Friday, August 31, 2012

Tied Wage Surveys

The morning mails brought some more paper surveys.

Also, too, the interwebs delivered more digital surveys. So we are now up to 22.8% in the "returned survey forms" category ...

This is higher than the return of two years ago (22%) and within spitting distance of last year's 23%.

The survey "deadline" is now over, but here is how things will go from here until the survey's publication: On Tuesday next, when staff returns from the three-day weekend, we will commence counting wages and numbers. This will take a bit of a while, since we've had a return of close to 800 survey forms.

Sooo. What we want interested parties to do, from right now until the end of next week, is send in more survey forms. We will go on toting up received forms until we're ready to publish a couple of weeks hence, and our practice is to accept stragglers until the day of publication.

In other words: keep sending in the freaking forms. The more information we have, the more detailed and accurate we can be.
Click here to read entire post

TAG Contract Ratified

Our office received word this morning of the overwhelming ratification of the agreement reached with the AMPTP back in June. Ballots were sent out to members early this month and collected until 5pm yesterday by the American Arbitration Association.

Out of 2,600 active members, 592 ballots were received, 549 of them eligible. 87% of those voted in favor of ratification, 13% voted against.

This Guild released the following press release this afternoon:

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE membership has ratified the collective bargaining agreement reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The vote was 86.7% in favor, with 13.3% against.

The contract calls for two percent (2%) annual compounded wage increases. Health, pension and IAP benefits are to be provided under the terms of the IATSE Basic Agreement, on which agreement was reached in April. Other provisions of the new agreement include a new storyboard revisionist classification, and changes to the talent development program and the DreamWorks Animation wage minimums. The contract will be in effect from August 1, 2012 to July 31, 2015.

“We’re gratified with the level of support this contract received,” Business Representative Steve Hulett said. “The contract talks were not easy, and the negotiation committee wondered at times if we would ever reach a conclusion.”

The Guild walked out of talks in April, returning in June after a heavily-attended special membership meeting and guild survey of contract priorities.

The Animation Guild is a local union of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE). It represents 2,600 artists, writers and technicians employed in the animation industry.

For further information, contact Steve Hulett at the Animation Guild, (818) 845-7500 or
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Thursday, August 30, 2012


The times, they are dicey. Especially for animation execs who stand at the helm of storm-tossed ships.

Reeling from its spectacular ratings fall, Nickelodeon has pushed out animation chief Brown Johnson, the executive most responsible for creating the network's cartoon sensation "Dora the Explorer."

Johnson is leaving Nickelodeon "to pursue her own creative endeavors," Nickelodeon said in a statement Wednesday. She had served as president of animation for four years, but had been a creative force within the network for two decades.

Johnson was key to Nickelodeon's enormous success during the last decade, guiding "Dora the Explorer" and "Blues Clues." ... However, during the last year, Nickelodeon has hemorrhaged young viewers.

Tinsel Town can be a hard and cruel place when ratings points slip away and revenues slip with them. Nick was initially in denial about the Mouse eating its lunch, but stats are stats.

But they're not in denial anymore. Hopefully Brown Johnson can find employment elsewhere. We hate for people to be jobless, even when they are executives at our fine conglomerates.
Click here to read entire post

The James Lopez Interview -- Part III

TAG Interview with James Lopez
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

James Lopez started working at Disney on a picture that most of the staff thought was the lesser entity of the two features then on the production track. The African picture was having development problems. Pocahontas was the movie expected to do big things.

Few expected Lion King to be any great shakes ...

Mr. Lopez was assigned to a side character called "Timon," but funny thing. Timon kept getting great audience reaction, and kept getting additional footage. (Turned out to be a fine character to be assigned to right out of the blocks!)

From Lion King, it was a short step to Pocahontas, and then directors Ron Clements and John Musker offer a supervising animator position on Hercules, where James oversaw work (and did a lot of work himself) on the character Pain.

As the 21st century swung into view, hand-drawn animation at Disney was winding down, but James finished with a flourish on Emperor's New Groove and Home on the Range before leaping the animation divide to work on the Mouse's first CG feature Chicken Little. Soon after, Mr. Lopez left Disney to work on two DreamWorks Animation projects, but returned to animate Dr. Facilier on The Princess and the Frog. (The supervising animtor for Dr. F. was Bruce Smith, with whom James has collaborated many times over the years.)

Still at Disney, his most recent project was Paper Man.
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Survey Update

We are now up to 741 returned survey forms (525 paper; 216 digital.) This brings our percentate total to 22.2% in the returned category.

And, once again, we put in a plug to get your survey form in. The goal is a 25% return rate, and we're rapidly coming to an end of the submission period.

We'll have the wage survey results up in early September.
Click here to read entire post

TAG 401(k) Plan Factoids

I spent most of Monday in a trustee meeting for the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan, which is our little "add on" to the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan's offerings.

TAG's 401(k) Plan was started in 1995, during the administration of Guild president Tom Sito. Mr. Sito spearheaded the drive to get studios to agree to the Plan by circulating a petition at Disney Feature Animation, and the rest, as they say, is More Retirement Security.

But here is where the TAG 401(K) Plan stands today, in its 18th year ...

* Total Number of Participants -- 2,297

* Average Account Balance -- $66,005

* Three Largest Plan Accounts:
SAGIC (Fixed Interest) -- 16.5%
PIMCO Total Return -- 13.4%
Select Index Eqty (Large U.S. Stock Index) -- 10.2%

* Largest Vanguard Target Fund -- Retirement Income -- 4.9%

* Balances by Age:
Under Age 30: -- $17,092
Age 30-39 -- $40,698
Age 40-49 -- $73,754
Age 50-59 -- $83,763
Age 60 and Over -- $73,934

* Total Plan Assets -- $151,614,207

Guild members are saving money for retirement above the national average, and above Mass Mutual's other 401(k) participants in every age bracket.

Not bad at all.
Click here to read entire post

The James Lopez Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with James Lopez
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

James Lopez had a different career track from most of the artists who ended up as supervising animators at Walt Disney Feature Animation. James didn't start at Disney ...

He started as an in-betweener for Don Bluth, working under animator Bruce Smith (an early TAG blog interview subject, and now a director of shorts at Disney Toon Studios.)

After two years at Cal Arts, James travelled to Ireland to work as a storyboard trainee for the Bluth studio in Dublin. He soon returned to Los Angeles for a job as an animating assistant on the independent feature Rover Dangerfield, and quickly advanced to full-fledged journey animator.

Mr. Lopez career timing was impeccable, for the early nineties was a time when the animation industry was taking off like a veritable rocket. And as Rover Dangerfield was wrapping up, Disney Feature came calling ...
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Foreign Animation Surge Explained

The Times of India explains why animated feature now boom in foreign lands:

Despite being a cinema-obsessed state, animation films have always been a hard sell in Tamil Nadu, [down there at the bottom of India], as most moviegoers in the state preferred the wham-bham of action films to "cartoon films". But it looks like this has changed in 2012 as animation films are proving to be a safe bet for distributors and theatre owners.

Says a distributor, "Theatre owners have woken up to the fact that animation films sell more tickets because parents accompany kids to watch these flicks. While the main reason for the surge in popularity of these films is the screening of Tamil-dubbed versions of such films on TV, the fact that they come in 3D also means theatres can charge for the 3D glasses and generate sizable revenue

These cartoon thingamajigss have to be dubbed into the local tongue to make big money.

Who would have guessed?

Apparently Ben Stiller isn't the huge draw in Tamil Nadu that he is elsewhere.
Click here to read entire post

The James Lopez Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with James Lopez

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Mr. James Lopez started drawing at a tender age, and wanted to be an artist almost from the get-go ...

Although he wasn't sure he could make a career in animation (it was pretty much in a deep slumber when he was in high school), James hoped to make a go of art somewhere. For a time, he thought he might become an illustrator.

But two years at the California Institute of the Arts changed that perception. Offered a summer job by the Bluth-Sullivan studios at the end of his freshman year, his career was launched.

Mr. Lopez details those early days (and more) here in Part I of the TAG interview.
Click here to read entire post

Monday, August 27, 2012

Michael Who?

The Mouse continues its party.

With the success of the superhero film "The Avengers" and record theme-park turnout in recent months, Walt Disney Co.'s DIS +0.14% long-term investments have allowed it to sail through the summer. ...

Chief Executive Robert Iger calls the results more than a seasonal blip. Rather, he said in an interview, they represent a validation of its decision to stick with several long-term expenditures even through the recent recession and its aftermath.

Super heroes, cartoons and amusement parks, a potent combination. Diz stock is near a long-time high.

Click here to read entire post

It's Changed A Bit ...

... but there are issues that remain.

... At UPA Studio in New York, she became assistant to Grim Natwick. ... As freelance professional partners, she and Natwick worked on hundreds of TV commercials and the last Mr. Magoo theatrical short. ...

When Natwick retired in 1967, David, then in her mid-40s, could not find work. "In America, animation was a jealously guarded men's field," she said. "So girls should be assistants, inkers, painters—not animators."

The jealousy has declined, but guarding still goes on. Seventeen percent of TAG's membership consists of women. (It was higher back in the sixties and seventies, but then studios closed their ink and paint departments, and the percentage totals fell.)

In the 21st century, more women occupy high creative positions, but the totals are still lop-sided. Now that Cal Arts is 50% female inside the animation department, those percentages are bound to change.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Conservative Auto-Pilot Investments

I've been doing 401(k) enrollment meetings most of the month, and one of the recommendations I make to participants in their fifties (even sixties) is to go the conservative route and hang on to the stash.

In the TAG 40I(K) Plan, that boils down to three funds.

There is Mass Mutual's fixed interest fund known as SAGIC -- currently paying 3.7%.

There is PIMCO Total Return -- which is an actively-managed intermediate bond fund run by bond wizard Bill Gross.

And there is Vanguard Target Retirement Income Fund -- the lowest priced offering the Plan has to offer. (This is a fund of funds. ...)

For my dough, the best bet of the above selection is the Vanguard fund because it's

Broadly diversified with international stocks, domestic stocks and thousands of bonds.

Has a slug of Treasury Inflation Protected Securities.

Has returned from 5% to 9.6% over the past five years.

There is, of course, no perfect portfolio or optimum asset allocation ... except in retrospect. Most savvy financial advisers will tell you that almost any asset allocation needs at least 25% in stocks to boost returns and smooth out the ups and downs. (This might be counter-intuitive, but bonds can lose value when interest rates rise.)

So, out of choices in the TAG 401(k) Plan, for conservative investors Vanguard Target Income has my vote.

TAG 401(k) PLAN Enrollment Meetings

Tues. Aug 28th -- 3 p.m. -- Fox TV Animation -- Main confrnce rm.

Wed. Aug 29th -- 1 p.m. -- Cartoon Network -- Main confrnce rm.
Click here to read entire post

Good Golly

Late to the revival with this. Gives me the vapors.

Nudity on prime time U.S. broadcast TV jumped fourfold in a year, a conservative advocacy group said, calling on Congress to insist regulators do their job. ...

This represents a 407 percent increase, the group said.

The Parents Television Council said it reach its conclusions after studying TV programs from Sept. 1, 2011, to May 31. Its analysis excludes “animated nudity or suggested full nudity and only includes scenes in which individuals are completely unclothed and only the sexual organs are blurred from the viewer,” ...

Why are these people picking on Seth MacFarlane? Click here to read entire post

Foreign B.O. at August's End

The non-stop steeple chase merrily continues:

... The weekend’s No. 3 title, Brave, took the No. 1 spot in the U.K. in its fourth market round, drawing an estimated $4.3 million ... [The feature] took $14.6 million in its 10th round of foreign release in 48 territories, lifting it offshore cume to $212.3 million. ...

A No. 1 Italy opening ($7.7 million over five days) propelled DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted to an $11.7 million weekend at 2,933 playdates in 39 markets. It ranks No. 5 on the weekend. Foreign cume stands at $369 million. ...

Universal’s Ted pushed its international gross total to $155 million ...

Focus Features/Universal’s ParaNorman, Laika Ent.’s 3D stop motion animation followup to Caroline, drew $3.9 million on the weekend at 2,230 situations in 17 territories for a foreign cume of $12.5 million. ...

It's useful to keep in mind that many of these mainline, computer-generated features are scoring half a billion at the global box office.

And up.

Modern animation of the CG variety pulls more dollars from foreign venues than it does from the United states. It wasn't this way decades back, but even in 1977, The Rescuers made more money in Germany that Star Wars. Executives who read cash flow charts have scoped out the future: animation is a high-grossing part of the movie landscape, ripe for further expansion. So we can expect more animated product, in all seasons of the year.
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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tartakovsky Vs. Computer Animation

About which the L.A. Times says this:

... For Tartakovsky, the exaggerated poses are the whole point of working in animation to begin with — cartoons, he believes, should actually be cartoonish. "I took all the aesthetics I like from 2-D and applied them here," he said. "I don't want to do animation to mimic reality. I want to push reality. You want to have your own identity. ... That was super important to me. In 2-D, the way you draw defines you, but in CG the computer takes away your identity. I wanted to make sure the movie had my point of view."

Last week, a veteran Mouse House animator and I got to talking about why MoCap doesn't seem to work in a totally non-live-action format (Christmas Carol, Moms Needs Moms, etc.) His answer (slightly paraphrased):

"Audiences know how human beings move and act. When they see mocap, it always seems a little off. People accept caricatured humans and caricatured movement that animators create. But I think they have a harder time accepting motion capture. It's "almost" real, but is off by enough to make people uneasy." ...

His observations parallel what Genndy T. says up above. People embrace cartoons. But the Uncanny Valley makes audiences uneasy in a vague, creepy kind of way.
Click here to read entire post

End of Summer B.O.

The Expendables fades by 64% as ParaNorman declines by 50%.

1. The Expendables 2 (Millenium/Lionsgate) Week 2 [3,355 Runs] R
Friday $3.7M (-64%), Weekend $11.7M, Cume $50.2M

2. The Bourne Legacy (Universal) Week 3 [3,652 Runs] PG13
Friday $2.7M, Weekend $8.4M, Cume $84.6M

3. ParaNorman (Focus Features) Week 2 [3,455 Runs] PG
Friday $2.3M (-50%), Weekend $7.5M, Cume $27.1M

4. 2016 Obama’s America (Rocky Mountain) NEW [1,091 Runs] PG
Friday $2.2M, Weekend $6.0M, Cume $8.9M

5. The Campaign (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,302 Runs] R
Friday $2.2, Weekend $6.7M, Cume $62.9M

6. The Odd Life Of Timothy Green (Disney) Week 2 [2,598 Runs] PG
Friday $2.0M (-40%), Weekend $6.5M, Cume $26.5M

6. The Dark Knight Rises (Legendary/WB) Week 6 [2,606 Runs] PG13
Friday $2.0M, Weekend $6.8M, Cume $421.7M

8. Premium Rush (Sony) NEW [2,255 Runs] PG13
Friday $1.9M, Weekend $6.1M

9. Hope Springs (Sony) Week 3 [2,402 Runs] PG13
Friday $1.7M, Weekend $5.5M, Cume $44.6M

10. Hit And Run (Open Road) NEW [2,870 Runs] R
Friday $1.4M, Weekend $3.8M, Cume $4.8M

12. The Apparition (Dark Castle/WB) NEW [810 Runs]
Friday $1.1K, Weekend $2.6M ...

Ice Age: Continental Drift stands at #15, having earned $152,184,000 domestically. Click here to read entire post

Leverage Works

When your opponent has dwindling time-lines.

Editors Guild National Organizer Rob Callahan told Deadline tonight that editors for Mission Control Media-produced Hot Set who walked off the job because they wanted an Editors Guild/IATSE Local 700 union contract have settled.

The deal came just as the new reality show was facing an air date on Syfy of September 18th so any more delays beyond the 3 days were going to affect the premiere. ...

Organizer Steve Kaplan and I pitched in to support the editors with a little picket duty by Burbank's Bob Hope Airport.

Always a pleasure to walk a few miles with a sign on a wooden stick ... especially when you prevail.
Click here to read entire post

Spoiler Alert

Billy Crystal reveals plot of a well-loved Pixar franchise.

... [Mike and Sully] end up in the same fraternity where they have this scare competition — like Greek Games in college. They have to mobilize a group, sort of like Revenge of the Nerds-monsters, and get them ready to be scary. ...

They’re 17 and 18 years old in the script. My guy has a retainer, even. ...

Prequels and sequels are good things. Studios like to make them (ka-ching), and they provide work for lots of people.

My official policy is supporting work for lots of people, so I love sequels and prequels.
Click here to read entire post

Friday, August 24, 2012

TV to Theatrical

The Times profiles animation creators moving from television to the big silver screen:

... The fields of film and television animation have long been divided by stark lines, with little room for talent to move between the two media.

That's changing this year, as three directors with roots in TV are helming major studio animated movies: Genndy Tartakovsky, the director of Sony Pictures Animation's "Hotel Transylvania" created the Cartoon Network series "Dexter's Laboratory," "Samurai Jack" and "Star Wars: Clone Wars"; Mark Andrews, who made Pixar's "Brave," storyboarded on the shows "Osmosis Jones," "Star Wars: Clone Wars" and "Samurai Jack"

"In TV you don't have any time to play around with stuff," said Andrews. "Every eight weeks or so, your episode has to be done. For me, that was a fantastic training ground. ...

The thing about working in television? You get used to being on a deadline and tight schedule. And getting the project done.

In theatricals, of course, the process is to beat the movie with a stick for months and years until it's a sodden, bloody corpse. The Simpsons Movie went through revision after revision after revision and the crew griped continually about redoing sequences over and over.

But it's been the process, from the early days of theatrical animation until now. Larry Clemmons, a Disney veteran of 35 years (although those years were 1930-1941 and 1955-1978) spent a long stretch of the in-between time writing a network radio show for Bing Crosby. One day when we were trudging out of a four-hour meeting in director Woolie Reitherman's office, he said to me:

"We write the sequence, then we write it again and then again. I used to turn out a half-hour radio show every week. What have I come to?"

What he came to was theatrical feature animation, where doing eighty-five minutes of dialogue, action and story arcs can go on for years.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Not a monster breakout hit, but a steady performer.

Fox has ordered 6 additional scripts from animated series Bob’s Burgers. The network renewed the comedy for a third season with a 13-episode order back in January, before the series’ second season premiere in March. The additional scripts will go towards a back order, bringing the total number of scripts for Season 3 to 19. ...

BB is written and boarded at Bento Box in Burbank (ain't alliteration grand?)

The show has provided steady work for TAG's storyboard artists, directors and designers, also employment for WGA writers. On prime-time shows, Fox has a contract with the WGA; for Fox half-hours that aren't broadcast in prime time, the Animation Guild covers the writers.
Click here to read entire post

The 70th ... or 80th ...

Or 99th percent. Where do you fit in?

The calculator [linked] above shows where your income stands on the wide range of the 99%. An annual salary above $506,000 puts you in the top 1%, while you need to make less than $2,500 a year to be in the bottom 1%. Where do you stand? ...

We've had us some spirited discussion here about how much money animation artists have to make be be considered "wealthy." Now we have the question answered.

One hundred and sixty grand puts you in the highest 10%.

One hundred grand put you at 81%.

And $60,000 per annum ranks you in the 61st percentile.

Living in Southern California, of course, can be a pricey exercise, especially if you're buying a house that isn't in Palmdale, Barstow or the further reaches of San Bernadino. Neil Diamond sang about L.A.'s rents being low, but that was half a life-time ago. The costs of existence have gone up since then.

But it's always good to understand what most of the American citzenry is actually making here in 2012. We tend the think that the Los Angeles animation industry clings to the lower rungs of the economic ladder. For the most part, that isn't actually the case.
Click here to read entire post

More surveys (please)

As of this morning, we've received 713 questionnaires -- 505 by mail, 208 online. That's a 20.4% return ... still a lower percentage than last year, but there are still eight days until the deadline.

We actually have more questionnaires in at this point than we did when we closed last year's survey, but with an expanded membership it's a slightly smaller percentage.

I'm still pretty confident we can beat last year's percentage, but it will take an influx of people going to our website to take the two minutes to fill it out.

And since the online responses spike every time we do a posting, expect a few more of these before August 31.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Outstanding Achievement

As announced by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Outstanding Individual Achievement In Animation

Disney Phineas And Ferb • Doof Dynasty • Disney Channel • Disney Television Animation -- Jill Daniels, Background Paint

Disney Prep & Landing: Naughty Vs. Nice • ABC • Walt Disney Animation Studios -- Bill Schwab, Character Design

Secret Mountain Fort Awesome • Nightmare Sauce • Cartoon Network • Cartoon Network Studiosa -- Robertryan Cory, Character Design

Secret Mountain Fort Awesome • Nightmare Sauce • Cartoon Network • Cartoon Network Studios -- Chris Tsirgiotis, Background Design

Congratulations to all the winners. And apologies for not getting the info up earlier. Click here to read entire post

Tissa David, 1921-2012

Animator Tissa David, known for her work with Grim Natwick, John Hubley, Richard Williams, R. O. Blechman and many others, died yesterday of a brain tumor at the age of ninety-one.

Michael Sporn has a tribute on his website.
Click here to read entire post

Variety: Fear Envelopes VFX Biz

During the SIGGRAPH conference, I had the opportunity to speak to a Variety reporter Karen Idelson about the visual effects industry and unionization. Her article, which is listed as being co-authored by David Cohen, made today's edition of the publication.

(We've had our wrists slapped in the past for quoting too liberally from Variety articles, so I'll encapsulate in broad strokes and highly encourage you to read the article online or in print by supporting the publication.)

Karen and David point out a growing swell of concern over the viability of the visual effects industry within our country's borders. A brighter light is being pointed at how production studios are using visual effects to not only attract audiences but chase profits. In the end, artists and visual effects studios are left making the sacrifices and people are getting sick of it.

Concern of "pushing work away" by increasing costs or red-tape is giving way to the understanding that the entertainment conglomerates extortion of the industry is only possible with the consent of those being abused. The growing outcry has sparked interest in the formation of a union for vfx artists as well as a trade organization for vfx studios.

In this organizer's opinion, the two organizations, united, are the best way to enact meaningful and lasting change. Change that would bring profits back to vfx shops as well as a meaningful and viable career back to vfx artists.
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crowded Minions

Another animated feature gets a release date:

Universal Pictures has scheduled Illumination Entertainment‘s Untitled Minions Project In 3D for Friday, December 19, 2014. The spinoff featuring the Minions characters from the 2010 hit Despicable Me marks the fifth movie in Illumination’s partnership with Universal. ...

The release schedules for ninety-minute cartoons are looking a bit ... ahm ... cramped, wouldn't you say? Among the animated features coming out in 2014 are:

The Addams Family
Avatar 2
(That's animated, isn't it?)
Me and My Shadow
Lego: The Piece of Resistance
Madagascar 4 (Penguins??)
Rio 2
Hell and Back
Good Dinosaur
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
The Familiars

And still another sequel:

Cloudy 2: Revenge of the Leftovers, set for release in 3D on February 7, 2014. The first "Cloudy" film took in $243 million worldwide. The sequel is directed by Cody Cameron (whose story artist credits include Shrek, Madagascar, Surf’s Up and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) ...

What I take away from the above is that our fine, entertainment conglomerates have picked up on the fact that cartoons are red hot at the box office, and nobody wants to let Pixar, Blue Sky, DreamWorks and Illumination Entertainment walk off with all the winnings. (DreamWorks Animation's stock might be on the low side, but its recent features have knocked off half a billion each. And Blue Sky's latest is over the $800 million mark.)

There are no signs that the shower of money will be slowing anytime soon
Click here to read entire post


They have remade the movie and television production landscape. California is inching toward extending its own tepid version of same.

... The California Senate on Tuesday approved a two-year extension of tax credits for the film and television industry, providing $100 million annually through July 2017.

"The film and television industry is critically important to the economic vitality of the Los Angeles area," said Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). "This is an economic engine. It's critically important that we send the right signal." ...

This has been tough to wrestle through the legislature each and every year of its existence. I dislike showering money on wealth corporations, but California is getting killed in the Run-away Production department. And although this program isn't aggressive enough to reverse the tide, it's better than nothing at all. Click here to read entire post

TAG Labor Day Deadlines

As the days of August dwindle down to a heat-stroked few, we've got some important End-Dates looming ...

WAGE SURVEY DEADLINE -- We continue to receive a stream of survey forms, both digital and paper. Out of 3500 forms sent out, we have gotten back 19%.

This breaks down to 485 paper forms; 182 digital forms. (So like, don't stop now. We're still shooting for 25%. Or more.)

CONTRACT RATIFICATION DEADLINE -- Contract Ratification packets went out on Friday, November 10th. The ballots need to be received by the American Arbitration Association no later than Friday, August 31st.

401(K) ENROLLMENTS -- There's two more weeks of 401(k) Enrollment Meetings (hosted by moi.) We've gotten bigger turnouts at almost all the studio venues, probably because the end of the year is fast approaching and if members want to defer income, the window is closing. The remaining meetings:

Disney TVA -- Sonora Bldg. -- Tuesday, August 21, 10 a.m., Rm 1172

Disney TVA -- Empire Center -- Tuesday, Aug. 21st, 2 p.m., Rm 5223

Disney Toons Studio -- Thurs., Aug. 23rd, 10 a.m., Conf. Rm 103

Fox Animation -- Tues., Aug. 28th, 3 p.m., Main Conf. Rm

Cartoon Network -- Wed. Aug. 28th, 1 p.m., Main Conf. Rm.

If people want to get their 401(k) Plan up and running in the month of September, they need to get their forms in no later than Labor Day. That would be Monday, September 3.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ms. Diller, RIP

Phyllis has made her final exit.

Phyllis Diller, the housewife turned humorist who aimed some of her sharpest barbs at herself, has died at age 95 in Los Angeles. ...

"She was a true pioneer," Diller's agent Fred Wostbrock told NBC News. "The first female standup comedian. ... She paved the way for Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler. Phyllis was the first of the first. The first female standup to play Vegas. She was on Broadway, she made movies, she did it all."

And "doing it all" means doing it all. On top of tv, club, and concert appearances, she acted in movies and performed voices in cartoons. I saw her performing on the Tomorrowland stage (beneath the twirling rocket ships near Space Mountain) in 1968. She was loud, she was boisterous, and she brought the house down. (Not an easy thing to do with all the ambient noise.)

I was a Disneyland ride operator in Tomorrowland that long, hot summer, and I had the opportunity to see a lot of acts that came through. I paid particular attention to the woman with the piercing voice and the fright wigs. Other comedians crashed and burned at that particular venue, but not Phyllis Diller.

She killed.
Click here to read entire post

DW Animation Betrothed to Fox

Now with yummy Add On.

DreamWorks Animation has partnered with its next distributor, as the Nikkster tells us:

... Jeffrey Katzenberg promised Wall Street analysts that DreamWorks Animation would have a new distribution deal by Labor Day — and he does. Sony had been in the running down to these very last weeks. But when it didn’t close, DWA turned to Twentieth Century Fox. which now becomes an animation powerhouse. ...

The question now is (and I guess it's been thrashed out in detailed negotiations) who gets the prime Numero Uno release slots? Fox's in-house animation division Blue Sky? Or Jeffrey's shop?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Add On: Per BusinessWeek, DWA gets a (somewhat) better deal with Rupert's minions:

DreamWorks Animation’s distribution deal with Twentieth Century Fox achieved Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg’s goal of slicing costs while furthering plans to find new revenue as DVD sales shrink. ...

Altogether, the Fox agreement amounts to about a 1 percent fee reduction for DreamWorks Animation, Barton Crockett, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets in New York, wrote in a research note. Lazard had expected a larger reduction of about 1.5 percent in DreamWorks’ costs, he said.

“The main advantage is that DreamWorks has a solid partner in Fox,” he wrote.
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Young Up and Comers

As there was Seth McFarlane (Family Guy and Povenmire & Marsh (Phineas and Ferb, there is now Alex Hirsch.

... As a student at the California Institute of the Arts, he was talented enough to get noticed by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chief executive of DreamWorks Animation. (“He called me during class and was, like, ‘Hey, buddy!’ ” Mr. Hirsch said.) But Mr. Hirsch couldn’t be swayed: He wanted to work for Disney’s TV shop.

The result is Mr. Hirsch’s spooky and flatly bizarre “Gravity Falls,” which arrived on Disney Channel in June and is already a ratings success. ...

Some artists work years before catching the wave; others paddle right out and hang ten right away.

What's always needed is luck, work ethic and talent. Clearly Mr. Hirsch has all three in sufficient abundance. Gravity Falls is attracting over 4 million viewers in its Friday night time slot.

Bully for Mr. H.
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One More Word on Marginal Tax Rates

Down below, there seems to be some confusion about who pays what in income taxes.

There are some members (at least I think they're members) who have it in their noggins that if you make a quarter million per year, the horrid Obama Administration plans to slap an almost forty percent tax on your earnings.

... So you're admitting that a household with TWO incomes that combines to amount to over $250,000....

Will pay 40% in Federal incomes tax? ...

But Little Me admits nothing of the kind ...

What I write is:

... Let's say you're one of the fortunate few who earns, say, $290,000 in animation. If Obama's horrid marginal rates go through, that means:

1) You will pay the BUSH RATES on $001 to $250,000

2) You will pay 39.5% (extra 4.5%) on $250,001 to $290,000.

See, there's this amazing concept, in practice across the Fruited Plain for almost a century now, called The Progressive Income Tax. And that tax calls for your first X thousands of dollars to be paid at the bottom rate (in the present case, 0%) then the next X thousands of dollars to be paid at the next highest rate, and so on right up the wage ladder.

You know, Progressive.

But it gets even better. People get taxed on their adjusted gross earnings, which means income after tax payers have taken the usual middle class deductions, like interest on home loans and the deferral of taxes in 401(k) Plans.

Apparently its hard for folks to get their hands around the way the tax regs actually work, so charlatans can get people to believe that if they're ten bucks over the quarter million dollar line, then ka-BOOM! The whole nut is taxed at 39.5%.

That is, if the higher 39.5% rate gets put in after the start of the new year. But as Celshader says:

... Few Americans comprehend how our progressive tax system works. My co-workers are always surprised to learn that traditional IRA and 401(k) contributions can lower their tax bracket, because those contributions come from their most highly taxed dollars.

A family earning exactly $250,000/year will never see President Obama's 4.5% tax increase. A family earning $250,001/year might miss the extra 4.5 cents on that one dollar that they earned above $250,000, but I doubt it. ...

Education. It's a wonderful thing.
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Foreign Accumulations

Animation's recent box office performances in overseas venues:

... Pixar’s Brave has accumulated $179.2 million overseas so far thanks in part to a $14.4 million weekend playing in 46 territories. The $408.3 million global cume makes Brave the 11th consecutive Pixar title to exceed the $400-million gross benchmark worldwide. ...

Ted pushed its international gross total to $138.4 million ... Ice Age: Continental Drift bagged $10.1 million on the weekend (647.3 million foreign total.) ...

ParaNorman, Laika Entertainment’s 3D stop motion animation follow-up to Caroline, drew $2 million on the weekend at 940 sites ... Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, currently in its 11th round of overseas playdates, grossed $5.7 million on the weekend at 2,226 locations in 42 territories. Overseas cume for the Paramount release stands at $352.3 million.

The Ice Age franchise is losing a bit of steam in the U.S. of A, having fallen out of the Top Ten (#11) with just over $150 million in its tote bag. (The previous two installments fell just shy of $200 million.) On the international front, however, it's racking up BIG numbers. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, August 18, 2012


... to Vietnam.

While Vietnam’s animated film industry is at its infancy, many Vietnamese people are working for European and American animated film companies. ...

Nobody knows that animated films like “Igor”, “Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas” and “Fairy Tale Fights” have the contribution of Vietnamese painters because they are distributed under the name European or Hollywood producers.

There is a big group of Vietnamese-origin technicians working for cartoon studios in Hollywood. The audience can read Vietnamese names like Huy Nguyen, Quan Tran, John Truong and Dennis Duong in the introduction of the most famous animated films like “Madagascar”, “Ice Age” or “Brave.”

Stands to reason. When I got into the business of cartoons in Southern California, work was being sent to Japan, site of one of our former war adversaries. And also, too, Korea.

So sending work to Vietnam is a natural progression. Next thing you know, we'll be sending animation work to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Click here to read entire post

Heated Steeple Chase

A spate of action pics, and one new animated entry:

1. The Expendables 2 (Millenium/Lionsgate) NEW [3,316 Runs] R Friday $10.5M, Saturday $10.2M, Weekend $28.7M

2. The Bourne Legacy (Universal) Week 2 [3,753 Runs] PG13 Friday $5.4M, Saturday $7.1M, Weekend $17.0M (-55%), Cume $69.5M

3. ParaNorman 3D (Focus Features) NEW [3,429 Runs] PG Friday $4.5M, Saturday $5.4M, Weekend $14.0M

4. The Campaign (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,255 Runs] R Friday $4.1M, Saturday $5.2M, Weekend $13.3M (-50%), Cume $51.6M

5. Sparkle (TriStar/Sony) NEW [2,244 Runs) PG13 Friday $4.5M, Saturday $4.3M, Weekend $12.0M

6. The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros) Week 5 ]3,157 Runs] PG13 Friday $3.1M, Saturday $4.5M, Weekend $11.1M, Cume $409.9M

7. The Odd Life Of Timothy Green (Disney) Week 1 [2,598 Runs] PG Friday $3.4M, Saturday $4.3M, Weekend $10.9M, Cume $15.1M

8. Hope Springs (Sony) Week 2 [2,361 Runs] PG13 Friday $2.7M, Saturday $3.8M, Weekend $9.1M (-38%), Cume $35.0M

9. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid (Fox) Week 3 [2,737 Runs] PG Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.5M, Weekend $3.8M, Cume $38.7M

10. Total Recall (Sony) Week 3 [2,434 Runs] PG13 Friday $1.0M, Saturday $1.3M, Weekend $3.5M, Cume $51.7M

Ice Age: Continental Drift has dropped out of the Top Ten to perch at #11. It now owns $148 million box office dollars.

Add On: ParaNorman ends up at #3, with a solid CienemaScore, which is always a hopeful forward indicator.
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Friday, August 17, 2012

Paramount Animation Reboot

Paramount Animation wants to kick things into gear.

Jeffrey K. and DreamWorks Animation are moving toward the door marked "Exit." David Stainton, hired last year to get projects launched, didn't work out. Now, however, elements are beginning to come together.

Paramount Pictures is ramping up its animation division/developments, and getting a number of projects into the production phase. ... One of the new projects might be produced by none other than J.J. Abrams. The report mentions, among many other details, that the "studio has hired seven scribes to tackle projects, some of which Mary Parent and J.J. Abrams are shepherding." Seven people for multiple animation projects, including another SpongeBob

A wise old cartoon exec told me that David S. received his walking papers from PA because he wasn't attracting live-action talent to the cartoon biz. (He didn't know many of those types, apparently.)

Mr. Abrams, of course, doesn't have that deficiency. He knows plenty of live-action players. And Paramount is eager to replicate the Rango magic. Are they going to build themselves a studio along the lines of DreamWorks, Disney and Blue Sky? I'm informed that they will go for the "sub-contract it out" model, using a studio who will make their movie for a price.

Time will tell. (Time is a mouthy bastard.)
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Studio Arm Wrestling

Politics and discord in the upper reaches of one of our fine entertainment conglomerates.

When Disney purchased Marvel, they not only bought a lot of cool comic book characters, but they also got a hard-driving exec --- Ike Purlmetter -- who likes to do things his way.

Sources now tell me that all three female executives in employments disputes with the Walt Disney Co have settled – including one today — many months after the women lost their jobs in a Department Of Consumer Products reorganization set in motion nearly a year ago by Marvel boss Ike Perlmutter -- who is Disney’s 2nd largest shareholder.

Former DCP head of fashion and home products Pam Lifford, former chief financial officer Anne Gates, and former DCP HR exec Susan Cole Hill were all represented by the same attorney with the Pasadena law firm Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny, Richardson and Rennick which has sued Disney in other employee rights cases. ...

Big fish eat and chase out smaller fish, and Mr. Perlmutter is one of the biggest of the bigs in 21st century Hollywood. (When you're the second biggest corporate owner, you have ... ah ... influence.)

But there is nothing new in this storyline that hasn't been told many times before. Back in the middle eighties, some of the old guard Disney producers and directors in the animation division clashed with the fresh-faced whipper snapper Jeffrey Katzenberg. All of them were ultimately shown the door, but not before at least one walked away with a fat cash settlement.
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Try negotiating a new CBA with Himmler

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bad Times

... On the live-action side.

... Just two of the 23 new fall and midseason shows will be shot in Los Angeles County, as cost-conscious producers seek tax-friendly production havens in New York, North Carolina, Georgia and other states. ...

I had recent occasion to talk to a couple of live-action union reps. They clued me:

"The mood of members is pretty terrible. They're angry. There's just not a lot of high-end work. Features have gone to states with big tax rebates. High end television shows are now doing the same. ..."

"Members can scramble around and get work, but it's work on reality shows. It's shorter-term stuff. They have to work their asses off and the money's not as good, so people are ticked off. ...

As the Times' article points out, when the big-ticket productions go away, workers suffer, suppliers suffer (and go out of business), and the whole movie-making infrastructure slowly implodes.

In Animationland, run-away production has been a sad, sorry fact of life for forty years. Production for animated television shows started departing the early seventies. And bits and pieces of feature production have been outsourced since the eighties.

Just today, a Disney CG artist said to me that he didn't think SCI pre-production for t.v. will stay in Southern California for much longer. "Producers will figure out they can do it India way cheaper," he said.

I'm not completely sure of this. I've watched different slices of animated productions leave and come back to the California southland any number of times. Even t.v. animation isn't always outsourced. Cartoon Network animated a big part of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends was animated in Burbank. Currently Tom and Jerry episodics are being animated in Glendale.

What has kept a lot of animation development -- not to mention animation -- in California is the depth and breadth of the talent pool. As I mentioned to an animator at Disney Feature this afternoon, it's not enough for foreign sub-contractors to be cheap. They have to be high-quality and reliable, too. Because it does an American conglomerate no good to save a million bucks while missing a release date. Far better to spend the extra million and hit the release date.
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Don't forget the wage survey

Yesterday at about 4:30 pm I posted to our e-mail list that we had so far received 587 mailed or online wage survey questionnaires -- a 16.7% response. I told people about the online version of the questionnaire and encouraged people to post to it.

In the twenty hours since then, forty-five people have posted online questionnaires, bringing the response to 18.1%. That's pretty good, but we still have a ways to go. So please, fill out the wage survey today!
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Brian Ferguson Interview -- Part III

TAG Interview with Brian Ferguson
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

After Beauty and the Beast, Mr. Ferguson quickly became a journey animator. And by the time of Hercules's production he had become a supervising animator ...

Brian made the transition into computer generated animation with Chicken Little and Bolt. On Meet the Robinsons, he was (once again) a supervising animator. He is presently at work on upcoming Mouse House projects.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Goodbye to "Cinder Biter."

This morning we got a cryptic phone call* about this:

The crew on Henry Selick’s untitled stop motion animated film were told this afternoon that Disney is not proceeding with this project. Though the film had no title, it had a October 4, 2013 release date, and about 150 San Francisco-based artists ready to go, so it’s a blow to the animation troops out there. Started shooting last summer, but I’d heard it just wasn’t coming together in a manner that pleased the studio. Selick has been given the chance to take the project ...

I journeyed up to the shoot several weeks ago, and things appeared to be going well.

The project was happening in the industrial/warehouse section of San Francisco, and the crew was "up" and engaged. I have no idea why Henry's project was shut down so deep into production, but some person in a higher level of authority must have seen dailies and said: "Ahhh. No."

Whatever the actual reason, we're saddened to see so many animation professionals lose their jobs off a feature that appeared to be in full flight. Here's hoping that Mr. Selick sets the feature up someplace else and folks can continue working.

* Disney contacted the IA this morning regarding the impending shutdown. We, naturally enough, kept it under our hats. But we speculated: "When will Deadline Hollywood break this?" Now we know.
Click here to read entire post

The Brian Ferguson Interview -- Part II

Brian Ferguson's first professional gig after Sheridan was working on Care Bears episodes at Nelvana Animation in Tortonto. His second gig was short animation pieces in New York City ...

TAG Interview with Brian Ferguson

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link
But his career didn't kick into high gear until he applied for a job with Disney Feature Animation in California.

The animation division had just release The Little Mermaid, and had relocated to an industrial neighborhood in Glendale. Brian was quickly put to work as a rough inbetweener on the Mickey featurette The Prince and the Pauper, working for both Mark Kausler and Andreas Deja, and says that he learned a great deal from both of them.

By the time of Beauty and the Beast, he was animating.
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Monday, August 13, 2012

News for 401(k) Plan participants

Select Indexed Equity Fund to become MM S&P 500® Index Fund*

Effective August 24, 2012, MassMutual Select Indexed Equity Fund (Northern Trust), an investment available through your MassMutual retirement plan, will undergo a name change to MM S&P 500 Index Fund (Northern Trust)*. This is a name change only and has no impact on the current value of participant accounts and will not increase the investment option's fees or expenses. The name change is intended to clearly identify the S&P 500 Index as the specific market benchmark that drives the investment approach of the Fund.

Your plan may offer a separate investment account ("SIA") called Select Indexed Equity (Northern Trust) that derives its value by investing in MassMutual Select Indexed Equity Fund (Northern Trust). Following the name change, the SIA will continue to invest in the renamed MM S&P 500 Index Fund (Northern Trust) and the SIA will be renamed MM S&P 500 Index (Northern Trust).

Where can I get more information?

Specific details about this change are available in supplements (dated August 1, 2012) to the MassMutual Select Funds prospectus and summary prospectus (dated April 2, 2012). The supplements, prospectus, and summary prospectus are available on RetireSMARTSM, MassMutual's plan participant Web site, at

Do I need to do anything in response to this update?

No, you do not need to take any action. For more information, Please call 1-800-743-5274 to speak with a MassMutual Retirement Services customer service professional, or visit RetireSMARTSM, MassMutual's plan participant Web site, at Participants can make changes or reaffirm investment selections anytime by logging on to RetireSMARTSM.

*This information may or may not apply to your personal portfolio.

The Standard & Poor's (S&P 500) Index is a widely recognized, unmanaged index representative of common stocks of larger capitalized U.S. companies. The index does not reflect any deductions for fees or expenses, are unmanaged, and cannot be purchased directly for investment.

"Standard & Poor's®," "S&P®," "Standard & Poor's 500," "500," and "S&P 500®" are trademarks of The McGraw-Hill Companies and have been licensed for use by the Fund. The Fund is not sponsored, endorsed, sold, or promoted by Standard & Poor's, and Standard & Poor's makes no representation regarding the advisability of investing in the Fund.

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SIGGRAPH 2012: Wrap-Up

IATSE Rep Vanessa Holtgrewe along side Montreal Local 667 Business Rep Christian Lemay and ICG (Local 700) Organizer Preston Johnson. IATSE Rep Julia Neville dashing out of frame.

After a few days, we're still reeling from the attention that was given to the IATSE booth on the SIGGRAPH 2012 exhibition floor. It was a great pleasure speaking to a wide variety of members from the visual effects community for the three days.

We fielded questions about the existence of the Visual Effects Union and how artists can help, the purpose of the union as well as how the union would fit into the visual effects industry.

I was informed that the IATSE has already secured its place on the 2013 SIGGRAPH exhibition floor in Anaheim. I'm looking forward to continuing TAG's support of the IATSE's initiative next year.

Snapshots captured this year after the break.

View of the crowd forming just after the doors opened on the first day

Always a crowd around the Pixar booth.

Scanline, who told us the VFX Union would be too costly for them, was the only studio to have "booth babes".

Toon Boom showing off their latest versions.

Large crowds around the Lightwave booth all three days.

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The Brian Ferguson Interview -- Part I

Animator Brian Ferguson never thought he'd make animation his career ...

TAG Interview with Brian Ferguson

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link
His Canadian parents were residing in Venezuela when he was born, and Mr. Ferguson, although he always drew and filled up flipbooks with lots of cavorting stick figures, saw the sciences as his professional career track.

Earning a degree in Zoology from the University of Edmundton, Brian soon realized that collecting tics from the backs of moose (meese?) wasn't high on his agenda, and he plunged into animation in earnest at Sheridan College.

Brian discusses all these things and more in Part I of this week's TAG Interview.
Click here to read entire post

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ebb and Flow

The mainstream animation industry -- television half-hours and shorts, theatrical animated features and hybrid features -- has been having a robust year.

Domestically three out of the last four major animated releases have cracked two hundred million dollars in domestic grosses, and the one feature that didn't -- Ice Age: Continental Drift is a record-breaker outside the U.S. and closing in on $150 million inside the Unites States.

At the same time, video games, that close cousin of t.v. and movie animation, is doing a wee bit less well:

Pretty much every major game company listed said it had fewer sales and less revenue then the previous year, quarter or however they reported, however on the upside it looks like some are making an increase in subscription type services such as the xbox network. ...

— July 31: Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. reports a wider net loss and lower revenue in its latest quarter, but results are largely in line with expectations. It also announces a stock buyback of up to $500 million.

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., another game publisher, says its loss in the latest quarter was much bigger than expected, because sales of “Spec Ops: The Line” and “Max Payne 3″ were not as high as the company hoped
. ...

The internet appears to have slammed the game industry in a much harsher and nastier way than it has hurt mainstream animation.

Theatrical features still do big box office. Animated half-hours are still pulling ratings. And if fewer little silver disks are being sold on behalf of theatrical and television cartoons, sales have still held up better than live-action titles.

Like every other entertainment company, video game makers are having to rethink .. and then retool ... their business models to where they make sense in the wired, digital age. Clearly they are still going through painful adjustments.
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Foreign Steeple Chase

The heat and olympics have chewed into box office grosses, but animation soldiers on.

... After 10 frames playing overseas, DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted has accumulated $336.4 million via Paramount. Weekend provided $10.1 million at 2,695 sites in 40 territories ...

Seizing the No. 2 weekend spot overall was Universal’s Ted, which captured $20.3 million at 2,850 situations in 25 territories. [The feature] has grossed more than $100 million overseas ($113.2 million) so far with playdates in 33 markets still ahead. A Spain opening generated $2.3 million at 304 locations.

Fox’s Ice Age: Continental Drift ... collected $16.2 million from 9,890 venues in 62 markets, pushing its overseas gross total to $623.6 million ...

Universal’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, $121.5 million; ...

I believe we can safely assume that there will be yet another Ice Age in our futures. (Also another Ted.) Click here to read entire post

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Animated Feature Grosses To Date

No matter how you slice it, animated entertainments have been amazingly consistent with domestic box office:

The Lorax -- $214,030,500

Madagascar 3: Escape to Europe -- $211,252,716

Brave -- $225,967,000

Ice Age: Continental Drift -- $139,339,000 ...

The U.S./Canada under-performer appears to be the latest installment of Ice Age, but "under performance" is a relative term. The feature will end up in the neighborhood of $150 million, and everywhere else in the known world it's making the turnstiles twirl at a high rate of speed. Click here to read entire post

Hot August Derby

A bit less animation domination in the dog days of summer.


1) Bourne Legacy -- $14,000,000
2) The Campaign -- $10,250,000
3) Dark Knight Rises -- $5,630,000 ($326,239,000)
4) Hope Springs -- $4,700,000 ($9,153,000)
5) Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- $2,850,000 ($25,204,000)
6) Ice Age -- $2,025,000 ($139,339,000)
7) Ted -- $983,000 ($207,608,000)
8) Step Up Revolution -- $930,000 ($28,245,000)
9) The Watch -- $660,000 ($29,835,000)
10) Amazing Spider-man -- $625,000 ($253,968,000)
11) Brave -- $524,000 ($225,967,000) ...

This week, three new entries with fewer special effects. Next Week, ParaNorman. Click here to read entire post


Ms. Chapman, late of Pixar and Brave is leaving Emeryville for a job in George Lucas's shop. This was announced a couple of days ago, so why am I bringing it up here in the wee small hours? ...

Because I had occasion to talk to a Brave board artist who tells a story a wee bit different than this:

After [Brenda's] version of "Brave" proved too complicated, too dark, and too, er, snowy for Pixar, she was removed from the film and the studio's vaulted Brain Trust collective, and replaced by storyboard artist Mark Andrews, who simplified things and (at the urging of the Scottish Tourism Board) made the Scottish setting lush and green. ...

The board artist says:

"I was on the picture for years. The picture as released is still Brenda's story. Some of the mechanics are different, and some sequences are changed around, but its core is still what Brenda created." ...

So why did Ms. Chapman get pushed out of the director's chair? An artist who has known her a long time said: "I wasn't up there, but Brenda is vocal, and defends her artistic vision. She probably didn't want to change things they wanted changed, and said so. And it didn't go down well."

The general rule of thumb in Movieland, now and forever, is: If the boss wants to go North, and you want to go South, you better change your mind or sense of direction, because otherwise you will not be working on the project for very long. But as I heard Brenda herself say several years ago:

Pixar is a boys' club. I'm the token female."

Well, she's a token no longer. She now works for Lucasfilm, headed up by Kathleen Kennedy.
Click here to read entire post

Friday, August 10, 2012

Contract Ratification

The American Arbitration Association today put ratification packets into the mail ...

This was several days later than we would have liked, but as Donald Rumsfeld taught us long ago, you conduct elections with the third-party contractors you have, not the ones that may be more ideal.

The packets contain:

1) The Memorandum of Agreement.

2) An FAQ (frequently asked questions) fact sheet.

3) A ballot and prepaid envelope.

To refresh memories: TAG-AMPTP negotiations concluded in mid-June. Then, a month later, the Memorandum of Agreement was drafted, discussed, and revised. In broad strokes, the overall deal includes:

Two percent (2%) annual compounded wage increases. Health, pension and IAP benefits are to be provided under the terms of the IATSE Basic Agreement ($5 per hour increased to $6.) Other provisions of the new agreement include a new storyboard revisionist classification, and changes to the talent development program and the DreamWorks Animation wage minimums. ...

Voting concludes at the end of the month. After the vote is tallied, we will post ratification votes here, also notify members bye e-mail.

Each vote is important. It's what democratic unionism is about. So when you receive your ballot and accompanying materials, don't set them aside. Sit down, read through them and get the ballot in the mail.
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Distribution Wrestling Match

Or as it's sometimes known: "Negotiations."

With just three weeks to go until a self-imposed Labor Day deadline, DreamWorks Animation is coming down to the wire in talks for a distribution deal with 20th Century Fox or Sony Pictures.

Those two studios are now the top candidates to replace Paramount Pictures as the distributor of DreamWorks movies beginning next year, according to knowledgeable people not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. ...

[One] sticking point is that DreamWorks is seeking to hold on to all deal-making rights and revenue for its movies on television and digital platforms ...

Funny thing. Seventy-five years ago, Disney walked away from a distribution contract with United Artists because of a "sticking point" over television rights (even though in 1936-37, there was no television.)

Back then, Disney waltzed over to RKO for distribution, and so that company got a dandy windfall getting a piece of the big action for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which turned out to be the highest grossing film* to that point in time.

Be interesting to see which dancing partner DWA ends up with.

* Not counting "Birth of a Nation," which was probably the highest grossing American film then, except nobody will ever know because of the lousy record-keeping that happened in 1915.
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Thursday, August 09, 2012

DreamWork Animation - The TV Division

Today's studio visit was to DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon -- the series unit in Sherman Oaks. (That's midway through the San Fernando Valley on fabled Ventura Blvd,. if you're wondering ...)

DreamWorks Animation took the show over from sub-contractor APU/Wildbrain nine months ago. They are ramping up for the second season of the series -- although the first show premiered only last week. (And I'm guessing it won't be up on YouTube long.)

A staffer told me three board crews will be coming on over the next weeks. Right now there's a number of empty desks. One artist told me:

"I came on sixteen months ago. I was told then the job would be eight months, max. They keep extending me and extending me. I'm not complaining. ...

I've been to the studio numerous times over the last year. There's a large difference between the pace and resources of the feature version and the t.v. version they are doing here. DWA has ambitious hopes for the show. The footage that was unspooled at Comic-Con went over well.
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Animated Reason

This has been out and about for over a freaking year, but since I get around so little, I'm just now catching up to it ... thanks to my younger son.

In the confines of a London dinner party, comedian Tim Minchin argues with a hippy named Storm. While Storm herself may not be converted, audiences from London to LA have been won over by Tim's wordplay and the timely message of the film in a society where science and reason are portrayed as the enemy of belief.

What I like about it -- beside the wordplay and witty observations -- is the design and use of animation. Click here to read entire post

Stop Prop 32

For this year's election, the weight of California's labor movement is falling behind an effort to defeat Proposition 32, the deceptively-named "Stop Special Interest Money Now Act" that would virtually eliminate political activity by labor in California.

From the Stop The Special Exemptions Act website:
The so-called “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act” will be on the ballot in November. Its backers claim this initiative is a “simple, fair and balanced solution” to the problem of big money in Sacramento. But their claims just don't add up.

It’s not what it seems. When you take a close look, it’s clear that this measure was intentionally written to create special exemptions for billionaire businessmen—giving them even more power to write their own set of rules. It's an unfair, unbalanced approach, and that's why newspapers across California are warning voters to take a look at what's really inside.

Supporters claim the Special Exemptions Act "attacks AT EVERY POINT where money changes hands between Special Interests and California's politicians."

The truth? This initiative exempts secretive Super PACs which can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporate special interests and billionaire businessmen.

The Special Exemptions Act does nothing to prevent anonymous donors from spending unlimited amounts to influence elections. It was also intentionally written to create special exemptions for Wall Street investment firms, hedge funds, insurance companies,real-estate developers and many other powerful interests. In addition, there’s nothing to stop corporations from creating secretive front groups and making unlimited campaign expenditures.
Supporters claim the Special Exemptions Act solves the problems created by big money in Sacramento.

The truth? Special exemptions for corporate special interests ensure they'll keep writing their own rules.

The large web of special exemptions would ensure that billionaire businessmen and corporate special interests can continue to write their own rules. Only a small number of corporations would really be restricted. Sole proprietorships, Real Estate Investment Trusts, LLCs, LLPs and many other types of companies are all intentionally exempted.

Supporters claim the Special Exemptions Act is a "simple, fair, balanced solution."

The truth? It was intentionally written to advantage corporate special interests and disadvantage working people.

It's not a balanced approach. There's a reason that Wall Street investors, CEOs and big developers are lining up to support the Special Exemptions Act: they will be able to continue funneling undisclosed money into secretive political front groups, while everyday heroes like nurses, teachers and firefighters would lose their ability to speak out on critical issues like class size, improving patient care and protecting public safety.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

SPA Acquisition

There was a point a few years ago when I wondered if Sony Pictures Animation was going to stay in the cartoon business ...

Their early releases were not ... barn burners. Some were good pictures, but they didn't make a hell of a lot of money, and a hell of a lot of money is the purpose (and motto) of our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

For Sony, Cloudy With Meatballs broke the losing streak, then The Smurfs completely shattered it. And now:

Sony Pictures Animation has closed a deal to acquire rights to the classic 1980s sitcom ALF and will develop the property into a hybrid CG/live action feature. ...

Rule One of Hollywood studios: When you hit pay dirt, double down on it. (It's the one move that will never but ever get a development executive terminated.)
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Your Wage Survey Update

After several days of minimal surveys coming in (due to a post office glitch) we got a large number of surveys in today. ...

And we are now up to 15% of forms returned.

Keep them coming in! It's, like, important.
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At Nick

At Nick yesterday, I had occasion to talk to an artist about Robot & Monster, the new Nickelodeon show that premeiered over the weekend ...

"The company put back the premiere date, and most of the crew was put on layoff ... But we've got a bunch of new scripts for a second season, and several of them in animatics, so we're in good shape if the company greenlights a new season. The show was premiered a few days ago but I haven't heard about ratings numbers yet. We're hoping for a pickup." ...

Elsewhere in the Nick building, the SpongeBob crew is winding up its series work, and people are readying to depart for another part of beautiful Burbank where they will commence work on the next SpongeBob SquarePants theatrical feature, slated for release in 2014.

"Most of the crew will go over in waves. The first artists go over the end of the month, but some won't swing over until almost the end of the year." ...

The first theatrical outing for SB collected a worldwide gross of more than $140 million. This isn't huge when you compare it to other animated features, but when your budget is $30 million, the profits wrapped inside $140 mill is considerable.
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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

SIGGRAPH 2012: Day One

* Minutes before the doors opened

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the IATSE has a strong contingent of representatives at their booth at SIGGRAPH this year. They were all needed to attend to the many people who stopped by to ask questions and get information about the IATSE's efforts at bringing union representation to visual effects artists.

We saw faces old and new today in the first of three days at the convention center. If your plans include making an appearance, stop by Booth #352 and say Hello!

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Big Quarter

Mr. Iger has kept, apparently, the earnings bopping right along.

Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) fiscal third-quarter earnings rose a better-than-expected 24% as the company continued to see stronger profits from its media networks and theme parks divisions, and as the superhero action film "The Avengers" boosted studio-enertainment results.

Chairman and Chief Executive said the company delivered its largest quarterly earnings in its history in the latest period. ...

You can say what you like about the Mouse, but it's a juggernaut. And it's come a loong way from the time it was a collection of store-fronts and bungalows on Hyperion Avenue. Click here to read entire post

Expanding Horizons

As did an animation studio before it, DWA breaks out of its "cartoon studio" mold.

DreamWorks Animation SKG, the Hollywood studio behind hits like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar,” said on Tuesday that it planned to develop a $3.1 billion cultural and entertainment district in Shanghai with a group of Chinese partners.

The Dream Center, a riverfront complex to cover six large city blocks, has ambitions to rival the Broadway theater district in New York and the West End in London, with theaters, performance halls, restaurants, shops and an entertainment zone with a “Kung Fu Panda” theme.

I've had various industry execs (and former execs) tell me that DreamWorks Animation ultimate game plan was to merge with one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates. I even had one who said that was Jeffrey Katzenberg's game plan prior to the meltdown in 2008 when almost everyone's plans went a teeny bit ... awry.

Mr. Katzenberg, of course, has always denied this.

But now the master plan is becoming clear. The goal for DWA is not to get swallowed up by a conglomerate, but to become a conglomerate under its own steam. The Big Moves inside the Middle Kingdom are early steps, yes?
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Glenn Vilppu painting show

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Upcoming 401(k) Plan Meetings (Updated)

As Steve says immediately below, he'll be visiting studios for the next few weeks, holding enrollment meetings.

The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan has monthly enrollments. The deadline for submitting forms is the first of each month. The forms are processed and take effect at payroll in 2-3 weeks depending on the studio.

You'll find (again) all the upcoming meetings below the fold. ...

Bento Box
Thursday, August 16, 10 am
Main Break Room

Cartoon Network
Wednesday, August 29, 1 pm
Main Conference Room

Disney Feature Animation
Thursday August 16, 3 pm
Southside Building, Room 1300

Disney Toons
Thursday, August 23, 10 am
Conference Room 103

Disney TV Animation
Tuesday, August 21, 10 am
Sonora Building, Room 1172

Disney TV Animation
Tuesday, August 21, 2 pm
Empire Center, Room 5223

DreamWorks Animation
Tuesday, August 14, 2 pm
Dining Room B & C

DreamWorks Animation Television (WildBrain)
Thursday, August 9, 2 pm
Main Conference Room

Film Roman
Wednesday, August 8, 2 pm
"Glass" Conference Room

Fox TV Animation
Tuesday, August 28, 3 pm
Main Conference Room

Hasbro Studios
Wednesday, August 15, 3 pm
Production Conference Room

Marvel Animation
Tuesday, August 14, 3 pm
Main Conference Room

Tuesday, August 7, 10 am
Main Conference Room

Robin Red Breast
Wednesday, August 8, 11 am

Warner Bros. Animation
Tuesday, August 15, 10 am
Building 34R - Main Conference Room

(For more information go to the Animation Guild website or call the Animation Guild at (818) 845-7500 and ask for Marta.)
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Monday, August 06, 2012

Retirement Factoid

I start 401(k) Enrollment Meetings tomorrow.

And I don't want to freak people out, but this new study would make anybody pause and reflect:

... [A]bout 46 percent of senior citizens in the United States have less than $10,000 in financial assets when they die. Most of these people rely almost totally on Social Security payments as their only formal means of support, according to the newly published study, co-authored by James Poterba of MIT, Steven Venti of Dartmouth College, and David A. Wise of Harvard University. ...

Me, I would increase Social Security payments to put a dent in this sorry state of affairs, especially since Defined Benefit pensions are pretty much, as they say, kaput.

But I doubt this will happen anytime soon.

That being the case, if you're working inside a company that offers a 401(k) Plan, I suggest you give serious consideration to participating in it. Even if your participation is at the 4% or 5% level. Because underfunding is better than no funding at all.
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The Next Wave

As there was, a few years back, a downpour of penguins in animation: Madagascars, Surfs Up, Happy Feet, (etc.) now comes a new character type in kiddie cartoons ...


I mean, think about it ...

ParaNorman hits in a week and a half, and contains the living dead. Then Hotel T gets released this Fall, also with animated corpses.

It's a trend, I tells ya. A trend.

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Panda to China

Well ... I guess it makes sense thematically.

A new Chinese joint venture said Monday that the third installment of DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda" will be made in China as a co-production, the first for any major Hollywood animated feature film. ...

The TAG negotiation committee made concessions to DWA in the recently completed negotiations because (as the company said) "We don't get some breathing room, we'll have to send work away. And we don't want to have to do that."

This must not count as "away work."
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Sunday, August 05, 2012

One More Wage Survey Reminder

We were getting a nice, steady flow of survey forms back through most of last week. But then came the end of the week, and the flow dried up. ...

We now stand at 14%, looking for a 25% or 30% return. (Last year we hit 23% overall.)

If you haven't filled out the form and popped it in the mail, take a couple of minutes and do it now. The more information we receive, the better the quality of the data we'll (shortly, ultimately) be relaying to YOU.

Win win!
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Overseas Steeple Chase

Animation thrives in foreign lands.

... [T]he weekend’s No. 2 title, 20th Century Fox’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, collected $32.8 million overall from 13,678 venues in 62 territories, pushing its substantial offshore total to $587 million. ...

The weekend’s No. 3, Universal’s Ted, registered its strongest stanza yet on the foreign circuit, collecting $32 million on the weekend at 2,380 screens in 20 territories, half of which were new. ... [It's] grossed a total of $77.3 million overseas so far with playdates in 38 markets still ahead. ...

Flying past the $300 million foreign gross mark ($312 million) after nine weeks on the foreign circuit was DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. It ranked No. 5 on the weekend.

[G]rossing an estimated $2.8 million was Universal’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, which played at 3,450 playdates in 11 territories. Foreign total ... comes to $117.7 million . ...

With the exception of Lorax, (for some reason, Dr. Seuss doesn't travel well overseas), the summer animated features have collected 50%-70% of their movie ticket money abroad. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Next Animated Contender

It's been a season of animated champions: Brave. Madgascar 3. The Lorax. All of them have broken the $200 million barrier in domestic grosses.

The next challenger for box office gold is the candidate from Portland's LAIKA studios, the up-and-comer ParaNorman, shambling into theaters on August 17th ...

At present, Rotten Tomatoes puts it near 70% fresh, with reviews like this:

... [A]t the tail end of the summer, along comes a movie proudly told in an old school animation style, from a tiny animation house and distributed by a studio known mostly for distributing arty fare like "Brokeback Mountain," that blows away all the slick studio confections both in terms of sheer visual wonder and (more surprisingly) emotional heft. ...

And it's want-to-see quotient is in the 90s.

The way theatrical animation has been rolling in 2012, I expect the picture will have a strong opening and end up with a healthy gross. Stop motion hasn't been as strong at the box office as pure CGI, but Norman looks poised to (maybe) break the mold.

And how wrong can you go with the first animated zombie movie?
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Early August Derby

Animation continues to sprout from the Top Ten.

1. Dark Knight Rises (Legendary/Warner Bros) Week 3 [4,242 Runs] PG13 Friday $10.2M, Saturday $14.4M, Weekend $36.4M, Cume $354.6M

2. Total Recall (Sony) NEW [3,601 Runs] PG13 Friday $9.1M, Saturday $9.4M, Weekend $26.0M

3. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 3 (Fox) NEW [3,391 Runs] PG Friday $5.8M, Saturday $5.1M, Weekend $14.7M

4. Ice Age 4 3D (Fox) Week 4 [3,542 Runs] PG Friday $2.4M, Saturday $3.3M, Weekend $8.4M, Cume $131.5M

5. The Watch (Fox) Week 2 [3,168 Runs] R Friday $1.9M, Saturday $2.5M, Weekend $6.3M (-50%), Cume $25.3M

6. Ted (Universal) Week 6 [2,767 Runs] R Friday $1.6M, Saturday $2.3M, Weekend $5.4M, Cume $203.4M

7. Step Up Revolution 3D (Summit/Lgate) Week 2 [2,606 Runs] PG13 Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.0M, Weekend $5.3M, Cume $23.1M

8. The Amazing Spider-Man 3D (Col/Sony) Week 5 [2,425 Runs] PG13 Friday $1.2M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.3M, Cume $250.8M

9. Brave 3D (Pixar-Disney) Week 7 [2,110 Runs] PG Friday $811K, Saturday $1.1M, Weekend $2.8M, Cume $223.2M

10. Magic Mike (Warner Bros) Week 6 [1,202 Runs] R Friday $470K, Saturday $740K, Weekend $1.3M, Cume $111.2M

Animation in visual effects spectaculars ((Total Recall, The Amazing Spider Man, The Dark Knight) and animated features (you know the ones) makes the art and craft pretty dominant in today's movies. I doubt that will be changing anytime soon.

Meantime, Madagascar 3 has climbed past $210 million, twelve million behind Brave.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that Ted is now one of the most successful R-rated comedies of all time.

... Ted has now earned $203.4 million in North America and will soon eclipse Wedding Crashers ($209.3 million) to become the No. 4 R-rated comedy of all time ...

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