarders begin making animatics of their acts, synching drawings to dialogue.

You may recall that, years ago, you and Kevin Koch asked for examples of boarders doing bg layout in boards, and I responded with some examples for you guys to use in negotiations. Kevin told me the examples were very helpful.

Well, the new standards of what constitutes a proper storyboard have led to increased demands that put that earlier change to shame. I'm sure you're aware of the new expectations.

When that time starts to roll around again, let me know ahead of time...I'd be the perfect guy to make a simple video (anonymous, of course) of my hands at a Cintiq showing work and demonstrating the new demands being placed on storyboarders, all without new, extended deadlines and turnaround times.

Biz Rep Hulett:

I would like you to be on the negotiation committee, when negotiations happen next year. I think it would be helpful.

... I think the biggest problem isn't rates per se, since board artists rates are as high or higher than animator rates. It's the damn schedules and the fact that many people work uncompensated overtime hours. ...

Veteran Board Artist:

Yeah, that frustrates me, too ... Problem is, it's hard to draw a hard, firm line between unreasonable deadlines and people who are simply slow. ... Maybe schedule minimum standards need to be set by the Union....say, three weeks minimum for 11 minutes, something like that. If an employer insists on a tighter schedule, overtime pay automatically kicks in.

Biz Rep Hulett:

Unpaid overtime has been a problem since I started this gig.

Sometimes o.t. violations are clear cut, sometimes they’re not. It’s nothing new by the way. My old man had quotas to hit in the background department at Disney in the 1950s. You didn’t make quota, they didn’t look kindly on you.

I’ve heard complaints about deadlines for twenty years. But artists who are fast and efficient seldom have big problems, while slower artists get crushed. There can’t be some hard, firm line about schedules because every show is different. Some shows have lots of pencil mileage and difficult characters and settings, others have less. Boards for “Huckleberry Hound” would take a fraction of the time that “Tarzan” or “Batman” boards would. So having different length schedules seems like a natural production decision.

Veteran Board Artist:

I agree about the Huckleberry Hound/Batman distinction, but would a minimum turnaround be too hard to set? I mean, take the three weeks for 11 minutes figure I pulled out of a hat below...the idea is that would be the minimum time allowed to storyboard an act. A minimum turnaround time wouldn't make a difference on Huckleberry Hound or Batman.

Sure, I imagine there'd be stuff that could be done in less than three of something existing, for example...or a very, very simple Southpark-type board, where the characters can basically be stamped into place in the frame...but Union guidelines/rules are already winked at on occasion,...when nobody is getting hurt, and both sides agree to some small violation.

...but the Union minimum turnaround times would be used only when an artist feels they are being treated unfairly. They could then say "but the Union minimum turnaround time for an 11-minute act is three weeks" when someone asks them to do less. Often, just saying what the Union minimum rule is in any situation is enough to scare off a production person or executive. When you made walk-throughs of studios and found people working at night, you could ask people what their schedules were..."are they at least giving your three weeks per 11-minutes?", etc.

Schedules have been shrinking in length since I arrived 25 years ago. I remember six weeks was standard for an 11-minute act before 2000. Now, three weeks--at Union minimum--has become the standard. ...

Biz Rep Hulett:

Here’s a big part of the problem: Overtime rates are there as a cattle prod to schedule intelligently ... based on time spent. When people just work for free to hit the schedule, two things happen:

1) They screw themselves out of o.t.

2) They give studio administrators a false sense of how long it takes to do a board (or layout, or whatever.)

I think the best approach here is to make a big issue of tight schedules. I’ve done it in the past and gotten some adjustments. Everybody is scared witless about getting on a blacklist, so nobody wants to complain or rock the boat. I’ve pushed against piece-work rates in the past (which is what a “three weeks for an 11-minute board” is, when you strip away the bark.)

Piece work, over time, bites artists in the fanny.

If employees honestly accounted for how long they worked in a given week, a lot of these problems would go away. Hasn’t happened in two decades, but hey. I’m ever hopeful.

So there it is, the overtime and scheduling issues, yet again. Probably still be going on when I'm dead and buried.

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The TAG Blog Interviews

Just so you know, we try to have a new interview up the start of each week, but sometimes -- work schedules being what they are -- that isn't possible. ....

However, we're now back on track with a few, so new sessions should be going up shortly.

We now return to regular posting.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pixar North

The new Vancouver outpost gets a public viewing.

... On Thursday [Pixar] threw back the curtain on the 30,000 square foot facility it is creating inside the brick shell of an old office building in Gastown.

It also gave a preview of the 75-person studio’s first piece of entertainment, a five-minute cartoon entry in Pixar’s Tall Tales series featuring folksy tow truck Mater from its 2006 movie Cars. ...

The computer server room ... is big enough that Pixar needed BC Hydro to install a dedicated transformer to service the power load. ...

The studio is configured to make shorts, but that can always be altered, yes? Jobs is gone and the place is there to serve Diz Co., after all. So the idea that it will remain in some kind of pristine state and not serve the conglomerate that owns it is very likely wishful thinking.

When management traipses in to proclaim: "Nothing's going to change! We love this facility and all you fine, wonderful people just the way you are! ..." things are destined to change.

Money talks.

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MORE Animated Movies!

... in the "Best Animated Movie" category!

For only the third time in the category's 10-year history, Oscar's Best Animated Feature race may have a full slate of five nominees.

... A representative for the Czech Republic's entry, "Alois Nebel," told TheWrap Wednesday that the filmmakers plan to enter the graphic-novel-based drama in the animation race as well as the foreign-language race. ...

From our perspective, this is welcome news.

More entries in the "Best Animated Movie" Oscar race means more free publicity, more box office, more sales of them little silver disks of our favorite kind of motion picture. (A few people are still buying those silvery things, aren't they?)

This means: 1) More animated movies will get made, and 2) More animation artists get employed.

In a perfect world, animated features would win the "Best Picture" Academy Award from time to time, but we are a long way from perfection. A majority of AMPAS will make a picture like Snow White, Beauty and the beast or The Incredibles the big award winner around the time the sun reaches its red star phase.

So, five entries in the "Best Animated Feature" competition? That's going to have to be our consolation prize.

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Is it time to end Family Guy?

It is, according to Seth MacFarlane in the latest Hollywood Reporter.

MacFarlane thinks there's something to be said for ending the series on a high note after ten seasons, and doing a feature every couple of years.

Of course, it doesn't particularly matter what MacFarlane thinks -- Fox calls the shots, and as long as it continues to reel in the bucks they'll keep it on the air.

(The headline reads: "Seth MacFarlane Secretly Wants 'Family Guy' To End". Something tells me the secret is out ...)

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Islamic Super Heroes

Of course they wouldn't fly:

... An animated cartoon based on "The 99" -- a popular Kuwaiti comic book series whose superheroes each represent one of Islam’s 99 attributes of God -- nearly made it in the U.S. when The Hub (a network owned by The Discovery Channel and Hasbro) bought the rights with plans to air the series last October. That ended after conservatives warned the series would indoctrinate children into Islam. ...

Muslim Caped Heroes are just a teensy bit too politically and culturally incorrect at the present time; no way will they get on the air Stateside. (Wrong Sky God. Wrong religion.)

Now, if the producers would just tweak the presentation a little, and turn them all into hymn-singing Methodists, like that nice boy from Smallville, U.S.A., then we're onto something ....

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Why The Simpsons Got Renewed

A Yellow Family top kick says what went on in Simpson negotiations.

... Even though it's been speculated that the 25th season might be The Simpsons' last, Al Jean says there's no reason to believe the show won't continue long beyond that.

Jean: The network said, either we get a deal where we're set, or we will just announce that we're going off the air. We would have prepared an ending for the show, which we still needed time to do, even though it would have been a year from now. ... The fact that we got the costs down is, in my view, a very big hope that we can continue beyond two seasons. ...

When I was up at Film Roman/Starz while The Simpsons was hanging by a thread, speculation ran all over the map about the chances for more shows. The question seemed to be: would the voice actors take a hit and do a deal? Or not?

The answer, we now know, is yes. And so the show goes for (at least) two more seasons.

I think the reason many of the key players took roll-backs in 2011 -- where they didn't in 2007 -- is that "settling for half a loaf" is the current default position* for many American employees. Lots of people are wounded economically, and everybody knows it. Companies are high-profit and aggressive about hammering costs down. So the idea of people going to the mat for the top dollar is (just now) in hibernation. Corporate America is quite willing to cut people off at the knees, and the word is pretty much out regarding that.

It just ain't 2007 ... or 2005 ... anymore.

* This default could very well be changing a little. People seem to be a wee bit frustrated about the gazillionaires among us.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The latest vfx scam: Artists paying all the taxes

Word from the westside of town is artists working at The Mill in Santa Monica are paying their share of taxes .. as well as the employers.

The Mill has engaged Yurcor to act as the Employer of Record for the artists they employ. Officially, artists work for Yurcor and are "loaned out" to The Mill. Yurcor is therefore responsible for the reimbursement to the artists for their work time at The Mill.

The Mill explains this has allowed them to:

"meet compliance requirements and improve administrative support to [their] valued freelancers.

By using Yurcor’s services you gain W-2 status and many of the benefits and services of a full time position while keeping all the career freedom and tax savings of a 1099 freelancer."

A full-time employee keeping the "freedom" of a freelance employee sound to good to be true? It should. Its also illegal.

To give that feeling of freedom, Yurcor not only withholds the traditional payroll taxes employees are responsible to pay (Fed Income, FICA, CA Income and SDI). They also withhold the employer portions of FICA, FUTA, California state unemployment insurance (UI), and the employer workers compensation insurance.

Documents we've received show Yurcor sells this as a benefit to the artist:

Employer of Record (EOR): “Employer of Record” is the best of both worlds; you establish your rates, you determine your work schedule, you can move from client to client, you can submit pre tax business expenses to offset your gross billings in arriving at your gross payroll, and you have access to health & retirement plans!

Similar to a 1099 scenario, you are responsible for both the employer and employee portions of the payroll taxes. Employer taxes are deducted pre tax as an administrative fee against your gross billings, employee taxes are deducted through payroll, and business expenses are reimbursed to you pre tax with your payroll direct deposit!

After contacting the Employment Development Department, the California Labor Commissioner, the IRS, and our attorney, we disagree with their assessment of the situation. Based on those conversations, we believe this is illegal and there are avenues available for the artists to recover the wages that were taken as a result of this practice.

If you have worked at or are currently working at The Mill in Santa Monica, we are interested in speaking with you. Contact Steve Kaplan at the Guild at (818) 845-7500 or

With your help, we can help stop this egregious infringement on labor and tax law while working to get your rightful wages returned to you.

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What I Know About Paramount Animation

Because we inevitably get questions from artists when a company puts out press releases about a new animation division, or the newly appointed head of a division, let me tell you what information I have (thus far) acquired ...

Sadly, it isn't a whole lot.

This morning I talked to a Paramount executive-type person who said:

1) The division is in the process of becoming. (They haven't yet finalized a business plan ... or at least, aren't telling me that they've finalized a business plan. That should happen over the next several months.)

2) They're not looking to have a BIG footprint and infrastructure the way that Walt Disney Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, or Pixar has a big footprint and infrastructure.

3) The company plans to hire crew as needed, on a picture-by-picture basis.

All of the above is, no doubt, subject to change and amendment, as circumstances warrant. Here is my (semi-educated) guess about what kind of unit Viacom will be constructing:

The new division will be closer to Chris Meladandri's Illumination Entertainment than DreamWorks Animation. No big space filled with riggers, animators, lighters and finalers staring at flat screens. No big tech support group. I would project that they'll have a pre-production staff here in town that scripts, storyboards, designs and does key layout.

Probably some fine European, Canadian or South Bay c.g. studio will sub-contract the production work.

The new division will develop 2-4 projects at a time and look to release one feature every year or two. They're not looking to sink gajillions into the endeavor, but to manage costs. Their press release yesterday said the company is looking to budget features at around a $100 million. I take them at their word.

They hope to get their first production into theatres by 2014. They can do that schedule, provided everything falls into place. Illumination Entertainment did it, so it is certainly achievable. Time will tell.

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MPIPHP Benefits Online Survey

Emails have started to be received inviting IATSE members to participate in an online survey regarding the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans. These survey's are another method the IATSE is using to reach the membership and get feedback on the plans and their options.

Once you receive your invitation, please follow the link and take the 10-15 minutes to answer the approximately 25 questions. The feedback you provide will help form the strategy of the benefits negotiations in the upcoming months.

These surveys are meant to supplement the Benefits Town Hall Meetings the IATSE is holding in Los Angeles and New York. Along with feedback from focus group surveys and general membership meetings, all information gathered will be used by the bargaining committee in the upcoming negotiations with the AMPTP.

It is imperative that you take the time to be a part of this important process. The IATSE is taking unprecedented steps to reach out and involve you in the upcoming negotiations. Answer the survey and attend a town hall meeting in order to make your voice heard.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Stainton to Paramount

Here's some news:

... Paramount Pictures has tapped veteran animation executive David Stainton to head its fledgling animation unit.

Stainton spent 17 years at Walt Disney Co., where he most recently served as president of feature animation until early 2006 ...

David Stainton worked in development at Disney Feature, then moved to the Mouse's animation unit in Paris, France, and lastly to Disney Toons and Disney Feature Animation.

Chicken Little was produced on his watch, and made a goodly amount of money. Shortly thereafter, Disney purchased Pixar and Mr. Stainton stepped aside for John Lasseter and Ed Catmull.

We wish him well in his new job with Paramount.

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