Monday, August 31, 2015

The Marvel Two-Step

Micro-managers sometimes wear out their welcome.

After what one source describes as "several years of frustration," Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has pulled off a reorganization of the vaunted film company that has him reporting to Disney studio chief Alan Horn as opposed to the infamously micromanaging Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter.

Feige, the architect of Marvel's transition from a flailing comic book company into a film powerhouse that was sold to Disney for $4 billion in 2009, is said to have vented his unhappiness to Horn and Disney CEO Bob Iger earlier this summer. The reorganization was put into effect last week, according to sources.

I hear tell that Mr. Perlmutter is a wee bit difficult to deal with. And now it appears that Kevin Feige has appealed to a higher power. Or two.

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The Animated Productions Among Us

Add On: Kindly note that this post is being continuously updated as studios call and members weigh in down below in comments.

From time to time we put up a roster of teevee shows and theatrical features being made in the Southern California area of Cartoonland. We try to be reasonably comprehensive, but we're constrained by

1) A reluctance to list stuff that hasn't been announced (although we screw up), and

2) A lack of total knowledge.

Feel free to chime in with things we've missed. And be aware that we might be taking things down as we get e-mails and phone calls from studios that don't want something up on this part of the internet, even though the offending titles are up on other sections of the internet. (There are very few secrets). ...


Bento Box

Legends – multi episodes
Bob’s Burgers – multi episodes ...

Cartoon Network

Power Puff Girls – multi episodes
Ben 10 – multi episodes
(Above shows = high international demand.)

Regular Show – multi episodes
Adventure Time -- multi episodes
Stephen Universe – multi episodes
Clarence – multi episodes
Royals – multi episodes
Uncle Grandpa – multi episodes
Mixels - episode
(Additional unannounced shows in development for multiple distribution platforms.)

Cosmic Toast (non-signator)

La la Loopsy – multi episodes

Disney Television Animation

Star Vs. Forces of Evil – multi episodes
Mickey shorts – ongoing.
Mickey and the Roadster Racers (CG show) – multi episodes
Tangled – multi episodes
The Lion Guard – multi episodes
The 7D -- multi-episodes
Unannounced fairy tale -- development
Pickle And Peanut – multi episodes
Future-Worm! – multi episodes
Duck Tales – multi episodes
Billy Dilley's Super Duper Subterranean Summer – multi episodes
Wicked World – multi episodes
Sophia the First – multi episodes
Puppy Papers – multi episodes
Elena of Avalor – multi episodes

(Wrapping things up (so far as we know): Wander Over Yonder; Gravity Falls; Penn Zero)

DreamWorks Animation

Kung Fu Panda 3
Puss in Boots 2

(Other jams and jellies in development).

DreamWorks Animation TV

Croods – multi episodes
Vegie Tales – multi episodes
Peabody and Sherman – multi episodes
King Julien – multi episodes
Dinotrux – multi episodes
Puss in Boots – multi episodes
Unannounced projects – multi episodes
Dragons of Berk – multi episodes

Film Roman – Starz

Spiderman – multi episodes
Mega Man
Simpsons – multi episodes

Fox TV Animation

Family Guy – multi episodes
American Dad – multi episodes


Rescue Bots – multi episodes
Transformers: Robots in Disguise
Micronauts (2D series)

Illumination Entertainment

Some feature story work done in L.A.; production at the MacGuff studios in Paris.

Marvel Animation Studios

Newer Super Hero project
Avengers Assemble – multi episodes
Guardians of the Galaxy – multi episodes


Pinky Malinky
Shimmer and Shine
Pig, Goat, Banana, Cricket
Loud House
Harvey Beaks
Sanjay and Craig
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Spongebob Squarepants
Fairly Odd Parents

(The above are multi-episoded, in various stages of work.)

Paramount Animation

Multiple Feature Projects in Development

Six Point Harness (non-signator)

Hollow Gauntlet

Shadow Machine (non-signator)

Bojack – multi episodes

Sony Pictures Animation


(There are various projects in and out of work at SPA. Popeye, for instance, has been on and off, on and off. Don't know where the switch position for that project is right now. And please note that Sony Imageworks, SPA's production arm, departed the Culver City campus for the Free Money in Vancouver a couple of years ago. The Sony Imageworks campus in CC now houses pre-production only.)

Starburns Industries

Rick and Morty – multi episodes
Animals – multi episodes

Stoopid Buddy Stoodios (non-signator)

Robot Chicken
Lego Scooby Doo
WWE Slam City

Titmouse* (Robin Red Breast)

TurboFast – wrapping 2nd season
Fancy Bastards – pilot (waiting series pickup)

Universal Cartoon Studios

Land Before Time
Alvin and the Chipmunks

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Frozen 2
Wreck-It Ralph 2

Warner Animation Group

Lego Batman
Lego 2
Billion Brick Race

(and various)

Warner Bros. Animation

Scooby Doo Wild West
WWE Meets Jetsons
Be Cool, Scooby Doo
– wrapping up ... for now.
Bunnicula – multi episodes
Justice League Action – multi episodes
Mike Tyson Mysteries – multi episodes
Teen Titans Go! – multi episodes
DC Girls (online show)
Green Eggs and Ham (online show)
(Unannounced shows in development.)

Wild Canary

Miles From Tomorrowland
Sheriff Callie

And of course there are various non-signator* studios out there: Moonscoop, Renegade, ADHD, Rough Draft, etc. If you know what's going on in these places, feel free to comment. (As we said up above, we are only semi-comprehensive.)

Add On: We've already made some corrections to the above, adding a show and dropping a show. We'll note what's said in comments -- most TV work in Southern California encompasses pre-production (writing, designing, storyboarding, animatics) and post-production (editing, sound, etc.) Production work is (mostly done somewhere else, but a few shows have been known to do some production work in L.A. Disney features are largely produced in Burbank-Glendale-L.A., while DreamWorks Animation (feature) outsources some work while still doing a sizeable chunk of production in Glendale.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

An Over-Abundance of Free Money?

Some people across the pond, they aren't too happy.

... A report disclosed that more than 50 European Union grants were handed out to media production companies making documentaries, films and even cartoons – including some with a slant that promoted the work of the EU.

Projects funded by the Creative Europe initiative, backed by the European Commission, included a film about a climate change activist and an animated series about alien squirrels. ....

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers Alliance, said: “Another day, another prime piece of evidence that Brussels bureaucrats simply do not understand the value of taxpayers’ money.

"Considering the myriad problems facing the European Union, you would think they'd have something better to do than subsidize cartoons about extra-terrestrial squirrels," Isaby said. “Blowing more than a million pounds on grants to fanciful animated adventures, pro-European mockumentaries with B-list celebrities, is totally inappropriate and, frankly, contemptible." ...

Contemptible, you say? So, like, what's wrong with alien squirrels? ...

But actually, my blood is boiling. When the government gets into the habit of showering free money on private companies, it's usually the taxpayer that gets hosed.

I mean, it's one thing to spend billions on behalf of the wealthy owners of professional sports teams, building fancy new stadiums so that the Haves can have more, but come on already. That's big league sports for Gawd sakes! And totally deserving of our tax dollars.

But why are a bunch of garlic eaters subsidizing cartoons? Isn't that communistic?

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International Box Office

Pure animation is somewhat less dominant this week, but there remains plenty of hybrid candidates.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)>

Terminator Genisys -- $23,600,000 -- ($409,294,045)

Minions -- $14,900,000 -- ($1,018,900,000)

Inside Out -- $10,900,000 -- ($715,625,000)

Ted 2 -- $9,300,000 -- ($190,200,000)

Fantastic Four -- $6,800,000 -- ($144,463,098)

Jurassic World -- $3,900,000 -- ($1,636,700,000)

Pixels -- $5,200,000 -- ($184,234,964)

Ant-Man -- $1,500,000 -- ($368,986,000)

Monster Hunt -- $4,500,000 -- ($375,000,000) ...

The trades tell us:

... With a global cume through Sunday of $409.5M, the latest pic in the Terminator franchise is benefitting from a strong China run. ... [and] now has an $82.8M cume there. The weekend was worth $23.6M in total with $23.4M from China. ...

Minions, which marched past $1B last week, was given a hearty buongiorno in Italy where it bowed No. 1 with a huge $8.5M to become the biggest opening weekend for an animated film ever in that market where it has a 77% share. ... That brings the cume overseas to $694.1M. Combined with the U.S. total of $324.8M, the worldwide cume is $1.02B. In other milestones, Minions overtook Ice Age: Dawn Of Dinosaurs’ $690M yesterday to become the 3rd-highest-grossing animated film of all time internationally. ...

[Inside Out] crossed $700M during the past week worldwide and added Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Singapore to the toon’s territories this frame. With $10.9M more from international play, its global total is now $715.63M after 11 weekends. ...

Ted 2 grossed $4.7M at No. 2 (behind Universal’s own Jurassic World) and 9% above Ted. In Mexico, it was No. 1 with $1.8M. The total weekend dowry is $9.3M in 45 territories for a $109M cume. ...

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Show Creator's Auction

Sam Simon, one of the godfathers of The SImpsons, who passed away last Spring, will be raising money with his art pieces:

... Auction house Sotheby's is planning to sell memorabilia and fine art from the collection of the late Sam Simon, one of the most influential creative forces in modern television. Simon, who died from colon cancer in March, was best known as co-creator of the Fox animated comedy, "The Simpsons," the longest-running sitcom in American television.

The wide-ranging collection of vintage pop-culture memorabilia includes a signed poster promoting the 1974 Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight. That work carries a pre-sale estimate of $1,500 to $2,000. Sotheby's estimates the total sale will bring in upward of $10 million. ...

The centerpiece of the sale is a painting by American muralist Thomas Hart Benton, entitled T.P. and Jake, depicting a young boy and his pet dog. The work is expected to raise $2.5 million.

"Each piece in Sam Simon's collection embodies a central theme: The ability of art to tell a story," said Andrea Fiuczynski, Chair of Sotheby's West Coast. ...

Mr. Simon made a LOT of money from the success of The Simpsons. What's staggering to think about is Mr. Simon's ex-sive is a millionaire because of a divorce settlement that gave her a slice of Sam Simon's Yellow Family earnings.

The auction should be worth attending.

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Shorter Jurassic World

Never saw the big screen original, so I do hope that this covers the major plot points.

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The Weekend Steeple Chase

For the first time in a long while, no animated feature graces to Top Ten.


1) Straight Outta Compton (UNI), 3,142 theaters (+117) / $3.85M Fri. (-53%) / 3-day cume: $12.59M (-52%)/Total cume: $133.48M/ Wk 3

2). War Room (Affirm/Sony), 1,135 theaters / $3.87M Fri.*/ 3-day cume: $10.2M / Wk 1
*includes $600K of Thursday previews

3). No Escape (TWC), 3,355 theaters / $2.41M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.61M / Total cume: $9.68M /Wk 1

4). Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (PAR), 3,095 theaters (-347) / $2.18M Fri. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $7.58M(-34%)/ Total Cume: $169.7/ Wk 5

5). Man From U.N.C.L.E (WB), 2,706 theaters (-967) / $1.24M Fri. (-44%)/ 3-day cume: $4.2M (-42%)/Total cume: $33.9M/ Wk 3

6). Sinister 2 (Gramercy/Focus), 2,799 theaters (+33) / $1.38M Fri. (-70%)/ 3-day cume: $4.16M (-60%)/ Total cume: $18M /Wk 2

7). Hitman: Agent 47 (Fox), 3,273 theaters (+12)/ $1.14M Fri. (-64%)/ 3-day cume: $3.87M (-53%) / Total cume: $15.4M /Wk 2

8). The Gift (STX), 1,934 theaters (-369) / $830K Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $2.85M(-33%)/ Total Cume: $35.65M /Wk 4

9). Jurassic World (UNI), 1,239 theaters (+665) / $786K Fri. (+194%) / 3-day cume: $2.79M (+195%) / Total cume: $642.8M /Wk 12

10). Ant-Man (DIS), 2,016 theaters (-290) / $777K Fri. (-33%) / 3-day cume: $2.73M(-33%)/Total cume: $168.8M / Wk 7

11). American Ultra (LG), 2,778 theaters (0)/ $808K Fri. (-62%)/ 3-day cume: $2.537M (-53%) /Total cume: $10.23M/ Wk 2

12). Minions (UNI), 1,976 theaters (-250)/ $660K Fri. (-39%)/ 3-day cume: $2.33M (-39%)/Total Cume: $324.1M / Wk 8 ...

Meantime, the Minions fun-fest clears another marker. It's taken in $682 million internationally, more than double the $321.9 million it grossed domestically.

Inside Out is a major hit, but Minions is gargantuan.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Wartime Geisel

The work of Dr. Seuss while he was on detached duty, away from being Dr. Seuss.

... [Theodore] Geisel had published his first children’s book as Dr. Seuss — “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street’’ — in 1937, but it was his work as a political cartoonist for a left-wing New York tabloid newspaper called PM that led to his being recruited by Capra, chairman of the Army’s motion picture unit, to head its animation department.

“He [Capra] had used animation in his ‘Why We Fight’ series to get GIs to listen to lectures about politics,’’ said film historian Mark Harris, whose excellent book “Five Came Back’’ inspired the TCM series. ...

Army Capt. Geisel scripted a series of raunchy adult cartoons designed strictly for military audiences. ....

These shorts have tell-tale signs of the Warner Bros. animation crew's busy hands all over them. But of course, there were a lot of animators in the army, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney's seasoned warriors, being two of them.

As TCM host Ben Mankiewicz says: "They were made to entertain adult males while they were being warned about things like gonorrhea."

Turner Classic Movies will be screening lots of these shorts in coming weeks. And of course they're always available for your viewing pleasure on the ubiquitous YouTube.

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BuzzFeed: The Boys Club

One more take on the state of male/female hiring in animation industry:

Inside The Persistent Boys Club Of Animation

... Women make up only 21% of working [Animation] guild members in 2015, and out of the 584 members working as storyboarders, only 103 are women, according to the Animation Guild. One could point approvingly to animation schools as a harbinger of change — last fall, 71% of students in the California Institute of the Arts’ famed character animation program were female, the Los Angeles Times reported. However, that same school year in its Producers Show, which screens the “best” student work, more than two-thirds of the films shown were by male students, in a year when men made up less than one-third of students in the program. Furthermore, women outnumbered men in the program in 2012, 2013, and 2014 — and yet in each of those years, men still outnumbered women in the Producers Show. ...

Women who have worked in animation for anywhere from a few years to six decades talked to BuzzFeed News about how things have gotten better — and how they haven’t. ...

The Animation Guild supplied Buzz Feed with the ratios of men to women in various parts of the animation business, but were unable to break the industry down egarding race, since we keep no records.

Women have been making slow but steady inroads in various classifications since the early nineties. but there is still a ways to go. The cartoon biz is similar to its live-action cousin: There's an institutional tilt toward males, and it will likely persist for some time. When you have Top Dogs who are more comfortable working with men, men predominate.

As we've noted before, Jeffrey Katzenberg has been one of the few studio heads who has hired women in key creative position for a long stretch of time. Until Disney released Frozen, DreamWorks Animation was the only studio that had women helming animated features.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cartoon Process Explained

... in five fast-moving minutes. "Pixar in a Box."

The technology is ever-chainging (no pencils or paper or cels or paint anymore) but the molding of characters, gags and stories remains remarkably similar over the years.

Does any of the overview directly below look familiar? From a little animation studio (not Disney) some years ago:

Not Pixar in a Box, but Fleischer in Florida. (And look! They made storyboards even then!)

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Guild Members Ratify New Agreement

The members of The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, have ratified the new 2015-2018 contract, which the Guild negotiated with animation studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) from June 29 to July 1st of this year. The Guild, though one of the West Coast production locals in the IATSE, negotiates separately from the IA’s west coast bargaining unit. Percentage-wise, the Animation Guild’s overall ratification vote ran 68% higher than in 2012.

The new collective bargaining agreement includes 3% annual wage increases to contract minimums, a 10% pension increase, and 30% increases for contribution hours under Animation Guild’s unit rates. Additionally, a new pay structure and higher benefit contributions were negotiated for freelance Timing Directors.

Add On:

The members have spoken. We had higher voter participation in the contract ratification than three years ago. Something like 50% higher.

One of the reasons this contract was approved by a goodly margin was, animation has the wind at its back. Animation is doing huge business across every platform: Theatrical features. Subscription Video on Demand. Cable networks. Broadcast networks. And animation continues to be one of the most profitable corners of the motion picture industry.

With cash flows as wide as the Mississippi, it's hard for companies to argue that they need relief. To their credit (for once), they didn't.

-- Steve Hulett

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Goings ...

In the latest executive shakeup at DreamWorks Animation, the Glendale-based studio said Michael Francis is stepping down from his role as the company's chief branding officer.

Francis, a former president of J.C. Penney who has overseen all of the company's branding, licensing and consumer products divisions since 2013, will leave his job at the end of December, DreamWorks Animation said in a statement.

His duties will be handled by Jim Fielding, the current head of global consumer products and former president of Disney Stores. Fielding also was a longtime senior executive at Claire's Stores. ...

And comings ...

Eric Coleman has gotten a title bump to Senior Vice President, Original Programming and General Manager, Disney Television Animation; Jonathan Schneider has been promoted to VP, Strategy; Aaron Simpson has joined the company as VP, Development; Shane Prigmore has been appointed VP, Creative Affairs; and Bonnie Lemon has joined the company as VP, Production. ...

Simpson joins Disney from Mondo Media where he served as Head of Development and executive-produced Fusion TV sketch series Like, Share, Die. He has also produced animation for Warner Brothers, Kids WB, Jib Jab and Sony...

Lemon joins Disney from DreamWorks Animation where she most recently served as production executive on feature films including Kung Fu Panda 3, How to Train Your Dragon 3 and The Penguins of Madagascar. ...

Animation execs are much like animation artists, they bounce from studio to studio, chasing after the newest gigs.

Very similar. Except that the Veeps make more money than the artists, writers and technicians who create the work.

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Frederick B. Avery

On this day, thirty-six years ago:

August 26, 1980 - Director Tex Avery dies after collapsing in the parking lot of Hanna-Barbera.

Two weeks before he was asked by a friend why he was working in Hanna & Barbera. Tex laughed:" Hey, Don’t you know? this is where all the elephants come to die!"

-- Tom Sito

You look around the internet, you find that Avery passed away from liver cancer, or lung cancer or ... something. And maybe he died at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Burbank and not Hanna-Barbera.

But two things are clear: He died on this date, and he had a large impact on American animation.

Tex was a key player at Leon Schlesinger's studio, helping to mold Bugs, Elmer and the rest into the characters we know today.

Tex turned out dozens and dozens of classic shorts at M-G-M through the 1940s "Red Hot Riding Hood" is the godmother of Jessica Rabbit. The Raid termites, the (politically incorrect Frito Bandito, thos were his.

Tex created commercials during the Eisenhower fifties. The Raid termites, the (politically incorrect) Frito Bandito, those were his.

And he died after a two-year stint at Hanna-Barbera, the studio where many veteran animation hands, not cut to the mold that Disney required, went to work.

"I was as ignorant of his genius as I suppose Michelangelo's apprentices were oblivious to the fact that they, too, were working with a genius."

-- Chuck Jones

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Record Breaker

The crystal ball, apparently, is clear.

When Disney revives the long slumbering Star Wars franchise on December 18, The Force Awakens will take the global tentpole opening to a history-making high. How high? Many are already predicting a record $615M worldwide opening. ...

In a digital world where screen counts can be increased at a last moment’s notice to meet theater demand of walk-up business, a record opening of $300M stateside and $315M abroad is possible for Force Awakens.

Ordinarily I would be skeptical of one of our fine conglomerates counting its hens and roosters before they flap into the global marketplace. But since Star Wars I, Star Wars II,, and Star Wars III made boatloads of money, it's a relatively safe bet that J.J. Abrams' offering Will perform as well or better.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015


The IA locals that comprise the bargaining unit for the Basic Agreement, have spoken.

Members of 13 Hollywood locals of the IATSE have ratified a new film and TV contract. The deal with management’s AMPTP, which was reached in April, provides for 3% pay raises in each year of the three-year contract, as well as what the union is calling “major improvements” for members working in new media.

Covering some 43,000 workers, the new pact also calls for employer contributions to the union’s pension plan to increase by 18 cents per hour worked in each year of the contract. Pensioners who retired prior to Aug. 1, 2009, will also receive two extra pension checks on or about November 1 of each year of the contract so long as the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan remains on sound financial footing.

For the first time, employers will also make contributions to the union’s Entertainment and Exhibition Industries Training Trust Fund, which provides safety training for motion picture workers covered by the contract.

“The new contract represents significant gains and continued security for the welfare and livelihood of the members it covers,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb. ...

TAG ain't in the bargaining unit referenced above.

The Animation Guild was kicked out of the Big Room 32 years ago and ever since has bargained its own contracts separately. (This was because of two animation industry strikes over three years. The second one, which occurred in 1982, was long and not pretty. For some reason, the AMPTP was annoyed, and decided it didn't want us at the party anymore.)

If you want to know what we achieved in our June-July negotiations, which happened a couple of months after the Basic Agreement talks wrapped up, go here.

The vote on TAG's Collective Bargaining Agreement ends tomorrow, and we'll report on the results Thursday.

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Kids' Streaming

Work under TAG's contracts keep growing. This explains a lot of it.

... U.S. digital video penetration among children ages 11 and under is expected to jump to 74% by 2019 from 68% in 2013, according to research firm EMarketer. At stake will be millions of dollars in subscription fees for streaming services that have the best offerings. ...

One reason why children are a target audience is because they are natural binge-watchers, prone to viewing the same episode over and over. Parents, who once sat their kids down in front of DVDs, are discovering that streaming services offer more varied programming and are more convenient in a pinch.

About 20% of TV content (both acquired programming and originals) on Netflix and Amazon is aimed at children, according to SNL Kagan data from October 2014. Hulu, which has only dipped a toe in creating originals for kids, has a smaller slice of the pie with just 5% of its library consisting of licensed children's shows. ...

"Kids are growing up straddling the computer, tablet and smartphone," Naomi Hupert, senior research associate at the Center for Children and Technology, said. "All these technologies are relatively new, and how we see kids use them is still new. It can be sort of overwhelming to think where it can go from here, but we're still in the beginning stages."

Content providers keep discovering that animation is

A) A continuous kid pleaser.

B) Relatively inexpensive to produce.

C) Ever green.

And of course:

Animation Still Decade's Most Profitable Movie Genre: SNL Kagan

... Judged just by genre, average revenues for the decade’s 101 animated films ran 108.4% ahead of costs. DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek 2 led the category with a 462% margin. The 71 sci-fi/fantasy films had a margin of 108.1%. Fox’s Avatar is the winner here with revenues 554% ahead of costs. ...

Deadline is talking about theatrical animation, but the smaller screen variety is also profitable. And one overlooked tidbit, that sci fi movie they talk about? Avatar?

It's mostly an animated feature.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Fourth Installment


Like most people, I'd assumed that Pixar's Toy Story series was done and dusted with the heart-wrenching third film tying up, what was at the time, a neat little trilogy. ...

But no. ...

Katie Granger, the author of the above, clearly has just fallen off the turnip truck. Or been hit in the head with a blunt object. Or is five years old.

Because series that make major money are never done. No matter what the producers say at the time.

They're bringing back Duck Tales for gob's sake. Spongebob Squarepants and The Simpsons and Scooby Freaking Doo, they have no end to them. I won't burden you with the silly-ass rhetorical question of "Why?" You know damn well why.

These titles make hundreds of millions of dollars for their respective studios. The Simpsons are up in the billions, and all the early stakeholders, who were on board when the Yellow Family was nothing more than three-minute interstitials on The Tracey Ullman Show, have long-since become independently wealthy.

No conglomerate leaves money on the table if it an help it. So no matter how many uplifting platitudes Mr. Lasseter may unspool about Toy Story 3's "completeness," there is still the matter of more money to be made.

Don't misunderstand me. Artistic ideals have their place. But commerce is what drives the Tinseltown train.

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The Fading Borders

... between live-action and animation.

Turning Frances McDormand Into Elephant Is New Territory For VFX Studio

... On HBO’s four-part limited series Olive Kitteridge, Shade VFX designed various animals for the project, including snakes and birds — “expanding character creation abilities really quickly,” CEO Bryan Godwin says — one of the most discussed moments in the series was the elephant scene, when one of the main characters experiences a hallucination and sees McDormand’s title character as an elephant. ...

“We settled on an Asian elephant because it had a little bit of a softer look, a little bit of a smaller head and could be a little bit more feminine than other varieties,” ....

Shades of Dumbo. (Note the video at the link.)

But the movie differences between CG animation and the real world continue to shrink. When an HBO series builds animated creatures into the presentation, using the same hardware, software and skill sets that go into making Frozen or Inside Out, the elding of two formats is complete.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Eternal Cartoon Website

In the mid 1990s, Warner Bros. Feature Animation released its first ... and most successful ... feature. It was a hybrid specimen named Space Jam, and a website was created to help promote it. ...

... The Space Jam website didn't exactly blow up online when it was launched, but studio execs also didn't care. The film raked in just over $90 million by the end of its theatrical run in North America, as well as another $140 million or so overseas. It remains, to this day, the highest-grossing basketball movie ever made. Jordan and Bugs had carried the day and the site was soon forgotten, just another relic of an evolutionary moment in early web design, when code that couldn't load fast enough through a 56K modem wasn't code worth writing.

The site lay more-or-less dormant for the next 14 years. But that changed for good in late 2010, when the Internet, exponentially bigger than it was in 1996, rediscovered the site – almost entirely unchanged from its initial launch. It was reborn as a viral sensation, the web's equivalent of a recently discovered cave painting. We laughed at the site because we couldn't believe anything was ever designed this way, but also because it still existed. It remains one of the most faithful living documents of early web design that anyone can access online.

Today, the Space Jam site's popularity has outlived almost everything to which it has been connected. The Fifth Avenue store shuttered in 2001. Both stars of the movie's stars made forgettable exits in 2003 – Jordan with the Washington Wizards, Bugs with Looney Tunes: Back in Action. And every person directly associated with the site's creation has now left the studio.

But the site lives on, aging for 19 years but free from influence, to our enduring delight. ...

Space Jam was born out of chaos ... and more than a bit of desperation.

In the middle 1990s, Warner Bros. set up a new animation division to compete with Disney's feature unit. The studio was headquartered on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, and had a rocky beginning. The facility had a sizable staff developing a number of projects, most of which studio chief Bob Daly was less than totally thrilled.

One project after another was reviewed by Daly, then rejected for being not quite right. People were sitting around collecting large salaries and twiddling their thumbs. Morale was sagging. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Ivan Reitman (producer/director of Ghostbusters and a host of other comedy features) brought in Space Jam a project developed under his Northern Lights shingle.

The picture got a greenlight from Warners and a release date of November 15, 1996. Ivan R. was slow reviewing designs and color setups, but new studio head Max Howard (fresh from Disney) understood that the production had to kick into high gear if it was going to hit its release date, less than a year away.

And all of a sudden, things got moving. Multiple studios were set up in Glendale, Sherman Oaks, and outside the country. Crews were working six and seven day weeks, month after month. People were sleeping under their desks in Sherman Oaks and Glendale; additional sub-contracting studios clambered above to get the work done. Space Jam ultimately made its release date, but it was a close thing. The movie did good business statewide and performed well overseas. making the WB a nice profit.

SJ was really the last hand-drawn hybrid film of its type that made good money. Cool World from Ralph Bakshi was a flop, even with Brad Pitt, and the Bugs Bunny followup Back In Action under-performed at the box office, despite energetic direction of Bugs and the gang by Eric Goldberg.

Today Space Jam (the movie) is a fading memory of the way things were nineteen years ago, when hand-drawn animation still had punch at the box office, so it's a good thing that Space Jam (the internet address) enjoys a robust after-life.

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World Box Office

Here are the animated features, hybrid and otherwise, that now inhabit the world market.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Mission Impossible -- $25,200,000 -- ($438,563,039)

Terminator Genisys -- $27,400,000 -- ($353,089,591)

Fantastic Four -- $16,200,000 -- ($130,425,362)

Minions -- $8,800,000 -- ($989,361,615)

Inside Out -- $10,700,000 -- ($689,923,715)

Pixels -- $7,700,000 -- ($173,882,189)

Ant-Man -- $2,900,000 -- ($361,024,370)

Jurassic World -- $5,700,000 -- ($1,622,868,080)

Monster Hunt -- $6,500,000 -- ($365,000,000)

Ted 2 -- $3,000,000 -- ($179,653,595) ...

Arnold and Co. get a second wind, as the trades note:

... Terminator Genisys generated $27.4M at 25,000 locations in China, in one day, which was enough to land it at the top of the overall chart. Behind it, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation added another $25.2M (-45%) in its 4th frame for a $280.8M offshore cume. ...

[T]his week Minions becomes the studio’s 3rd title of the year to cross $1B worldwide. After an $8.8M international frame, the Illumination animation is at $669.4M international and $989.4M globally. ...

After reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the UK last week, Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out maintained the position with a drop of just 35%. This is its 5th week of release there where the cume is $47.5M. ...

Sony’s Pixels has crossed the $100M mark overseas with $7.7M in extra arcade coins this frame. Playing on nearly 5,000 screens in 82 territories, the cume on the Adam Sandler video-game invasion pic is $105.3M. ...

[I]n Japan Jurassic World is No. 1 for the 3rd frame in a row with a local total of $48M. ...

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Top 2016 Features?

Some of these are obvious, but others? Maybe not.

The Big Six?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — Opening in March, the full kickoff of the DC Comics shared cinematic universe is going to do monster business. ...

Captain America: Civil War — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this will be Marvel’s biggest film yet. ...

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — There are probably only two films that might sneak past the superhero battle royal movies mentioned above and steal the title of highest grossing film of the year, and a Harry Potter spinoff is probably one of them. ...

Finding Dory - ... The first Finding Nemo made $864 million… in 2003… without 3D tickets. When it got a 3D rerelease a few years ago, it added $72 million to its coffers, raising its all-time total to $936 million. That’s $1.2 billion in today’s dollars, folks. ...

The Jungle Book -- ... Nothing you’ve seen in visual effects and CGI work for animals, creatures, and outdoor settings will prepare you for what you’ll see in this film, if the sizzle reel Disney unveiled is any hint of what to expect. ...

X-Men: Apocalypse — The X-Men franchise finally found the path to true box office glory last year with X-Men: Days of Future Past, by far the highest grossing entry in the superhero franchise at $748 million. That was a massive leap not only financially, but also for the size of the series’ fanbase. ...

The BIG movie for 2016 is going to be the one that opens Friday, December 18, 2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That's the picture that runs the table in 2016, because the bulk of its box office receipts are going to roll in next year, not this year. So yeah, it's a 2015 release, but only barely. And it should be the top grosser next year.

As for animated features, I think Forbes is under-estimating Kung Fu Panda 3 (January 29, 2016), and Ice Age: Collision Course (July 15, 2016). Both of these, I think, are going to be BIG performers in the global marketplace. In fact, I could see either (or both) of these out-performing Finding Dory.

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Your American Box Office

Rolling along with those so-so, end-of-summer returns.


1) Straight Outta Compton (UNI), 2,757 theaters / $8.3M Fri. (-66%) / 3-day cume: $27.5M (-54%)/Total cume: $112.2M/ Wk 2

2) Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (PAR), 3,442 theaters (-258) / $3.36M Fri. (-32%) / 3-day cume: $11.9M (-31%)/ Total Cume: $157.96/ Wk 4

3) Sinister 2 (Gramercy/Focus), 2,766 theaters / $4.67M Fri.*/ 3-day cume: $11M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $850K.

4) Hitman: Agent 47 (20th Century Fox), 3,261 theaters / $3.085M Fri.**/ 3-day cume: $8.3M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $600K.

5) Man From U.N.C.L.E (WB), 3,673 theaters (+35) / $2.18M Fri. (-55%)/ 3-day cume: $7.36M (-45%)/Total cume: $26.6M/ Wk 2

6) American Ultra (Lionsgate), 2,778 theaters / $2.1M Fri.+/ 3-day cume: $5.6M / Wk 1
+includes Thursday previews of $425K.

7/8/9) The Gift (STX), 2,303 theaters (-200) / $1.27M Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $4.29M(-34%)/ Total Cume: $31M /Wk 3

Ant-Man (DIS), 2,016 theaters (-290) / $1.17MFri. (-24%) / 3-day cume: $4.2M(-23%)/Total cume: $164.6M / Wk 6

Minions (UNI), 2,226 theaters (-414)/ $1.07M Fri. (-26%)/ 3-day cume: $3.87M (-25%)/Total Cume: $320.1M / Wk 7

10) Fantastic Four (FOX), 2,581 theaters (-1,423)/ $1.068M Fri. (-55%)/ 3-day cume: $3.6M (-56%)/ Total Cume: $49.6M /Wk 3 ...

Among animated titles: Shaun the Sheep fell out of the Top Ten on Friday (it had been clinging to the bottom rung of the list) and now stands with a gross of $13,400,000 box office gross. Apparently when you have been available in other formats -- like for instance little silver disks -- it puts a nick in your overall box office.

Inside Out has now grossed north of $341 million dollars, but Minions, still in the Top Ten, continues to close the gap between the two animated features.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Motion Picture Industry Pensions Statements

Now with Mentholated Add On!

The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plans has mailed out financial statements for 2014, which contain the following:

Name -- Birthdate
Vested years as of 2013
Vested Years as of 2014
Accrued Monthly Benefits as of 2013
Accrued Monthly Benefits as of 2014

2013 Individual Account Plan Balance
-- 2014 Investment Earnings
-- 2014 Compensation Related Contributions
2014 Individual Account Plan Balance

"When are the statements coming out?" is one of Guild members' most frequently asked questions.

Answer: They're in the mail ... or in your mailbox ... NOW.

Another question: "What does it all mean?"

Happy to answer: The Accrued Monthly Benefit is part of the Defined Benefit Plan run by the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan since its founding in the mid-fifties. There were lots of Defined Benefit Plans then (where retirees got a monthly payment until they died), but relatively few now.

Defined Benefit Plans were expensive. So corporations got out of them.

More common today is a Defined Contribution Plan, which is a set amount of money contributed to a pool of investments (bonds, stocks, and real estate) that will grow even as the participant adds more money through work. The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan has a Defined Contribution Plan called the "Individual Account Plan." and the old-style Defined Benefit Plan (see above).

Both of these plans are funded by the companies that TAG has under contract. There is also a third plan, funded by participants, called "The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan". This plan is funded directly by the participants on a voluntary basis, and all the money in it is contributed by employees, not the employer.

The 401(k) plan is NOT part of the MPI Pensions statement described above. It's got a different administration and oversight committee, and all the assets parked inside of it are invested by participants, not the plan.

So, to sum up: TAG has three different pension plans. Two of them are automatic and summarized by the just-mailed statement. The other is an optional plan and accessed on the Vanguard website.

Add On: The mailing also contains how the billions in the MPIPP are allocated:

Asset Allocations -- Defined Benefit -- Dec. '14

U.S. Core Equity -- 5.5%
U.S. Growth Equity -- 3.8%
U.S. Value Equity -- 2.1%
Global Equity -- 20.8%
Emerging Market -- 4.4%

Total Equity -- 36.6%

Fixed Income -- 22.8%
Alternative Investments -- 33.3%
Real Estate -- 7.3%

Total Plan -- 100%

* * * * * *

Asset Allocation -- IAP

U.S. Core Equity -- 4.5%
U.S. Growth Equity -- 4.0%
U.S. Value Equity -- 1.9%
Global Equity -- 14.8%
Emerging Market -- 2.3%

Total Equity -- 27.5%

Fixed Income -- 32.6%
Alternative Investments -- 34.7%
Real Estate -- 5.2%

Total Plan -- 100%

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Anti-Poaching Plot Thickens

A new twist in the conspiracy to suppress wages:

... A California federal judge has handed DreamWorks Animation, The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures and Blue Sky Studios a big setback in an antitrust lawsuit that examines the way that studios allegedly colluded to deny workers in the visual effects community better work opportunities and better compensation.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh denied defendants' motion to dismiss an amended complaint just four months after she ruled that claims were barred by the statute of limitations. This time, she determines that the plaintiffs have sufficiently added details to their complaint to have adequately pled that the conspiracy was fraudulently concealed.

I get asked from time to time what I think of the wage suppression thingie. My answer:

Yeah, I believe the studios were colluding. Ed Catmull and George Lucas are on record in depositions acknowledging that the practice went on. My experience with studios is they work to hold down wages all the time, in a variety of ways. Having a pact with other studios would just be one of the ways, one of the arrows in their big, fat quivers.

I don't believe that management, by and large, thinks there's anything much wrong with this. Years back, when Human Resource people at Disney Feature were telling individual employees that it was forbidden to share wage information, they only (slightly) backed off when some employees pointed out this was against state law: "Okay, I ... ahm ... hear what you're saying. Well we would prefer and really appreciate if you would keep your salary to yourself."

When I went to management to complain (this was in the early 90s), the Veep that I whined to said: "Hey, until somebody takes us to court, we're fine with doing this."

Happily, the policy changed when a Vice-President -- who was a lawyer -- later called me to say: "Okay, we're taking the wage disclosure prohibition out of Personal Service Contracts. You're right about that."

The name of the game, always, is to get the most work for the least cost. The wage conspiracy is just an extension of the overarching policy that is always in place. ...

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Still-Born Development

Jurassic World is one of the monster hits of moviedom, and Jurassic Park didn't do badly twenty-plus years ago. There were plenty of live-action sequels, but no animated spin-offs. But it appears they worked on one.

... The vision for the show was “a mature primetime series with top writers and state-of-the-art television animation augmented with quite a bit of CG animation. Universal Cartoon Studios wanted a 'graphic-novel look' to the series," [says illustrator William Stout.] "I came in, showed my portfolio and was hired.” ...

And you see one of his illustrations directly above.

What the series would have looked like, and how it would have performed if it had actually been greenlit? Who can tell two decades later? The television and theatrical landscapes are littered with projects that never made it to production, or made it halfway and then died.

There will no doubt be interest in plenty of spin-offs to the latest $1.5 billion Jurassic blockbuster. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that an animated series might be one of them.

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A person can never have enough shiny gold statues and/or plaques.

The American Cinematheque will honor DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg with the first-ever Sid Grauman Award at the group’s annual benefit gala October 30. The award was started this year to honor an individual who has made a significant contribution to the Hollywood film industry in the continuing advancement of theatrical exhibition. It will be bestowed alongside the American Cinematheque’s usual honor, this year going to actor-producer Reese Witherspoon. ...

Jeffrey has been in the movie game a long time. There was Paramount, there was Disney, there was DreamWorks SKG and finally DreamWorks Animation. When Michael Eisner pushed over the side of the SS Mous in 1994, I had no idea that, two decades later, Jeffrey would decades into his run as head of a mini-major. And that Mr. Eisner would be retired from Disney and 87% out of the game.

So kudos to J.K. for building a studio and making a lot of iconic movies. If his cheer-leading for Moving View-Master (otherwise known as 3-D) was a trifle over the top, well, that's the nature of the man. He gets behind something, he is enthusiastic about it.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Every Conglomerate Has a Groove

The Mouse has Pixar and the original feature studio named "Disney". Warner Bros. knows their niche: Super Heroes and Legos.

Although they made a fortune with their Lego theatrical feature, this one goes out on DVD and Blu Ray.

...It’s hard to take Lego heroes and villains fighting seriously, but there is plenty of nice action that will delight the 6 and up gang. Jim Krieg’s script keeps things moving along and juggles the large cast without confusing the younger segment. Rick Morales’ direction is also a plus as things never bog down. ...

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The Latest Announced Cartoon

There are always projects in development, but cartoon studios and the conglomerates who own them tend to get testy if some internet upstart announced them before the corporate mouth is ready to speak. So here's the new announcement.

Nickelodeon has greenlighted 20 episodes of original animated series Pinky Malinky for premiere in 2016.

Co-created and co-executive produced by Chris Garbutt and Rikke Asbjoern (The Amazing World of Gumball)and executive produced by Scott Kreamer (Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness), Pinky Malinky follows the everyday life of Pinky, an infectiously positive hotdog living in a human world who, along with his two best friends, navigates school and life with a unique perspective. ... It will be produced at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank.

Using the tropes of a mockumentary and reality show format, Pinky and his friends will talk directly to the camera and the audience to share their absurd and silly take on real life. ...

Nickelodeon has been exploring new directions the last few years. Execs have risen and fallen. Formats have changed. Old standbys are coming back with new episode orders.

A lot of this stems from the happenings of four years ago:

After 16 years of dominating children's television, the [Nickelodeon] network finds itself in the midst of a mysterious ratings slide serious enough to drive concerns about its parent company's stock and prompt an investigation with Nielsen.

In just-released November ratings, Nickelodeon was down 19 percent year-over-year in ratings for viewers age 2 and older. In October, its ratings fell 13 percent. ...

After sitting in the high seat for a decade and a half, Nickelodeon was more than a little disconcerted that the Mouse was suddenly eating its lunch ... and Cartoon Network began stealing the dessert tray. But the kids' TV landscape is changing. Five-year-olds now binge watch original cartoons on Netflix, and viewing shows on mobile devices expand at an exponential rate.

It's a sad new world out there, with old pipelines rusting away and new ones not yet fully monetized. Like every other entertainment company, Nick will have to adapt to the fresh realities.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

California Tax Credits

Last year, the Animation Guild was part of a labor consortium pushing for tax credits for motion picture and visual effects work produced in the Golden State. Today, the results of California's 2014 law were announced.
Dax Shepard’s untitled movie based on the TV series CHiPs, Conjuring 2 and films from major studios including Paramount, Fox and Warner Bros are getting help from the Golden State. More than two weeks after the first application period for feature films ended, the California Film Commission revealed that 11 movies — seven studio pics and three indies — will be getting a piece of the expanded $330 million-a-year program that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last year.

“We’re fighting back and winning thanks to our newly expanded tax credit program,” said California Film Commission executive director Amy Lemisch in the announcement. “We were losing projects that were set here at home, and now we’re back to doubling for other locales. ...
The only animation work to find its way into the new tax subsidy law was live-action visual effects. Animated features and TV shows, as well as live-action sitcoms, were excluded from subsidies because much of that work has consistently remained in the state. Only high-budget features, long-form dramas, and VFX production that had earlier fled the state were awarded tax credits.

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It seems an executive head has rolled:

An internal restructuring has left Paramount’s Executive VIce President of production for animation Bob Bacon out of a job. He had been at the studio since 2011.

Sources said that all physical production, live action and animation, will now come under the auspices of Lee Rosenthal, and as a result, Bacon’s position is being eliminated. This news comes at a time when the studio’s highest grossing film of the year is an animated title: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water which made $163M at the domestic B.O. and $311.6M worldwide. The other animated film put into production during Bacon’s reign has been Chris Wedge’s Monster Trucks, which in May was pushed back a second time to March 18, 2016. ...

Hm. Maybe Monster Trucks has more issues than Paramount/Viacom lets on. Or maybe Mr. Bacon's exit is the result of turf wars that Mr. Bacon lost. Hard to know in a situation like this, because the Top Dogs are generally closed mouthed.

Feature animation development is going on in various spaces on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. They have several features in different phases of work. Perhaps the development progress of these animated properties didn't please higher ups?

Whatever it was, Something happened.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Lion Guard

The Mouse has released a longer trailer.

It's got cute animation, and a nice "look" that mimics the original feature. There's some light criticism about TLG, saying the series is too "juvenile", but it's important to know how Diz Channel works.

The Channel knows its market. And before any television half-hour goes on the air, Diz Channel gives copious notes and focus groups the sucker. Then hands out more notes. Then focus groups the newer version, then creates still more notes and testing.

Get the idea?

By the time Disney Channel products get onto cable, Diz Co. has beaten, poked and prodded potential series to fare thee wells, and knows what it's got, and (pretty much) how each series will perform. Management leaves very little to chance. They want shows that will own enough young eyeballs to become global franchises. And they usually achieve shows that will get them there.

When you're a big conglomerate that's clawed its way to Number One, you like to protect your turf.

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The Old Mail Bag

The morning e-mail brings the following*:


What is it you do exactly for the Union?

The more I speak to other members the more I ask myself this question. It's not a question in haste or anger etc but an honest one. I hear of lack of compassion and empathy for the struggling members and desire to "not get involved" with legit mistreatment of members due to political ties etc etc...

This is extremely hard to understand. Is it a faction to only collect money from members offering no real protection to matters you state are "the Unions" responsibility??. Dues should come with iron clad promises given us by the "union" and we as members need to make officers in charge responsible for promises unkept, no?...

How is it that you stay in your position with years of unhappiness from members about what the "Union" does not nor will not do to help members??...Sad to see that this establishment is just as topsy turvy as our state's and country's government!!!!...Plus, I see and hear some officers are using their positions to stay employed. Very maddening!!!...

Sorry to go off course a bit but I feel we need to address many , many more problems that are currently being overlooked because of personal agendas. ...

To which Steve replied*:

Thanks for the inquiries. I’ll try to answer them as best I can. My day to day, week to week work around here looks like this:

I go to three to five studios a week, doing walk-throughs, asking if anyone has problems, questions about the 401(k) Plan, Health Plan, Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan, etc. (We have three pension plans). That’s been Job #1 for the past twenty years. The other purpose of the walk throughs is to check on contract violations.

Recently at [redacted], I went through the studio late at night looking for artists doing uncompensated overtime and filed grievances when I found some. The same thing occurred last year at [redacted]. People were working without pay on a Saturday, and we got those artists paid for the work. We also got the crew on [redacted] dismissal pay that the studio was not paying.

I also spend a lot of time advising new artists about how to get into the business, talk to members about strategies for getting jobs and staying employed, that kind of thing. I started in the biz in 1976, when I was hired by Disney as a trainee in the feature story department. I’ve been serving on the Animation Guild’s executive board as Vice-President, board member and Business Representative since 1983.

Other things the Guild does? We review immigration visas, we do lots of 401(k) enrollment meetings. But a lot of what we do around here is education. We have a huge number of people taking storyboard, life drawing and animation classes here at the Guild. And Steve Kaplan, Guild organizer, has set up lots of subsidized classes for active members through CSATF, and we regularly send out job listings to members on our e-mail list. We also hold regular “new member lunches” to explain the pension and health plans, so that newbies know how to choose the best health coverage for themselves. We just wrapped up a new contract.

[A Guild member], who you might remember from [studio name redacted], was instrumental in getting big improvements (30%) in the contribution hours for freelance board artists and [improvements for] timing directors. We also got a 10% bump-up in the pension payouts, as well as 9+% pay increases over three years. (We started planning these negotiation[s] nine months before they were held. We had multiple craft meetings from January to May, negotiation committee meetings that started in September and ended when the contract talks ended on July 1st. By the way, we invited every member, active or not active, to participate on the committee, and thirty folks participated in the planning and/or the talks themselves.)

How do I stay in my position? I guess it’s because a lot of members know me and vote for me at election time, but you’d be correct that some members are unhappy with me at any given moment in time. So you know, I’ve run against an executive board member and a former Guild President and beat both of them by 20-30%. I’m elected by the entire active membership, got elected the first time in 1989 when I ran against the incumbent business representative and beat him by a wide margin. I’ve been running for this office, elected by the membership, for 25+ years but won’t be running again, as I’m retiring next year.

Lastly: I would disagree that serving as a union officer helps anybody get or keep a job. Several ex-presidents of the Animation Guild would tell you it’s hurt them in the business, but I don’t want to put words in their mouths so I’ll leave it at that. ...

I’ve said for years that members who want to make a difference in the running of the Guild can have a big impact by coming to General Membership Meetings and letting their voices be heard. They can run for office, they can volunteer for committees. It’s my observation that members get out of the organization what they put into it. You’re certainly free to attend membership meetings, even though your currently inactive.

Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Feel free to call me if you want more information.

Steve Hulett

* Individual names and studio names redacted, some text re-paragraphed for ease of reading, and one cut (...) in Hulett's response has been made. Kindly ignore Hulett's lackluster prose. He was banging out an e-mail and didn't revise much. (Obviously).
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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sito Speaks

Mr. Sito and Mr. Asner.

TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito was at D23 in Anaheim today. He relates:

A dream come true meeting the great Ed Asner! I said to him how much I admired his union work. I said like him, I was president of my union, for three terms.

Ed smiled at me and said "You sad son-of-a-bitch!" ...

I know precisely whereof Tom speaks. Twenty years ago, he fought for the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan (and got it); was the first union rep in the IA to propose shared union health benefits for same-sex couples (the coverage eventually happened), and generally pushed and shoved for the betterment of animators, board artists, and everybody else the Guild represents.

But he didn't preside over a perfect world or workplace. And when, at the turn of the century, animation work left L.A. during one of the industry's multiple downturns, he took flak for it. As animator Charlie Downs (a founder of the Animation Guild and one of TAG's presidents) once said: "You serve in a union position, you have a target on your back, because anything bad that happens you get blamed for it."

"Sad son-of-a-bitch." Pretty much sums it up. But Tom goes on:

He [Ed Asner] told me he wants to run for the SAG board again. " I wanna shake things up." I'd vote for him immediately!

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The Morphing Chinese Animation Biz

As in America, Chinese companies are into mergers and acquisitions.

Guangdong Alpha Animation & Culture Company Ltd. announced last week that it is spending 904 million yuan ($141 million) to acquire, a top Chinese platform for original Internet comics.

The move represents an unorthodox move by the animation firm, which owns the rights to “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf,” one of China’s most-beloved cartoons. owns a slate of adult comics, including one called “100,000 Bad Jokes.” The popular series is laced with adult comedy and witty wordplay and spoofs characters from classic Chinese and Western tales, such as Snow White and Superman. ...

The acquisition comes amid rising enthusiasm among investors for domestically-produced, family-friendly cartoons, sparked by the success of the recent animated feature “Monkey King: Hero is Back.” The film bested a record set by the second installment of DreamWorks Animation’s 2011 “Kung Fu Panda” to become the highest-grossing animated film in China. ...

The swallowing of entertainment companies by other entertainment companies happens in the Middle Kingdom, just as it does stateside: As News Corporation buys Blue Sky Studios, so Disney gobbles up Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilms.

Right now animation work is surging as animated features and television shows generate big profits for conglomerates, but veterans know too well how good times can become bad in the wink of an eye. Today a studio is hiring staff for new projects; tomorrow (when one of the projects tanks) that same studio is laying off employees.

Los Angeles has been blessed with a talent-heavy workforce that's in high demand, but there is always the threat of Free Money luring production to other states and countries (Sony ImageWorks, anyone?) So it's good to be aware that while boom times are good for the soul and pocketbook, they never last forever.

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World Box Office

Animation in all its forms, making money.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Fantastic Four -- $16,200,000 -- ($102,061,218)

Minions -- $15,000,000 -- ($957,429,910)

Pixels -- $12,000,000 -- ($155,632,781)

Inside Out -- $11,400,000 -- $666,954,797

Monster Hunt -- $11,600,000 -- ($349,500,000)

Ant-Man -- $5,600,000 -- ($347,067,253)

Jurassic World -- $8,900,000 -- ($1,606,278,860)

Ted 2 -- $5,500,000 -- ($173,719,540)

Shaun the Sheep -- $400,000 -- ($70,117,271)

Seems as though stop motion animation doesn't perform as well as CG animation, but maybe I'm reading the data wrong.

The trades tell us:

... Universal/Illumination’s Minions added $15M and will this week pass Toy Story 3 to become the 4th highest-grossing film ever overseas. ... Inside Out's current frame added $11.4M to advance to $327.6M abroad and $666.96M worldwide. ...

Ted 2’s stuffed legs carried the bold bear to $5.5M in 46 territories for an international total of $92.6M this session. The worldwide total on the Universal comedy sequel is now $173.7M. ... Paramount’s The Little Prince has been enjoying a steady run in a competitive France where the cume is now $7.3M. In its 3rd frame, the Cannes Official Selection added $1.3M at 800 locations.

Paramount’s Terminator: Genisys grossed $722K from 49 international territories this frame. The international cume is now $234.7M. ...

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Your American Box Office

The young men from Compton dominate the B.O.


1). Straight Outta Compton (UNI), 2,757 theaters / $24.3M Fri.* / 3-day cume: $59.4M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $4.96M

2). Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (PAR), 3,700 theaters (-288) / $4.89M Fri. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $17M (-40%)/ Total Cume: $138.1/ Wk 3

3). Man From U.N.C.L.E (WB), 3,638 theaters / $4.8M Fri.**/ 3-day cume: $13.6M / Wk 1
**includes Thursday previews of $900K.

4). Fantastic Four (FOX), 4,004 theaters (+9)/ $2.4M Fri. (-79%)/ 3-day cume: $7.9M (-69%)/ Total Cume: $41.8M /Wk 2

5). The Gift (STX), 2,503 theaters (0) / $1.92M Fri. (-53%) / 3-day cume: $6.15M (-48%)/ Total Cume: $23.2M /Wk 2

6). Ant-Man (DIS), 2,306 theaters (-604) / $1.5Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $5.35M (-32%)/Total cume: $153.6M / Wk 5

7). Vacation (WB), 3,088 theaters (-342)/ $1.5M Fri. (-45%) / 3-day cume: $5.1M (-43%) / Total cume: $46.6M /Wk 3

8). Minions (UNI), 2,640 theaters (-483)/ $1.4M Fri. (-36%)/ 3-day cume: $4.8M (-35%)/Total Cume: $312.6M / Wk 6

9). Ricki And The Flash (SONY), 2,064 theaters (+461) / $1.3M Fri. (-42%) / 3-day cume: $4.4M (-33%)/Total cume: $14.4M / Wk 2

10). Trainwreck (UNI), 1,998 theaters (-527)/ $1.18M Fri. (-38%) / 3-day cume: $3.8M (-38%)/Total cume: $97.9M/ Wk 5

Minions, now cruising north of $300 million in domestic box office, is the only animated feature now in the Top Ten.

Inside Out, now above $338 million, was at #12 on Thursday but was pushed further down the List by the cluster of new arrivals.

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New Disneyland Land

Walt's Theme Parks are always in the process of becoming.

Disney has announced it is creating a 14-acre space dedicated to “Star Wars” in both its Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California theme parks that will transport guests to an immersive new planet inhabited by humanoids, aliens and droids.

It will be the largest single-themed park expansion ever for Disney Parks, it was announced by Bob Iger, who promised a wholly unique experience. ....

And by the by: Look for $135 admission tickets, coming soon to a Magic Kingdom near you.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

The Anaheim Version

... of Comic-Con, presented by Diz Co.

Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda is working on Moana original music, Disney announced the hoped-to-be “definitive” take on Jack And The Beanstalk, Rashida Jones is co-writing Toy Story 4, Ed O’Neill is in Finding Dory, and Shakira is acting, writing and singing in Zootopia. ... Those are just some of the highlights from the start of D23, which kicked off this afternoon with a presentation focused on inbound Walt Disney Animation and Pixar projects. ...

Concrete details were dropped about Moana, Disney’s upcoming ode to Polynesian culture set 2,000 years ago, among them some absolutely touching test footage from the still-in-early-production film.

Dwayne Johnson, who voices the demigod Maui in the film, made an appearance onstage along with the film’s director and producer and, as usual, was both inspirational and awesome, explaining how Samoa is “in my blood” and that one of his earliest dreams was to be a part of the Disney animation family.
The big reveal, however, was the rock star team Disney assembled to create Moana‘s music. The soundtrack will come from Polynesian artist Opetaia Foa’i; The Lion King arranger Mark Mancina; and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind the Broadway smash Hamilton. ...

The thing that strikes home when reading about upcoming projects from the Mouse is, the depth of talent inside every feature.

Diz Co. isn't fooling around with upcoming soundtracks. Disney knocked the ball out of the park when they engaged the composer/songwriters of Broadway's "Book of Mormon" for Frozen. The company is using the same gambit for Moana, which makes perfect sense. If a winning formula makes a billion, by all means use the formula again.

Add On: Our fine trade papers cover the D23 extravaganza here with the Lasseter Live Blog, here with new Disney Legends (Johny Depp, Johnny Depp, JOHNNY DEPP!), and here with Jack and the Beanstalk (the company's second animated interpretation of the tale.)

All the new movies coming at us will have to carry more of the company's profit-making machinery, because the Mouse's cable and broadcast networks (ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC) continue to be undercut by newer entertainment delivery systems.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Translating Animated Images

So how do you take Peanuts, the comic strip and TV specials, and turn them into a CG animated feature?

To train the animators, the team [at Blue Sky Studios] created a three-week crash course on the style that they dubbed Van Pelt University (after character Lucy van Pelt). That started with drawing Charlie Brown — which proved much tougher than many expected — and watching and rewatching the classic animated specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas (which marks its 50th anniversary in December). A style guide informed details, including eye- and nose-direction charts.

Food was used for references. For instance, a side view of a foot was the shape of a baguette, while the bottom of the foot had more of an egg shape. This vocabulary also informed production design, with clouds in the sky resembling popcorn.

"It had to feel like you were looking at the strip, with the spontaneity [of drawing]," said art director Nash Dunnigan of the production design. “We also achieved a nice level of simplicity, so nothing overpowered the characters.” ...

I've heard varied reactions about the success of the CG images of Charlie Brown and his posse. The proof will be how the movie-going public responds to the movie when it rolls out this Fall.

If the Charlie Brown Movie is a hit, little else will matter.

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Original Force -- The Press Release

Ordinarily, news organizations (and blogs) get press releases and news clips on a regular basis, rewrite same, then add their own take on the subject.

The "Original Force" News Release hit earlier today, and various media organizations have been picking it up. But since I was out and about through the middle of the day, and I'm not glued well enough to my smart phone, I did pretty much nada.

And because I'm not in an energetic mood, and it is later than I like, here is the "OF" Press Release, top to bottom, with zero editorial comment. ...

CULVER CITY, Calif., Aug. 13, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Original Force, one of China's most prominent and successful digital animation studios, has launched a new motion picture division and initiated production on three animated feature films, it was announced today by Harley Zhao, President and founder of Original Force. To support the company's expansion into Hollywood, Original Force has opened a production office in Los Angeles and recruited two of the industry's most respected animation production veterans, Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox, who are distinguished for having built start-up operations at DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation.

Finkelman Cox and Rabins serve as co-presidents of Original Force Animation and are partners with Zhao on the newly launched animated feature division. The company seeks to produce at least one major CG feature film approximately every 18 months.

One of the most accomplished and successful executive teams in the industry, Rabins and Finkelman Cox have overseen such beloved animated films as Shrek, Prince Of Egypt, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Open Season, and Surf's Up, among others. At Original Force, they have already tapped a team of veteran artists, writers and filmmakers for their inaugural slate, among them Christopher Jenkins, producer of the recent DreamWorks Animation hit Home, John Eng (Rugrats Go Wild), and Bob Bendetson ("The Simpsons").

Marketing expert Peter Adee, who formerly was president of marketing at Universal Pictures and MGM, is consulting with Original Force on the launch of their initial titles.

Established in 1999, Original Force has become a CGI leader creating high-quality state-of-the-art animation for a wide range of global television and gaming clients including Disney, DreamWorks Television, Sony, Tencent, Activision, and Electronic Arts, among many of the world's leading entertainment brands.

"There is no one more talented, skilled or experienced in leading animated films than Sandy and Penney," said Zhao. "Each has had an extraordinary career and their track record co-running DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation has given them a completely unique perspective on building a contemporary animation studio from the ground up. They have a love and respect for great stories and relatable characters that is incredibly infectious and which drives our production philosophy. Original Force is proud to have two partners with such impeccable credentials guiding our film team."

"When Harley approached us with this unique opportunity, he told us he wanted to build a new creative home for the world's best storytellers, writers, directors, animators, digital artists and designers," said Finkelman Cox. "Original Force Animation is a true global operation with a world perspective and whether you are an established filmmaker or an emerging artist with a distinctive and fresh new voice, we want you to think of our company as a new destination where your best work can be nurtured and flourish."

"Harley has organically grown his business from a small start-up of four to a thriving world-class animation services and production facility that is operating in five cities with a talented team that is nearly 1,000 strong," said Rabins. "After years of successfully working as a studio-for-hire, Original Force is creating its own content and global IP and we believe we have an inaugural slate that will resonate all over the world."

Original Force is currently in production on Duck Duck Goose, the story of the most unlikely family ever. The film is directed by Christopher Jenkins (Home) from a screenplay by Christopher Jenkins and Rob Muir. Jenkins previously collaborated with Rabins and Finkelman Cox on the acclaimed motion picture Surf's Up when the duo launched Sony Pictures Animation. Finkelman Cox and Rabins are producing the feature along with Viola Chen.

After he's grounded by an injury, a high-flying bachelor is saddled with two wide-eyed orphans as they come face-to-face with the dangers and beauty of the outside world in the funny and touching animated feature, Duck Duck Goose. Our free-wheeling hero, Peng, rejects the community of his tight-knit flock of geese in an attempt to live life on his own terms. But after he narrowly rescues two young ducklings, Chi and Chao, from an eccentric but deadly cat named Banzou, the two latch onto the Goose like a parent; and with a paralyzing winter on the horizon and the departure of both their flocks, Peng agrees to look after the ducklings out of fear his injury might be discovered by Banzou, and other predators who would prey on a goose who cannot fly. The makeshift trio embarks on a beautiful and dangerous journey through mountains and lakes, bamboo forests, marble caves and deep river valleys to reach their respective flocks. On the way, Peng must learn to care for the two ducklings despite his independent attitude, all the while evading the hungry and relentless Pallas Cat, who'll stop at nothing to claim the ducklings he feels entitled to. Peng's biggest challenge is learning to shed his selfish ways and become the responsible "parent" no one ever thought he could be, including himself.

Original Force is also in the early stages of pre-production on OldZilla, written and directed by Bob Bendetson ("The Simpsons"), and co-written with Art Everett ("Married… With Children"). King Saurus, the self-proclaimed "Lord of the Stomp," is unwilling to admit Father Time is nipping at his heels. He wears a scale toupee and spends his days watching newsreel footage of his past destructions. Finally, he leaves his cave and moves into Fading Fast (a senior community in the Bermuda Triangle built exclusively for the "vintage" Chinese monster). The place is run by Miss Petfarkin, a monster who's obsessed with order and rules. King Saurus is stunned by the listlessness of his fellow behemoths and attempts to liven things up. He ultimately convinces Icarose and Birdy, an old married monster couple, to travel with him to Atlantic City to interrupt the grand opening of Rump Mart, the mega-store of mega-stores. This one last attempt at terrorizing ends up biting these senior citizen behemoths in the butt when Ronald Rump, the tyrannical owner of Rump Mart, brings in King Saurus' old nemesis, the elderly Chinese monster hunter, Dai Anu. Anu, along with his daughter and granddaughter, arrives in America in order to battle and finally defeat the Lord of the Stomp. The film is produced by Finkelman Cox and Rabins.

Original Force has an active development slate that includes Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, based on the Newberry Honor Book by Grace Lin, and Riding Giants, to be adapted by Greg Johnson from his original manuscript.

Another Original Force Animation project in early production is QQ Speed, a co-production with Tencent Holding Limited, that is based on the most popular online racing game in China. QQ Speed, is a thrilling action-adventure. John Eng (Rugrats Go Wild) is developing and is directing the motion picture. In the film, a brother-and-sister racing team risks everything to protect their late father's legacy. After legendary racer John Speedman dies during the high-stakes Super Speed Cup 500 race, his son Matt raises his younger sister, Orange, and keeps the doors of famous Speedman garage open. Fourteen years later, Orange has grown into a willful 19-year-old with her father's passion for fast cars. With the business in trouble, foreclosure seems inevitable until Orange decides to enter the Super Speed Cup 500 and vie for enough cash that would solve their financial woes. At the wheel of her father's prototype car, Orange is guided by an experimental computer that speaks with John's voice, personality and racing experience, giving the young woman her first chance to bond with the father she barely knew. But in order to win, she will have to defeat not just the other drivers, but her father's old rival, Munikula and his son Tristan. QQ Speed is a co-production of Original Force and Tencent, maker of the "QQ Speed" video game.

Ratchet And Clank is a feature film that is a co-production with CNHK, Rainmaker and Blockade. Ratchet and his robot pal Clank, the stars of the popular Sony PlayStation® sci-fi/adventure game, go back to their roots in this fun and action-filled origin story about the two unlikeliest heroes in the Solana Galaxy. When the pair discovers a nefarious plot to destroy every planet in the galaxy, they enlist a team of colorful warriors known as The Galactic Rangers to stop the evil Chairman Drek from carrying out his deadly plot. Along the way, they learn the value of true friendship, what it really means to be a hero and the importance of knowing yourself. Ratchet and Clank features the voice talents of Bella Thorne, Sylvester Stallone, Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye and Jim Ward.

A multifaceted producer with more than a dozen credits in both live-action and animated features, Penney Finkelman Cox draws upon her extensive background in creative and physical production and her years of experience in the executive ranks to develop and produce high-profile entertainment projects.

In May 2002, Finkelman Cox, along with longtime producing partner Sandra Rabins, started Sony Pictures Animation for Sony Pictures Entertainment. As executive vice-president, she shepherded the development and production of the new division's projects, including its first two features, 2006's Open Season and 2007's Academy Award®-nominated Surf's Up, as well as later hits Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania. She and Rabins also brought the animated series "The Boondocks" to Sony and Cartoon Network, and developed Open Season 2 for DVD.

Finkelman Cox began her animation career at DreamWorks SKG as both a producer and an executive, starting the animation division with Rabins in 1994 and producing The Prince of Egypt, which won an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. Finkelman Cox served as executive producer on the Academy Award-winning blockbuster Shrek and on DreamWorks' first computer-generated film, 1998's Antz. In addition, she worked with Aardman Animations on its first stop-motion feature, 2000's Chicken Run, and was executive producer on Joseph: King of Dreams, DreamWorks' first direct-to-video animated release, also in 2000.

Finkelman Cox came to animation with a background in live-action features, having produced Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael and 'Til There Was You. She served as the executive producer for James L. Brooks' I'll Do Anything, and co-produced Brook's Academy Award® winning Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News.

Under her and Rabins' production company, Patchwork Productions, Finkelman Cox has also developed a slate of features that includes the 2006 cult sensation Snakes on a Plane, starring Samuel L. Jackson. Other projects currently in development are At Large, to be directed by Ritchie Mehta, Naked Shakespeare, to be directed by Jon Amiel for Voltage Pictures, and Enchantment, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card.

A graduate of Barnard College, Finkelman Cox began her career as a press assistant for the Joffrey Ballet and went on to manage a number of nonprofit dance, theater and music companies. She began focusing on film when she was accepted to the Directors Guild of America Assistant Director Training Program in New York.

Finkelman Cox is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the Association Internationale du Film d'Animation (ASIFA). She's also a professor at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where she teaches classes in film producing. She is also on the Board of Directors of Dance Camera West, an organization devoted to dance in media.

Sandra Rabins is one of the most respected live-action and animation film executives in the entertainment industry. Along with producing partner and fellow Original Force Co-President Penney Finkelman Cox, Rabins creates, markets and distributes top-tier original content in animation and family entertainment for worldwide markets.

In 2010 Rabins joined DreamWorks Animation Television as co-executive producer for "Dragons: Riders of Berk," a series on Cartoon Network for which she has produced 21 aired episodes. Rabins had previously helped build the studio's animation division from scratch and was instrumental in the purchase of PDI, helping to build it into a digital-effects giant. She produced DreamWorks' first traditionally animated feature The Prince of Egypt, as well as its first computer-generated film, 1998's Antz. In addition, Rabins served as executive producer on the Academy Award®-winning box office hit, Shrek.

From 2002 to 2009 Rabins was senior executive vice president for Sony Pictures Animation, a new animation division of Sony Studios that she launched with partner Penney Finkelman Cox. During her tenure she developed and produced the hit comedies Open Season in 2006, 2007's Academy Award®-nominated Surf's Up and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, as well as acquiring and developing the hit Hotel Transylvania.

From 1990 to 1993 Rabins was senior vice president of Production and Finance for Buena Vista Pictures, where she worked on more than 60 films, including The Joy Luck Club and Blank Check. She was also an independent executive producer on the 1995 summer hit Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, for Walt Disney Pictures.

A Hollywood native, Rabins began her career at Paramount Pictures. In 1985 she moved to Walt Disney Studios, where she was responsible for establishing the production entities to create and animate Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. She was also instrumental in helping Pixar establish itself as a digital film entity to create Toy Story, and oversaw traditional animation as well as Theme Park Films.

Rabins and Finkelman Cox have an independent production entity, Patchwork Productions, which executive produced the 2006 horror cult hit, Snakes on a Plane. Patchwork Productions is currently developing projects with studios in Japan and China, and will release its first movie in 2016.

Rabins served as Production Consultant on Khalil Gibran's The Prophet, releasing in 2015. In 2014, Rabins produced the award winning short Last Days of Ivory with Kathryn Bigelow directing, created to grow awareness of the killing of elephants for ivory.

Rabins is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the Association Internationale du Film d'Animation (ASIFA).

Harley Zhao is the president and CEO of Original Force, which he founded in Nanjing, China, in 1999. From its humble yet ambitious beginnings when Zhao had a staff of four and did much of the art himself, Original Force has expanded to a global operation with offices in Los Angeles, Nanjing, Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.

Zhao's concept for Original Force was borne out of his powerful desire to make movies from a young age. He taught himself animation while still in college at Southeast University. After graduating in 1996, he spent several years in IT at the Agriculture Bank of China. But his strong creative impulses led him to strike out on his own. After starting Original Force, he surveyed the animation landscape in China and discovered there was a limited market for animated film production. So he focused the studio on producing high-quality 3D art and animation for game developers and publishers, eventually leading Original Force to become one of the foremost animation outsourcing companies, producing work for Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Activision, Sony, Rockstar Games, Disney and many others.

Original Force made its first foray into Hollywood as the lead animation studio for DreamWorks Animation's "Dragons: Riders of Berk," a television spinoff of its 2011 Academy Award®-nominated feature How to Train Your Dragon, which premiered in 2012 on Cartoon Network.

More recently Zhao has refocused the company's efforts on developing and producing original feature films for worldwide audiences. In addition, Original Force has partnered with studios in the U.S. and China, including Sony, DreamWorks and Tencent.

Original Force is dedicated to telling compelling, visually stunning stories through digital animation. The studio recently opened a facility in Los Angeles led by Hollywood production veterans Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins, who have overseen such animated motion pictures as Shrek, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Surf's Up and The Prince of Egypt. Under their auspices, Original Force is developing and producing feature films both on its own and in partnership with major content providers in the U.S. and China. The studio is actively building relationships with visionary filmmakers and artists and exploring innovative approaches to creating animated entertainment with broad, global appeal.

Founded in 1999 by President and CEO Harley Zhao, Original Force has established itself as one of the preeminent animation houses in the video game arena, providing top-quality content services to global clients including Microsoft, Activision, Electronic Arts, Sony, Disney, Rockstar Games and Tencent. Its art team has created in-game animation and effects for dozens of top-selling titles including "Grand Theft Auto V," "Need for Speed: The Run," "League of Legends" and "The Sims 3."

With nearly 1,000 employees across its Los Angeles, Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai and Chengdu offices, Original Force prides itself as a major animation studio with production facilities in both the U.S. and China. The company made its first foray into Hollywood when it was chosen by DreamWorks Animation to serve as the lead animation shop for "Dragons: Riders of Berk," the television spinoff of the studio's 2011 Oscar®-nominated feature How to Train Your Dragon. The series premiered on Cartoon Network in 2012 and netted a 2013 Annie Award for Original Force director John Eng.

Chinese digital-entertainment giant Tencent is a strategic investor in Original Force. A $200-billion global conglomerate whose subsidiaries include Internet, mobile, instant-messaging and music-distribution companies, Tencent also owns significant stakes in such successful U.S. game makers as Activision Blizzard ("Call of Duty®"), Riot Games ("League of Legends"), Epic Games ("Gears of War"). Tencent is developing a feature film with Original Force Animation based on their game "QQ Speed."

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